I had planned to post about today being a bonus day on the calendar—February 29th, Leap Day! I’m more excited about it this year than I remember being before. An extra day, extra time to get things done. My prayers have been answered! But, tragically, another woman lost her life to domestic violence and I feel compelled to say something about that. This blog is about what I am laying at the altar and today my excitement about having an extra day has been overshadowed by a woman murdered by her husband in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. Her name was Crystal Hamilton. She was 29 and her son is 11 years old. He was in the house when his father took his mother’s life.
But, that’s not the story you are likely to have heard today.
The assailant, a soldier who worked at the Pentagon, also killed a female police officer who had come to his home in response to an emergency call Crystal made for help. Sadly, this was the first day on the job for Officer Ashley Guindon, 28, who was killed during the incident. A tragedy for sure and one that had me praying for Officer Guindon’s family and that community when I first heard this story on Saturday. Today, I am even more horrified by the fact that almost every initial news story (and most follow ups) have focused on the officer killed in the line of duty and barely mentioned the name of the first victim. In fact, in some news stories it was not even clear that someone else died in the incident. Well, someone else did die. This soldier’s rampage targeted his wife. Her name was Crystal Hamilton. Her life was cut short by her husband and although this is a familiar story that we’ve heard before, it is one that needs to be told again and again until we end the pervasiveness of domestic violence in our communities.
While the news media is doing what it does by focusing on the unique angle to the story, a greater responsibility to tell the whole story has been overlooked, including the fact that Sergeant Ronald Hamilton killed his wife. She called 911. She knew her life was in danger. Yet, the fact that she was murdered is a footnote and after thought in news reports about what happened. The truth of that is a further violation of this woman whose life was taken by someone she once loved and trusted and who one neighbor described as showing no signs of being an abuser.
I don’t want to negate the death of Officer Guindon or suggest that her death is not significant. It is heart-wrenching. My point is that both murders are tragic and that’s how the story should be told. Women victims of domestic violence are so often silenced and treated as if their stories don’t matter. They are blamed, ridiculed and further harmed by people who dismiss them as an inconvenient part of a narrative they don’t like or understand. The media coverage of Crystal Hamilton’s death is just one more tragic example of this.
The racial dynamics that play out in this scenario also deeply concern me. Photos of the African American assailant have been splattered across television screens next to the photo of the white woman victim but without a photo or caption or mention of the name of the African American woman who was also victimized. A Black woman’s story is again treated as a subtext to a seemingly bigger and more important part of someone else’s story. Come on. Really? There was more than one victim in this story and they weren’t all white. What about Crystal Hamilton? Her death was not inconsequential. Black Women’s Lives Matter! Is she invisible and silent, not worthy of having her story told or her plight recognized? Will we silence her again?
Hours before this incident happened on Saturday, I was one of the speakers at the Lott Carey’s Women in Service Everywhere’s (W.I.S.E) Global Prayer Kickoff for Women’s History Month. My topic was “Gender-based Violence.” By the Spirit’s leading I used Judges 19 as my scriptural basis and “We have seen. We know. Now, let’s do” as my title. Below is what I had to say. I share it today as I remember Crystal Hamilton, Officer Ashley Guindon and the victims of intimate partner violence around the world. I will not silence them.
We have seen. We Know. Now, let’s do.
(Based on Judges 19, verses 25-30)
I am lying here with my hands outstretched, in need of help—in need of your help; in need of care, in need of your care; in need of support… and, yet, I have been blamed for the violence that has been perpetrated against me. I have been looked at with suspicion. I have been deemed unworthy and untouchable. I have been treated as property, not worthy of rescue. And, instead of giving me a hand and fighting the injustice that I have experienced, you have thrown me your pity and shrugged your shoulders. You have turned away. You have shut the door. You have cut me up—my body, my spirit, my soul. You have done just enough to get me off the porch and out of plain view but then you have added insult to injury by hiding me and all signs of the abuse and violence I have endured in order to maintain your reputation and stake your claim. I am blessed and highly favored…and I have suffered abuse at the hands of my husband, my father, my brother, my pastor, my deacon, my Sunday School teacher, my friend… But, bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh did not give you permission to break my bones or tear my flesh! And… so… even though you try to get rid of all signs of me—You dressed me up. You covered my visible scars and wounds. You removed me from sight. You silenced me. You refused to listen. You refused to hear my cries. All of that and I am still here. I am still crying out. I am still waiting for you, my sisters, my brothers, to do something about what you have seen and what you know.
I am hidden but I am not gone and my wounds, my pain, my suffering, cry out and beckon you to respond—even when I cannot speak or my voice is muffled through the anguish of my circumstances. You don’t know my name but you know exactly who I am. My body has been battered and bruised. My spirit has been damaged. My soul has been shattered and worn. What will you do? What will you do? What shall we do?
We have seen. We Know. Now, let’s do.
We gather for prayer today knowing that women and girls around the world are not safe. Our sisters are not safe. Our mothers are not safe. Our daughters are not safe. We are not safe. On the streets, in the marketplace, in classrooms, walking down hallways, in schools, on campuses, at work, on playgrounds and yes, in our homes and even in our churches, we are not safe.
The sanctuary has been no sanctuary for us. Victims/survivors of violence have come to our doorstep with their hands outstretched. They have come crying out and asking for us to see and to know and to do. But, far too often, as God’s people, we have turned a deaf ear and closed our eyes to the abuse that we have seen. We have mistaken gifts for fruit and charisma for character and allowed abusers to go unchecked in our midst. We have required so much of the victim/survivor and nothing of the abuser – We tell her: You must forgive. We tell her: You must get yourself together. You must go on. But, we never call him to repentance or responsibility for his actions or accountability for the abuse.
Sometimes the abuser is the most charming, the most helpful, the most gifted, and often the one who you would never expect. And, sometimes the abuser is a Levite. A priest. A deacon. A minister. A “devoted” father. A faithful church member. The one that you know.
We have seen. We know. Now, let’s do.
- We know, or now know, that 1 in 3 women around the world experience physical or sexual violence, mostly by an intimate partner (statistics from the United Nations Women’s Division)
- We know, or now know, that some studies have shown that up to 70 percent of women will experience physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime
- We know that violence against women is considered a major public health crisis and violation of women’s human rights by the World Health Organization
- We know that around 120 million girls worldwide (that’s slightly more than 1 in 10) have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point in their lives. By far the most common perpetrators of sexual violence against girls are current or former husbands, partners or boyfriends, (UN Women)
- We know that globally, of all women murdered each year about half have been killed by an intimate partner or family member (UN Women)
- We know that here in the United States of America every 9 seconds a woman is assaulted or beaten. [Counting] 1…2…3…4…5…6…7…8…9…Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers for our sister. (from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence)
In this season of prayer for women, let us be reminded of our responsibility to one another. Let us not only lift up prayers and a way of escape for those who have violence perpetrated against them. Let us also lift up a standard of authentic and agape love, mutual respect, care and concern, accountability and responsibility for the safety and nurture of one another. Let us also pray for our collective action to advocate for policies that will keep victims/survivors safe and provide them with resources for a life beyond violence—an abundant life. Let us pray that those who need us to open the door and provide a place of safety, a sanctuary, will find it. Let us pray that we will not judge or espouse or pontificate or hurl scriptures like a weapon but that we will listen and hear and offer help and a balm in Gilead until the victims/survivors in our midst can move from where they are to where they need to be—to the healthy, productive and whole place where God intended for them to be all along.
I have seen. I know. You have seen. You know. We have seen. We know. Now, let’s do. Amen!