For the last 34 years, October has been recognized as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. And I’m all for it—except for one little word. Let’s change Awareness to ACTION. We’re all aware that domestic violence occurs and is unacceptable, so it’s time to do something about it.

In honor of Domestic Violence ACTION Month I’ll be blogging all month about what it takes to end domestic violence. It is our view (at the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence) that to prevent violence we need to:

Address root causes of violence, Shift culture, Build Skills, Promote healthy relationships

So let’s get started. How do we address root causes of violence? What does that look like?

I just spent three amazing days at our annual conference. Root causes of violence were at the heart of our discussions on government deportation policies, racism, sexism, and homophobia, to name a few. Working to interrupt any of these oppressions is part of addressing root causes of violence. Because ultimately we know that if there is a system in place that values one person over another—for any reason whether it be racism, sexism, xenophobia, or homophobia—that system also allows domestic violence to flourish and thrive.

It seems like a daunting task, but I know change can happen. I want to tell you a story.

When I was three and my sister was six, my Uncle Jerry and Uncle Sean came to visit us. This was such a treat. What kids wouldn’t be squealing with delight when their uncles with purple and yellow hair and rainbow sequin tennis shoes came to shower them with love and affection? So we were pretty excited to show them around our neighborhood. In the time it took for us to take a walk around the block, my mother received a frantic phone call from a neighbor:

“I just saw your children on the shoulders of two weird men holding hands.”

My mother responded, “Those aren’t weird men, that’s my brother and his lover.”

The phone call ended with a click.

That neighbor never spoke to my mother again.

Fast forward to this summer, when I took my children to two (gay) weddings where the only thing that was weird was how darn hot it was for Western Washington.

This shift didn’t just happen. We fought for this change. When we at WSCADV stood in solidarity with Washington United for Marriage we did it not only because it was the right thing to do but because we understood that we must stand together if we want justice.

I know that things aren’t perfect. But I also know that when people are allowed to be who they are, the threat of violence is less. I know that if we take homophobia out of the equation, and people are not punished for being who they are, that relationships are healthier, and that ultimately we are all the better for it.

A change is gonna come, oh yes it will.

By now you’ve all seen the photos, the devastation, the air quality alerts, and heard the awful news. Washington (and much of the west) is on fire. My heart goes out to all those impacted by the fires and I am sending love and appreciation to the many folks helping out.

Now, I know that even in the midst of the fires and emergencies, people’s lives must go on. But a Facebook post from a domestic violence program in the fire/evacuation zone stopped me in my tracks:

A tweet detailing the closing of one domestic violence program due to encroaching wildfires.

A coworker and I commiserated by asking questions into the air:

“Can you believe that someone would have the audacity to continue abusing someone when their community is up in flames?”

“What must it be like to need DV services at a time like this?”

“What is wrong with people?”

But mostly we were just struck with the obvious: Fires happen and are not always preventable. Domestic violence happens and is 100% preventable.

When lightning strikes a dry forest, a fire will likely emerge. That is the cruel reality of nature. But violence is not lightning. Violence is not inevitable and in fact it is a pain of our own creation. There are countless miseries that we can’t avoid, but I know that we can avoid this one. So, let’s all commit to helping out where we can and pledging once again to end a 100% preventable problem – domestic violence. Hugs to all those impacted by both the fires and violence, we’re thinking of you and working to make it better.

El año pasado, tuve la oportunidad de trabajar con un grupo de trabajadores agrícolas inmigrantes latinos para crear una novela corta para la radio que crearía conciencia sobre la violencia sexual en los campos.

Todo el proyecto fue una gran experiencia de aprendizaje para mí. Me dí cuenta de que yo estaba allí para de verdad escuchar, ser una aliada, y dejar que ellos dirigieran éste proyecto. Me volví muy consciente de que si mi organización quería hacer algo útil y eficaz, tenía que permitirle a este grupo enseñarnos lo que se necesitaba para desarrollar un buen mensaje.

Después de muchas largas conversaciones sobre las necesidades de su comunidad, éste increíble grupo de hombres creó un mensaje de solidaridad y de paz declarando que la violencia sexual no es aceptable bajo ninguna condición.

Este proyecto fue el ejemplo perfecto de una buena colaboración. Las intercesoras de varios programas rurales de violencia doméstica nos ofrecieron sus comentarios y el conocimiento para iniciar esta conversación. Después, un grupo de hombres salieron de su zona de confort, abrieron sus corazones, y nos dieron la oportunidad de aprender de ellos y con ellos.

Este es el resultado de su proyecto, su visión, y su creatividad: una novela corta de radio en español con un manual de cómo poderla utilizar para crear conciencia sobre la violencia sexual en los campos. Es también una invitación a otros trabajadores agrícolas a ser parte de poner fin a la violencia contra las mujeres.


Last year, I had the opportunity to work with a group of Latino immigrant farmworkers to create a radio novela that would bring awareness of sexual violence in the fields.

The whole project was a great learning experience for me. I realized that I was there to really listen, be an ally, and let them lead the project. I became very aware that if my organization wanted to do something useful and powerful, I needed to step out of the way and let this group teach us what was needed to get a good message across.

After many long conversations about their community’s needs, this amazing group of men created a message of solidarity and peace that clearly conveyed that sexual violence is not acceptable under any conditions.

This project was the perfect example of collaborative work. Advocates from many different rural domestic violence programs provided their input and knowledge on how to initiate the conversation. Then, a group of men stepped out of their comfort zone, opened their hearts, and gave us the opportunity to learn from and with them.

Here is the result of their project, their vision, and their creativity: a radio novela in Spanish with a manual on how it can be used to create awareness of sexual violence in the fields. It is also an invitation to other male farmworkers to be a part of ending violence against women.

I just listened to a powerful This American Life story. In Act 1: Ask Not For Whom The Bell Trolls; It Trolls For Thee, Lindy West talks about her experiences as a writer and the internet trolls that come with that. This might not sound new or interesting. We all know it happens. Many of us who have posted something online have experienced some version of the mean, rage-y, entitled rants of those who disagree with us. But this story ends differently than you might imagine.

Photo by daveynin

Photo by daveynin

This whole virtual world is like a minefield of meanness. Sifting through comments of a post on a hot-button issue can be heart-wrenching. Even when the comments are not directed at me, they still impact me emotionally. (Consequently I’ve created a habit of NOT reading the comments…usually.) As Lindy West describes her daily struggle processing all the nasty words written to and about her, it occurred to me that online harassment can eat away at you like an abusive partner.

What ever happened to human kindness? In this world where we now have to navigate both our online and offline lives, it would be so nice to see some basic manners make a comeback. Employ internal filters! Engage in respectful—and even lively—debate! My kids are six and three and they get the concept. We talk a lot about using our words, lowering our voices, and showing kindness. As they have practiced it, I have watched them get better at it, navigating their own disagreements with compassion. Let’s all give it go. Practice!

In her story, Lindy West went out on a limb (one she did not have to go out on, and one the troll in question did not necessarily deserve) to reach out and share how she felt. The result was remarkable. The troll APOLOGIZED. Yep. They had a conversation and some healing happened on both sides. I probably don’t have to tell you that this is not typical, and is not the best choice for a lot of people experiencing abuse and harassment. But this ending gives me hope that things can get better. Lindy’s strength and capacity for kindness in the face of the crap she wades through on a daily basis is remarkable, just like the hundreds of survivors I’ve met whose strength and resiliency shine in the face of abuse.

We talk a lot about healthy relationships, we memorize the do’s and the don’ts, we vow to do it right. But even when we know what we are supposed to do, when it comes to real-life circumstances with real people it can get complicated and messy.

For many years, whenever I would visit my family it was inevitable that my father and I would get into a massive disagreement, mostly over politics. I’d take the liberal side, he’d take the Aruging-Family-Membersconservative side, we’d dig in our heels and try to convince the other person that they had it all wrong. Obviously, this didn’t work out well; usually it would end with me leaving the room in tears. It reached a point where I just wanted to shut down and not engage at all. I give my father a lot of credit, he realized I was checking out and decided that things had to change. He didn’t want our differences to get in the way of our relationship. And I wanted to share who I was as a whole person with my own thoughts and opinions. So we made some ground rules. We agreed to listen to each other, to respectfully disagree, to find common ground. We put love and respect for each other first.

I’m the first to say that our system isn’t perfect, we’ve had to revise and revisit. But we always go back to the ground rules and remind ourselves that a good relationship is our top priority. Because of our efforts my relationship with my father is better and—to the shock of my entire family—we can have tough conversations and still be smiling after.

I believe this strategy is applicable across situations; I’ve applied it to my relationship with my partner. I’ve made a commitment to resolving conflict, creating a system that works for both parties, and making sure each person is being heard and respected, despite differences. It isn’t simple or easy, but it’s doable.

I’m not a big fan of awareness months. There are so many these days that each month shares a long list of issues to be aware of along with a corresponding ribbon color. There’s even a Zombie Awareness Month. It’s May (gray ribbon) in case you want to mark your calendar.

Every October, when Domestic Violence Awareness Month comes around, I have an uneasy feeling. It’s not that I don’t think that domestic violence awareness is important. Of course it is. But I wonder what we are accomplishing. Does awareness actually lead to behavior change? Researchers say no.

I’ve seen awareness about domestic violence grow significantly over the years. That’s a great thing and it needed to happen. But I don’t want us to stop there. Now that people are aware, I want them to act. I want everyone to realize that they can be a part of the solution. They can learn about the resources out there so if someone turns to them for help they’ll know what to do. They can talk to young people about what a healthy relationship looks like. They can ask a friend “How’s your relationship?” and make chatting about this a normal part of life.

I’m not suggesting we all cancel our Domestic Violence Awareness Month activities. But let’s shift our focus to turning October into Domestic Violence ACTION Month.DVAM-logo

We bring you this guest post from Emily McAllister, a senior at Auburn Mountainview High School. The following is an excerpt of the speech she gave at a benefit show she organized to support our work and promote healthy relationships.  benefitshow

Good evening, welcome, and thank you for coming! This promises to be an amazing night!

For those of you who don’t know who I am, I am Emily McAllister. I have taken on the challenge of raising $10,000 for the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. … We are here to raise awareness about an issue that is hard to talk about. I have realized that not a whole lot of people really know HOW to talk about it. My goal tonight is to give some ideas that will help you recognize if it’s happening to you, also, to help you be aware if you are treating someone this way, and lastly to help you know what to say if it’s impacting someone you know. This issue is called domestic violence.

My Aunt Kate died almost 19 months ago. She was only 29 years old. Kate died because someone beat her. That someone was her boyfriend. That someone was with her for 5 years. That someone took her away from us. That someone will get his day in court and have to answer to the charge of Murder. The bottom line is, it’s not ok to hit anyone—ever. Kate was in a relationship with someone who did not treat her with kindness or respect. We all deserve to be treated with kindness and respect.

Kate leaves behind a large family, her mom and dad, brother and sisters, nieces, nephew, and many many cousins. She also leaves behind friends and a very special daughter. We are here to celebrate Kate. We are here to listen to some great music. We are here to raise money for the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, we are here to share a message about encouraging healthy relationships. Kate would want us to enjoy tonight and be happy! Kate loved music! She will be with us tonight, looking over us. Let’s have a great night!

As we transition between singers, I would like to share some facts to help define healthy relationships.

Fact#1: Relationships are supposed to be enjoyable and fun. This means that both people are having a good time. Dating should be fun! If it’s not, that is a sign that it may not be a healthy relationship.

Fact #2: Family and friends are affected by our relationships.  At this time, can I have all the Southwards, Sullivans, Stephens, or any other family member stand up. Now any friends. And now anyone who had met Kate. Please look around and see how many people were impacted by this one act. This goes to show you how many people are impacted by our relationships.

Fact #3: Relationships are built on respect, where both people share in decision making and are free to choose what is right for them. If someone is not feeling respected, it may not be a healthy relationship.

Fact #4: Domestic violence can happen to anyone: male or female, popular or unpopular, rich or poor, famous or not famous, black or white, beautiful or not. Your neighbor, your friend, your family member, or you. It’s important to know the signs. If there is a lot of drama, possessiveness, grabbing, slapping, or shoving, those are all warning signs that you may be an unhealthy relationship. Reach out and talk to someone about it.

Fact #5: Domestic violence if often a silent battle for many. It’s like the invisible elephant in the room. That’s why we have come up with the slogan “Stop the silence & end the violence.” It starts with each of us. You can be a part of promoting healthy relationships by getting the conversation started. Opening the lines of communication is the first step. Even if you don’t have the answer, you can simply say, “Honestly, I don’t know. Let me do some research and then we can talk more tomorrow.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence there is help available.

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