Sunday, April 26, 2015

Behind the Smiles

We live at a fast pace, in a highly developed, technological era. Surrounded by our gadgets, we sometimes tend to blatantly overlook life. We pass each other hurriedly, throwing a smile as a salute when we don’t have the time to stop.
Smile has become the conventional answer in each and every situation. And by the way we read that smile; we tend to label, generalize and judge a second too quickly. But next time you ask someone “how are you”; you’d better have your listening ears on. ‘Coz you might be surprised of what you’ll find.
And you might want to know what really lies behind the smiles.

We are all learning to deal with our own emotions. Sometimes we’re clumsy; sometimes we’re doing just great. But what it really takes is a helping hand and a listening ear to get someone through their darkest times. Most of the times we won’t even be aware of the life line we might have just thrown to a person starved for kindness.
Recently my attention was drawn towards two unrelated articles. One about women sacrificing their careers and becoming
stay at home mums and the other one about domestic violence, particularly a story about a mother of three living in fear.
These are two unrelated stories but something clicked: a scenario containing both these facts together spells doom for any woman.
Most people shrug it off with questions like "why doesn't she leave?" or "there is always a choice". Except that it is not as easy as it seems.
The fact that a man thinks he owns a woman entirely is pathetic.
The moment a woman comes to actually believe that, is terrifying. You see, abuse starts very subversively. At first, there are words planted there to inflict the self -doubting. Belittling. Playing mind games. Making even the strongest woman think that she is worth nothing. It starts with casual words that mean nothing. Then open criticism: the way she dresses, the way she talks, the way she acts... And then it escalates. The first blow comes as a huge surprise and it will change her world forever. Not only because the betrayal, but also because she will never know when to expect the next one. And it is ALWAYS her fault, as he will look for reasons to justify his temper outbursts.

It is very hard to accept it, but if we are to be open about it, let's start by admitting that it can happen to everyone. It is a general misconception that domestic violence happens only in low socio-economical mediums. So let me repeat that: it can happen to anyone. It doesn't matter how educated or how accomplished one is.

Statistics are painting a very unsettling image of our current living: 1 in 3 Australian women have experienced physical violence. 1 in 4 Australian women experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner. 1 in 6 women have experienced physical or sexual violence by a current or former partner. 1 in 5 Australian women has experienced sexual violence. 

It is less known that men are also victims of domestic violence.
75 males were killed in domestic homicide incidents between 2008-10. This equates to one death every 10 days.
Last year, Dame Quentin Bryce has chaired a taskforce which produced the
Not Now, Not ever report for the Queensland State Government. And the findings are not good news: about one in three women experience physical violence, and almost every week in Australia a woman is killed by her former or current partner. In Queensland alone, every day there are 180 cases of family violence reported to police. In New South Wales, nearly half of the state's murders are related to domestic violence. According to Canberra Times, in the ACT, police attend reports of family violence on average nine times a day.
Far too often now we see in the news snippets of this disturbing reality. This year, about 30 women have been killed - some of them by the hand of the man they loved. Couple of them right here, in Canberra. This is certainly not the world I want my kids to grow up into. 
Things become complicated when children are involved and going back to the news stories I was talking about, usually mothers are the ones feeling trapped.
Imagine being out of a job for quite a few years. No income, no savings, no job outlook in the overwhelming reality of thousands of public servants being laid off (therefore higher unemployment rate), low economic growth, higher inflation rates and the list could continue. Imagine having one or more little ones depending on you for a roof, food and safety. What will you do?
The first step is the hardest; accepting that you need help to get out of an unsafe situation. But where would you go, if the very services meant to help are already functioning at over capacity?

And when they choose to stay with a violent partner, how long will they last? And what about the children? Often, they are just overlooked collaterals in the statistics. They too suffer the wrath of an abusive parent and witness a dysfunctional relationship, which they grow up thinking that perhaps it is the norm. How will this affect them on a long term? Will they be the next generation of victims and/or perpetrators?
Every Child has the right to a safe space, a place where they belong, feel safe and loved; yet too many women with children are turned away from emergency shelters due to lack of available space and funds. 
So next time you smile in your daily dealings, stop labelling and try to extend that salute further with a “hello and how are you?” Sometimes it’s all that’s needed to find out where you have been wrong.
The woman you pegged as uptight may just be learning to deal with grief, as she just lost someone dear. The little child you may think as obnoxious comes from a dysfunctional family where he was witnessing his mother being abused on daily basis and he does not know how to fit his own emotions. That man with a great heart and a smile as big as the sun has learned to admit to himself he has been in an abusive relation for too long. These are just a few of the stories I have recently learned, by simply saying hello.


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