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.

From there to here

here-there-signpostI started doing domestic violence advocacy in 1994. It is 2015. Wow. Just wow. But this post isn’t about feeling old. Instead it’s about how amazing this work to end violence and support survivors is. One of the things I love most is how I am continually changing my mind about things. Here are just a few examples of where I was (and maybe you were too) 21 years ago and where we are today.

From beds to bedrooms

We used to focus on how many beds we had, stuffing survivors and their children into all the nooks and crannies of our shelters with that elusive goal of “safety” looming over our heads. Now we’ve realized that dignity is actually what we are looking for. We are working to create empowering spaces where survivors get their needs for self-determination, security, and connection met. And we’re doing things to support families, like creating quiet spaces where kids can do their homework. Keeping families together and supporting survivors to get what they need is what matters most, not how many beds our overflowing shelter can hold.

From safety to safer

I have learned so much from Jill Davies’ and Eleanor Lyon’s new book. They argue that while safety from an abuser is critical, to be truly safe “requires more than the absence of physical violence. A victim who is no longer hit by a partner but has no way to feed her children or pay the rent is not safe.…Victims are safe when there is no violence, their basic human needs are met, and they experience social and emotional well-being.” So that means helping survivors experience less violence, more economic stability, and greater well-being is the true heart of meaningful advocacy.

From intervention to prevention

OK, let’s be honest, I wasn’t even thinking about prevention in 1994. In fact it hadn’t yet occurred to me that domestic violence was preventable. But guess what, it is! As critical as it is to help people in need, we also need to spend energy on stopping the violence before it starts. And this is an exciting time as we are figuring out how to actually do that. We’re creating a whole new language to help us get to a world where beloved community and better relationships exist—it is all so exciting! I can’t wait to see how many more things I change my mind about in the future.

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?

Universal domestic violence care

Wow! I am so inspired by all the neato stuff we’re working on with our partners across the state―from Building Dignity in our emergency shelters, to focusing on Housing First, to helping ensure there are protections for ALL victims, and also working to prevent domestic violence.

Yeah! This is the new wave of our collective work.

This feels like a time of many changes, a time of re-thinking old ways and imagining new ways, and a time of expanding―even as budgets and resources shrink. It’s hard, it’s hectic, it’s complicated…and it’s time.

I like to think of us―as a movement, as a community, as a country―as moving towards Universal Domestic Violence Care, a spectrum of services and supports to help people end abusive dynamics and create healthy, nurturing, equitable relationships.

In our healthcare system, we have emergency rooms―and those will always be necessary, because emergencies will always happen. But, we also have community clinics, and primary care providers, and specialists. We have places and services for people dealing with a short-term problem and also for those who are managing serious and chronic conditions. All these pieces are needed to help people be healthy and well.

We know that victims of abuse need emergency shelter and legal protections. But we know they also need more. We are steadily expanding the types of help available for survivors, their children, and for abusers. Just like with healthcare, we have recognized that prevention and early detection are a better approach than waiting until things become a crisis.

What next? Part 3

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 next installment of her speech. (Or jump to: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6)

Point #2: Evolve our shelters

Emergency shelter saves lives. It’s a refuge, a resource, and a respite. It’s also costly, sometimes chaotic, and almost always, limited in the time, space, and material assistance it can provide. I don’t know if and how you experience these challenges, but I think they are so prevalent now that we must face head-on this question about how to evolve shelter services. While it is essential to keep shelters going, we need to be honest about the fact that they serve only a small percentage of survivors, they make the community dependent on US to provide support and care, and, while they may stop violence against some women, they do not end violence against all women.

In Washington, we are examining shelter in three ways. First, we are re-evaluating shelter rules, so that families have more flexibility and self-determination while in residence. Second, we are designing shelters architecturally and programmatically to support moms with parenting, to respect religious and cultural practices, and to reduce how many people have to share communal spaces―like a kitchen and a bathroom―as a part of shelter life. And third, we are helping shelter programs focus on providing what women say they need in order to be financially self-sufficient: housing, job training, childcare, in one instance, a bicycle, and in another a spare tire.

This work is confirming the thinking that brought us to it. And that is―nobody really wants to live in a shelter. So let’s find a way to preserve what does work and incorporate some other things that might work even better.