Cleaning up the bloody mess after violence


Today I listened to an interview on the radio about a book called: Bloedsusters (Blood sisters) by Ilse Salzwedelwhich. It deals with the work of two sisters, who are crime scene clean-up specialists. They are called in after the fact, after the violence: to clean-up the mess.

Sisters, Eileen de Jager and Roelien Schutte from Pretoria, South Africa, see their work as a service to the families of the victims and to society in general. In their book they share that they find emotionally, the most difficult to clean-up violent deaths due to family murders and attacks on farmers. Maybe it is because we are supposed to be safe in our homes and when we are with those we love?

Their work reminded me of my own work as a narrative therapist where I often work with sexual and gender violence. I, as many of my colleagues, are ‘call in’ after the fact. We witness the aftermath of emotional violence. We see the emotional blood and guts that economic, verbal, sexual and physical violence leave. The details of the ‘crime scene’ differ, but there is often a common factor: gender inequality and it leaves a legacy of shattered dreams and lives.

There is one main difference between an actual physical crime scene and that of gender-based emotional violence. A bloody crime scene shock most people and they will properly, if present when the violence is perpetrated, try to intervene. However, each and every day we all see acts of gender-based violence, without intervening. It might be as subtle as a demeaning comment about women, or as violent as a rape – yet we do not intervene or challenge it. Societies continue to turn a blind eye. Men and women continue to laugh at demeaning gender jokes, especially about women. We continue to support structures and products which depict women as less than men. We continue to accept the all too familiar life-denying gender stereotypes about men and women. We should not tolerate any form of gender-based violence whether it is a snide remark, economic abuse or the beating and eventual killing of a wife. By not taking a stand against the most subtle to the most violent gender-based acts, we contribute towards making violence against women and children an acceptable phenomena in societies.

Cleaning up the shocking mess …. this made me think: If all forms of emotional abuse left a physical bloody mess as physical violence do, will we still be so complacent and tolerant of it. If we could see the bloody, smelly horrible mess that gender-based violence cause, would we still need 16 days of no violence against women and children or will every day be a day in which this violence is irradiated from our society?