This is our final How I See DV (#SeeDV) post to wrap up our 2013 Domestic Violence Awareness Month campaign. We are so grateful to everyone who participated and supported our efforts in October.
Today’s How I See DV perspective is written by Cora Harrington, the founder and chief editor of The Lingerie Addict. The Lingerie Addict is a fashion blog dedicated to lingerie, and has been featured on the websites for CNN, Vogue Italia, Forbes, and Time. Cora is a former domestic violence advocate, sexual assault crisis line worker, and family advocate for victims of violent crime. She currently lives and works in Seattle, WA.
In the last few decades, issues affecting health, and, in particular, women’s health, have taken center stage. From Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October to American Heart Month in February, people are talking more and more about ways to get healthy and stay healthy. That’s a wonderful thing, and I’m glad these conversations are happening. But there’s still one issue that is all too often ignored in the discussion about health…and that’s domestic violence.
While anyone of any gender can be affected by intimate partner violence, 85% of domestic violence victims are women, and 1 out of 3 women in the United States will experience domestic in her lifetime. For African American women and Native American women, those percentages are shockingly higher; almost 50% of Native American women have been beaten, raped, or stalked by their partners, and intimate partner homicide is one of the leading causes of death for African American women aged 15 to 35.
More women require medical attention for domestic violence than for rape, muggings, and accidents combined, and domestic violence during pregnancy is the #1 cause of maternal mortality (maternal deaths) in America. Imagine. If we had these kinds of numbers for any other disease – heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes – people would be protesting in the streets demanding an immediate solution. But since the issue is intimate partner violence (a “personal matter” or a “domestic dispute”), the response, all too often, is just more silence.
I’m not a medical professional or a first responder, so I don’t see domestic violence on the “front lines,” so to speak. Nor am I a Domestic Violence Advocate (though I used to be). So if you’re someone like me reading this, who has a job that has nothing to do with intimate partner violence or sexual assault or the healthcare field, how is thinking of domestic violence as a public health issue possibly relevant to you?
Because a public health perspective helps to give a framework for both understanding DV and for talking with and being supportive of survivors of DV.
Sometimes, when a victim of domestic violence attempts to confide in a friend, that friend is less than supportive. Often, victims of domestic violence are asked why they don’t “just leave,” and have to cope with people implying that enjoy or even like the violence because they’re still in the relationship. However, those kinds of statements would be unthinkable for any other health issue.
No one would ask a cancer patient if she liked having cancer because she needed time to explore treatment options, make a treatment plan, or because she chose to reject one treatment in favor of another. No one would tell a PTSD survivor that he enjoyed having PTSD because he took awhile to find a therapist, tried multiple therapists, or even stopped and started therapy more than once. No one would tell a stroke survivor that she must have enjoyed having a stroke because she was concerned about her physical limitations or because she had financial worries. So why are these assumptions okay for survivors of domestic violence, many of whom have been physically and verbally battered into physical and emotional injuries? They’re not.
I’m not saying survivors of domestic violence are sick or unwell. Nor am I encouraging others to adopt a patronizing attitude towards them. I just think it’s worth thinking of other ways to frame this problem…and its solutions. After all, you probably know someone who’s dealing with domestic violence right now.
We know that today is November 1, but really, shouldn’t every month be Domestic Violence Awareness Month? We have two more #SeeDV posts, including today’s thought-provoking piece from Tasha Amezcua and Ursula Campos-Johnson of the New York City Anti-Violence Project.
Julio was scared to call the police. Last time he called, they refused to take the report. His partner Jim’s violent tactics were escalating. Jim made Julio feel isolated and ashamed of being gay, often reminding him of how his family kicked him out. Julio couldn’t reach out to his friends for help because all of his friends were Jim’s friends, too. Jim told Julio he would kill him if he tried to leave. Julio called a few domestic violence shelters. Most turned him away because he was a man. Finally, after many calls he was accepted to a shelter that had very little experience sheltering LGBTQ survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV).
Once in shelter Julio began attending mandatory group counseling for shelter residents. The group’s theme was “women supporting women,” so he felt out of place. When he finally spoke up in group about the violence he experienced, the residents mocked him. He tried to make friends in the shelter, but was greeted with homophobic remarks by staff and fellow residents. Julio looked to his caseworker for support, but all she could offer was that he should practice empathy, since he and the residents have similar experiences. Despite the homophobia of the residents and staff, Julio continued to attend group because he really needed the support and the shelter, and it was nearly impossible for him, a young gay man, to find another DV shelter that would accept him.
The anti-violence movement, and society at large, often make assumptions about the identities of IPV survivors. The assumption is that women are victims of IPV and men are abusive partners. For Julio and many LGBTQ IPV survivors, these personal biases result in institutional barriers that can lead to a survivor disengaging with services, if they are even able to receive services in the first place. Without full access to safe IPV services, including shelters and counseling, an LGBTQ identified survivor may feel as unsafe in the shelter as in their abusive relationship. In accessing services like shelters, many LGBTQ survivors of IPV experience secondary trauma, by service providers, shelter staff, and other shelter residents, either through overt homophobia and transphobia, or through more subtle barriers to critical services, like women-only support groups or heteronormative intakes.
The stakes for LGBTQ IPV survivors are high. It’s often difficult to imagine the deadly reality of IPV in LGBTQ communities when we’ve been socialized to believe that all the victims are ciswomen (cis or cisgender is a term used to describe people who, for the most part, feel that their gender identity aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth. Cis is often used as a prefix, i.e. ciswoman) and all the abusive partners are men. So, here are the facts: IPV occurs within same sex relationships at the same rate as in heterosexual relationships, with a 25% to 33% prevalence rate. People of color, transgender, gender non-conforming people, and young people are disproportionately affected by IPV in LGBTQ relationships. The 2012 National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs Report on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and HIV-Affected Intimate Partner Violence found that people of color made up the majority (62.1%) of IPV survivors. Transgender survivors were two (2.0) times as likely to face threats/intimidation within violent relationships, and nearly two (1.8) times more likely to experience harassment within violent relationships. The 2012 report also found that youth and young adults were close to two times (1.8) as likely to face anti-LGBTQ bias in IPV tactics as compared to non-youth.
LGBTQ people are dying as a result of IPV at a higher rate than ever before. 2012 saw the highest recorded number of LGBTQ IPV homicides: 21 in 2012, 2 more than in 2011, and 15 more than in 2010. Nearly half of LGBTQ IPV murder victims last year were gay men.
Key to reaching and providing effective support services to all survivors of violence is understanding that IPV survivors can be queer, transgender or gender non-conforming, straight or gay men, lesbian or bisexual women, or gay, lesbian, bisexual, or heterosexual transgender people. The people who harm are as diverse in gender and sexual orientation as the survivors we serve.
At the New York City Anti Violence Project (AVP), we collaborate with many IPV/DV service providers who historically serve heterosexual cisgender women. Making the transition to all gender and sexual orientation inclusive can seem like a daunting task. To offer support, AVP coordinates the New York State LGBTQ Domestic Violence Network, in which AVP staff and other network members support each other toward a shared commitment to “work towards the inclusion of LGBTQ survivors of domestic and intimate partner violence, specifically regarding LGBTQ shelter access and inclusion.”
Expanding accessibility to services for LGBTQ survivors is only possible because of the legacy of the battered women’s movement, feminism, and the hard work of domestic violence service providers. This is where we came from. This legacy opened shelters, insisted on visibility, and increased safety for many women survivors. Now it’s time to broaden access to ALL survivors of intimate partner violence, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation. This is a call to action for all of us, but especially service providers, to shift our understanding of who can and does experience intimate partner violence. With the reauthorization of an LGBTQ inclusive VAWA, it is time that all DV service providers realize the deep impact IPV has on all people, including LGBTQ survivors and victims. Only when we can expand our understanding of who can be a victim or a survivor can we begin to expand our services, including shelter, to all survivors of intimate partner violence.
Please note that the National Domestic Violence Hotline works hard to find a solution for all of our callers. Please call us if you need support or help at 1-800-799-7233.
About Our Contributors
Ursula Campos-Johnson is a New York City native, mixed race Latina, and survivor of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV). Ursula has worked with LGBTQ survivors of violence for over five years. Ursula is dedicated to promoting social justice within and outside of systems for many marginalized communities, especially Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, HIV-affected (LGBTQH) survivors of IPV, and youth impacted by violence. Ursula has done this through program development, direct services, and training and education. As an Intimate Partner Violence Counselor Advocate at the New York City Anti-Violence Project (AVP), Ursula has created a unique support group model for LGBTQH survivors and victims of IPV and has lead an initiative at AVP to create a culturally competent IPV assessment model, inclusive of intersecting identities and free of assumptions around a binary understanding of gender identity. Ursula has provided workshops and trainings on intimate partner violence, sexual violence, hate violence and gender-based violence and their intersection with other forms of oppression, including poverty, sexism, heteronormativity, heteropatriarchy, and racism for service providers and community members. Ursula has presented at the Columbia School of Social Work, Columbia School of Nursing, CPS, the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter and has provided trainings to youth service providers at The Door, and Ali Forney Center. Ursula is currently an MSW candidate at Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College.
Tasha Amezcua, the Intimate Partner Violence & Sexual Violence Community Organizer in AVP’s Community Organizing and Public Advocacy department, supports coordination of statewide and local community organizing, public advocacy and policy programming related to LGBTQ intimate partner violence and sexual violence. Tasha develops and coordinates intimate partner violence and sexual violence programming and survivor-informed campaigns, conducts outreach to LGBTQ and HIV-affected communities in New York City, and develops the leadership of LGBTQ and HIV-affected community members and survivors to participate within organizing and advocacy campaigns. Tasha works to maintain and grow the work of the New York State LGBTQ Domestic Violence (DV) Network and provides technical assistance, training, and recruitment to the DV Network and serves as a liaison between AVP and the DV Network. She attended Columbia University, majoring in Women’s and Gender Studies, with a concentration in Queer Theories. Tasha, a femme-identified queer Chicana survivor of violence, is originally from Santa Ana, CA, but has called New York City her home away from home since 2003.
Today’s How I See DV perspective comes from Barbara Van Dahlen, named by TIME magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Dr. Van Dahlen is the founder and president of Give an Hour. A licensed clinical psychologist who has been practicing in the Washington, D.C., area for over 20 years, she received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Maryland in 1991. We’re excited to have her share her voice during our DVAM campaign.
Please help us understand what post traumatic stress is and how it differs from post traumatic stress disorder?
When a human being is traumatized, whether it’s due to combat, physical violence, natural disaster or something else, there are certain reactions that we expect people to have. Many of those are the symptoms that are now captured in the diagnosis of posttraumatic stress.
So if I’m in a car accident, we would expect that for quite some time I might be more jumpy, hyper-vigilant when pulling out of my driveway, I might have flashbacks of what happened, I might have bad dreams, I might get depressed… so all of these reactions are what we expect for the situation that I’m in following my accident. It only becomes a disorder if it doesn’t get resolved, if I don’t heal, if I don’t receive the support I need to address all of my understandable reactions and symptoms associated with this trauma.
What are some misconceptions around post-traumatic stress in the military and domestic violence?
Most people assume that PTS looks the same for everyone – many think of the Rambo version of PTS. That’s not the typical reaction at all. People who have experienced trauma, whether its due to combat or another event, can experience trauma differently from other folks who may have experienced the exact same event.
You might have two people who were in the same firefight — one person might become withdrawn and depressed, the other might become very anxious, agitated. A third person in the same fight might show no indication of stress – no interference with their functioning. People assume that PTS looks similar and in fact, the manifestation of PTS really varies. In addition it exists on a continuum. What it looks like today is not what it necessarily looked like six months ago and not what it will look like in six months.
Another misconception is that most soldiers/service members come home with PTS. That is not true either. Depending on the studies you look at — 18%, 20%, high is 35% depending on what we are assessing or measuring. Not everyone comes back with PTS.
Even if someone has PTS that doesn’t mean that they’re an ineffective partner, parent, employee, student. Many people function with the aftermath of trauma. There are some people with severe and possibly disabling PTS – but that’s not the case all of the time.
Also, domestic violence is not a symptom of PTS. That’s really important. PTS, especially when it’s very severe, might, in some people, make them more likely to be violent towards a partner if they’re already agitated and aggressive, if they’re not sleeping or if there’s substance abuse. PTS can be one unfortunate risk factor that may make violence more likely.
It depends on who the person is with PTS. We all carry around our predispositions, our tendencies, our personalities, our view of the world. And that will be compounded or affected by PTS. If someone was already a fairly controlling person, or tended to be hot-tempered but wasn’t ever violent before… if they become distressed and aggressive as a result of trauma, they may be more likely to engage in domestic violence.
Returning servicemen and women may experience PTS and exhibit violent behaviors when they didn’t before they left for duty. What do couples in this situation need to know?
PTS for both the person experiencing it and their partner can be very unnerving and scary because the person who has PTS may not know when a trigger may elicit a reaction, anxiety or aggression. So both partners need to come to understand what PTS is going to look like in themselves or their loved one. It doesn’t mean that the person cant be a good partner. It’s like being diagnosed with diabetes — if you don’t recognize what that means, if you don’t take it seriously, you can get yourself in serious trouble.
If the spouse/ partner reacts angrily to the PTS, because they’re hurt and miss the person they love and they’re angry that the person is having trouble sleeping, doesn’t seem to be the same, etc., it’s like throwing gasoline on the fire. The partner’s reaction can exacerbate a difficult and potentially volatile situation. It’s the same for the person experiencing PTS. I’ve heard soliders say that they learned to be aware of what triggered them and their reactions. They can also learn how to be more careful with their spouses – learn to be understanding of the feeling their spouses may have that are in reaction to the PTS. Couples can learn together – to decrease the risk of violence. But they have to work on it.
It’s important to take PTS seriously because under the wrong combination of circumstances, that can really lead to a very dangerous and very upsetting situation … especially if you add alcohol to one or both of the partners. A fight or anger that would normally dissipate with them going off to their own corners, may turn into something far more violent than it ever would have before.
And just because we can understand how/why the violence occurred, that doesn’t mean that we can – or ever should – tolerate it.
What are some behaviors that a person who experienced trauma might exhibit?
There are many ways a person might show that they are processing trauma, especially if they are a victim of domestic violence. Their self-esteem may deteriorate. You can see that both in what they say – they say negative comments about themselves, negative perceptions of themselves – and also how they take care of themselves or don’t. Their self-care will start to be affected, falter, fail. They’re not dressing the way they used to, with care. They’re not working out, they’re not eating healthy. Or maybe there’s substance abuse. So anything that is a self-care clue that somebody is suffering, we can often see those in people we care about and notice them.
We all go through ups and downs in our lives, but if you see people who don’t seem like themselves for extended periods of time, several days or weeks, it may be a reaction to trauma.
What are some myths around mental health and domestic violence?
One myth about mental health is that someone with mental illness is having mental illness makes you more likely to be violent. In fact, having a mental illness makes you more likely to be the victim of violence.
People with severe mental health issues, maybe schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, are more likely to be the victim of domestic violence because they are often less able to take care of themselves, they are more vulnerable, their thinking is not always as clear.
In addition, mental health issues place a person at risk in other ways. Someone who is severely depressed may be less likely to step out of or seek help to get out of a domestic abuse situation. They may get more entrenched, and feel like “I’m worthless” because low self-esteem is part of the depression, so they see abuse as confirmation of how they feel. Or if someone has severe depression and is prone to being abusive, they might be more likely to become violent because of their mental health issue.
Those conditions — depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse — they don’t create domestic violence, or victims. They’re just risk factors on both sides .
About Our Contributor
Concerned about the mental health implications of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Dr. Van Dahlen founded Give an Hour in 2005 to enlist mental health professionals to provide free services to U.S. troops, veterans, their loved ones, and their communities. Currently, the network has nearly 7,000 providers, who have collectively given over $9.4 million worth of services.
Dr. Van Dahlen, a featured speaker at the October 2012 TEDxMidAtlantic “Be Fearless” event, has joined numerous panels, conferences, and hearings on issues facing veterans and has participated in discussions at the Pentagon, Veterans Administration, White House, and Congress. She has become a notable expert on the psychological impact of war on troops and families and a thought leader in mobilizing civilian constituencies in support of active duty service members, veterans, and their families. Working with other nonprofit leaders, Dr. Van Dahlen developed the Community Blueprint Network, a national initiative and online tool to assist communities in more effectively and strategically supporting veterans and military families.
Dr. Van Dahlen and Give an Hour have received numerous awards, including selection as one of the five winners of the White House’s Joining Forces Community Challenge, sponsored by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden.