In honor of Domestic Violence ACTION Month I’ve blogged 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

Earlier this month I tackled root causes, shifting culture, and building skills. For our last week, I’m diving into promoting healthy relationships.

So I started thinking about what kinds of relationships I see when I’m watching TV or movies. I already notice when what I’m watching doesn’t pass the Bechdel test.


It seems so simple and yet it’s amazing just how many movies DON’T pass it, even though it is a pathetically low bar. Wouldn’t it be great if we had a similar test for how relationships are portrayed in the media?

So, here it is, the HR* test (*Healthy Relationships):

To pass the HR test, a movie or TV show must at least have:

  1. Two characters that care about each other,
  2. where both people get to talk and have opinions,
  3. and they support and encourage each other’s interests and outside relationships.

Like the Bechdel test, this is a really low bar. There’s so much more that makes up a healthy relationship. How you talk to each other matters. How you listen to each other matters. But what if we started here? What shows would pass the test?

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

Earlier this month we tackled root causes and shifting culture. This week we’re looking at building skills. How do we do that and what does it look like?

First, I have a confession to make…I am not a perfect mate. (I know, it’s hard to believe!) Don’t get me wrong, I bring a lot to the table, but I’m sure my partner would agree that I don’t always get it right. For a long time this made me feel unqualified to talk about how to have healthy relationships.

Not anymore. Because here is the reality: I have a wealth of knowledge when it comes to what NOT to do, and that’s a good start. I’ve seen it in my 20 years of domestic violence advocacy and through my whole life of being a human. And so it occurred to me one day that while I may not be perfect, no one else is either. We all need a little help to know what TO do in relationships.

Building skills looks like admitting that we are going to fight, but it’s how we do it that matters.MakingAMove-for-Facebook

Building skills sounds like talking about our feelings rather than hurling accusations when things get tough.

Building skills feels like working up the courage to ask for what you want, and checking in before making a move.

This is a subject that we should be learning in school. It’s part of the basics—reading, writing, arithmetic, AND relating. And not just in schools. I want relationship skills integrated into our sports, our clubs, our hobbies. It is of paramount importance, and we shouldn’t leave it to chance.

Just remember, it’s ok if we don’t exactly know what we’re doing. We still have knowledge to offer and can ask for help when we need it.

What skills do you want to build and how are you going to get there?


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


Last week I wrote about root causes. This week let’s look at shifting culture. How do we do that?

Ultimately we want to challenge our communities to reject all types of violence while at the same time expecting that all people will be treated with respect in their relationships. I know it sounds a little “pie in the sky.” But in our everyday lives, there are simple things we can do to shift culture:

  • Instead of asking, “Why don’t victims just leave?” we could ask, “What can we do to stop abusers from being violent and controlling?”
  • Instead of telling women how not to get raped, we could point out that only rapists can prevent rape.
  • Instead of saying, “I can’t imagine he would do such a thing, he’s so nice,” we could say, “What must it have been like to be with him behind closed doors? Let’s ask her.”
  • Instead of telling little girls, “He must really like you if he hit you,” we could say “Violence is never a way to show love.”
  • Instead of asking what someone did to set someone off, we say, “You didn’t deserve that, how can I help?”
  • Instead of throwing our hands up in the air over teenagers’ relationships, let’s dive in and ask them how it’s going.
  • Instead of thinking that domestic violence is inevitable, we can embrace our huge capacity for love and compassion and learn to Love Like This.

All of these seem doable to me. They aren’t “pie in the sky”—they are right there in front of us, like pie on our plates! Can you commit to making a culture shift this month? Let’s try it and move forward. Together we can end domestic violence!


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.

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