Violence against Women Cries out for Church Response: Young Voices

By Mertens, Jennifer | National Catholic Reporter, August 15, 2014 | Go to article overview

Violence against Women Cries out for Church Response: Young Voices


Mertens, Jennifer, National Catholic Reporter


"The bone usually breaks in a similar way,"

The chaplain raises his arm and runs a finger from his elbow to wrist.

"Her arm gets twisted. Often fractures along the same path."

In a hospital corridor, the chaplain prepares me for a first pastoral visit to the ER. I cringe as he describes the epidemic of women treated for domestic violence in our hospital emergency rooms.

Of course, not every arm gets broken. Teeth crack. Thighs bruise. Eyelids swell shut.

The images haunt me. Even now, they loom alongside other images I encounter in the news. On my computer screen, I watch kidnapped Nigerian girls huddle next to Hollywood's "hottest summer bods."Side by side, the two headlines glow together. They always seem to glow together. Recent gang rapes and Kate Middleton's iconic summer fashion. Child brides and flashing Botox ads.

We are numbed out. Headlines scream even as we cannot. Even as a young woman chokes back tears: "I don't know what to do! He claimed I was asking for it. No one can ever find out."

How many stories can no one ever find out? Fondles stolen by family members, acquaintances and friends. The church's sex abuse crisis. Surely not our Catholic teens in abortion clinics.

Dare to listen to the stifled cries beneath our headlines, to the stories of violence, silent in families, churches and schools.

I count my sisters as they pass: two, four, six--every sixth American woman experiences rape or attempted rape. Globally, countless more suffer from a range of male violence that kills or injures more women between 15 and 45 years of age than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined. "Male violence? Does it really specify male violence?" It does. And, yes, not all men are violent. Guys can be tremendous allies for women. Committed supporters. Prophetic advocates. That said, we need even more because the statistic hasn't changed yet. Gender-based violence persists as the top public health crisis threatening women today.

Of course, physical harm is only part of the story. Largely normalized and unseen, violence against women surfaces in an insidious variety of forms: gender pay inequality, sexist jokes and advertising, Photoshopping, pornography, the list goes on. It also reveals our national and ecclesial obsession with the female body and its rights and limitations in matters ranging from birth control to abortion to homosexuality

"Why?" my students ask. "Why is it like this?" My heart aches every time the question rises in class. It surfaces as students grapple to understand why Hagar was sent to die after bearing Abraham's child. Why Lot offered his own daughters to be raped. Why violence against women cuts through the Bible, across centuries and onto our bodies today. "Why? Why is it like this?" The question is a crying out; this grief, a first step toward healing.

Tend gently the pain. Even in darkness, when we feel most alone. Even here, we can discover: Our tears can steep us in hope for a different world--of another way possible, though not easy. Not easy at all.

Gender-based violence is far more complex than any "battle of the sexes" or "war on women. …

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