One in Four…

Raising awareness about issues related to domestic & dating violence

_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.


“Not Guilty”: The Barbara Sheehan trial October 7, 2011

Barbara Sheehan killed her husband. That fact has never been debated. Yet, in the month long trial that reached its end just yesterday: Thursday, October 6 there was constant debate. The debate was over Ms. Sheehan’s claim of the battered woman’s defense. Ms. Sheehan’s attorney, Michael Dowd, a lawyer who has defended many battered women, portrayed Ms. Sheehan as a chronically abused wife who shot her husband in self-defense. The prosecution portrayed Ms. Sheehan as a cold, exacting killer who hated her husband, killed him, and then fabricated an abuse narrative to escape justice.

The battered woman’s defense came about in the late 1970s as an extension of the battered woman’s syndrome, coined by Dr. Leonore Walker. Battered woman’s syndrome attempts to explain the mindset and emotional state of women who have suffered long term abuse. It is based on the idea that abuse victims begin to operate in a reality different from non-victims due to the continual violence, fear, and manipulation connected to the abuse.  This syndrome has been more recently linked to post-traumatic stress disorder. Legally, the battered woman’s defense, allows the use of domestic violence related testimony, which otherwise would not play a large bearing in a murder trial.

The problem with using the battered woman’s defense is that the defense still has to maneuver the jury’s opinions and perceptions of victims of domestic violence. The prosecution used a barrage of domestic violence myth based questions in the examination of Barbara Sheehan and her son. They exploited the fact that Barbara stayed with her husband; that there were no police records of violence; that some neighbors and friends described her husband as a “nice guy” who coached youth leagues and threw his daughter a sweet sixteen party. Reading the comment boards on some news sites, this line of prosecution was more effective than one would wish to think.

Abusive relationships are very difficult to get out of. Victims are often in very powerless situations and have very limited options if they want to leave. It is also a fact that lethality drastically increases aftera victim leaves an abusive situation.

And while the prosecution of the Sheehan case was more than willing to portray Raymond Sheehan as a dutiful police officer that helped in the aftermath of 9/11, what was left unsaid were exactly what options the wife of an abusive police officer husband would have by way of reporting the crime.

The surprise by outsiders that Mr. Sheehan was abusive is actually not shocking when coupled with an understanding of domestic violence and abuser methodology. It is to be expected. Abusers tend to be very charming and gregarious when they want to be. Despite popular belief, they do not walk around with an “A” tattooed on their forehead. Only in a society where domestic violence is not as widely understood as the pervasive and serious issue that it is, would a prosecution consider those lines of questioning the best route in swaying a jury.

While the jury in the Sheehan case, acquitted Barbara Sheehan of murder yesterday, the attitudes about the case in newspaper articles and websites, the comments made by those following the case, and the language used in reports of the case, make it very clear that domestic violence is still largely misunderstood.  It is important for the silence around domestic violence to be broken.

You can help debunk the myths and change the attitudes about domestic violence! Become informed. Reading this blog is a great first step! Talk to your friends, coworkers and family members about domestic violence and its effects. Speak up when you hear victim blaming or perpetuation of dv myths. Continue your support of FVPC and its efforts to educate others about domestic violence, and be an ally for those who have/are experiencing it.


“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.



Domestic Violence Through the Eyes of Women Inmates September 12, 2011

Filed under: gender norms,US prison system,Victim Blaming — Women's Studies Intern @ 9:55 am

Lindsey Needham, is a former FVPC hotline advocate. Lindsey graduated this past spring and is now working in Washington D.C. This summer, she volunteered to lead a project with inmate women. Below, she shares with us her story-

“After volunteering as a hotline advocate with the Family Violence Prevention Center for over two years, I consider myself quite knowledgeable about the dynamics of domestic violence. But when a local nonprofit, aimed at providing resources to inmate mothers, asked me to teach a course on domestic violence to a group of women in prison, I was hesitant. In the past, I have done some facilitating of health topics, including domestic violence, but I did not feel qualified to lead a weekly class on domestic violence by myself, let alone to a group of imprisoned women.

In addition to my hesitations, I was told to expect the unexpected. I wouldn’t know what kind of classroom I would teach in or what materials would be available. There might be PowerPoint capabilities. There might be a blackboard. It was unknown how many inmates would be able to attend the class. In previous stints, the class has had a waiting list of 30 individuals. When I first walked into the class, I thought I had stepped into a time machine that transported me to a 1970s classroom.  Not the most learning-conducive environment, but we made do with what we had.

There are many reasons why inmates take classes like this one. Obviously, some women are personally affected by the issue at hand. Others hope to earn a certificate at the end of the course, presumably to show to court officials and demonstrate good behavior. Some simply love to learn and take advantage of all opportunities to gain knowledge.  One woman had well over 100 certificates for various classes and was four credits short of earning a degree while in prison, but the state halted the prison’s college program before she could finish. Apparently, the community was outraged to discover that tax dollars were providing inmates a free college education, while their own children paid thousands of dollars to go to college.

Despite substantial interest in the course, only ten women were able to attend the first class. There are many restrictions regarding whether or not inmates can attend. Many of the women have jobs throughout the day, like housekeeping or working in the kitchen, and the warden would not allow them to do their tasks at another time in order to attend the class. Also, a vocational school at the prison was starting up, so others opted to take those classes, rather than attend a four-week DV class.  Despite these unfortunate circumstances, the smaller group had its perks: it facilitated an intimate environment and enabled frank discussion on deep issues.

The first two classes concentrated on the basics of domestic violence. On the first day, we discussed forms of abuse, power and control, and why women stay. The second class focused on red flags, and we talked about how to get out of an abusive relationship. Most participants were open about their experiences with abuse, and they easily identified with common elements of domestic violence. One woman’s ex-partner preyed upon her forgetful nature: he repeatedly told her she had forgotten things that had never happened. This form of abuse is often referred to as “crazy-making,” as the abuser makes his victim feel like she does not have a firm grasp on reality. Another woman proudly proclaimed that she did not stick around and endure abuse, as she left her abusive partner immediately after the first physical altercation. Her mother, who had been a longtime victim of domestic violence, wisely warned her, “If he hits you once, he’ll hit you twice.” However, during the discussion on red flags, she noticed that her spouse had exhibited warning signs of controlling behavior before it escalated to a physical level. For instance, he told her who she could or could not be friends with.

After getting through the basics, we were able to delve deeper into the issue of violence against women. In the third class, we discussed victim-blaming, gender roles, objectification of women, and society’s portrayal of violence against women in the media. To facilitate discussion on victim-blaming, I read snippets from recent newspaper articles. The women easily identified how journalists, law enforcement officers, and community members pointed an accusatory finger at the victim of violence, rather than at the person who actually committed the crime.  After establishing that victim-blaming is so prevalent in our culture, we examined society’s depictions of domestic violence in the media.  Violence in music is often discussed, but the women were shocked at how advertisers used violence against women to sell products like shoes and perfume. We also looked at other methods of advertisement: gender stereotypes and objectification of women. These media often encourage men to seek out power—whether physically or economically—and women are perpetually depicted as submissive objects. When these power dynamics are taken to extremes, we can hardly be surprised that there is a widespread pattern of violence against women in our society.

Our final class featured an amazing film called Sin by Silence, which is a documentary that focuses on a group of incarcerated women in California, who were locked away for crimes against their batterers.  Though the movie told the women’s sad stories of abuse and imprisonment, it also documented their movement to change California laws, which did not permit evidence of abuse to be presented on behalf of the defendant at trial. The women in the class were deeply touched and spent a good portion of the movie wiping tears from their eyes. After allowing for emotional recovery time, we discussed several critical aspects of the film. For instance, one woman in the film recognized that abusers have enough control not to lash out at their employers or friends when they are angry; instead, they choose to use their intimate partners as an outlet for anger. I was mightily impressed when one inmate made the connection between power and control and the way that some of the guards speak to the women or put their hands on them. She astutely recognized that many of the prisoners, who are survivors of domestic violence, might be forced to relive the trauma of abuse when interacting with prison officials. The course was designed to teach these women about the basics of domestic violence, and by the end, they were critically applying that knowledge to their lives in prison.

It’s easy to view a prisoner as a sum of evil deeds done against society. However, we must not judge a person solely based on the worst thing they have ever done. These women are our friends, family, and neighbors in the community. As well as mothers of the next generation. And many of these women are victims, who were more passionately labeled as felons by the criminal justice system than protected from a society that enables violence against women. Women in prison are often denied information on abuse and access to domestic violence support groups, though victims on the outside can readily receive such assistance from agencies like FVPC. If we are dedicated to providing resources to victims and others, we must begin to offer the same tools to women in prison. This is why I strongly encourage individuals and organizations to look into volunteer opportunities at correctional institutions.”

Thank you, Lindsey, for all of your amazing work this summer!  We are so proud and impressed by your dedication to helping prevent and end domestic violence, even after leaving North Carolina.


Three Empowering Things You Can Do TODAY to Prevent Interpersonal Violence September 7, 2011

Regardless of my dedication to the cause, some days violence prevention advocacy feels like the weight of the world on my shoulders. For the past few years, ever since I began learning about violence prevention efforts in a class I took at Carolina, even just watching the news or listening to the radio has, at times, made me feel powerless. The fabulous folks I work with on IPV prevention efforts at UNC have often shared that they feel the same way. Knowing that I’m not alone in sometimes feeling overwhelmed by the sheer scale of our goal, completely eliminating interpersonal violence, encourages me to continue to work to prevent it however I can, no matter how small the effort.

One Act is a peer education program at UNC-Chapel Hill that encourages bystanders to identify and safely intervene in possibly risky situations to prevent IPV. But One Act is also about integrating an empowered, proactive attitude into your everyday life.

Here are some examples of some small things you can do today to empower yourself to contribute to the effort against IPV – this blog post is mine! Which approach is best for you?

  1. Have conversations – One of the easiest things you can do to help prevent interpersonal violence is to speak up when you recognize an injustice or problematic statement. Openly challenging rape-supportive or violent language and jokes causes people to think twice about their role in prevention efforts and encourages them to be more considerate of survivors in daily conversation. Tactful discussions about the issues you care about can make a huge difference, especially to those who already love and respect you and your opinions.
  2. Learn to be an effective ally – Read up on warning signs for sexual assault, abusive relationships and stalking and learn how to support loved ones who come to you for help. Also, be sure you’re aware of the different resources available for IPV survivors in your community so you’re prepared to give effective advice. You can take this effort a step further by becoming a HAVEN ally through UNC-Chapel Hill. Fall registration is open now – the one-time, four-hour training is a small commitment with a big impact.
  3. Think of others (and yourself!) – My work with One Act has taught me to always be aware of the other people around me, especially when I’m out on the town or when friends come to me for advice. Taking a simple pledge to watch out for others and take them seriously when they ask for help, regardless of whether I know them personally, was a huge shift in my mindset. It isn’t a huge commitment, but keeping an eye out helps make your overall community safer. Don’t forget to recognize when to take care of yourself, too. Last week, FVPC volunteer Charlotte Crone talked about the break she took from volunteering, which was time to recharge and relax. Taking time to relax, even just for a few hours, is important so that you’re energized when it’s time to act.

If you want more detailed information about bystander intervention, visit SAFE@UNC, email or register for a training here. Surfing the site or sending a quick question is a One Act in itself! Share your own simple ideas for action below.


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.


It Takes A Village… August 2, 2011

The concept of domestic violence as a “personal matter” and not a community concern hardly qualifies as novel. With 175 million registered users on Twitter alone and 4 million Tweets every hour, social media has become the way of connecting with others. But as it extends beyond our personal lives, further-reaching opportunities surface in tandem to speak out about injustices that we see and are frustrated by. In doing so, domestic violence is one of those injustices that has moved from the private into the very public consciousness of a larger world.  More of us are using social media to do good. An example of that is the recent case of Rumana Monzur.

Monzur, a Bangladeshi woman who had traveled as a Fulbright scholar to the University of British Colombia in Vancouver. She returned home in May missing her daughter and husband, to write her dissertation. After showing her husband pictures of her with a fellow male student, he attacked her, accusing her of having an extramarital affair.  He gouged out her eyes, leaving her blind and severely traumatized her daughter who stood by.

Domestic violence victims sometimes experience shame around their attacks and often believe if they had acted differently, perhaps their partners wouldn’t hurt them.  This shame  is not unique and pervades many discussions around interpersonal violence, regardless of geographic locations. Victims often worry that if they speak out against their abusers, their character and actions will be questioned.  This can be especially challenging when the abuser has become a part of the family.  No one wants to believe that the person that they have come to accept as a son or daughter in law is actually an abuser.

While Monzur might have suffered from these fears, her family and friends encouraged her to speak out about the attack.   A Facebook page detailing her attack as well as an online donation page for her recovery fueled by her family and friends were created so that her side of the story would be known. She also interviewed with a local Bangladeshi news station and posted the interview on Youtube.

The community of people who rallied around Monzur serves as a terrific example of how using social media can help all of us understand intimate partner violence as a public issue that collectively we have a social responsibility to eliminate.   Across the world activists in every imaginable area use social media to challenge that culture of shame and offer instead, a culture of support for victims.  These kind of public responses also put culpability back on the abuser where it belongs, rather than on the victim.   One woman’s example also encourages other victims of abuse to feel comfortable sharing their testimonies, “I lost my eyes,” says Monzur. “I don’t want anyone to suffer like I am suffering. It is horrible.”

Using social media to build awareness about interpersonal violence in one step that we can take to be active bystanders for survivors.  Social media also affords us the advantage of quiet activism, where we don’t need to be out in front at a rally or defending someone in a bar but behind our computer or smart phone.  We can quietly type away words of support on our Twitter feed,  a blog post (like this one!) or on our Facebook wall to our own network who influence us as we do them.  Any small step can be a great step.

What are some ways that you use social media to help raise awareness around issues that are important to you?  Leave us a comment.