An extraordinary day

At our conference last week, we celebrated the passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and honored Deborah Parker for her strength and leadership. The following is from a speech given by our Executive Director, Nan Stoops.Homepage-Graphic-Conference2013

On February 28 of this year, Congress passed a bill that renewed the Violence Against Women Act. What might have been a somewhat ordinary day on the hill was an extraordinary day for survivors and advocates across the country. We had gone 500 days without VAWA. Not much changed during those 500 days, and yet, in my mind, everything changed.

In my 35 years of doing anti-violence work, I have witnessed and participated in periods of incredible hardship and divisiveness. Times when we compromised and then looked the other way. Times when we failed to listen to each other. Times when we could not, or would not, build the bridges that we say we want and know we need.

Not this time. This time we got it right. This time we were willing to wait 500 days. And in those 500 days, I think we realized that we would go another 500 if we had to. Because we developed the political will and principled strategy that we knew would eventually prevail. We stopped building protections for some at the expense of others. We acknowledged the unique challenges experienced by LGBT and immigrant survivors. And we finally recognized tribal authority over non-tribal members when they commit domestic violence on tribal land.

The legal precedent with respect to tribal sovereignty is significant. So too is the humanity of it. With the passage of VAWA, we broke with the tradition of this country. We were led by our Native sisters and brothers, and we joined with countless organizations to create a pathway for securing the sovereign rights of the indigenous people of this country.

I watched CSPAN on the morning of February 28th. I followed the procedural maneuvers, and I watched the roll call vote. When it was apparent that there were enough votes, I texted Grace (our public policy coordinator) to confirm, and then I just sat there and whispered “wow.” It was as if all of the years and all of the work converged into a moment. We had stayed on the side of “justice for all,” and we had won.

State and federal laws addressing violence against women start with the courage of survivors. The 2013 reauthorization of VAWA was no exception. There was significant leadership from our state. Our policy coordinator, Grace Huang worked practically full time drafting and analyzing the 800 pages of VAWA. All of you responded whenever we asked you to make calls. And when the bill failed to pass, you called again. And again. And again.

But in the end, there is one woman who made all the difference, and we honor her today.

At this time, I’d like to invite our Native sisters and brothers to join me on stage. We are fortunate to have here with us the woman whose courage, truth-telling, vision, and determination paved the way for the historic passage of the Violence Against Women Act. I am profoundly honored to introduce the Vice Chairwoman of the Tulalip Tribe, Deborah Parker.

The Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence recognizes Deborah Parker, Vice Chair of the Tulalip Tribe for your strength, courage and leadership.

“This is your day. This is the day of the advocates, the day of the survivors. This is your victory.” – President Barack Obama, March 7, 2013

Where are the men?

menarerapists

One of my tasks at WSCADV is to compile all the feedback we get at our annual conference. I actually look forward to it—I love reading both the praise and the critical feedback. I love that people care enough to let us know what they really think, even when it’s not always positive. After our last conference, one comment made my briskly typing fingers pause: “Where are all the men?” She went on to list her concerns that she believed she’d gotten involved in a movement that hated and devalued men (I’m paraphrasing here), which was not what she’d signed up for.

My knee-jerk reaction was dismissal. How ridiculous! Everyone working in this movement knows and loves men somewhere in their lives—it felt like she was trotting out that tired old saw about man-hating feminists again. But then I paused and thought about it: it’s actually a really great question. Where are the men? Our conference attendees reflect people working in domestic violence programs across the state. While there are men working in these organizations, advocates are overwhelmingly women. But if we have any hope of real, lasting change and eradicating domestic violence, men have to be involved—deeply. It just isn’t possible any other way.

To that end, I want to highlight just a few men and male-led initiatives that I’m aware of. This has been a pretty rough time with all the violence in the news, and I think we need to hear stories of men—and everyone—who are doing good work in their communities.

  • Tony Porter and A Call To Men: I first heard of Tony Porter through his engaging, powerful appearance on TED Talks. I love the way he challenges us to envision new ways of “acting like a man.”
  • Men Stopping Violence: Part of their mission is to “dismantle belief systems, social structures and institutional practices that oppress women and children and dehumanize men themselves.” In other words, they are focused on getting to the root of the problem.
  • Men Against Rape and Sexism: There isn’t one core national organization, but versions of this exist on many campuses across the U.S. The group at the University of Minnesota was my first exposure to men who were actively working towards ending violence against women.

Please feel free to list others in the comments, and to share your thoughts on how men can be allies to the movement to end violence.

Make a wish

We are pleased to bring you this post from guest blogger Phil Jordan, Elder Abuse Project Coordinator at the King County Prosecutor’s Office.

Last year, my friend Rob, local actor extraordinaire, played the part of Lightning Lad, sidekick to superhero Electron Boy. It was part of a heartwarming story orchestrated by the Make-A-Wish Foundation to grant Erik Martin, a terminally ill 13-year-old, his heart’s desire.

I have to credit Erik and Rob with helping me understand my mixed feelings about the Make-A-Wish phenomenon. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing the kids’ eyes light up when their wish comes true and I honor the people who donate their time and effort to make it happen.

But I also feel a little bit grumpy about the whole thing. For the past 12 years, I have worked to connect domestic violence and sexual assault  advocates to people with disabilities and elders. So many people in this population are abused and no amount of wishing puts a stop to it. The advocates want to be helpful, but they sometimes resist altering how they work, and that can make it impossible for the people I work with to use their services.

For example, advocates often rely on the term “intimate partner violence.” Many elders and people with disabilities are abused by other family members or caregivers. The relationship may be “intimate,” but not in the way the advocates mean.

Also, people with dementia, mental illness, intellectual disabilities, or brain injuries need advocates to find new ways to help them explore options, plan for safety, and overcome the abuser’s power and control.

My wish is that elders and people with disabilities no longer experience abuse. But there is no organization that has the wherewithal to grant my wish, and I remain grumpy about that.

But I know that domestic violence and sexual assault programs are the best place to find services aimed directly at eliminating the power and control that abusers exert. That is true for women battered by their intimate partner, and it is true for elders and people with disabilities abused by people they trust. I am grateful for the advocates’ work and wish that all people being abused could benefit from it. And maybe they can grant me my other wish―to be less grumpy.

A call to action―again

I just left WSCADV’s annual conference with almost 400 advocates in the beautiful city of Spokane. We had this moment in time to gather together, no matter our pressures at home and work, and dream big. Beth Richie, the brilliant author of Compelled to Crime: The Gender Entrapment of Black Battered Women, challenged us to look at our movement to end violence against women and consider if we have defined our work too narrowly.

So much of our daily work is addressing what survivors and their children need to be safe. This is, of course, critical, but have we set our expectations too low? What about a world where all people are safe from all kinds of abuse? We’ve had these conversations many times, but to do this effectively we have to be willing to regularly reflect on and critique our efforts.

Beth reminded me that combatting violence in the lives of women, men and children is human rights work. You know, Human rights, those basic rights and freedoms that all people are entitled to. Working for social change is not something we can just think of when we have a spare moment. It is our job and has to be integrated into everything we do.

This is a tall order but I know we can figure out how to keep showing up for the individuals who need our support and also join the vibrant, creative surge of activists and other social justice movements around the world.

“So, what do you do for a living?”

Whenever I tell someone what I do for a living, I get one of these responses:

  1. they look at me real hard to figure out if I am a crazy raging feminist that they need to be afraid of, or
  1. they say, “Wow, good for you,” or “I could never do that,” or “That must be so depressing,” or
  1. they quickly change the subject.

But lately I’ve been thinking that maybe instead of saying that I work to end domestic violence, I should just say, “I’m an optimist.”

Say what?

Domestic violence advocates envision a world where domestic violence doesn’t exist. We really and truly think it doesn’t have to happen. We believe this so much that we continue to enter into relationships ourselves. You’d think after hearing terrible stories day after day, that all of us would swear off relationships. Not so.

I can’t think of anyone that I have ever worked with in nearly 20 years that has said, “You know what, it’s just not possible. It isn’t worth looking.” Nope. Instead advocates help people pick up the pieces and dream of something better. Then they go home and try to do the same for themselves.

What optimism! I love that we envision a just and loving society. I love that while we see the bad and the ugly, we work for the good and the beautiful. I love that our work is moving towards preventing violence, not just supporting survivors. I believe that we can end domestic violence. I really do. I guess I’m an optimist!

-Ilene Stohl, our economic justice & prevention coordinator