Ser Pro-activo (Be Proactive)

pro-activo-buttonEstamos a punto de terminar el mes de acción en contra de la violencia doméstica pero creo que deberíamos seguir siendo proactivos durante todo el año, no sólo en octubre. Para ser proactivo, hay muchas cosas que puedes hacer en este momento, y el votar es una de ellas. Votar es muy importante sobre todo porque éste es un año de elecciones presidenciales. Es cierto que el gobierno por sí solo no va a solucionar o resolver el problema tan fuerte de violencia doméstica y sexual en nuestra sociedad. Sin embargo, la administración que sea elegida tendrá un impacto sobre el financiamiento de los servicios que están disponibles para los sobrevivientes de violencia doméstica y sexual. Tu voto cuenta. Tu voto tendrá un impacto y puede hacer la diferencia.

Al final, sea quien sea el ganador de esta elección, nosotros continuáremos trabajando para hacer de este mundo un mundo mejor. Estamos en esto juntos. Vamos todos a asumir al 100% nuestra responsabilidad de poner fin a la violencia doméstica y así crear una comunidad de amor para todos nosotros.

Para hacer tu parte, puedes:

  1. Registrarte para votar―si ya lo has hecho, ¡genial! Entonces ofrécete como voluntario y ayuda a otros a registrarse.
  1. Reta a tus amigos, familiares y a ti mismo―cada vez que escuches algo que no está bien, llámalo por su nombre. Por ejemplo, cuando un niño golpea a una niña en el parque y la excusa es “es niño” o “son niños”, se proactivo y di “Eso no está bien. Esa es una conducta abusiva”. O cuando una estudiante es atacada sexualmente y todo el mundo se centra en lo alcoholizada que estaba, de nuevo, se proactivo y di ” Eso no está bien. Alcoholizada o no, ella tiene el derecho a ser tratada con respeto”. Todos los días escuchamos este tipo de comentarios, por lo que hay muchas oportunidades para iniciar estas conversaciones.
  1. con tus hijos―los niños son muy inteligentes y por lo general están escuchando todo lo que está sucediendo alrededor de ellos así que toma un momento para hablar con ellos, pregúntales sobre lo que escuchan y así sabrás lo que están entendiendo. Luego ten una conversación con ellos sobre el respeto y el consentimiento. Es importante que los niños comprendan que hay ciertos comentarios que no son aceptables. Nuestros niños están siendo influenciados por el medio ambiente. Depende completamente de nosotros si queremos que ellos estén bien informados y conscientes.
  1. Infórmate―La información es poder, la ignorancia es peligrosa.
  1. Ve y vota el 8 de noviembre

 

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proactive-buttonWe are about to end Domestic Violence Action Month but I believe we should continue to be proactive all year long, not just in October. To be proactive, there are many things that you can do right now, and voting is an important one especially since this is a presidential election year. It is true that the government by itself is not going to fix or resolve the pervasive issue of domestic and sexual violence in our society. However, the administration that is elected will have an impact on funding services that are available for domestic and sexual violence survivors. Your vote counts. Your vote will have an impact and it will make a difference.

In the end, whoever the winner for this election is, we will continue working to make this world a better one. We are in this together. Let’s all take on the responsibility of ending domestic violence and creating a beloved community for all of us.

To do your part, you can:

  1. Register to vote―if you have done that, great! Then volunteer and help others to get registered.
  1. Challenge yourself, your friends, and family―every time you hear something that is not accurate, call it out by its name. For example, when a boy hits a girl in the playground and the excuse of “boys will be boys” is used, say “That’s not OK. That is abusive behavior.” Or when a girl is sexually assaulted and everyone focuses on how drunk she was, again say “That’s not OK. Drunk or not drunk, she has the right to be treated with respect.” Every day we hear these kinds of comments, so there are plenty of opportunities to initiate these conversations.
  1. Have conversations with your kids―kids are pretty smart and they are usually listening to everything that is happening around them so take a moment and talk to them, ask them what they are understanding. Then have a conversation with them about respect and consent. It is important for children to understand that there are certain comments that are not acceptable. Our children are being influenced by the environment even if we do not want it. If we want them to be well informed and aware, that is up to us.
  1. Inform yourself―Information is power, ignorance is dangerous.
  1. Go and vote on November 8th.

 

 

 

 

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.

“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.

Trolls

I just listened to a powerful This American Life story. In Act 1: Ask Not For Whom The Bell Trolls; It Trolls For Thee, Lindy West talks about her experiences as a writer and the internet trolls that come with that. This might not sound new or interesting. We all know it happens. Many of us who have posted something online have experienced some version of the mean, rage-y, entitled rants of those who disagree with us. But this story ends differently than you might imagine.

Photo by daveynin
Photo by daveynin

This whole virtual world is like a minefield of meanness. Sifting through comments of a post on a hot-button issue can be heart-wrenching. Even when the comments are not directed at me, they still impact me emotionally. (Consequently I’ve created a habit of NOT reading the comments…usually.) As Lindy West describes her daily struggle processing all the nasty words written to and about her, it occurred to me that online harassment can eat away at you like an abusive partner.

What ever happened to human kindness? In this world where we now have to navigate both our online and offline lives, it would be so nice to see some basic manners make a comeback. Employ internal filters! Engage in respectful—and even lively—debate! My kids are six and three and they get the concept. We talk a lot about using our words, lowering our voices, and showing kindness. As they have practiced it, I have watched them get better at it, navigating their own disagreements with compassion. Let’s all give it go. Practice!

In her story, Lindy West went out on a limb (one she did not have to go out on, and one the troll in question did not necessarily deserve) to reach out and share how she felt. The result was remarkable. The troll APOLOGIZED. Yep. They had a conversation and some healing happened on both sides. I probably don’t have to tell you that this is not typical, and is not the best choice for a lot of people experiencing abuse and harassment. But this ending gives me hope that things can get better. Lindy’s strength and capacity for kindness in the face of the crap she wades through on a daily basis is remarkable, just like the hundreds of survivors I’ve met whose strength and resiliency shine in the face of abuse.

From there to here

here-there-signpostI started doing domestic violence advocacy in 1994. It is 2015. Wow. Just wow. But this post isn’t about feeling old. Instead it’s about how amazing this work to end violence and support survivors is. One of the things I love most is how I am continually changing my mind about things. Here are just a few examples of where I was (and maybe you were too) 21 years ago and where we are today.

From beds to bedrooms

We used to focus on how many beds we had, stuffing survivors and their children into all the nooks and crannies of our shelters with that elusive goal of “safety” looming over our heads. Now we’ve realized that dignity is actually what we are looking for. We are working to create empowering spaces where survivors get their needs for self-determination, security, and connection met. And we’re doing things to support families, like creating quiet spaces where kids can do their homework. Keeping families together and supporting survivors to get what they need is what matters most, not how many beds our overflowing shelter can hold.

From safety to safer

I have learned so much from Jill Davies’ and Eleanor Lyon’s new book. They argue that while safety from an abuser is critical, to be truly safe “requires more than the absence of physical violence. A victim who is no longer hit by a partner but has no way to feed her children or pay the rent is not safe.…Victims are safe when there is no violence, their basic human needs are met, and they experience social and emotional well-being.” So that means helping survivors experience less violence, more economic stability, and greater well-being is the true heart of meaningful advocacy.

From intervention to prevention

OK, let’s be honest, I wasn’t even thinking about prevention in 1994. In fact it hadn’t yet occurred to me that domestic violence was preventable. But guess what, it is! As critical as it is to help people in need, we also need to spend energy on stopping the violence before it starts. And this is an exciting time as we are figuring out how to actually do that. We’re creating a whole new language to help us get to a world where beloved community and better relationships exist—it is all so exciting! I can’t wait to see how many more things I change my mind about in the future.

Dodging bullets

I’m just talking about me here. My experience. Not what I think happened to you. Or what I think you, or your town, or our nation has experienced on the whole. I’m just talking the highlights of my own life. With guns. And it’s all bad.

Gun #1

Photo by Geraint Rowland
Photo by Geraint Rowland

It’s eerie that I had this post almost done when I caught sight of the picture and story on the front page of the New York Times. This could very well have been about me or one of my siblings in the 1960s. The loaded gun my dad kept in his dresser drawer—artfully hidden a few layers down in his handkerchiefs and boxers—was like a magnet to us kids. We knew we were not supposed to go anywhere near that dresser, never mind the gun. What is it about children’s can’t-stay-away-from-it-because-it-scares-us-so-much? My brother told me he got that gun out and handled it once or twice.

Gun #2

When I was in my mid-20s, several friends and I went through a cowgirl phase. Hats and a six-shooter. We drove out to the Capitol Forest outside of Olympia, with some guns we owned or borrowed, and fired at targets on a hillside. I had some kind of semi-automatic handgun. I was baffled by how hard it was to pull the trigger and the kickback was fierce, but the shocker came when I was lowering the gun. About halfway to the ground, the tiny pressure of my finger on the trigger from the weight of the gun fired it again. I remember feeling like I had a bomb in my hand. “Amateur” you think—but check out this story from Christine Gentry (via This American Life), who was a teenager who knew better.

Gun #3

This is the story of a domestic violence murder-suicide that happened in my immediate family. I don’t know if I will ever be able to write about it. It would be traumatizing to tell, and to read. And in many ways, recounting the details of this particular story is unnecessary because the story has been told over and over again.

Gun #4

This took place ten years ago. My two teenage neighbors poached a deer in the woods by my house. It was out of season, so they confessed to their dad. But they said that they shot the deer in the Capitol Forest (yes, the same). Aw, shucks, Dad. But that was the wrong confession. My next-door neighbor heard the shot, and another neighbor saw one of the boys bloodied from the deer. It was clear they shot it in our neighborhood. I was mad, not about the deer but about them shooting guns near my house. And I was unimpressed by the dad’s response, which seemed to be belief that his naughty boys (wink wink) shot the deer in the Capitol Forest. I called on the phone and asked the boys to come over and talk to me. They came over and sat at my kitchen counter. I said, I know and you know that you shot the deer next door, and I know you’ve duped your family with that Capitol Forest story but it’s not true, so let’s just move on. I love you two and I love all my family and everyone around here who wanders around in the woods. And I would not be able to live with myself if I did not talk to you about NOT shooting guns around here. What if you accidentally shot someone? I would just die if that happened. So don’t shoot guns around my house. Heads hang—okay. Hugs all around. Now go.

Gun #5

And we’re back full circle to my dad’s loaded guns. Fifty years later and these guns were still lying around loaded. He kept one next to his bed. Even as he became blind from macular degeneration, and demented from age and alcohol, he still insisted that he had to have these guns to protect my mom. I knew that if I took them away, he would freak out and might muster enough brain cells to buy another. One day, when my mom had him out for the day, I arranged with a gunsmith to meet me in my garage, where I brought the guns. He disabled them. People always say “oh, he took out the pin,” like there’s a pin. Maybe there’s a pin. I don’t know and I don’t care—what I watched him do was take the guns apart and, with a tiny little rotary saw, cut an internal mechanism so the guns would never fire again. I returned them to where I found them.

The day came when my dad broke my heart, along with his hip, and left his home in an ambulance never to return. He had never noticed that his guns were dead. Which is the best this daughter could do for her beloved mom and dad.

When I really stop and think about it, I realize I’ve been dodging bullets my whole life. How about you? Just for a moment, stop talking about laws and theories and rights. Just stop. Wait. Think about it. Your own experiences—not “I heard about a guy,” or “I saw on the news today…” but what actually happened in your life with the guns around you. Let’s start a conversation there.

Gut check

Photo by VIUDeepBay
Photo by VIUDeepBay

Last summer was the fourth year my family spent a weekend at Jewish family camp. It’s a great experience that I look forward to. Campfires, talent show, crafts, folk dancing, learning and building community, all on the shores of Puget Sound.

Last year was all those great things once again. But I also had an unsettling experience that I’ve been thinking about since. One of my boys had a tough time in the kids program. He is a sensitive kid, and the stress and stimulation of camp was more than he could handle. He was agitated and needed help to calm down. The children’s program director—who was also a teacher at a local synagogue’s religious school—stepped in.

The way he handled the situation was spectacularly unhelpful. It was like a textbook of what not to do to de-escalate a kid. Over several conversations, his responses ranged from inappropriate to absurd. He ranted about being in charge. He was self-absorbed. He warned my kindergartner not to “start fights he couldn’t finish.” It quickly became clear to me he did not have the skill or emotional maturity for the job he was doing. I wondered how he could have kept his job as a religious school teacher if this was how he handled conflict with kids and parents.

I recently learned that this program director, Lydia Katz (pronounced L’Dee-ah), is in prison on child molestation charges. He admitted to having a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl he taught in religious school. According to news reports, the sexual abuse went on the same summer he spent with us at camp.

When I heard the news I was shocked but not surprised. I started rethinking what I saw and didn’t see, what I did and what I should have done.

The charging papers described Lydia as a “dynamic and charismatic individual who is able to easily engage with youth.” One way of seeing him was as flamboyant, fun, youthful, outside the box. Another was as narcissistic, immature, manipulative.

Sometimes we do exactly the wrong things to protect our kids from exactly the wrong people. A friend’s preschooler came home recently from a “safety” presentation convinced that “strangers will murder you, your sister, your parents, and your dog.”

Telling kids to fear all strangers is a useless message. And the flip side of that message is downright dangerous: you can trust all adults who you “know.” It is not that trusted adults are likely to be abusers, but abusers absolutely are likely to be trusted adults. (90% of teens who are sexually assaulted are hurt by someone they know. That number is even higher for younger victims.)

The world where only strangers and monsters are unsafe is a fantasy. As much as I may wish I could teach my kids a simple rule that would keep them safe, in the real world they need to develop independent judgment about who to trust. I try to talk to them about the complex process I use to gauge whether someone is safe or trustworthy. I explain why I decided to open the door for this stranger, but not another. Why I chose this neighbor’s house as the place they should go if they need help. When I will talk with someone on the street, and when I just keep walking. Even as young kids, they have to make these decisions all the time, and I want us to practice together.

Now we have the chance to reflect and practice as a community. I’m sure I was not the only one who noticed Lydia was immature and had terrible boundaries. What did we think that meant at the time? What do we see now, with the clarity of hindsight?

This is not about assigning blame. This is gut check practice.

It takes practice—even as an adult—in part because our gut reactions are not pure. We all internalize a lot of garbage that can be hard to filter out. My oldest son once wanted to know, “is it racist if I don’t like someone who’s African American?” My first answer was no—assuming you’re not rejecting a person because of their race, you can dislike whoever you want without being racist. Of course that is true, but I told him he also needs to know this: racism can gum up the works of your intuition. Unconscious negative messages can interfere with your gut feeling about the person in front of you. You can develop strong and reliable intuition by being aware of your feelings and talking about them.

Lydia is a mixed race, Black and Jewish, gender bending young man with a large personality and a big dramatic streak. Some of the news coverage made it sound like that was reason enough to be suspicious of him. But being uncomfortable is not enough to identify a problem. You have to figure out if you are uncomfortable for the right reasons. Racism and homophobia can serve as dazzle camouflage—a cloud of confusion that an abuser can use to hide in plain sight.

It is important for kids to know that the adults in this situation know exactly what happened, without euphemisms or ambiguity. Being confused leaves too much room for excuses, minimizing, and victim blaming.

I will tell my kids this: Lydia did not deserve the trust he was given. He had sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl. He sent her “romantic” messages. He used the trust he had as her teacher to his own advantage. He put his own desires ahead of his responsibility not to hurt her. He knew it was wrong and he knew it was illegal. He lied about it and he asked her mother to keep it secret. If you had a feeling that Lydia was not okay, you were right. That gut feeling was right. Remember what that felt like, and practice trusting that feeling. Let’s talk about what you can do when you have that feeling again.

Well, can you?

I got to musing about the title of our blog…

One angle goes like this: Can you relate to what we’re writing about? Are you also worried about losing pay when you have to take sick leave? Do you wonder whether your voice is heard by politicians? Or what your kids are up to online? Do you get all fired up about celebrity hook-ups and break-ups?

Alternatively, Can You Relate? asks: Do you see how domestic violence is woven into our culture? Do you see the interconnections and the complexities? And will you help us analyze and untangle all the knotty threads?

But in a third—and equally important sense—Can You Relate? challenges all of us to ask ourselves: How are we at relationships? Are we tending to our friends and loved ones well? Are we nurturing our kiddos along? Are we good lovers? I mean: are we good to our dates, our boyfriends & girlfriends, our partners, our spouses? And do we expect the same of them? Who helps us sort out what’s a blunder and what’s abuse?

Talk to a victim advocate, a police officer, a faith leader, a hairdresser, a coach, and you’ll start to see that we still have a real problem on our hands when it comes to relationships, power, and abuse. Thankfully, there’s been a long standing effort to tear down the old model that sees this stuff as a private matter, and a new model is under construction. Over 1,000 of you will literally run and walk alongside us this Saturday to show your support for healthy relationships and teen dating violence prevention. We are on our way to a better world, and I hope you can relate to my excitement about that!