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Terrorism and domestic violence are a lot alike

by Lakshmy Parameswaran, MA, LPC

As a family violence counselor, I hear about tragedies and devastation as part of my job – personal stories of sorrow and heartbreak that that renders a family helpless and sometimes homeless. I have seen too many women and children physically, sexually and emotionally assaulted in their own homes by their loved ones. I know of too many lives struggling to recover, even years after their victimization. The tragedy of Sept 11 victimized our entire nation, leaving millions traumatized and struggling to make sense of their lives. These events and the fact that October is Domestic Violence Awareness month have caused me to consider my work with victims of violence in light of this national tragedy.

I believe that the effect of any type of violence is hardly isolated. Its consequences are far-reaching, beyond homes to communities, beyond one family to generations of families. This is because all acts of violence run on a continuum, and what transpires inside a home affects those of us outside; what happens in a remote corner resonates in the mainstream. Seldom do we realize this, not even when we hear of the most gruesome events in the news – the Houston mother who drowns her five children, one after another, destroying a family; the Colorado teenager who goes on a shooting rampage in a school, stunning a community; or the Nepali prince who guns down his parents, the king and the queen, devastating a small country. We shake our heads. We wonder. We feel sorry for the innocent victims and those who loved them. Then we resume our normal lives, often not realizing that we too have been victimized along with those innocent people.

The Sept. 11 tragedy is perhaps the first time in a long time that the citizens of this country have truly felt the impact on themselves on violence against someone else. Like others, I am confused and outraged. Like others, I am moved to tears and rendered helpless. Like others, I search for answers as to why and how this could’ve happened. I loathe the perpetrators of this unspeakable atrocity. Yet I look at their faces flashing on the television screen and wonder about their childhoods. What did they witness in their own homes? What messages did they receive from the adults around them? It is easy for us to blame religion and scriptures, for they offer a graceful way out – out of personal responsibility – not only for the terrorists but for us as well, their “enabling” families and community. But we are aware that no world religion, including Islam, condones violence of any kind.

It is only natural to feel defeated by the enormity of this tragedy and to feel that we cannot do anything about it. Thousands are dead and many more thousands are left to deal with the sudden and cruel loss. However, I do believe that if we voice our objection to the everyday violence, the so-called domestic disputes – the subtle and not-so-subtle acts of physical, sexual and psychological assaults on millions of women and children in their own homes – we may actually be able to do something about it.

We have heard the saying, “Charity begins at home.” The families I work with show me that charity is not the only thing that begins at home. Love, hatred, anger and violence – all have begin to take shape at home from early on. This is what makes me believe that we are not helpless after all. If violence can take shape from home, isn’t it then appropriate that prevention also begin at home? What is there to stop us from making sure that our own homes are violence-free?

Rita (not her real name), a survivor of domestic violence had this to say about the Sept. 11 tragedy. She said, “it is difficult for me to share my feelings with the outside world because I’d be called crazy. I actually saw on TV the second plane approaching the tower, people screaming and finally I saw with my own eyes this plane hitting the tower. Unfortunately, I was in my bedroom at the same spot where my husband, John, had made this brutal attack on my life two years ago. The psychological impact of watching another act of violence from the same spot where violence was inflicted on me was so horrible that I started screaming. I actually visualized John in the cockpit of that plane flying it through the building.”

Rita continued in disbelief, “I think family violence is in fact an act of terrorism inflicted by one member of the family on other members. Unfortunately, most of the victims of this sort of terrorism do not die. They smolder in the wreckage with no hope for rescue.”

After Sept. 11, we all know the irreparable damage a vile perpetrator can cause. We all know the torment and agony of the victims. We all know the enormity of the unjustified grief felt by the surviving loved ones in all dimensions of their lives – emotional, physical, spiritual and material. And, unmistakably, we all know about living with the kind of fear that millions of survivors of family violence already knew. How we utilize this stark revelation will say a lot about us as a nation of peace-loving individuals and families.

Parameswaran is a counselor and training specialist on family and date violence and sexual assault issues. She is also a founder and board member of Daya Inc., a Houston-based non-profit organization serving South Asian victims of abuse and violence. This article originally appeared in the Houston Chronicle, October 22, 2001, Outlook, p 23A

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