What does it take to feel secure? I wondered about this as I read about the new TSA body scans. As impossible as it seems to figure out how to keep millions of travelers safe, planning for the safety of one can be just as challenging. Women who’ve been abused are faced with this all the time. No one can build them a wall tall enough to keep out a persistent abuser or a machine to screen potential boyfriends for bad tendencies.
Really, what makes us feel secure? I think it is our community of friends and acquaintances. In my community, there is someone I can call any time day or night. Someone who would bring me a pot of soup without asking. And, if they haven’t seen me in a while, someone who would knock on my door. I don’t have to rely on any one person. I have a whole network of people I can count on, and that makes me feel secure.
I think the reason people are upset about the TSA approach is that, in their gut, they realize it isn’t going to make us safer. But is there anything that can? Actually, other safety experts around the world have developed flexible approaches that prioritize engaging with each individual.
People often ask me how they can help someone who is being abused. It’s not so easy — we can’t rely on an automated program or a machine to deal with coercive or violent people. But we can start by being a part of a network of friends paying attention. We can help her feel secure by listening to what she says. And we can make our approach nuanced in a way that the TSA is missing.
After ten years of working against domestic violence, I was fairly sure I “got it.” Then something really crazy happened to me: doctors found a gigantic tumor in my six-month-old baby daughter’s head.
It was a rare, aggressive cancer. She went through brain surgery, intense chemotherapy and radiation. We spent six months in the hospital and even traveled across the country to get what she needed.
We referred to the whole ordeal as the “BBC” (Baby with Brain Cancer), believing that something as ridiculous as childhood cancer deserved a ridiculous nickname.
When I came back to work, I began to see the experiences of abused people in a new light and saw many parallels to my experience:
|When your intimate partner is abusing you:
|When your child is diagnosed with cancer:
- It is unexpected, devastating and totally inconsistent with your dreams and desires
- You have to make some tough decisions when all of your options are pretty crappy
- You need your family, friends and community more than ever
- It’s hard to concentrate on anything else when lives are on the line
- In shelters and hospitals: sharing space with strangers and dealing with institutional rules is a drag
- Money makes a huge difference
I did notice one key difference: Our family got oodles of sympathy and tangible support, and virtually no one questioned our choices. But what I have seen in my work is that many survivors of abuse get the opposite reaction. The experiences are similar; the stakes are equally high, but the response tends to be a lot less supportive. Why is that?
P.S. My daughter is currently showing no evidence of disease. But just like survivors of abuse, the fear of what might happen still lingers.