One in Four…

Raising awareness about issues related to domestic & dating violence

Lucky February 20, 2012

I was directed to a blog* recently, to read a post about unwanted/undesired touching. The writer of the blog, Molly, was reflecting on a question asked on a health history form at her doctor’s office. On the form amid a list of items which you were expected to check if you had experienced, was this item: “ANY unwanted/undesired physical or sexual touching.” Molly almost skipped over the item not checking it, moving on. But she stopped to dwell on the statement and realized she had experienced plenty of unwanted/undesired physical or sexual touching in her life. She recalled moments such as:

  • being forcefully kissed in a club
  • having a person stand too close to her
  • feeling the pressure of hard penises against her as she maneuvered a club
  • people physically moving her rather than asking her to move
  • partners touching her sexually in ways they knew she didn’t like

All of these acts are things which you, just like Molly originally did, might be inclined to gloss over. Words like unwanted, undesired, and sexual when put together have come to mean rape, molestation, or sexual abuse.  If what a person has experienced does not fall into their idea of what rape, molestation or sexual abuse is, than as Molly says, you think “nothing has happened to me, really, right? I’m supposed to feel lucky, right, given that I’m a woman in a culture where horrible things very often happen to girls and women?” Where horrible things happen to boys and men too. You are inclined to write it off.  You have perhaps had bad experiences, but really you should be grateful because you did not have anything truly traumatic happen. You do not have a reason to check the box.

False.

Rape, molestation and sexual abuse are terrible things and no one should ever have to experience them. Perhaps you feel grateful that you have never experienced one of those events (if you haven’t) and I am not going to say that feeling is not natural or unjustified but I want us to consider where this feeling of gratefulness or relief or “luck” comes from.

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines luck as “a force that brings good fortune or adversity,” “the events or circumstances that operate for or against an individual,” and “favoring chance.” In these three definitions there is a complete lack of autonomy. Luck is driven by something a person has no control over. It’s a “force” or a “circumstance” or “chance.”  Which means you are just as likely to have good luck as you are to have bad luck. And that’s what people mean when they say lucky, right? You have good luck, as opposed to that person over there, who has bad luck. What Molly hints at, and what I believe, is that it is not okay that my personal safety, my body and my well-being are apparently left up to luck. And this social tendency to rank our experiences as “lucky” and “unlucky” have made us ignore our natural rights: the right to feel safe and to be a whole person.

A few years ago, I read Alice Sebold’s memoir about being raped. It is called Lucky.  Sebold was raped when she was a first year in college. Throughout her experience reporting the rape to pursuing charges to going through the trial for her rapist, she was told she was lucky many times. One reason she was deemed lucky is that the site where she was raped is the same site where another girl was murdered. Alice is therefore “lucky” because she was alive. I think this logic is problematic. There will always be a situation in which some point of experience will have been “worse” for someone else than it was for you. That does not make you “lucky.” Sebold did not feel lucky just because she was alive because she was living with the aftermath of being raped. Life shouldn’t be a competition where one person’s experience invalidates our own. Any moment in which you feel unsafe or uncomfortable is unacceptable. And our need to rank these invasions to our safety hierarchically only serves to silence, stigmatize, and prohibit change.

This need to rank experiences is an epidemic pervasive in our society. It is not just sexual assaults which are ranked, but everything. These rankings are accompanied by an unspoken meaning. Whose partner is cuter translates to who is a more worthy partner because the worthiest of course gets the most attractive. Whose class schedule is harder matters because the hardest schedule gets more of a right to complain when thing are bad, brag when grades are good, and make excuses when they do not meet other obligations. And then there are bigger problems the ones that go beyond person to person into individual to social. Such as I was touched inappropriately but it wasn’t rape so I shouldn’t say anything. My partner slapped me but there wasn’t a mark so it’s not really that bad. All of these justifications people make are unfair and invalidating. Society has built a hierarchy in which rape trumps a forced kiss and physical violence trumps intentional and repeated humiliation. It has been ingrained within us that if our experience is trumped than it is not worth mentioning. We are being whiny or over-reacting because in reality we are lucky, because nothing worse has happened.

I don’t want to live in that world. I don’t want to have to feel lucky when a bad thing happens just because something worse didn’t happen. That world stunts emotional growth. It causes individuals to minimize or deny their own feelings and to feel that they must accept the actions done to him/her. It causes us to overlook the basic, obvious truth: these bad things don’t have to happen. Committing violence is not innate behavior.  It is a learned behavior, which means it is something that people pick up in various ways through the socialization process. If we continue this “lucky” rhetoric, it implies that we, as a society cannot do anything to stop sexual violence. And we can.

One way we can start down that road is to stop buying into the hierarchies of experience. If a friend is telling you about a bad day, don’t cut them off to tell them how much worse yours was. If someone’s partner screamed at them and made them feel belittled, don’t brush it off and say “well, it could have been worse.” And conversely, remember that your feelings are valid. If whoever you share an experience with minimizes what to you was a significant event, go tell someone else. Find someone who will give you the support you deserve. Because you don’t need to feel “lucky.” If luck is the absence of assaults on our person, than why are we accepting anything less than everyone being lucky? Let’s stop accepting less. Remember: Your experiences are valid. Your emotions are important. And your safety matters. Don’t skip over the box just because the worst thing hasn’t happened to you.

What do you think?  Share your thoughts in the comment area below.

*The writer of the blog has asked that her blog not be linked.

 

_Family Guy_ episode blames victims, perpetuates stereotypes…all in 30 min! November 19, 2011

Filed under: dating violence,Victim Blaming,Why do they stay? — Elizabeth Johnson @ 10:44 am
Tags: , ,

From a guest blogger, one of our MSW Interns:

Although I do not usually watch Family Guy, it was hard to ignore the deluge of angry headlines criticizing a recent episode: “Screams of Silence”. As a fan of both bad TV and educational opportunities concerning domestic violence, I decided to watch it for myself.

The episode re-introduces us to Quagmire’s little sister, Brenda, who comes to town with her abusive boyfriend, Jeff. Brenda and Jeff encapsulate every stereotype of an abusive relationship: he is a large and overly aggressive; she is small and timid.  Jeff constantly berates Brenda in front of her family and friends and at one point in the show, drags her into another room where you can actually hear her being beaten. Quagmire and friends are, of course, immediately shocked and horrified at what they see and hear.  The men ask Lois to talk to Brenda, who denies the severity of the abuse and makes excuses for Jeff’s behavior.

At one point in the show, Brenda’s friends and family stage an intervention in which they accuse her of being a “punching bag” and berate her for allowing the abuse to continue. The fact that this intervention was portrayed as a serious approach to dealing with a survivor of domestic violence was horrifying. Victims are not responsible for their partner’s actions; blaming them for abuse only reinforces feelings of shame and guilt that contribute to their reluctance to seek help. Furthermore, forcing victims to choose between their social support and an abuser is a dis-empowering approach. Ultimately, this will only increase the isolation the victim, making it more difficult for them to leave the relationship. Unfortunately, this is the scene that millions of viewers will remember as a legitimate method for helping victims. Instead of an intervention, Family Guy could have portrayed more realistic treatment options: Brenda could have visited a local domestic violence center, stayed at an overnight shelter, or attended a support group for victims. If the writers could poke fun at an intervention, they surely could have found the humor in a more legitimate alternative.

I don’t expect accurate depictions of reality from shows such as Family Guy, which is why I found the topic of this episode to be completely inappropriate. Because there are so few realistic representations of domestic violence on TV, generalized stereotypes—even if they are intended as satire—are often the only exposure many people have to these situations. Promoting misconceptions about domestic abuse is harmful and discourages victims from seeking help.  Shows that choose to feature domestic violence have a responsibility to understand the basic dynamics of abusive relationships in order to protect the integrity and rights of victims. If shows such as Family Guy feel that they absolutely must use domestic violence for comedic effect, they should feature a more representative portrayal of the issue. Even something as simple as the number for the National Domestic Violence Hotline flashed at the end of the show could have the potential to save lives.  I hope to see future shows covering domestic violence in a constructive way that brings attention to the complexity of the issue while providing resources and information to victims, their families, and their friends.

If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse in an intimate partner relationship, please call our 24 hour hotline: 919 929 7122.

 

Possible Improvement in Judicial Process for Domestic Violence Cases on Indian Reservations September 28, 2011

The 19th annual Four Corners Indian Country Conference on September 13-15, 2011 represented an open dialogue and hope for progress related to victims’ assistance on Native American Indian reservations in Colorado, Arizona, Utah and New Mexico.

Interpersonal violence is experienced at more elevated levels on reservations than in the general population, and the Department of Justice has reported that Native American women in particular experience violence at an extremely elevated rate – three and a half times more than any other population in the United States. And when we consider the number of sexual assaults and incidences of domestic violence that are unreported [60% according to the DOJ] this number could be much higher. Prosecution is a problem on reservations, as tribes are sovereign nations and determining the jurisdiction for intimate partner violence and sexual assault cases can be complex.

US Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli spoke at the conference on some recent Department of Justice efforts to improve the legal challenges of addressing violence, and in particular domestic violence, on reservations. The pending legislation would do three things:

  1. It would give trial law enforcement more ability to prosecute crimes that happen on reservations regardless of the perpetrator’s membership in the tribe.  Currently, tribal law enforcement officers have difficulty prosecuting non-Native American offenders, even in cases of domestic violence. The legislation would also ensure that tribal law enforcement has the right to enforce protective orders on both members and non-members of Native American tribes.
  2. The new DOJ laws would provide harsher federal punishments to perpetrators of violent crime within reservations. Since the 1968 Indian Civil Rights Act, the most severe punishment that can be imposed by native courts is one year in jail or a $5,000 fine, which is a far less significant penalty than most perpetrators receive for convictions outside of the tribal judicial system.
  3. $100 million has also been earmarked by the DOJ for more attorneys, investigators and victim advocates on reservations. Indian Country reported that a DOJ grant that provided more domestic violence personnel resources to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Montana led to the first domestic violence convictions on the reservation – in only 6 months, 169 domestic assault complaints were filed, and 147 of them have pending court action.

These possible progressive changes to the prosecution of domestic violence and sexual assault on reservations would also hit close to home as North Carolina is home to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

You can contact the Department of Justice to express your support for the pending legislation and budget increases by emailing AskDOJ@usdoj.gov or by calling the Attorney General’s public comment line at (202) 353-1555.

 

“Bruised Barbie” Photo Shoot Has Serious Implications September 14, 2011

Last week, we shared a Yahoo! article on our Twitter account about photographer Tyler Shields’ shockingly offensive photo shoot with Heather Morris, star of the hugely popular TV show Glee. We wanted to go into more detail about the serious implications of the images and how they relate to FVPC’s mission of preventing and ending domestic violence.

In the photos, which are posted on Shields’ blog under the caption “Even Barbie bruises,” Morris is dressed in high heels, a ‘50s-style dress…and a black eye. She poses with an iron, its electrical cord and ironing board. Although she is smiling, the images are disturbing. In one photo, a man’s hand holds the iron facing toward Morris while its cord is wrapped around her wrists. Another close-up photo of Morris’s face shows off the purple bruise around her eye – some have said it’s reminiscent of the real-life police photos of Rihanna after she was abused by Chris Brown in 2009.

Shields’ decision to depict Morris this way is extremely concerning. First of all, to portray a woman as a doll is harmful in itself, given that women have worked for decades to overcome social expectations of both feminine submission and unrealistic beauty standards. But even more problematic, the photos of Morris as a “beat-up Barbie” also disturbingly glamorize domestic violence. Shields is selling prints on his website, personally gaining from making light of a widespread cultural problem.

Domestic violence is reality for too many women, and it isn’t at all fun, although Morris seems to be having a great time in the photos, posing playfully with the household appliance props despite the implication that someone, presumably her partner, has been violent toward her. Rita Smith, Executive Director for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, commented on the seriousness of the use of the iron and ironing board to set the scene in an E! News article. “I don’t know if Tyler is aware but I’m quite sure there are plenty of women who have been abused by these kinds of household appliances and children as well being hit with electrical cords,” she said.

Shields said in a Slate interview that he thought the photos were “cool,” and that his mother is a survivor of domestic violence herself and didn’t find them offensive. Although Shields’ mother may not have told him she was disturbed by them, survivors are often triggered by photos relating to domestic violence – and the teenagers who love Glee and follow Morris’s work closely are just as likely to have experienced DV as children or intimate partner violence in their own relationships. Creating art centered around domestic violence can be effective and helpful to the violence prevention movement if its greater purpose is to draw attention to the issue and inspire action.

With no greater purpose than to create a photo that looks “cool” and make money, Shields unfortunately misses an opportunity to shed light on the real problem of domestic violence and to reach young people who should be empowered to help stop it.  What do you think?  Is this photo shoot offensive or artsy and cool?  Leave us your thoughts.

 

 

Rates of DV Increase After Natural Disasters – How Can We Help? September 1, 2011

Despite a hefty $71 million price tag for damages to more than 1,100 homes and businesses, North Carolina was fortunately spared from the brunt of Hurricane Irene’s destruction. In comparison to other natural disasters, Irene was less harmful, although there were a reported 42 tragically related deaths in affected areas.

Advance warning may have contributed to the relatively low level of destruction from Irene. Americans all along the East Coast prepared for the storm, taping windows, stacking sandbags and boarding up storefronts. But strongly recognized precautionary measures, like filling a bathtub with water before a hurricane, aren’t the only concern for government agencies and community service providers in planning for disaster relief. Evidence has suggested that the prevalence of intimate partner violence, child abuse and sexual assault increases in the aftermath of a natural disaster.

The State Department reported that after the earthquake in Haiti, “Women’s rights groups and human rights organizations reported that domestic violence against women remained commonplace and under-reported. Police rarely arrested the perpetrators or investigated the incidents, and the victims sometimes suffered further harassment and reprisals from perpetrators, sometimes prompting secondary displacement of victims within IDP camps.”

In New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, high rates of domestic violence and sexual assault were widely observed by disaster relief staff, although reporting rates were dramatically low because of survivors’ physical displacement from their jurisdictions.

Several aspects of the circumstances of the aftermath of a natural disaster contribute to increased risk for domestic violence and sexual assault. First, the collapse of a community’s infrastructure leaves some individuals, most often women and children, more vulnerable to assault. Separation from friends, family members and familiar resources increases this vulnerability, especially as most facilities require refugees to sleep among strangers, often in close quarters. Finally, the lack of organization and limited presence of law enforcement in some disaster relief shelters can create a sense of lawlessness among inhabitants.

While the United States was spared from massive destruction this week, preparation efforts for Hurricane Irene brought unique concerns to the forefront of public discussion. The provision of adequate resources for women and other vulnerable populations at risk for domestic violence and sexual assault must be prioritized by government relief agencies and local service providers. We can learn an important lesson from the unforgivable crimes observed during relief efforts for the natural disasters mentioned above – and we can use it to better develop our emergency response plans in the face of future storms.

Safety planning is important, whether for a natural disaster or leaving an abusive relationship.  Do you have your essentials ready if you needed to leave home suddenly?  What would you bring?  Leave us your thoughts.

 

Paid Sick Days Provide Essential Resource to Survivors August 23, 2011

Workers’ rights activists across the country have been building support for mandated paid sick days for the past several years at federal, state and local levels. Requiring businesses to provide paid sick leave for employees, typically around seven days per year for full-time workers, makes sense for employees, businesses and the general public.

Paid sick leave is a public health issue – the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), which has done much of the most-cited research on paid sick days, found that employees who came to work while infected with H1N1 in 2009 infected over 7 million patrons, customers and coworkers. Paid sick days would enable these workers to stay home when they fall ill (or when they are needed to take care of sick family members), preventing the spread of disease.

Lower-wage workers are less likely to be provided paid sick days by their employers, even though they experience more obstacles than higher-salaried workers in finding childcare or taking off work and losing valuable wages that may force them to choose between medicine or groceries for the pay period.

Often missing from the discussion about paid sick days is its important value for individuals involved in abusive relationships or who are survivors of sexual assault. Violence prevention advocates often refer to paid leave as “paid safe days.” They can be used by survivors of abuse to seek medical treatment, counseling and shelter without losing pay or fearing retaliation from employers for missing work.

Allotting paid safe days to employees, especially knowing that abusers are often repeatedly physically, emotionally and sexually violent within their intimate relationships, seems like an undeniable resource survivors deserve. But Mike Rosen, a radio personality in Denver, where a referendum on paid sick leave will likely appear on the November ballot, dismissed the importance of paid safe days in a Denver Post editorial. He charged that because more women than men will be forced to take advantage of them, the policy isn’t worth employers’ support: “This is essentially about…female constituents. The paid ‘safe’ days are related to domestic violence issues. Men won’t be taking many of these.”

Although it’s true that men’s violence against women would comprise most need for paid safe days because of its frequency in comparison to violence perpetrated by women, Rosen flippantly misses the mark. We need to provide victims of intimate partner abuse, most of them women, any resources possible to empower them to seek help and simultaneously preserve their incomes, not selfishly dismiss their struggles because they are more frequently victimized than men.

Thankfully, paid leave coalition builders have achieved considerable success despite some detractors, having passed mandated sick days legislation in Washington, D.C., San Francisco and even most recently in the state of Connecticut. They are now targeting the cities of Denver, Philadelphia, Seattle and New York.

Advocates from the NC Justice Center attempted to pass mandated sick days in North Carolina in 2009, but the proposed law was defeated. However, an overwhelming 69% of voters nationwide supported paid sick leave laws in an IWPR study, and coalitions across the country continue to build steam and gain legislative victories. Hopefully the tides continue to turn toward policy that would protect survivors in our state, where more than 66,000 citizens received domestic violence support services in 2009 and 2010.

 

New DV Laws Have Mixed Results August 15, 2011

New laws intended to better protect victims of domestic violence have been passed in Connecticut and Kentucky.  Connecticut’s state legislature recently passed a bill that implements several critical measures aimed at protecting domestic violence victims from future harm.  The law gets rid of a provision which exempted abusers in dating relationships from being arrested for domestic violence.  Similarly the law allows people of any age, including minors, to get restraining orders against abusive partners.  This is particularly good news for teenagers because until now minors could only obtain protective orders against adults.  Lastly, the new law requires domestic violence offenders, who have been banned from possessing firearms, to surrender their weapons to police or federally-licensed firearms dealers.  Shockingly, before this bill was passed, these abusers had the right to surrender firearms to friends or family members.  This new law represents a major victory for domestic violence programs around the state.  Susan DeLeon, the director of Domestic Violence Services of Greater New Haven stated, “This is going to prevent people from dying.  It’s going to save lives.”

Similar efforts are being made in Kentucky.  In late 2009, Amanda Ross was fatally shot by former state legislator Steve Nunn.  Ross had obtained a protective order against Nunn six months before the murder.  Her death prompted House Speaker Greg Stumbo to propose Amanda’s Law.  Stumbo’s initial proposal would have allowed victims to request GPS monitoring of an abuser as soon as a domestic violence charge was filed in civil or criminal court.  However, the State Senate modified the bill.  Under the altered bill, an offender must commit a “substantial violation” of the protective order before GPS tracking can be requested.  A “substantial violation” includes kidnapping, terroristic threatening, or assault.  However, Amanda’s Law has had some positive effects.  The law requires judges, if requested by the petitioner, to review criminal backgrounds of offenders to determine if they have a pattern of violent behavior.  Since the law was enacted one year ago 25,843 background checks have been processed.

It will take more than legislation to end domestic violence, but improvements in the laws are necessary.  What do you think a good domestic violence law looks like?  How can you get involved to implement change?  Leave us a comment!

 

 
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