I admit it. Back in 2006, I was a Grey’s Anatomy addict. In an episode entitled Damage Case, the character Meredith Grey delivered a handful of lines that touched me unexpectedly. “We all go through life like bulls in a china shop. A chip here, a crack there. Doing damage to ourselves, to other people. The problem is trying to figure out how to control the damage we’ve done, or that’s been done to us.”
At the time, I was still fleshing out my novel, Angel Unfolding, newly published this month, and the words spoke to a recurrent theme in my writing: that none of us is perfect, and a scant few protected from suffering, and yet, because of our own willpower and the willingness of others to connect, we are often able to make amends for our missteps and move forward.
The characters of Angel Unfolding form an intertwining ensemble cast, but at its heart is the broken life of Angel McQuinn, who falls victim to domestic violence and all the messiness that goes with it. It has been my good fortune that I never experienced that kind of horror from a man I thought I loved, but I have known women who have. Luckily, they all made their escape, one way or another, without resorting to murdering their husbands. But it didn’t take a great leap of imagination to understand how that could happen.
Since the completion of my novel, the #Me, Too and #TimesUp movements have exploded, providing safer spaces for women who have survived sexual assault or experienced sexual harassment, challenging men to look at the uncomfortable intersection of touching and power, particularly in the workplace, and calling attention to pay inequity. And with women now comprising nearly a quarter of the U.S. House of Representatives, things are looking up. I am old enough to remember powerhouses like Barbara Jordan, Shirley Chisholm and Martha Griffiths. Let us hope this current crop of pioneers will begin to right the balance in a more permanent way.
And, yet, the victims of domestic violence seem left behind, as if there is still a stigma attached to their plight, as if they should have been smarter or stronger or more willing to leave, as if there is still a tacit understanding that what happens within families is untouchable. “It’s time for the world to stop dismissing violence in the home as a private matter,” wrote Washington Post opinion editor Christian Caryl “and to recognize it for what it is: low intensity warfare.” All around the world, millions of women are in jeopardy, and our nation is no exception. Here at home, more than 20 people are physically abused by an intimate partner each minute. “The number of American troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq between 2001 and 2012 was 6,488” reminds the Huffington Post. “The number of American women who were murdered by current or ex male partners during that time was 11,766. That’s nearly double the amount of casualties lost during war.” You can read lots more startling statistics in the Huff Post article.
For years, advocates worked to expand our understanding, recognizing that domestic violence is a tangle of physical, sexual, emotional and economic abuse, that children can also be inadvertent or direct victims, that stalking can greatly increase the risk of violence. Last year, obscured by so much other news, Slate reported that the Trump Administration redefined domestic violence as simply "felony or misdemeanor crimes.” In January, Slate considered the Department of Justice change a bit of a mystery, but I wonder if news today is connected.
On April 1, Representative Debbie Dingell of Michigan was fighting to reinstate the Violence Against Women Act which expired in February. The bill, which will be placed for a House vote this week, was to include a new provision to close the so-called boyfriend loophole “by barring those convicted of abusing, assaulting, or stalking a dating partner or those subject to a court restraining order from buying or owning firearms.” The reason is clear: abused women are five times more likely to be killed by their abuser if the abuser owns a firearm. So, it should come as no surprise that the National Rifle Association is doing everything in its power to block this bill. See this NY Times article and let your congressional representative know what you think. Such a provision might have helped a woman like Angel McQuinn.
When we meet Angel in prison, the damage is done: the damage to her body, her spirit, her child – and the damage wrought by her own hand. “We’re all damaged, it seems,” said writers Shonda Rimes and Mimi Schmir of Grey’s Anatomy. “Some of us more than others. We carry the damage with us from childhood, then, as grownups, we give as good as we get. Ultimately, we all do damage. And then, we set about the business of fixing whatever we can.”
Angel, too, is trying to fix whatever she can. Luckily, she is accompanied on her journey to hope and redemption by people who genuinely care. In the end, that’s all I can wish for each of us.
~ An irresistible footnote: