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.”

Empezando bien (A good start)

womanatsunrisePosadas, Noche Buena, Navidad, Año Nuevo…¡cuánta celebración en tan poco tiempo! Tiempo para disfrutar en familia y con amigos queridos. Tiempo de reflexión y entrega. Tiempo de dar y recibir amor. ¡Me encanta ésta época!

Sí, ya sé que estas pensando, que las fiestas no fueron tan relajantes y que la familia a veces no es tan fácil, y que no descansaste como pensaste…pero podrías imaginar que éste ambiente de amor, de reflexión, de entrega, fuera possible y durara todo el año y no solo se intentara en una “época”. Imagina que tuvieramos el hábito de deternos y reflexionar más seguido, tomarnos el tiempo de conocernos, de saber que nos hace felices. Que aprendiermaos a escuchar nuestro yo interno y estar dispuesto a sanar todo lo que nos permiten vivir en paz. Porque el chiste de todo esto es vivir en paz, no crees?

Se que no es algo “sencillo” de realizar pero estoy segura que no es imposible. Es algo que require acción, no únicamente desearlo. Te invito a que este año que inicia comiences el hábito el tomarte el tiempo necesario para reflexionar, para descansar, para evaluar donde estas y a donde vas. No podemos mágicamente crear paz en nuestro corazón y a nuestro alrededor sin hacer algo al respecto día a día, no podemos mágicamente erradicar la violencia y vivir en un mundo de paz sólo con un abrir y cerrar de ojos. Todo lo que vale la pena tiene un precio, require una acción y un verdadero compromiso de nuestra parte. Iniciar con hacer las paces con uno mismo y amarnos tal cual somos. Este es mi propósito de Año Nuevo y probablemente requerirá acción constante y atención diaria a mi persona.

Felíz inicio de Año y mis mejores deseos para una vida mejor, empezando por uno mismo. Ahora sí, a trabajar en mí para ser ese cambio en el mundo que tanto quiero.

****

Posadas, Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year…so much to celebrate in so little time! A time to enjoy with family and dear friends. A time for reflection. A time to give and receive love. I love this season!

I know what you are thinking—that the season was not exactly relaxing, family are sometimes not so easy, and you are not as rested as you wanted to be. But could you imagine if this atmosphere of love and reflection was possible all year long and not just for one season? Imagine that we had the habit of stopping more often to reflect, taking the time to know ourselves and what makes us happy. That we could learn to listen to our inner self and be willing to heal all that does not allow us to live in peace. Because the point is to live in peace, isn’t it?

I know this is not as simple to do as it sounds, but I’m sure it’s not impossible. It is something that requires action, not just wishing for it. I invite you this New Year to make a habit of taking time to reflect, rest, and evaluate where you are and where you’re going. We cannot magically create peace in our hearts and around us without doing something about it every day. We cannot magically eradicate violence and live in a world of peace with just a blink of an eye. Everything worthwhile has a price; it requires an action and a real commitment on our part. It starts with making peace with ourselves and loving ourselves as we are, unconditionally. This is my New Year’s resolution and it will probably require constant action and daily attention.

Happy New Year and best wishes for a better life, starting with yourself. And now I’m off to start working on myself to be that living change that I want to see in our world.

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:

Men, you have the bridge

patrickstewartStar Trek: The Next Generation began when I was twelve; always a sucker for fantasy and sci-fi, I remember watching it, and the spin-offs, avidly. Twenty-five years later, the writing can often feel heavy-handed and stiff (not to mention sometimes downright offensive), but I still enjoy the shows—and Sir Patrick Stewart’s acting chops (especially as compared to most of his cast mates, bless ’em) as the fearless and capable Captain Jean-Luc Picard.

I’ve known for a few years now that Stewart identifies as a feminist, and that he has spoken out about issues of domestic violence, due in part to his own family history. I’ve written before about the role of men in ending domestic violence, and Stewart is an outstanding example of this. He is not just talking the talk, he is walking the walk. He uses his considerable celebrity in service to domestic violence organizations in his own country, and he doesn’t hold back when it comes to discussing the issues publicly whenever he can.

With this video, my sci-fi-world and my domestic-violence-movement-world collided, in the best way. At the Comicpalooza convention in May, an audience member commended him for his work on domestic violence and asked him what he was most proud of achieving, other than acting. In his response, he eloquently makes connections between his personal experiences, the need for safety for survivors of domestic violence, the role men must play in ending violence, and the lasting impacts of war and PTSD on soldiers. It’s well worth the seven minutes—if you’re anything like me, you may find there’s something in your eye, probably more than once. Sniff. And big kudos to the survivor who asked him the question and shared her story!

High school football highlight

Did you happen to see that Ike Ditzenberger was hospitalized with severe pneumonia? For those of you who don’t know Ike, he is a local teenager here in Washington State who attends high school in Snohomish. The video of his touchdown during a high school football game a couple of years ago went viral, and he won the Seattle Children’s Inspirational Youth Award. Check out his acceptance speech—it’s well worth the 5 minutes of your time.

What caught my attention with his recent near-fatal health scare, was how his teammates have been with him every step of the way. Ike experiences the beloved community—with his team and their opponents, in his school, and with family and neighbors. Imagine if every teenager had this. Imagine.

Lunch at Nordstrom

Our executive director’s  first job at a domestic violence agency was at New Beginnings in Seattle. On Wednesday, she was invited to speak at their benefit lunch at Nordstrom. Here is the speech she gave at this event.  

New Beginnings is my alma mater, and I mean that in all seriousness. While I could say, simply, that my first domestic violence “job” was at New Beginnings, what is more important to say is that my education about domestic violence, my learning about the impact of violence in the lives of women and girls, my commitment to ending violence—perhaps not in my lifetime, but most definitely in my son’s lifetime—my trust that our collective humanity will prevail, and my gratitude for those moments when survivors experience justice and freedom and hope . . . all of that is rooted for me at New Beginnings, when I was hired 30 years ago for the graveyard shift (which I believe is now called the “sunrise” shift).

To say that the times have changed, and that New Beginnings is a different organization now, would be a tremendous understatement. The stories about our early days of working 35-hour shifts in a dilapidated house are best told over cocktails, but that formative time is the backdrop of my remarks today.

I have the privilege now of the long view. In 1982, we did not imagine that domestic violence would be everyone’s business. I had no idea that, one day, I would be in the flagship Nordstrom and, I should say, wearing an outfit purchased at Nordstrom, talking with hundreds of concerned and supportive people about what WE can do to stop domestic violence. In 1982, there were no events. There was no money. There was nothing like this.

For me, the past 30 years have been both challenging and deeply rewarding.  I have witnessed the worst and best of human behavior. I carry with me the names and faces and stories of brutality, the lists of the dead, the courtroom proceedings, the fear and grief and rage. But I also carry the courage of women, the pride and love of mothers, the resilient laughter of children, and the voices of men who call for a better manhood.

I try to hold all of it. Not one and then the other. All of it. All of the time. I don’t think of it as a burden. No. I think of it as a privilege and a promise.

In this country, we now have over 3,000 organizations that provide support for domestic violence survivors. We have state and federal laws that make domestic violence a crime and that authorize important funding for shelters and other community programs. We have innovative school curricula that teach young people about healthy relationships. We have thousands of advocates and tens of thousands of allies who work hard to save lives and change communities. There is a great deal to be proud of, and yet . . .

And yet. On February 5th of this year, Josh Powell killed his 2 sons, 7-year- old Charlie and 5-year-old Braden, and then killed himself. Josh Powell’s estranged wife, Susan Cox Powell, is still missing and presumed dead.

There are certain events that stop time. When we are left with the questions of: Where did we go wrong? And how on earth could this have happened?  That was my experience on February 5th.

Josh Powell and his father, Steven Powell, had been in the news for quite some time. Josh was considered a person of interest in the disappearance of his wife, and Steven had been arrested on charges of voyeurism related to his sexual abuse of young girls and consumption of child pornography.  Charlie and Braden were in protective custody and CPS was involved.

The Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) has conducted a child fatality review of the case, and recently issued its findings and recommendations. After a review of the available facts, DSHS concluded that the deaths of Charlie and Braden Powell could not have been anticipated.

I and many of my colleagues have a different conclusion. Early on, we whispered that Josh Powell had killed his wife. With his father in jail and his world falling apart, we whispered that he might kill himself and take his children with him. We whispered because we had no proof. We whispered because we don’t want to be too cynical or negative. We whispered because we understood that Josh Powell was innocent until proven guilty, and we worried that Charlie and Braden would be innocent until dead. We whispered because we might be wrong or, worse, we might be right.

Whispering is only slightly louder than the silence that we at New Beginnings 30 years ago vowed to end. Charlie and Braden Powell have reminded me of my obligation not only to pay New Beginnings back, but also to pay it forward. Charlie and Braden demand that I use my voice. And so I want to ask you for 3 things.

First, when you are asked for your contribution to New Beginnings, please dig deeper than you think you can. And after you have made your gift, tell someone about it. You don’t have to say how much. Just say that you did it and why. Not in a whisper, but with all the clarity and purpose you can muster.

Second, vote with all of your conscience. Use a Sharpie. March your ballot to the mailbox and pray for a good outcome.

And third, join me in going to the theme of this luncheon and beyond. “It’s Everyone’s Business to Stop Domestic Violence.” Make it your professional business by having good policies and practices that support and help those who experience abuse and harassment. Think about what you can do in your job, both formally and informally, to make a difference. As I was coming up the escalators, I was thinking about how much access Nordstrom has to people. And how much influence. My own experiences here of marketing, customer service, fitting, alterations, and dare I say returns, as well as the friends I have who work here, mean there are so many opportunities for what we know about domestic violence and what we know about Nordstrom to intersect. And this is true in every business and workplace.

Make it your personal business by going further. Take a chance. Take a chance with your family and with your friends. Take a chance in your neighborhood and at your school. Take a chance with your team, in your congregation, at the grocery store.

Take a chance on compassion. Take a chance on hope. Take a chance on who we really are and the power we have when we call and work and live for an end to the violence.

Don’t whisper it. Say it. Shout it. Sing it. Bring it.

A change is gonna come, yes it will.

What a difference a day makes!

Does life get any better that this? I’ve worked in the anti-violence field for a bazillion years and it was fabulous to watch my daughters, their friends, their moms, their dads, my husband, and 980 other people I didn’t know all running and walking and having a good time at the first Refuse To Abuse® 5K at Safeco Field. Everyone was having a blast because healthy relationships are fun for everybody. So much more fun than the grim side of unhealthy relationships.

In the span of one day, a mix of people who’ve probably never thought much about domestic violence, became excited and eager to promote healthy relationships. As runners and walkers streamed by me, it was remarkable to hear “thank you for what you do, it’s important that you are here.” The goodwill I felt all around me was tremendous.

It is thrilling to imagine how we can build upon the goodwill and connection of the race participants to spread the word for change right here in Seattle. People talking about our shared hopes for our children and loved ones—happy, fun, and joyful relationships today, this minute, this moment—what a difference a day can make!

Gun love

My parents met at a gun club. I grew up in Georgia where guns are everywhere. I could get to at least one (loaded) at any given time in the house I grew up in. I played with them and showed them to my friends. Nothing catastrophic happened. I (and my parents) are stupid lucky.

Others have not been so lucky. Bullets have been flying around western Washington lately: an eight year old accidentally shot in her classroom, gun fights in south Seattle, children killed because they were playing with guns. The high profile shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida has shone a light on the controversial stand-your-ground laws in many states. This “I have the right to fight back” attitude combined with easy access to guns is obviously a deadly combo.

You could argue that the world we live in is dangerous, and it is up to us to protect ourselves. As an advocate for victims of abuse, I am keenly aware that danger (even in your own home) is a reality for many families. I can understand the been-knocked-down-scared-threatened-too-many-times emotional roller coaster that has some folks turning to guns to feel powerful again, to feel safe. I also know that the majority of domestic violence homicides in Washington State are committed with firearms, and whether or not those who were killed are the victim (as are most) or the abusive partner, this act still ruins more than one life. Nobody wins.

Do guns really make us safer, or does it just make those who carry feel safer? Are more guns in our communities a recipe for safety? I’m not convinced.

The perfect valentine

Valentine’s Day takes new meaning for me as I celebrate it with my second-grade son and his classmates. What are we really celebrating during this super-commercial holiday? Romance, or love? By whose definition? Who’s included and who’s left out on this day? And what do I want my son to learn about both romance and love?

Thinking about these questions in the context of the past few weeks, which brought the Komen kerfuffle, the joy of marriage equality, and the horror of Charlie and Braden’s deaths, inspired me to imagine what I hope my son and his classmates will experience in their lives:

  • You can marry who you want. Or don’t get married. It’s up to you!
  • You get to choose whether to have kids, and how many.
  • You’re gonna learn skills for having great, healthy relationships―both at school and from all the adults in your life.
  • Your government, the child welfare system, and your community will give everyone in your family really good help during times of trouble.
  • Your family matters, whatever it looks like.

Happy Valentine’s Day, son. Mommy loves you!