When is it ok to beat your wife?

We bring you this post from Karen Rosenberg, a Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence consultant.

Ever wonder how people justified wife beating as an OK thing to do? For Women’s History Month let’s look back on a bit of legal history that provides not one, but two justifications for wife beating.

old-legal-documentIn State v A.B. Rhodes (North Carolina State Supreme Court, 1868), the Court considered a case involving the married couple Elizabeth and A.B. Rhodes. We can assume they were white, though the legal record does not say. A.B. hit Elizabeth and—unusually for the era—assault and battery charges were brought against A.B. The case went to trial. In the words of the jury, “We find that the defendant struck Elizabeth Rhodes, his wife, three licks, with a switch about the size of one of his fingers (but not as large as a man’s thumb), without any provocation except some words uttered by her and not recollected by the witness.”

So the judge found A.B. not guilty. “His Honor was of opinion that the defendant had a right to whip his wife with a switch no larger than his thumb, and…he was not guilty in law.” (And yes, this is why some people avoid the phrase “rule of thumb.”)

In the appeal, the State Supreme Court challenged the lower court’s rationale, stating that it wouldn’t affirm the right to beat a spouse. But it gave another reason to find A.B. not guilty—maintaining the household’s privacy:

For however great are the evils of ill temper, quarrels, and even personal conflict inflicting only temporary pain, they are not comparable with the evils which would result from raising the curtain, and exposing to public curiosity and criticism, the nursery and the bed chamber.”

In other words, sure he hit her, but it would be more damaging to society if the state intruded on family life. This sounds dated and wrong to modern ears. Thank goodness. Or, more accurately, thank the Battered Women’s Movement. Want to learn more? Check out Susan Schechter’s amazing Women and Male Violence or this tribute to her work.

What does it take to believe a woman?

We bring you this post from the Executive Director of a domestic violence program in rural Washington.

The domestic violence agency I work at often buys supplies that our clients need but can’t always afford, like diapers, toiletries, and contraceptives. Easy access to birth control supports a survivor’s control over their body, and promotes their safety and independence. Recently, I walked into our community’s only pharmacy to buy some Plan B. The young woman behind the counter asked me for ID and went into the back room.

planb2Her: Here you go, all set.

Me: What did you do with my ID?

Her: Checked to see if you are over 18.  (I think this is funny – I’m 39.)

Me: There are no restrictions on buying Plan B, so you don’t need to know my age. I work at the local domestic violence agency and for my clients, being asked to show ID can be scary if their abuser monitors what they are doing and checks public records. It is also scary for people who are worried about their immigration status.

Now the pharmacist comes out and joins the conversation.

Pharmacist: That’s not true. On the Plan B package it says “For Women Over 17 Years of Age.”

Me: It’s old packaging (wondering just how old the packaging is). The law has changed. Plan B should be able to be purchased as over-the-counter medication. I don’t have to show identification.

Pharmacist: That’s not true and it is my choice how to dispense it.

This same conversation continued over a few more visits. I brought in articles and the new federal regulations—none of it seemed to matter to the pharmacist. Then my town gathered a small team of community members interested in women’s reproductive health services that were available locally. One community member went back to the pharmacy, and while the same “it’s just not true” argument ensued, another visiting pharmacist broke into the conversation and said we were right. He confirmed the changes in law we had already shown the local pharmacist.

This pharmacy—the only place in town to buy Plan B—is now in compliance with the law. And while I’m very happy about that, I still find it frustrating that my local pharmacist would not listen to what we were saying (read: what we women were saying) and would not change the pharmacy’s practice until a man said our information was correct. How many laws that affect women’s health are ignored when women are telling the truth?

Make the play count

We bring you this post from Karin White, Deputy Director at the YWCA Pierce County.

I got my first Seahawks jersey in 1976 when the team was franchised. While I’ve never been the biggest football fan there is, I have always followed the Hawks, through the good and the bad. So of course it was a disappointing finish to this year’s Superbowl to see them come so close and miss the win.

However, the loss to the Patriots was not my biggest disappointment on Sunday. As a person who has worked on behalf of domestic violence survivors for the last 15 years, my real disappointment was with the NFL’s first ever Super Bowl domestic violence ad. The NFL doesn’t have any more or less of a domestic violence problem than the country as a whole, but they have a lot more visibility and their players are often cast as ultra-male role models.

The reason the NFL’s PSA disappointed me is that it was yet another depiction of the consequences of violence after it occurs. Sensationalized violence is a deeply entrenched mechanism of our culture, and I would’ve liked to see something more innovative out of this ad. Depicting violence is what our culture and our media outlets are very, very good at; it’s also a big part of the problem that leads to the current epidemic of domestic violence. Violence is normalized to the point of seeming inevitable. Wouldn’t it be great to see something about how to prevent violence?

Happily, there were two ads that ran during the game that did get it right, and whether their producers knew it or not, they were sending messages that help prevent domestic violence. The first ad was for Toyota, and featured a father who lovingly raises his daughter to be independent and empowered to make her own choices. The support he gives is coupled with a healthy display of emotions, and the overall scene depicts both healthy parenting and healthy masculinity. If these two things were more normalized in our culture, more visible and more valued, we would see a reduction in domestic violence.

The second ad comes from Procter & Gamble, and is actually part of a larger project, #LikeAGirl. This ad posed the question: Since when is doing something like a girl an insult? This question is important, because it sheds light on the other deeply entrenched part of our culture, which is that when boys and men are told that they are doing anything like a “girl,” it is synonymous with doing it in some lesser fashion; weaker, slower, sloppier. Really, less “manly” and therefore insulting. It also reinforces and normalizes girls and women as actually less-than, which makes for the right attitudes and conditions for violence against them to flourish.

Both these advertisers seem to get that (a) there are a lot of women watching football these days, and (b) positive examples are appealing. These companies paid a very large amount of money to put forward messages about healthy parenting, positive expressions of male emotion, and the importance of creating conditions in which being female is valued. I wish the ad that set out to address domestic violence had opted for this more positive and innovative approach. Instead it was intercepted by yet another focus on violence. Flag on the play. Repeat the down.

Being grateful for chosen family

We bring you this post from Penny Lipsou, our Policy and Economic Justice intern.

However you observe the holiday season, this time of year is traditionally designed for family togetherness over delicious food. Holidays can be a beautiful time to connect with our loved ones, but they can also be overwhelmingly stressful and anxiety-provoking. In this emotional maze of expectations and celebrations, I want to express my gratitude for non-traditional support networks, specifically for my chosen family.

There are many outrageous wrongdoings we simply do not have control over. Whether it’s violence against people for loving a person of the same sex, hate crimes against people who dress outside of their assigned gender, cyberbullying against people who don’t fit a certain standard of beauty, or other kinds of abuse, there are cultural norms that pressure us to not show up as our true selves in the world. This is certainly an issue survivors face as they struggle to safely gain some control over their own lives. In an emotionally abusive relationship, this can look like a change in focus from your partner’s needs to standing by your own emotional boundaries.

There’s a quote that has stuck with me since I first read it: “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” When you think about this quote, you can go many ways with it. From discussing how social environments can normalize unhealthy behaviors to noticing how friends can help us feel confident—the people who surround us matter.

Friends are the family you choose.” And when it comes to living from a value-centered place versus living from a place of fear and anxiety, our chosen family is critical in helping us cultivate power and staying true to our inner voice. In my life, I’ve been both intentional and lucky to have a chosen family who loves, supports, and doesn’t give up on me through all the highs and lows. I’m the average of their fierceness, emotional brilliance, wit, and wisdom. They are my lifeblood and I’m eternally thankful that they have chosen to share their life with me. During this holiday season, it is my hope that all people, especially survivors, find the empowering support they deserve.

chosen-family

Thoughts from a future mom: Parenting amidst violence

We bring you this guest post from Leah Holland with the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs.

Recently, the folks at Can You Relate invited me to write a guest post on their blog. I planned to write about how trans folks are impacted by reproductive coercion. Then Michael Brown was murdered by a white police officer and I felt compelled to change topics.Audre-Lorde-no-border

Working in the anti-violence field with an anti-oppression focus keeps the intersections of peoples’ lives in the forefront of my mind. I can’t ignore that the impact of abuse is different for children of color than for white children. I can’t ignore that children of color must be taught how to interact with the police differently than white children.

And I don’t want to ignore it. You see, I’m in the middle of planning a wedding and a pregnancy. My sweetie is brown. I am white. We talk a lot about where and how we want to raise our children. My sweetie asked me this morning what I thought the hardest part will be for me being a white mom to a brown baby. Easy: OTHER PEOPLE.

Needing to trust other people is what is scariest to me. That was one of my biggest hurdles in deciding to have kids—knowing I can’t always keep them safe. I know all the stats about who is more likely to sexually abuse a child (hint: it’s someone the child knows).

In an interview for Ebony’s Ending Rape 4ever series, Monika Johnson Hostler says: “I always tell people, ‘As a parent do I worry about stranger danger?’ Yes. [However] the people in our lives that are associated with us, that it appears that we trust, those are the people I worry about most.” YES! And with the reality that one African-American is murdered by police every 28 hours, comes the recognition that the people we’re supposed to trust to keep us safe don’t keep everyone safe.

I’ll never be able to understand what it’ll be like for our child to be multiracial. But my sweetie and I will do our best to get them ready for the institutional, systemic, and individual racism they WILL face. If the other bad stuff happens too, at least I know our child will be believed, told it’s not their fault, and get help. And if our brown baby identifies as trans, we’re ready to parent at that intersection too.

Are you listening?

We bring you this post from Megan Dorwin, our Policy and Economic Justice intern.

I’m a social worker who spends the majority of her time with other social workers. And there’s a trend I’ve noticed lately about people in the helping professions. We require a lot from our partners and friends.

person-in-crowdAs “helping professionals” we strive to be present, centered, and compassionate, focusing on the needs of individuals and communities we serve. We dedicate one third of our lives to others and, quite frankly, it’s exhausting. As five-o’clock rolls around and I transition back from professional to person, I can’t wait for someone to do the same for me.

I want so desperately to be heard with the same care that I have extended to others throughout the work day. In my personal relationships I feel like I’m jumping up and down shouting: “Listen to me! Listen to me!” It’s about my desire to reconnect with a neglected piece of myself; my longing to feel my own needs and desires being met. Unfortunately, in this process I sometimes end up shouting over those I care about most.

So what’s going on here? In the social work field there seems to be a blind spot in applying our knowledge about healthy relationships and healthy lives to ourselves. I see this in our work environments, educational institutions, and personal relationships. At work it’s about meeting the needs of others. This isn’t a bad thing: it’s why most of us become “helpers” in the first place. But after a while, the work can take its toll on a person. But just because we work in jobs that are emotionally taxing, it doesn’t mean we get a free pass to neglect the needs of others when we see fit. We have to find a balance so that we’re not sacrificing ourselves at work and expecting our loved ones to do the same for us at home.

The people we love and care about want to support us, but they also need to be supported. Yes, sometimes we need to be heard; to share what’s on our hearts and minds. But we also have to step outside our needs and make sure we’re taking care of the needs of those around us. Our lovers, families, friends, co-workers, and communities will be better for it, and so will we.

Singing out to stop the silence & end the violence

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.

Talking back and moving forward

We bring you this post from Sarah LaGrange, our Policy and Prevention intern.

collageLately I have been thinking about adultism. It is one of the most common forms of oppression and I would venture to say that every single person who is reading this has experienced it. And yet it is the least talked about “ism” that I know of. You probably haven’t ever heard the term.

At our Teen Leadership Council (TLC), they had never heard of it either. But once I started giving examples, every teen there knew what I was talking about. At the end of the day we asked: What do you want adults to know about teens? Almost every single answer was about wanting adults to treat them with kindness and respect. One youth wrote “I only talk back when you talk back to me.” Is that actually what we want kids to learn, not to talk back? Would we ever say this to an adult? What we really want is for kids to take some responsibility for their actions.

Another TLC member said “You don’t have to yell to get our attention.” Who actually responds well to being yelled at? No one. So why do we yell so much at kids? Because we are allowed to, perhaps even expected to. This starts sounding eerily like why men so often treat women with violence and control, because they have historically been allowed to and even expected to control the women in their lives.

Jody Wright points out, “When we talk of kids being ‘disciplined,’ we mean that they follow what others say or want. When we talk of an adult being disciplined, we mean that they are following inner motivation to do something.” How do we expect children to learn self-discipline and internal motivation when we raise them to do what they are told and not talk back? The problem is, we are teaching them to perpetuate oppression and inequality. If we want kids to resist oppression we have to teach them how to talk back and that they deserve the same respect we give other adults.

The hidden cost of surviving gun violence

We bring you this guest post from Courtney Weaver, a local domestic violence survivor.

Photo by SevenSeven Photography
Photo by SevenSeven Photography

On January 15th, 2010 I was shot by my boyfriend point blank with a hollow-point .45. He was sentenced to 10.6 years in a federal prison in California. I have had 13 reconstructive surgeries on my face and right arm, hundreds of doctor appointments, and debt totaling at $440,605 as of May 2013. My ex, as is common with many perpetrators, has chosen not to work nor receive money while incarcerated to avoid paying restitution. This in turn has left me financially crippled and unable to rebuild my life.

One of the most insulting realities survivors like myself grapple with that most people are unaware of is how little victim compensation programs actually pay for. For instance, I was shocked and dismayed when I was left to clean up my own crime scene. Not much is more degrading than having to scrub my own dried blood off my kitchen floor 3 weeks after the shooting. Also, my landlord informed me I would have to pay for the damages caused by the bullet holes in my apartment or I would not get my security deposit back. Unfortunately that is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the injustices I have faced as a survivor of such a horrific act of violence.

There is a very large discrepancy between how much compensation is allotted to a victim of a violent crime versus how much the perpetrator of that crime receives annually in state tax dollars. The numbers are very surprising and also telling of how society and the system supports the abuser while re-victimizing the victim. For example, my compensation was limited to $70,422 by the state program. The perpetrator on the other hand is given approximately $47,000 a year of tax payer dollars, $12,442 of that being in healthcare alone including mental health care. To date the taxpayers have spent over $141,000 on the man who shot me. By the time he is released in 2019 tax payers will have spent $498,000 rehabilitating this violent offender. Is his life more valuable than mine as a victim? What if victims received the same amount of financial support as the assailant?

Preventing homelessness

We bring you this post from Kendra Gritsch, our Domestic Violence Housing First program specialist.

Did you know that domestic violence is the leading cause of homelessness for women and children? Women often face isolation, discrimination, and limited resources when leaving an abusive home. Because of this, many survivors are forced to choose between stable housing and safety.

To eliminate housing as a reason to stay in an abusive relationship, WSCADV and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation partnered to pilot Domestic Violence Housing First (DVHF). Our partner programs across Washington State are helping survivors get and stay in safe, permanent housing by providing things like flexible financial assistance. Then, advocates have the flexibility to provide whatever kind of support the person needs to be self-sufficient.

After three years of doing and learning, we are beginning to capture the impact of this approach. The YWCA of Kitsap County found: “we had to learn how to listen … and how to celebrate who they (survivors) were and maybe back up a little about what the YWCA is.”