Help! My friend is being abused and I don’t know what to do

Girl on phoneI’m a member of a local Facebook “For Sale, Wanted or Trade” group. Recently, someone posted that they are concerned about a friend, who they believe is being abused. They asked for advice about what to do.

I was struck by how many people said, “There’s nothing you can do; your friend will have to realize it for herself.” While there is some truth to that, I also think there are some really, really important things that friends can and should do. Even though you can’t rescue your friend from a bad situation, you can:

  • Stay connected as much as you can (in person, text, social media).
  • Continue inviting them to things. It’s harder for your friend’s partner to be abusive when there are witnesses.
  • Check out these tools for talking with folks about their relationship (whether you think they are being hurt or are the one who’s doing harm).
  • Remember that it takes time for most people to figure out if their relationship is not working. And even more time to figure out what they want to do about that. Most folks will try different things to see if the relationship can be saved before deciding to end it.
  • Know that leaving an abusive relationship doesn’t necessarily mean the abuse will end. In some cases, the abuse escalates. If your friend is being abused, encourage her to talk with an advocate at her local domestic violence advocacy program. Advocates will talk to her about how to stay as safe as possible whether she plans to stay or leave.
  • Listen to what your friend says she wants, and help her figure out how to do that. Her abusive partner is trying to control her, so resist the urge to tell her what to do.
  • Take care of yourself. It’s hard to watch a loved one be mistreated!

 

Are domestic violence victims codependent?

TextingMy therapist friend just texted me to ask: are domestic violence victims codependent? Here’s my crazy-long text back (ok, maybe it was a rant).

No.

An abusive relationship is not a codependent relationship, and therapists should not treat them the same way. In fact, telling survivors of abuse that they are codependent implies they share responsibility for the abusive dynamics in the relationship, which is unfair. I think it’s better for therapists to help survivors tease apart what’s abusive/one-sided power and control in the relationship, and what’s just crappy behavior on both people’s parts. And also to recognize/acknowledge that many survivors act against their own values (e.g., lying, manipulating, being mean) *in response to* and *in order to survive* the abuser’s violence and coercive control. Therapists can help survivors figure out what they want in a relationship, and what type of person they want to be, and then figure out whether those dreams seem achievable in the current relationship. And if those dreams aren’t achievable, it doesn’t necessarily mean the couple will break up – for so many reasons – and in that case, therapists can support survivors to be their best and safest selves even as they endure and cope with an abusive partner. That’s my forty cents!

Also: even if she *is* codependent, knowing that doesn’t actually help her deal with a partner who is more interested in maintaining power and control AT ANY COST than the health of the relationship. Even if she stops being codependent, he will still be an abusive a-hole who may hurt her worse if she stands up to him or tries to leave. The whole point is that domestic violence relationships are fundamentally different from crappy/unhealthy relationships.

And finally, many survivors aren’t codependent; they are dependent! Financially and otherwise – that is a big way the abuser maintains control.

Yes, I really wrote all of that in a text. I guess the question hit a nerve for me. How would you have answered?

Our long marathon

Photo by Vicki James
Photo by Vicki James

Do you believe that domestic and sexual violence will ever end? Or that we can at least get to a place  where it is super rare?

I do. I wholeheartedly believe that humans are capable of behaving better towards each other.

They say that social justice work is a marathon, not a sprint. As I schlepped through my second marathon over Thanksgiving weekend, I reflected on just how true that is for all of us who care about ending domestic violence. Since I love drawing parallels between different experiences in my life, here is a new list of things I’ve learned.

When  working to end violence:    And/Or    When  running a marathon:

  • There are good stretches and bad stretches. That’s alright. Don’t let the tough moments trick you into thinking it won’t be possible to cross the finish line.
  • We need all the help we can get. Whether you’re behind the scenes, on the sidelines, or pounding the pavement, there’s a role for everyone.
  • Most of the time you are focused on the road ahead, but it’s really lovely to look back every now and then and acknowledge how far you’ve traveled.
  • Getting through this big of a goal is hard, physically and emotionally. You have to breathe. You have to be adequately nourished. Most people need to take breaks.
  • You have to believe that it will eventually end. Enough steps will be taken, and you will, eventually, get there.

Three years ago, I couldn’t even run one mile. Now I have completed two marathons. Likewise, with the right support and training, anyone who wants to take on the ambitious goal of ending domestic and sexual violence can join in.

The great sports bro debate of 2012

Like many kids, my son likes to dress up. He has a special fondness for very tight-fitting clothes. For example, he yearns for a wrestling singlet. I think his fashion sense is quirky, imaginative, and overflowing with childish joy—as it should be.

So I was not the least bit worried when my son developed a fascination with my sports bra and decided to fashion one for himself out of a cut up pair of boxer briefs. In fact, I was quite in awe of his intuitive skill at working the fabric.

He was so darn happy about his new “sports bro,” that I didn’t even bat an eye the next morning when he chose to wear it under his t-shirt. We did have a short chat on the way to school about the fact that some of the kids might find it unusual, and did he have a plan for what he would say if anyone asked him about it? He confidently and enthusiastically replied, “I’ll just tell ‘em it’s my awesome sports bro!”

Forward to that night, when I found out my husband was very worried and strongly believed that our son should not wear it to school. He wasn’t constitutionally opposed to boys wearing anything that resembled “girl” clothing. He wasn’t second-guessing what this meant for our son’s gender identity or sexual orientation. But he was terrified that other kids—and especially their parents—would make those assumptions about our son, and that our son would face terrible teasing and bullying.

I was not bullied as a kid. I definitely wasn’t part of the popular crowd—anyone who knows me now will not be surprised to learn that I was a solid member of the dork crew—but I wasn’t teased or bullied. My son has such a solid self-assurance that I am usually more worried about making sure he is paying attention to other people’s feelings. So it never occurred to me to fear for him and the sports bro.

But my husband WAS bullied and teased growing up—terribly so—and those memories have stayed with him. He knows intimately how life-altering it can be to get teased for how you look or dress.

We did not arrive at agreement about how to handle this. I felt very strongly that we need to live in a world where our son can wear a sports bro and not have it be a big deal. My husband felt just as strongly that we do not yet live in that kind of world, and he was very unwilling to put our young son forward as the trailblazer. We are both coming at it from a place of love. And I think we’re both right.

At the end of the day, the only thing I could really think was, “Sexism and homophobia ruins everything!!”

And that is also true. Sexism and homophobia ruins everything.

Beloved community

This week we are all abuzz about beloved community at our annual conference in Yakima, WA. In a beloved community, everyone has a role to play in ending domestic violence and helping build skills for healthy relationships.

This morning, over 350 of us gathered together to talk about the possibilities that beloved community offers our statewide movement. We had some fun with YouTube clips, small group discussions, and instant polling. Check out what we had to say and join the conversation by leaving a comment!

How long have you been a part of this movement?

What does beloved community mean to us?

What is standing in the way of us building beloved community?

Well, can you?

I got to musing about the title of our blog…

One angle goes like this: Can you relate to what we’re writing about? Are you also worried about losing pay when you have to take sick leave? Do you wonder whether your voice is heard by politicians? Or what your kids are up to online? Do you get all fired up about celebrity hook-ups and break-ups?

Alternatively, Can You Relate? asks: Do you see how domestic violence is woven into our culture? Do you see the interconnections and the complexities? And will you help us analyze and untangle all the knotty threads?

But in a third—and equally important sense—Can You Relate? challenges all of us to ask ourselves: How are we at relationships? Are we tending to our friends and loved ones well? Are we nurturing our kiddos along? Are we good lovers? I mean: are we good to our dates, our boyfriends & girlfriends, our partners, our spouses? And do we expect the same of them? Who helps us sort out what’s a blunder and what’s abuse?

Talk to a victim advocate, a police officer, a faith leader, a hairdresser, a coach, and you’ll start to see that we still have a real problem on our hands when it comes to relationships, power, and abuse. Thankfully, there’s been a long standing effort to tear down the old model that sees this stuff as a private matter, and a new model is under construction. Over 1,000 of you will literally run and walk alongside us this Saturday to show your support for healthy relationships and teen dating violence prevention. We are on our way to a better world, and I hope you can relate to my excitement about that!

Universal domestic violence care

Wow! I am so inspired by all the neato stuff we’re working on with our partners across the state―from Building Dignity in our emergency shelters, to focusing on Housing First, to helping ensure there are protections for ALL victims, and also working to prevent domestic violence.

Yeah! This is the new wave of our collective work.

This feels like a time of many changes, a time of re-thinking old ways and imagining new ways, and a time of expanding―even as budgets and resources shrink. It’s hard, it’s hectic, it’s complicated…and it’s time.

I like to think of us―as a movement, as a community, as a country―as moving towards Universal Domestic Violence Care, a spectrum of services and supports to help people end abusive dynamics and create healthy, nurturing, equitable relationships.

In our healthcare system, we have emergency rooms―and those will always be necessary, because emergencies will always happen. But, we also have community clinics, and primary care providers, and specialists. We have places and services for people dealing with a short-term problem and also for those who are managing serious and chronic conditions. All these pieces are needed to help people be healthy and well.

We know that victims of abuse need emergency shelter and legal protections. But we know they also need more. We are steadily expanding the types of help available for survivors, their children, and for abusers. Just like with healthcare, we have recognized that prevention and early detection are a better approach than waiting until things become a crisis.

It matters to me

What an interesting crazy-making time we live in.

We have a country blowing up about birth control and rolling back reproductive rights at the same time as fashion trends and pop culture role models continue to impose sexy sexy sexy on our girls.

I am so tired of the heavy burden girls bear; to be sexy, young-looking sex objects, but not have sex. But if you do have sex, don’t get pregnant. But don’t use birth control. And definitely do not have an abortion.

Photo by michelleavitia@gmail.com at SoCalFeminist

We are giving girls the message: we only care about your uterus and what might grow in it. What happens to you before a pregnancy―rape, relationship violence, poverty, lack of access to sex education and birth control―does not matter. What happens to you during your pregnancy―besides the continued growth of the fetus―does not matter. What happens to you and the baby after it’s born―does not matter.

Why are the dominant messages so simplistic, so binary, so… stupid? How are we as a populace putting up with ourselves for being such liars―professing to value families, while simultaneously whittling away all the resources that support families?

I am eager to see us shift towards talking about healthy, positive sexuality, based on individual preferences and (where applicable) faith. Without imposing one (tiny, revealing) size fits all.

The perfect valentine

Valentine’s Day takes new meaning for me as I celebrate it with my second-grade son and his classmates. What are we really celebrating during this super-commercial holiday? Romance, or love? By whose definition? Who’s included and who’s left out on this day? And what do I want my son to learn about both romance and love?

Thinking about these questions in the context of the past few weeks, which brought the Komen kerfuffle, the joy of marriage equality, and the horror of Charlie and Braden’s deaths, inspired me to imagine what I hope my son and his classmates will experience in their lives:

  • You can marry who you want. Or don’t get married. It’s up to you!
  • You get to choose whether to have kids, and how many.
  • You’re gonna learn skills for having great, healthy relationships―both at school and from all the adults in your life.
  • Your government, the child welfare system, and your community will give everyone in your family really good help during times of trouble.
  • Your family matters, whatever it looks like.

Happy Valentine’s Day, son. Mommy loves you!

Year in review

First post of the year (again) and I thought I’d take a moment to reflect. Last January, I wished for some simple messages to accompany our collective efforts to end domestic violence, and lo and behold, I got what I asked for! It turns out that “Domestic Violence is preventable!”

It sure is.

While there are lots of explanations for the pandemic of violence against women and girls, there aren’t any acceptable justifications. It happens, but it doesn’t have to.

We actually can stop this violence before it starts―by promoting healthy relationships, shifting culture, building skills, and addressing root causes of violence.

So as a new year begins, I’m excited to reflect on the paths that we laid this past year―paths that will bring all of us closer to a world where boys and girls know that they are loved and know how to love, gender doesn’t define how we treat each other, and everyone experiences healthy, loving, and safe relationships. We made great progress in 2011: highlighting new ways to talk about prevention, learning about teen relationships, talking with our own kids, sharing messages about respect, joining national ventures, and making plans to end violence against women and girls.

We (yes, that includes YOU) are now in a position to make incredible leaps forward. Onward to 2012, huzzah!