A path to your door

When I was a little kid, my friend Jan and I beat a path through the tangle of brush in the vacant lot that separated our two homes. We were always so desperate to be with one another that we did this to cut 23 seconds off the time it took to get to each other’s door.

Our bedroom windows were facing and we would flick our lights to signal our mysterious childhood doings. Once we even tried stringing a tin can “telephone” between our windows. “Can you hear me!?” we screamed into the cans. And we could.

Path to a house

Today, I am looking out my window and noticing that my neighbors and I have beaten similar paths. At times like these, we are desperate to be together. Knowing that there will be some form of comfort, of reassurance.

In this solstice season, with all the fear and strife in our country and in the world, find the paths to your loved ones. Linger in your hugs. Share your savories and sweets. Care for one another more deeply than you ever could have imagined.

A safe home for all DV survivors

We bring you this post by Kendra Gritsch, our Domestic Violence Housing First program specialist, and Marie Sauter, Advisor to the Director, Pacific Northwest Initiative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, from their blog, Impatient Optimists.

Imagine you live in a home where you don’t feel safe. An abusive partner threatens you and your children – but leaving home means uprooting your child, possibly losing your job, and leaving everything behind. You are stuck: do you choose an unsafe home or no home at all?

Domestic violence has long been a leading cause of homelessness for women and children. Service providers in the domestic violence field are beginning to identify more effective ways to work with survivors of domestic violence who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless – by providing supports specifically tailored to help survivors become safer and more stably housed.

In 2009, the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WSCADV) teamed up with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and many other partners to launch a five-year pilot project testing the Domestic Violence Housing First (DVHF) approach to promoting survivor safety and stability. This marked a major change in the way service providers work with domestic violence survivors. Instead of imposing a pre-determined set of services that each person may or may not need, along with a set of conditions that must be met before housing is available, DVHF is a survivor-driven approach that asks the individual what they need right now. Survivors get to decide which services and supports they receive, and choose where they become stably housed.

DVHF includes mobile advocates bringing one-on-one services to locations that are convenient for each survivor, flexible financial assistance, connections to other community services, and landlord engagement to remove barriers to housing. This coordinated approach gets survivors into stable housing as quickly as possible – often bypassing the shelter system – and then provides ongoing support as they rebuild their lives.

Thirteen domestic violence programs across Washington State – urban, rural, and tribal – piloted the DVHF approach, and found that a significant majority of survivors either safely retained current permanent housing or quickly accessed new housing. The housing and support from advocates meant that survivors could get a job, enroll in school, and heal from the violence they had experienced. Safe and stable housing let children be children again, so they could stay in one school, have their own space to do homework, and invite their friends over without fear. With a place to call home, survivors and their children went from surviving to thriving.

We applaud these thirteen pioneering agencies and the many others who have followed their lead in Washington State and beyond. A recent investment of $2 million dollars from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and the U.S. Department of Justice further validates the work of these pioneers by supporting WSCADV in collaborating with Dr. Cris Sullivan to conduct research that seeks to demonstrate what we’ve learned: DVHF prevents homelessness and increases safety and stability for parents and children who are domestic violence survivors.

Survivors seeking services from four agencies in King County and Yakima County (LifeWire, New Beginnings, YWCA of Yakima and Lower Valley Crisis and Support Services) will be invited to participate in a longitudinal study to better understand how DVHF services can optimize housing stability for survivors and their children. Armed with this research, the domestic violence field will be better positioned to forge new alliances with housing/homeless service providers and attract new resources to support their evidence-based DVHF services.

Every person deserves a safe place to call home. This research will advance our knowledge of what it takes to get us there.

Don’t forget Orlando

This week we’re sharing a post from Eleanor Powell, our summer intern.

I could write about how angry I am. I could write that I had more faith in this country, that I believe people are fundamentally good and honest, not born with hate in their souls. I could, but I won’t.

The truth is I don’t expect much better from this country. At a mere 18 years of age, after witnessing countless incidents of racialized police brutality across the country over the past few years, I have already become numb to gun violence against the oppressed, and the shooting at Pulse in Orlando is no different. I wish I could say with the fervor of straight allies that I’m shocked such a hate crime could happen in the year 2016… but I’m not. Blatant hatred towards LGBTQ+ folk is never surprising to me. Even in a city as liberal as Seattle, I am afraid to walk out of my house looking too gay/dykey/gender non-conforming. Public spaces are always places of anxiety for LGBTQ+ folk, and with the added intersectionalities of being a woman of color, I very rarely feel safe outside of my own home.

For many LGTBQ+ folk, their homes are not safe because they live with abusive families or partners. While abuse occurs at the same rate in same-gender couples as it does in straight couples, bisexual women are almost twice as likely to be rape or abused by their partners than straight or lesbian women. Now, one of the few safe spaces for LGBTQ+ folk, especially survivors, has been compromised. After Orlando, I did not go to any more Pride events. I am even more conscious of what I wear and how I act in public―I am terrified. And so are the rest of the LGBTQ+ folk, the people of color, and the women in this country, because our oppressors keep telling us through hate speech and hate crimes that our lives are not worth as much as theirs.

I am not just angry, I am sad. Really, really, really sad, and scared, and just plain tired. I am tired of being hated, tired of hating myself, tired of trying to not hate myself while others like me are being murdered in safe spaces.

Staying hopeful after events such as Orlando happen is difficult, but not impossible. Pride Month is almost over, but that does not mean all LGBTQ+ folk go back in the closet until next June. Nor does it mean that we will forget Orlando. If it is safe to do so, be out, be proud, be who you were destined to be.

To the 49 people who lost their lives, may you rest in love and peace and power. To those still alive, may you find the strength to continue living.

Stand down

The prosecutor has spoken. And the court of public opinion is in session.

Thurston County’s Jon Tunheim announced that he has declined to press charges against the Olympia Police Department officer who shot and injured two unarmed black men last May.

He will, however be pursuing assault charges against the two young men.

The prosecutor claims that race was not a factor. We have to agree to stop saying that. Race has been a dominant factor in this country for hundreds of years, which means of course it was a factor in the shooting, it was a factor when the prosecutor made his decision, and it’s a factor in everyone’s reaction, including my own.

What to do? Fortunately big brains and big hearts have been working on this for a very long time and are working on it now.

Bursting on the scene, Campaign Zero has a plan. They recently put forward a vision statement and platform around ending police violence: “We can live in a world where the police don’t kill people…by limiting police interventions, improving community interactions, and ensuring accountability.”

Here are their solutions.

Solutions from Campaign Zero

Take for example Campaign Zero’s Strategy 1: End “Broken Windows” Policing. The theory behind “broken windows” policing is that when police respond to minor crimes, they nip crime in the bud and major crime can’t develop. Theory disproven. Add racism to the “broken windows” philosophy and you have shoplifting turning into shooting.

I listened to a few of my white middle class friends respond to the shooting by saying “Yeah, I shoplifted when I was a kid and I never got shot.” They get that race played a part in them, a) getting away with it and b) knowing that even if they were caught, the penalty would be minimal. What I find disturbing is an underlying attitude of so many liberal white people―a focus on “those stupid/racist cops.” I fear that we white people use our contempt of police to try to absolve ourselves of our guilt, our culpability. White folks can try to distance ourselves from the institution we created, support, and benefit from, but we can’t put down the ease with which we move in the world as white people, even if we don’t want that extra privilege, even if we want to give it away. Being pulled over by the police will never mean the same thing to us. It just doesn’t.

If we adopt this Campaign Zero strategy  in Olympia, we will have to figure out the non-police response to shoplifting, loitering, littering and such. How we are all going to respond as people who share the sidewalk with homeless people who have nowhere to live? What are we going to do when people steal food because they are hungry?

There is so much more to say about the Campaign Zero proposals from a domestic violence perspective. Even the idea of ending “broken window” policing gets complicated for domestic violence advocates. “Death by a thousand cuts”, which is how some batterers accomplish their dehumanizing control over victims, is often achieved with just the kind of minor crimes referenced in this strategy. If we call the police off from responding, how do we organize ourselves to help/support/force perpetrators to stop their wrong-doing and be accountable?

It’s time to follow the lead of the black people in Campaign Zero and black leaders in our communities and work to dismantle, demilitarize, de-escalate our police state. It’s time to think critically about how police are positioned now, at the top of the list of people we are urged to call. How do we move them to the bottom―the backstop, the call of last resort? It’s time to call ourselves, our media, our schools, our religions, our neighborhoods, and our democracy to task for failing to create a world where all people thrive. And it’s time for the police to stand down. The time is now.

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?

Fear not, think this

what-are-you-afraid-of-in-2015

I am not typically drawn to sensationalist articles titled “What Are You Afraid Of?” Mostly, because I already know.

But when Parade Magazine fell out of the Sunday paper last week, there was a cool cartoon on the cover so I flipped to the article.

Here are a few of the things you should and should not fear in 2015:

Flu not Ebola

Domestic violence not serial killers, pedophiles

Heart disease not Mercury in fish

Not getting enough dietary fiber not gluten

The re-appearance of measles, whooping cough, and other preventable diseases not vaccine side effects

Texting while driving not air travel…”

Note that domestic violence is number two on what we should actually fear.

Long before we feared flying in airplanes, long before airplanes, it served us to be afraid—of other animals that might eat us, things that go bump in the night, impending hunger or thirst. All this surviving through the millennia has landed us here—as beings with hyper-reactive fear centers in our brains that override rational thought.

But we humans are fortunate to also have lots of brain architecture dedicated to rational thought. This gives us access to things like ideas about what is right and wrong. About the differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships. And about how to survive domestic violence or stop perpetrating it.

I’d like to suggest an alternative to the fear framework that recognizes the wide open spaces of the fully evolved human brain. How about…

Use your gigantic pre-frontal cortex to:

Outsmart sexism instead of fearing that violence against women is inevitable

Outthink racism instead of fearing that racial stereotypes are real and/or irreversible

Promote peace and prosperity instead of fearing that there simply is not enough to go around

Think, plan, and act instead of fearing that nothing can be done.

Yes! No. Maybe?

Many people equate BDSM with abuse, but in fact that community can teach us a lot of great lessons about healthy relationships. You might be shaking your head in consternation right about now. But playing with power dynamics or intense bdsmphysical sensation is not the same as being abusive, violent, or controlling.

In one of my previous lives, I worked for several years as a sex educator for a feminist sex shop. While I was relatively open-minded, I had a lot to learn. Because even if I wasn’t particularly interested in something for myself, I had to be able to speak knowledgably and non-judgmentally with customers, many of whom were trusting me with vulnerable information. In any given week, I might help a 70-year-old woman who’d never had an orgasm or a 40-year-old man struggling to open up to his partner about his desires to explore role play.

I learned a lot, not just about sex but about communication and boundaries and consent and exploration and healthy relationships. All things that you need to engage successfully in BDSM.

Most people, especially when playing with a new partner, have a get-together where they chat about their yes/no/maybe list. The “yes” list is filled with all the activities you know you enjoy, the “no” list is all about the things you do not want under any circumstances. And the “maybe” list can include things you haven’t tried yet but might be interested in or things that might be okay in certain situations.

This list is one of my favorite tools, and anyone—any gender, any sexuality—can use it, regardless of what kinds of sex they like to have. It’s a great way to think about what your own desires are. And when you do it with a partner, you get to see where your interests overlap, where you might do some new exploration, and where the hard boundaries are. This is just one way to get to that “enthusiastic consent” that so many people are talking about right now.

Or you can do a yes/no/maybe list about other kinds of physical and emotional affection. “Holding hands in public—yes! Hand on my neck—nope. Deep kisses—maybe, but only if we’re in a private place.” For survivors of abuse, this can be a useful bridge to regaining ownership of their bodies and their desires. Being explicit about what is and isn’t okay can help avoid triggering incidents and make them feel safer.

Using the list might seem a little silly or even boring, but I’ve found the opposite to be true. If you find yourself tongue-tied when talking about what you want, it can be a great way to lay your cards on the table ahead of time, when you’re more able to think clearly. Give it a try!

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.

The question can make all the difference

Just imagine you are sitting in your doctor’s office waiting for the doctor and chatting with the medical assistant. Maybe it’s your yearly physical or maybe this is your first visit and you just want antibiotics for a relentless chest cold. All of a sudden she starts running through this list of questions:

  • Have you ever been emotionally or physically abused by your partner or someone important to you?
  • Within the last year, have you been hit, slapped, kicked or otherwise physically hurt by someone? If YES, who? Husband, Ex-Husband, Boyfriend, Stranger, Other? Total number of times?
  • Since you’ve been pregnant, have you been slapped, kicked or otherwise physically hurt by someone? If YES, who? Husband, Ex-Husband, Boyfriend, Stranger, Other? Total number of times?

I would probably answer “no” to all of these questions even if I was experiencing abuse. It is so alienating to boil down the complexities of any relationship to these questions. And besides after I answer these questions, reproductive-coersion-flyerwhat happens? Where does this information go? Will you look at me differently? Judge me and my partner? Do you have any help to offer if I take a risk and tell you anything?

Current healthcare research shows that both finding the right way to ask and connecting a patient to resources is the two-step golden ticket for effective support.

Offering support starts with showing you have some idea about what living in a coercive and abusive relationship might feel like. Futures Without Violence offers a Safety Card with these questions:

Ask yourself: Are you in a healthy relationship?

  • Is my partner willing to communicate openly when there are problems?
  • Does my partner give me space to spend time with other people?
  • Is my partner kind and supportive?

If you answered YES to these questions, it is likely that you are in a healthy relationship. Studies show that this kind of relationship leads to better physical and mental health, longer life, and better outcomes for your children.

Ask yourself: Are you in an unhealthy relationship?

  • Does my partner shame me or humiliate me in front of others or in private?
  • Does my partner control where I go, who I talk to, and how I spend money?
  • Has my partner hurt or threatened me, or forced me to have sex?

If you answered YES to any of these questions, your health and safety may be in danger.

Their information also includes national hotline resources and where to get advocacy services.

I may still hesitate to answer these questions, but I know that the person in front of me is ready to have a deeper conversation and has some resources. Screening for, asking about, or listening for abuse in a relationship is not an end in itself. Providing support and connection is what survivors tell us they want.

If healthcare professionals really want to help, they have to take the time to learn the right questions and get comfortable connecting their patients to advocacy services. Consider helping by taking a stack of Safety Cards (they’re free) to your next doctor’s appointment.

It’s National Coming Out Day!

390x420_ComingOutDay-KeithHaringtPerhaps in this age of increasing support for gay rights, marriage equality laws, and the oh-so-popular Ellen, it doesn’t feel like there’s much of a need for this day anymore.

But it is needed.

We talk a lot about community and relationships here, on this blog and in the work we do throughout the state. Part of what makes a relationship healthy is integrity, right? If you’re not able to be your full, honest self due to safety concerns or worries about being cast out of your community, what kind of relationship is that? Not much of one, in my book.

Being out actually relates quite intimately to domestic violence. Abusers will often use sexuality and gender identity against their partners and threaten to out them to their families or employers. This is particularly the case for trans women and men: someone who has transitioned may not have told their employers about their past (partly because it’s really none of their business, but also because they may be fired because of it). Additionally, abusers may use their partner’s identity as a way to belittle and humiliate them (“you’re not a ‘real’ woman, no one else would ever want you” or “I know you’ll just leave me for a man”).

When you consider the disproportionately higher rate of unemployment AND higher rates of domestic violence (and all other forms of violence) for trans folks, particularly trans women (and even more particularly, trans women of color), you can see how this would make someone feel trapped in an abusive relationship.

Although the reality is that some people need to remain closeted for their own safety, coming out is still a powerful, vulnerable, and important act. Coming out helps put a human face on issues like  homophobia and transphobia. Coming out helps create a domino effect, allowing more and more people to be an integrated, authentic part of their communities.