NASHVILLE, TN – Domestic violence, like gun violence, is endemic to American society. Used to be, people didn’t like to talk about it; police tended to ignore it. But more and more such cases are landing in court where someone brings charges against their intimate partner and that usually ends with a conviction and sometimes a jail sentence.
“We see domestic violence as a personal experience but it’s a society problem. Domestic violence, human trafficking, sexual assault, children abuse…all of those things are the result of the brokenness of our society,” said Reverend Aleese Moore-Orbih.She said when bad things happen they can have a lifetime impact on people and that trauma can be passed down to later generations.
“We end up having generations of people who have unresolved trauma in their lives who then are not able to live into the fullness of this society as human beings,” she said.
“The society as a whole needs to recognize that this is not just about the family down the street or particular communities but this about our nation. It’s about our rights of citizenship and protection and it’s about the health of our nation.”
Moore-Orbih said women are the most vulnerable, and their partners maintain power and by threat of violence. It’s kind of a taboo subject. And while the Black community talks a lot about drug trafficking, people don’t talk about child trafficking or domestic abuse much.
Tina Rodriguez is board president of the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault. She works with prison inmates on restorative justice issues. The criminal justice approach protects victims and prosecutes the abuser. Rodriquez talks instead about closing the gap in healing and prevention through cultural accountability.
“I don’t separate,” she said. Rodriquez said many organizations are funded in California and if you dial “911” they will help you go to court and get a restraining order. “There is all this intervention,” she said. The court usually orders a batters’ treatment or anger management program for the abuser. That is also the case with DV cases in Davidson County.
But Rodriquez said that interventions, coming from a system that helped create the pain in the first place, keep people trapped in it.
“We need to hold ourselves culturally accountable to educating our youth, our sons and daughters about domestic violence and preventions and the reason why is because we are the only ones who know our experiences and what it takes to survive.”
Rodriquez said most DV programs focus on accountability and don’t get down to what’s driving the epidemic of violence in families and society at large. She said one cause is pressure from gender assignment where men are expected to be the provider of the household.
“Nobody talks about the type of pressure that come with the fact that if you’re a Black man, whether your college-educated and highly skilled, you’re going to get screened out of about five interviews that you’re totally qualified for, but you’re not going to get because of your skin color.
Nobody talking about that kind of pressure that comes from that and the anger that comes from being oppressed and screened out of the opportunity to be a provider.”
Rodriquez said Latino men live with a double expectation. In Latino families there is a multi-generational pressure to not only provide for the American branch of the family but also to send money back to those living in Mexico.
“The abuser in my family did it because that’s what’s expected but he never talked about how the pressure and trauma from being in that position and fear of failure really added to the violent impulses,” Rodriquez said.
“And those discussions are not taking place in the court-ordered anger management and batterers treatment programs. We in our own community and our own culture need to be accountable for opening up those discussions so we can decrease those violent tendencies,” she said.
When there is abuse in the family, Latina women are often in a bind. They want the violence to stop but they are often afraid to call the cops. They don’t the police to kill their father or husband and they don’t want him to be deported. Calling the cops runs the risk of both things adding to their troubles.
Rodriquez’s family did go through the criminal justice system. He family was very divided and the experience was painful.
“Domestic violence is rooted in power and control… and so when you hand somebody a court order to stay away you better believe that death is very much possible around the corner. No one is having that discussion either.
When we can take back some of the power of these discussions and own them and be honest about them we can talk about how to heal.”
Jerry Tello has spent 40 years helping people heal from racism and internalized oppression. He grew up in a Black and Latino neighborhood “trying to figure out a reality in a society that I saw mistreat my father…and where Black men had to shelter in place because they could not go out after dark. “
Tello grew up in Compton. He was 15 when the Watts riots happened. He remembers the National Guard in tanks on the corner and soldiers cocking their guns as he walked to school with his best friend. His father died when his was 16. His friend came over to commiserate with him and he pretended it didn’t hurt.
“I had learned in that neighborhood that in order to survive I couldn’t feel. Feeling was going to make me vulnerable. Feeling was going to make me too sad so that I couldn’t go on. So I forgot how to feel. I forgot how to cry and I kept the grief inside me…I saw so many Black men and boys get locked up, get sent away, get shot, and I couldn’t cry. What do you do with that?”
Tello said he still has those feelings. After he became a psychologist, he used his own life and his grandmother’s spiritual belief in hope, and made it part of his work with men who carry pain they can’t acknowledge. ”We realized we were all wounded. We have never healed the generational trauma, the racism, the inequality,” he said.
There is more hope outside the criminal justice system.
“There is healing and power and magic and love and spirit happening in Black and Brown communities. And we have what it takes to heal our communities. We need more support in doing that,” Moore-Orbih said.
She said everyone has to be part of the change to stop demonizing those who cause harm and those who are being victimized.
“When people think of violence they automatically see Black and Brown faces, so telling the stories of the healing and of the love and transformation that is happening in our communities would be very powerful to help people see the other side of our communities,” Moore-Orbih said.