The world I live in

Recent conversations with friends and colleagues have me thinking about the world of human trafficking out there. Now I’m wondering, how can we develop a curiosity and care about what’s happening right here, right now?

Let’s consider the very small snapshot of runaway youth in Seattle. According to YouthCare, a local Seattle program, many youth run away from home due to abuse, neglect, and rape. Within 48 hours, young women are approached by pimps. And once they are in “the life,” inevitably they experience more sexual exploitation, criminal charges, and isolation from friends and family. Such is this world we live in. It is the world where my parents come from, it is the world where I come from, and it is the world that exists down the street from me.

Human trafficking calls for urgent action.

As Barbara Ehreinreich puts it, “the challenge is: could we stop meanness, the relentless persecution of people who are having a hard time? … We’ve got to stop kicking people when they are already down, and move toward reaching out a hand.”

We need to stop with our judgment and bias, and start being curious about how laws, policies, and attitudes impact poor and homeless people, young people, immigrants, women and children … right here, right now. Because that is the world I want to live in.

What next? Part 6

Earlier this year, our executive director, Nan Stoops, was invited to be the keynote speaker at a conference organized by the Hawai’i State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Her assignment: outline a five-point plan for ending violence against women and girls.

Here is the final installment of her speech. (Or jump to: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6)

Point #5: Recognize the beloved community

I want to close by talking about the beloved community. I was recently re-introduced to the concept of beloved community, and I had two instant realizations: one was that beloved community describes what I have always hoped we can achieve, and the second was that the beloved community is something I have already experienced.

For me, the beloved community is characterized by integrity, respect, openness, kindness, honesty, curiosity, authenticity, compassion, patience, forgiveness, hard work, fair play, good humor, and a belief in the abundant possibilities of our humanity.

I experience the beloved community in different ways with my co-workers back home, with friends, family, my softball team, and neighbors. Almost always, food is involved. Laughter too, and, sometimes, tears. We acknowledge that we are in community with one another, we work together to sustain it, we appreciate the privileges it represents, and do not take it for granted.

At certain times, I expect to be in the presence of beloved community. But it is the unexpected moments that take my breath away. Like when the driver of elementary school bus #4 told her riders that she would drive her route for as long as she could while undergoing chemotherapy treatments for her cancer, and that night the children shaved their heads in solidarity.

Or when 16-year-old Isaiah T. read his poem entitled “It was taken some time ago” about the many losses in his life, and about staying with his homeless mother, and staying in school, and staying with the memories of all that was taken some time ago. The standing ovation Isaiah received was our wish for a beloved community for him.

Or when a 62-year-old woman marched in Seattle’s “Slutwalk” to protest against the Toronto police officer who said “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” This particular woman marched in grey pants, a red sweater, a scarf, and brown loafers. She had bought them 40 years ago to replace the same outfit that the police had bagged as evidence after she was raped. She had never planned to wear the clothes, but she just wanted to have them. As she marched, she carried a sign that read “this is what I was wearing.” Beloved community.

Each of us might think of beloved community differently. What’s important is that we know it when we see it. And that we work today as if we plan to live in it tomorrow. Beloved community. Freedom, now and always.

What next? Part 1

Earlier this year, our executive director, Nan Stoops, was invited to be the keynote speaker at a conference organized by the Hawai’i State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Her assignment: outline a five-point plan for ending violence against women and girls.

Over the next six weeks, we will post installments of her speech. After all, if we can figure out how to end this kind of violence in five steps, shouldn’t we all have a look?

I honour your gods. I drink from your well. I bring an undefended heart to our meeting place.

These words from a Susan Wright prayer express how I feel about being with you here today. I am enormously humbled to be a part of your conference, and I thank the organizing committee for the gracious invitation.

Hawai’i is like a home away from home for me. I come here as often as I am able, which, of course, is not often enough. But always, the colors, the water, the people, the food, and the pace of life remind me why it is that I am forever contemplating a one-way ticket to this place. It is here that I encounter the timelessness of friendship, renewed passion for our collective work, and an understanding of the fundamental importance of connection.

In 2008, we stayed at a house near Haleiwa where we were in the company of some very social Honu. One in particular kept my attention. She was quite large; she had one flipper that, either by birth or by injury, was ½ the size of the other; and her shell was full of scratches and chips. Each day she would arrive in the cove and slowly make her way onto the beach where we would spend the morning basking in the sun as if we were friends.

I learned early on to keep a certain distance from the Honu, and I did. I would even move away, only to be followed. We never spoke, we never shared a meal, we did not friend each other on Facebook. I wondered about her journey and how she decided when to ride the current or swim against it. I wondered if she knew when she was being tossed against the rocks. I wondered if she had a plan when she left and didn’t return.

I have wondered the same things about so many women I’ve encountered. I can’t begin to count them, but I remember many of their names, their faces, their children, and the stories they told. Some are surely dead. And some are surely free.

I am here today, talking with you, because of them. Public speaking is not the comfort zone of introverts like me. But I am indebted to a long line of survivors who have filled my life with theirs. They are my past that informs my present and gives shape to my hope for the future. For me, they are the Mo’o.

I want you to know that I love being able to do the work I do. I see it as a blessing, a privilege, and a chance to participate in something really, really big. I have been fortunate to work with a Who’s Who of advocates and activists all around the country, and to witness the visionary organizing that is happening in other parts of the world.

I believe we are at a critical juncture in our anti-violence, social justice work. We now have state and federal laws that criminalize rape, domestic violence, incest, and trafficking, and that authorize funding for a vast network of shelter, treatment, and advocacy services.

We understand how domestic violence intersects with numerous social and community issues―homelessness, poverty, juvenile delinquency, chemical dependency and substance abuse, differential access to education, healthcare, and public benefits, immigration, sovereignty, global political unrest, and war.

We are paying more attention to what many of us call violence in the margins. We know that the experience of gender violence and the response to it is affected by a host of other factors, like race, ethnicity, class, status, age, sexual orientation, physical and cognitive ability, religion, culture, first language, and so on.

Our work to end violence against women is now quite complex. When I look back over my own 30 years of advocacy, I am both enormously proud of what we have accomplished, and somewhat concerned about where we are headed. In my home state ofWashington, I am referred to as a “movement historian,” and advocates often ask me if I get tired of doing the work. Now once I get over the shock of being considered old enough to be a historian, I always reply, and I mean this, “of course, I get worn out and worn down, but we are in a very challenging and exciting time right now, and I think a fresher and better version of ourselves is going to emerge. I want to see it and I want to be a part of it.”

Here’s the deal. We have been in the anti-violence business for more than 40 years. Many of us talk about being a full generation into the work and, in fact, we see every day what that means. We have women and men who, as children, lived with their mothers in shelter and now as adults, are again calling us for help. We have activists who were raised by activists, young people who now join or replace their parents in our workforce. Some of us work alongside four generations of people, which means that the workplace is equally complicated and dynamic. We welcome new, diverse, energetic voices and ideas at the same time that we mourn the growing loss of our earliest leaders, founders, mothers, and warriors.

When I think about all that we have learned over the decades, and all of the growth and progress and change, what I always come back to is that which has stayed the same. And perhaps the best way for me to describe it is to reflect on my own experience as a fledgling advocate in 1981. I remember being oddly passionate and irritable. I had the textbook answer to the question “Why does she stay?” But whenever I was asked that, I would say, “Because she can’t leave. And you should be asking me ‘Why does he batter?’ The answer to that is ‘Because it works and he can.’ ”

To this day, even though I am capable of articulating a more sophisticated and nuanced response, I still often rely on “she can’t/it works/he can.” My participation in a full generation of anti-violence work has landed me, in some ways, very close to where I began, and this simple fact is what guides my hope for our collective future.

I want to offer the Nan Stoops five-point plan for ending male violence against women. It isn’t written down anywhere, except here. And this is the first time I’ve said it out loud. It’s in no particular order, and it may not even make sense, depending on what you do, with whom, and to what end. However, what I hope comes through is the importance of thinking about the conditions that allow, encourage, and perpetuate violence and the opportunity and responsibility we have to do work that matters.

Jump to: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6

2 heads are better than 1?

We’ve been at this blogging thing for almost a year now, and it just dawned on me that we’ve been talking a lot about sex and sexual violence. Some might say “what gives?” I thought this was the domestic violence coalition?” (Or that thought might never have occurred to you. If you don’t work in the field, you’d never know that domestic violence and sexual assault advocacy are pretty separate.)

Is it because these issues have recently captured national media attention? Schwarzenegger, Strauss-Kahn, Weiner. Marlo Thomas at Huffington Post wondered recently if Men Behaving Badly is a good thing. She sees a shift in the public response to sexual misbehavior. There’s a lot more outrage and a lot fewer people making excuses for the perpetrators.

Despite her claim that sexual assault is getting more and better coverage, there are a lot of questions—especially among those of us who do this work—about which (domestic violence or sexual assault) gets more attention and accurate representation from the media. Which issue is more main-stream, more understood by the folks who don’t think about it everyday? Are we blogging more about sexual violence instead of domestic violence because we think it is less understood, or more? I don’t know.

What I do know is this: It should not be an either/or discussion. Sexual and domestic violence are inextricably linked. After all, rape happens in domestic violence relationships too, and I’m not sure the separation of these into different specialties has served us well. Maybe our blog’s tag line (“talking about violence and relationships”) has freed us to see past our titles and re-focus on the bigger goal—let’s get all kinds of violence out of our lives.

We’ve got honor, we’ve got pride

We are pleased to bring you this post from guest blogger Nan Stoops, our executive director.

Did you happen to read about the high school cheerleader who refused to cheer for the basketball player who had raped her? Hillaire S. was kicked off the cheer squad and, subsequently, sued her high school in an attempt to get reinstated.

She lost. In its ruling, a federal appeals court found that Hillaire’s First Amendment rights had not been violated. Essentially, because she was a cheerleader, the high school owned her voice and her speech was not protected. The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review the case.

I could write more than a blog about the irony, agony, and lunacy of this legal justification. But not today. It’s Father’s Day, and I want to offer a big shout out to Hillaire’s dad, who supported his daughter throughout.

After the ruling, Hillaire’s father said: “My daughter has fought through it all.” Was it worth the $45,000 in legal fees? “Yes. If she had not fought, no one would have known what went on.”

To this dad, to my dad, and to dads everywhere who LISTEN to their daughters, BELIEVE us, believe IN us, STAND WITH us, to dads who know that no one owns our voices but us and that their silence does not protect us; to these Dads, I offer a simple and heartfelt thank you.

Happy Father’s Day!

Rape prevention tips

Ten rape prevention tips:

1. Don’t put drugs in women’s drinks.

2. When you see a woman walking by herself, leave her alone.

3. If you pull over to help a woman whose car has broken down, remember not to rape her.

4. If you are in an elevator and a woman gets in, don’t rape her.

5. When you encounter a woman who is asleep, the safest course of action is to not rape her.

6. Never creep into a woman’s home through an unlocked door or window, or spring out at her from between parked cars, or rape her.

7. Remember, people go to the laundry room to do their laundry. Do not attempt to molest someone who is alone in a laundry room.

8. Use the Buddy System! If it is inconvenient for you to stop yourself from raping women, ask a trusted friend to accompany you at all times.

9. Carry a rape whistle. If you find that you are about to rape someone, blow the whistle until someone comes to stop you.

10. Don’t forget: Honesty is the best policy. When asking a woman out on a date, don’t pretend that you are interested in her as a person; tell her straight up that you expect to be raping her later. If you don’t communicate your intentions, the woman may take it as a sign that you do not plan to rape her.

My co-worker recently created this list, inspired by sites like this. As I was reading, I couldn’t decide if I should laugh or be horrified by the reality that violence prevention tips are always aimed at what the targeted person should do (judgment strongly implied) to protect themselves.

In the past two weeks, headlines about rape have flooded the news—CBS Reporter Recounts a ‘Merciless’ Assault, Congo study sets estimates of rape much higher , Peace Corps volunteer speaks out on rape. And, of course, IMF Chief charged with rape. I am glad to see people speaking out about rape. But raising awareness isn’t enough. How do we actually change perpetrators’ thoughts and convince them not to rape?

If you experienced rape as a reporter, a Peace Corps volunteer, a war survivor, a hotel maid, or by your partner, you don’t need rape prevention tips. It is the rapist and the culture around us that excuses, supports, and looks away that we must change.

Party time!!

I don’t know what’s wrong with me this winter. I find myself being inordinately happy – laughing out loud. Sometimes at myself and (full disclosure) sometimes at you too. We can be a grim lot in our movement, wouldn’t you say? Seems like it’s against the rules to celebrate.

Case in point. We just had a great victory. When the brand new Congressional leadership started the session with a bill to try to force us back into a little box by redefining rape, we raised the roof with an outcry.  Shaming them until they backed down.

Take one minute – that’s 60 full seconds – to feel your power.

That, my dears, is the taste of liberation!

Thank you Nick Baumann and Linda Feldmann for your outstanding reporting and follow up on this. Thank you Jon Stewart for your brilliant satire.

Thanks to everyone who

  • posted a link to info on Facebook or email,
  • talked about it with friends,
  • contacted one of the co-signers on the bill.

That was fun!

Someone. Turn up the music! It’s party time!!

A Lot Like You

Needing a break after over a decade of working against rape and domestic violence, Eli Kimaro quit her job, took a filmmaking class, and set off to Mount Kilimanjaro to film a documentary about her father’s Chagga tribe. Raised in the U.S. by her Tanzanian father and Korean mother, Eli’s ambitious project was motivated by her struggle to integrate her own complex cultural identity.

After months of filming, the footage she envisioned – village rituals, folk dances – eluded her. Instead, when Eli asked her aunts to tell her about their marriage ceremonies, they told her stories filled with brutal violence. She had no idea this was part of her family’s history – yet it resonated deeply with her own experience as a survivor of violence and advocate for other survivors.

The film that has emerged, A Lot Like You, weaves together big themes – exile and return, multicultural identity, violence against women – all told from an intimate point of view. For me, the film is a powerful reminder that when you scratch the surface of any story – from the tale of an entire culture to your own family’s history – you find stories of women’s suffering and survival. Some are hidden; some are known but not spoken; some have been repackaged as tall tales or family jokes. My family has these stories. I doubt I know one who doesn’t.

A Lot Like You raises questions for all of us – How does violence shape our sense of who we are? When we tell stories that have been silenced does that strengthen or threaten our family bonds? And what stories will we leave as our legacy for the next generation?

New Year’s Resolution

Lately, I’ve been ruminating about sound bite messages – those short, memorable, repeatable phrases that say a lot in a few words.

Sound bites remind us how to be safer on the roads, like Click It or Ticket. And thanks to Michael Pollan’s brilliant brevity, we know to eat food, mostly plants, not too much.

We live in a sound bite world, which is rather unfortunate for those of us working to end super- complicated problems like abuse and rape. We haven’t yet developed clear-cut, resonant phrases to describe how to have loving, safe, and fair relationships.

I loathe seeing complicated issues reduced to sound bites, but why shouldn’t we use strategies that have been proven to work? I recognize that brevity reigns supreme, so it’s my New Year’s Resolution to hop on the sound bite bandwagon.

But where to start?

Google “healthy relationship” and you get pages and pages of text. I’m looking for a handful of short phrases: a to-do list for our daily lives that will move us in the direction of cooperation, liberation, true love.

I’m only on day 4 of my resolution, so I haven’t any brilliant Pollan-esque slogans to offer. I know it’s a tall order, but anyone have an idea?

Truth and consequences

Weeks after WikiLeaks released thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables, the organization’s founder, Julian Assange, was arrested in Britain on charges that he sexually assaulted two women in Sweden.

Supporters of WikiLeaks decry Assange’s arrest as politically motivated. Of course it is. When was the last time we saw an international manhunt for an alleged date rapist?

But it is disturbing how many WikiLeaks’ defenders have completely dismissed the idea that Julian Assange may be guilty of a crime. As if it’s impossible for a guy to be admired, talented, or unjustly politically targeted AND a rapist. (Roman Polanski, anyone?) Bloggers are tripping over each other in their rush to make the usual victim-blaming, rapist-excusing arguments: she agreed to sex and regretted it later; she’s a man-hating feminist; she couldn’t have been raped because she was friendly toward him the next day.

There are also some more original arguments for why Assange should not have to face the charges against him. Like that Sweden is a bizarre, feminist dystopia where sex without condoms is criminal and courts reflexively believe women. Bloggers are deliberately using a strange-sounding English translation of the charges — “sex by surprise” — to make the accusations seem ridiculous. Even Naomi Wolf is leveraging her feminist credentials to mock the women and their “injured feelings”.

I don’t know whether Julian Assange raped anybody. But the charges against him are serious. Assange is accused of refusing to stop sex when one woman told him to, pinning her down with his body. He is accused of having sex with another woman while she was sleeping. Should he get a pass because he is a political target?

We all know these charges would never be pursued without the U.S. vendetta against WikiLeaks. But attacking the women who say Assange raped them doesn’t advance free speech. Far from it. The misogynist blustering manages to distract from the important debate about democracy, state secrets, and the limits of journalism — and empower rapists at the same time.