Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Trapped by the Economy

A few weeks ago, the Associated Press published a story about couples who have divorced or separated, but cannot afford to begin separate households and thus are forced to continue living together.

Running into your ex is almost always awkward and stressful. David Snyder and Nancy Partridge deal with it nearly every day.

The Denver couple divorced after six years of marriage but have been forced to live together for months because they can't sell their place or afford to set up separate households in this slumping economy.

Snyder gets the master bedroom, while Partridge gets a smaller one. Snyder watches TV on one end of the house, Partridge on the other. The two split the grocery bill and kitchen duties. Sometimes they eat dinner together, sometimes apart. There are awkward silences, or worse.

"We've had tremendous arguments over things like who gets to park in the garage, but at this point, it's kind of settling down into a routine," said Partridge, 45, who works in public relations. "It's the lesser of two evils. I think the financial stress of a foreclosure, which would probably also lead to a bankruptcy, would be worse."

With the recession and the collapse of the housing market, more and more couples who have broken up are continuing to live under the same roof, according to judges and divorce lawyers. Some are waiting for housing prices to rebound; some are trying to get back on their feet financially.
For some couples, continuing to reside together is not just inconvenient, but dangerous. This is why domestic violence safe house programs are so important. Women are often asked why they do not leave their abusive partners and financial concerns are one of the top reasons cited. The choice between violence and homelessness is not an easy one, and it is a choice no one should have to make.

Monday, December 22, 2008

If you need support . . .

The holidays can be stressful for everyone, but staying physically and emotionally safe during holiday events can be especially difficult for those in abusive relationships. Women's Resource Center operates a 24-hour hotline (which will be in operation on all holidays) that you or someone you know can call if you need to plan for your safety, ask questions about services or your legal options, or just talk to someone confidentially about your feelings and what you are experiencing at home. We also offer two free, confidential support groups each week at our Decatur office where women come to receive support from other women like them. You can get more information about our support groups by calling our hotline at (404) 688-9436.

May you enjoy a happy holiday and a new year of domestic peace.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Back Under the Rug

It has taken many years for the anti-violence movement to convince our communities that domestic violence is not just a private family matter. Apparently, we haven't done enough.

Yesterday, CNN ran an article on their website entitled Couple's private wars, public battlegrounds. Though the title sounds encouraging, the content is little more than an excuse for admonishing couples for arguing in public.

Though the article is not exactly addressing domestic violence, it is problematic in the way that it normalizes verbal abuse and simply advises couples to do their arguing behind closed doors where no one else will be bothered. Victims of domestic violence are often silenced in our society, by their partners, family and friends, and by society when they receive messages like these. Rather than advising women to keep their problems to themselves, we should be encouraging them to seek help and support.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Teaching Men

Much like the work done by our partner organization Men Stopping Violence, several colleges are shifting the focus of their anti-violence work from protecting women to training men.

Tyler Jones was tipping back a couple of beers with friends at a Dinkytown bar when he suddenly had to take a stand.

"Hey, see that girl over there?" Jones recalled an acquaintance asking, nodding toward a woman he wanted to take home. "She's almost drunk. Not quite drunk enough. ... What shot should I buy her?"

There was a time, Jones says, when he might have laughed off the remark. Not anymore.

"You want to buy her something really strong to like, basically knock her out?" Jones, a University of Minnesota senior, recalled saying. "Man, that's not right. That's rape. That's sexual assault."

The acquaintance looked stunned. "Whatever," he mumbled, and walked away.

It was one moment at one bar. But it's also a sign of a big shift in strategy on campuses trying to tackle a culture that some say tolerates sexual assault. Instead of teaching women not to walk alone at night or to carry Mace, some colleges are trying something much harder -- changing college men. Jones, fresh from sex assault prevention training, is in the vanguard of the movement.

"The fact of the matter is that prevention comes down to, largely, males. Because males are primarily the ones perpetrating these crimes," said Lauren Pilnick, sexual violence education coordinator at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

More than one in five female students reported that they had experienced an actual or attempted sexual assault, according to a 2007 survey at 14 Minnesota colleges and universities. Nationally, one group estimates the ratio is as high as one in four female students while at college.

Colleges are turning to programs that strive to sensitize college men to sexual misconduct, and there is evidence of some success. First-year fraternity men who saw a specific rape prevention program were nearly half as likely to commit a sexually coercive act as those who didn't, according to a 2007 study co-authored by John Foubert, a professor who developed the nonprofit One in Four, a group aimed at changing male behavior.

Of about 80 campuses receiving Department of Justice grants to address sexual assault and other issues, about 20 have full-fledged men's programs, while almost all the others are on their way to starting them, according to one administrator. In Minnesota, schools including the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, St. Cloud State University, Minnesota State University, Mankato, and Carleton College are starting men's groups or have them in place.

Some male students at Bemidji State University are involved in a community men's group that has met on campus.

The efforts aren't limited to schools. The Army announced a program in September encouraging soldiers to "intervene, act, and motivate" if they see signs of activity that could lead to sexual assault.

There has been "an interest in getting men involved, men being interested in being involved and a feeling amongst people who had worked in this arena that it was about time," said Frank Jewell, co-coordinator of the Minnesota Men's Action Network, a group initiated by the state Department of Health a few years ago to prevent sexual and domestic violence.

No easy task

Male groups are not a new idea, but colleges and universities are putting new emphasis on them. Getting college men to talk seriously and think about how sexual assault is portrayed around them is no easy task, though.

Jill Lipski Cain leads that conversation about five times a month, sometimes in front of Jones' fraternity. The violence prevention education coordinator at the University of Minnesota's Aurora Center, which focuses on sexual assault, she opens the discussion with a slide show of jaw-dropping statistics, images and sounds.

One magazine advertisement features a gaunt teenage-looking girl in a bikini top, a tube of perfume placed in her cleavage. "Apply generously to your neck," the text reads, "so he can smell the scent while you shake your head 'no.'"

One after another, more ads flash: Women with short skirts and spread legs, muscular men restraining women, scantily clad women posed as if dead.

Overhead, music thumped while the lyrics coached, "Pop a little champagne and a couple E's. Slip it in her bubbly."

Lipski Cain asked: "Is it really sex that is being sold or are there elements of rape in it that's presented to you as sex?"

The answer seemed obvious. But the definition of what constitutes sexual assault wasn't so clear. Students are told they must get consent before having sex. And under state law, someone who is incapacitated can't give that consent, violence prevention leaders said.

Men and women also use different communication styles, educators point out. A woman may not say no to sex, but may freeze up in response to a guy's advances, for instance. That is communicating "no," they say.

The key is to always ask, educators say.

And then there's language some guys use: "banging" their girlfriends, for instance.

"How do you think perpetrators talk about sex?" Lipski Cain asked. "What are we tolerating when we just let a comment or a joke slip by?"

Rob Leeson, a sophomore fraternity member, found the discussion enlightening. "It kind of opens your eyes to what our culture is like," he said. "You kind of pay more attention to those little things you never thought about before."

Expecting challenges

At St. Cloud State, a group of eight male volunteers are committed to trying to make other guys think. Once a week for three weeks they huddled in the basement of the campus Women's Center for training.

Chuck Derry, co-coordinator with Jewell of the Minnesota Men's Action Network, led the training and told the men they are in a unique position to bring about change, but they should expect to be challenged. Men will dwell on scenarios where women seem to be asking for sex, he said. If a woman is dressed suggestively, drinking heavily and rubbing against men on a dance floor, some men will say she's stupid to expect that guys won't try to have sex with her.

Ben Hedlund, a graduate student and Male Peer Education Program Coordinator, suggested turning the logic around in that case: "So you're telling me that a woman is stupid not to think of you as a vulture. Are you telling me that you're a vulture, too?"

Derry told the group they'd have to prepare answers for all types of arguments from men who are reticent to believe the sex assault statistics.

"They're getting all these messages that say that women are bitches and ho's and sexual objects," Derry said. The challenge is to get men to understand the ties between casual comments and a tolerance for violence, he said.

No overnight changes

For Jones, who is helping start a similar campus men's group, the spur to action came partly because his sister arrived as a freshman on the University of Minnesota this fall.

As Jones grew up, his mother let him know that she disapproved of jokes and comments that degraded women. But when he got to college, it was easy to just act like one of the guys and let comments slip by. When the staff at the Aurora Center approached him about starting a men's group, he decided it would also be a good opportunity to promote change and fight stereotypes about fraternities.

And he was exactly the type of guy the staff was looking for: popular in the Greek community, a leader in Delta Tau Delta, someone with instant credibility among other guys.

"When I talk about it, every once in a while people still kind of laugh it off," Jones said. But he said many guys tell him they respect what he's doing.

He understands he won't be changing the world overnight.

"It's going to take time. It's going to take commitment," he said. "Every once in a while if I can get one person, that's one more person that didn't think that way before."
We've long argued that domestic violence will end when men can be persuaded not to batter. We are confident that programs like these will play a large part in that.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Objectifying Women Hurts Men

A new research study out last month found that men who few objectifying images of women actually have in increase in their own body self-consciousness.

In her first study, Aubrey measured male exposure to 'lad' magazines, such as Maxim, FHM and Stuff, which she observes contains two main messages: the visual, which mostly contain sexually suggestive images of women; and textual, which contain articles that speak in a bawdy, male voice about topics including fashion, sex, technology and pop culture. Aubrey also measured male body self-consciousness (a participant's awareness and tendency to monitor one's appearance) and appearance anxiety (the anticipation of threatening stimuli). Participants were asked questions such as "During the day, I think about how I look," and then asked the same questions a year later.

"We found that reading lad magazines was related to having body self-consciousness a year later," said Aubrey. "This was surprising because if you look at the cover of these magazines, they are mainly images of women. We wondered why magazines that were dominated by sexual images of women were having an effect of men's feelings about their own bodies."

To help answer this question, Aubrey collaborated with University of California-Davis Assistant Professor Laramie Taylor. The researchers divided male study participants into three groups. Group one examined layouts from lad magazines that featured objectified women along with a brief description of their appearances. The second group viewed layouts about male fashion, featuring fit and well-dressed male models. The final group inspected appearance-neutral layouts that featured topics including technology and film trivia.

"Men who viewed the layouts of objectified females reported more body self-consciousness than the other two groups," Aubrey said. "Even more surprising was that the male fashion group reported the least amount of body self-consciousness among the three groups."
This is yet another example of why violence against women is not just a "women's issue," but is instead a people issue. We've seen how violence hurts everyone, and now we see how the objectification of women hurts everyone. Join the violence against women movement not just because of the women in your life, but for your nephews, sons, and grandsons too.