One in Four…

Raising awareness about issues related to domestic & dating violence

Gender Nonconforming Behavior in Kids and Teens March 6, 2012

Filed under: Allies,bullying,child abuse,gender norms — Women's Studies Intern @ 10:00 am
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Last week CNN published an article entitled “Kids Who Veer from Gender Norms at Higher Risk for Abuse.”  The article highlights a study that was recently published by Pediatrics, the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.  The study shows that children who do not conform to gender roles are more likely to be abused.  This abuse increases the probability that these children will experience post-traumatic stress disorder by the time they reach their 20s.  Surprisingly, the abuse that children who are gender nonconforming endure is more likely to come from parents and other older adults as opposed to bullying at school.

“Children and Adolescents With Gender Identity Disorder Referred to a Pediatric Medical Center” reports that gender nonconforming behavior occurs in one out of ten children.  Some children later self-identify as LGBTQ, and the majority of the kids’ nonconforming behavior lessens as they age.

It is important to recognize that if a child is gender nonconforming that does not mean that he or she is transgender.  In fact, Dr. Walter Meyer III, University of Texas Medical Branch, states that “a lot of children seem to be experimenting with cross-gender behavior, but very few are following through to request gender change as they mature.”  The study printed in Pediatrics also notes that in rare cases, children whose behavior does not conform to gender norms may experience gender dysphoria, which is a gender identity disorder experienced during adolescence.  The disorder involves a divide between a patient’s anatomical sex and their gender identity or gender performance.  A study on psychiatric treatment notes that psychiatric symptoms, including depression, self-mulilation, and suicide attempts, are found in approximately 44% of teens who are diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

Cory, who identifies as gender fluid, meaning not completely female or male, comments on the hardships that he experienced due to his gender expression: “I went through various stages of depression.  The only reason why I’m here right now is because of all the support my family gave me.”  Life as an individual who does not conform to gender norms can be hard.  Society and the media can often impose strict gender norms onto children and teens by attempting to determine what clothes, toys, games, and lifestyles are appropriate for their biological sex.

The research surrounding children and teenagers who do not conform to gender norms shows that these individuals are teased, scorned, and misunderstood by both adults and peers.   As we tell our students during Start Strong programs, it is important to reach out and become an ally to a friend or classmate who may be bullied or experiencing a tough time.  This caring behavior should hopefully continue throughout our lives and be applied to all of our relationships.  The most important thing to do is simply to listen and be there for a person who may be in need of support.  Believe the person, do not minimize what he or she is experiencing, and offer your help in any way that you can.  Even just one ally can help alleviate some of the pain or isolation that gender nonconforming kids and teens may be facing.  Reach out and be that one!


“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.


Elizabeth Smart: How Do We Judge Other’s Trauma? June 10, 2011

Brian Mitchell, the man who kidnapped Elizabeth Smart when she was 14, held her captive and raped her repeatedly was sentenced to life in prison.   Previously Mitchell’s lawyer argued that he should receive a lighter sentence because Smart is a “survivor” and hadn’t suffered “extreme psychological injury.”   What Elizabeth suffered is something no one should ever have to experience and it is interesting that the defense felt they had the right to judge another person’s level of trauma or suffering.  The defense team for Mitchell may not have intended to hurt Elizabeth Smart but

President George W. Bush greets Elizabeth Smart and her mother Lois in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in 2003

to insinuate that there is one specific way to respond to trauma or that because she has healed and is moving forward with her life, that she didn’t suffer intense emotional damage at the hands of Mitchell is both insensitive and ignorant.  Despite the fact that Elizabeth has remained collected throughout the trial and relied heavily on her faith to try to heal from this trauma, does not mean that she won’t be triggered later on or that her suffering is somehow less legitimate.  Smart may be in one of the various stages of Rape Trauma Syndrome-a form of PTSD recognized by the medical community as similar to the symptoms soldiers experience after battle.  Rape Trauma Syndrome has four stages:

1. Anticipatory Stage: When  a survivor starts experiencing feelings of unease or discontent, realizing something is not right.

2. Impact: When a survivor does things that don’t mke sense to self or others.

3. Reconstruction: This stage can last for years and can be a range of responses and emotions but anger is most common.  This can be a spring board for action (seeking justice or receiving counseling) but can also be turned inward.

4. Resolution: The stage is when a survivor assimilates the act of violence into their overall life experience and it no longer hinders them from being able to live their lives.  Getting to this stage can be greatly hindered or helped by the kind of  support a survivor receives in their healing.

(This definition of Rape Trauma Syndrome was taken from the Orange County Rape Crisis Center)

We don’t know what stage Elizabeth Smart is in in her recovery process, but regardless of her ability to cope with this trauma, her struggle and pain throughout this experience deserves support, not judgment about her reaction.  As Smart stated in her testimony, Mitchell’s actions were intentional and traumatic and he deserves the sentence he received.  Despite her moving forward with her life and beginning to heal, she suffered traumas which can never be undone.  Victims of any kind of abuse deserve support, regardless of their reaction to the trauma they’ve experienced.  No 0ne has  right to judge the way a victim responds to abuse.   At FVPC we believe in fully supporting and advocating for survivors.   If you or someone you know is a victim of abuse call our hotline at 919-929-7122 to speak to a trained advocate.


How does domestic violence affect children? May 23, 2011

The mass media constantly bombards us with stories such as that of a 4-year old girl found beaten and tortured in Smithfield NC; or Marchella Pierce ; starved and drugged by her own mother? What about all of the children that do not make headline news? What about the children who continue living in a home where  domestic violence exists?  Recent articles published by the Joyful Heart Foundation illustrate the affects that just witnessing inter-personal violence has on children.

According to the Joyful Heart Foundation, children who are chronically exposed to domestic violence can develop many significant long term effects. The scale ranges from academic and behavioral problems in adolescence all the way to having changes in their brain physiology and function. When children live in a hostile environment, they create strategies and behavioral patterns that will allow them to avoid the violence.

Often children will go to extreme measures in order to please the violent parent. One 8-year-old girl wrote about trying to be nice, staying out of trouble, and getting home early so she could stay out of her father’s way.  Other children will attempt to side with the abusive parent in the hope of not being the next target. While even more children resort to creating their own world inside of their head in order to escape reality.

While these children find temporary safety in their routines and patterns, the long term affects of these practices are highly detrimental. These patterns become ingrained as habits. Spacing out in school can lead to poor performance, and being in a state of constant anxiety can lead to serious mental problems such as post traumatic stress disorder. Also, according to the Joyful Heart Foundation, when children are constantly in a state of emotional turmoil, reaching developmental milestones such as differentiation from one’s parents, very difficult and painful.

According to a recent op-ed featured in The New York Times, the annual cost of childhood maltreatment is $103.8 billion. Currently only about $40 million has been invested in the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.  This organization has treated over 300,000 children in the time span of just seven years.

Many domestic violence programs offer a limited number of services geared towards children. At the Family Violence Prevention Center, we do not take individual children as clients, but we do have a coping skills group for children as well as community education programming in the Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools. Let’s help ensure that National Child Traumatic Stress Network has a strong future, helping to ensure that traumatized children have a place to get help. For more information please visit the National Child Traumatic Stress Network website.


N.C. House proposes to maintain DV funding May 18, 2011

   As our state and nation prepare for drastic budget cuts, many citizens are left worrying about how their lives will be affected. However, the victims and survivors of domestic violence may have one less thing to worry about if the NC Senate supports the House proposed budget. The NC House of Representatives has just released their budget which includes no cuts to domestic violence programs funded by the Council for Women.

In the fiscal year 2009 local domestic violence programs responded to over 120,000 crisis calls. In 2010 domestic violence shelters provided 6,000 children with refuge. Domestic violence programs save lives, and with the NC Senate’s support, they can continue to offer effective services to victims in need.

Investing in local domestic violence programs is a smart, forward-thinking choice for North Carolina because not only will it save lives, but it will also save money for years to come. Currently, the annual cost of inter-personal violence for our nation exceeds $5.8 billion (CDC numbers). These costs are associated with the treatment of physical injuries, reproductive health issues, and mental health problems such as post traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse.

Maintaining funding will also allow local domestic violence programs to continue educating their communities. An important aspect of community education is raising awareness in young people. Children who witness domestic violence are more likely to continue the cycle of violence in the next generation. However, preliminary research is revealing that community education programs such as Safe Dates are having a positive impact on the youth.

The state senate needs to hear from you how important these services are to our state. Please contact your state senators. The following state senators sit on the appropriations committee and are especially important to be contacted.

Senator Andrew C. Brock, Co-Chair

300 N. Salisbury Street, Room 623
Raleigh, NC 27603

(919) 715-0690

Senator Jim Davis, Co-Chair

16 W. Jones Street, Room 2111
Raleigh, NC 27601

(919) 733-5875

Senator Daniel T. Blue

16 W. Jones Street, Room 1117
Raleigh, NC 27601

(919) 733-5752

Senator Malcolm Graham

300 N. Salisbury Street, Room 622
Raleigh, NC 27603

(919) 733-5650

Senator Rick Gunn

300 N. Salisbury Street, Room 312
Raleigh, NC 27603

(919) 301-1446

Click here for Senate representation by county:

Note 6.29.10: For ’09-10 FVPC received $36,490 in local gov’t funding; $90,326 in private donations; $57,993 in Private Foundation monies; $$42,755 through fundraisers


“Jealousy” Not An Excuse for Abuse May 16, 2011

LaToya Smith had broken up with Tyrone Hester less than a month before he shot and killed their baby daughter and then himself.  Before this tragic incident occurred, Smith’s brother in law , Qu’ran Magwood said that Hester was prone to jealousy, possessiveness and control.  Smith frequently covered up bruises on her body and Hester did not allow her to go places without him.  Smith ended the relationship last month and tried to reach a custody agreement with Hester conflict escalated when he found out she was dating another man.

What is most disturbing about the coverage from The News & Observer is the statement by Smith’s brother in law at the end of the article.  Despite the fact that Hester acted in incredibly abusive ways through he and Smith’s four year relationship, Magwood stated: “Ty wasn’t a bad dude.  He was a dude who was just madly in love and couldn’t accept no…They were young and in love. They tried. It just didn’t work out.  And one took the worlds ‘love you to death’ too far.”  This sentiment is something we see often when people discuss domestic violence.  Obsession, control and manipulation of others is framed as love and devotion.  This obscures the reality that abusers make a deliberate choice to abuse.

Love and abuse cannot peacefully co-exist.  Hester’s actions of physical abuse, control, isolation and and jealousy are all quintessential signs of an abusive and dangerous relationship.  Part of being in a healthy relationship is always having the opportunity to leave it without guilt or fear; Smith did not have that opportunity.  Labeling Hester’s actions as “love” detracts from the purposeful intent of his behaviors and the damaging and painful loss that Smith now experiences in losing her daughter.  It also implies that Smith could or should have done something different to end the outcome of this situation and that if she had just acquiesced to Hester’s demands her daughter might still be alive.  Blaming the victim, even inadvertently, is never okay.

If you’re worried about yourself or a loved one in an abusive relationship, call our hotline at 919-929-7122 to speak to a trained advocate.  Love and abuse are never synonymous.