It’s the end of October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
I 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.
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.
“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 titledAmerican Rouletteindicated 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.
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.
It’s that time of year again. October. Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
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
Domestic violence is a pattern of behaviors used intentionally for the purpose of controlling and intimidating the victim.
It can happen to anyone, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic backgrounds, and race.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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 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.
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
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.
Here’s what caught my eye this weekend in the topics that matter to me:
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.
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!
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.
For 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.
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.
Ever wish you could know where your child is, all the time? Using GPS in real time, this app helps you keep track of and automatically locate where your child goes with his phone. If he’s traveling alone, you can confirm that he arrived at a specific destination, or if he’s meeting up with friends, they can confirm each other’s locations. Location info is never shared with anyone else beyond those who have permission to see it, and data is saved for later review. Even though the app is free, parents will need to purchase a subscription for the tracking feature.
Now, imagine that you are a person convinced that your partner is cheating on you. Or that you’re a jilted lover who cannot get the other out of your mind, and might wish to confront him or her alone?
The same apps marketed for parents can be used to fuel your obsession.
How creepy is this?
In response, Franken has proposed the Location Privacy Protection Act of 2014, and tells about a domestic violence victim who was at the court house seeking an order of protection, only to receive a text from her abuser asking why she was in court.
If the bill is approved, it would be a violation for a person to install the app without the permission of the phone owner, and the app company would also be in violation.
The tracking apps have been installed secretly not just by perpetrators of domestic violence, but by first-time dates who’ve been granted access to their date’s smart phone.
The way I see it, there are two takeaways.
1)Password protect your smart phone and don’t grant others access to it. Don’t leave it unattended on a first date any more than you’d leave a drink unattended.
2) Al Franken is as clever a senator as he was on Saturday Night Live as Stuart Smalley.
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?
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 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 according to reports, the Pistorius/Steenkamp union had some classic markers of an abusive relationship.
Like many relationships that turn violent, theirs began with quick involvement.
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.
Quick involvement, control tactics, and elements of jealousy are common in abusive relationships. The behaviors typically increase over time and lead to physical aggression.
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.