May 31, 2011
What does it mean for an abuser to be held accountable? What does justice for a survivor look like? And how do we get there?
I’ve been studying domestic violence murders for the past 7 years and have seen time and again how the legal system is profoundly limited in its ability to provide justice, safety, or healing for survivors of abuse. But focusing on the failures of the police and courts can feel hopeless, because it is not clear where else to turn. I envision that our own communities can step up to confront abusers and support survivors. Yet it is hard to imagine communities where sexism, homophobia, isolation, and victim blaming don’t get in the way.
A new book, The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities, is a collection of stories from people who have also wrestled with these questions. The authors are activists working against racism and homophobia. It makes sense that the people trying to figure out how to hold abusers accountable within their own communities are those that have been the least served and most harmed by the criminal response to abuse—LBGTQ folk, people of color, immigrants.
The stories bring to life both the hope and promise of community solutions to domestic and sexual violence, and how painfully difficult this process can look on the ground. In one essay, a grassroots activist group describes how they organized to address abuse by one community member toward another. Their process had all the key ingredients for justice: a focus on the survivor’s safety and healing, treating the abuser with respect while demanding real change, and directly confronting the conditions that allowed the abuse in the first place. And yet, their efforts took years, required massive energy and commitment, and they found it was hard to know whether they were making real change.
Reading this book left me feeling both excited about the creative work being done and overwhelmed with the work left to do. The efforts, aspirations, and even failures in these stories felt like a call to action for all of us working to end domestic violence. As Andrea Smith says in the introduction, “the question is not whether a survivor should call the police, but rather why have we given survivors no other option but to call the police?”
May 24, 2011
Ten rape prevention tips:
1. Don’t put drugs in women’s drinks.
2. When you see a woman walking by herself, leave her alone.
3. If you pull over to help a woman whose car has broken down, remember not to rape her.
4. If you are in an elevator and a woman gets in, don’t rape her.
5. When you encounter a woman who is asleep, the safest course of action is to not rape her.
6. Never creep into a woman’s home through an unlocked door or window, or spring out at her from between parked cars, or rape her.
7. Remember, people go to the laundry room to do their laundry. Do not attempt to molest someone who is alone in a laundry room.
8. Use the Buddy System! If it is inconvenient for you to stop yourself from raping women, ask a trusted friend to accompany you at all times.
9. Carry a rape whistle. If you find that you are about to rape someone, blow the whistle until someone comes to stop you.
10. Don’t forget: Honesty is the best policy. When asking a woman out on a date, don’t pretend that you are interested in her as a person; tell her straight up that you expect to be raping her later. If you don’t communicate your intentions, the woman may take it as a sign that you do not plan to rape her.
My co-worker recently created this list, inspired by sites like this*. As I was reading, I couldn’t decide if I should laugh or be horrified by the reality that violence prevention tips are always aimed at what the targeted person should do (judgment strongly implied) to protect themselves.
In the past two weeks, headlines about rape have flooded the news—CBS Reporter Recounts a ‘Merciless’ Assault, Congo study sets estimates of rape much higher , Peace Corps volunteer speaks out on rape. And, of course, IMF Chief charged with rape. I am glad to see people speaking out about rape. But raising awareness isn’t enough. How do we actually change perpetrators’ thoughts and convince them not to rape?
If you experienced rape as a reporter, a Peace Corps volunteer, a war survivor, a hotel maid, or by your partner, you don’t need rape prevention tips. It is the rapist and the culture around us that excuses, supports, and looks away that we must change.
*the site we originally linked to is no longer active.
May 17, 2011
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: access to money can protect women from abuse. A steady job offers not only income, but also protects against isolation, a powerful way abusers control their partners.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how workplaces support parents, probably because of my own preparation for baby #2 who is on her way. I am so fortunate to work for an organization that offers more leave than the law requires— some of it is even paid! This is a fantasy for many working moms-to-be. And yet, I still have to go back to work too soon and stress about both finding childcare and the financial burden that goes with it.
Imagine a place where new mothers (and often fathers) get ample paid leave when they have a baby, and childcare is available and affordable when it’s time to go back to work. Yeah, that place is called Germany, or Sweden, or Norway. And while these are among the most generous places that offer paid leave, many countries throughout the world do.
The U.S. has recently been called out for our lack of support for mothers in the workplace. This is not good for any of us, but it especially affects those who are dealing with abuse in their relationships. Without enough paid leave, women risk losing their jobs, their income, their support network.
And parental leave isn’t the only factor. Paid sick leave and flexible work schedules have also been shown to benefit employers and employees alike and give critical help to those dealing with abuse. Let’s shift the way we think about jobs in this country and demand policies and practices that better support families.
May 10, 2011
I was taken aback by the celebratory reactions to Osama bin Laden’s death. I watched people chanting U-S-A in sportsman spirit and rejoicing outside the White House. Unfortunately, in some parts of the country, messages of hate were directed towards Muslims. While President Obama was clear in his message that bin Laden’s death was not an attack on Islam, post 9/11 government policies on immigration and “counter-terrorism” have had a huge undertone of racism.
So were the celebratory chants of vengeance appropriate? Some certainly don’t think so.
In trying to sort out what bin Laden’s death means, I found myself saddened by the “us vs. them” reactions. “Us vs. them” doesn’t get us where we want to go. As Nelson Mandela said upon his release from prison:
“We enter into a covenant that
we shall build a society in which all South Africans,
both black and white,
will be able to walk tall,
without…fear in their hearts,
assured of their inalienable right to human dignity
– a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.”
Nelson Mandela’s release could have caused a backlash for white South Africans. But instead, he urged all South Africans to work together to build a diverse and stronger nation.
In Mandela’s words, I found some clarity. Bin Laden’s death does not mean that we return to a pre-9/11 world. What it means is that we need to move past “us vs. them” and work together.
We have to unite with citizens and immigrants alike in the fight for immigrant rights; and
We have to unite with Muslims and non-Muslims alike in the fight for religious freedom; and
We have to unite with LGBTQ people and straight allies alike in the fight for equality; and
We have to unite with men and women alike in the fight for gender equality and relationships without violence.
Because uniting to protect each others’ rights does not threaten or diminish our own.
May 3, 2011
It’s ironic with Mother’s Day just around the corner, the topic of our blog for last week and this is dads.
Our fathers were the subject of lunch conversation yesterday as three of us regaled one another with tales of our bad dads.
To put it bluntly, they were all jerks. All three drug or alcohol addicts. All verbally or physically abusive to our mothers, and to us. Two of the three died young. Evidently stumbling through life inflicting and suffering pain is bad for your health.
Years after she was grown and gone from the house, one of my co-workers was arguing with her dad about how messed up he was when she was growing up. At one point he defended himself with “well, I never sexually abused you.”
The three of us erupted in shrieks of laughter. That’s setting the bar a little on the low side wouldn’t you say?
Still, as much as our dads were big jerks, they were also smart, funny, hard-working, resourceful. Each of our dads encouraged us, in ways no other man ever would, to try scary things and be successful. Yes, father/daughter land is a maze.
Back at my desk I was left wondering, have we gone down the wrong road to end violence against women and children by thinking we could somehow shove out or wall off all the bad dads? The truth is, even after they die, they still exert an influence. How do we help one another sort this out?