“Home should be a place of liberation”

My colleague said this at a meeting yesterday. I first heard it at our conference last year when the incredible Alissa Bierra was talking about Marissa Alexander. Hearing that sentence again stopped me in my tracks. It is so powerful. Especially in light of the story of Korryn Gaines who was recently shot and killed by police in her own home, in front of her five year old son. (On a tangent, did it not occur to the police that perhaps they should come back another time? Does failure to appear in court really warrant a death sentence?)

But back to that phrase. For years in the domestic violence field, we have struggled to say what we want vs. what we don’t want. We don’t want abuse. We don’t want coercion. We don’t want assault. But that phrase is a gift. It is part of our end goal. It is the way.

home should be a place of liberationHome should be a place of liberation. An absence of violence is not enough. You should be treated with respect by those who proclaim to love you (and those who are “sworn to protect”).

Home should be a place of liberation. You can have opinions in your home. You can disagree about things and have a voice.

Home should be a place of liberation. It should be a place where you can be who you truly are. If you are different from your family (for example a gay or trans teen), you should be loved fiercely.

Home should be a place of liberation. That is what I want. For me. For you. For all of us.

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!

 

Can you talk to a friend about their abusive behavior?

Yes, you can! But it’s not easy and you could probably use some advice, right?

It’s hard to admit or even recognize when someone we care about is being abusive. When we do start to see it, some of us want to vote them off the island and some of us want to stick our head in the sand. But what if we want to continue to be in community with folks who have done harm? We’ve got a new guide How’s Your Relationship? Conversations with someone about their abusive behavior that will help you talk with a person in your life who is struggling in their relationship, who maybe isn’t their best self, and who has the will to change.

 How’s Your Relationship? Conversations with someone about their abusive behavior

 

“Why don’t victims just leave?”

I recently wrote this guest column for publication in Sound Publishing community newspapers.

nomoreThose of us who work at domestic violence programs hear this question all the time. The truth is, they do. Every day we hear from survivors of abuse who were able to find the support and resources they needed to be safe and self-sufficient.

Every day we also hear from people who are unable to leave because they fear the abuser will be more violent if they do. This fear is very real. According to the Washington State Domestic Violence Fatality Review, in at least 55% of homicides by abusers, the victim had left or was trying to leave.

Many people are unable to leave an abusive relationship because they have nowhere to go. Our communities don’t have enough affordable housing, and shelters and transitional housing units are limited. On just one day last year, domestic violence programs in Washington could not meet 267 requests for housing. People often stay with or return to an abusive partner because they don’t have the money to support themselves or their children.

We also hear from people who don’t want to leave, but want the abuse to stop. Research consistently shows that people in an abusive relationship make repeated efforts to be safe and self-sufficient, but there are many barriers—both external, such as limited resources or support; and internal, such as an emotional connection to their partner or a desire for their children to be with both parents—that makes this very difficult.

But here’s the thing: This is absolutely the wrong question to be asking, as it implies that victims are responsible for ending violence. They aren’t. Instead, we should be asking what we can do to stop abusers from being violent and controlling.

Why I support the WSCADV

Guest blogger: Mike C. This post originally appeared on CauseCords.com.

Black and purple survival paracord bracelet from CauseCords. Featured in May 2015, $10 from each sale that month will go to the WSCADV
Black and purple survival paracord bracelet from CauseCords. Featured in May 2015, $10 from each sale that month will go to the WSCADV

Ever since I could remember, fundraising to support local charities was always something I was motivated to do. Whether it was racing up a building to support cancer research, selling cookies and pies to benefit people with Multiple Sclerosis, or walking amongst thousands to support children with autism; I enjoyed knowing that I could play a small part in changing someone’s life for the better. It wasn’t until I started collecting donations for victims of domestic violence that I realized how big of an impact I was making.

Being a survivor of domestic abuse is not something that is commonly advertised, such as beating cancer. Most victims work to move away from the painful memories of their past, even though that means leaving behind many beloved aspects of their lives. Domestic abuse does more than just inflict physical damage; it tears apart families, causes emotional distress, shatters trust in others, and leaves scars that can have an lasting effect for generations. Unless you or someone you love has experienced it, most people aren’t aware of other victims of domestic violence, and yet they are all around us.

I am lucky. I am not a victim or survivor of DV, but in my efforts to support the WSCADV I’ve received testimony from those who have survived. People that I have known for years, but was unaware of their suffering, confusion, and pain. For the first time, I could see how my charitable efforts changed lives for the better. I could see how the power of advocacy and awareness could help those around me and truly change my community.

The resources are in place, the network for relief and rescue is in order, and there are people who want to help. All we need is the funding. That is why I support the WSCADV and victims of DV.

Tell me a story

Don’t be jealous.

I got an invitation to go to a Moth storytelling workshop the other day. If a blog could squeal, you’d hear it right about now.

If you don’t know what the Moth is, and you love storytelling, you are in for a treat. I almost never listen to the Moth without choking up or laughing out loud.themoth

The pre-workshop instructions from the Moth organizers said to not overthink a story before the workshop. They assured us they’d teach us the techniques of creating a Moth-worthy story.

I have so many stories. If you know me, you know this. All the time. But don’t you know, when I got the email about the workshop, my mind went completely blank. Story? Do I know any stories?

In truth, I’ve had a long dramatic life with many story-worthy moments. My problem? Most of them are not things I would be wild about telling in front of an audience of strangers.

I finally picked a nice safe story about something that happened to me in high school. When I told the story to my partner (step one in story development) I put both of us to sleep. No good. I had to pick one of the risky stories, or flunk out of storytelling school.

So I took the plunge. I told the story of my childhood friend—and the deep relationship I had with his entire family. And something bad that happened.

I loved them all. They were my second family and I wished they were my first. Every night, they ate dinner together around a big table with a white tablecloth, real silver, nice plates and cloth napkins. They had an electric warming gadget to put the main dish on in case someone wanted seconds. And the conversation—oh, they read New Yorker magazine and newspapers and discussed important stuff in a civilized way. I was in heaven. They also had a summer “camp” in Maine—a creaky old house with a large screened-in porch—where the big dining table lived. The house was on a lake with the purest water where we swam and sailed. I loved all these people so much.

Time passed and all the kids grew up. I went away to college—3000 miles away. This was in the olden days, when people wrote letters—so I had a booming correspondence with several members of my adopted family. We all stayed tightly connected.

One year, when I was home for Thanksgiving, my friend and I got together and, as always, we talked and talked. I told him about my recent volunteer work at a Rape Relief in my new town, and about my particular interest in child victims. He asked me, bemused, if I didn’t think that the real problem with adults having sex with kids was the social taboo—that barring that, it really would be no big deal. Right? I remember thinking he was just yanking my chain, putting a theoretical thing out there to argue about. But the more we talked, the clearer it became that he was serious.

I knew he was close with a teenager whose mother was a tenant in an apartment he owned. So I remember insisting that he assure me that he was not having sex with this kid. The conversation went nowhere and I returned to college deeply troubled.

I wrote my friend a letter asking him once again to assure me that he would not have sex with kids, and he wrote back a 3 page, double-sided reiteration of what he already had told me about his rationale for why it’s okay for adults to have sex with kids.

I used to think that life was right and wrong, black and white. There was no time when I wouldn’t be dead sure about the right thing to do. But having my beloved friend wander down this terrible road left me stunned. And flat footed. Should I report? Or maintain my relationship so I could keep tabs and try to persuade or deter him?

It killed me to do it, but I turned him in. He was investigated and I guess the child he was in contact with didn’t disclose any abuse because my friend wasn’t arrested and I wasn’t called upon at that time to do anything more.

He and his entire family stopped talking to me. I felt phantom pains from that loss for years.

Fast forward a decade plus, and my phone rings one morning. I enter into a surreal conversation with a state patrol officer who is asking questions about my friend and what I know about him. Victims finally had come forward and the police were looking into prosecution. She knew something about a letter, and they’d tried to get this letter from the child protection agency, but they’d shredded their old files. Could I help?

Yes, I kept a copy from all those years ago because I knew this was not going to go away. The letter was entered into evidence and I was subpoenaed to testify at a trial. No trial took place because my friend came to a plea agreement. He went to prison.

People are always surprised by this, but I went to visit him there. Yes, I did. A couple of times. For those of you with friends or family in prison, you know about this. How you visit people even though they are not overjoyed to see you, and even though you are not overjoyed to see them. But because you are connected, and staying in touch is the only thing you can do.

My friend served his time. But when the date arrived for his release, it didn’t happen. He was civilly committed—the fate of many pedophiles. Civil commitment lives outside of most of our view and happens to people we are afraid of—and honestly, afraid for good reason. I completely understand why we want to lock up the bad guys. Forever. Period.

But I know this bad guy. For a whole bunch of reasons I don’t think he’s someone who should be in civil commitment. My friend was losing his freedom. All my hard edges defining right and wrong continued to crumble.

Years passed and my friend won a trial to secure his release. Every strand of my being, all my decades of work on behalf of victims strained as I went to testify on his behalf, for his release. There are many reasons I believed he was safe to be at large, and to the best of my knowledge he has not reoffended since he won that release.

I know this is hard for most people to understand but this is my world, where love and justice collide.

And this is the story I told at the Moth workshop.

The miracle of story-telling brought me others after the workshop who told me their own stories.

There are so many victims, which means there are so many perpetrators. And these rapists and batterers are people we know and in some cases people we love—in all the messy ways that happens. Even when we try to lock them up or throw them away, our loved ones return.

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.

When someone you love does horrible things

Bill_Cosby_(2010)Like most children of the 80s, I grew up with Bill Cosby. I loved Fat Albert and Picture Pages. I adored The Cosby Show and sometimes wished I were a part of that family. I probably identified most with Vanessa, but I always wished I were more like Denise, cool and rebellious. I also grew up with family members who were racist, and I’m quite sure that Cosby played a part in me rejecting that racism. It’s not a stretch to say that he helped change the way white Americans viewed black Americans (though that in itself was also problematic).

Those who know me would say that I never lack for an opinion and I frequently talk about various issues of the day that have me all riled up. But I’ve been uncharacteristically quiet about this latest airing of Cosby’s dirty sexual assault laundry.

It’s not that I don’t believe the accusations. I do. Rather, I find myself overwhelmed with sadness and anger in a way that I wasn’t expecting. No one close to me has committed violence (that I’m aware of) so this is the first time I’ve had to face the reality that someone I’m fond of could do terrible things. My thoughts of Bill Cosby are inextricably entwined with laughter and warmth and love…and now also with betrayal and anger and hurt. It’s hard to know how to talk about that.

It helps me understand how people can be in denial about abusers. That doesn’t mean that the denial is acceptable, but I think I now have more compassion for the people who defend abusers or refuse to believe it. No one wants to believe that someone we love or respect is capable of such things. It’s too awful to accept, too painful. I understand that, and I also know we have to move past that and start holding abusers accountable.

In this situation, with a far-removed celebrity, there’s not much I can personally do, other than using it as a way to talk about the issues of sexual assault, a sexist culture that refuses to believe women, and the power of fame and fortune to override justice. But if and when it hits closer to home, I hope I move quickly through my instinct to deny and instead focus on what matters: believing and supporting survivors, seeking justice, and creating change.

To see, to speak, to persuade

Last week I was sitting through the jury selection process for a domestic violence related-crime. Day one: I was questioned alone about where I worked (spoiler alert—the Washington State juryCoalition Against Domestic Violence). Do I know prosecutors? Do we work together? Yes, and yet I am not dismissed. Day two: I realize I am intentionally being kept on by both the prosecution and defense. They ask me questions and see how others react. My role is either educator or provocateur. At first I’m annoyed, but then I realize I’m in a focus group I could never assemble. I get to listen to a group of random adults talking about domestic violence.

I watched how easily the entire group was swayed by the person leading the conversation. The defense attorney told a story about his young children fighting. It is patronizing to suggest that kids’ fights are comparable to one adult using coercion against another to control them. Yet nods of understanding and a feeling of concurrence with the defense swept the room. Throughout the day the defense attorney kept referring back to this story. Each time enforcing the idea of domestic violence as a simple fight rather than the complex reality of how fear and power dynamics affect a person’s options, autonomy, and safety.

When it was the prosecutor’s turn, he asked why someone who experienced abuse might stay in a relationship. The responses felt like a psycho-analysis of the alleged victim’s behavior. She is co-dependent, in a love/hate relationship, grew up in an abusive home. I spoke up, suggesting that she may have tried to leave and was not able to get help, or her partner threatened to hurt her or her family unless she returned home, or she did not have enough cash immediately available for an apartment. The room is with me now, heads nodding.

In the end, no surprise, I am not picked to be on the jury. I think everyone there would agree that violence against your intimate partner is unacceptable—but everyone had a different understanding of what that actually looked like and who should be held accountable. It was too easy to judge the victim’s behavior and too hard to understand all the ways an abuser’s tactics can impact their partner.

Stop telling me to smile

Over my shoulder, I call towards the back of the car, “Why do you think men yell out at women on the street?” “Because they can,” came the lightning quick response from one of my twin 16-year-old daughters. We were talking about Stop Telling Women to Smile, the public art project by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh who interviews women about their experience of street harassment, draws their portrait, and uses their words to create posters for buildings and outdoor walls. Both of my daughters said they liked Fazlalizadeh’s posters because they had short, clear messages that anyone could understand.

Last year I blogged about my daughters initiation with street harassment. They were scared and tentative about taking public transportation for a while. Now, only ten months later, I feel like I am talking to experienced and disgusted young women who still don’t understand why men feel like they are entitled to their time and attention, and why they face anger and ugliness if they ignore the catcalls. They wonder how to respond and when is it the right time to say “leave me alone.” All of this feels exhausting for them, and for me knowing that so much can happen out of my sight.

Our conversation transitions to talking about how street harassment is connected to dating relationships. Do guys just turn off this behavior with a girlfriend? Do all guys do it and just not talk about it? I explain that not every guy engages in street harassment, but the fact that it goes on undermines the things you need for a loving and equitable relationship. Street harassment is not just about individual behavior. It is a part of our culture that uses fear, intimidation, or violence to give women and girls the message that they are not in control of their lives. These public art posters are so powerful because they are making women’s experiences of street harassment visible and public rather than a fleeting remark that is too often dismissed and trivialized.