One in Four…

Raising awareness about issues related to domestic & dating violence

Tips for being an effective ally July 4, 2011

Being an effective ally to a survivor of domestic or sexual violence is not an easy task.  There are many good steps one can take to help a survivor and some are more obvious than others.  We would like to focus on the steps that are sometimes easy to overlook:

  1. Believe her/him.
    • When someone discloses the fact that s/he is a survivor of domestic or sexual violence, s/he is taking a huge risk.  Many victims are immediately labeled “false accusers” despite the fact that only a small percentage of accusations prove to be unfounded.  False accusation is brought up most often when the perpetrator is in a position of power.  Believing a survivor is a crucial first step in empowering her/him.
  2. Provide support without taking over.
    • Many victims have been in long-term relationships in which their abusers have gained more and more control over them.  Therefore the last thing we want to do is to exercise more control over them.  Supporting the survivor in gaining control over her/his own situation is vital to overall, long-term recovery.
  3. Tell her/him that no one deserves to be abused.
    • This is a short sentence that takes many survivors completely by surprise.  Survivors often blame themselves for their abuse, so being told that they did not deserve what happened to them can be incredibly empowering.
  4. Don’t say anything against the abuser.
    • This can be very tempting and it might seem like a good idea, but it can create a major roadblock to communication with the survivor.  Survivors often have strong, confusing feelings for their abusers.  No one falls in love with an abuser.  Victims fall in love with people who later reveal themselves as abusers.
  5. Do not interpret, analyze, or diagnose.
    • This can also be tempting, especially for those particularly interested in psychology or counseling.  The majority of us are not mental health professionals and we should not pretend that we are.  Interpreting, analyzing, or diagnosing people while they talk to us can distract us from doing the one thing that is consistently helpful: listening!
  6. Learn more about domestic and sexual violence.
    • As with any topic, knowledge is power.  Learning more about domestic or sexual violence will better prepare you to talk with survivors about their experiences.  Read books, attend classes or seminars, find local resources, or do anything else to expand your knowledge and gain tools to help survivors.
  7. Take care of yourself.
    • Self-care can be so easy to forget.  If you do not take care of yourself than how can you be expected to take care of someone else?  Self-care will be different for each individual but it might include taking a walk, keeping a journal, cooking, or just hanging out with friends.  Whatever your self-care is, take time to do it.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of what you should or should not do to help survivors.  It is simply a small set of reminders that can help you be an effective ally.  Want to learn more?  If you are a UNC student and want to be an effective ally, get HAVEN or One Act trained! Or learn volunteer with FVPC!  Our Fall training session starts Tuesday September 6 and runs for 6 weeks on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.  Call 929-3872 for more details.


Rihanna’s “Man Down” Video Draws Controversy June 23, 2011

The musical artist Rihanna is no stranger to controversy and her video for her new single “Man Down” is no exception. The video opens up to show Rihanna in a train station shooting a man in the back of the head. It then flashes back to the previous day, where Rihanna is shown dancing in a club with the same man, before she pushes him away and leaves by herself. He comes after her and while the video does not show anything explicitly, it implies that he sexually assaults her.

The “Man Down” video faces criticism from organizations like Parents Television Council, Fox News and Enough is Enough Campaign who claim that the video is overly violent and sends a bad message to young viewers. According to Paul Porter, the co-founder of Industry Ears, the video is “inexcusable, shock-only, shoot-and-kill theme song”.  Organizations like these have often criticized musical artists for including violent images in videos or violent lyrics in their songs, but their criticism of Rihanna has other disturbing implications about the tacit acceptance of sexual assault in our society, as well as the right for a woman who has been victimized to express herself artistically, if it includes violence.  From our perspective, there are a few problematic pieces in the backlash concerning Rihanna’s video.

First- criticism tends to focus  on the murder that occurs, while only lightly touching on the sexual assault.  Without the scene that shows the rapist being shot, this video would likely not have become national news for its overt violence.  None of the criticism of the video’s violence mentions Rihanna’s abuser pushing her against a wall, threatening her or throwing her to the ground after assaulting her.  These actions apparently don’t qualify as “too violent”. This disregard is alarming because it appears to reinforce the notion that the media fail to acknowledge violence against women as “real violence”.  “Real” violence is of course murder, like that shown in the video.   But while murder is a horrible crime, it is no less horrible than the physical abuse shown and implied sexual assault in the video.

Another problematic piece of this backlash is the implication that Rihanna is somehow a hypocrite in daring to release a video showing violence when she herself has been a victim of violence.  FOXNews’ Marc Rudov said, “Rihanna gets to have it both ways-accuse Chris Brown of domestic violence and be violent herself-because she’s a woman.”  The Parents Television Council offered similar thoughts, “Rihanna’s personal story…provided a golden opportunity for the singer to send an important message to female victims of rape and domestic violence. Instead of telling victims they should seek help, Rihanna released a music video that gives retaliation in the form of premeditated murder the imprimatur of acceptability.”  These reactions are alarming for a couple of reasons.  First, the implication that Rihanna’s depictions of violence in her video  negates her experiences as a survivor is both cruel and ignorant.  While we do  not condone violence of any kind, it’s important to recognize that IPV/SA survivors deal with the abuse that they have suffered in a variety of ways, often involving the use of art.  Secondly, one could argue that retaliation against a rapist is not the same as the senseless gratuitous violence that many mainstream videos feature.  Rihanna’s video doesn’t attempt to glamorize the killing of her rapist but, in her own words , seeks to warn women, “We always think it could NEVER be us, but in reality, it can happen to ANY of us! So ladies be careful and listen to yo mama! I love you and I care!”

Lastly, the media focus of Rihanna exclusively as a victim of violence, as opposed to a successful recording artist who has sold millions of CDs, they rob her of personal individuality as well as the right to heal from her abuse in the best way for her.  It’s important to remember that victims of IPV/SA can experience PTSD type symptoms during and/or after their abusive relationship.  We also know that victims may also slowly lose their sense of self as a result of the abuse.   Victims deal with their abuse in different ways.  Consider Elizabeth Smart and Rihanna.  Both are “victims” but reconcile their abuse very differently.  Both ways are okay. To help all victims’ healing and to be an effective ally, we must respect the choices that they make towards their own healing.  As Leslie Morgan Steiner at CNN says, “The only way to eradicate rape and violence against women is to respect victims who speak out, even when their stories are filled with rage and revenge fantasies that are, indeed, excruciating to listen to, because they ring true.”

There are no easy answers to the idea of victims of abuse responding with violence.  But by criticizing Rihanna’s video without critically analyzing a culture which condones and perpetuates rape we do a disservice to all survivors.

What do you think about Rhianna’s video?  Leave us your thoughts!


The Power of Being an Active Bystander June 17, 2011

In 2008 a 16-year-old high school cheerleader, identified as H.S., was sexually assaulted by three men at her school, one of whom, Rakheem Bolton, was a basketball player. Although Bolton received a year long prison sentence as well as a fine and two years of probation, throughout these past few years there was much debate about what type of punishment he should receive. At one point he was even allowed back into Silsbee high school and and allowed to take up his old position on the basket ball team.

H.S. refused to cheer for Bolton during his free throws. According to Ms. Magazine, the chant that she was expected to yell was, “two, four, six, eight, ten come on Rakheem put it in!” Instead of supporting or understanding H.S’s decision, the school kicked her off of the cheer leading squad effectively condoning Bolton’s actions and placing blame on the victim. When her parents filed a law suit against the school, not only did they lose the case, but the school is making them cover the trial costs which add up to $35,000.

When Artist Jason Ho heard about this injustice, he decided to do something about it. Ho is an illustrator and art director at Bongo Comics who has a blog called “Oh Snap! The Friggin Amazing J. Ho Sketch Blog…” He posted the story on his blog and sent out the word that he would hand draw sketches for people in trade for a $20 donation. The donation would go to H.S’s family to aid with the legal expenses.

The response was overwhelming. He planned on taking 20 requests, but within a matter of days had over 140! Ho epitomizes supporting survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. He has never met this family before, and he is not rushing out to Texas to rally protesters; he is simply doing what is within his reach to help a family in need.

People like Jason Ho are a dose of encouragement and optimism for anyone who has ever felt strongly about a cause but did not know what to do. He shows us that anyone can make a difference, and that one person’s idea can help change lives. Ho in partnership with the Help a Cheerleader  site have managed to change H.S.’s life as well as her families, not just with the financial support, but also with psychological support. This family has the comfort of knowing that people all around the country believe that they were wronged by the justice system, and are willing to help them through their struggle.

If you want more information about how you can be an active bystander or how to support victims of interpersonal violence please contact the Family Violence Prevention Center  at (919) 929-7122.   We can all be active bystanders in our own unique ways and one persons’ actions can play a huge part in supporting and advocating for survivors and in ending interpersonal violence.


Power, Privilege and Sexual Assualt June 13, 2011

Former IMF President (he resigned 5/19) Dominique Strauss-Kahn was accused of assaulting a hotel maid in Manhattan.   While Strauss-Kahn has portrayed himself as a victim (complaining about his “unfair” treatment after his arrest) to a woman lying to get attention and money, his record around sexual assault is hardly clean.  Since the assault two weeks ago, another woman Tristane Banon has come forward alleging that Strauss-Kahn assaulted her in 2007 while she attempted to interview him.  She discussed his sexist and disrespectful behavior towards women in the past.  The incident of alleged assault with this New York hotel service worker was not an isolated incident but rather a manifestation of the power and privilege afforded to Strauss-Kahn because of his position in the international community.  The women Strauss-Kahn harassed were inferior to him whether in employment positions or in class or race status.  His assumption that he could have sexual relations with this maid in Manhattan because of her social and class location relative to him is both disturbing and unfair. 

Ms. Magazine wrote had interesting commentary about men in power and their assumptions regarding consent. Author Michael Kimmel discusses both the New York Times and Time Magazine article’s theorizing why powerful men cheat and linking the phenomena of power with perceived consent and willingness of women to engage in sexual activity with men in high profile positions.  Kimmel references the gang rape of a young woman by football recruits at the University of Colorado in 2001.  While the athletes perceived that a majority of women wanted to have sex with them, in reality it was about one percent of women who were actually interested, their celebrity status so distorted their vision that they misconceived the sexual interest of women they encountered  Kimmel states: “This distorted perception goes to the heart of the Strauss-Kahn case. Because of his status, he may well have encountered women who let their availability be known. Just as obviously, he needn’t have acted on it. Being human, men are capable of making choices about when and with whom to unzip their trousers.”    The Strauss-Kahn case illustrates the entitlement that powerful men often feel that they deserve or have access to women because of their status.  While the woman Strauss-Kahn assaulted felt violated and clearly did not agree to any kind of sexual activity with him, it’s possible he perceived it as consensual because of his inflated sense of self worth.  Regardless of what Strauss-Kahn perceived that does not excuse his actions or justify his assault of that woman.

Tiffany Williams, Advocacy Director of the “Break the Chain” campaign, a project of the institute of policy studies in Washington DC focusing on providing social services to domestic workers who are victims of human trafficking or worker exploitation discusses how women in lower status jobs are often exploited by their bosses or clients in higher status positions.  She states  “Women who are household workers or “servants” are even more vulnerable to dehumanizing sexual assault than others because their relationships are inherently unequal to their employers.”  The story of men in privileged, powerful positions like Strauss-Kahn’s taking advantage of women in lower-status occupations is not new news.  Frankly, neither is the victim blaming response that always tends to surface in the media frenzy. (Recall Lara Logan).  This is a tired, perpetually insulting story that women set men up and then “cry rape” to get money from them or being more concerned about how assailants like Strauss-Kahn will “put their lives back together” rather than how victims will heal with and cope from the trauma of assault.

Every victim of abuse of any kind deserves to be supported and believed.  If you or someone you know is feeling unsafe or have been hurt call our hotline at 919-929-7122 to speak with a trained advocate.  Abuse is never a victims fault and they deserve compassion and to be believed.


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.


“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. 


Thinking Beyond Self-Defense Classes March 31, 2011

Journalist Mac McClelland recently wrote a piece describing her time at a self defense seminar on protecting yourself from unwanted sexual advances and sexual assault.  McClelland observed the women in her class simulating attack scenarios and learning to combat potential assailants.  She writes, “according to some studies, a woman who fights back against sexual assault has a much higher chance of not getting raped.  The folks at Impact Bay Area, who run this course, and other experts say that forceful engagement can be applied to many situations with a potential enemy.”

While self defense classes that teach women to fight back against assaults can be empowering, they often send the mixed message that victims who do not fight back are doing something wrong.   The “fighting back” mentality also perpetuates the “stranger danger” myth i.e. that women should be prepared for an attacker to jump out at them from the bushes in the dead of night, instead of preparing themselves for the more likely   reality that they will know their abuser.  73% of sexual assault victims know their attacker. The notion that victims should fight back also excludes individuals with physical or mental disabilities who may be physically unable to retaliate against an assailant.

Additionally, while there is nothing wrong with taking self defense classes to feel safer, teaching women how to “fight back” does nothing to challenge a culture that condones sexual assault.   Our culture glorifies and sexualizes violence against women as evidenced by exceedingly violent “gonzo” porn“, the objectification of women in Playboy and Hustler magazines, and that proliferation of strip clubs and sex work industry.  We also see men encouraged to stay within the “man box” where violence, emotional restriction and commodification and objectifying of women are lauded as the characteristics of real men.

Perhaps instead of encouraging *women* (and what about the men and boys who are assaulted?) to just take self defense classes, we should all work harder to be active bystanders. Since most sexual assaults (73%) occur between individuals who know each other we need to be more prepared to handle these situations than a “stranger danger” attack.  If you’re at a party with friends, make plans before you go out to ensure nobody is leaving the party without informing their friends of doing so.  Walk people who’ve had too much to drink home.   If you’re already in a relationship, be aware of what some of the warning signs of abusive partners are including wanting to control you, isolating you, or speaking disrespectfully you or family and friends (click here for a more comprehensive list of relationship red flags).

While these action steps can play an important for lowering the risk of sexual assault it is important to remember that no one deserves to be violated or hurt and abuse of any kind is never a victim’s fault.  If you or a friend have been a victim of violence call our hotline at 919-929-7122 to speak with a trained advocate.