Can You Relate top ten

We launched this blog in 2010 and love the conversations it has sparked. Many thanks to all of our followers! We’re going to continue talking about violence and relationships—just moving the conversation to our website and social media channels. Come see what we’re up to at wscadv.org!

Before you go, check out our top ten posts from the past eight years:

  1. Rape prevention tips
  2. Grinding at the homecoming dance
  3. Everybody needs a little knipple
  4. Boys will be boys?
  5. If no isn’t an option, yes has no meaning
  6. Are domestic violence victims codependent?
  7. You may be trying to comfort yourself
  8. Love Like This
  9. What ever happened to human compassion?
  10. We’re here

Bras, birth control, and Benjamins!

You know that moment when you read an article and you’re like, “Aaagh, everything is terrible!” but then you realize that there is a solution and it is surprisingly simple? Well that just happened to me while reading how breast and body changes drive teen girls out of sports. I love a simple solution. They are not always easy to find but when they are, I hold onto them and dream big. Such is the case for my new 3B Plan for world domination empowered, happy, and safe women. Here goes: bras, birth control, and Benjamins for us all!

Let’s break it down. It turns out that “research shows that girls tend to start dropping out of sports and skipping gym classes around the onset of puberty” and one reason for that is ill-fitting or non-existent sports bras. We know that participation in sports can help young women feel powerful and proud of their bodies so it just makes sense to help them stay active. And if bras are the way to do that, then let’s make good sports bras a priority, people! Now imagine me in my Oprah voice yelling, “You get a bra! You get a bra! EVERYONE GETS A BRA!”

Next up: birth control. Access to birth control helps women choose if, when, and with whom they have children, thus enabling them to write their own futures! I say YAAAS to autonomy and power! You want the pill? You got it. You want an IUD? Ok. You want rainbow condoms? Sure. You need emergency contraception. Here, let me get it for you. For reals. Let’s make this happen.

It's all about the benjamins, baby!And finally, you don’t need me to tell you that it’s all about the Benjamins, baby. We know that access to money is THE thing that helps people escape and recover from abuse. And it can help women to walk away from relationships that give them the uh-ohs before things get worse. So I say, let’s increase wages to a meaningful living wage. Let’s increase our welfare grants (at least back up to 2010 levels―sheesh!) and let’s encourage young women to have careers that make bank AND do good for the world.

It’s my 3B Plan. Are you in?

An advocate’s playlist

David Bowie died last week. It hit me like a ton of bricks and I started thinking of all the people who have listened to Bowie with me during hard times and good times. I know his legacy is unfortunately more complicated than I’d like, but today I’m focusing on how his music made me feel. David Bowie has been a huge part of the soundtrack of my life and because of that, he’s been a huge part of my domestic violence advocacy work too.

I remember that David Bowie’s music made me and the survivors of abuse I was working with in West Lafayette, Indiana feel good about ourselves―that we should be accepted just as we were and that we could dance while we were at it. I remember being a burnt-out shelter worker in Boulder, Colorado and the album Low was a salve to my soul. And more recently, I remember having an all-out sing-along dance party to Ashes to Ashes after a particularly hard week facing what felt like insurmountable obstacles to getting women the resources they need to be able to leave an abusive partner.

There have been other artists on my playlist too. Artists who make my soul come alive with funk, make my hips move with music, and make my heart regain hope and wonder. Here is my playlist this week as I celebrate life, meaningful work, and the fact that I was lucky enough to be alive on this planet at the same time as so many other greats.

spotify:user:wscadv:playlist:5gDW9dCujCiBX257t21lNK

“Why don’t victims just leave?”

I recently wrote this guest column for publication in Sound Publishing community newspapers.

nomoreThose of us who work at domestic violence programs hear this question all the time. The truth is, they do. Every day we hear from survivors of abuse who were able to find the support and resources they needed to be safe and self-sufficient.

Every day we also hear from people who are unable to leave because they fear the abuser will be more violent if they do. This fear is very real. According to the Washington State Domestic Violence Fatality Review, in at least 55% of homicides by abusers, the victim had left or was trying to leave.

Many people are unable to leave an abusive relationship because they have nowhere to go. Our communities don’t have enough affordable housing, and shelters and transitional housing units are limited. On just one day last year, domestic violence programs in Washington could not meet 267 requests for housing. People often stay with or return to an abusive partner because they don’t have the money to support themselves or their children.

We also hear from people who don’t want to leave, but want the abuse to stop. Research consistently shows that people in an abusive relationship make repeated efforts to be safe and self-sufficient, but there are many barriers—both external, such as limited resources or support; and internal, such as an emotional connection to their partner or a desire for their children to be with both parents—that makes this very difficult.

But here’s the thing: This is absolutely the wrong question to be asking, as it implies that victims are responsible for ending violence. They aren’t. Instead, we should be asking what we can do to stop abusers from being violent and controlling.

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.

Times have changed. Or have they?

“It’s okay, honey, you can say you’re a housewife,” said the county clerk when I was applying for my marriage license. It’s hard to explain the work I do and I’m often stumped when I have to fill in the “occupation” section of a form. Irked by the clerk’s assumption that I was a housewife, I was even more put off that she thought I would be ashamed of it.grandmagritschcropped

Standing in that courthouse this summer, I was aware that I had walked through the same doors my grandparents did in 1949 and my parents in 1974. I thought about how much things had changed over the past 65 years. But really, how different are they?

My grandmother got married during a time that being a housewife was considered a woman’s ultimate calling. Near the end of her life she told me (with a bitter undertone), “I did my duty. I had three kids. I washed socks.” In her eyes, being a housewife was not a choice, but an obligation.

Then came the era of the Do It All woman which sounds impossible and exhausting. Today, things are different but the same sexist expectations exist. My partner and I share household and financial responsibilities, but I know I would be judged if I chose to stop working. And when people come to my home it’s clear the judgment is on me as well. Many women in my generation are trying to figure out what works best for them, even if that means choosing to return to traditional gender roles. It seems whatever we choose, we are criticized.

I want us to stop judging each other and turn our focus on making sure women have options and the freedom to choose what’s best for them. Instead of shaming, let’s encourage each other to make healthy decisions, talk about how to communicate effectively with our partners, and support each other to have relationships that are supportive, caring, and equal.

End violence. Start today! Five simple things you can do in 2014.

1. Resolve to be generous with your time and money, but never ever give to charity.

You can practically hear the sinews of humanity ripping apart when we think of people as charity cases. We scroll or stroll by and throw money at them.

If it weren’t for the most microscopic twist of genetics or timing, you might be the one paralyzed from the neck down, or the person sleeping in the doorway.

I know it’s terrifying, but always give to others knowing we’re all in the same lifeboat.

2. Whether you can give time and money or not, be generous with your spirit. For New Year’s, give up pity.

I do not mean sympathy or empathy. I mean pity.

I have only been pitied a few times, but ouch did it sting. I’ve written about having breast cancer, and I’ve had people pity me. There is just nothing worse than having another person not see your whole feisty strong self and only see your disease.

That woman at the shelter? No pity allowed! She deserves justice and respect—not pity. Remember that.

3. Do not leave healthy relationships to chance. Talk to your kids.

Talk to them. Don’t think about talking to them. Don’t plan to talk to them. Don’t hope that someone else will talk to them. Infant to teen. Maybe especially teens—as hard as they are to approach sometimes. Right? Start (or continue) today.

4. Promote love.

Surprise! I got married. On New Year’s Day. To my sweetie of 27+ years. We could partake of marriage and the multitude of rights it brings because we live in the great state of Washington. Thank you citizenry.

Check out this cool map and see how the face of our nation is being transformed by debate and political action around who can love whom. And listen to this cool podcast with two guys who have been engaged in a multi-year conversation about the merits of love and marriage (skip to minute 27 for the part that convinced me to take the plunge).

And lastly,

5. Help end violence in relationships by ending violence against yourself.

Bring all the negative and cynical self-talk into sharp focus and then kindly and gently let go. Over and over again. Stop beating yourself up about beating yourself up. Stop beating yourself up about beating yourself up about beating yourself up. And so on, until you start to find it funny. Know that you are not alone. Feeling bad about ourselves seems to be one of our national pastimes. It is hard to be a generous, sympathetic, creative activist if you feel like crap. Take care of yourself for the sheer joy of doing so and enjoy this glorious year of 2014 on this glorious planet earth.

To review: earth

1. Give up charity—seek connection

2. Give up pity—seek connection

3. Do not leave healthy relationships to chance—seek connection

4. Promote equality in love everywhere you can—seek connection

5. Stop beating yourself up—seek connection

News you can relate to

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

Many powerful tributes have been written this week on Nelson Mandela’s leadership and legacy. This one discusses what he did for South African women’s freedom and equality.

Sexual assault is so common that we all need to know what’s helpful (and not helpful) to say. This article gives some important insights into what people who have been sexually assaulted go through.

In money news, voters have approved a raise in the minimum wage to $15/hour for workers at the Seattle-Tacoma airport.

Bare-naked question

I have a question for you.

Do you think it’s even possible to end violence against women and children?

I’m serious. Is it possible for everyone to have healthy relationships, or is violence against women inevitable?

This is a question I’ve taken to posing recently, because as I approach the end of my long career, I want to know.

Maybe people—you, me, the guy sitting next to you—don’t believe this is possible. When I actually ask people, “Is violence inevitable?” there’s often a long pause. Which is interesting.

Now granted, I’m three decades into doing this domestic violence victim advocacy work, so maybe I’m a little slow here, but it’s only now dawning on me that our current responses to violence in relationships are not getting the job done. Not for lack of trying. Not for lack of big-hearted and dedicated people. Not for lack of laws, money, programs, shelters, and jails. We’ve got all that. What we don’t have is resolve. I think maybe we don’t believe it’s possible.

But pretend, just for kicks, we do all believe we could have healthy relationships. I don’t mean perfect, I don’t mean we don’t argue and have hurt feelings. But relationships that are about love and respect.

Pretend we’re willing to think way outside of all the boxes (institutions) we’ve invented and dream up more effective social controls on sexism and abuse and common sense approaches to fostering health and happiness. Could we even agree on what those would be? And if we did all that, would we succeed?