How’s your relationship?

I met a friend out for dinner the other night. We hadn’t even opened our menus, when she turned to me and asked, “How’s your marriage?” Now this is a very good friend of mine—we hang out all the time and talk about everything. And yet, I was totally caught off guard by the question.

It turns out that she had just learned a friend was getting a divorce. She was shocked because they seemed to be happy. In fact, they’d been drifting apart and unhappy with their relationship for years, but just never said anything. And why not? Well, no one ever asked and it seemed too personal to bring up. So my friend decided she’d start the conversation with all her friends.

As a domestic violence advocate, I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve been asked: “How can you tell if someone is in an abusive relationship? What are the red flags I should look for before saying something?” I can’t help but wonder, why do we spend so much time and energy trying to figure out if there’s a problem before we feel like we can ask about it? I mean, why wait?

Seems like it’d be a lot easier for our friends to turn to us when things aren’t going well, if chatting about our relationships was something we already did. So I say, don’t wait until you’re worried—just ask now.

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.

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!

It matters to me

What an interesting crazy-making time we live in.

We have a country blowing up about birth control and rolling back reproductive rights at the same time as fashion trends and pop culture role models continue to impose sexy sexy sexy on our girls.

I am so tired of the heavy burden girls bear; to be sexy, young-looking sex objects, but not have sex. But if you do have sex, don’t get pregnant. But don’t use birth control. And definitely do not have an abortion.

Photo by michelleavitia@gmail.com at SoCalFeminist

We are giving girls the message: we only care about your uterus and what might grow in it. What happens to you before a pregnancy―rape, relationship violence, poverty, lack of access to sex education and birth control―does not matter. What happens to you during your pregnancy―besides the continued growth of the fetus―does not matter. What happens to you and the baby after it’s born―does not matter.

Why are the dominant messages so simplistic, so binary, so… stupid? How are we as a populace putting up with ourselves for being such liars―professing to value families, while simultaneously whittling away all the resources that support families?

I am eager to see us shift towards talking about healthy, positive sexuality, based on individual preferences and (where applicable) faith. Without imposing one (tiny, revealing) size fits all.

Will you be abused?

I just came back from the Abuse of Elders and Adults with Disabilities Conference. Did you know the first federal law focused on preventing elder abuse passed just last year? Surprised this didn’t already exist? I was.

As our guest blogger, Phil Jordan, pointed out, our focus on violence by an “intimate partner” generally leaves out elders and people with disabilities being abused by a family member or caregiver. But these trusted relationships
are certainly intimate in their own way: someone has access to your body, your home, your money. And with that comes control and the possibility of abuse.

Folks 80+ are the fastest growing segment of our total population. Ask anyone who has reached that “certain age” and they will tell you about an experience of feeling invisible and less credible. We’re all headed there. Whether you will be able to live in your own home, a facility, or become homeless, we are all going to keep aging. And this makes us vulnerable to be trapped in an abusive relationship.

You might manage to have great relationships through your whole life. But when you get older, you’ll be entering into different kinds of intimate relationships and you may have a lot less choice about who those people are. If they start controlling you, where will you turn?

When a friend turns creepy

We bring you this post from Summer Carrick, our Crossing Borders project coordinator.

Here is the scene…

Two of your friends start dating. They fall in love, but instead of coming back to the surface they stay immersed.

In a weird way.

In a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, but you can’t quite put your finger on why.

Then you notice that she grows more silent, and he does all the talking. You see less of them. She seems nervous. She makes excuses for him. Her face is stressed. The energy does not feel happily in love, rather, it’s just…tense.

So, what do you do when you are sitting at dinner and he starts to belittle her?

You would think after 12 years of doing this work, I would have the answer. Instead, I fight with what I was socialized to do (nothing, none of my business) and what I want to do (support my friends to have a happy relationship).

But, how?

Many research hours later, this is the best I could find:

– I talk about it when things are good and we are just talking naturally about his relationship.

– I am direct and clear about what I have seen and how it impacts ME as HIS friend.

– I’m not judging you, friend, but this is what happened and how I experienced it.

– So now that you know it’s not working for me, is it working for you?

– I don’t have all the answers, but I’m willing to be a friend and support you.

– Just know that I’m not willing to watch you be a bully.

If all of that is too much and I don’t know what to say, I default to the truth….I care and I am concerned.

And yes, I’ve seen my women friends using abusive behavior too. I’ve seen it in straight and queer relationships. And you know what?  I’m not scared to call those women out on it. And when I do, they have always gone straight to critical reflection and apologies. So why is it that when I have tried to have this kind of conversation with men, they have become defensive or downright scary? The best I can come up with is the way we socialize men. The scary reaction may be why we avoid talking to men about their abusive behavior. And the cost of that is much too great. So, as scary as it seems to care and be concerned, we can’t afford the alternative.

-Summer Carrick, the coordinator of our Crossing Borders Project

My choice? Healthy families.

I don’t think I can read one more article about how Planned Parenthood is being defunded. So I’m writing about it instead. (Don’t test the logic of a woman seven months pregnant!) It seems that there are a few misconceptions out there about what Planned Parenthood spends most of their time doing (hint—it’s not abortions). 

This makes my heart heavy. I personally owe my ability to plan for my family to Planned Parenthood. And they’ve been vital to many women’s ability to stay healthy.

What does this have to do with violence in relationships? A lot. Many abusers sabotage birth control or make the consequences of not having sex too scary. This limits a woman’s choices around getting pregnant and increases her risk of sexually transmitted infections. Basically, this kind of abuse can affect a woman’s plan for her life and overall health.

For a lot of uninsured folks, Planned Parenthood is one of the only times they see a medical professional. I’m not an expert on how Planned Parenthood screens for abuse, but I have been to clinics in Georgia, North Carolina, New York, and Washington State, and can say that there was information in all those clinics about local domestic violence programs. I fear that the defunding of Planned Parenthood will mean one less place a survivor of abuse might get help.

.com vs. the boy/girl next door

Remember the first social media site you heard about? Did you sign up? I didn’t. In fact, I assumed that only creepy people socialize through their computer. And now, I’m one of the millions on Facebook.

Remember when you first heard about online dating? Did you sign up? I didn’t. Again, I was filled with assumptions about who would resort to that. And now, some of my closest friends are in a relationship with someone they met online. Still, I think for many of us our internal dialogue goes something like this:

Online dating

 Getting set up through friends

Stalker. Period. Oh, they live just down the street, awesome!
Oh, a techie. Cyber stalker. They are so smart and funny…sigh.
They mentioned sex in their profile. Yikes, I better stay away. They want to get to know me!
They want to fall in love. Creepy. Oh, I’m in love. <3 xoxo

 

We talk a lot about how to be safe when dating online. But why do we assume that meeting someone this way is more risky than when a friend sets us up? Stalkers and abusers aren’t just lurking online―they live amongst our friends as well. That great guy your friend has known for years could be a great friend to her AND end up stalking you.

Poll your friends: have any of them been stalked or abused? Ask them how they met that person. Let me know what you find out.

Matchmaking for Dummies

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. Have you noticed how much social pressure there is to be in a relationship and, if you are, the expectation to be romantic? For me, the pressure comes from various self-proclaimed matchmakers who regularly ask the question, “Ankita, why don’t you just get married?”

My mother wants me to get married because it’s time for me to ‘settle down.’ Friends of my family want me to get married because they know a successful Indian man who is looking for a ‘family-oriented girl.’ My attorney informs me that marriage is the best and easiest way to obtain citizenship in the United States.

None of these pass the laugh test, let alone provide a good reason for me to get married.

But I do wonder why no one is:

  • asking me what I want, or what I am looking for in a relationship;
  • coaching me on the skills I need for a great relationship – voicing my needs, negotiating compromises, respecting one another’s autonomy;
  • assuring me that it is all right for me to set my own expectations?

In communities where parents and extended family have a lot of input into marriage decisions, young women like me are often advised more than they are listened to. And that can lead to unhappy – even violent – relationships.

To my self-proclaimed matchmakers: I challenge you to ask, coach, and assure me. This will help me lead a healthy, full life, whether I am in a relationship or not.

Yikes, you did what?!

I live in a really social neighborhood where I chat with lots of people who live around me. Recently, I was talking to one of my neighbors about relationships. It was a normal conversation about the challenges of dating, and sorting through the choices that we make. Then he told me that he was once convicted of domestic violence assault.

To be honest, I had a moment of panic. What was I going to say? As he talked about going through batterer’s intervention, how much he learned, and how different he is in his current relationship, I was thinking: Has this man really changed? Is his current girlfriend safe? Is he manipulating the story to glorify himself?

According to the etiquette of conversation, I had to say something after he stopped talking even though I had doubts, questions, and yes, even a bit of fear. I thanked him for the disclosure, acknowledged his journey, and continued to openly talk to him about relationships.

By virtue of my work, I know how to respond to people who disclose that they have been abused. But what I learned from this conversation is that I am uncomfortable with someone telling me they’ve been abusive. My first instinct was to question this man’s intentions and his behavior, but then I realized that I want to be able to talk with anyone about how to be in a good, loving, happy relationship.

I have decided to believe that my neighbor understands what he did and is making an effort to be a better person. After all, won’t he need a community of people who can support him in his present while knowing his past?

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