What I’m saying to my kids

My mom asked me the other day what I’ve said to my kids about the state of the world these days. It made me  pause, because I’m at a point in time where I don’t have to say anything. We don’t actually watch the news in our house, I turn down NPR when the kids are in the car, and the only TV we do watch are Netflix kid shows or silly YouTube videos. (Just so you know this is the kind of nonsense my kids have been watching lately.)

It’s different than the world I grew up in where even watching Punky Brewster, I ran the risk of seeing war, terrorism, and murder. Now even though in reality there is more media and more stimulation, my little family can be insulated from it. And while I appreciate that, I also feel like I am not living up to my responsibility as a parent to help my children react to and deal with the realities of human suffering and injustice.

For instance, we just celebrated Thanksgiving and each year I am more aware of the lies I was taught as a child about the way white settlers treated the Native people they encountered. It makes me want to simultaneously scream, “Everything is terrible!” and hold my children close and wonder at the beauty of a world that has them in it.

And so, I realize that I must talk with my children about the state of the world. Talk with them about the real history of Thanksgiving and a new way forward. Talk with them about our responsibility to stand up for refugees in need. Talk with them about striving for kindness and gratitude, and about forgiveness and accountability when we fail. Talk with them about flowers and small acts of rebellion in a world that seems filled with violence.

So here is what I commit to saying to my children. In the midst of the violence, know that I love you and that I want a just world for us all, so let’s try to bring about peace together.

This equation is impossible

1-plus-1-equals-3-equationI read this editorial, A Toxic Work World, and I can’t stop thinking about it. I have 18-year-old twin daughters that I am about to launch into college, and I wonder what kind of world I am sending them into. I imagine my children getting a job, building their careers, providing for their families. But what if it is a low wage job? They will be lucky to get sick time and enough hours to make ends meet. What happens if someone gets sick? Or even if they are working in a lucrative career, it’s hard to succeed unless you live as if you are childless and don’t have any family members who need you. Most of our workplaces are still structured as if there is someone at home, usually a woman, providing free care for children and elder family members. Low wage or high wage earner, this equation is impossible.

Then I think about the many women I’ve worked with over the years who are in a battering or coercive relationship. When you need to get a job to help secure your freedom, what are your options? Are we telling them that they might as well go back home, because at least they can provide for their children and keep a roof over their head?

Let’s stop pretending that we are productive and humane when we force people to work when they are sick, quit their jobs to take care of others, work longer regardless of family responsibilities, and make it harder for people in abusive relationships to achieve financial independence. I don’t want an illusion of economic independence for my daughters, or for anyone.

What I want is a work environment that nurtures your soul, supports your family responsibilities, and values your loyalty and evolving experience and skills. Organizing for change in the workplace structure doesn’t have to be all or nothing—think about the recent success of the Seattle School teachers strike. But we do have to get clear about what we want. One thing I am clear about—our lives and our communities are intertwined. No one is untouched and that is a deep and giving source of power.

Shattered community

We bring you this post from Sandi Scroggins, WSCADV’s Executive Assistant.

April 5, 1984. I was 14 and it was 18 days before my 15th birthday. I had transferred to Foothill High School six months prior. I was making some friends, was a member of the band, and was tinafaelzfinalstarting to fit in. Then it happened. The thing that you only read about in Stephen King novels. My classmate, Tina Faelz, was murdered. This terrible act of violence changed me but it would take years to figure out the full extent of its impact.

I did not know Tina personally, but I knew who she was. She was a normal girl with normal dreams and aspirations. She was also bullied. In fact, she started taking karate lessons to learn how to protect herself. This was back in the day before “Zero Tolerance.” Some of her classmates would actually throw rocks at her when she tried to get on the school bus. Thus the reason she wasn’t riding the school bus anymore. Thus the reason she was walking home, by herself, that day.

I became sick to my stomach when I found out about Tina’s murder. I was in shock. I cried—a lot. And I was afraid. I had nightmares. Although I have never seen the crime scene photos, my mind was able to concoct horrible images. Those images still haunt me. I was afraid to be alone. I was afraid of the dark. I just knew someone was waiting around a corner to hurt me, or worse, murder me. I was afraid of missing the bus. I became leery of people. I couldn’t understand why I felt this way. And I certainly did not know how to express these feelings. So, instead, I suppressed them and never discussed them with anyone. How could I, a person who was not even friends with Tina, be so affected?

What made the whole situation worse was that we all knew who did it. Another classmate of ours,  Steve Carlson. He had bragged about it. But he wasn’t arrested. In fact, no one was arrested. It became a cold case and our lives went on. But I thought of Tina often. I thought of her when I went to our senior ball. And when I graduated from our high school. And when I got married. All the things she never had the chance to experience because her life was stolen.

The total effects of Tina’s murder did not become fully apparent until my son was born. I became THAT mom. The one you would call paranoid. When Joshua was a baby, I was afraid someone would kidnap him. When he went to grade school, I was afraid he would be bullied. When he went to middle school, I was afraid something bad would happen to him. When he went to high school, I was afraid someone he knew would hurt him, or worse, murder him. I was told I was irrational. I was told that things like that don’t REALLY happen. Except they do.

Twenty-seven years later, Steve Carlson was arrested and charged with Tina’s murder. DNA evidence connected him. We were right. He did do it. On October 30, 2014, Steve Carlson was found guilty and he was sentenced to 26 years to life in prison. It had taken 30 years. I am grateful he is behind bars. I hope he is there for the rest of his life.tinatombstonefinal

I still think of Tina often. I still cry when I think of her. And now I know why her murder affected me so dramatically. She was part of my community. Steve Carlson was also part of my community. An act of violence affects the community as a whole. It doesn’t matter if you were best friends with the victim or the perpetrator or if you did not know them. Violence has that effect on people. And it ripples out. The impact of those ripples may never be fully realized. But they will be felt.

Who’s the expert on your life?

On March 22nd my home flooded. Suddenly I lost my safe haven and my life became a ball of chaos and stress.

It was hard for me to focus at work, I was constantly on the phone with the insurance company, I forgot to pay my credit card bill twice, and I broke down crying about a dozen times. This was my experience despite having a loving partner by my side, a flexible job, and friends and family to offer their support. Which made me think about how much harder it is for those who don’t have support or resources.

Photo by Jett Loe
Photo by Jett Loe

Like this story of a survivor who was forced to choose between her housing and violence. Her abuser isolated her from friends, family, and social networks. She left with literally $4 in her pocket. She had nowhere to turn and wound up in shelter. She’s not the only one; domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness for women and children.

The survivors I’ve worked with tell me that folks tend to jump to problem-solving without taking the time to acknowledge how stress and trauma is impacting their lives. It is often the case that survivors are given lists of places to go and people to call, asked to identify goals, and then to “follow through” on them. I don’t know about you, but I would’ve been annoyed if someone told me to go to a support group to deal with my house flooding when I didn’t know where I was going to be sleeping that night. When we take more time to sit and listen we discover that survivors have the best solutions for their problems and that they are experts in their own lives, just like you are an expert in your life and I’m an expert in mine.

“I have a friend who has a sister who…”

Photo by Justin Jensen
Photo by Justin Jensen

I used to do a lot of domestic violence trainings. In fact, someday I’ll tell you the story of when I did 36 trainings when I was pregnant and barfing. But recently I have been training again. And I remembered something. At some point, without fail, a participant will come up to me with some version of this question: “I have a friend who has a sister who has been in a domestic violence situation for years and my friend just doesn’t know how to help her. They’ve tried everything but she just won’t leave and everyone is worried about her and her kids’ safety and it is just a mess. What can they do?”

Every time my heart breaks. Again. My heart breaks for the asker, the sister, the survivor, the kids, the abuser. All of us. And I wish I had a better answer. But here is what I say:

It is hard to see someone you love and care about struggle. It is painful to see people making choices that we disagree with or find unfathomable. I get it, I do. And I also get that it is really hard for the survivor to make those choices and know that people disagree with them. We cannot imagine what it must be like for her. But I know that she is making decisions based on what she thinks will keep her safe or safer or sane. And in order to stick with her, we all need support. We need help to be there day in and day out. The good news is that there is support available. Domestic violence programs offer support to friends and family, not just to survivors themselves. The most important thing that all of us can do is to stay connected to the survivor. Connection directly counters and resists the abuse and isolation that survivors face.

So go forth. Reach out. Ask her: “What would make things better? How can I help with that?” I know it is hard to offer help and be turned down. But know that each offer is planting a seed and reminding her that you are there. Be there so that when she needs you, she can find you. No one deserves to be abused.

So hang in there and get support for yourself because when she calls on you, I want you to be ready.

Thank you. No really, thank you for staying connected and breaking that isolation. We need you. It takes all of us and we’re in this thing together.

When is it ok to beat your wife?

We bring you this post from Karen Rosenberg, a Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence consultant.

Ever wonder how people justified wife beating as an OK thing to do? For Women’s History Month let’s look back on a bit of legal history that provides not one, but two justifications for wife beating.

old-legal-documentIn State v A.B. Rhodes (North Carolina State Supreme Court, 1868), the Court considered a case involving the married couple Elizabeth and A.B. Rhodes. We can assume they were white, though the legal record does not say. A.B. hit Elizabeth and—unusually for the era—assault and battery charges were brought against A.B. The case went to trial. In the words of the jury, “We find that the defendant struck Elizabeth Rhodes, his wife, three licks, with a switch about the size of one of his fingers (but not as large as a man’s thumb), without any provocation except some words uttered by her and not recollected by the witness.”

So the judge found A.B. not guilty. “His Honor was of opinion that the defendant had a right to whip his wife with a switch no larger than his thumb, and…he was not guilty in law.” (And yes, this is why some people avoid the phrase “rule of thumb.”)

In the appeal, the State Supreme Court challenged the lower court’s rationale, stating that it wouldn’t affirm the right to beat a spouse. But it gave another reason to find A.B. not guilty—maintaining the household’s privacy:

For however great are the evils of ill temper, quarrels, and even personal conflict inflicting only temporary pain, they are not comparable with the evils which would result from raising the curtain, and exposing to public curiosity and criticism, the nursery and the bed chamber.”

In other words, sure he hit her, but it would be more damaging to society if the state intruded on family life. This sounds dated and wrong to modern ears. Thank goodness. Or, more accurately, thank the Battered Women’s Movement. Want to learn more? Check out Susan Schechter’s amazing Women and Male Violence or this tribute to her work.

Practicing healthy relationships

We talk a lot about healthy relationships, we memorize the do’s and the don’ts, we vow to do it right. But even when we know what we are supposed to do, when it comes to real-life circumstances with real people it can get complicated and messy.

For many years, whenever I would visit my family it was inevitable that my father and I would get into a massive disagreement, mostly over politics. I’d take the liberal side, he’d take the Aruging-Family-Membersconservative side, we’d dig in our heels and try to convince the other person that they had it all wrong. Obviously, this didn’t work out well; usually it would end with me leaving the room in tears. It reached a point where I just wanted to shut down and not engage at all. I give my father a lot of credit, he realized I was checking out and decided that things had to change. He didn’t want our differences to get in the way of our relationship. And I wanted to share who I was as a whole person with my own thoughts and opinions. So we made some ground rules. We agreed to listen to each other, to respectfully disagree, to find common ground. We put love and respect for each other first.

I’m the first to say that our system isn’t perfect, we’ve had to revise and revisit. But we always go back to the ground rules and remind ourselves that a good relationship is our top priority. Because of our efforts my relationship with my father is better and—to the shock of my entire family—we can have tough conversations and still be smiling after.

I believe this strategy is applicable across situations; I’ve applied it to my relationship with my partner. I’ve made a commitment to resolving conflict, creating a system that works for both parties, and making sure each person is being heard and respected, despite differences. It isn’t simple or easy, but it’s doable.

Singing out to stop the silence & end the violence

We bring you this guest post from Emily McAllister, a senior at Auburn Mountainview High School. The following is an excerpt of the speech she gave at a benefit show she organized to support our work and promote healthy relationships.  benefitshow

Good evening, welcome, and thank you for coming! This promises to be an amazing night!

For those of you who don’t know who I am, I am Emily McAllister. I have taken on the challenge of raising $10,000 for the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. … We are here to raise awareness about an issue that is hard to talk about. I have realized that not a whole lot of people really know HOW to talk about it. My goal tonight is to give some ideas that will help you recognize if it’s happening to you, also, to help you be aware if you are treating someone this way, and lastly to help you know what to say if it’s impacting someone you know. This issue is called domestic violence.

My Aunt Kate died almost 19 months ago. She was only 29 years old. Kate died because someone beat her. That someone was her boyfriend. That someone was with her for 5 years. That someone took her away from us. That someone will get his day in court and have to answer to the charge of Murder. The bottom line is, it’s not ok to hit anyone—ever. Kate was in a relationship with someone who did not treat her with kindness or respect. We all deserve to be treated with kindness and respect.

Kate leaves behind a large family, her mom and dad, brother and sisters, nieces, nephew, and many many cousins. She also leaves behind friends and a very special daughter. We are here to celebrate Kate. We are here to listen to some great music. We are here to raise money for the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, we are here to share a message about encouraging healthy relationships. Kate would want us to enjoy tonight and be happy! Kate loved music! She will be with us tonight, looking over us. Let’s have a great night!

As we transition between singers, I would like to share some facts to help define healthy relationships.

Fact#1: Relationships are supposed to be enjoyable and fun. This means that both people are having a good time. Dating should be fun! If it’s not, that is a sign that it may not be a healthy relationship.

Fact #2: Family and friends are affected by our relationships.  At this time, can I have all the Southwards, Sullivans, Stephens, or any other family member stand up. Now any friends. And now anyone who had met Kate. Please look around and see how many people were impacted by this one act. This goes to show you how many people are impacted by our relationships.

Fact #3: Relationships are built on respect, where both people share in decision making and are free to choose what is right for them. If someone is not feeling respected, it may not be a healthy relationship.

Fact #4: Domestic violence can happen to anyone: male or female, popular or unpopular, rich or poor, famous or not famous, black or white, beautiful or not. Your neighbor, your friend, your family member, or you. It’s important to know the signs. If there is a lot of drama, possessiveness, grabbing, slapping, or shoving, those are all warning signs that you may be an unhealthy relationship. Reach out and talk to someone about it.

Fact #5: Domestic violence if often a silent battle for many. It’s like the invisible elephant in the room. That’s why we have come up with the slogan “Stop the silence & end the violence.” It starts with each of us. You can be a part of promoting healthy relationships by getting the conversation started. Opening the lines of communication is the first step. Even if you don’t have the answer, you can simply say, “Honestly, I don’t know. Let me do some research and then we can talk more tomorrow.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence there is help available.

The Angel Band Project

Last Friday I had the incredible opportunity to hear The Angel Band Project, featuring Jennifer (Jen) Hopper and Norbert Leo Butz. The Angel Band Project began as a benefit album after the rape and attempted murder of Jennifer Hopper and the rape and murder of her late partner, Teresa Butz.angel-band-projgect-blog-pic

Jen has a voice, a beautiful one. She will tell you her name, share her experience, and sing until you are moved to tears. Jen is extraordinary and I am resisting the urge to write a whole lot more about her. What I do want to share instead is how amazed I am by the love and support Jen’s friends, family, and people she’s met along the way have provided her. It shows in Jen’s love for them.

When I worked on the Domestic Violence Fatality Review Project, I repeatedly saw the critical role friends and family played in the lives of people experiencing domestic violence. They were often the first—and sometimes the only—person that victims turned to for help. I learned the importance of strengthening our communities’ response to violence.

As I’ve gotten to know Jen in the past year, I’ve been reminded what an honor and privilege it is to love people in our lives and our community. My message today is simple: love the people in your life, make a difference to them, and find ways to support and play a role in efforts to end violence against women.

 

I will never forgive you

I have been hauling around a rotting corpse of an experience for 19 years.

I used to think that the only way to deal with the terrible and tragic thing that happened was to forgive the person who did it. My partner’s brother murdered his wife, then called our home and engaged us in a conversation that twisted and turned between reality and delusion for 45 minutes before he abruptly hung up and killed himself.

boyholdingheartIt was indescribably traumatic. Of course, I can only speak to my own experience of it.

I’ve heard lots about the healing that comes from forgiveness. The Archbishop of forgiveness himself, Desmond Tutu, who knows about atrocity, says, “To forgive is the highest form of self-interest. I have to forgive so that my anger and resentment and lust for revenge don’t corrode my own being.”

And I get that intellectually. But forgive? Forgive has not worked for me. Some acts are just unforgiveable. And he’s dead, so there is nobody to forgive.

Dead or not, I found myself spending a lot of life energy keeping the hell in my imagination fully staffed, and molten hot for one lone inhabitant. I could not let go, replaying the scenario ten thousand times over in my mind trying to work out an alternative to the reality—an increasingly distant history—that would not budge.

Enter meditation practice and some ancient (but new to me) advice about what to do when forgiveness is beyond reach. Over the course of the past four years, I’ve attended retreats and spent many hours cultivating a wiser way.

I discovered that I am far from alone. The more I explored my interior landscape, and the more I heard from teachers, the better I understood the universal nature of this kind of struggle.

The trauma blew a hole in my heart—and I could not come wholeheartedly back to my life without mending the wound. I found out it was not necessary for me to forgive, but rather to wake up to other thoughts and actions that would relieve the pain.

First among them: putting it down. Simply, carefully, putting it down. I do not have to struggle, repress, or resolve anything. Time has passed, things have worked out in quite miraculous ways—some of which I had a hand in, most of which I didn’t. Any time I even begin to think about the pain, I recognize that I can just let it go. If I find myself way down memory lane thinking sad or scary thoughts, I retrace my steps and get on a healthier path of more fruitful thoughts.

No forgiving necessary.

Simply, put it down.