Money issues can limit a survivor’s ability to move past abuse. Sara Shoener, Research Director at the Center for Survivor Agency and Justice and our guest blogger, works to educate survivors on ways to recover financially from domestic violence. Today she shares her perspective on how abuse, money and freedom intersect.
Please tell us about the work that you do.
I am the Research Director for the Center for Survivor Agency and Justice, which is a national organization dedicated to enhancing advocacy for survivors of domestic violence. We bring together experts to provide training to advocates and attorneys, to organize communities and to offer leadership on addressing the critical issues domestic violence survivors are currently facing across the country.
Right now we are focusing on our Consumer Rights for Domestic Violence Survivors Initiative, where we are working with a group of inspiring consumer rights, anti-poverty, and domestic violence attorneys and advocates to develop some really ground-breaking projects, training, and written resources that focus on domestic violence survivors’ physical and economic security.
How do domestic violence and finances intersect?
Economic hardship and domestic violence exacerbate one another. Research shows that women living in poverty experience domestic violence at twice the rates of those who do not. Domestic violence increases financial insecurity, and in turn, poverty heightens one’s vulnerability to domestic violence. Batterers’ acts of sabotage and control can create economic instability that last long after the abuse has ended.
Domestic violence has been linked to a range of negative economic outcomes such as housing instability, fewer days of employment, job loss and difficulty finding employment. Correspondingly, poverty limits one’s options for achieving long-term safety.
Domestic violence survivors often rank material factors such as income, housing, transportation, and childcare as their biggest considerations when assessing their safety plans. Given the relationship between finances and domestic violence, it’s not surprising that research has often reported income to be one of (if not the) biggest predictors of domestic violence.
What does economic abuse look like?
It can look like a lot of things, but is generally thought of as batterers’ tactics to control their partners or ex-partners by restricting or sabotaging their access to material resources. Something we hear about a lot is abusers putting survivors’ names on bills or taking credit cards out in survivors’ names to drive them into debt and ruin their credit.
Employment sabotage, such as hiding a survivor’s car keys on the day of a job interview or stalking her or him at work, is also economic abuse. Batterers use institutions survivors often navigate to bolster their economic abuse, too. For example, an abuser might use the custody court system to require the mother of his children not to move out of the area, arguing that if she leaves he will not be able to see his children as easily.
Survivors who have received orders like this have been forced to give up economic opportunities in other places such as better jobs, affordable education, and rent sharing with family members. Other batterers continually file protection orders against their partners and ex-partners in order to force them to miss school or work to be present in court.
Domestic violence can create economic damage that endures long after an abusive relationship is over, too. Survivors often face damage to their credit reports, social networks, bodies, mental wellbeing and professional reputations that generate persistent economic loss. These negative economic impacts restrict survivor’s options and as increase their vulnerability to future harm.
What interested you in this work?
The short answer is that I recently spent many months on a research project where I had the opportunity to meet domestic violence survivors from different communities and interview them about their experiences seeking safety through institutions such as the court system, public housing and law enforcement.
What I heard from all types of people in all types of places was that they didn’t have the economic stability necessary to end the abuse they were experiencing. Sometimes that included huge ongoing expenses such as affording rent on one’s own. Other costs were more of a one-shot-deal, such as having to take time off work to go to court for a protection order.
The beginning of the longer answer is that the domestic violence survivors I have met are some of the strongest, smartest, kindest and most resilient people I will ever be lucky enough to know. Yet, they often face institutional barriers to safety rooted in social factors such as race, class and gender. Because of that, I find this work especially important and meaningful.
Please complete this sentence. I see DV ___________.
I see domestic violence as the outcome of economic, social, and political inequality.
About Our Contributor
Sara Shoener is the Research Director at the Center for Survivor Agency and Justice. She has been advocating for and conducting research on effective approaches to reduce violence against women for over 10 years. Sara’s love of qualitative research stems from the opportunity it grants to listen to and learn from women’s narratives. As a result, she has conducted numerous focus groups, surveys, needs assessments, program evaluations and in-depth interviews related to anti-violence projects. A Truman Scholar and American Association of University Women Dissertation Fellow, Ms. Shoener is a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, where she also obtained her MPH.
Today we’re very excited to have Denver Broncos Chris Harris, Jr. share his perspective on domestic violence and discuss how men and athletes can promote healthy relationships.
Domestic violence is an issue that affects everyone whether they know it or not. When you look at the statistics that approximately 1 in 4 women are affected, you know that all of us probably have at least one friend or family member being affected. In the past I think people have viewed domestic violence as a ‘women’s issue’ but I feel it is important for male role models to speak out and set a good example.
How do you define a healthy relationship for yourself?
I think in a healthy relationship there has to be love, support, respect and equality. If any of those aspects are missing you end up having a relationship that just doesn’t really work. Even though two people bring different things to a relationship, you have to respect the other person and realize that what they are bringing is equally important as what you are bringing.
Through your career, the Chris Harris Foundation and your work with Big Brothers Big Sisters, you’ve been such a role model to young boys. What do you hope to teach them about relationships?
I just think it is important for young men and boys to realize that relationships are a two-way street. If they are going to be involved with a woman, they should be bringing out the best in that person and vice versa. Relationships require give and take, so I want young men to realize that and be responsible for the roles they play in relationships. But all of this really comes back to respecting the person they are with and being a source of strength rather than an obstacle.
You’ve faced many challenges in your career. You were an undrafted free agent who worked his way to being named Denver’s Breakout Player of the Year and Overachiever of the Year in 2011. To accomplish this, you must have had a very strong mental game. How do you mentally overcome a bad, or “off” day?
I just try to stay focused on the positive. Whatever happens happens and nothing can really be gained from dwelling on the past. Obviously we all want to learn from our mistakes, but ultimately we have to stay focused on the challenges that lay ahead. I’ve been very blessed with the talents that I have, so at the end of the day I can be confident that those talents will carry me through even if I have a bad day.
An article once described you and your wife, Leah, as a “packaged deal.” What are some ways the two of you support each other?
We really are a team in every sense of the word. She is my biggest fan and supports me before and after every game with motivation, love and support. She also handles a lot of business that I am unable to handle due to my busy schedule during the season. She is also starting her own business right now so I am doing all that I can to support that via promoting it with social media and being someone she can talk to about any issues she is facing. Everyone can check out her work at MyTimelessImpression.com.
You were recently the spokesperson for the Domestic Violence Intervention Services program located in your hometown of Tulsa. What did you learn about domestic violence through that experience?
I learned a lot about the statistics of domestic violence and just how big of a problem it is. That experience also really helped me to think about what my role could be in stopping the problem. So much of the domestic violence is caused by attitudes ingrained in children at a young age. I think that if me and other male role models take a stand and teach kids a new way of thinking, we can make progress.
We know that men holding other men accountable for their actions and words makes a difference in promoting a culture of healthy relationships. How do you encourage your friends and teammates to be healthy in their dating behaviors?
I think the most important thing is just not to be the silent bystander. There are certain issues in our culture that if someone brings it up people are going to tell them they are wrong to think that way. Unfortunately the proper way to treat women or to participate in relationships has not always been one of those issues. We just have to change our thinking about that and make sure that if someone says something that is unacceptable that we call it out and hopefully they won’t be comfortable making those kinds of comments again.
Please finish this sentence. “I see domestic violence ______________________.
I see domestic violence as an issue that can be resolved if we can come together and change the way people think about it.
About Our Contributor
Denver Broncos Chris Harris, Jr. knows how to make an impact. A third-year cornerback, Harris has played 31 regular-season games in his first two NFL campaigns. While he began his professional career as an undrafted free agent, he finished his rookie season with glowing stats and was voted Denver’s All-Rookie Team, Breakout Player of the Year and Overachiever of the Year. Harris completed the 2012 season ranked 5th in the NFL in receiving yards allowed and holds the record for the longest interception return in Broncos history.
In addition to his on-the-field activities, Harris’ passions extend to helping others experience the same mentorship and opportunity he had growing up. In 2013, he launched the Chris Harris Jr. Foundation to support children of military families. Harris launched a Student Success Challenge, encouraging kids to get involved in school, fitness, community service and more. Harris also participates in Big Brothers Big Sisters, and helps with program initiatives and mentoring children.
What do you get when you add two motivated, compassionate college students, a mission to spread awareness about domestic violence and the open road? Peace Bound. Today Jeffery From and Emma Redden share their perspective of domestic violence after touring the U.S. and asking strangers, “Why is it important to support victims of domestic violence?”
Emma: The project was born out of the confluence of three things: our interest in the issue of domestic violence, our love and belief in the power of art, and our desire to have an adventure.
When we learned about the Davis Foundation 100 Projects for Peace grant, we designed a project that addressed the issue of abuse within an artistic framework. We decided to travel by car because it allowed us to reach very different parts of the country. This diversity was very important to the conception of the project because it enforced the idea of intersectional solidarity and support.
What was your goal for the project? Why did you choose to work with photos?
Jeffrey: Our project has many goals, but it is primarily to create a resource of accessible support for survivors of domestic violence in an effort to reduce feelings of isolation; to open dialogues among those who are unfamiliar with the issue; to spread general awareness throughout the country; and to demonstrate the national scale of both the issue itself and the solidarity that exists across the nation.
We chose to work with photographs because the visual nature of this medium makes our project both personal and accessible. Instead of statistics and academic essays about this issue, we wanted to create a visual resource that is understandable across age, race, creed, and socio-economic divisions. Moreover, we chose to use faces and handwriting so our portraits would reflect the intimate nature of both the issue and the support and solidarity the participants offer.
Where did you travel?
Emma: We began in Vermont and did a large loop through the South, up the West Coast and then back through the North. We passed through a total of 25 states and stopped at 12 major cities. The cities we spent a bit of time in included: Nashville, TN; Atlanta, GA; New Orleans, Louisiana; Austin, TX; Santa Fe, NM; Los Angeles, CA; San Francisco, CA; Boise, ID; Sioux Falls, SD; and Chicago, IL.
Jeffrey: Our process underwent an organic and necessary transformation throughout our trip. At the onset of our project, we approached randomly selected individuals, be it a woman at a flea market, or a man sitting in his truck, and presented them with our question (‘why is it important to support victims of domestic violence?’).
This first technique proved to alienating and startling for some. Therefore, we changed our methodology a bit and began canvassing on the street—but our results were still not what we wanted. People heard the words “domestic violence” and retreated.
Our breakthrough came with a simple rephrasing of our project. We began presenting Peace Bound as an “art project for peace,” and the results were amazing. The new phrasing made it clear to others that we didn’t want money, we weren’t branding passers-by as victims, and it invited an openness and creativity which allowed people to hear more than just the words “domestic violence.”
What did you discover as you met people and talked about domestic violence?
Emma: We discovered a few ubiquitous truths: domestic violence effects people’s lives across geographical, racial and socio-economic divides; there are wonderful and thoughtful people in all parts of this country who dedicate their lives to helping empower survivors; and lastly, there are people everywhere who believe in the possibility of changing the injustices in our society.
Our personal exposure to the prevalence of the issue was illuminated on one of the very first days when we walked up to two random women in a Flea Market in Virginia and they both shared with us that they were survivors. Complementary to that however, was the encouragement of our interactions with the public.
While there were people who did not want to engage with us at all, there were many strangers who took time of their day to show support for something they may, or may not necessarily be effected by. These interactions were very positive and a reassurance that despite all of the messages in our culture that promote and reinforce abuse, there are people who understand the implications and dangers, and are willing to stand against them.
How did people react when you asked them to talk about this subject?
Jeffrey: Sometimes we were greeted with (literal) open arms, and in other times people simply waved us off. Our subject matter is a difficult topic to present to strangers because, at the end of the day, domestic violence is a trying subject to investigate. Whether it’s because it’s too close to home, they think it is a “private issue” or they simply don’t want to think about such a heavy topic, it’s a hard thing to interject into someone’s day. Once we rephrased our project, however, people began opening up and approaching the topic with a new creativity.
You chose to use the subject’s actual handwriting over their photo. Why did you choose to go this route? What does it add to the photo?
Emma: In many ways our project is about identity; and the power of a community of people who offer to identify as allies. In light of this, handwriting is a way to reinforce and demonstrate identity. As each person’s face is different and unique, so is his or her handwriting. The handwriting adds an additional personal and intimate touch to a person’s statement.
What surprised you about your experience? Did this project change how you thought about domestic violence?
Jeffrey: It’s easy to divide our country by politics, race, creed, or socio-economics, but this project was a surprising reminder that before all of that, we’re just people—and most people are willing to help. Relying on strangers is a vulnerable place to be—and one we were not accustomed to—so to be received with such warmth was an amazing experience. I think the biggest things we took away were renewed understandings of our personal abilities to make change, and that people will surprise you, no matter who you think they might be or where you think they come from.
Emma: I will follow up with that. I had conceptions about what I thought parts of the United States were like, and what the people were like who lived there based off the media, stereotypes, politics and stories; and these conceptions created barriers for me. Our trip challenged that notion constantly—which surprised me. Everywhere we went people had similar stories about pain and heartbreak but also about strength and resilience. The trip ignited a sense of shared humanity. This is something I carry with me everyday.
Is there an image you’ve created that really touches you?
Emma: My favorite image is of a young man we met in New Orleans. He answered our crux question with “So they can love again, find peace again, be whole again.” When I took his photograph he crossed his tattooed arms across his chest and embraced himself, without prompt. The combination of this body language, his gender, and his hopeful statement created an image that I think is very powerful. He is a man giving tender optimism to a survivor’s future.
Jeffrey: “because we are human.” The simplicity of the statement and image blows me away. It extends beyond race or creed or gender or politics or socio-economics or what have you and reminds us that, at our most basic level, the human level, we are all connected, we are all affected, and we are all responsible for one and other. And in that same token, as humans, we cannot do this to others or stand by and let it happen. The woman in the photo is 20 year old, and she wrote it with a smile on her face like it was an obvious truth.
What were some challenges you faced with this project?
Emma: One of the biggest challenges was figuring out how to conduct the project in a way that was empowering and not isolating for anyone who participated. There is one moment that really stands out to me that illustrates this. At the beginning of the trip, we weren’t in places where it would make sense to stand on the street and talk to everyone who walked by, so we decided we would just start to ask people we came in contact with—where ever that may be.
There was a moment when we were at a fireworks store in Tennessee, and there were a couple women working inside and they were alone so I walked in, and explained the project and asked if they would be interested in participating. I thought I had been clear that we weren’t trying to seek out victims, and I wasn’t identifying one of these women as a victim by trying to talk to her – she was just someone who possibly could have some insight about our topic. If she was a victim or not, it didn’t matter; she still might have opinions and feelings about why it’s important to support victims.
But her reaction made me feel like I had hurt her and that domestic abuse was something that touched her life closely. I think hearing the words ‘victim’ and ‘domestic violence’ were painful enough so that the rest of what I said was no longer relevant—regardless of my intention. This experience made us rethink the way we approached the project. In casual, public settings, it had to be clear that we were approaching everyone who was around and we weren’t singling anyone out. Our intention for the project was to create and reinforce feelings of solidarity—so needless to say, if our process was in anyway making people feel singled out or isolate—we were doing something wrong.
Emma: Our next step is to publish the portraits into a book. At the moment, the book is a few weeks away from being ready to send to the printer. Once we have the books, we will distribute the majority of the 100 we print to different service centers and agencies around the country that we have relationships with; and then we hope to sell the remaining books to help fund the printing of another batch. Due to unfortunately pervasiveness of the issue, our project doesn’t have an expiration to its relevancy. Therefore, once the book is printed, we will use as many outlets and resources as we can to try to get the book in the hands of as many people as possible. We have plans to present our work at a statewide conference in the spring and have some contacts we hope to follow up with in terms of gaining publicity.
Jeffrey: Additionally, we will keep our website peacebound.wordpress.com as a permanent resource on the Internet. Peace Bound has the potential to benefit countless individuals; whether a survivor who finds the book in a local shelter, a family member who does not know how to support their struggling loved one, an advocate who feels weighed down by the gravity of their work, or simply someone who does not know how effected they are by this issue. The project blog already broke 11,000 hits from over 40 countries, and continues to spread.
We hope that Peace Bound’s visual emphasis makes it’s messages accessible and powerful. The simple fact that it is a tangible collection of voices speaking out against an issue too often swept beneath the carpet of “private issues” makes it a permanent resource for support, solidarity, and hope. Although approaches to challenging domestic violence will surely evolve over time, as long as this website and book remain available to the public, they will continue to spread this project’s messages of peace.
Jeffrey: I see domestic violence as an epidemic that we can only cure as a community.
Emma: I see domestic violence everywhere.