News you can relate to

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

In the face of the shameful refusal of local and federal government to care about untested rape kits, these Detroit businesswomen took action.

Listen to amazing survivor and homelessness advocate Jessie Garcia tell Humans of New York her story.

When rents shoot up, domestic violence survivors face a tough choice: stay or be homeless.

Shifting culture

In honor of Domestic Violence ACTION Month I’ll be blogging all month about what it takes to end domestic violence. It is our view (at the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence) that to prevent violence we need to:

Address root causes of violence, Shift culture, Build Skills, Promote healthy relationships

 

Last week I wrote about root causes. This week let’s look at shifting culture. How do we do that?

Ultimately we want to challenge our communities to reject all types of violence while at the same time expecting that all people will be treated with respect in their relationships. I know it sounds a little “pie in the sky.” But in our everyday lives, there are simple things we can do to shift culture:

  • Instead of asking, “Why don’t victims just leave?” we could ask, “What can we do to stop abusers from being violent and controlling?”
  • Instead of telling women how not to get raped, we could point out that only rapists can prevent rape.
  • Instead of saying, “I can’t imagine he would do such a thing, he’s so nice,” we could say, “What must it have been like to be with him behind closed doors? Let’s ask her.”
  • Instead of telling little girls, “He must really like you if he hit you,” we could say “Violence is never a way to show love.”
  • Instead of asking what someone did to set someone off, we say, “You didn’t deserve that, how can I help?”
  • Instead of throwing our hands up in the air over teenagers’ relationships, let’s dive in and ask them how it’s going.
  • Instead of thinking that domestic violence is inevitable, we can embrace our huge capacity for love and compassion and learn to Love Like This.

All of these seem doable to me. They aren’t “pie in the sky”—they are right there in front of us, like pie on our plates! Can you commit to making a culture shift this month? Let’s try it and move forward. Together we can end domestic violence!

dvam

Tell me a story

Don’t be jealous.

I got an invitation to go to a Moth storytelling workshop the other day. If a blog could squeal, you’d hear it right about now.

If you don’t know what the Moth is, and you love storytelling, you are in for a treat. I almost never listen to the Moth without choking up or laughing out loud.themoth

The pre-workshop instructions from the Moth organizers said to not overthink a story before the workshop. They assured us they’d teach us the techniques of creating a Moth-worthy story.

I have so many stories. If you know me, you know this. All the time. But don’t you know, when I got the email about the workshop, my mind went completely blank. Story? Do I know any stories?

In truth, I’ve had a long dramatic life with many story-worthy moments. My problem? Most of them are not things I would be wild about telling in front of an audience of strangers.

I finally picked a nice safe story about something that happened to me in high school. When I told the story to my partner (step one in story development) I put both of us to sleep. No good. I had to pick one of the risky stories, or flunk out of storytelling school.

So I took the plunge. I told the story of my childhood friend—and the deep relationship I had with his entire family. And something bad that happened.

I loved them all. They were my second family and I wished they were my first. Every night, they ate dinner together around a big table with a white tablecloth, real silver, nice plates and cloth napkins. They had an electric warming gadget to put the main dish on in case someone wanted seconds. And the conversation—oh, they read New Yorker magazine and newspapers and discussed important stuff in a civilized way. I was in heaven. They also had a summer “camp” in Maine—a creaky old house with a large screened-in porch—where the big dining table lived. The house was on a lake with the purest water where we swam and sailed. I loved all these people so much.

Time passed and all the kids grew up. I went away to college—3000 miles away. This was in the olden days, when people wrote letters—so I had a booming correspondence with several members of my adopted family. We all stayed tightly connected.

One year, when I was home for Thanksgiving, my friend and I got together and, as always, we talked and talked. I told him about my recent volunteer work at a Rape Relief in my new town, and about my particular interest in child victims. He asked me, bemused, if I didn’t think that the real problem with adults having sex with kids was the social taboo—that barring that, it really would be no big deal. Right? I remember thinking he was just yanking my chain, putting a theoretical thing out there to argue about. But the more we talked, the clearer it became that he was serious.

I knew he was close with a teenager whose mother was a tenant in an apartment he owned. So I remember insisting that he assure me that he was not having sex with this kid. The conversation went nowhere and I returned to college deeply troubled.

I wrote my friend a letter asking him once again to assure me that he would not have sex with kids, and he wrote back a 3 page, double-sided reiteration of what he already had told me about his rationale for why it’s okay for adults to have sex with kids.

I used to think that life was right and wrong, black and white. There was no time when I wouldn’t be dead sure about the right thing to do. But having my beloved friend wander down this terrible road left me stunned. And flat footed. Should I report? Or maintain my relationship so I could keep tabs and try to persuade or deter him?

It killed me to do it, but I turned him in. He was investigated and I guess the child he was in contact with didn’t disclose any abuse because my friend wasn’t arrested and I wasn’t called upon at that time to do anything more.

He and his entire family stopped talking to me. I felt phantom pains from that loss for years.

Fast forward a decade plus, and my phone rings one morning. I enter into a surreal conversation with a state patrol officer who is asking questions about my friend and what I know about him. Victims finally had come forward and the police were looking into prosecution. She knew something about a letter, and they’d tried to get this letter from the child protection agency, but they’d shredded their old files. Could I help?

Yes, I kept a copy from all those years ago because I knew this was not going to go away. The letter was entered into evidence and I was subpoenaed to testify at a trial. No trial took place because my friend came to a plea agreement. He went to prison.

People are always surprised by this, but I went to visit him there. Yes, I did. A couple of times. For those of you with friends or family in prison, you know about this. How you visit people even though they are not overjoyed to see you, and even though you are not overjoyed to see them. But because you are connected, and staying in touch is the only thing you can do.

My friend served his time. But when the date arrived for his release, it didn’t happen. He was civilly committed—the fate of many pedophiles. Civil commitment lives outside of most of our view and happens to people we are afraid of—and honestly, afraid for good reason. I completely understand why we want to lock up the bad guys. Forever. Period.

But I know this bad guy. For a whole bunch of reasons I don’t think he’s someone who should be in civil commitment. My friend was losing his freedom. All my hard edges defining right and wrong continued to crumble.

Years passed and my friend won a trial to secure his release. Every strand of my being, all my decades of work on behalf of victims strained as I went to testify on his behalf, for his release. There are many reasons I believed he was safe to be at large, and to the best of my knowledge he has not reoffended since he won that release.

I know this is hard for most people to understand but this is my world, where love and justice collide.

And this is the story I told at the Moth workshop.

The miracle of story-telling brought me others after the workshop who told me their own stories.

There are so many victims, which means there are so many perpetrators. And these rapists and batterers are people we know and in some cases people we love—in all the messy ways that happens. Even when we try to lock them up or throw them away, our loved ones return.

News you can relate to

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

For years and years, women have been telling the world that Bill Cosby raped them and the world did not care. Why not?

Scientists were in the spotlight this week for successfully landing the Philae probe on a comet, but one of them wore a shirt covered with naked women to celebrate. And we wonder why there aren’t more female scientists?

Best hashtag of the week: #FeministPrincessBride

News you can relate to

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

I love the complexity and intersectionality on display in this conversation with Beth Richie about her role as a senior advisor to the NFL on domestic abuse.

Finding my voice made me stronger.” A rape survivor shares the powerful work she’s doing on The King County Sexual Assault Resource Center’s blog.

This father-daughter duo are dressing up as Han Solo and Princess Leia for Halloween – but with a twist!

News you can relate to

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

Anita Sarkeesian critiques sexism in video games. Angry gamers have been responding with harassment and threats so vile that she was forced to flee her house for safety.

This week, everyone was talking about anti-rape nail polish. Sounds great, right? Well, beyond the fact that women are once again being held responsible for preventing rape, chemists are pointing out that it won’t even work.

Beyoncé was brilliant at the VMAs, making ‘feminist’ the word of the week in pop culture.

News you can relate to

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

Critics respond to Louie’s attempted rape scene: Is it meant to reveal the dark truth behind Nice Guys or does it offer excuses for men who sexually assault women? What is Louis CK trying to tell us?

Feministing shares an amazingly hilarious tale about a lady who was groped while leaving a movie theater in Boston and put her monster voice hobby to good use.

After much public pressure, Lego is releasing a Research Institute set featuring women scientists—an astronomer, a paleontologist, and a chemist.

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.

 

News you can relate to

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

These puppets explain to the Supreme Court why your boss shouldn’t make decisions about your birth control.

There’s been a strong negative reaction to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network’s (RAINN) recommendation to focus on the criminal justice response to rape on college campuses. Wagatwe Wanjuki does a great job of explaining why this approach is so problematic.

In a recent interview, the director of Girl Rising talks about the story and strategy behind this amazing film.

Dear editor

We—along with the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs—submitted this letter to the editor of The Daily News following the arrest of a domestic violence and sexual assault survivor. We appreciate and applaud the advocacy work Emergency Support Shelter is doing in their community to support victims, their choices, and their rights. 

Dear editor:

Reading about a rape victim arrested on a material witness warrant was alarming. As your coverage noted, arresting the victim “had the added irony of using a warrant to hold the woman against her will so she can help convict someone else of holding her against her will.” Further, an October 10 headline, “Family jailed for refusing to testify against dad” indicates this isn’t an isolated case or practice.

We oppose this practice. It has devastating impacts for victims; shifts focus away from perpetrators, and can lessen community safety. Arresting victims deters others who have experienced domestic violence or sexual assault from reporting by promoting fear of being arrested if they can’t be available to the prosecutor; whether for lack of resources or fear of offender retaliation. Additionally it further penalizes victims who are homeless or cannot afford a phone or transportation. Punishing victims and creating barriers to reporting violence makes our communities less safe. Holding offenders accountable and responsible for violence is what we need.

Jail is not what justice for victims looks like.