The Headlines We Can’t Ignore/Everyone Matters When Responding to Domestic Violence

 

 

 

 

The headlines keep coming.  

Buried between Chicago mass shootings and the primary elections and Denise Richards joining the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills cast (is that really news?), there they are.

This is one week. In one country.

Like many of you, I want to tune it out. Who wants to hear about something they can’t change?

Not me. And it’s not Domestic Violence Awareness Month until October anyhow, right?

But it’s impossible to ignore. Not only because of the brutality, but for the truths these stories underscore.

1) Domestic violence is not about a normal person with an anger management problem who takes it out on their intimate partner. It’s the deliberate use of emotional, physical, or sexual violence to gain control of an intimate partner. You only need glimpse the second story to see how carefully orchestrated the plane crash was. The husband was not crazed or out of control. Simply diabolical.

2) Children are not only victimized by witnessing violence, but too often harmed irreparably as they become collateral damage in the effort to hurt the mother.

I detailed my now-grown daughters’ experiences as both child-witnesses and as adult survivors in my memoir. It left scar-tissue that manifest in physical and psychological wounds. But at least they survived. Clearly, not all do.

3) And the third truth is one I stumbled upon quite by accident when setting out to read something cheerier. When researching travel writing opportunities, I came upon a wonderful story written by Ivana Haz titled A Sort of Homecoming.

I read her entire essay story before noticing the writing on the sidebar.

Editor’s note: The author of this story, Ivana Waz, and her son, Makani, were murdered in their Southern California home July 11. Authorities say Ivana’s husband shot them before turning the gun on himself.

A google search of her name revealed a series of articles on her and her son’s death, attributing it to her husband’s depression after his back injury. One entire article sympathized solely with him.

I guarantee you that Ivana Waz and her child were not killed by a back injury or depression.

Which brings me to my earlier question: Who wants to hear about something they can’t change?

The truth is, we can all make a positive difference in creating lasting change regarding abuse. When we learn about it, when we talk about it, how we talk about it, when we seek ways to get involved, we become a resource.

I decided just now to make a difference and donate several copies of my memoir, themed around intergenerational patterns of domestic violence, to my Methodist church for their silent auction, and will continue to volunteer at the local shelter. It’s not much, but it’s something I can do.

What will you do?

Do you know someone impacted by domestic violence? Call 1-800-799-SAFE.

Want to lend your time or resources to affecting global change? Consider attending a meeting at your local Zonta chapter or giving to the domestic violence agency near you.

For information about what to do when you witness or suspect domestic violence, look at your local Green Dot Program.

Together, we can make a difference.

      

#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 Amazing Role of a Domestic Violence Advocate/Interview with Nicole Stanish

  “I don’t understand how you can do that work. It must be so depressing.”

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You get used to hearing that sort of comment when working in the trenches of domestic violence (DV). I used to hear it a lot 20 years ago when I was a DV advocate, but now the question was posed to domestic violence advocate/program manager at Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis (AWAIC) ,Nicole Stanish, whom I worked with during some DV Awareness Month events.

She answered graciously, but later I followed up with a few questions of my own. It took her nanoseconds to respond, a sure sign of someone who loves her job.

What led you to working with domestic violence victims?

When I was 12 I read a book about Covenant House and knew that one day I would be a social worker. When I was in college, working towards my social work degree, my professor gave us an assignment to write a paper on a social service agency and she suggested that I might like AWAIC. So I interviewed the Shelter Manager for my paper and she suggested I come to volunteer training, which I did, and then I fell in love with AWAIC and began volunteering a couple of nights a week. Later, when a position opened up I applied.

What do you like best about your job?

The best part of DV work is connecting with people. I enjoy hearing people’s stories, even though they can be sad, and offering them whatever strength, compassion and understanding that I can. We are all human and we all have our struggles and people benefit the most from having a non-judgmental person support them through a hard time.

What is the worst part?

The worst part of DV work is seeing someone who has so much potential continue to go back to her abuser, back to her addictions, lose her children, and continue to spiral farther down. It is hard to have high hopes for a person only to see them continue to get into worse and worse situations. I wish that there was a way for me to transfer all of my hope and faith into them to help them succeed.

 What are some things you want people to know about how they can help?

We all have the power to make a difference. We are all humans and have struggles and fall down. And we are all capable of compassion, understanding, and the ability to reach out to someone who is having a hard time and help them.

Domestic violence can happen to anyone. If you are fortunate enough to never have had it happen to you- do not judge those who are currently experiencing it. Domestic violence is very complex and very hard to break free from. If you know someone who is living with domestic violence, just be there for them. Let them know that they deserve all the good in the world and that you will always be a person that they can turn to. Don’t give up on them.

For more ideas on how you can get involved with Domestic Violence Awareness Month, click here. Thank you to Nicole Stanish for doing great work to impact change.

When Push Comes to Shove/How to Help When Someone You Love is Being Abused is on sale

IMG_0219Just over one in three women worldwide have experienced physical and sexual intimate partner violence, according to the World Health Organization.

 

The chances that you won’t know one of them are close to zero.

What you do and don’t say  can make all the difference.

 

When Push Comes to Shove  is now available on Kindle, Smashwords, and Nook for $2.99!

It’s time to start the conversation.

Domestic Violence, Our Civil War

 It’s the end of October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

thumb3I scooted back home from Australia just in time to have the honor of being interviewed by Tom Randell at KSRM Radio about my upcoming e-book, When Push Comes to Shove. How to Help When Someone You Love is Being Abused.

 

It was such fun to re-connect with my old friend Tom, whom I knew from high school, that I’m afraid I got off track with this topic that impacts so many.

Let me share a snippet from my e-book:

The number of troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq between 2001 and 2012 was listed as 6,488 as of October 2014.  The number of American women killed during the same time period totaled 11, 766.

People should be safe in relationships.

Do you know someone who’s being abused?

Have them call 1-800-799-SAFE.  And as soon as my e-book becomes available, I’ll post it here.

Thanks for stopping by.

Who Would Kill a Child? The Murder-Suicides of Domestic Violence

As I was leaving work today, one of my coworkers was glimpsing the news and shaking his head. “Second murder-suicide report in the last two weeks in Alaska,” he said, adding what’s on everyone’s else’s mind.

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Gonzales, Young and children. (alaskapublic.org)

“Who in the world would kill a child?”

But  before you think this trend in an Alaska thing, a review of all murder suicides published in the Violence Policy Center’s studies titled American Roulette indicated that the bulk of murder suicides including those with children present are largely an extension of domestic violence. Their review of numerous murder-suicides answer the question that none of us can make sense of:

Who would kill a child?

* Mostly men. The Violence Policy Center notes that in 90 percent of the cases, the perpetrators are male.

* The perpetrator has access to a firearm. Very rarely is another percent of murder-suicides used another type of weapon.

* The perpetrator is under exceptional stress at the time, possibly because they fear their partner will abandon them, or they’ve suffered a long-term depression or a job loss.

Photo courtesy of Alaska Dispatch

 

I learned another interesting tidbit in this study. The greater the age gap between the perpetrator and the victim, the greater the likelihood of the murder/suicide.

In American Roulette, an analysis of murder suicides during the first half of 2011 revealed there were 313 events during those six months resulting in 691 deaths. Fifty-five of those were children under the age of eighteen.

Who would kill a child?

It turns out, those closest to the child’s mother are the likely culprits.

Do you know a family impacted by domestic violence?

Call the police if you suspect an incident is occurring.

Call child protective services if you know a child lives in a home where their parent is being abused.

And refer adult domestic violence victims to 1-800-799-SAFE.

Does Yoga Prevent Domestic Violence? The Harm in Perpetuating Silly Myths

It’s that time of year again. October. Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

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I decided to go to a presentation titled “Let’s Talk Prevention” put on by a social worker at one of Anchorage’s mental health hospitals.

I should’ve taken the misplaced quotes as a sign. A stop sign. Instead, I twisted the arm of a male coworker and we headed off to the one hour lecture.

The presenter, a bubbly and  capable woman I know from other work venues, now works for our armed forces as an outreach manager.  The audience numbered close to one hundred; many of whom were interns, college students therapists, and other front-line workers in government service. It was an encouraging turn-out.

The presentation began with important definitions and facts, like

  1. Domestic violence is a pattern of  behaviors used intentionally for the purpose of controlling and intimidating the victim.
  2. It can happen to anyone, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic backgrounds, and race.
  3. Women experience domestic violence at a far greater rate than men. 

And this is where the presentation began to deteriorate. It appeared that the presenter squirmed with the last fact, and wanted to level the playing field. She alluded to the fact that the NFL’s problem with player Ray Rice beating his then-girlfriend was no more serious than soccer player Hope Solo’s assault against her sister and nephew (note: read writer Ta-Nehisis Coats piece in the Atlantic), and if a different group studied domestic violence, they may come up with different statistics.

Next, the presentation was peppered with slides about prevention. They ran the gamut from having good self esteem, practicing yoga,  to smiling more (yes, I said smiling) to taking time for yourself and not having violent posters in your office at work.

What?

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Does yoga prevent domestic violence? Does low-self esteem cause it? Can your smile prevent a problem that impacts one in four women in our country?

I think not.

I like smiling. I know that yoga has many, many benefits for a person’s physical and mental health. And no one should have violent posters in their office.

But it’s not just ignorant to perpetuate myths such as this, it is positively dangerous.

To suppose that a person’s participation in a positive event prevents domestic violence puts the responsibility of domestic violence back on the victim. If low self-esteem can be blamed for domestic violence, and what non-sociopath hasn’t suffered low self-esteem at some point?, where does that leave the perpetrator?

Off the hook. Again.

The causes of domestic violence are complex. Years of research tells us that it’s a learned behavior, often passed down as an unfortunate family tradition, transmitted from parents to children. Our violent culture is partly to blame, and every time we ask Why does she stay? we continue to hold only the victim accountable. Domestic violence isn’t caused by substance abuse, but is made worse by it. It’s also made worse by community educators who are more interested in amusing their audience that transforming them with the ugly truths.

I left the lecture with my mortified coworker,  and we both agreed we felt complicit to a crime by listening to the fluff.  I followed up with the presenter by phone, and told her I’d love to take her to coffee and share my concerns. She seemed receptive, but I haven’t heard back after my second call.

If I do get to spend time with her, I’ll tell her my story. I’ll tell her some of the stories of victims I’ve worked with over the decades. And I’ll refer her to writer Ta-Nehisi Coate’s op-ed on the topic that encapsulates the problem with short-sighted thinking so well:

“In the history of humanity, spouse-beating is a particularly odious tradition—one often employed by men looking to exert power over women. Just as lynching in America is not a phenomenon wholly confined to black people, spouse-beatings are not wholly confined to women. But in our actual history, women have largely been on the receiving end of spouse-beating. We have generally recognized this in our saner moments. There is a reason why we call it the “Violence Against Women Act” and not the “Brawling With Families Act.” That is because we recognize that violence against women is an insidious, and sometimes lethal, tradition that deserves a special place in our customs and laws.”

Do you know someone who is being abused?

Call 1-800-799-SAFE

Until  next time, namaste.

The conversation continues with the Ray Rice saga/Is it the perpetrator or the victim to blame for domestic violence?

What’s going on in your world?

I made an executive decision to cut back blogging to no less than twice monthly. Somewhere between work and home remodels, revision on an old project and the developing of a new one, I realized that something had to give.

NFL player Ray Rice

But in the past weeks, I couldn’t help but notice the conversations around me are again about domestic violence. With the Ray Rice and NFL controversy, it’s like the O.J. Simpson trial all over again.

In case you’re just now tuning in, the famous football player was arrested for beating his female partner, and was barely chastised by the NFL until the video of the assault was released. Now, the NFL is changing how their managing Ray Rice and other famous abusers. It’s the bad news/good news of what happens when a celebrity is involved in a social issue.

The bad news: Most of the people in my world are still focused on why Ray Rice’s girlfriend married him after he knocked the wind out of her rather than asking why a man would do that to the woman he loves. It’s  incredible that there’s a violent crime occurring to one in every three women worldwide, and we still have permission to blame the victims.

The good news is that the NFL is now doing damage control with a proactive way to deal with violence against women, expanding the role of  Jackson Katz, a violence prevention educator, who will use his curriculum to reach the new players which will trickle down to fans. “Millions of boys across the United States have big posters of football players on their wall,” says Katz. “You can bet that they know what’s going on here.”

Jackson Katz,
Jackson Katz,

So there is always hope. Jackson Katz has worked with the New England Patriot’s extensively, the one team I know of that has a demonstrated long-term commitment to end domestic violence. I know because in 1998, the New England Patriot’s honored me with their Regaining One’s Self-Esteem Award.  (Thanks, Patriots!)

In sweeter news, I loved reading about  one of my favorite blogger Alexis Grant’s method of finding her husband (below).

One night while I was feeling both frustrated (single at 30) and silly, I sent out this tweet:

Click on the  link to read more. It isn’t as risky as it sounds; Alexis met the man who was already in her circle of influence and knew some of her friends.

To see this image, enable images at the top of your email.It is possible for love and safety to meet.

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.

Weekend Roundup

How have you been filling your summer days?

I took an impromptu trip to Talkeetna, Alaska this weekend and stayed at a charming  youth hostel there.  I love the connections and conversations when I’m in a hostel, and caught up on reading and writing.

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House of Seven Trees in Talkeetna, Alaska

Here’s what caught my eye this weekend in the topics that matter to me:

Domestic violence

How to Save Your Kids from Future Abusive Relationships– author Lois M.Collins draws a correlation between children who are bullied or bossed later becoming susceptible to becoming victims.

“Parents should help children build “extreme self-esteem.” Kids who see themselves as capable and loved more often avoid abuse.

Conversations with children about bullies and bossy friends can reinforce the idea that people don’t get to control others.”

International Child Abduction

New legislation to help victim-parents recover their kidnapped children has passed handily in the Senate.

The “Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act,” designed to bolster the government’s ability to help parents rescue abducted children taken overseas, now goes to the House for approval.

(For those of you who don’t remember, David Goldman is the dad whose son was taken illegally to Brazil to live with his mother, who then subsequently died. Five years passed before David Goldman was able to reunite with his son.)

“As a parent, I cannot imagine the emotional toll of having a child abducted and taken abroad and feeling helpless to get your son or daughter back,” said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who introduced the bill with Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. “I encourage my colleagues in the House to act swiftly to protect our children.”

Author’s comment:  As a parent of internationally abducted children, I can’t imagine that the government’s efforts towards anything other than kidnapping prevention will be useful. The government isn’t smart enough, rich enough, or powerful enough to manage such a complex issue. My past experience taught me the more government inserted itself, the more problematic finding solutions became. Let’s hope I’m wrong.

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Reuniting with Lost Family Members

Always my favorite subject, I love this story about a brother and sister reuniting after 50 years.

Their recognition of each other was immediate as they walked toward each other with open arms. After a long embrace, Roger leaned back and looked at Susan.

“She’s the best thing I ever saw,” he said, planting a brotherly kiss on the top of her head. “She was always my girl.”

And today,  I listened to July’s podcast from the National Association of Memoir Writers (NAMW) Roundtable event about PubSlush, the crowd-funding site specifically for writers. It’s an interesting concept that, according to their website, combines “a global crowdfunding and analytics platform for the literary world.”

If you’re a writer, or thinking about starting to write, do consider a membership at the NAMW. I learn something new every month.  On the column to the right, you’ll find a link I have on my site. It was a great, yet modest investment!

Thanks for connecting with me.