Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

The brilliant powerhouse Maya Angelou passed away this week. Of the many tributes written to her, this one touched me the most: “That one opportunity I had to be in the same room with her I wrapped myself up in the love she poured out and the wisdom she displayed.

Another sports star beats his wife and gets off with just an apology. That’s bad enough, but even worse is how his team “thinks rehabbing the images of players who project the violence of their game onto women is no more than a public relations problem.”

There’s been a lot of emphasis on mental illness as an explanation for the horrific actions of Elliot Rodgers, but it seems clear to me that his misogyny was the motivating factor. And he’s not alone – When Women Refuse chronicles the endless stories of violence inflicted on women who reject sexual advances.

Last Friday I had the incredible opportunity to hear The Angel Band Project, featuring Jennifer (Jen) Hopper and Norbert Leo Butz. The Angel Band Project began as a benefit album after the rape and attempted murder of Jennifer Hopper and the rape and murder of her late partner, Teresa Butz.angel-band-projgect-blog-pic

Jen has a voice, a beautiful one. She will tell you her name, share her experience, and sing until you are moved to tears. Jen is extraordinary and I am resisting the urge to write a whole lot more about her. What I do want to share instead is how amazed I am by the love and support Jen’s friends, family, and people she’s met along the way have provided her. It shows in Jen’s love for them.

When I worked on the Domestic Violence Fatality Review Project, I repeatedly saw the critical role friends and family played in the lives of people experiencing domestic violence. They were often the first—and sometimes the only—person that victims turned to for help. I learned the importance of strengthening our communities’ response to violence.

As I’ve gotten to know Jen in the past year, I’ve been reminded what an honor and privilege it is to love people in our lives and our community. My message today is simple: love the people in your life, make a difference to them, and find ways to support and play a role in efforts to end violence against women.

 

La unión hace la fuerza. Esta frase me ayuda a concentrarme en la meta trabajando para eliminar la violencia contra las mujeres. El mundo lo veo a través de esta frase y sela diferencia que hace nuestra energía colectiva. Algunos ejemplos:

  • Los trabajadores agrícolas de Sakuma Berry Farms querían mejores condiciones de trabajo y lograron con éxito su meta al organizarse;
  • VAWA se volvió a autorizar el año pasado, con protecciones para todos los sobrevivientes, entre ellos los inmigrantes, indígenas y  LGBTQ debido a que el compromiso de las consejeras alrededor de la nación fue con todas las sobrevivientes no con un grupo en específico;
  • HB1840, la cual limita el acceso de armas de fuego a los abusadores, se aprobó por unanimidad en nuestra legislatura estatal después de que consejeras y supervivientes se unieron a hablar.

Todo esto no sucedió por arte de magia. Son sólo algunos ejemplos de lo importante que es trabajar juntos para lograr un objetivo específico. ¡Podemos hacerlo! Los cambios son posibles, los cambios son reales, y los buenos cambios puede suceder si nos unimos y organizamos.bigfishlittlefish

Yo soy parte del movimiento en contra de la violencia doméstica, soy parte de un movimiento que quiere poner fin a la violencia y traer la paz, la igualdad y las oportunidades para todos, independientemente de nuestro sexo, raza, etnia, o clase. Cada acción que tomo a diario, me recuerda mi compromiso, de que no estoy sola en esta lucha soy parte de algo más grande.

Te invito a que me acompañes en la creación o en ser parte de algo significativo, que mueva tu corazón, y te haga sentir parte de algo más grande que tú. Ser parte de algo que hace que nuestro mundo, el tuyo y el mío, un mejor lugar.

WSCADV esta organizando la caminata de Refuse To Abuse® 5K en el Safeco Field el próximo 19 de julio. Este es un evento donde nos reunimos por un objetivo común, para inspirarnos juntos y recordar que la violencia doméstica se puede prevenir y que juntos podemos de manera active crear paz. ¡Únete a nosotros! ¡La unión hace la fuerza!

****

“La unión hace la fuerza.” (United we are strong.) This Spanish quote helps me focus on the goal in my work to end violence against women. I see the world through this lens and know that our collective energy makes a difference. For example:

  • Farmworkers at Sakuma Berry Farms wanted better work conditions and successfully organized to achieve their goal;
  • VAWA was reauthorized last year, with protections for all survivors, including immigrant, Native, and LGBTQ people,  due to the commitment of advocates around the nation to all survivors not just one specific group;
  • HB1840, limiting abusers’ access to guns, unanimously passed our state legislature after advocates and survivors spoke up together.

None of these happened magically. They are examples of how important it is to work together towards a specific goal. We can do it! Changes are possible, changes are real, and good changes CAN happen if we organize and unite.

I am part of the domestic violence movement; I am part of a movement that wants to end violence and bring peace, equality, and opportunities for all regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, or class. Every action I take on a daily basis, I remind myself of my commitment, that I am not alone, and that I am part of something bigger.

I invite you to join me in creating or being part of something meaningful, that moves your heart, and makes you feel part of something bigger than yourself. Be part of something that makes our world, yours and mine, a better place.

WSCADV is hosting the Refuse To Abuse®  5K at Safeco Field onJuly 19th. This is a time where we come together, for a common goal, and inspire one another with the knowledge that domestic violence is preventable and together we can proactively create peace. Come join us! United we are strong!

The following is from a speech given by our Executive Director, Nan Stoops, at last week’s National Alliance To End Homelessness Conference.

My organization has 23 employees working in two locations. Every day, in both offices, we gather at almost exactly noon to eat lunch together. Regardless of how busy and chaotic the day is, we stop, get food, and sit down for an hour of book reviews, parenting follies, fashion advice, recipe sharing, baseball statistics, celebrity gossip, and so on. What started as a simple mealtime ritual has evolved into the centerpiece of our organizational culture and the values we hold for our work.

We all need sustenance and community. They give us life.

In 1977, I began volunteering at King County Rape Relief. In 1982, I was hired for the graveyard shift at New Beginnings Shelter for Battered Women. Those years were a time when I believed that my anger and energy and passion would help bring an end to violence against women.

I did not imagine that I would do this work for 35 years (and counting), nor that it would become as complicated as it has, nor that I would settle for a longer view and for the fact that violence probably will not end in my lifetime. I did not imagine the stories I would hear, the resistance I would encounter, and the fear, degradation, and cruelty I would witness.

I also did not imagine coming face to face with courage, resilience, and the will to live and love against all odds. I did not imagine working with people who personify what had been, for me, an academic understanding of how race, class, and gender intersect in this country. And I never imagined the vision, grace, dignity, and friendships that accompany this work.

My early failures of imagination have been replaced by a continuous cycle of curiosity, learning, and change. Right now, I am extremely curious, because I think change is in the wind. This is a very interesting time in the domestic violence “field.” The economy is bad. The political landscape isn’t much better. The demographics of our service population are fluctuating. And we are challenged by generational realities that include leadership and staff turnover in programs and, more important, the long-term impact of abuse that devastates entire families and communities.

I want to share my thoughts about a question that many of us are pondering. Because I’m not an expert on homelessness, I will stay mostly in the familiar territory of domestic violence. But I believe we have a lot in common, and I hope my thinking will resonate with you.

The question is this:  Do the services we constructed 35 years ago respond to the needs that survivors have today?

35 years ago, domestic violence was a private family matter. Victims were mostly silent and, when they dared to speak, they experienced both blame and shame. There were no laws with which to hold abusers accountable, and hastily organized crisis lines and safe homes were ill-equipped to handle the growing demand.

The original purpose of domestic violence emergency shelter was to provide safety and break isolation. Communal living made sense: women could share meals, take care of each other’s children, and participate in support groups where they could begin to rebuild their lives. They could get on AFDC within two weeks, and many left shelters with welfare checks, food stamps, and medical coupons in hand.

If I sound nostalgic, I don’t mean to. Most shelters were run-down and minimally furnished. Staff were compassionate, but overworked, underpaid, and consumed by the combination of the scope of the problem and continued public apathy. A social worker once said that shelter workers during that time exhibited the same symptoms that Amnesty International attributes to prisoners of war.

Today, in this country, there are more than 3,000 domestic violence shelter and advocacy organizations. When I look at the service models we have now, I am astonished by their complexity. And this is where I think the paths of domestic violence and homelessness really begin to merge or, at the very least, intersect in a big way.

Most domestic violence agencies have multiple funding contracts, each with its own programmatic and administrative obligations. In the name of compliance and efficiency, these obligations often get passed on to survivors in the form of shelter rules and mandatory participation. In the extreme, we hear about survivors returning home because it’s easier to be with an abuser than it is to live in shelter.

The domestic violence shelter population is changing. It’s more diverse in all ways, and it reflects the increasing hardships that people are struggling with; poverty and homelessness, substance abuse and addiction, trauma and PTSD, and entanglements with the child welfare, immigration, and criminal justice systems. This is a challenging, and sometimes volatile mix to house under one roof, and, again, we hear about survivors returning home, or never coming to shelter in the first place.

It may seem like I’m airing our dirty shelter laundry. But the truth is this: it’s time to think critically about the services we offer, and who better to do this thinking than us?

Domestic violence emergency shelter does save lives. It’s a refuge, a resource, and a respite for many. It’s also costly, sometimes chaotic, and almost always, limited in the time, space, and material assistance it can provide. And so, we need to preserve the best of what shelter has to offer and, at the same time, explore and test new strategies.

Here in Washington, we are re-considering shelter in three ways. And three and a half years ago, in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we began a Domestic Violence Housing First project, in which 13 community and tribal based agencies are providing housing support services as an integral part of their domestic violence programming.

When we first started this work, one skeptical director said to me, “since when are we in the business of housing?” I was so surprised by the question that I didn’t know what to say, but in the three years since, we have studied the research, gathered our own data, formed new partnerships, and heard from survivors—all pointing to an answer of “how could we not be?”

I asked our Domestic Violence Housing First staff to help me prepare for today, and they gave me pages and pages of statistics, citations, analysis, and survivors’ stories and quotes, most of it in eight point font. I can’t possibly summarize it all, but let me call out the items that I find most striking and that I believe illustrate how short and straight the line is between domestic violence and homelessness.

Our people are the same:

  • The 2010 Federal Strategic Plan to End Homelessness cites “among mothers with children experiencing homelessness, more than 80% had previously experienced domestic violence.”
  • In the HUD 2012 Continuum of Care Homeless Assistance Program Point in Time count, victims of domestic violence were the largest subpopulation of homeless persons here in Washington State.

The choices are untenable:

  • Domestic violence victims who are mothers will often choose stable housing with violence over unstable housing without violence. Violence directed at children is usually what precipitates leaving the home.
  • Efforts to escape domestic violence can result in loss of job, housing, healthcare, childcare, and access to a partner’s income. In fact, many survivors become homeless either during or after a domestic violence crisis.

Housing stability is essential:

  • Domestic violence coupled with housing instability results in high rates of depression and PTSD. In the SHARE study, the mean PTSD score for the domestic violence survivor population interviewed was equal to or higher than scores of returning combat veterans.
  • Conversely, the SHARE study reported that 18 months of stable housing resulted in dramatic decreases in danger levels for women and children, reduced depression and PTSD, and improved health and quality of life. As one survivor said, “It’s not just housing; it’s a sense of identity.”

These factoids are only a sample of what we have in common. There is so much to learn about the overlapping worlds of homelessness and domestic violence, and the ways that the same people navigate our respective services. We must partner well with each other. As HEARTH Act implementation continues, we need to work together on coordinated entry, resource distribution, and policy advocacy. We can do cross-training and talk about emerging trends, such as the increasing numbers of youth and veterans that need assistance. We can help each other understand how homelessness intensifies danger, and how safety intensifies stability. We can acknowledge how rapid re-housing with individualized support and advocacy is aligned with our fundamental value of self-determination. And we should agree that the whole of our work is greater than the sum of our individual parts.

I want to close by telling you a little bit about my 16 year old son Hanson. Hanson is a creature of habit. He loves routine. During the school year, Hanson’s days go like this. His i-phone alarm goes off at 6:15, he showers and gets dressed, eats the same breakfast of eggs, grits, fruit, and a power muffin, grabs his backpack, and runs to school to practice with the jazz band. He goes to all of his classes—at least I think he does—he runs track and works out, and gets home at 5:00. He does homework, eats dinner, loads the dishwasher, watches a little TV, brushes his teeth, jams his retainer into his mouth, and goes to bed at 9:00 in the same clothes he’s been wearing all day.

That’s what he does. Every day. It’s predictable and mostly unremarkable. Except for this. To him, I’m sure it’s also inevitable. Even though I frequently lecture him about his good fortune, and not taking it for granted, and being responsible, having compassion, and paying forward—to which he replies “yup, yup, yup, yup and yup”—I think he still experiences his day, and everything in it, as inevitable.

You and I know far too many people for whom violence, homelessness, hunger, and loneliness are inevitable. Our work together is about changing that inevitability. It is about making Hanson’s day possible for everyone. It is our challenge and our promise. It is lunch. It is community. It is the boldness to imagine.

They told us in law school that we the people drive how laws are shaped. For some of us, this notion does not feel real, and so we distance ourselves from political debates on things like violence against women and marriage equality. But these aren’t just political issues. They are connected to our everyday life and to each other.

I was talking to a family member about how frustrating it is that my mother is pressuring me to marry an Indian man. After a lengthy conversation, her response in ‘my support’ was that she doesn’t care who her daughter marries, as long as she marries a man. Later she said she would accept and love me even if I were single or gay. I would have thought that was a very progressive thing to say―about a decade ago―and would have probably said something similar myself. Now I see the sexism, racism, and homophobia in this snippet.

I am very clear that it is through conversations with friends and family that we can make a difference. Even when it doesn’t seem like I am getting through to them, I keep the conversations going. I tell my family that although I know that my getting married is important to them, I am not willing to do it any cost. I tell them about all of my friends: single, married, gay, straight. I refuse to choose one segment of my life over another. And the more of us who keep having these honest conversations, the more change we’ll see in the national dialogue as well.

I just left WSCADV’s annual conference with almost 400 advocates in the beautiful city of Spokane. We had this moment in time to gather together, no matter our pressures at home and work, and dream big. Beth Richie, the brilliant author of Compelled to Crime: The Gender Entrapment of Black Battered Women, challenged us to look at our movement to end violence against women and consider if we have defined our work too narrowly.

So much of our daily work is addressing what survivors and their children need to be safe. This is, of course, critical, but have we set our expectations too low? What about a world where all people are safe from all kinds of abuse? We’ve had these conversations many times, but to do this effectively we have to be willing to regularly reflect on and critique our efforts.

Beth reminded me that combatting violence in the lives of women, men and children is human rights work. You know, Human rights, those basic rights and freedoms that all people are entitled to. Working for social change is not something we can just think of when we have a spare moment. It is our job and has to be integrated into everything we do.

This is a tall order but I know we can figure out how to keep showing up for the individuals who need our support and also join the vibrant, creative surge of activists and other social justice movements around the world.

I just got back from a two week vacation, turned hurricane tour to the East Coast. My parents have a house near the beach in Rhode Island where I grew up. Before now, I’ve never had to sandbag and board it up. It was frightening to evacuate inland and wait two very long days for the storm to pass.

Irene was a storm with a broad reach―requiring a hefty response. In my corner of the smallest state (.00000002% of the area this storm impacted*) I witnessed police going door to door issuing orders to leave, check points to protect evacuated towns, all hands on deck fire departments, every truck and crew preparing for the storm, and then undertaking the enormous clean up. Most roads were passable and power back on within the week. Impressive wouldn’t you say?

This, my friends, is infrastructure.

As noisy as the storm was, Washington, D.C. fell silent. For once, nobody was arguing about the need for big government because it was clear we needed it to prepare for and respond to this big problem.

Some of the deadliest hurricanes in America occurred before the convention of naming them. Sadly, like these storms, the disastrous number of victims of violence against women and children remain largely unnamed and unknown. The enormity of this problem requires an infrastructure that is up to the task.  There is absolutely no reason we can’t have it.

Meanwhile back at the coast, I felt palpable relief when I arrived home after the storm to find everything and everyone safe. I am so grateful to our government and to all the people who are loyal employees. God bless this mess.

* I made that up―but feel confident that it’s close.

Courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum

Last month, the White House released the first report on the Status of Women since Eleanor Roosevelt chaired the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW) under President Kennedy. Really? There’s been no report on this since the ‘60’s?

This made me want to learn more. Do these commissions actually do anything? I was fascinated to learn that PCSW members didn’t think it was enough. The government was not enforcing the 1964 Civil Rights Act or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s sex non-discrimination laws. And the commission wasn’t going to change that.

To deal with their government’s indifference or hostility, PCSW and others formed the National Organization of Women. NOW, pun intended, activists could openly rally public support for women’s equality and the end of racial discrimination.

This got me thinking about what led me to the violence against women movement? I had no plan of action. No neon sign telling me to volunteer for a battered women’s crisis line. My past feels more like a mosaic—hard to single out one piece without stepping back and seeing the whole pattern.

Part of my mosaic was formed in the 1980’s. I was a bank secretary in Washington DC on K Street; we secretaries were called “K Street cuties.” I was sitting in the lunchroom one day reading Susan Schechter’s book, Women and Male Violence. One of the executives, a woman, came up and lectured, “You know women who are abused ask for it.” I looked at her thinking, I can’t believe she just said that and—not knowing how to respond —I said nothing.

At the same bank, the chief executive used to slide his hand down the backs of secretaries, and pop our bra straps—which again left me speechless. My own silence bothered me, and I began asking myself, “How do I want to spend my work day?” A dramatic shift in my career path soon followed.

Not everyone is going to form the next NOW or become a domestic violence advocate. You don’t have to. You can change the fabric of your community or your own life in small ways. What gives us the little push to move towards something meaningful and take action? Believing you matter may be radical enough.

“But mom, don’t you want your son to protect you?” said my friend’s seven-year-old when she told him no more video games for the night. “With your controller?!” was my friend’s response.

Compared to this boy, I have a much simpler life – one with no TV and no gaming system. So naturally, when I recently saw a male friend playing Halo 3, I was not only appalled at the intense graphics and use of violence, but I actually wanted to flee the room.

I am clearly not a gaming expert. But my strong reaction to Halo made me wonder about my friend’s son and what he is being exposed to. How are these video games impacting young men? How are they undermining the conversations I am having about violence against women?

Look, I don’t think video games are simply good or bad. I have male friends who are brilliant, kind, and sensitive, and play video games that are violent, just as I know people who never play video games, but are real pieces of work.

I will never be a fan of these games. When I spend my days studying domestic violence homicides, it’s hard to imagine playing a game about killing others for entertainment. But what I really want to know is what your take is on violent video games, like Halo, and how (or if) you think it impacts violence against women?

*“Prepare for unseen consequences!”

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,233 other followers