Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Should you rape a woman?

The Australian Football League is making an interactive DVD as part of their efforts to improve players' respect for women. Respect and responsibility program co-ordinator Melanie Heenan says it's purpose is to "prompt confident decision-making in situations that can be quite complex".

We are always thrilled when a professional athletics organization takes a step to deal with violence against women. However, we are disappointed that the type of training being implemented by the AFL is actually necessary. Melinda Tankard Reist says it best:
We have so failed in the very basics of civilised human interaction that the Australian Football League has been forced to hire a swag of actors and a film crew to make an interactive DVD to help players understand that perhaps it's not a good idea to pretend to be your best mate so you can have sex with his girlfriend.
As sarcastic is it sounds, Reist's chosen scenario is drawn from an actual draft question from the training DVD's script. Among the drafts released to the public are the complicated moral dilemmas of whether or not to trick a woman into having sex with you, take of advantage of a woman who is very intoxicated, or watch people have sex without their permission. In respect to these questions, blogger Melissa McEwan comments,
That these are considered complex ethical questions is just completely insane to me. It's like being asked: "You see your friend Todd walking down the street toward you. Do you: (a) say hello or (b) hit him in the head with a shovel?"
In her column, Ms. Reist goes on to say that it does not seem that the DVD will address the seriousness of sexual assault and that it is playing on negative stereotypes of women. She also believes that the actions of the AFL are a reflection of a larger culture of contempt for women as exemplified by an Australian made t-shirt that reads "It's not rape, it's surprise sex."

Friday, February 22, 2008

Growing Advocacy for Muslim Women

Via The New York Times. Domestic violence in Muslim culture in the Unites States has been a difficult problem to address due to a lack of understanding of the culture on the part of outsiders, or a hesitancy to interfere in what is considered traditional religious gender roles. Thankfully, organizations founded by Muslim American women are fostering a movement to publicly define domestic violence as an unacceptable cultural practice. While domestic violence occurs in the Muslim American community at the same rate as most other groups, approaching the topic has been difficult because it is seen by many involved in the faith as an attack.

“The Muslim community is under a lot of scrutiny, so they are reluctant to look within to face their problems because it will substantiate the arguments demonizing them,” said Rafia Zakaria, a political science graduate student at Indiana University who is starting a legal defense fund for Muslim women. “It puts Muslim women in a difficult position because if they acknowledge their rights, they are seen as being in some kind of collusion with all those who are attacking Muslim men. So the question is how to speak out without adding to the stereotype that Muslim men are barbaric, oppressive, terrible people.”
Ms. Zakaria, and other women like her, believe that the best way to refute Muslim stereotypes is to show the public that Muslim women are addressing the problem of domestic violence. And while many organizers have been expelled from mosques and other Muslim activities for attempting to discuss the problem of domestic violence, recent attempts to find allies within the church are gaining ground.

Apart from self-empowerment and fighting stereotypes, there are other important reasons for Muslim women to be pro-active in tackling domestic violence.

First, many Muslim women who have sought help for domestic violence report that cultural misunderstandings often hinder their recovery. Take this story from the New York Times of a young Yemeni-American woman who went to a local shelter after suffering for seven years at the hands of her husband.

The shelter brought in a hairdresser, whose services she accepted without any misgivings. But once her hair was styled, administrators urged her to throw off her veil, saying it symbolized the male oppression native to Islam that she wanted to escape.
While these women probably had good intentions, they failed to recognize that this woman was fleeing her abusive husband and not her religion. Someone with an understanding of the Muslim culture and religion would have been able to highlight the ways in which this woman could find support and strength within her beliefs rather than fostering the harmful misconception that leaving an abusive relationship means giving up or betraying Islam.

Another reason for Muslim American women to get involved in the movement is that those Muslim women who are sheltered and who may not speak English run a higher risk of being victimized due to the difficulty of accessing accurate information concerning domestic violence and a woman's legal rights. Consider the story of the same Yemeni-American woman's first efforts to escape her husband by reaching out to her family.

The clerics offered marriage counseling, but only if the husband came too, a condition she knew doomed the idea. Her sister suggested she lose weight and be more obedient. Her father encouraged obedience, too, while her husband hit her through three pregnancies. After she filed for divorce, she said, her father hauled her home and hit her too, for shaming him.
Hamdard Center for Health and Human Services in Chicago is an advocacy group for Muslim American women, and they have developed several interesting solutions to this problem. Hamdard briefs area grocery store owners and hairdressers that cater to Muslims, which has produced numerous referrals. It also organizes mosque seminars about breast cancer, then inserts a small segment about domestic violence.

It is important to reiterate that the Koran does not condone domestic violence. There is one Koran verse that is cited by some as support for abusive behavior, but mainstream clerics, such as Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, the outreach director for Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia, are currently lobbying to make the official interpretation of this verse that women must be obedient to God.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Murdered Teen Unaided by Police

On February 15, 17-year old Natasha Hall was murdered by her 19-year old ex-boyfriend Clay Kufner. In the months leading up to the shooting, Hall had called the police to report Kufner's abuse and harassment numerous times.

According to DeLand police department records, officers were called out to the Hall home at least nine times since July 2007. Each incident involved Kufner.

Records show that Kufner was charged with battery twice, cases that were pending in court. The Hall family also accused Kufner of stalking, threatening to burn down their house, and making harassing phone calls.
Despite Kufner's threats and acts of violence, the family elected not to pursue a restraining order because they felt that he was getting his life together, and they did not want to put an unnecessary blemish on his record. This is an interesting distinction between dating violence and stalking or harrassment by a stranger. If Kufner hadn't been known to the family, it is highly unlikely that Hall or her family would have cared what legal action might do to his life.

However, given the actions of the DeLand Police Department before and after this tragic murder, it is not surprising that the family was convinced that taking legal action would not help their daughter.

January 15th was the last time Hall contacted the DeLand Police Department. The harassment continued after that date, but according to her mother, Natasha was told by police that if she didn't stop calling them she would be arrested.

"The police officer said if you call us one more time on him, I'm going to arrest you both," [Natasha's mother] said. "So, the day she died, she knew she couldn't talk to police. So, she handled it herself.
Phone records have not yet been released to confirm or deny this report, but the statement issued by Chief Deputy Randel Henderson of the DeLand Police Department certainly suggests a tendency to dismiss the severity of dating violence. Henderson told reporters, "Basically we have a very young couple who are experiencing, at least up until last Friday evening, just very normal relationship problems."

The "normal relationship problems" the Chief Deputy is referring to, according to DeLand Police Department records, include Kufner posting nude photos of Hall on the internet, hitting her in the face, and threatening to burn down her home.

The bottom line is that a child is dead because she was expected to assume responsibility for a violent and dangerous person's behavior solely because she made the mistake of dating him.

For more information on teen dating violence, visit Break the Cycle .

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Real ID Creates a Real Threat

In an effort to standardize the information provided on driver's licenses throughout the nation, the Department of Homeland Security is advocating the Real ID Act, which mandates minimum standards for government issued ID cards and provides for a national database of ID holders rather than the current disconnected system of statewide DMV databases. Initially, proponents of the Real ID Act were unable to pass it on its own, so they attached it as a rider to a military spending bill and the Act passed without debate. Opponents of the Real ID Act worry about how it will affect victims of domestic violence and stalking.

Every year, about 1,000 domestic violence victims legally change their Social Security numbers in an attempt to elude people who may pose threats, and many more change their legal names, according to figures compiled by advocacy groups.

But hiding from stalkers may become more difficult under a federal law called the Real ID Act that's scheduled to take effect on May 11.

Anna Broach wrote a comprehensive piece on the shortfalls of the Real ID Act with respect to domestic violence on NewsBlog last week as part one of a four part series. While she acknowledges that the Real ID Act does provide an "

The final rule says that both an individual's "full legal name" and "true address" must be stored in the DMV database, regardless of what's displayed on the card and encoded on its bar code. It also requires that motor vehicle departments scan and store "source documents," such as birth certificates, to verify a driver's license applicant's identity.

The Department of Homeland Security has declined to comment on how they will provide protection to those trying to hide from stalkers, saying only that the exchange of information between the states will be "limited." The federal government has also proposed allowing the states to devise their own state specific safety plans, but has given no indication of how these systems would be implemented or how they would co-exist with the standard national database. Cindy Southworth, technology project director for the National Network to End Domestic Violence, pointed out the problems that come along with giving that much access to DMV employees.

Given that there are less than six degrees of separation between most abusers and a friend or relative who works for the DMV, we are concerned about victims' location information housed in state databases that could be searched nationally.... Prior to national search ability, a victim could move to a different state and increase her safety and privacy, but national search functionality could place countless victims at risk.

Without a comprehensive plan to protect victims of stalking and domestic violence, this national database could cripple their hope for a new life free from fear. The current deadline for implementation of the Real ID Act is May 11, 2008. However, it may be postponed again because of a lack of support from the States. To show your support for survivors, contact your representative and tell them to speak out against the Real ID Act until these changes are made.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Georgia "Fails" To Protect Teens From Dating Violence

Break the Cycle, an organization dedicated to educating teens about domestic and dating violence recently issued a report card which graded the level of legal protection each state offers teen victims of domestic and dating violence.

The report cards are designed to draw attention to the discrepancies between the protections afforded to adult victims of violence as compared to teen victims. States were graded on an A through F scale.Those states that do not allow minors to obtain restraining orders were given an automatic failure.

Georgia, along with fifteen other states, received an "F" because it does not allow people under the age of 18 to obtain a protective order without a guardian's permission. Only three states, (California, New Hampshire, and Oklahoma) received an "A". Break the Cycle has included suggestions in each state's report card on how to improve their grade.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Double Jeopardy

Immigration has been a hot-button issue in the US for many years, and has prompted sweeping reforms under the current administration. In the wake of these reforms, immigrant victims of domestic violence have been put at risk. Consider the story of Ana Bertha Arellano.

According to Susan Ferris's article, Arellano married a U.S. citizen and had two children with him. In 1997, her husband encouraged her to enter the United States illegally and claimed that they would file to adjust her status once they were settled. Instead, her husband used Arellano's undocumented status to keep her under his control and subject to his abuse.

For years, Arellano believed she had no other option but to endure the abuse and hope that someday her husband would help her file for permanent residency. Fortunately, in 2001, Arellano met an attorney who informed her of the provision in the Violence Against Women Act that allows undocumented immigrants who are married to abusive U.S. citizens to apply for a temporary visa and permanent resident status without the sponsorship of their spouses. Through this provision, Arellano was able to obtain a temporary Violence Against Women Act visa and was optimistic that she would eventually be able to obtain a green card.

Arellano owns a restaurant and works as a janitor at night in order have a job that pays for health insurance. She does not receive public assistance of any kind and she has no criminal record. She did everything right, but her green card application has been put on hold indefinitely and her temporary visa is in danger of being revoked. This stall is due to a decision by the Department of Homeland Security to re-examine it's policy of allowing immigrant spouses to remain here when their abusive U.S. citizen or permanent-resident spouses refuse to help them obtain legal status. Without that protection, Arellano, and many other women like her, could end up deported by the same U.S. officials who agreed to shelter her from abuse. Arellano is panicked that she will be forced to uproot her family or leave her children with her abusive spouse. "I don't want anything else but a chance to have some stability for my family," she says.

Over 30,000 women have been granted temporary Violence Against Women Act visas since 1994. Many of these women are now uncertain if they still have a path to citizenship. In addition, the threat of deportation is assuredly keeping even more women from reporting the abuse they are experiencing. One of the best ways to stop family violence is to expose it, but this decision by homeland security may deter women from reporting crimes against them and allow abusers to continue to use their spouse's undocumented status as a tool of oppression without fear of any consequence.

For more information on how immigration reforms are affecting victims of domestic violence check out XicanoPwr and Legal Momentum's Immigrant Women Program.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Teen Dating Violence Week

February 4 – 8 is National Teen Dating Violence Week, and it seems very much on theme. In January we brought you a variety of posts on violence among teens, so today we'd like to offer some resources, in addition to our Center, for teens in dating relationships and parents talking to their teens about dating.

First is the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline, a toll-free hotline (1-866-331-9474) with an accompanying website. It includes a “Teen Dating Bill of Rights” and videos submitted by teens, plus lots of information. They also have "live chat" available several hours a day.

For younger teens, there is GirlsAllowed, designed to help girls engage in developing the building blocks of healthy relationships.

From the CDC there is Choose Respect, which is geared toward ages 11 – 14.

Finally, visit The Safe Space created by Break the Cycle and sponsored by Verizon Wireless and The Avon Foundation.

Information for this post was borrowed from "Domestic Violence and the Workplace", a blog effort by the Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence.