Not to sound cliche, but I remember it like it happened yesterday. I had come in for a night shift at the hospital where I worked and soon after my shift began my patient began to run into some troubles. An Intensive Care Unit is often a busy place but never more so than when a person needs resuscitating and it was 'all hands on deck' for a while. It can be pretty hectic at times, in a controlled chaos kind of way and I remember being so busy that I didn't really have time to pay much attention to anything but the job in hand. It wasn't till everything had stabilised and I needed to get the doctor to write some orders that I got the shock... the doctor in charge of the Intensive Care Unit that night, the one who we all respected and loved for her brilliance and kindness - she had a black eye.
Why does this sound so shocking to us? If I had said that I saw a lady on the bus or a lady outside of the food bank with a black eye, would it have the same impact? I would like to think that most would feel the same compassion for them as we would for anyone who bears the physical marks of an abusive relationship. Would we think it had something to do with the fact that they are poor...because hey, that woman on the bus must not be able to afford a car and well, the food bank is a dead give-away. Why do some think that people who earn less than others experience things like domestic violence more? It's a serious question that has bothered me for a long time now...since then to be exact.
My daughter came home from a University class the other night and shared with me something that she found disturbing. It was in a social work course, where people were sharing their views on class and the distinctions between them. Here is the gist of what was said: there are lots of differences between people in the middle class and those in the working class...in the middle class people 'talk' their problems out, theirs is a quiet discussion; in the working class people tend to yell and be very loud and angry. Basically what was said was this: people in the lower, working class handle angry feelings differently than people who know better. Seriously?
The doctor at my work became a very dear friend of mine after that incident. I supported her decision to leave her abusive husband and followed the situation closely. I shared her triumph as she succeeded in slowly collecting up items of value and smuggling them out of the home... baby photos, books, a favourite frying pan. One day she was able to leave for good and though the next couple of years were rough for her and her children, she made it. The sad thing? Our friendship ended because of my husband. In retrospect, he drove a wedge in between us because my friend knew the signs... she could see what was happening even before I could. I was in an abusive marriage myself and I defended him. She tried to talk to me about it but I chose him, I chose my abusive husband. I understand now that this is often what happens in these kind of relationships, wedges are driven to isolate you from potential supports, from family members and friends who see what is happening.
So I guess at the end of all of this I want to challenge us to really examine how we think about Domestic Violence and social classes. We all know the right answers to the questions, "Of course class doesn't make a difference, DV doesn't discriminate". But would we be more bothered by seeing a black eye on our dentist or lawyer than on someone working at a convenience store? What if we went to Family Court one day and the Judge had a black eye? Do we think she knows better than to be in an abusive relationship? Would we be more willing to believe her if she said she had run into a doorknob? They are interesting questions aren't they? Even more interesting is what we think about the answers.