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Samah Salaime on Opening Closed Doors

In a video made for International Day for Violence Against Women, 2020, Salaime reminds us we all have a responsibility.

An English translation follows.

I think every person knows there’s a problem when they hear those tones. The neighbors often know when something is going on behind their neighbor’s doors. And they don’t do anything. The signs are the voices, the yelling, the crying. The silence – when you don’t hear, for too long, the voices of children. If there are children, there should be life on the other side of the door. When there is domestic violence, they stay quiet out of fear.

When we are cut off – when we know the neighbor. We meet them in the supermarket and neighborhood store. We can see what’s happened to her when we talk to her and she disappears. She shrinks from contact. If you pay attention, you’ll see a lot of things. When you put a mask over your eyes as well as your mouth, then you just go on, and we tell ourselves it’s not our business. It’s family issues, other people. The process of rationalization a person goes through when they decide not to get involved, so as to save themselves the trouble and complications. It’s a dilemma for our consciences – what to do or not to do – I think in cases of gender-based violence, violence against women, violence against children, I think we need to overturn the idea that it is not our problem. It is a human who is suffering, whom I know, and we can help that person.

How to help:

When there are outbursts of anger, violence, fighting and yelling in the home, if a stranger comes and knocks, the violent male will stop for a few seconds. He needs to reset, maybe to think a second about what he is doing. Knocking on the door is a sign that someone else – a third party – has overheard. That emotional storm he is experiencing, which he may feel powerless to stop in some cases, can be hindered by a knock on the door. Sometimes a woman just needs a few seconds to run to the bathroom and lock the door. That’s also something. One always needs to do something, and to report it.

If we don’t have that impulse to get up and knock on the door; if we react out of cowardice or fear – for example, because we know he is a dangerous man, it’s even understandable. Sometimes one very small thing – a quiet call to the police. To call anonymously and say: Something is going on at this address, can you please check? That can save a life.

I would rather see myself as a tattle-tale than as a witness to murder. Many people say: I don’t get involved in my neighbors’ lives. Afterwards I wouldn’t be able to look them in the eye. I say that repairing relations with the neighbors is much easier that rehabilitating a woman who is the victim of severe violence. One with a broken rib or arm, an injured eye, because I did not intervene. It’s okay, but our priority needs to saving lives. That may take courage. I understand that and value it. I want to live in a society that recognizes and encourages that kind of courage.

Let’s say we didn’t dare, and the event has finished unfolding. We heard crying and cursing, and the silence that comes after the outburst or the fight or the wave of violence. There is always the day after. You can go over and wait for the man to leave the house, to knock on the door and tell the woman: “You are not alone. I heard you and I want to help.” Often, women who are victims of violence feel it’s the end of the world. No one knows and no one cares. It’s not true. Even if I could not do anything in the night time, I can get up the next morning and show her she’s not alone. That too, is something.

The more we can extend the circles of support around a victim of violence, her ability to rehabilitate herself and to stand up and do something will only be greater. She needs us to be in that circle. Because one of the methods of violent men is to isolate the victim. To isolate her by cutting her off from her family, from her parents and friends, so as to increase his hold over her. If we can break through his encirclement in this way, we bring with us a ray of light and of hope, of “oh, I’m not alone.”

It’s often that one little conversation that shows a woman that something can be done. That’s it’s not preordained that she has to suffer this violence for the rest of her life. She’ll start thinking. She’ll think: “Maybe I might really try.” We can’t give up on the victims, because to get out of that cycle of violence – it’s not a circle, it’s a spiral. Its like a whirlpool that she has to go through, around and around, and she needs to go through all of the cycles in order to get out. It’s a painful process. Very few women get up after the first time and walk out, most do not have the privilege of packing the suitcases and taking the children and renting a place somewhere else. So each one does it at her own pace, according to her own life and her own decisions, until she gradually comes to the point she does not want to be in that relationship.

At that point, she’ll find us. She’ll find all the people who wanted to help her before, and who did not give up on her or throw up their hands. So it won’t help to push women into doing something they are not completely on board with. That also weakens the woman. When we try to force things on her, she returns to the same place in which she was hurt. So, yes, I want to respect where the woman is at, the knowledge she has about her own life, and to help her to check her options. Often women are unaware of their options and what possibilities are open to them. So they see only one track. If we open to her more than one option, she starts to think, and we guide her until she reaches a decision that will protect her and give her a new life.

In this struggle against gender-based violence, every one of us has a place. Everyone. Every woman from every background has the right to live with security, in peace and quiet. This is a basic right, which all of us must fight for.

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