Zahra Baker is a little girl who lived with her father and step-mother in Hickory, North Carolina. She is the picture of innocence, freckle-faced and smiling in every photo. She is a cancer survivor, loved by her friends and classmates. She is the proverbial "girl next door."
Thirteen days ago Zahra Baker was reported missing. No one knows what has happened to Zahra these past two weeks. But what we do know is that she has been for many months a victim of domestic abuse.
The headlines tell the tale of her disappearance and the search for clues for her abductor. It is a tragedy. It is tragic not only because the inquiry into her disappearance quickly became a homicide investigation; it is also tragic because of how she was treated while we know she was alive, and how we reacted.
Nearly every account given by members of her family and by her friends described a life of suffering at the hands of her stepmother. Locked in her room, beaten and bruised, Zahra is like a character found in some fable written long ago. We hope and pray that Zahra's story will have a miraculous and happy ending. Its beginning, however, has been told and retold in articles and interviews of friends and relatives... and it is a tragedy -- a saga that began long before Zahra was reported missing.
The real shame is in the way Zahra was treated by her family and in the tacit acceptance with which we -- her friends, neighbors and community -- allowed her plight to unfold in our view, in our midst and in our silence.
How many beautiful, bright-eyed little girls must die or go missing before we are willing to reveal domestic violence for the scourge that it is in America?
How many hundreds of thousands of hours must police officers, sheriffs and federal agents spend sifting through garbage containers, mulch piles and ponds before it is too late and a child or a neighbor has gone missing?
How many social workers must open files and police officers respond to complaints, only to leave in despair when family members and friends protect the abusers from prosecution, before we are willing to stand together for what is right without pressure or shame?
How many prosecutors will go to court unprepared or leave frustrated because they or their judges do not consider domestic assaults on loved ones to be "real" crimes, before we can believe that the system works?
How many times will each of us defend someone by asking "what did she do to deserve it?", before we realize that we have become part of the culture that has to change?
What did little Zahra Baker do to deserve her abuse? What did she do? She faced down cancer with a smile and overcame physical challenges with an irrepressible spirit... that is what she did.
But even this joyful little angel could not overcome or escape the ravaging of what has been described by friends and family as domestic abuse. How many Zahra's have we watched in silent acceptance of the horrors that have been recounted as her daily life? Whether Zahra Baker is ever found and her abductor or killer brought to justice, her treatment -- before her disappearance -- is an indictment of us all.
It is not enough for victims to speak out, if we are not willing to listen and to speak with them!
It is not enough for victims to stand up, if we are not willing to help them up and to stand with them!
It is not enough for victims to walk away, unless we are willing to show them a path and to walk with them!
Domestic violence affects one in every three women in America. Who is that one in your life? And, what are you doing today to protect her?
Break the silence; end domestic violence!! ©
Written by David Moretti, Board Member for Becky's Fund, a national nonprofit organization focused on domestic violence prevention and education.
Learn more about Becky's Fund and how you can get involved.