More Spiritual Reflections

Spiritual Reflections


Violence Against Women

Sr. Mary Jo Gallagher, IHM
IHM Center, Scranton, PA
September 22, 2005

The following reflection was offered at prayer service on Violence Against Women at the IHM Center.

Matthew 15: 21-28

I used to find this story about this Canaanite woman a little disconcerting because of the reaction of Jesus to her. His response to her: "It is not fair to take the children's bread and toss it to the dogs" doesn't sound very sensitive! But Jesus is a man of his times, growing up in the Jewish tradition, and he believed that the Israelites alone were the people who were to welcome the Messiah. Indeed it was this woman who helped Jesus to see that his mission was to all people.

Today what strikes me most about this story is the woman. This woman had something on her mind and she was not going to be deterred. She was aware of the suffering of her daughter. Her daughter was not in possession of her own self. And this woman was passionate about getting her daughter free. In spite of the restrictions of her culture - she would act.

She does not give up, even when Jesus ignores her. There were taunts by some in the crowd, some criticism, maybe sneers, certainly raised eyebrows or pretending the woman just didn't exist.

This mother doesn't give up, even after the statement of Jesus that it was not fair to take the children's food and toss it to the dogs. She has a retort. Yes Lord, BUT even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table." Well she had Jesus attention then! She moved him with her faith and courage. She got her healing for her daughter! And Jesus saw more clearly to whom he was called: far beyond a nation, to all nations. She became the teacher. Tapping into her own faith and love, she taught Jesus and to this very day she teaches us.

This was a strong woman...a committed woman who had seen suffering up close and was determined to do something about it. In her commitment and in her passion she gifted Jesus. And Jesus praised and blessed her.

You know many people like her - and so do I.

I met many strong women when I was working at Women's Resource Center which offers advocacy and services to women and children who are victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. I met women who were committed, passionate ...because they had witnessed suffering in other women or because they had known their own suffering from possession by abuse, control, domination.

There are women, be they daughters or mothers, sisters or cousins, friends, neighbors or strangers, who are still suffering because someone has taken possession of their lives. They are denied full human rights, they are exploited and objectified, they are treated as property, they are controlled, bruised, raped, killed.

Tonight we give tribute to women who are survivors of violence. We want to give support to women who are still trapped in possession by someone else. And we remember the women and children who were killed by abusers, the women and children whose names we know as well as thousands of others whose names we do not know. The artistic memorial out in the foyer, called The Empty Place at the Table, is a poignant testimony to such women. It is a dramatic expression of what happens in the kind of world where one person believes he can own another person, can dominate and have control over another. We honor these women and children by remembering them and by doing our part to change the tide of violence against women. We too want to be like that woman in the Gospel today, and be passionate enough to continue to work to free women and children from violence.

This past summer we witnessed the heartbreak of missing little girls, later discovering their bruised, raped bodies. Unfortunately girls have been missing in every culture for every generation. This summer...finally...the headlines jolted our hearts.

The number of women seriously injured or killed in domestic violence is staggering. It is not new. But we have become like the woman in the Gospel - vocal and demanding, and we will not keep it secret. We insist that it is such an outrage that we want to scream it out loud and make people hear...really hear...and stop the violence, influence laws and systems to make perpetrators accountable, and change our culture to make violence against women and children unthinkable.

In our day to day lives it is hard to grasp the enormity of violence against women, but let us consider some statistics:

In the United States every 15 seconds a woman is beaten.

1500 women are murdered by intimate partners each year in this country: that's four women who die every day from domestic abuse.

Here in Pennsylvania, a recent State Police report indicated that over 39% of all female murder victims were killed by husbands or boyfriends.

Statistics indicate that every 6 minutes a woman is raped in the United States.

One in 4 girls and 1 in 7 boys will be sexually molested before the age of 18.

Over 3/4 of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows.

There are 1500 shelters for battered women in the U.S.

Here in Lackawanna and Susquehanna counties, this year, 1,824 women sought services at the Women's Resource Center this year because they were victims of domestic violence. And 426 women and 87 children sought services at the Center this year because they were sexually assaulted.

Then there is the violence of poverty against women: 24% of women live below the poverty line in this country, compared with the fact that 13% of the total population in the U.S. lives below the poverty line. 62% of poor children live in female-headed households. 41% of women over 60 are poor. 83% of teenage mothers are poor.

These are all statistics about the United States. We get a glimpse now and then of the enormous violation of human rights against women in other countries when we read the news about the rape of thousands of women in war-torn countries where rape is used as a weapon or prize of war. We read of the death sentence for a woman who was raped: accused, convicted and sentenced because she was raped. Or, in another culture, the forcible marriage to the man who raped her.

The plight of millions of children and young women all over the globe, but especially in poor countries, has been claiming our attention these past few years as we learn about sexual abuse and exploitation through trafficking. Children, teens and young women are recruited from some of the poorest countries and sold to work in the sex industry and in domestic and factory servitude throughout the world.

The international networks that exploit children bring in an estimated $5 billion dollars every year. Due to globalization, the commercial exploitation of children, teens and young women is a growing phenomenon now in our own country. New York is now a major port of entry for trafficking in the United States. It is estimated that as many as 50,000 women and children every year are trafficked into the United States. It was only in October of the year 2000 that legislation in the United States was passed, the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act of 2000, to help victims and to stop traffickers. To date only about 300 victims have been identified and have been offered help..300 out of the thousands who have been sold into our country.