Our summer of discontent

We are pleased to bring you a post from our first guest blogger – Nan Stoops, our executive director.

I am a baseball fan. I love the game. I watch, I play, I coach.

My mother followed the Red Sox and raised me on the Cubs. Her mantra was “suffering builds character.” I never really understood it, but I knew better than to question her about baseball.

We partner with the Seattle Mariners on the Refuse To Abuse™ violence prevention campaign. For 13 years, the Mariners have been the only MLB team to focus on violence against women. Make no mistake, I am proud of this effort.

But 2010 has been rough. The Mariners made a remarkably fast exit from playoff contention. And then came the trade that brought us Josh Leuke – a minor league pitcher who had been charged with rape.

In dealing with the public reaction to this trade, the Mariners are experiencing what we have always known: doing the right thing is complicated. Especially during a losing season when fans are restless and unhappy. People ask me why we continue to partner with them. Here’s why.

With Refuse To Abuse™, the Mariners agree to be held to a high standard. We applaud that. We expect them to “walk the talk” and we know they will stumble. After all, learning and changing is a slow, painful process.

Justice requires 3 things: truth-telling, accountability, and restoration.  We expect that from everyone we work with. Including the Mariners.

For my home team, the degree to which “suffering builds character” remains to be seen. But the other thing my mother always said was, “quit while you’re ahead.” On the justice-front, we’re not ahead yet. So, in work and in baseball, I plan to keep showing up – until the pennant belongs to us.

What an anti-violence expert learned from the BBC

After ten years of working against domestic violence, I was fairly sure I “got it.” Then something really crazy happened to me: doctors found a gigantic tumor in my six-month-old baby daughter’s head.

It was a rare, aggressive cancer. She went through brain surgery, intense chemotherapy and radiation. We spent six months in the hospital and even traveled across the country to get what she needed.

We referred to the whole ordeal as the “BBC” (Baby with Brain Cancer), believing that something as ridiculous as childhood cancer deserved a ridiculous nickname.

When I came back to work, I began to see the experiences of abused people in a new light and saw many parallels to my experience:

When your intimate partner is abusing you:

And/Or

When your child is diagnosed with cancer:
  • It is unexpected, devastating and totally inconsistent with your dreams and desires
  • You have to make some tough decisions when all of your options are pretty crappy
  • You need your family, friends and community more than ever
  • It’s hard to concentrate on anything else when lives are on the line
  • In shelters and hospitals: sharing space with strangers and dealing with institutional rules is a drag
  • Money makes a huge difference

I did notice one key difference: Our family got oodles of sympathy and tangible support, and virtually no one questioned our choices. But what I have seen in my work is that many survivors of abuse get the opposite reaction. The experiences are similar; the stakes are equally high, but the response tends to be a lot less supportive. Why is that?

P.S. My daughter is currently showing no evidence of disease. But just like survivors of abuse, the fear of what might happen still lingers.

Gay divorcees

Same sex couples can legally marry in five states and the District of Columbia. But state law allowing marriage is not enough. Without federal recognition, the benefits and protections that marriage affords same sex spouses are not portable from state to state. As several recent cases show, couples may not be able to get a divorce anywhere their marriage isn’t recognized. For LGBT survivors of domestic violence, this can mean being legally tied to an abuser with no way to divide property or establish child custody.

The right to divorce doesn’t make for feel-good campaigns about equality and love. (And when was the last time you heard anti-gay activists insist on preserving the sanctity of divorce between one man and one woman?) Yet the ability to get out of a legal marriage contract is every bit as important as the right to get in.

All of us who care about ending domestic violence need to fight for full marriage equality. We need to demand that the federal government recognize all marriages. Anything less leaves LGBT partners vulnerable.

She’s lying to me

These are the questions that run through my head when people tell me that battered women lie:

  • What do you really need to know?
  • Why do you need to know it?
  • Why do you think you need ‘the whole truth’ in order to help her get what she needs?
  • How does your judgment of her affect what you do?

Omission does not equal deception. And, lying does not mean that she doesn’t deserve our help. When we focus on her honesty or lack thereof, we’re saying that battered women are not credible and therefore are not worth our time, our compassion, our action.

Listen to what she is asking of you. Figure out what you can do and offer help. You don’t have to fix anything or anybody. Don’t underestimate the power of trying to connect with her and understand what she wants.

Believe that she’s telling you everything you need to know. Believe that you can’t choose for someone else. Believe that you can act.

It is hardest thing in the world to trust someone else – just ask a battered woman.

Everybody needs a little knipple

Recently, while sharing stories about her family, a coworker mentioned that she kept finding knipples in her mother’s house. After an awkward silence, she explained that “knipple” (pronounce the “k”) was a Yiddish word that meant a woman’s secret stash of money. That got me thinking—this sounds like a pretty good idea.

When a woman has money, it gives her more options and more power to make her own decisions. This makes her life more stable and gives her flexibility to respond if things go south (like in her relationship). Sure, it’s important to have community resources like affordable housing, food banks, and so on. But nothing gives you freedom, and that includes freedom from abuse, like cold hard cash.

Knipple

It would be great if we all had a rich uncle who could overnight us a boatload of Benjamins, but we’re not all so lucky. We need to find ways for women to access cash when they need it, promote financial education, and protect and expand welfare  programs that already exist. Because, at some point, everybody needs a little knipple.

“Checking in” to stalkers’ paradise

Sometimes I wonder, what makes a person really cool as a facebook user? Is it the fact that they have 1,236 friends? Or their witty banter about an inside joke? Or maybe it’s the fact that they are “checking in” to cool spots using Places or Foursquare?

Amongst my friends, I have noticed that the bar of adding someone as a friend is getting lower, and I have seen an increase in the use of external applications (with the default set to public rather than private).  This sets us up to share private information more liberally than we might intend.

Using Foursquare to stalk someone is just as creepy and illegal as following them around in a car. Yet, with the default public settings, we are set up to think that becoming a “mayor” of our favorite restaurant is worth taking the risk of being stalked at that same restaurant.

With social media becoming an extension of our lives, it’s important to establish thoughtful and intentional facebook etiquette, tell our friends what information we (do not) want shared through them, and learn how to regain our “dot rights.”

Finding comfort, if not answers

Vanda Boone was murdered this month.

By a man.

On a trail where I ride my bicycle all the time.

Though I did not know Vanda, this feels personal. Another woman, just like me. In the place so many of us go when we need to be outdoors.

Ribbon Pole
The ribbon pole where 25 names have been tied since 2005 when the Moments of Blessing first began

Yesterday’s heat did not deter 80 of us, mostly strangers, from gathering for a Moment of BlessingInterfaith Works brings people together when someone is murdered in our county to reclaim the place of violence.

These events help me with the sadness and the big questions I’m left struggling with. What is so deeply wrong with us? Why do men murder women who are total strangers, and murder women they profess to love?

I have found few answers to these questions in my 30 years of working to end violence against women. I guess this is what draws me to the spiritual comfort of the Moment of Blessing. In standing with  others,  I am not alone in being deeply moved. It consoles me to form a circle, cry with others, and speak of life and love.