Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Call to Action

WRC is putting out a local call to action.

This week an Atlanta police officer was arrested for starting a violent altercation with his former partner and a third police officer while the couple was exchanging custody of their child.

This story brings to light an important aspect of domestic violence that is often misunderstood or ignored. Often, when a woman leaves an abusive relationship, she must still co-parent children with a violent partner with whom she would rather have no contact. Batterers often use custody/visitation exchanges to continue to harass their former partners. In fact, according to research compiled by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, fathers who batter the mothers of their children are twice as likely to seek sole custody of their children.

Our call to action has to do with the offender's status as a police officer. According to the National Center for Women and Policing, domestic violence is 2-4 times more common among police families than American families in general. Domestic violence is always a terrible crime, but victims of a police officer are particularly vulnerable because the officer who is abusing them:
  • has a gun,
  • knows the location of the domestic violence safehouse(s), and
  • knows how to manipulate the system to avoid penalty and/or shift blame to the victim.
Victims often fear calling the police, because they know the case will be handled by officers who are colleagues and/or friends of their abuser. Victims of police family violence typically fear that the responding officers will side with their abuser and fail to properly investigate or document the crime.

These suspicions are well founded, as most departments across the country typically handle cases of police family violence informally, often without an official report, investigation, or even check of the victim's safety. This "informal" method is often in direct contradiction to legislative mandates and departmental policies regarding the appropriate response to domestic violence crimes. Moreover, a 1994 nationwide survey of 123 police departments documented that almost half (45%) had no specific policy for dealing with officer-involved domestic violence. In that same study:

  • The most common discipline imposed for a sustained allegation of domestic violence was counseling.
  • Only 19% of the departments indicated that officers would be terminated after a second sustained allegation of domestic violence.

Additionally, when individuals are convicted of family violence, their right to carry a firearm is supposed to be revoked. In the case of law enforcement, that would mean that the officer would lose his job.

We are calling on our community to monitor this case to make sure that this batterer is held accountable, regardless of his law enforcement status. Additionally, if he is found guilty, we want to ensure that he loses his weapon's permit. We will continue to provide updates on this case and any actions that you can take to be sure that the victim in this case receives justice.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

When Women's Bodies Become the Battleground

A doctor from the Democratic Republic of Congo who treats women raped by combatants in the war-torn country has been named "African of the Year".

Denis Mukwege, 53, who runs a clinic in Bukavu, has said all sides have "declared women their common enemy".

He says his award from the Nigerian Daily Trust paper of $20,000 (£13,700) will be used to fund a centre to help rape victims rejoin society.

His clinic receives an average of 10 new patients every day.

Women in DR Congo are often raped and subjected to terrible violence by armed men as part of the decade-old conflict.

The Panzi hospital helps women with the physical and psychological injuries after being attacked.

It also provides help for women who have contracted HIV/Aids from their attackers.

A third of patents undergo major surgery.

"I am pleased to accept this award if it will highlight the situation of women in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo," Dr Mukwege told the BBC French service after accepting the award at a ceremony in Nigeria's capital, Abuja.
Dr. Mukwege's work illustrates the plight of women in war-torn countries, whose bodies literally become part of the battleground. Women are raped and otherwise violated as a tool of war, and their experiences deserve to be treated as war crimes.

In her confirmation hearing for Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton said the following when Barbara Boxer asked her about slavery and trafficking of girls and women:

I want to pledge to you that as secretary of state I view these issues as central to our foreign policy, not as adjunct or auxiliary or in any way lesser than all of the other issues that we have to confront.

I, too, have followed the stories that are exemplified by the pictures that you held up. I mean, it is heartbreaking beyond works that, you know, young girls are attacked on their way to school by Taliban sympathizers and members who do not want young women to be educated. It's not complicated: They want to maintain an attitude that keeps women, as I said in my testimony, unhealthy, unfed, uneducated.

And this is something that results all too often in violence against these young women, both within their families and from the outside. This is not culture. This is not custom. This is criminal. And it will be my hope to persuade more governments, as I have attempted to do since I spoke at Beijing on these issues, you know, 13 and some years ago, that we cannot have a free, prosperous, peaceful, progressive world if women are treated in such a discriminatory and violent way.

We hope that, as individuals, we all recognize the same sentiments.

If you would like to hear Dr. Mukwege speak locally, he will be appearing in conversation with Eve Ensler at the Carter Center on Feb. 23. Visit their website for tickets.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Local Teen Killed

From the AJC:

The teen whose body was found in a Clarkston trash bin apparently was choked to death by her boyfriend, Clarkston Police Chief Tony Scipio said Friday.

Scipio said Shannon Cade, 17, has been charged with murdering Britney Wells, also 17, in his apartment on Smith Street. The Clarkston High student’s body was found in the bin outside Cade’s apartment early Thursday.

Police believe Wells went to Cade’s apartment voluntarily but then was held against her will, Scipio said.

Cade remained jailed without bond Friday. A 14-year-old, whose name was withheld because of his age, has been charged with concealing Wells’ death.
This tragedy hits us especially hard because Clarkston is right in our back yard. We have made ourselves available to Clarkston High School to speak with the students and faculty, and our thoughts and prayers go out to the Wells family for this horrible loss.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sexual Bullying on the Playground

According to a recent report by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCFS) in the UK, more than 3,500 pupils are suspended each year due to sexual bullying. Equating to 19 suspensions each school day, the situation is becoming uncontrollable. This week Panorama broadcast a program called Kids Behaving Badly (which can be viewed on BBC iPlayer) highlighting the prevalence and severity of sexual misconduct in schools across the UK.
The title, however, was somewhat misleading.

While it suggests boys and girls are equally accountable for this behaviour, what this documentary exposed was the extent to which girls are victims of sexual harassment and physical assault from an increasingly younger age - beginning at nursery school level. Whereas for boys bullying predominantly takes the form of name-calling, with aspersions cast on their sexuality and sexual premise, girls not only have to contend with this, but also with lewd comments and threatening physical molestation. “Gay,” “lesbian,” “frigid,” and “slut” are used as part of an offence verbal currency (considered representative of sexual “abnormality”) that boys and girls spend frivolously. The documentary also found that schoolboys are vulnerable to sexual attack not by schoolgirls, but by their male classmates. This is a growing problem. Panorama, in conjunction with the charity Young Voice, conducted a survey of 273 children and youths and found that one in ten 11-19 year olds had been sexually bullied, a form of intimidation ranging from rumour-spreading about sexual activity to rape. Schoolchildren, specifically boys, are using sex as a form of power and control, but why? Why are they so sexually aware?
Paula Telford, spokesperson for the NSPCC, believes that instead of such instances being dismissed as innocent childhood games, effective handling by schools could help to significantly reduce this trend. While not always the case, she said that this needs to be “nipped in the bud” from an early age since a percentage of boys who are overbearingly sexual do mature into aggressive and dangerous sex offenders. Not all, but enough to suggest that for the greater social good it should not be ignored. But, where did this problem originate? And why is it getting worse? That sex can be used as a tool of dominance and control is nothing new. That popular culture encourages young girls to aspire to sexual maturity and young men to lust after women in order to assert their masculinity has exacerbated the problem in the school yard.

Women are positioned as sexual commodities. Little ladies can now go to beauty parlours and have treatments and make-overs coveted by women more than three times their age. Before baby girls can walk mothers are bombarded with advertisements for tiny high-heels, designed to look cute, suggesting a maturity well beyond their years. Little girls can replicate the sexy styles of twenty-something women, wearing baby mini-skirts and halter-neck tops, knee-high boots and sparkly lip-gloss. Infants and young children are encouraged to look like smaller versions of grown women, shown-off like designer shoes while everyone speculates about their age.

Since popular culture has promoted the idea that little girls are little dolls, it’s not surprising that said little girls believe that’s their worth. It’s not surprising that little boys view said little girls as public property, expecting each one to react in an amenable and accommodating way. Similarly, computer games endorse violence against women. Female avatars are commonly presented as caricatures of the female form - big-breasted, tiny waisted beauties who must be killed as violently as possible. Young, impressionable boys are being conditioned to view women as sexual fodder that must obey their every command. Boys are told they have to be sexually candid and have sex with lots of women to be considered men. That doesn’t make it excusable, but what it does do is explain why these attitudes have filtered through to the playground and, like girls, boys can also be seen as victims of our over-sexed society.

That girls are being denied the right to an education without being sexually harassed does indicate that this has gone too far, but what can be done? Innocence, once lost, can never be returned. While schools can try their best to implement strategies to educate boys and girls about the ways to behave socially, this is a band-aid rather than a long-term solution. Girls can be encouraged to step forward and share their experiences in a non-judgemental environment (this should go without saying, anyway), but that sexual misconduct is flourishing in the playground suggests that maybe it’s too late for a reprieve.
Read the whole story here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

What Would You Do?

From Shakesville:

[Trigger warning.]

So, Good Morning America has a recurring hidden camera segment called "What would you do?" in which actors stage various scenes and people's reactions are filmed without their knowledge and broadcast so we can all marvel at the enigmatic complexity of human nature feel morally superior to reprobates who majorly fail the test and allow people to step in dog[poop] or get ripped off by a conman or fall victim to whatever other scenario the producers have cooked up.

This morning's "What would you do?" positioned a man ("John") and a woman ("Brigitte") at a bar in the late afternoon, pretending to be on a date, with John putting a powder into Brigitte's drink when she went to the bathroom.

First up were two guys, who were sitting just on the other side of Brigitte and had their faces blurred, which wasn't a good sign. When she got up to go to the bathroom, John engaged the two men and they did a little male bonding over Brigitte being hot and "a handful." The two guys watched as John poured the powder into her drink. They said nothing to discourage him.

When Brigitte returned, they said nothing to her—even when she took a drink of the now-contaminated wine.

Then John got up to go to the bathroom. They still said nothing. While he was gone, Brigitte said she started to feel ill. They still said nothing. John suggested they go back to his place and relax in the pool. They still said nothing. She agreed, got up, and left with him.

They said nothing.

Next up was a middle-aged couple, who were sitting just on the other side of John. Their faces weren't blurred, so I felt hopeful. When Brigitte got up to go to the bathroom, and John put the powder in her wine, the woman immediately asked John if he'd just put something in Brigitte's drink. He denied it, but she insisted she saw it. Her husband tried to get her to stop.

Upon Brigitte's return, the woman immediately said to her (paraphrasing), "This is probably inappropriate and he [gestures to husband] thinks I'm crazy, but I'm sure I saw him [gestures to John] put something in your drink while you were gone."

Brigitte confronted John and then left the bar; the woman went after her to make sure she was okay. When they returned, Brigitte told John the date was over while the woman stood beside her and nodded supportively. John yelled at the woman for getting involved and at Brigitte for ditching him and believing the woman, then John eventually left.

At that point, the scenario was revealed to the woman, and she was asked why she decided to help. She burst into tears, and said she did it because she hoped someone would have done the same for her.

The camera panned to Brigitte, who was also crying. The women embraced each other tightly. The reporter said, "Why are you crying? You're an actress!"

Brigitte, the real woman, had had her drink spiked two years earlier—and no one had told her until it was too late.

Word that was never used in this segment: Rape.
In this new year, may we all resolve to stand up against violence, rather than being complicit in it by saying nothing. If we continue to act like the two men who did nothing to condemn the assumed attempted rape of a woman and never hold abusers or rapists responsible for their actions, is it any wonder that rates of rape and domestic violence continue to rise?

For more, see our post on teaching men to hold one another accountable.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Santa doesn't kill people, Abusers kill people

We know that incidents of domestic violence often increase around the holidays as stress increases and families spend more time together, and this season has been no exception.

A Bibb County man has been charged with wounding a woman during a domestic dispute at their home.

A man in Madison held his estranged wife and their child hostage in a hotel, prompting a police standoff.

A Cherokee County man beat his girlfriend and left her by the road to die, which she later did in the hospital.

A fourth Georgia man has been charged in his wife's shooting death in South Carolina where they were visiting family.

And, nationally, no one has missed the coverage of the so-called "Santa Massacre", where a California man murdered his ex-wife and 8 of her relatives at a Christmas party.

What you'll notice about these articles is that the phrase "domestic violence" is never used. Each of the cases is treated as a one-time incident, as if the perpetrator just snapped. What we know, however, is that most men who murder their partners have a long history of violent behavior.

When a woman calls our hotline, contrary to what most people expect, we don't immediately tell her that she needs to leave. Instead, we help her plan to leave, if she chooses to, in the safest way possible, even if that takes some time. That's because one of the most dangerous times in an abusive relationship is when the victim decides to end it. When abusers sense that they are losing control over their victim, they may decide to escalate the violence to prevent her from leaving, or may instead choose to exercise the ultimate form of control by taking her life.

Take the so-called Santa shooting. According to the AJC, Pardo began purchasing ammunition and guns and ordering supplies to build a flame thrower as early as last summer. He ordered the Santa outfit that gained him entrance to the home in early fall. His plans began around the time that his estranged wife filed for divorce.

Again, none of the articles describing this horrific event mention domestic violence, but one of the most telling quotes for us comes from an article in the Huffington Post describing a 911 call made by a survivor of the shooting hiding with her daughter in a neighbor's home.

"I have a feeling I know who it is," she said, and identified the shooter as her former brother-in-law. "They're going through a divorce right now."

Most people going through a divorce do not choose to murder their ex, their ex's entire family, and their own mother for siding with the ex during the divorce proceedings. Something made this woman suspect that her former brother-in-law was capable of such violence, and that indicates to us that there had been signs of abuse in the couple's past.

Many people still feel that domestic violence could never happen to them, or that it is rare, or that it doesn't affect anyone outside of the immediate relationship. For those who still think this way, it is important to label domestic violence for what it is, to recognize how common and dangerous it has become, and to help everyone understand that domestic violence is a community problem with a community solution.

If you are in the Atlanta area and want to learn more about what you can do to end violence against women, call us at (404) 370-7670.

Update: A Baldwin County man killed his girlfriend and then himself this morning. The Macon Telegraph notes that the couple had a history of domestic violence.

Update 2: A Gwinnet County man fractured his wife's skull, almost killing her, on Christmas day. The Gwinnett Daily Post notes that he had prior domestic violence charges.