Cats and raindrops bless us

Sherman Alexie said “I don’t believe in magic, but I believe in interpreting coincidence exactly the way you want to.”

So when a stray cat wandered into the circle of grief-stricken neighbors gathered outside the former home of Rachel Gardin-Gonzalez and made itself right at home, I chose to imagine that Rachel was back in this beautiful calm form to bask in the comfort and love of people who cared about her.

Rachel and her mother Kimberly Redford were murdered in this home last week. Interfaith Works had come here to hold a Moment of Blessing. A time for neighbors to reclaim peace in their community and love in their hearts for the entire family that was devastated here.

Seven years almost to the day, I wrote my very first post on Can You Relate about a Moment of Blessing for Vanda Boone who herself was murdered in south Thurston County.

Every single domestic violence fatality and injury and hurt is preventable. Without exception. So I wonder, now and all the time, about what it will take to end the violence.

Can You Relate has changed its focus recently to call out/call in the perpetrators of the violence. Ultimately it is they who control all these tragic outcomes. I know it’s hard to imagine, but rapists and batterers are the ones who need to understand what drives the violence and understand what it is going to take to stop it. We can provide all the support and care possible for victims (and we should) but they will just keep coming until we know this.

Unlike Sherman Alexie, I don’t know if I believe in magic. But as the circle of grief was breaking up today, a few drops of rain fell from the hot smoky sky. Was that raindrop blessing a bit of magic or just a coincidence? We’ll have to ask the cat.

The ribbon pole with the names of most of the people who have died from violence in Thurston County since 2005. With the magic cat in the background.
Tragic additions to the list of victims.

 

News you can relate to

Some stories that caught our eye this week:

Don’t Think the Supreme Court Matters? Think Again. “In one instance, the Supreme Court can bend the arc of justice faster than any march can. And then in the next breath, it can bend that arc into a hook that pulls us back decades.”

Supreme Court Strikes Down Texas Abortion Restrictions “The majority opinion considered whether the claimed benefits of the restrictions outweighed the burdens they placed on a constitutional right. Justice Breyer wrote that there was no evidence that the admitting-privileges requirement “would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment.”

Supreme Court Upholds Tribal Rights in Key Sexual Assault Case “For many Native women and children survivors, civil jurisdiction isn’t an academic or even a legal question. It’s a matter of life and death.”

The Supreme Court Upheld the Law Against Domestic Abusers Owning Guns. If Only Someone Would Enforce It. “A study from Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health has found that “laws restricting firearm access for batterers subject to restraining orders are associated with a 19 percent reduction in rates of intimate homicide.”

News you can relate to

Some stories that caught our eye this week:

Antoine Elvin Sullivan shot and killed his wife and then himself. His grieving mother decided to have a domestic violence expert speak at her son’s funeral. “I told her we needed to let people know the abusers are your father, are your sons, are everyday people who hold good jobs.”

Given how rarely police are held accountable for crimes they commit, it was a surprise when Daniel Holtzclaw was convicted of sexually assaulting multiple black women in Oklahoma City. Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw discusses the case.

If domestic-violence victims can’t secure safe housing after separating from their abusive partners, 60 percent will return to their abuser and 38 percent will become homeless. Lifewire and the King County Housing Authority are working together to help survivors to a different outcome.

 

Back to school!

School has finally started here in Seattle!

giphy

You might have heard that Seattle schools didn’t start on time because the district and the teachers disagreed on several contract issues. So the teachers went on strike for our kids and our schools. As the mother of a first grader I’ve been scrambling to secure child care, but I support our teachers.

The thing that made this strike a bit unusual (as far as teacher strikes go) was the huge amount of support teachers received from parents and communities. I’m not talking about a handful of parents bringing brownies to the picket lines. I’m talking about district-wide grassroots organizing. Parents, students, and community members came out strong—they walked picket lines with teachers, held their own march, and kept teachers supplied with food, water, and that liquid sunshine known as coffee.

Neighborhoods with lots of support trekked across the city to places with less and provided food and supplies there. Neighborhood childcare collectives popped up. An organization started by a couple of parents called Soup for Teachers exploded on Facebook as the place for parents to not only organize lunches for teachers, but also a place for accurate and timely updates on how the negotiations were progressing.

So kids, let’s review what we’ve learned from this strike about community engagement:

  • It’s possible for A LOT of people to come together and rally around an issue that is pressing and important.
  • Community members who are not directly affected will get involved when they understand how others in their community are impacted.
  • When community members show up and do what they can, people get the support they need.

Awesome! Guess what? Violence in our homes is also a pressing and important issue affecting all of us. How can we take what we’ve learned from the strike and apply it to supporting survivors, holding abusers accountable, and promoting healing for all?

Sold out

“Is having no option to leave the same as making a decision to stay?” Jill Davies posed this question at a training this week. She offered this analogy: “If all the tickets to a Stevie Wonder concert were sold out, does that mean you made a decision not to go?” Heck no! I missed Stevie’s concert when I was 19 and I’ve been sad about it ever since!sold-out-ticket

We have to change our assumptions about survivors who can’t or don’t leave their abusive partner. Most of our solutions for survivors of abuse are based on ending the relationship, but that ignores their reality. Survivors often have ongoing contact with their abusive partner for many reasons—a big one is children. As Jill reiterates, “Leaving is not the answer to domestic violence, reducing violent behavior is.” Leaving might be a part of the strategy to reduce violent behavior but it is a strategy not the strategy.

At that training, I promised to never again say a survivor is in denial or minimizing (code for “she’s not doing what I think she should be doing or she doesn’t get how bad things are”). Any strategy that’s going to help a survivor of abuse must respect her decisions about what works for her and her family.

And I’m happy to report that I got to catch Stevie in concert last year.

 

So, you’re a feminist

What’s the deal with so-called male feminists? You know who I’m talking about. Men who say they support women, call for equal pay and wear Pro-Choice tees and then get caught for sexual harassment. Or the guy that’s shocked by the “obvious misinterpretation” of what he’s doing and is like “But I love women! Look at my t-shirt—solidarity, sister! We’re cool, right?” WRONG.

 

Here’s the thing. There are a lot of great dudes out there. Some who truly understand feminism and act on behalf of the rights of women. What does that dude look like? Here are my thoughts:

  • He makes space to amplify the voices of the women in the room. This means consciously not talking or offering his commentary on everything the women say, even if it’s supportive. We don’t need your constant approval, dude.
  • He refrains from making sexist jokes and remarks (which means he knows what would constitute a sexist joke or remark), and he lets other dudes know that it’s not cool when they do.
  • He makes space to include women in places where they are absent in ways that are not patronizing or disrespectful.
  • He offers support to women-centered organizations, asks how he can help, and does not take the lead.

I’d like to see more dude feminists step up. And being a feminist does not mean declaring it from the mountain top—actions speak much louder than words. When men support women to be heard and respected, abuse of women will have less and less space to exist. It won’t be tolerated. It will be stopped before it gets dangerous. There will be powerful social consequences for abusers. I’m looking forward to that.

Giving degrees the third degree

I recently came across this article about a woman who had lied on her resume about her education. Of course lying about such things is not ethical or wise—but I think this is an excellent opportunity to look at the misplaced emphasis our society has on college degrees.

job-descriptionAccording to the article, she did her job quite well and was well-liked and respected. She made significant improvements and added value to her workplace for almost thirty years. So, does that one lie mean more than her good work?

Many organizations automatically require a four-year degree for every job (even the ones paying minimum or near-minimum wage), often for no particular reason. There have been jobs I’ve been disqualified from despite having the exact work experience needed, simply because I didn’t have a bachelor’s degree. I can understand the temptation to lie, the frustration of not being able to get your foot in the door despite your qualifications.

Requiring college degrees bolsters inequity and discrimination. Think about who does and doesn’t have access to college. For instance, we know that abuse is a huge disruptor to domestic violence victims’ lives, including their attempts at education or getting a better job. Abusers may actively sabotage victims’ efforts to study or attend classes. And for victims who’ve had to take the extreme measure of obtaining a new identity, they may not be able to even acknowledge college degrees, if they have them.

My friend Laura Pritchard Wirkman runs Sharehouse (it’s like a food bank, but for furniture and household items) so job access and economic justice are already on her radar. She’s managed to revise the job descriptions there: “I try to talk to other management-types about this as much as possible and always encourage them to question the education requirement for any position,” she says. “If it’s not a specialized position that literally necessitates a degree or license, then the next question should always be: ‘Does direct or related experience make up for (or even outweigh) a degree?’”

If you have any authority over job descriptions at your workplace, talk with your colleagues about your standard requirements. Look at each job and actually think about whether applicants need to have a four-year degree. You could be weeding out qualified candidates and inadvertently discriminating against domestic violence victims and other marginalized groups of people.

Improving effectiveness of domestic violence protection orders and safety for victims

This afternoon, Governor Inslee will sign ESHB1840 (concerning firearms laws for persons subject to no-contact orders, protection orders, and restraining orders) into law. We issued the following press release after it unanimously passed the Washington State Legislature.

Last night the Senate approved ESHB1840, a bill that prohibits domestic violence abusers with protection orders against them from possessing a firearm, with a   49-0 vote. The bill unanimously passed the House last month, sending a strong message from the legislature that they support victim safety and recognize the importance of keeping guns out of the hands of domestic violence abusers legally deemed too dangerous to have them.

Abusers’ access to firearms increases the lethality of domestic violence and makes it more dangerous for friends, family, and law enforcement to safely intervene. “Domestic violence is about control; the abuser controlling the victim’s life,” said Grace Huang, Public Policy Coordinator for the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “For some victims, getting a protection order is the first step in taking their lives back. And that’s threatening to the abuser and where we often see guns come into play.”

A national research study found that a domestic violence victim is five times more likely to be killed when there’s a gun around. In Washington State, guns are by far the most common weapon used in domestic violence homicides—more than all other weapons combined.

“When a victim gets a protection order and is separating from an abuser, the violence can escalate. Removing firearms at this point is critical for victim safety,” said Huang. “We thank the legislature for furthering the protections of domestic violence victims in this important way.”

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.

News you can relate to

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

  • RH Reality Check has a great article about abusers and guns: “ the risk of homicide against women increases 500 percent when a gun is present in domestic violence situations.”