Anger, terror, and the reality we don’t want to talk about

I’m not sure there is anything that bothers me more right now than the constant rhetoric about ‘Islamic terrorists’ and ‘illegal aliens.’ I don’t agree with those characterizations and I have said why at length. But that’s not what brings me to the point of anger. I am angered because the VAST majority of crime that actually destroys lives and dehumanizes children of God has nothing to do with the big scary boogeyman waiting around the corner.

Every time we participate in the culture that vilifies and dehumanizes the ‘others’ of our world, we are actively creating the space in which a blind eye is turned toward the people who actually do the most harm. I could say this alluding to a variety of offenders, since more than half of violent offenses are committed by someone the victim actually knows. But one particular type of violence is especially on my mind.

Every time we cheer on the rhetoric that says people of a different religion or race or culture are in any way to be feared merely bc of who they are or our views of what they believe, we are actively creating the space in which crime survivors are shamed and silenced because their attacker is too ‘normal’ or ‘so nice’ or because we don’t talk about it. For domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, justice rarely comes.

In the last 40 years, foreign born people have killed 3,024 Americans in terror attacks on US soil. That includes 2,983 deaths on 9/11. That means an average of 75 Americans have died on American soil each year from terrorism, or 0.205 each day. Every day, 3 women are killed by an intimate partner (a spouse, boyfriend, or ex) – but that is only the tiniest fraction of the iceberg in domestic violence.  

19.3% of women will be raped in their lifetime. An estimated 43.9% of women and 23.4% of men will be victims of some form of sexual violence. 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men will be victims of severe physical violence. A great majority in each of these cases is perpetrated by someone the victim knows. It is likely that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men are victims of sexual abuse before age 18, although precision is difficult because as little as 12% of instances are reported. Of all childhood sexual abuse cases, around 93% are victimized by a family member or acquaintance.

The National Network to End Domestic Violence did a 24 hour census of domestic violence agencies. A few stand out stats – 25,735 domestic violence victims sought emergency shelter…in one day; 21,332 local, state, and national hotline calls were made by people seeking assistance…in one day; and 12,197 requests for help in that one day went unmet because of a lack of resources.

The result of such encounters, when survived, can be depression, anxiety, PTSD, reproductive problems, chronic pain, unwanted pregnancy, STIs, suicidal behavior, an increased likelihood for alcohol or drug dependence, and any number of other social, mental, job related, or physical ailments.

Domestic violence and sexual abuse cross over all age, socioeconomic, racial, religious, and whatever other lines you want to draw. With a very conservative estimate, at least 1/5 of the people you know (and far more likely close to ⅓) have been directly affected by these heinous crimes. And yet we almost never try to root out the perpetrators or start a war on the actual terrorism taking place in the American home. To spend almost any time focusing our energies and our fears on people who scare us by their differences is to further isolate and victimize the people whose lives are actually being turned upside down by people who look no different than us.

I’ve heard the argument that we have to be careful not to ruin the lives of good people, almost exclusively good men, if a baseless allegation is made against them. The two salacious cases of the Rolling Stone article and the Duke lacrosse team are sure to be referenced. The myths and misinformation surrounding false reporting are far too complex to do justice here, but suffice to say false reporting is not at all common and there are a lot more reasons to recant an accusation than to push through to a trial.

But any meaningful worry about the effects of an allegation on men, false or not, have absolutely zero standing to me after November. The US elected a president who has been accused of the things he himself claimed to do, accused of spousal rape, accused of raping a 13 year old, and accused in multiple other instances of groping; he has ‘defended’ himself of an accusation of abuse by implying he prefers better looking women; and he has been implicated in so many cases that it’s hard to keep track of which case is which. And we elected him president. We don’t need to be more careful about accusations, we need to be willing to open our ears to the cries of the people whose voices we have not heard and whose struggles we cannot understand.

It’s far easier for us and makes us feel safer to paint the Middle East or Mexico as the land of all the evil extremists than it is and feels to actually confront the abusers who look and talk and act just like us most of the time. But buying into the terrorism narrative necessarily turns a blind eye to the plight of our vulnerable neighbors who are deeply harmed by the rampant, actual crimes that are committed every day. And that is what makes me so angry right now. I’m not at all convinced that any of the recent executive orders will do anything to make us more safe. But I am entirely certain that vilifying the ‘others’ rather than confronting our own will actively harm the most vulnerable among us. I refuse to do so.

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