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I See DV As Complex, Even For Celebrities

Today’s How I See DV perspective is by writer Alex Iwashyna who blogs at LateEnough.com. Late Enough is a humor blog, except when it’s serious. Alex is a freelance writer, poet and media consultant who writes about about her life intermixed with important ramblings on her husband fighting zombies, awkward attempts at friendship, her kids outsmarting her, and dancing like everyone is watching. We are very excited that she lent her voice — and support — to our campaign. 

blog-posters-alexCelebrities seem to have it all — fame, fortune, the ability to get a book published that is poorly written and yet makes the best-seller list – not to mention the chefs, personal trainers and trips to exotic locales.

They are paid to look and act certain ways at certain times so I don’t mind the commentary on their dresses and hair and ability to act or sing. But I draw the line at holding celebrities to higher standards when it comes to domestic violence. I don’t think being famous gives people magical powers to escape abusive relationships quicker because, while they may have the financial means to leave, abuse is not a basic socio-economic problem. The women and men in these relationships are human beings who are going to respond like abused partners.

Take Rihanna and Chris Brown’s relationship. Almost everyone supported Rihanna when she left Chris Brown after the abuse went public, but when she forgave him and went back to spending time with him, people were mean and angry and ignorant. Ignorant because it takes seven times ON AVERAGE for a woman to leave her abusive partner. Maybe she could’ve been an anomaly and left the first time around, but she’s not. That doesn’t make her a bad role model. That makes her not yet even average. And the public’s reaction to this — the vitriol, the hate — makes it even harder for people to leave again. We set people up to not want to admit the abuse is happening again, to not be willing to seek help. Being kind, thoughtful and understanding is not condoning abusive behavior. Plus, what does an I told you so attitude even achieve?

Another very common reaction to abuse is to normalize it. “He’s just trying to make me better.” “I egged him on.” We rationalize because the truth that someone I love is also hurting me can be difficult to process or understand. “Real Housewife” Melissa Gorga recently wrote a book about her marriage, Love Italian Style. I have only read excerpts, but I noticed warning signs of an unhealthy relationship.

Men, I know you think your woman isn’t the type who wants to be taken. But trust me, she is. Every girl wants to get her hair pulled once in a while. If your wife says “no,” turn her around, and rip her clothes off. She wants to be dominated. (an excerpt from her book, which is a quote of her husband ignoring consent. More quotes can be found on Jezebel)

In the book, she also shares how she is not allowed to go on overnight trips, get a job or say no to sex more than once a day. Most of the public response to her book is how terrible and gross and awful they are as a couple and she is for writing this as an advice book. But, setting her husband aside, Melissa Gorga is just human. She may have more reach than the average person but that does not make her immune to a very human reaction to unhealthy behaviors: normalizing it so she can survive. Instead of demonizing her, we can react by saying, “If your relationship looks like this, know that it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are places to find help.”

These same relationships are happening every day to people we know. Nearly 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men experience abuse over their lifetime. While I would never want anyone to go through domestic violence, seeing complex relationships play out in celebrities’ lives could help us comprehend our own experiences or to be more understanding of our friends and neighbors in similar situations. Will those we care about read how disgusted we are with people being abused or see someone they can turn to and trust to not be judged?

About Our Contributor

Alex Iwashyna holds a medical degree and a political philosophy degree and became a writer, poet and stay-at-home mom with them. She uses her unique perspective on her blog, LateEnough.com, to write funny, serious, and always true stories about life, parenting, marriage, culture, religion, and politics. She has a muse of a husband, two young kids and a readership that gives her hope for humanity. While Alex believes Domestic Violence Awareness Month is every month, she’s grateful to be participating in How I #SeeDV this October.

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

Did You See Last Night’s Law & Order SVU? Thoughts?

Last night’s Law and Order SVU told a familiar story — one of a young pop princess being brutally beaten by her baby-faced singer boyfriend. It was very similar to Rihanna and Chris Brown’s experiences, including the same triggers that set off the fight, his controversial tattoo and the public tweeting between the couple. It was an emotional episode that ended tragically — the young star is slain by her boyfriend after they get back together.

Here are some thoughts around last night’s episode:

Victim-Blaming Worsens the Situation

It was heartbreaking to watch the young pop icon named “Micha” in the episode attempt to recover in the days following the abuse.  She had just been betrayed by her best friend and partner, “Caleb,” she was physically hurting and she alone had to decide what to do next. In the midst of all of this, former fans and Caleb supporters were slamming her on Twitter saying that she was a “hoe,” that she should take him back, etc. A neighbor even told police, “She shouldn’t have dissed him.”

Take-Away: This was a powerful reminder of the difficulties facing a victim days after an instance of abuse. We should never judge or blame the victim for what has happened. No one wants or asks to be abused. Abuse is never justified. Let’s make sure that we always take an open-minded and supportive approach towards the victims in our life, and never tell them what they should do but rather be there for them as they heal.

Labels and How Abuse Changes Self-Perception

One of the most jolting lines in the show was Micha saying, “I don’t want the world to see me like that — like a victim.” In the episode, Micha’s brand managers talk with the detectives about what Micha should do in order to protect her public image. The scene also hinted at an internal struggle. It seemed that Micha didn’t like how her own self-perception had twisted as a result of what happened. One of the characters said, “He breaks the law and she gets punished?” Micha’s “punishment” wasn’t confined to her injuries, but rather her self-esteem and understanding of the world was changed as a result of Caleb’s violence.

Take Away: Victims are not only victims. They’re mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, teachers, jokesters, romantics, artists, you name it. Too often in news stories or TV dramas, the victim isn’t adequately described outside of the violent situation. If you are being abused now or have survived, know that your experience isn’t all that you are. It’s a part of your story, but know that you are still a whole person. If you’re struggling in how you feel about yourself as a result of abuse, we have advocates on the lines 24/7 who are here to talk.

Is Anything “Inevitable” In Abuse?

The episode ended on a jaw-dropper. Micha and Caleb publicly announce they are back together. When asked what the detectives should do next, Detective Benson replies, “We wait for the inevitable.” Cut to Micha and Caleb on a boat, seemingly happy until Caleb receives a text message from another girl. A fight ensues, and in the next scene a TV report broadcasts that the young singer’s body was found.

Take Away: The sad ending to the show seemed to insinuate that death always follows abuse. While it is true that abused women are five times more likely to be killed if their abuser owns a firearm, we do want to point out that nothing is “inevitable” when it comes to someone’s situation. Advocates on The Hotline can help assess for potential risk. We are always concerned about our callers’ safety and can help anyone see how much danger is present. If you or someone you know is being abused and there are weapons present, please call The Hotline to safety plan around staying safe with those in the house.

What did you think of last night’s episode? Did anything stand out to you?

(photo credit: nbc.com)

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

What Did You Think of Pink’s AMA Performance?

The musical artist Pink has recieved a lot of attention for her Sunday night performance of the song “Try” at the American Music Awards. Her performance was modeled after the music video for “Try” where she and a male dancer depict an unhealthy relationship.

It is an incredible performance, but it’s not hard to see that Pink and her partner are smashing glass, pulling hair and strangling, pushing and kicking each other. The couple is even surrounded by flames.

Watch it here:

We asked a few of our advocates to chime in with what they thought of Pink’s performance. Does it promote violence or does it encourage awareness of unhealthy relationships? Is it helpful or harmful for those experiencing abuse? Does this help us become more honest about relationships?

Here’s what our advocates had to say. Please let us know what you thought of Pink’s performance in the comments below.

Truthfully, the video make me nervous because we work with people who are hurt, but I also see this as a great opportunity to learn and talk about dating violence and domestic violence. Anything that brings it out into the public sphere is good — we need to bring the reality of domestic violence out of the dark.
-Liz

I was surprised to see how aggressive the dancing interactions were between Pink and the male dancer. It felt uncomfortable to watch; like it was artful dance at points, but punctuated by aggressive hair pulls and pushing.

I think there are a lot of ways that violence is promoted in media, and for those not involved in the domestic violence field, this performance may not have been that alarming. It may have just been seen as a passionate dance between two people, punctuated by aggression and lyrics that say just “try try try.” But try to what? Make things work? This almost reminded me of that Eminem and Rihanna video where the song had really alarming lyrics. It could spark conversation but I don’t know if in the same way.
-Mary

I watched the video, and while it was a very skillful performance, I think what it says about relationships is a little sloppy.

If you look just at the dance performance itself, it reminds you of what you need for a relationship to work. You need shared responsibility, trust, support, and communication. In order for Pink’s performance to be so strong, she needed all that from her dance partner. For a relationship to work and flourish, we need those key ingredients as well.

The underlying message of the song “Try” seems to be that you need to keep trying in a relationship, even if it hurts you or your partner. The reality is that relationships should not be painful. When dancers feel pain, they don’t continue to do the same thing, because they recognize that they will become permanently injured. Similarly, if even one thing about your relationship makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, you can call our Hotline to talk about it.

We all deserve to feel safe and supported by our partners, whether we’re dancing or just watching Pink dance on TV.
-Advocate


This performance covers many aspects in a relationship. You are able to see how the passion in a bad relationship may be the thing that keeps someone from walking away and giving up. This performance is good in that people who just say, “You should leave him” don’t understand that there are times when it’s not abusive. Often when deciding to leave, the victim is not just looking at the abuse. They might be looking at the person they are losing and what they have been through with them. I think Pink’s performance demonstrates this feeling.

For me, the 2:05 point in the video is the most powerful part. He tries to leave through the door and is confronted by the uncertainty and the danger of being alone in the flames that are outside. Then Pink looks in the mirror and does not like what she sees in herself and her behavior (after picking him up by the hair). She is frustrated and angry about who she has become and is also met by flames. In the end, they both turn back into one another.

This just shows how hard it is for someone to leave an abusive relationship, but also for the person who has hurt someone to change. And in the end, we have to look back at what we are with the person and have to decide what we want to be.

I believe that this is art and is not promoting violence. It allows people to see the range of what goes on in relationships, both for men and women, and as both the aggressor and the victim.
-Brian

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

Domestic Violence Depicted in Summer Music Elicits Strong Response

Popular rapper Eminem and the musical group Odd Future both made headlines this week, spurring debates over the portrayal of domestic violence in the media, specifically through lyrics and music videos.

Music Video Prompts Worry

Eminem released the video for his latest single, “Space Bound,” online June 27.  The video takes the viewer through the escalation of anger into violence and eventually murder as Eminem copes with discovering that his girlfriend cheated on him. Having realized what he’s done, Eminem commits a graphic suicide at the end of the video.

The new single also presents aggressive, violent lyrics including, “I’m trying to stop you from breathing/I put both hands on your throat […]’ til I snap your neck like a Popsicle stick.” The violent imagery and lyrics have prompted outcry from Mothers Against Violence, a British nonprofit, who have called publicly declared the rapper “evil” and “selfish.”

The song’s producer Jim Jonsin defended the video to the press. “People kill themselves, people get killed, they kill other people,” Jonsin clarified to MTV News. “When my kids watch it, I like to explain to them in that manner: ‘It’s like a movie, ya know? He isn’t really killing himself.’”

Eminem has earned negative press before with his previous portrayals of domestic violence. The video for the 2010 hit song “Love the Way You Lie,” in which Eminem collaborated with Rihanna, featured a similarly hostile and abusive relationship between Dominic Monaghan and costar Megan Fox.

Festival Selection Mobilizes Chicago Activists

Pitchfork released the line-up of their summer music festival on June 22th, which includes controversial California-based indie rap group Odd Future. Odd Future has been condemned by several anti-domestic violence and LGBTQ groups, especially since the release of frontman Tyler the Creator’s crude album Goblin earlier this year. With lyrics deemed too vulgar for The Late Show and multiple Twitter feuds with various musicians, Odd Future has garnered a lot of criticism.

Pitchfork’s endorsement of Odd Future has empowered Chicago-based domestic violence groups to voice their concerns. Between Friends, a domestic violence agency providing counseling, court advocacy, prevention and education efforts, has announced that they will be present at Pitchfork Festival to provide another perspective to concertgoers about the content of Odd Future’s music.

Between Friends issued a statement (full message available here) regarding their July 17th protest intentions. “While we don’t agree with this, it is their art, and we’d like to offer a counterpoint and continue to help people that are being affected by the violence they describe.”

Between Friends has printed 5,000 cardboard hand fans featuring educational information about domestic violence and resources to get help. The group described their goal as the following. “The result will be a sea of fans cooling down concertgoers while, hopefully, getting them discussing the issue and knowing where to turn for help.”

National Domestic Violence Hotline Awareness

What Makes Someone Speak Out Against Domestic Violence?

Have you often wondered what makes a person speak out against domestic violence? Is it because they themselves or a family member were abused by an intimate partner? Or did they see the injustice that the abused face and want to speak out to offer support and help?

Out of the 17 members on our 15th Anniversary Honorary Committee, eight were either abused themselves or they had a family member who was abused in a relationship. The other nine were moved through events in their careers and by people in their lives who have helped them see the glaring threat that domestic violence poses to our families.

There are many ways someone can use their voice against domestic violence. Many individuals have started blogs to get information out on exactly what domestic violence is, and to supply resources for those needing help. Some bloggers are survivors of domestic violence and want to tell their story in hopes of reaching someone who is going through the same situation.

Others, like members of The Hotline’s 15th Anniversary Honorary Committee, have created public service announcements to spread awareness on the issue.

Quite a few musical artists have used their talents to express their feelings, whether through writing songs about domestic violence or using music videos to reach people. Two local musicians who are using their voices on behalf of victims are AJ Vallejo of the Austin-based band Vallejo and Jacob Gonzales. They produced an acoustic version of Rihanna’s song, “Umbrella” for SafePlace in Austin. The cover is a stirring rendition and contains statistics and pictures in the video that highlight the facts of domestic violence. Through their music, AJ and Jacob want to ensure that people know how prevalent domestic violence is in our country and that there is help for those who need it.

Another group who is using their talents to bring awareness to domestic violence is Y&R Chicago, a creative firm that aims to bring attention to worthy causes. This group expressed their admiration for The Hotline, and independently created “It Rarely Stops,” a PSA with haunting imagery, to bring to light the cyclical nature of domestic violence. The video includes the moving lyrics of “Mercy Street” performed by Peter Gabriel, who donated the rights to the music for the use of the video. Y&R feels the silence of the victim, her voicelessness, is the very thing that makes the spot powerful – and therefore speaks so loudly to its audience.

The Celtic-rock band Apsylon has been supporting The Hotline by donating proceeds from the download of their debut album, “Dreaming of Yesterday,” to The Hotline and loveisrespect. They were also inspired by our 15th Anniversary Love Is campaign to produce a PSA for the campaign.

However you choose to use your skills to help those being abused, we thank you and applaud your efforts to make sure everyone knows help is available and that they are not alone. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is confidential and anonymous and takes calls 24 hours a day, 365 days a year at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).

 

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

After Years of Abuse, No More Drama

The following blog entry was written by Hotline National Advisory Board Member Sil Lai Abrams.

It seems strange to say this now, but as a child I didn’t know that I was growing up in an abusive home, or that there was specific legal term for my father’s behavior:  battering.  The only thing I did know was that living with my parents was incredibly isolating and painful and I made it my mission to get as far away from them as much and as soon possible.  I began running away from home during my sophomore (and final) year in high school.  This went on for a couple of years until I became of legal age and the day after my 18th birthday, jumped on a one-way flight to New York City armed only with two suitcases, $200 and the dream of a better life.

Like many who grow up in dysfunctional environments, I swore that I would never have a relationship like the one my parents had with each other.  And like many adult survivors of abusive homes, in spite of my most fervent wishes, I found myself in a relationship when I was in my early twenties that was eerily similar to my parents’.  On the surface my boyfriend was nothing like my father.  He was charming, didn’t drink or think housecleaning was women’s work and enjoyed being a hands on dad to my son from a previous relationship and the daughter we had together.  He was also, as I discovered soon into our relationship, very controlling and jealous.  The emotional and verbal abuse which dominated the first year of our relationship escalated to physical violence while I was pregnant with his child and only ended after he was arrested several times and ordered to stay away from me by a judge.

I stayed with him for all the wrong reasons and told myself that he would change.  In fact, he did change but it wasn’t for the better.  For five long years I weathered his abuse until I received counseling and support from a local organization that worked with victims of crime and violence called Safe Horizon.  Their support empowered me to permanently leave our relationship and begin the process of healing and rebuilding my life.  I am happy to say that in the years since, I have created a life for myself and children that is beyond my wildest dreams, a life that includes intimate relationships that are loving, supportive and free from violence.

When I left my batterer I told myself that if I ever was in a position where I could be of support to other women who have experienced intimate partner violence that I would try in some way to help.  When my book No More Drama: Nine Simple Steps to Transforming a Breakdown into a Breakthrough was published in 2007 I was given the opportunity do so by sharing the nine-step self-help method outlined in my book and my personal testimony of overcoming violence as tools to motivate women living in domestic violence shelters. Additionally, my role as relationship expert for Men’s Fitness provides me with a national media platform to discuss various relationship issues, including domestic violence, which has led to various speaking and media appearances.  It was at a taping for Good Morning America last fall that I met former Hotline CEO Sheryl Cates.  We were both on a panel discussing the Chris Brown/Rihanna incident which generated a huge amount of media attention for the issue of teen dating violence.  Sheryl and I had an instant connection and when she asked me to join the National Advisory Board a few months later I didn’t hesitate to accept.

It is truly an honor to be a part of the National Advisory Board for the National Domestic Violence Hotline, an organization that has done a tremendous amount of work over the past 15 years to help victims of domestic violence.  Although it has been 13 years since I left my abuser, I will never forget what it was like to live with the constant threat of violence over my head. I am humbled to be able to serve those whose lives have been affected by domestic violence and it is my hope that the efforts of those of us in the anti-domestic violence movement will in time stamp out one of the greatest threats to the health and well being of our families and communities.

Sil Lai Abrams
Writer, Inspirational Speaker, Empowerment Specialist
Men’s Fitness magazine relationship expert
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Rihanna/Chris Brown: Ending Violence Against Women and Girls

The following blog entry was written by Kevin Powell who is a writer, activist, and author or editor of nine books. His 10th book, Open Letters To America, will be published in October 2009. Open Letters To America includes the essay “Open Letter to An American Woman,” a long meditation on domestic violence, female resiliency in the face of sexism and marginalization, and women’s leadership. A native of Jersey City, NJ, Kevin is a long-time resident of Brooklyn, NY, where he ran for Congress in 2008. He can be reached at contact@kevinpowell.net, or you can visit his website, www.kevinpowell.net

Rihanna/Chris Brown: Ending Violence Against Women and Girls (The Remix)

Writer’s note:
Given all the hype and controversy around Chris Brown’s beating of Rihanna, I feel compelled to post this essay I originally wrote in late 2007, so that some of us can have an honest jump off point to discuss male violence against females, to discuss the need for ownership of past pains and traumas, to discuss the critical importance of therapy and healing. Let us pray for Rihanna, first and foremost, because no one deserves to be beaten, or beaten up. No one. And let us also pray that Chris Brown gets the help he needs by way of long-term counseling and alternative definitions of manhood rooted in nonviolence, real love, and, alas, real peace. And let us not forget that Rihanna and Chris Brown happen to be major pop stars, hence all the media coverage, blogs, etc. Violence against women and girls happen every single day on this planet without any notice from most of us. Until we begin to address that hard fact, until we all, males and females alike, make a commitment to ending the conditions that create that destructive behavior in the first place, it will not end any time soon. There will be more Rihannas and more Chris Browns.

In my recent travels and political and community work and speeches around the country, it became so very obvious that many American males are unaware of the monumental problems of domestic violence and sexual assault, against women and girls, in our nation. This seems as good a time as any to address this urgent and overlooked issue. Why is it that so few of us actually think about violence against women and girls, or think that it’s our problem? Why do we go on believing it’s all good, even as our sisters, our mothers, and our daughters suffer and a growing number of us participate in the brutality of berating, beating, or killing our female counterparts?

All you have to do is scan the local newspapers or ask the right questions of your circle of friends, neighbors, or co-workers on a regular basis, and you’ll see and hear similar stories coming up again and again. There’s the horribly tragic case of Megan Williams, a 20-year-old West Virginia woman, who was kidnapped for several days. The woman’s captors forced her to eat rat droppings, choked her with a cable cord and stabbed her in the leg while calling her, a Black female, a racial slur, according to criminal complaints. They also poured hot water over her, made her drink from a toilet, and beat and sexually assaulted her during a span of about a week, the documents say. There’s the woman I knew, in Atlanta, Georgia, whose enraged husband pummeled her at home, stalked her at work and, finally, in a fit of fury, stabbed her to death as her six-year-old son watched in horror. There’s the woman from Minnesota, who showed up at a national male conference I organized a few months back with her two sons. She had heard about the conference through the media, and was essentially using the conference as a safe space away from her husband of fifteen years who, she said, savagely assaulted her throughout the entire marriage. The beatings were so bad, she said, both in front of her two boys and when she was alone with her husband that she had come to believe it was just a matter of time before her husband would end her life. She came to the conference out of desperation, because she felt all her pleas for help had fallen on deaf ears.

There’s my friend from Brooklyn, New York who knew, even as a little boy, that his father was hurting his mother, but the grim reality of the situation did not hit home for him until, while playing in a courtyard beneath his housing development, he saw his mother thrown from their apartment window by his father. There’s my other friend from Indiana who grew up watching his father viciously kick his mother with his work boots, time and again, all the while angrily proclaiming that he was the man of the house, and that she needed to obey his orders.

Perhaps the most traumatic tale for me these past few years was the vile murder of Shani Baraka and her partner Rayshon Holmes in the summer of 2003. Shani, the daughter of eminent Newark, New Jersey poets and activists Amiri and Amina Baraka, had been living with her oldest sister, Wanda, part-time. Wanda was married to a man who was mad abusive—he was foul, vicious, dangerous. And it should be added that this man was “a community organizer.” Wanda tried, on a number of occasions, to get away from this man. She called the police several times, sought protection and a restraining order. But even after Wanda’s estranged husband had finally moved out, and after a restraining order was in place, he came back to terrorize his wife—twice. One time he threatened to kill her. Another time he tried to demolish the pool in the backyard, and Wanda’s car. The Baraka parents were understandably worried. Their oldest daughter was living as a victim of perpetual domestic violence, and their youngest daughter, a teacher, a girls’ basketball coach, and a role model for scores of inner city youth, was living under the same roof. Shani was warned, several times, to pack up her belongings and get away from that situation. Finally, Shani and Rayshon went, one sweltering August day, to retrieve the remainder of Shani’s possessions. Shani’s oldest sister was out of town, and it remains unclear, even now, if the estranged husband had already been there at his former home, forcibly, or if he had arrived after Shani and Rayshon. No matter. This much is true: he hated his wife Wanda and he hated Shani for being Wanda’s sister, and he hated Shani and Rayshon for being two women in love, for being lesbians. His revolver blew Shani away immediately. Dead. Next, there was an apparent struggle between Rayshon and this man. She was battered and bruised, then blown away as well. Gone. Just like that. Because I have known the Baraka family for years, this double murder was especially difficult to handle. It was the saddest funeral I have ever attended in my life. Two tiny women in two tiny caskets. I howled so hard and long that I doubled over in pain in the church pew and nearly fell to the floor beneath the pew in front of me.

Violence against women and girls knows no race, no color, no class background, no religion. It may be the husband or the fiancé, the grandfather or the father, the boyfriend or the lover, the son or the nephew, the neighbor or the co-worker. I cannot begin to tell you how many women—from preteens to senior citizens and multiple ages in between—have told me of their battering at the hands of a male, usually someone they knew very well, or what is commonly referred to as an intimate partner. Why have these women and girls shared these experiences with me, a man? I feel it is because, through the years, I have been brutally honest, in my writings and speeches and workshops, in admitting that the sort of abusive male they are describing, the type of man they are fleeing, the kind of man they’ve been getting those restraining orders against—was once me. Between the years 1987 and 1991 I was a very different kind of person, a very different kind of male. During that time frame I assaulted and or threatened four different young women. I was one of those typical American males: hyper-masculine, overly competitive, and drenched in the belief system that I could talk to women any way I felt, treat women any way I felt, with no repercussions whatsoever. As I sought therapy during and especially after that period, I came to realize that I and other males in this country treated women and girls in this dehumanizing way because somewhere along our journey we were told we could. It may have been in our households; it may have been on our block or in our neighborhoods; it may have been the numerous times these actions were reinforced for us in our favorite music, our favorite television programs, or our favorite films.

All these years later I feel, very strongly, that violence against women and girls is not going to end until we men and boys become active participants in the fight against such behavior. I recall those early years of feeling clueless when confronted—by both women and men—about my actions. This past life was brought back to me very recently when I met with a political associate who reminded me that he was, then and now, close friends with the last woman I assaulted. We, this political associate and I, had a very long and emotionally charged conversation about my past, about what I had done to his friend. We both had watery eyes by the time we were finished talking. It hurt me that this woman remains wounded by what I did in 1991, in spite of the fact that she accepted an apology from me around the year 2000. I left that meeting with pangs of guilt, and a deep sadness about the woman with whom I had lived for about a year.

Later that day, a few very close female friends reminded me of the work that some of us men had done, to begin to reconfigure how we define manhood, how some of us have been helping in the fight to end violence against women and girls. And those conversations led me to put on paper The Seven Steps For Ending Violence Against Women and Girls. These are the rules that I have followed for myself, and that I have shared with men and boys throughout America since the early 1990s:

1. Own the fact that you have made a very serious mistake, that you’ve committed an offense, whatever it is, against a woman or a girl. Denial, passing blame, and not taking full responsibility, is simply not acceptable.
2. Get help as quickly as you can in the form of counseling or therapy for your violent behavior. YOU must be willing to take this very necessary step. If you don’t know where to turn for help, I advise visiting the website www.menstoppingviolence.org, an important organization, based in Atlanta, that can give you a starting point and some suggestions. Also visit www.usdoj.gov/ovw/pledge.htm where you can find helpful information on what men and boys can do to get help for themselves. Get your hands on and watch Aishah Shahidah Simmons’ critically important documentary film NO! as soon as you are able. You can order it at www.notherapedocumentary.org. NO! is, specifically, about the history of rape and sexual assault in Black America, but that film has made its way around the globe and from that very specific narrative comes some very hard and real truths about male violence against females that is universal, that applies to us all, regardless of our race or culture. Also get a copy of Byron Hurt’s Beyond Beats and Rhymes, perhaps the most important documentary film ever made about the relationship between American popular culture and American manhood. Don’t just watch these films, watch them with other men, and watch them with an eye toward critical thinking, healing, and growth, even if they make you angry or very comfortable. And although it may be difficult and painful, you must be willing to dig into your past, into the family and environment you’ve come from, to begin to understand the root causes of your violent behavior. For me that meant acknowledging the fact that, beginning in the home with my young single mother, and continuing through what I encountered on the streets or navigated in the parks and the schoolyards, was the attitude that violence was how every single conflict should be dealt with. More often than not, this violence was tied to a false sense of power, of being in control. Of course the opposite is the reality: violence towards women has everything to do with powerlessness and being completely out of control. Also, we need to be clear that some men simply hate or have a very low regard for women and girls. Some of us, like me, were the victims of physical, emotional, and verbal abuse at the hands of mothers who had been completely dissed by our fathers, so we caught the brunt of our mothers’ hurt and anger. Some of us were abandoned by our mothers. Some of us were sexually assaulted by our mothers or other women in our lives as boys. Some of us watched our fathers or other men terrorize our mothers, batter our mothers, abuse our mothers, and we simply grew up thinking that that male-female dynamic was the norm. Whatever the case may be, part of that “getting help” must involve the word forgiveness. Forgiveness of ourselves for our inhuman behavioral patterns and attitudes, and forgiveness of any female who we feel has wronged us at some point in our lives. Yes, my mother did hurt me as a child but as an adult I had to realize I was acting out that hurt with the women I was encountering. I had to forgive my mother, over a period of time, with the help of counseling and a heavy dose of soul-searching to understand who she was, as well as the world that created her. And I had to acknowledge that one woman’s actions should not justify a lifetime of backward and destructive reactions to women and girls. And, most importantly, we must have the courage to apologize to any female we have wronged. Ask for her forgiveness, and accept the fact that she may not be open to your apology. That is her right.
3. Learn to listen to the voices of women and girls. And once we learn how to listen, we must truly hear their concerns, their hopes and their fears. Given that America was founded on sexism—on the belief system of male dominance and privilege—as much as it was founded on the belief systems of racism and classism, all of us are raised and socialized to believe that women and girls are unequal to men and boys, that they are nothing more than mothers, lovers, or sexual objects, that it is okay to call them names, to touch them without their permission, to be violent toward them physically, emotionally, spiritually—or all of the above. This mindset, unfortunately, is reinforced in much of our educational curriculum, from preschool right through college, through the popular culture we digest every single day through music, sports, books, films, and the internet, and through our male peers who often do not know any better either—because they had not learned to listen to women’s voices either. For me that meant owning the fact that throughout my years of college, for example, I never read more than a book or two by women writers. Or that I never really paid attention to the stories of the women in my family, in my community, to female friends, colleagues, and lovers who, unbeknownst to me, had been the victims of violence at some point in their lives. So when I began to listen to and absorb the voices, the stories, and the ideas of women like Pearl Cleage, Gloria Steinem, bell hooks, Alice Walker, of the housekeeper, of the hair stylist, of the receptionist, of the school crossing guard, of the nurse’s aid, and many others, it was nothing short of liberating, to me. Terribly difficult for me as a man, yes, because it was forcing me to rethink everything I once believed. But I really had no other choice but to listen if I was serious about healing. And if I was serious about my own personal growth. It all begins with a very simple question we males should ask each and every woman in our lives: Have you ever been physically abused or battered by a man?
4. To paraphrase Gandhi, make a conscious decision to be the change we need to see. Question where and how you’ve received your definitions of manhood to this point. This is not easy as a man in a male-dominated society because it means you have to question every single privilege men have vis-à-vis women. It means that you might have to give up something or some things that have historically benefited you because of your gender. And people who are privileged, who are in positions of power, are seldom willing to give up that privilege or power. But we must, because the alternative is to continue to hear stories of women and girls being beaten, raped, or murdered by some male in their environment, be it the college campus, the inner city, the church, or corporate America. And we men and boys need to come to a realization that sexism—the belief that women and girls are inferior to men and boys, that this really is a man’s world, and the female is just here to serve our needs regardless of how we treat them—is as destructive to ourselves as it is to women and girls. As I’ve said in many speeches through the years, even if you are not the kind of man who would ever yell at a woman, curse at a woman, touch a woman in a public or private space without her permission, hit or beat a woman, much less kill a woman—you are just as guilty if you see other men and boys doing these things and you say or do nothing to stop them.
5. Become a consistent and reliable male ally to women and girls. More of us men and boys need to take public stands in opposition to violence against women and girls. That means we cannot be afraid to be the only male speaking out against such an injustice. It also means that no matter what kind of male you are, working-class or middle-class or super-wealthy, no matter what race, no matter what educational background, and so on, that you can begin to use language that supports and affirms the lives and humanity of women and girls. You can actually be friends with females, and not merely view them as sexual partners to be conquered. Stop saying “boys will be boys” when you see male children fighting or being aggressive or acting up. Do not sexually harass women you work with then try to brush it off if a woman challenges you on the harassment. If you can’t get over a breakup, get counseling. As a male ally, help women friends leave bad or abusive relationships. Do not criticize economically independent women because this independence helps free them in many cases from staying in abusive situations. Donate money, food, or clothing to battered women’s shelters or other women’s causes. Do not ever respond to a female friend with “Oh you’re just an angry woman.” This diminishes the real criticisms women may have about their male partners. American male voices I greatly admire, who also put forth suggestions for what we men and boys can do to be allies to women and girls, include Michael Kimmel, Jackson Katz, Charles Knight, Mark Anthony Neal, Jelani Cobb, Charlie Braxton, and Byron Hurt. Of course standing up for anything carries risks. You may—as I have—find things that you say and do taken out of context, misunderstood or misinterpreted, maligned and attacked, dismissed, or just outright ignored. But you have to do it anyway because you never know how the essay or book you’ve written, the speech or workshop you’ve led, or just the one-on-one conversations you’ve had, might impact on the life of someone who’s struggling for help. I will give two examples: A few years back, after giving a lecture at an elite East Coast college, I noticed a young woman milling about as I was signing books and shaking hands. I could see that she wanted to talk with me, but I had no idea the gravity of her situation. Once the room had virtually cleared out, this 17-year-old first-year student proceeded to tell me that her pastor had been having sex with her since the time she was four, and had been physically and emotionally violent toward her on a number of occasions. Suffice to say, I was floored. This young woman was badly in need of help. I quickly alerted school administrators who pledged to assist her, and I followed up to make sure that they did. But what if I had not made a conscious decision to talk about sexism and violence against women and girls, in every single speech I gave—regardless of the topic? This young woman might not have felt comfortable enough to open up to me about such a deeply personal pain. My other example involves a young male to whom I have been a mentor for the past few years. He is incredibly brilliant and talented, but, like me, comes from a dysfunctional home, has had serious anger issues, and, also like me, has had to work through painful feelings of abandonment as a result of his absent father. This, unfortunately, is a perfect recipe for disaster in a relationship with a woman. True to form, this young man was going through turbulent times with a woman he both loved and resented. His relationship with the young woman may have been the first time in his 20-something life he’d ever felt deep affection for another being. But he felt resentment because he could not stomach—despite his declarations otherwise—the fact that this woman had the audacity to challenge him about his anger, his attitude, and his behavior toward her. So she left him, cut him off, and he confessed to me that he wanted to hit her. In his mind, she was dissin’ him. I was honestly stunned because I thought I knew this young man fairly well, but here he was, feeling completely powerless while thoughts of committing violence against this woman bombarded his mind and spirit. We had a long conversation, over the course of a few days, and, thank God, he eventually accepted the fact that his relationship with this woman was over. He also began to seek help for his anger, his feelings of abandonment, and all the long-repressed childhood hurts that had nothing to do with this woman, but everything to do with how he had treated her. But what if he did not have somebody to turn to when he needed help? What if he’d become yet another man lurking at his ex’s job or place of residence, who saw in his ability to terrorize that woman some twisted form of power?
6. Challenge other males about their physical, emotional, and spiritual violence towards women and girls. Again, this is not a popular thing to do, especially when so many men and boys do not even believe that there is a gender violence problem in America. But challenge we must when we hear about abusive or destructive behavior being committed by our friends or peers. I have to say I really respect the aforementioned political associate who looked me straight in the eyes, 16 long years after I pushed his close female friend and my ex-girlfriend into a bathroom door, and asked me why I did what I did, and, essentially, why he should work with me all these years later? American males don’t often have these kinds of difficult but necessary conversations with each other. But his point was that he needed to understand what had happened, what work I had done to prevent that kind of behavior from happening again, and why I had committed such an act in the first place. Just for the record: No, it has not happened since, and no, it never will again. But I respect the fact that, in spite of my being very honest about past behavior, that women and men and girls and boys of diverse backgrounds have felt compelled to ask hard questions, to challenge me after hearing me speak, after reading one of my essays about sexism and redefining American manhood. We must ask and answer some hard questions. This also means that we need to challenge those men—as I was forced to do twice in the past week—who bring up the fact that some males are the victims of domestic violence at the hands of females. While this may be true in a few cases (and I do know some men who have been attacked or beaten by women), there is not even a remote comparison between the number of women who are battered and murdered on a daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly basis in America and the number of men who suffer the same fate at the hands of women. Second, we men need to understand that we cannot just use our maleness to switch the dialogue away from the very real concerns of women to what men are suffering, or what we perceive men to be suffering. That’s what step number three in the seven steps to ending violence against women and girls is all about. So many of us American males have such a distorted definition of manhood that we don’t even have the basic respect to listen to women’s voices when they talk about violence and abuse, without becoming uncomfortable, without becoming defensive, without feeling the need to bring the conversation, the dialogue, to us and our needs and our concerns, as if the needs and concerns of women and girls do not matter.
7. Create a new kind of man, a new kind of boy. Violence against women and girls will never end if we males continue to live according to definitions of self that are rooted in violence, domination, and sexism. I have been saying for the past few years that more American males have got to make a conscious decision to redefine who we are, to look ourselves in the mirror and ask where we got these definitions of manhood and masculinity, to which we cling so tightly. Who do these definitions benefit and whom do they hurt? Who said manhood has to be connected to violence, competition, ego, and the inability to express ourselves? And while we’re asking questions, we need to thoroughly question the heroes we worship, too. How can we continue to salute Bill Clinton as a great president yet never ask why he has never taken full ownership for the numerous sexual indiscretions he has committed during his long marriage to Senator Hillary Clinton? How can we in the hip-hop nation continue to blindly idolize Tupac Shakur (whom I interviewed numerous times while working at Vibe, and whom I loved like a brother) but never question how he could celebrate women in songs like “Keep Ya Head Up?” and “Dear Mama,” on the one hand, but completely denigrate women in songs like “Wonda Y They Call U Bitch”? What I am saying is that as we examine and struggle to redefine ourselves as men, we also have to make a commitment to questioning the manifestations of sexism all around us. If we fail to do so, if we do not begin to ask males, on a regular basis, why we refer to women and girls with despicable words, why we talk about women and girls as if they are nothing more than playthings, why we think its cool to “slap a woman around,” why we don’t think the rape, torture, and kidnap of Megan Williams in West Virginia should matter to us as much as the Jena 6 case in Louisiana, then the beginning of the end of violence against women and girls will be a long time coming.

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

Chris Brown Guilty Plea

The following entry is written by New York Times best selling author and NDVH Celebrity Board member Leslie Morgan Steiner.

Steiner is the author of Crazy Love, a memoir about domestic violence, and the anthology Mommy Wars.  She writes a weekly column for Mommy Track’d.  To share your story as part of the Crazy Love Project, visit the author’s website at www.lesliemorgansteiner.com.

The Los Angeles County district attorney’s proceedings against musician Chris Brown for his alleged Grammy-eve assault of Robyn R. Fenty, more commonly known as the pop singer Rihanna, ended surprisingly gently last Monday given the five-month media frenzy that has surrounded the couple. Brown pled guilty and was sentenced to five years of probation and 1,400 hours of community service (cnn.com). Rihanna’s silence, however, has baffled and frustrated fans, prosecutors, and advocates within the domestic violence community. The horrific post-assault photo of the 21-year-old’s cut and bruised face, supposedly leaked by the Los Angeles police department, showed bruises across the singer’s face and head. Police statements describe Brown biting Rihanna and repeatedly threatening to kill her (cnn.com).

But Rihanna never called the police. She did not request a restraining order. She did not file a complaint. She did not testify against the man who assaulted her. She has never spoken publicly about the assault.

I understand why Rihanna has been so quiet.

I was sure I loved the man who abused me for four years, a brilliant, troubled Wall Street trader I met on the New York subway a few months after I graduated from Harvard (YouTube.com). The assault that ended our marriage took place nearly 20 years ago, but I too stayed silent because I wanted to protect my abuser, even after I knew he was capable of killing me. I was in shock, terrified, and broken physically and psychologically. Like Rihanna, I wanted the whole ugly mess to be invisible.

We hear a lot about domestic violence’s grim statistics, as we should.  According to The Family Violence Prevention Fund, three women are murdered in this country every day by intimate partners, and over five million women are assaulted each year.  More than 50% of people who abuse their partners also abuse their children.  In the months since Rihanna and Brown dominated the headlines, in my community alone there have been four murders, including two children killed by their father and a 19-year-old girl murdered by her boyfriend.  As a society, we need these numbers as evidence of the terrible cost we pay for tolerating domestic violence in our country and around the world.

What we need even more: to abandon our misguided expectations that it’s up to domestic victims to prosecute their abusers and to speak out publicly about the trauma they’ve suffered.

It is obviously unrealistic to expect batterers to make incriminating confessions. It is equally impractical to require Rihanna or any other battered women, immediately following a vicious assault, to prosecute a lover or family member. It’s bizarre that our society and criminal justice system expect women to do so. Family violence incidents must be investigated and prosecuted by local police and district attorneys – not victims. In order to break the cycle of violence, victims need this kind of aggressive intervention to free us to find our own happy endings.

Like most victims, there was no way I was strong enough to stand up for myself against the person who had seduced, manipulated, and terrorized me for years. The police left without cataloguing my injuries or pressing charges against my husband. Having survived the most brutal attack of my life at the hands of a man I loved, I did not have the ability to absorb what had happened, much less document the evidence and press charges myself. I barely had the courage to file a restraining order; filing charges against my ex-husband was beyond comprehension. Even though he deserved it. Even though I craved protection and justice.

Three years after I left my abusive husband, then-Senator Joseph Biden successfully championed the landmark Violence Against Women Act through Congress.  Nearly $2 billion has been allocated since then to raise awareness of the problems and costs of intimate partner violence, rape and sexual abuse against women; to fund physical, legal and emotional support to victims; and to train police and judicial officers who prosecute offenders. VAWA is up for renewal in 2010, championed by Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont and a plethora of bipartisan supporters and advocates.

I wish police had treated my apartment as a crime scene the last night I was beaten by my ex-husband, documenting the abuse and pressing charges.  Advocates needed to do for me what I could not do for myself. The pursuit of justice would have benefitted me – immediately — and our society over time by taking domestic violence seriously.

And if police had taken a photo, I’d still have it today — as a harsh warning of the dangers of abusive love.

Right in front of that photo, I’d place one of me now –  smiling, surrounded by my second husband and three young children, without bruises or scars to hide.  Another kind of evidence –  that victims can survive domestic violence and go on to rebuild our lives.  All we need is a little help.

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Author of “Crazy Love” Speaks Out Against Domestic Violence

Here’s what I want to say to everyone who is obsessed with Chris Brown and Rihanna, including Oprah, Dr. Phil, The New York Times, The Washington Post, TMZ, and the other 34 million Google hits on their names:  Thank you!  Shining a spotlight on abusive violence is good for everyone. Abuse is a crime.  If you are being abused, you need help immediately — and you need to end the abusive relationship.  Our society and criminal justice system need to hold abusers responsible for their actions, and stop further abuse.
However, anger at Chris Brown, and the backlash on those who defend him, masks a terrible truth that women and children who have loved abusers know all too well: that most abusers have already been punished, usually by enduring awful abuse during their childhoods, as Chris Brown says he did at the hands of his stepfather. I share the anger at abusers (male and female), but If we oversimplify the dynamics of domestic violence, neither victims nor abusers can ever get the help they need.  To break the cycle of violence, our culture needs to understand more completely how intimate partner violence unfolds and repeats itself.

Batterers are criminals, but they are real people — not villains. We would never fall in love with them, or trust them with our love, in the first place if they were so obviously horrific. I’m not defending batterers — they need to come clean and take responsibility for their actions and their treatment, and you should never stay with an abusive man, no matter how much good you see in him, and how much you feel you love him.  But it’s destructive for our society to paint a batterer in black and white terms.  The hidden message perversely blames the victim: “How could she have fallen in love with such an awful man?”  The truth is far more complex and dangerous.

It was so hard to recognize that I was being abused, and to leave my abusive partner, but I have gotten tremendous solace and support by joining the Million Voices campaign and by sharing my story in my book Crazy Love and a YouTube video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZEsElsHrvC0

If you want to tell your story, please join The Crazy Love Project, a safe place for people to share stories of surviving abusive love (anonymously if you prefer).

I hope one day we hear Rihanna’s story. And Chris Brown’s. And yours.
Leslie Morgan Steiner
http://www.lesliemorgansteiner.com

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

National Domestic Violence Hotline on Larry King Live

Recent coverage of the Chris Brown and Rihanna incident has brought the serious issue of domestic violence into the national spotlight. Many media outlets have been reaching out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH) in an effort to bring to light the severity of the issue through use of our statistics and staff commentary on the recent incident.

Victor Rivers and Robin Givens, who are both members of NDVH’s Celebrity Board and spokespeople for the Hotline were recently featured on Tuesday night’s “Larry King Live,” where guest host Joy Behar examined the difficulties in stopping domestic abuse.

Robin Givens, a survivor of domestic abuse at the hands of her former husband, former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson shared her story and provided valuable insight as to what it feels like to experience domestic abuse and how similar the experiences of victims can be.

“I’ve spoken to women every[where]. … Peoria, El Paso. … And what’s amazing is that I find that my story is their story; their story is my story — down to the details.” Givens said. “He dragged me down the hall by my hair. He pulled me out of bed by my panties. He would like to choke me. He would kick.”

Contact information for the Helpline was featured prominently on the program as well. The Hotline answered an estimated 1,463 phone calls on the day of the broadcast resulting in a 90% increase in call volume on that day over the previous year.

Please visit the link below to view a full transcript of the show. The show will also be rebroadcast on Saturday, March 14, 2009.

Transcript from CNN.com