I’m taking a break from preparing for Pesach to write this article. While I clear my home, and hopefully my heart and mind, of chametz, I’ll look forward to the joys and squabbles of our family Seders.
The Torah might be our people’s foundational text for Jewish law, but the Haggadah is our book of living memory. It explains the mysterious symbols on our Seder Plate and it guides us as we remember, recall, retell, re-enact and celebrate the highlights of the Exodus story. Questions, discussion and debate are encouraged at our Seders: after all, we’re not slaves anymore.
At Pesach we recognise that not only were we freed from but we were also freed to… We are called to not only remember those who are still not free – physically or otherwise – but to actually do something about it.
If Pesach is to be more than just a meal we either enjoy or endure depending on our family’s dynamics, and if Pesach’s lessons are to resonate beyond our Seders, then we must not lose sight of the themes that Pesach incites in and for us. The struggle for freedom is ongoing. In every age, there are new freedoms to be won.
And that’s the challenge of the Omer as we anticipate Shavuot, the celebration of when we became free to: free to become a nation linked by far more than familial or tribal ties.
Of the many ‘plagues’ currently affecting our society, violence and abuse – particularly ongoing physical, emotional and verbal abuse – strips a person of their self-determination and self-worth. Ongoing abuse forces the victim to become, in effect, a slave.
Regardless of who the victim or perpetrator is, violence is never okay. But violence perpetrated by those who we love the most, by those who should love us the most, is perhaps even worse.
Family violence is an equal opportunity destroyer. It doesn’t care what your religion is or isn’t, or how observant you may or many not be. And yes, family violence affects our Jewish community just as it does any other community.
Religion and culture are irrelevant to family violence. So too is whether you’re educated or not; employed, unemployed or underemployed; affected by legal or illegal drugs or alcohol; what your IQ, EQ or anything else Q is or isn’t. Family violence is, purely and simply, about power and control.
It’s important to be clear just how widespread and invasive family violence is in Australia. Our country’s statistics are as horrific as they are anywhere else in the world. Like maror, these stats are hard to read and even harder to swallow:
- One in three Australian women will experience physical violence by someone known to her.1
- One in four Australian children will witness violence at home.2
- Men also suffer at the hands of a family member but the stats indicate that this type of abuse is far less prevalent albeit no less devastating or acceptable. In the vast majority of cases, it is a male perpetrator inflicting the abuse on his partner or family member.4
- On any given night, at least 700 Victorian women and their children are in crisis accommodation as they flee extreme violence at home.5
- 70% of family violence murders occur after a woman ends or leaves the relationship or gets an AVO.6
- On average, a woman will endure 35 assaults before she makes her first complaint during which time she’ll make as many excuses for her perpetrator’s behaviour as society still tends to do as they victim-blame her. 7
- Last year, 84 Australian women were killed by a family member, almost all by a current or former male intimate partner.8 As I write this in the tenth week of 2015, 25 Australian women have already been killed in an act of extreme [alleged] family violence.9 Gone is the stat that, on average, one Australian woman is killed each week at the hand of a current or former intimate partner: we’re currently tracking at more than two a week!
If you place a face – perhaps your mum’s, daughter’s, wife’s, friend’s or even the checkout chick’s face – to these unpalatable and impersonal stats, it makes them seem far more real, far more urgent to address.
I can almost hear you saying, “But I don’t know anyone who is affected by family violence.” Let me ask you: do you not know anyone who has been affected, directly or indirectly, with breast cancer? Of course you do and the stats there are that one in eight women.10 So if you know a one in eight stat, you almost certainly know a one in three stat – even if you are unaware of it. Not many of us publicise that the person we love is hurting us.
Family violence creates slaves no less than Pharaoh did in ancient Egypt. At Pesach we remember we were freed from a life of degradation and oppression. We were not free to think our own thoughts or express them without fear. Those living in abusive relationships feel equally degraded, oppressed, enslaved and deserve to be freed.
Mother’s Day occurs as we count down from Pesach to Shavuot; when we’ll celebrate how we become free to be who we are, who we could be, who we should be.
This Mother’s Day, at least 700 Victorian women, most of whom are Mums, will be in crisis accommodation as they flee extreme violence at home.
A completely volunteer driven charity with no paid personnel and no paid premises, impact needs your help to empower those women to see that they are not only now free from their violent pasts but are now free to become the strong, capable, creative, contributing and self-respecting free women they are deserve to be.
So, nu? What can you do? There are many ways to get engaged in these issues, but for this year’s Mother’s Day, you can help impact the women who will be spending Sunday 10 May in shelters. Here are but a few suggestions:
- Choose an inspiring woman in your life – mother, sister, wife, daughter, friend – and make a $25 tax-deductible donation [or more] to impact in her honour. Do this directly via impact’s webpage or as an e-card;
- Donate new items a woman, child or adolescent in hiding might need or want for impact to include in its hampers;
- Offer an hour or so of your time to help set up, pack, clean up or deliver hampers in readiness for impact’s Mother’s Day Hamper Packing Day [details here];
- Spread the word! Talk about family violence, about impact, visit impact’s website and ‘like’ impact’s Facebook page;
Given that there are now more women than ever in Australia whose lives are in danger every day, let’s make a decision to enable them to become free from this purge and become free to value themselves and their lives. The time for questioning and discussion is over: it’s time to act.
1 Australian Institute of Criminology [AIC], 2013
2 AIC, 2013
3 Vic Health, 2013
4 ABS, 2012
5 Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria, 2015
6 AIC, 2013
7 AIC, 2015
8 AIC, 2015
9 keeping track of media reports
10 Cancer Australia, 2015