Recently, someone asked me if I often feel afraid in the red light areas where the NightLight team does outreach. I paused. I thought. I wracked my brain – trying to identify a memory of fear – but I came up empty. I had at different times been aware of risk. I had been conscious of potential danger. I’d even been calculating, but it had been a long time since I had been fearful.
Then, last Friday, I went to a friend’s house. I was met just inside the door by the family dog, and before I consciously recognized that the dog was approaching me, my body reacted. I felt my heart skip and my body tense- all before my thoughts even registered that the dog was there! Then, the dog bit my leg – again. This dog has bitten me three times now (but at least on Friday it didn’t draw blood like the other times!).
As my friend pulled her dog away, lecturing it sternly while cuffing its mouth and bopping it on the nose, l sat down on the couch and caught my breath, trembling slightly. My heart rate had increased, and I was sweating. That’s when it all came back to me. I was remembering what fear feels like.
That feeling! How had I forgotten it? The heart-stopping, involuntary paralysis that used to grip me multiple times a week – if not daily… it was back – familiar – but different too. Because, I’ve never been afraid of dogs before, at least not until this dog bit me. (And still, I wouldn’t say I’m afraid of all dogs. But, even if my mind can rationalize the fear away, my body remembers that this dog bit me, and clearly it’s afraid.)
Why am I sharing this? Well, this evening, I’ve been scrolling through various articles and statistics about violence against women. International Women’s Day is coming up on March 8th, and this year’s theme is, “time for action to end violence against women.” I’m pulling together some posts for NightLight International’s Facebook page. As I read, I found this statement that named the cause of the fear that used to consume me:
“All girls and women live with the knowledge, conscious or unconscious, that they could be assaulted by someone they know or even love…” 
I’m glad I am no longer controlled by fear of abuse. It’s truly only by the grace of God that I’m free of that. But, I don’t live in a fairy tale world, either; that knowledge, tragically, still shapes women’s reality. Especially if we’ve been “bitten” before, we live with an acute awareness of our vulnerability – possibly even paralyzing fear.
Thanks to my friend’s grouchy dog, I remember what that fear felt like.