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Drawing the Line
By Judith Gayle | Political Waves

A THIRD VICTIM of murder, this one a pregnant young woman, surfaced in North Carolina this week. Her name was Megan Touma and she was seven months along, discovered in a bathtub days after her death. In January, Maria Lauterbach, eight months pregnant with a child of rape, was found murdered and burned in a fire pit; also in North Carolina. In 2005, LaVena Johnson, 19, was brutally raped, beaten and disfigured and found within a burning tent although her death was inexplicably reported as a suicide. What, besides violence, do these women have in common? They were soldiers in the United States Armed Forces.

I have a little alarm system in my head and it runs on sequences of threes. When I get to a third example of something that disturbs me, I start digging around to see what's going on. Megan Touma tripped the buzzer in my brain, and I suspect Goddess is calling our attention to violence against women as an aspect of the repugnant patriarchy that must surface for examination. That makes a total of five human beings, considering the trimesters of the pregnancies, destroyed and discarded because they were inconvenient. And they're just the tip of the iceberg.

Let me clarify that last statement: I was born several weeks early and was underweight, but here I am. And as the mother and grandmother of tiny infants, I'm particularly sensitive to how tenaciously a 4-pound scrap of humanity clings to life and how quickly it can thrive. In these days of legal wrangling over what is viable life, I will always come down on the side of a woman's health and choice over the process of her own body; but as one who has terminated an early pregnancy as well as borne two small but perfect children, I find the chasm between the intellectual and emotional questions of when life begins deep and wide and difficult to navigate. From a subjective point of view, it's impossible for me to think of a seven-month fetus, and certainly an eight, as anything but 'cooked;' if you do not, then we have disagreed -- but perhaps we can agree that the tragedies in North Carolina were intensified by the diminished possibilities that died along with these young women.

When we think of soldiers, male or female, we think of tough-minded, disciplined and well-trained people who are skilled in taking care of themselves. How did this happen, then, to these strong, bright and competent women? Early in the Iraq war we might have gotten some hints had we paid attention to reports that female soldiers were getting bladder infections because they refused to use the latrines at night. We might have raised some hell at Department of Defense statistics indicating that fully one-third of women in the military will be sexually assaulted by their male counterparts. We might have been adult enough to understand that warring suspends social and ethical boundaries that civilized nations depend upon, and once boundaries are crossed it is not easy to come back across them. And we might have noticed that the Pentagon does its best to put on a happy face and bury, no pun intended, its mistakes. It should come as no surprise, then, that there are other military women who have died under mysterious circumstances whose families do not yet have the facts.

I can't help but wonder how Eris, once called Xena, played in these three women's charts. Xena of course is the Warrior Princess: Eris is the mythic sister of Aries, God of War, and is described as the Goddess of strife and discord. I'd like to peek at their charts to see what energies were on the table, driving these dramas to conclusion. Yet ferreting out the vulnerabilities of their own personal psychology might allow some rationale for their deaths; or it might not. The psychosexual issues that drew them toward danger are not responsible for the violence they met: the men who perpetrated it, and the system that continues to move slowly to rectify it, are.

War, as in geopolitical struggle and psychic brutalization of both the warriors and those warred upon, creates women as moving targets. Rape has become a tool of warfare, for instance, in African countries. This is not new behavior; in World War II, the Soviets viewed the women who were being liberated from Nazi rule as spoils of war. Millions of women were violated during that period. Now, rape has become less a reward and more a tactic. The new human rights chief at the United Nations, Navi Pillay, succeeded in establishing rape as a war crime during her tenure as judge at the International Criminal Court. Perhaps she will be able to call international attention to this outrage and begin to hold people accountable.

As we plumb these last depths of mindless patriarchy, visiting the darkness that is the dregs of a fading era, we are nose-to-nose with the deepest pornography of the human spirit: sexual humiliation, violence and murder. It is not enough to eschew these behaviors, they must be exposed. We feed our children on movies and video games that glamorize violence, we invest more in militarism than in social programs and we continue to objectify women in print, pictures and media.

Our government has included sexual shaming on its list of recommended tortures, violating the Geneva Convention and establishing an "anything goes" philosophy. One candidate running for office of President of the United States is reported to like to brag about sexual conquests and visits to a strip club during his youth. Is it any wonder he has a miserable record on women's rights and will, if elected, seek the removal of Roe vs. Wade?

The United States has the highest percentage of rape of any country reporting these crimes (not counting war zones); a hefty percentage of these assaults were perpetrated against children, and the likelihood of repeating patterns of violence are five times more likely in those who have lived with violence at home. Nationally, we show great concern for PTSD showing up in our returning veterans, yet trauma and brutality is occurring in homes across the nation with regularity, creating a generation of probable abusers. The National Organization for Women reports that four women die every day from domestic violence. In times of stress, economic hardship and unemployment, those statistics soar.

In this era of change, when egoism is being replaced by self-reflection, when systemic abuse is being revealed in order to bring it to correction, we are called upon to rebuke violence wherever it occurs. If we view humankind as a single collective organism, then any woman who stands up for herself, who refuses to be victimized, contributes to the collective ability to do it again. It's up to us, individually and collectively, to provide the education and services required for assistance -- and critically, to understand our own vulnerabilities to this kind of energy field. The majority of rape occurs within a relationship: Megan Touma and her unborn child were killed by her married lover.

Relationship abuse is about as nuanced as one can imagine; we all struggle with various aspects of an intimate relationship. Too often, the models for our relationships were deeply sexist and have sent us forward, in this new age, to rewrite the book on healthy relationships. In retrospect, that may look like a series of attempts and failures. I see it differently; I was married for almost twenty years, and until it came to a necessary conclusion, it was a successful partnership. Toward the end of the relationship, however, there was a good deal of emotional violence, projection of guilt and trauma.

The boundaries of that relationship held because I insisted upon it; when they began to erode beyond reclamation, it was time for it to be done with. That is not a failure; it was a learning curve and a human experiment that brought two beautiful children into the world. Each relationship that we have left behind us has only given us more experience in the art of loving, and a fuller picture of our own capacity.

To my mind, emotional violence is as debilitating as is physical violence, and perhaps more insidious since it is not so obvious. Intimidation and humiliation have no place in functional relationships. We have talked about self-esteem over these last few months, about reclaiming our authentic voice and letting go of baggage. All of these things are part of coming to independence and wholeness.

We must respect ourselves in order to respect others; you see how this loop plays? If we consider ourselves damaged and weak, we do not respect ourselves and will perpetuate this pattern, falling into the trap of ancient dysfunction and violence. When we judge ourselves as less than, as losers, as failures, we have lost our ability to come to balance and only open ourselves to further vulnerability.

Every day we are given a new day of experience: each day should be mined, at its end, for what was valuable and insightful; forgiveness extended, gratitudes expressed, lessons integrated, reflections noted. It is a new practice page for our human experience, a new opportunity to recreate ourselves and renew our contract with ourselves and spirit. One of the great epiphanies of my life was that moment when I completely understood that anything -- anything at all -- that was NOT loving was, in fact, a form of violence. It is only in that awareness that we can find respect for all life and true respect for one another.

A friend of mine, Linda, was involved in a manipulative and destructive marriage, and as part of her healing process, she began a book describing her experience. She shared an early introduction to her memoir with me, and I will share it, with her permission, with you:

The stereotype of the beaten housewife IS all too often true. (What do you see in your mind when you hear the term "domestic violence?" A sunken-eyed woman, wearing a ragged bathrobe, with a sickly baby, her dirty hairy husband in "wife-beater" t-shirt lurking nearby, calculating his next shot?)

As a child, and into my adult years, the picture inside my head was little different from this cartoon. But I now know that this picture is not always true. Statistics suggest that domestic abuse is most often insidiously evil, eating away at women over months and years, disguised/hidden inside of what may appear to the outside world as happy, healthy marriages and relationships.

I do not, even remotely, advocate that anyone think twice before getting out when physically threatened. Leave now. Figure it out later. There are resources where you can get help for yourself and your children: now. If you need it -- do it. Do not wait.

If you are not sure whether or not being hurt is okay; there is only one answer. It is not okay for your partner, relative or anyone else to hurt you. To many of us, being hit, hurt or even having your head held inside the toilet seems like an obvious reason to get out.
In war, in government, in a relationship, in every bit of human behavior, there are lines beyond which we dare not go; where, once crossed, everything changes and all bets are off. Each of us has the ability to set these boundaries and understand the consequences of crossing them, to stand on the righteous side of our lines and insist that they not be crossed.

In this time when so many lines have blurred or been kicked away in the sand, knowing when enough is enough is a vital part of our becoming. What is ethical, what is moral, what is functional is not something we learn in a book, it's what we resonate to in our heart; in order to heal our hearts, we must redraw our lines and stand firmly behind them.

The spiritually inclined have to be especially mindful of how we keep our yin/yang balance, since there is a malady that we are particularly susceptible to: we always look to our own culpability first. This has been referred to over the years as "Old Souls Disease." Taking responsibility for the events in our lives and the attitudes that produced them creates an atmosphere in which we self-examine endlessly; and sometimes, you know, it ain't about us!

Sometimes there is nothing we have done to bring something on, but find ourselves embroiled in a karmic predicament. If we have been blindsided by a series of impossible emotional demands that confuse and weaken us, it has probably been for the purpose of learning to stand in our own skin. The end of karma, remember, is when responsibility melds with compassion to conclude an old debt, and, importantly, results in self-respect.

For some of us, it's time to draw a new line in the sand. If we are being abused mentally, physically, psychically and don't know what to do about it, then it's time to clearly acknowledge what has become unworkable and move on. That could have to do with lovers, children, bosses -- every possible relationship contains the raw materials for abuse; and in each of these circumstances, emotional dependency clouds the issue in painful ways.
If I'm talking to you today, please know you're not alone -- all of us, at one time or another, have found ourselves with blurred boundaries and a sense of helplessness. Reach out for assistance and encouragement, if you need it; you will be surprised who will extend you a hand, having come to terms with their own wounds. There are millions of women who will understand your predicament better than even you do, yourself.

It's too late to help Maria, LaVena or Megan -- it's not too late to help ourselves, or one another. It's not too late to become active participants in our own lives, our communities and local government. It's not too late to listen to what our hearts are telling us, and join hands under the approving eye of Goddess, supporting one another and pointing up this glaring sociopolitical failing of our time. We cannot rebuild the world until we've learned to stand in our own power, firm in our boundaries and determined that they will hold.
Violence and rape is not exclusively a woman's problem, nor a man's: it's a human problem. We are taught our roles in the world by our parents, our communities and our government: we pass along our flawed attitudes and misguided judgments "... unto the 7th generation," as the Bible asserts. It is not a war of sexes we must wage -- it's the recognition that power in all its different forms drives our lives, and too often without our permission. Time to get a grip and draw a line.
National Domestic Violence Hotline
1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
Internet Resources on Violence Against Women

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