On Labor Day I took my family to Mt. Gretna. The plan was to hike the beautiful trails and treat ourselves to ice cream at The Jigger Shop. We did in fact hike, and we did get ice cream. But not at The Jigger Shop.
Not ten minutes before we arrived, it had become a crime scene. We knew something was amiss when police sped past us as we approached. We saw ambulances and speculated that somebody must have had a heart attack. The truth turned out to be worse.
A woman was murdered by an abusive man from whom she had been trying to escape for at least a year. He chased her out of her gift shop and shot her dead in the parking lot of The Jigger Shop. Shortly thereafter he turned the gun on himself. We arrived to see employees and patrons huddled in the nearby places to which they had fled. We learned of the details from bystanders as Life Lion helicoptered the perpetrator out. At this writing he is in critical condition.
The experience had a surreal quality. Maybe it was the contrast between the charming hillside, wooded streets, and storybook cottages, some of which were elaborately decorated with blooming flowers and imaginative sculpture, and the flashing lights, police tape, covered prone body, and the knowledge that no place, no matter how serene, is free from violence. In the aftermath of this experience, it’s clear that violence happens any time in any place.
Since we have lived in our current house there have been at least four separate homes on our street where police have arrived in response to domestic violence. Right now, within the circle of people I personally know, there is a person in hiding from a potentially violent spouse. The experience my family had on Labor Day is sadly not uncommon. Every day it seems that there is a similar story – today it is a beautiful Texas dentist who was murdered. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, someone is physically victimized by their intimate partners once every three seconds.
That’s why I’m surprised to learn that the trend is not towards more domestic violence, but away. This Bureau of Justice Statistics report cites a 64% decline in the years between 1994 and 2010. This makes sense, as the rate of violent crime is shrinking with the aging of the population. It just doesn’t seem like it. I suppose that’s why we must be careful about conclusions we draw from anecdotal evidence.
Domestic violence has always been a feature of society. Statistics for domestic abuse pose challenges for accuracy, but it is accepted that roughly one third of women and one quarter of men worldwide suffer at least one instance of domestic abuse during their lifetimes. By any measure, the problem is pervasive.
What, if anything, can we do as individuals and a society about this?
There are those who argue for increased gun control, as fewer guns mean less gun violence. The argument may hold water if one can successfully show that it would fall more than the suppressive effect that armed victims have upon perpetrators (individuals, gangs, and governments.) One would also have to show that the policy would indeed keep guns from the hands of criminals and that the net effect would be worth the cost of freedoms and the changing of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
This would also leave unaddressed the fact that the rate of domestic violence is as high or higher among unarmed populations. The issue is not one that will be remedied through legislation – it is already illegal to physically assault another person (at least in our country – in countries that abide by Sharia Law husbands are free to beat their wives.) This problem is like most of our other problems – it is a problem that stems from sickness of the soul.
People who abuse others have likely themselves been abused. It is through their experience that this behavior is normalized or somehow deemed appropriate. They clearly suffer from emotional problems, and these have myriad causes, from the side effects of medicine to genetic disposition. But there is also a clear cycle of violent behavior.
All human beings, like all creatures, can be violent. This includes everyone, emotionally damaged or not. What leads to peace and domestic tranquility is a sense of well-being and safety, an appreciation for the connectedness between people, and a well-developed sense of morality.
Where these things are lacking, violence ensues. An unmarried mother is ten times more likely to suffer domestic abuse than a married one. Welfare recipients are four times as likely, with some studies indicating that as much as 82% of welfare mothers experience abuse. Education and wealth do not inoculate against domestic violence, but they sure do reduce its likelihood.
Yet more school and more money do not provide satisfactory answers to this problem to me – how about you? I suspect we would benefit by something a little more powerful and pervasive. Something more radical.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Jesus Christ was a radical. In a world at least as violent (granted, without guns) than our own, he taught love and peace. In the gospel of Mark 9:50, he described how this works: “You must have the qualities of salt among yourselves and live in peace with each other.” What he meant was that just as salt seasons and preserves food, moral people influence, inspire and elevate those around them.
We can take from this a strategy to deal with the issue of domestic violence (or any other moral issue.) We must start with ourselves. We need to tend to our spiritual health so that we might “flavor” the spiritual health of those around us.
You know what I like best about this strategy? It focuses us on that which we can exert some power – ourselves.