From Bystander to Ambassador
“It’s not really something I’m passionate about,” I told them.
I sat down to lunch to meet with a couple of board members who were recruiting me to join them in serving an organization that focused on domestic violence issues in Indiana, US.
When an issue is not in front of your face, it’s easy to think about literally anything else. People are hurting everywhere. Some are starving in underdeveloped nations, oppressed by corrupt governments. Others are facing rare diseases, identity theft, wrongful imprisonment, or the lack of skill to put together a decent outfit that doesn’t clash. These are problems I’ve never had, and I don’t need to worry about.
Actually, I can ignore them altogether, except for the clashing outfits thing. That’s obnoxious.
But I don’t have any syndromes, I’m not being driven out of my home, and I’m economically stable. I feel the same about domestic violence.
Or I did back then.
I have a hard time saying no when someone asks for help. If I’ve ever overcommitted myself, it’s because you asked, and as expected, I said yes. What I lack in connection to the issue, I make up for in compassion for anyone willing to extend an invitation.
So I explained to my friends that domestic violence is not a cause I’m passionate about, but if you have a need for my talents, I’m willing to offer them.
“Sure. The answer is yes.”
Everything changed after that.
Someone you know
If you are sitting in a crowd of people from any socioeconomic background, any gender, any sexual orientation and any age, the odds are that either the person to your left or to your right has been a victim of domestic violence. It’s hard to scroll for more than a minute before passing a post that is a veiled cry for help. Tomorrow, someone will be late for work, and you will think nothing of it. We think nothing of most benign occurrences taking place around us day after day.
But sometimes, it’s not as benign as we would like to think.
Over the course of the first year serving on the board of The Domestic Violence Network, which focuses on community organizing and systemic issues, my eyes began to be opened to some of the things I’ve overlooked all my life.
It only took a little education and some reflection to see that people in my immediate orbit were impacted by relationship abuse. Not just uncomfortable relationships but hidden violence that includes guns drawn to intimidate a partner, curbing a partner’s career to maintain control, and even things like statutory rape.
But I’m from a “good family,” where things like this don’t happen. Right?
When we view our upbringing as safe, our rose-colored glasses convince us that difficult things can’t impact us. In my case, with a little education and some reflection, what was invisible for so long is now hard to miss.
I began to realize a number of people around me were impacted by relationship violence, childhood trauma, and more.
Before long, I would be testifying in court for my sister, who was doing her best to escape an abusive partner, only to see her withdraw the case “because God told her to.”
Much harder was the realization e that I was the victim of domestic violence as a child.
All I Needed Was An Invitation
I didn’t realize all of the ways that domestic and sexual violence affected the people around me, and I certainly didn’t realize that it had affected me. But I do now.
More than likely, domestic violence has impacted someone you know, even where you would not predict it. But for some of you, that someone you know is you, and that can be the hardest truth to accept.
For most of us bystanders, it is not that we don’t care. We don’t know–and probably haven’t been asked.
All I needed was an invitation. I wish those invitations would have come sooner. Who knows how many lives could have been saved?
Daniel Herndon is a longstanding board member of NO MORE, an international organization working to end domestic and sexual violence.