Domestic Violence: Be Part of the Conversation

By Katie Ray-Jones

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If 12 million people were affected by an epidemic in this country, it would be all over the news. People in every community would be concerned, and you’d hear about it everywhere you went.

What if I told you that there is such an epidemic happening right now in every city and state in the U.S.? But this epidemic is not a disease or a virus. It’s domestic violence.

Domestic violence affects millions of people in the U.S. each year. One in four women and one in seven men are physically abused by an intimate partner, and one in three teens will experience some form of dating abuse. However, these numbers don’t show the entire picture. It’s likely that many victims are suffering in silence and never report their experiences due to fear, shame, and a lack of resources.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and all month long organizations and individuals around the country are working to raise awareness about this important issue. Why is it so crucial to make domestic violence part of our national conversation? On a personal level, anyone can be a victim—or a perpetrator—of relationship abuse, regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or background. But domestic violence isn’t just a private, family matter. On a broader cultural level, domestic violence intersects with many of the major social issues of our time, such as affordable housing, LGBTQ rights, and gun laws. This issue is shaped and perpetuated by many of the attitudes and fears that affect our world, like misogyny, racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia.

At the National Domestic Violence Hotline, we are in a unique position to inform the ongoing conversation about domestic violence. As the only national hotline that provides direct support to anyone affected by intimate partner abuse, we are able to gather data and stories from survivors across the country. In 2014, The Hotline conducted a survey with our chatters about their abusive partners’ access to firearms. Of those who revealed that their partners had access to guns, 22% said their partner had used a gun to make threats, and 67% believed their partner was capable of killing them. These impactful stories and statistics can be used to inform policies that lead to better protections for survivors and our communities.

Many people might feel helpless at the thought of ending domestic violence, but there are many things that we as individuals can do. First and foremost, we must stop blaming victims. No one deserves to be abused for any reason. The person responsible is the person who chooses to be abusive. Second, it’s important that we learn the signs of relationship abuse so that we can recognize when it is happening. It’s also critical that we teach young children the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationship behaviors. We can do this by being a healthy partner in our own relationships and calling out ideas or behavior that promote violence or abuse. We can all spread the message that love is not abuse.

By accomplishing these seemingly small acts, we can eradicate stigma for victims and begin building better support systems locally and nationally. We can also shine a light on abuse and promote healthy relationships for future generations. These may sound like lofty goals, but I believe that a world where all relationships are positive, healthy and free from violence is possible.

Learn more about The Hotline at www.thehotline.org.


katie-hotlineKatie Ray-Jones is the chief executive officer of the National Domestic Violence Hotline (The Hotline). She is a recognized leader in the domestic violence movement and has extensive experience working with victims and survivors. Ray-Jones has managed emergency shelter and housing programs as well as nonresidential services for survivors and their children. Prior to being named CEO of The Hotline, she served as operations director and then president of the organization. She serves as treasurer on the board of directors for the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence and is a member of the National Task Force to End Domestic and Sexual Violence.

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Gender Essentialism, Engaging Men in Sexual Assault Awareness, & Walk a Mile in Her Shoes®

By LB Klein, Jen Przewoznik & Jeff Segal

*This post first appeared on Stop Street Harassment.*

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Every April, men all over the country stumble through public parks in high heels to raise awareness for the gender-based violence movement for Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). Walk a Mile in Her Shoes has been a staple of SAAM programming since 2001, and has been praised for engaging tens of thousands of men in conversations on gender, power, and sexual assault in an accessible and fun way. Men have embraced Walk a Mile in Her Shoes®—it’s very often the SAAM event with the most men in attendance, and its popularity has raised necessary funds for rape crisis centers and other national and international anti-violence organizations. However, many activists and organizers have begun to voice serious concerns over the popular event.

It is vital that we consider not only the intent but the impact of our sexual assault awareness events. In Walk a Mile in Her Shoes®, men step into high heels to show their solidarity with women. Wearing high heels is therefore equated with being a woman. But while some women wear high heels, many do not. Furthermore, women are often targeted specifically because they express themselves outside of the normative societal expectations of their gender. By equating high heels and women, we remove gender non-conforming women from our conversations about sexual violence entirely, and reinforce the common myth that people presenting in ways considered masculine are not vulnerable to violence. Walk a Mile in Her Shoes® positions women as victims and men as perpetrators, but there are survivors of all gender identities, including men.

Walk a Mile in Her Shoes® also creates spaces where transgender people are marginalized. National transgender rights organization Forge (http://forge-forward.org/2013/04/walk-a-mile/) says participants in the walk should consider “whether they are re-victimizing more than a third of all victims by ignoring their very existence.” According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (http://www.thetaskforce.org/static_html/downloads/reports/reports/ntds_full.pdf), 64% of transgender people have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Transgender women are often incorrectly and offensively described as “men wearing women’s clothing,” a description that is often used to justify violence against them. Transgender women, particularly those of color, are at disproportionate risk of experiencing not only sexual and intimate partner violence but also street harassment, police brutality, homelessness, joblessness, incarceration, and murder. It is vital for people working to end gender-based violence to closely ally with transgender and non-binary people instead of holding events that exclude and further marginalize them.

Walk a Mile in Her Shoes® has raised attention, awareness, and funds, but at what expense? We cannot afford to raise awareness by perpetuating an essentialist view of what people should wear or how they should look and act. The Walk a Mile in Her Shoes® narrative is accessible because it is reductive, and oversimplification in our work is dangerous. Of course, communities should still hold events to raise awareness, but we must be intentional about changing the norms that perpetuate violence instead of reinforcing them. Events that re-victimize, erase, or marginalize survivors do not have a place in our field.

So, what can we do instead to engage men during SAAM? We can hold events that encourage folks of all genders to work together. We can bring smaller groups of men together for meaningful conversation, or mobilize larger groups for fundraisers not built around reinforcing harmful gender norms. Perhaps, as Forge (http://forge-forward.org/2013/04/walk-a-mile/) suggests, we should hold events that encourage everyone to break stereotypes about gender and discuss how harmful gender norms perpetuate violence. Then, we will be raising awareness of the true message of the movement to end sexual assault: that to end sexual assault, we must change culture.


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LB Klein, MSW has dedicated her professional and academic life to ending gender-based violence, supporting survivors, and advancing social justice. She is a Consultant and Lead Trainer for Prevention Innovations Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. She is based in Atlanta, GA and will begin pursuing a doctorate in the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill this August.

 

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Jen Przewoznik, MSW has over 15 years of experience working with/in women’s and LGBTQ communities as an educator, trainer, technical assistance provider, practitioner, and program evaluator. She is founder of the Queer Research Consulting Collaborative, a project designed to consult with researchers studying LGBTQ issues. Jen is currently the Director of Prevention & Evaluation at the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault and co-chairs the NC Sexual Violence Prevention Team and the NC Campus Consortium.

JeffSegalJeff Segal, BS resides in NYC, where he works in the tech sector and moonlights as a professional dancer. He has been a part of the movement to end sexual violence for ten years. Jeff has four years of experience as a sexual violence crisis counselor, and currently is leading initiatives to make social dancing in New York a safer space.

 

Minority stress and intimate partner violence in the LGBTQ community: Is there a connection?

PIRCResearch Summary

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We know that intimate partner violence (IPV) occurs in heterosexual relationships on college and university campuses, and there is a large body of research examining this phenomenon. IPV takes place in same-sex relationships as well: in a nationally representative survey of college and university students in same-sex relationships, 21% of respondents said that they had been victims of psychological violence in their relationships, and 24% had been victims of physical violence. Still, to date there has been far less research on IPV in same-sex relationships on college campuses than on IPV in heterosexual relationships. As a result, there is less information available on what factors may increase risk for IPV in same-sex relationships.

The risk factors for IPV are similar in same-sex and heterosexual relationships. However, minority stress factors in the LGBTQ community, such as sexual-orientation-related victimization, stigma surrounding sexual minorities, internalized homonegativity, and sexual identity concealment, pose additional risk. UNH psychologists Katie Edwards and Kateryna Sylaska hypothesized that minority stress—that is, stress factors that members of minority communities are likely to experience—plays a role in the perpetration of IPV in same-sex relationships. They surveyed a group of college students in same-sex relationships to test their hypothesis, and reported their results in the article “The Perpetration of Intimate Partner Violence among LGBTQ College Youth: The Role of Minority Stress,” which appeared in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence in 2013.

Edwards and Sylaska recruited 391 university students from across the US to participate in an online survey on IPV. All of the survey respondents were currently in relationships with people of the same sex. Their survey asked respondents whether they had used psychological, physical, sexual, and sexual orientation-related violence in their relationships, and also asked about the participants’ experience of both externalized and internalized minority stress variables. The minority stress variables that they asked about were victimization related to sexual orientation, the perception of prejudice or discrimination toward LGBTQ persons, internalized homonegativity, and identity concealment.

In their responses, 29.7% of the participants reported perpetrating some kind of violence against their partner. Edwards and Sylaska’s data showed a relationship between internalized homonegativity—that is, feeling guilty or ashamed about one’s sexual orientation—and physical and sexual violence perpetration. It also showed a relationship between sexual identity concealment and physical violence perpetration. Neither internalized homonegativity nor sexual identity concealment was related to psychological violence perpetration, and sexual identity concealment was not related to sexual violence perpetration.

In their discussion of the findings, Edwards and Sylaska make a point of mentioning that 73% of their respondents reported experiencing verbal or physical harassment related to their sexual orientation. Addressing and alleviating these minority stress factors is essential for preventing IPV among LGBTQ college students. Changing attitudes on a societal level to be more accepting and tolerant of sexual minority individuals and addressing the negative effects of these stresses through positive youth development programming for LGBTQ youth are a critical component to IPV prevention.


Edwards, K. M. & Sylaska, K. M. (2013). The perpetration of intimate partner violence among LGBTQ college youth: The role of minority stress. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 42, 1721-1731. DOI 10.1007/s10964-012-9880-6