News you can relate to

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

Louis C.K.’s opening monologue on Saturday Night Live tackled women’s rights and how ridiculously problematic it is to call men’s tanks “wifebeaters.”

For you satire fans, the Onion “reports” on how tough it is on men that companies like Dove are promoting realistic images of women’s bodies.

The UK’s Prison Reform Trust released new research on the strong link between women’s crimes and their experience of domestic and sexual violence. They found that women’s crimes were “more likely than men’s to be linked to their relationships” and discuss the importance of using that finding to improve the police response to domestic violence.

¡Hagámos la diferencia! (Let’s make a difference!)

immigration-protestSabemos por nuestro Domestic Violence Fatality Review que las víctimas de violencia doméstica y sexual que están indocumentadas muchas veces no reportan los crímenes de abuso por miedo a ser deportadas. Si un crimen no se reporta no hay manera de apoyar a la victima ni de prevenir otros crimenes. Esta falta de un estatus migratorio mantiene las victimas vulnerables al abuso en su diario vivir.

¿Qué tan enterado estas de lo que está pasando con reforma migratoria? ¿Sabes cómo es el proceso para que una ley pase? ¿Te has preguntado cual podría ser tu papel en éste proceso? Si no sabes estas respuestas, es momento de que te pongas las pilas y te informes. La reforma migratoria puede llegar a ser algo que ofrecerá la posibilidad de legalizar a millones de personas indocumentadas, incluyendo muchas víctimas de violencia domestica y sexual, que viven, trabajan y aportan para que este país sea mejor cada día

Tú y yo podemos involucrarnos, informarnos, y participar de una manera más activa para que esta reforma se haga realidad. Nuestro papel es tan importante como el de los legisladores. Si nos informamos podemos informar a más personas y entre más seamos el mensaje a nuestros legisladores será más fuerte y claro. Una reforma migratoria es indispensable en nuestro trabajo apoyando a víctimas de violencia doméstica y sexual.

Tener la oportunidad de alcanzar un estatus migratorio legal en este país debe ser un derecho humano. Y hoy en día y con plena conciencia de prevenir abuso, tanto tú como yo tenemos que hacer la diferencia.

VOTA! INFORMATE! ACTIVATE! Se parte de este cambio que nos beneficiará a todos pues al final todos somos parte de ésta nuestra comunidad.


We know based on our findings from the Domestic Violence Fatality Review that undocumented immigrant victims of domestic and sexual violence often don’t report abuse because they fear being deported. If a crime is not reported there is no way to support the victim or prevent future crimes. This lack of immigration status keeps victims vulnerable to abuse in their daily lives.

How informed are you with regards to immigration reform? Do you know how a proposal becomes law? Have you asked yourself, what your role could be in this process? If you do not know the answers, it is time to get informed and proactive. Immigration reform could offer the possibility to legalize millions of undocumented people—including many victims of domestic and sexual violence—that live, work, and contribute to make this country better every day.

You and I can engage, inform, and participate more actively to make this reform a reality. Our role is as important as legislators. If we educate ourselves, we can inform more people and the more of us that there are, the stronger and clearer the message to our legislators will be. Comprehensive immigration reform is essential in our work supporting victims of domestic and sexual violence.

The opportunity to attain legal immigration status in this country should be a human right. Today, with full awareness of how it could prevent abuse, you and I must try to make a difference.

VOTE! EDUCATE YOURSELF! BE PROACTIVE! And be a part of this change that in the end will benefit us all, because we are all part of this community, our beloved community.

Summer reading

It’s summertime. Bye-bye, I’m heading to the beach.

It is inconceivable to me to go without a book. On my list this year: Zippy by Haven Kimmel, which I borrowed from my library and devoured in a few laugh-out-loud sessions. Truly a funny, poignant tale.

A particularly explosive guffaw of relief flew out of me as Kimmel recalled a violent episode in her childhood home when things could have gone terribly wrong, but didn’t. Her dad did not beat up her mother. She writes:

Mom told me, when I was old enough to ask, that she had learned the lesson from Mom Mary, Dad’s mother, who took her future daughter-in-law aside and told her that a woman has got to make herself absolutely clear, and early on. In Mom Mary’s own case, she waited until she and my grandfather Anthel were just home from their honeymoon, and then sat him down and told him this: “Honey, I know you like to take a drink, and that’s all right, but be forewarned that I ain’t your maid and I ain’t your punching-bag, and if you ever raise your hand to me you’d best kill me. Because otherwise, I’ll wait till you’re asleep; sew you into the bed; and beat you to death with a frying pan.” Until he died, I am told, my grandfather was a gentle man.

It reminded me of Mette’s mom’s theory about ending domestic violence—that women just need to get scarier than men. I asked Mette to ask her mother if it would be okay to share her theory. Her mom replied “Hell, yes. And I might add, I would be happy to teach classes on how to be scarier than anyone!”

In reality, there is nobody less scary than Mette’s mom Cindy. Though I have never given her cause to be fierce with me, I do believe she has that capacity.

And hence to the point. Fierce is different from scary.frying-pan

I mean, I really do not want to be reduced to simply scary—to beating my chest louder and harder than the primate squatting next to me.

But to warn someone off with a metaphorical frying pan—with a “Don’t you dare disrespect or threaten me or our children”—is the essence of the fierceness Cindy could give lessons about.

Historically, we have turned to the police, courts, and prisons—institutions designed to simply scare people—to deal with domestic and sexual violence. It hasn’t worked.

A smattering of people are coming up with different approaches. Ideas for engaging men coming out of prison, using technology so abusive dads can have safe contact with their kids, and creating alternatives for batterers to seek help themselves, before police and courts get involved.

I am feeling very optimistic that we are on the cusp of making an evolutionary leap—from scary to fierce. From having only fear-based approaches that at best impose an unstable peace, to becoming resolutely fierce in defending the foundational worth and dignity of women and children. It’s time.

Ending violence – let’s do it!

Here at Can You Relate we often talk about our desire to prevent domestic and sexual violence—to stop it before it ever starts. But what does violence prevention work look like? How do you actually promote healthy relationships? Our friends at the YWCA of Pierce County (Washington) share what they’ve been up to.

Our long marathon

Photo by Vicki James
Photo by Vicki James

Do you believe that domestic and sexual violence will ever end? Or that we can at least get to a place  where it is super rare?

I do. I wholeheartedly believe that humans are capable of behaving better towards each other.

They say that social justice work is a marathon, not a sprint. As I schlepped through my second marathon over Thanksgiving weekend, I reflected on just how true that is for all of us who care about ending domestic violence. Since I love drawing parallels between different experiences in my life, here is a new list of things I’ve learned.

When  working to end violence:    And/Or    When  running a marathon:

  • There are good stretches and bad stretches. That’s alright. Don’t let the tough moments trick you into thinking it won’t be possible to cross the finish line.
  • We need all the help we can get. Whether you’re behind the scenes, on the sidelines, or pounding the pavement, there’s a role for everyone.
  • Most of the time you are focused on the road ahead, but it’s really lovely to look back every now and then and acknowledge how far you’ve traveled.
  • Getting through this big of a goal is hard, physically and emotionally. You have to breathe. You have to be adequately nourished. Most people need to take breaks.
  • You have to believe that it will eventually end. Enough steps will be taken, and you will, eventually, get there.

Three years ago, I couldn’t even run one mile. Now I have completed two marathons. Likewise, with the right support and training, anyone who wants to take on the ambitious goal of ending domestic and sexual violence can join in.

S*!t people say

I spent a lot of time thinking about what I was going to say about Martin Luther King, Jr. day, racial justice and equality … and then I came across the video “S*!t White Girls Say … to Black Girls.” Not everyone is amused, but the fact is it went viral. Franchesca Ramsey had her experiences to make this video and said that even impacting one person made it worth it.

This video resonated with me because I have my own collection of things people say to me. For example, when I get asked if I’m from India, I usually answer “I’m from Zambia.” Then, I hear things like “Wow, you’re black?” (an attorney) OR “My best friend in college was from India.” (a well-traveled person) OR “Oh, so you’re a Zamboni-an.” (a person of color).

Women are often judged or undermined because of what they said, what they drank, or what they may be wearing. Similarly, survivors of domestic and sexual violence have heard “why don’t you just leave?”. It’s just s*!t people say … even some well-intentioned people. It’s me, it’s you, and yeah, it’s the people you hang out with.

So be informed, use your own strategy to educate yourself and others. And be willing to be educated, whether it’s acknowledging a thoughtless remark or asking good questions about what you don’t know.

A Lot Like You

Needing a break after over a decade of working against rape and domestic violence, Eli Kimaro quit her job, took a filmmaking class, and set off to Mount Kilimanjaro to film a documentary about her father’s Chagga tribe. Raised in the U.S. by her Tanzanian father and Korean mother, Eli’s ambitious project was motivated by her struggle to integrate her own complex cultural identity.

After months of filming, the footage she envisioned – village rituals, folk dances – eluded her. Instead, when Eli asked her aunts to tell her about their marriage ceremonies, they told her stories filled with brutal violence. She had no idea this was part of her family’s history – yet it resonated deeply with her own experience as a survivor of violence and advocate for other survivors.

The film that has emerged, A Lot Like You, weaves together big themes – exile and return, multicultural identity, violence against women – all told from an intimate point of view. For me, the film is a powerful reminder that when you scratch the surface of any story – from the tale of an entire culture to your own family’s history – you find stories of women’s suffering and survival. Some are hidden; some are known but not spoken; some have been repackaged as tall tales or family jokes. My family has these stories. I doubt I know one who doesn’t.

A Lot Like You raises questions for all of us – How does violence shape our sense of who we are? When we tell stories that have been silenced does that strengthen or threaten our family bonds? And what stories will we leave as our legacy for the next generation?

Aliens are taking over the planet

A Woman who is being Abused who is an Immigrant is a Human Being. Not an alien. We call immigrants aliens so that we can conveniently forget that they have human rights. For instance, take immigrant survivors of abuse. Their immigration status has a huge impact on their options for safety. Fear of deportation keeps people from turning to the police for help. And abusers use threats of deportation to control their partners. If you are an “illegal” immigrant, you know that many people aren’t too pleased you’re here, which makes it hard to reach out for help.

When I felt the anti-immigrant sentiment in the reader’s comments on the Seattle Times article about the DREAM Act, I was disappointed and sad. In honor of International Migrants Day (December 18), I want to address a couple myths that seem to be at the heart of most of these comments:

“Illegal immigrants are breaking the law.”

Have you ever jay walked? Seriously, have you? I have. This means we’ve broken the law. So what should happen to us? After all, breaking the law has a consequence, right? Paying a fine seems reasonable. Revoking your basic rights and protections doesn’t. If you are an “alien” we can revoke your rights and deny access to the justice system, even if you are the victim of a crime. Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Breaking the law is not a reason to strip away another human being’s rights and dignity.

“Why don’t you just go back where you come from?”

Do we belong to just one country? I am East-Indian, I grew up in Zambia and I have lived in the U.S. for over 11 years. I am part of the more than 215 million people who live outside their country of birth. U.S. history shows a constant stream of immigrants, despite racist anti-immigrant policies. And I believe migration has been a good thing for our country. Beyond that, sending an abused woman “home” can mean forcing her to leave her children behind with an abusive man.

When we stop pretending that people are “aliens” it benefits immigrants in abusive relationships as well as our national debate. So let’s all stop with the “illegal” and “alien” language. It simply does not make sense to us humans.

Seattle activist Pramila Jayapal shares her vision of immigration from a global perspective.

What happens now?

photo by fibonacciblue

It’s a week after mid-term elections, and I have to say I’m still feeling the sting. Facing a colossal gap in our state’s budget, our ballot was filled with strategies to bring in some new money. Voters said no. Now our state and local governments will have to make devastating cuts to critical services.

I’ve always thought of taxes as a good thing – membership dues I gladly pay in exchange for a vast array of services (running water, meat I’m not afraid to eat, civil rights, cancer research, and so on). But others hold a different view, and now we shall see what happens when government must do less with less.

My thoughts naturally turn to my own work. And not just selfish ruminations about whether or not I’ll still have a job (though as the mother of a child with many special needs, income and health insurance are indeed big concerns). Rather, I worry – and wonder – what will become of the work: the work to end domestic and sexual violence. Over the last few decades,  our government has increasingly funded efforts to support victims and stop abuse and rape. I am proud that we the people have invested tax dollars in what used to be considered a private problem.

But now the variables have changed again. Our great radical experiment to create a world of loving and equitable relationships will need some new strategies. We the people can no longer rely as much on our government to take care of this for us. So what happens now?

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