#DVAM 2017/Does Talking About Domestic Violence Really Make a Difference?

While de-cluttering my bedroom recently, I found an old magazine that reprinted my first published article in 1993. First posted in Alaska Women Speak, later in The Radical, I wrote it about the epidemic of domestic violence.

 

How novel it seemed at the time to be writing about what was then considered to be a deeply personal matter. Pre-O.J.Simpson trial. Pre United States Surgeon stating that domestic violence was (then) a leading cause of injury to women in certain age brackets.

It was truly wonderful to be a part of making a positive difference. Along with the other domestic violence advocates, I got to give a series of presentations and trainings. Trainings for judges, police officers, and employers. Presentations for clergy and public assistance workers, concerned citizens, and eventually for doctors, once it was confirmed how many victims presented with mental and physical injuries that needed attention. No matter who our audience was, we encouraged people to get a little nosy. “Ask when you see injuries if you have a private moment with the possible victim. Address concerns in a non-judgmental way.” Easier said than done.

Below is from the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence.

Initiating this conversation can be difficult. Some tips to help:

Tell what you see “I noticed a bruise on your arm…”
Express concern “I am worried about you.”
Show support “No one deserves to be hurt.”
Refer them for help “I have the phone number to…”

If your friend begins to talk about the abuse:

Just Listen: Listening can be one of the best ways to help. Don’t imagine you will be the one person to “save” you friend. Instead, recognize that it takes a lot of strength and courage to live with an abusive partner, and understand your role as a support person.

Keep it Confidential: Don’t tell other people that they may not want or be ready to tell. If there is a direct threat of violence, tell them that you both need to tell someone right away.

Provide Information, Not Advice: Give them the phone number to the helpline (1.866.834.HELP) or to their local domestic violence resource center. Be careful about giving advice. They know best how to judge the risks they face.

Be There and Be Patient: Coping with abuse takes time. Your friend may not do what you expect them to do when you expect them to do it. If you think it is your responsibility to fix the problems, you may end up feeling frustrated. Instead, focus on building trust, and be patient.

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This past year, I’ve had the chance to join domestic violence advocates in a number of community presentations since publishing my memoir.

Abuse in relationships is still far too common, and well over 1,000 women every year die because of it in the United States alone. Millions of kids are still being raised in homes witnessing domestic violence.

It’s natural to wonder Are we making a difference?

Then I had coffee with my friend Ruth. She used to manage the Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis (AWAIC) shelter I worked at 20 years ago and we left our jobs around the same time. Now on blood thinners, Ruth bruises like a banana.

“Does anyone ask you about the bruising?” I asked.

“All the time,” she told me. She’s been asked by friends and strangers alike if she’s okay. “Even the groundskeepers downtown have asked me if I was safe.”

So Happy 30th Birthday to Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and to all who’ve stuck their neck out to ensure we’re making progress.

I encourage you all to become a part of the conversation and part of the solution when opportunities arise. Or donate to or volunteer at your local shelter.

As a side, I’m grateful to my friends at AWAIC for honoring me for sharing my story. Without them, there would be no story.


Thanks for stopping by.

The Life and Death of Muriel Pfeil/What have We Learned About Domestic Violence Since 1976

Were the good old days really that good?

 Not to Alaska resident Muriel Pfeil.

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In 1976, Muriel got into her car in downtown Anchorage, turned the key, and was blown to bits. Someone had planted a car bomb.

At the time, Muriel was not much past forty and had been through a rocky divorce and custody battle with her former husband, lawyer Neil Mackay. Mackay was later acquitted of murder charges. More than eight years later, when Muriel’s brother fought for custody of his nephew and for control of Muriel’s estate, he was executed on his way home from work.

I became a domestic violence advocate in 1992, sixteen years after Muriel’s death. Time and time again, battered women I met with indicated that Muriel’s death was used by their partners as a means to maintain control. “Leave me and you’ll go down like Muriel did.”

I know of no other women in Anchorage killed by their partners in that exact fashion, but just the threat of a car-bombing proved to be a powerful tool to keep women in abusive relationships.

I think about Muriel’s death and the murder of her brother with some regularity. I’m not the only one. Just this evening, a friend mentioned a Muriel Pfeil conversation at a party she attended last week. So much time has passed, and we’re still pondering how such a horrible thing could happen in our community.

What would I tell Muriel Pfeil about how we have evolved since her murder? 

I’d like her to know about mandatory domestic violence arrests now. That we’re moving beyond asking questions like Why does she stay, and moving towards holding offenders accountable for their actions. I’d want her to know that she wasn’t alone in being a victim, and that now, we have shelters across the world that assist victims of interpersonal violence to find safety and support.

Muriel Pfeil's grave
Muriel Pfeil’s grave

What lessons can we learn from the life and death of Muriel Pfeil?

1) Domestic violence is far too common. One in three women worldwide report being injured by an intimate partner within her lifetime.

2) The most dangerous time in an abusive relationship is just before or immediately after leaving.

3) The violence can extend to other family members, not just the intimate partner of the abuser.

Do you know someone in an abusive relationship?  Refer them to 1-800-799-SAFE

Muriel Pfeil. Gone, but never forgotten.

Twenty Years Later/The Messages that Survived Nicole Brown-Simpson

I can’t believe that  20 years have passed already.

There are important historical events that are forever etched in our brains. We remember where we were, and how they changed our world.

mmonFor me, I remember clearly when Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon (1969).

When AIDS became a major health threat (1981).

And most of all, I remember when Nicole Brown-Simpson, former wife of sports star OJ Simpson, was found murdered on June 12, 1994.

At the time, I was working as a battered women’s advocate in Anchorage, Alaska. I worked in the same shelter I’d found refuge at with my little daughters four years earlier. I facilitated support groups for victims, helped them get restraining orders in court. The part of my job I loved best was giving community presentations about domestic violence.

Back then, no one wanted to talk about domestic violence.

nicole simpson's leg
nicole simpson’s leg

That all changed when Nicole Brown-Simpson was found butchered at her home in 1994. This, following a fifteen year-long abusive marriage that began when she was a pregnant teenager.

Why does a social issue need to happen to a famous person to become significant? Domestic violence was the leading cause of injury to women ages 15-44 back then, according to Surgeon General Koop, “more than rapes, muggings, and traffic accidents combined.”

And yet, it remained a dirty little secret.

The months and years following Nicole Brown Simpson’s death, phone lines were clogged at shelters all over the country.

“I’ve been pushed and slapped. Is this abuse?” Or, “My husband’s been threatening to kill me. What can I do? I have no money.”

And presentation requests? Through the roof. Grant money fell from the heavens, and soon, we expanded domestic violence programming to include hospital emergency response teams and a safe home program for Alaska Native women.

I would like to say that domestic violence advocates worked with the community to make lasting changes. I think it’s true. There was something that resonated about this beautiful and rich young mother of two who predicted her own murder, called the police repeatedly, and was slaughtered anyhow.

The messages we learned to tell our abused friends and loved ones?

You’re not alone

You deserve to be treated well.

It’s not your fault.

There are people and agencies that can help you.

We also learned what not to say.
You should leave.

Forgive him. He looks so sad.

What’s wrong with you?

History has taught that the most dangerous time in a violent relationship is just before or just after leaving it. So we advocates, we family members, we friends must remember to hold our tongues and keep our advice to ourselves.

Do you know someone who is being abused?

Tell them to call 1-800-799-SAFE.

The Truth About Leaving a Violent Relationship

Many months ago, the Anchorage Daily News reported a brutal stabbing.
Fortunately, the victim lived. Her story wasn’t so  unique. Her former boyfriend, who didn’t appear to harbor ill-will towards her about their break-up two months earlier, apparently did. He stabbed her nearly to death.
Reporter Casey Grove interviewed her days later, and asked the victim why she had been with a man with a checkered past.

Instantly, I was transported back to the 90’s. Back to a time when part of my job as a domestic violence advocate  was providing lectures and workshops for community panels, law enforcement, and other providers. Domestic violence was the new hot topic. It was just after the death of Nicole Brown Simpson, and suddenly, abuse in relationships was no longer a secret. What was on the minds of the audience? More often than not, it was Why Does She Stay?

The other part of my job as an advocate was to work with abuse victims. On any given day, I would see three to five women who had either just left the battered women’s shelter or had never been in it. Most appointments had been scheduled in advance, but sometimes women at wits-end simply walked in unannounced and needed to talk to someone. I loved being that someone. I got to listen to her tell her story, suspending the judgment or hope that a family member or friend might have about whether she should stay in or leave the relationship. I would ask questions meant to spur thought, and give general information about safety and emergency planning. I referred her to an information and support group that was attended by other victims of emotional, physical, and/ or sexual abuse. And week by week, she muscled-up emotionally by meeting with women in similar circumstances and hearing their stories of survival. She would learn to tell her own story. A year or two later, often that same woman who had timidly walked through the door now returned, transformed. She was making a life for herself without abuse, and proudly volunteered her skills or made a donation to the center. The bonus for me was obvious: I inhaled second-hand strength.

Some women left their abusers. Many of them went on to have fabulous lives afterwards, advancing their education, employment skills, or enjoying a loving relationship with a different partner.

For others, the consequences for leaving were tragic. They plunged into poverty. They were injured or killed. Or even worse, their children were put at risk.

I took the survivor’s stories to help with the community outreach.

The truth about leaving a violent relationship is it’s  no guarantee to safety or to happiness.

So maybe asking a different question makes sense.

Perhaps the reporter could have asked different questions. Why did this man stab a woman he once loved? Why do we focus on  domestic abuse victim’s choices for partners rather than the abusers actions? And how can we collectively work to end domestic violence in our world?

Love, Pistorius Style/ The Pretty Faces Behind the Ugly Problem of Domestic Violence

With all the other things going on nationally, I had not paid attention to the Oscar Pistorius trial.

Honestly, I thought Pistorius was a political figure. And then I stayed home last weekend and caught up with the news.

What’s not fascinating about a tragic Valentine’s Day ending (in 2013) to a romance between a South African super-model and a super-athlete?

They were  both beautiful, rich, and talented.  She was a law graduate.  He is a double-amputee sprint runner. Soon after they met, the couple appeared to have the world by the tail

Pistorius and Steenkamp -in the beginning
Pistorius and Steenkamp -in the beginning

Pistorius admits to shooting and killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, in the early morning hours on Valentine’s Day, believing her to be an intruder. Given that the place he lives in South Africa is rife with break-ins, and given Pistorius documented history of anxiety about being victimized, I would have believed his alibi.

But there were too many things in their relationship that now point to something different.

The Pistorius/Steenkamp union had some classic markers of an abusive relationship.

Like many relationships that turn violent, theirs began with quick involvement.  They began dating one November. They were inseparable from the start.

Pistorius used tactics to control Steenkamp, and made frequent (and very public) negative comments about her. Her gum chewing. Her taste in music. Her efforts to learn accents for an acting role.

Oscar Pistorius demonstrated his jealousy frequently to Reeva Steenkamp, accusing her of flirting with other men, of not introducing him quickly enough to other men at events they attended. Witnesses say he called her incessantly from the beginning of their relationship.

Violence in a relationship nearly always follows one that began with quick involvement, is marked by control tactics, and has elements of jealousy.  It usually increases over time and does not escalate to physical violence until much later that the Pistorius/Steenkamp relationship.

Do you know someone who is a victim of domestic violence?  It’s important to connect her to resources. 1-800-799-SAFE is a great start.

Reeva Steenkamp met her handsome prince in November of 2012. Three short months later, she was dead.

Is it Loneliness or Love? Why Do We Cling to Relationships That Are Bad For Us?

 The Way You Treat Yourself Sets the Standards for Others-Sonya Friedman

It’s been years since I have worked professionally with women in abusive relationships. I  miss connecting with women and finding out what’s important to them, hearing their stories of strength and survival.

I got my chance. Some weeks ago, I received an e-mailed invitation from Michael Weinberg of Wizpert to join his crowdsourced compilation of blogger expertise. So I did it. I signed up and can be found at http://wizpert.com/lizbethmeredith.

Now, a few times a week, I open a space in my schedule and offer an ear. I keep hearing a familiar trend:

Dear Liz,

I just learned my boyfriend is married after a wonderful year of dating. He didn’t tell me. I found out through a friend. Now he’s stopped calling me. How can I stop missing him? I wish he and I could talk. I wish I didn’t miss him.

Dear Liz,

My boyfriend knows my first relationship was violent, so he never hits me. Usually he’s good to me, but then he calls me names. Once he told me to step into traffic and kill myself. I don’t understand. I don’t feel safe. How can I save this relationship?

Dear Liz,

I’ve been dating a coworker briefly that my family objects to. I’m in graduate school. My family doesn’t like that he has tattoos from head to toe, and that he’s never looked beyond work at the local grocer. I wish they weren’t so judgmental, so I’m going to take a break from my family. He’s moving in with me now. I do worry that intellectually, he doesn’t keep up with me and doesn’t value what I do. How can I be less judgmental? Am I wrong?

I’m left to wonder why we as women are so committed to twisting ourselves into a pretzel in order to maintain relationships that are not good for us.

Are we still so financially dependent?

Is it the biological clock, quietly urging us to go forth and make babies that trips us up and helps blind us to the realities?

Then I look back into my own youthful dating experiences, and remember the desperation with which I clung desperately to dysfunction after my violent marriage ended. The marriage and family therapist who was two-timing me. The humorous alcoholic Prince Charles look-alike who no-showed for half our dates.

Truth be told, it wasn’t until I was an older woman, financially more secure, and with zero possibility of further procreation that I made consistently better choices based on knowing my worth.

What do I want young women to know?

Dear Young Woman,

You are special. You have a unique contribution to bring your world. You deserve to be treated well. You deserve rich lifelong friendships. Hobbies.  A career.
I hope you like yourself. Self-esteem is something that fluctuates like weight, but is your responsibility and yours alone to manage. Low self-esteem won’t cause you to be a victim of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, but it will put you at risk for staying in it.
Things can get better with time.  You will learn that you may fall in love with someone  who is bad for you, but as an adult, you will choose what you know is right above what your emotions dictate.

Beware of the date that wants all of your time right away. Who keeps you away from family and friends. Who begins to work on killing your feelings of self-worth with small putdowns about your character and your abilities.

If you’re feeling confused or downright depressed, do reach out. You are not alone.

A relationship can be a wonderful thing, but it will never be everything. It cannot fulfill all of your needs.

Do take the time to get to know you. Set your goals for yourself. Who do you want to be? What qualities do you want to bring to a relationship?  Then and only then, when you know your own value will you be able to define what qualities you’d like your partner to have.

Take your time. Discriminate. When seeking a partner, you’ll need to be comfortable searching for a person who shares  your values and goals. You are worth it. And keep in mind that there are far worse things than being alone, like being lonely and undervalued while in a relationship.

If you put a small Value on yourself, rest assured the world will not raise your price. Unknown

What advice would you give a young person in search of a relationship?

A site I like- Loveisrespect.org

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