Idle? Know More!

I’m going to call her Jennifer.

And I’m going to say she was raped last Thursday. Somewhere along the main road that divides Olympia and Lacey. Cops from the two towns arrive and set to arguing about who has to investigate. Then, an FBI agent arrives. More arguing. All three approach Jennifer. They tell her “We need to know the race of the assailant. This is important because, depending on your answer, it’s possible that none of us can help you.”The-Round-House_510x317

Improbable you say? Not so.

Though there is no Jennifer and this rape did not happen in my home town, something similar to this happens every day in Indian Country. This injustice is a national shame.

Dear reader—if you are a citizen of the United States, then your government is standing as an idle and mute witness to the abuse of Native women. We should no longer tolerate “jurisdiction” as the cause and the excuse.

It makes no sense that when a Native woman is raped or brutalized on tribal land by a non-Native man, tribal courts are forbidden from prosecuting him, and federal prosecutors don’t. Fact.

The release of Louise Erdrich’s The Round House could not have been more perfectly timed to wake us up to the profound horror and tragedy of this. This 2012 National Book Award winning novel sang to my heart. Maria Russo writes in her review in the New York Times “Law is meant to put out society’s brush fires, but in Native American history it has often acted more like the wind. Louise Erdrich turns this dire reality into a powerful human story in her new novel.”

Read it. But don’t weep!

Be inspired by Idle No More. Check out how this First Nations born movement out of Canada is spilling over into the U.S. and gathering momentum every day. Organized around sovereignty, the movement embraces environmental and social issues. This is very exciting.

And be inspired to act. Right now, we have an historic opportunity to fix the jurisdiction issues on tribal lands. Last year Congress failed to re-authorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) specifically because of the protections for Native women included in the bill! VAWA was just reintroduced this year in the Senate. Contact your representatives in Congress, and express your support for Native women in VAWA. Ask them where they stand. If they ignore you, ask them again. If they issue statements that make no sense to you, ask more questions. This is one time and place where those of us who are non-Native can be great allies to Native women. Join and BE idle no more!

True grit meets beloved community

I’m just back from our smashingly successful annual conference, entitled Beloved Community. We had a great vibe—lots of joyful tears and laughter—new ideas and thoughtful conversation. 2012 might have been our best conference so far.

Buried in the stack of junk mail when I walk in my front door is a thank you card from my neighbor for her birthday present, and a long thin envelope. From the minister of my church. Explaining the church’s position on, and the current status of, our music director who is under investigation for possession of child pornography.

Nothing like going from all the warm fuzzies of beloved community to the true grit—where the rubber meets the bumpy beloved boulevard.

Me personally? I have men in my life who have perpetrated horrid acts. And I struggled for years to figure out where to put John (my brother-in-law/murderer) and Joel (my long-time-and-still-good-friend/pedophile) in my world view. And, more importantly, in my heart. I bet anything that you too have people you care about who have done terrible things.

Let’s face it. We do not have a sophisticated way of dealing with this. And I am NOT talking about a criminal justice response—or rather ONLY a criminal justice response.

Beloved community calls upon us all to respond in a much broader assortment of ways—to every street harasser, rapist, and batterer—whether the criminal justice system ever touches them or not. To be kind, assertive, and persistent. To see it through until the victim is made as whole as possible, and only then attending to the perpetrator and seeing that he is made as whole as possible too.

Beloved community can be messy and demanding. So I guess we’re just going to have to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

Reproductive justice

We rarely talk about unintended pregnancy as one of the consequences of domestic violence. But of course it is. Rape and coerced sex are a very, very common part of survivors’ experience. Most of us assume that pregnancies are either intended or “accidents.” But that doesn’t account for the kind of rape that happens in abusive relationships, or the host of tactics batterers use to control when and how their partners get pregnant: forcing her to have unprotected sex; pressuring her to get pregnant; refusing to use condoms; sabotaging her birth control.

According to the CDC, 1 in every 21 women in the U.S. has had a partner try to get her pregnant against her will. Women and teen girls with abusive husbands or boyfriends are five times more likely than other women to get pregnant when they don’t want to be. These are not accidents—there is no better way for an abuser to secure the financial and legal bonds that make it much more difficult to leave safely and nearly impossible to leave completely.

Recent political conversations about “legitimate rape” are willfully ignorant not just of medical science, but of women’s experience. Women choose abortion for many complex reasons, among them rape and battering. For some women, ending a pregnancy is the safest and most life affirming choice they can make. Access to abortion and emergency contraception is fundamental. But it is not enough.

Reproductive justice means defending women’s control over their own bodies and at the same time fighting for the resources communities need to support families. A woman can’t truly have free choice without the conditions that allow her to raise a child with dignity: relationships free from violence and coercion, quality health care, economic opportunity, access to education, safe and affordable housing, strong neighborhoods, clean water and air. We should channel some of our anger over politicians’ comments about rape into demanding policies that value all women, children, and families.

Let’s raise the bar

Lately I have been thinking about efforts to get men and boys involved in working to end domestic violence and sexual assault. There is a lot of good work happening now, but I wonder how many of us—of all genders—really expect men to be full partners in ending violence against women? How many of us still are surprised when a man speaks up against a rape joke, or shows empathy for a survivor of domestic violence? Can we imagine a world in which it was not just expected but obvious that most men would do these things (even when no women are around)?

I expect men to care about ending battering and rape for pretty much the exact same reasons women do. Because rape violates victims’ basic human rights. Because the threat of violence constricts women’s freedom and creativity and joy. Because men and boys’ fear of each other gets in the way of real intimacy. Because battering and rape are spiritual poison to people who batter and rape. Because violence at home tears communities apart. Because we can’t achieve any other kind of justice while women are silenced and terrorized.

Because men are human beings. Because women are human beings.

Simple enough. But talking about men’s work to end violence is not so simple. Too often I hear messages that tell men we should not rape and batter because “real men” don’t. Because men are meant to be powerful — protectors and providers for women who can’t (or shouldn’t have to) protect and provide for themselves. Those expectations might inspire men to stop hurting women (I have my doubts), but meanwhile they reinforce the idea that men are in control.

On the other hand, the bar is set so low for men it’s embarrassing. When it comes to being involved in anti-violence work, men are congratulated just for showing up, and called heroes for doing just about anything more than that.

What do you want to say to men and boys about ending men’s violence? What do you expect from men? What do you hope we can achieve together?

Teaching kids consent

While I have no children of my own (yet), I provided childcare for many years. I’ve also been a sex educator, and for me, it is easy to see the connections between these two seemingly very different fields. Consent is one of the biggest. As a feminist sex educator, the subject of consent was one that came up often: what it means to give informed consent, who is able to give consent, and how to best obtain consent.

Children and tickling is a great example. It can be really fun, right? And who can resist the contagious and adorable laughter and squeals? But how many of us have continued to tickle when a child says no? Regardless of the intent, the effect of continuing the game is to teach that child that no does not mean no, and that as an adult, we can trample over their attempts at boundary-setting any time we want. Those lessons influence their own interactions and they carry that with them into adulthood.

What would it look like to teach consent to our children from a very young age? To teach them respect and bodily autonomy through our words and actions? I see this as a crucial component of prevention. I believe that children who grow up understanding that they have control over their own body and practicing consent will be far less likely to abuse and/or rape when they are older. This post from Vibrant Wanderings offers some thoughts and suggestions on how to do just that. (There are some great discussions in the comments, too!)

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!