Wednesday, June 30, 2010

When Do Batterers Deserve Our Forgiveness?

AKA, another Chris Brown post. We've had several requests to comment on Chris Brown's emotional breakdown during his Michael Jackson tribute at the BET awards. Many people in the media and many of Brown's fans feel that he has been punished enough and that it's time for us to forgive. Many others think that Chris Brown has never truly apologized for his use of violence and that this is another carefully constructed ploy to revive his career. As always, WRC wants to defer to the experts. We want to know what survivors of domestic violence think.

Survivors are certainly not a monolithic group, and many will have differences of opinion, but when wondering if it's time for forgiveness, Ruth from Feministing, a survivor herself, writes:

On the last day of the US Social Forum, I ran into an old friend from a campaign I had worked on a few years back. I had seen her on the first day but bee-lined in the other direction. I was dodging her because the only Rose she had ever known was a woman who felt trapped in a domestically violent relationship. I have since left that relationship. Years have passed since then, but I am occasionally haunted by memories when I see an old friend from that era of my life and they ask me the dreaded question, "Are you still with him?"

Blood on my walls. Cops at my doors. Large scars on my back from being pushed on the floor. These are the things I remember with great sadness when my memory is triggered by an old friend's concern about my present well-being or the sighting of male aggressors of violence. These are the things that ran through my mind when the BET awards showcased Chris Brown, probably one of the most infamous batterers of our generation. And if Chris's presence alone on a stage that drew 7 million viewers isn't enough of a stab in the gut, Jermaine Jackson pressed the knife by claiming that it is Chris, in fact, who needs healing.

Ann Powers over at the LA Times also used language that disarmed me. Although Powers conceded that BET airing Chris Brown was problematic, she described Chris as someone who will "forever be in recovery." It's as if there has been a pandemic of amnesia and some among us have forgotten who the victim really is here.

America's conversation about Chris' conviction of felony assault has officially been shifted to the controversy at play in Chris' tears. Adding insult to injury were the stars and fans who have been caught on camera cheering on him, his performance and calling Sunday night's performance a comeback. I can't help but ask: what about us? What about the women who relive their experiences when a man is given a platform to imply that his pain is greater than the brutality he has inflicted on a woman's body? What about Rihanna? Where is the tribute for survivors and what has BET done to change the scourge of violence in Black women's lives?

I am thankful for the presence of male allies who have the courage to stand up and remind us that African-American women ages 15 to 34 die more from the violence of a current or former intimate partner than by anything else. Than By Anything Else. This makes BET's decision to air Chris a profound act of traitor-ship against women and girls. Plain and simple it was an irresponsible action taken by BET. And this can't be wanded away by Queen Latifah serving as a host and a two-sentence plug about Dorothy Height. BET owes African American girls and women so much more than a year grace period for one of the most remorseless batterers of our time.

If a victim wants to or can forgive her batterer as part of her own healing, that can often be a healing choice for her. But please stop asking us to forgive Chris Brown. We will continue to hold him, and Charlie Sheen, and Mel Gibson, and all other famous batterers accountable for the violence they inflict on their partners. There is certainly a place for forgiveness, but until these men start actively trying to undo the harm they've done by partnering with an organization like Men Stopping Violence, we can't take their apologies seriously. After all, using violence against a partner is supposed to harm your career. That's why they call it punishment.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Help for Domestic Violence Convicts

No, you didn't read the title wrong. Yesterday, the US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that state and local gun laws may not unconstitutionally infringe an individual’s right to keep and bear arms. NPR reports:
We have made clear, said Alito, that bans on handguns for felons and the mentally ill are permissible so, too, are laws barring the carrying of handguns near schools, in government buildings and laws that impose conditions on the commercial sale of guns.
These and other "reasonable"restrictions will be allowed; however, the amount of restriction that is reasonable is up for considerable debate. For instance, domestic violence advocates would argue that it is quite reasonable for those charged with or convicted of domestic violence, or those against whom a protective order has been granted, to have their gun rights restricted. After all, according to the Georgia Commission on Family Violence, women are more likely to be killed with a firearm than by all other means combined. This is not Georgia-specific, but is a nationwide truth.

However, other groups find this restriction less than reasonable. In fact, they find restricting the gun rights of batterers so egregious that batterers are the very first group whose gun rights they will fight to restore.

TOTENBERG: Herb Titus, counsel for the Gun Owners of America, agrees. He sees challenges as well to registration and licensing restrictions to age restrictions for gun ownership and to limits on the number of guns that can be bought at one time. But first in the pipeline of challenges, he says, will be the challenges to laws banning guns for those convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors.

Mr. HERB TITUS (Counsel, Gun Owners of America): I believe that the prohibition against people who’ve been convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence will probably be the area of litigation down the road.
Maybe you agree. Maybe you think that men who have committed domestic violence but have completed a batterer's intervention program or who otherwise have learned their lesson do not deserve to have their right to bear arms infringed upon. The US Department of Justice would probably disagree with you, given their stats on recidivism. Blue Wave News provides a summary:

According to a 2000 study which interviewed the former and current partners of male batterers referred to batterer programs by the court:

  • 41% of participants reported that the men committed a re-assault during the 30-month follow-up period.
  • Nearly 2/3 of the first time re-assaults occurred in the first 6 months.
  • About 20 percent of the men repeatedly re-assaulted their partners and account for most of the reported injuries.

In an examination of 1,309 cases under a program mandate at the Bronx misdemeanor domestic violence court:

  • 8% of the defendants were rearrested between the initial arrest and case disposition, 35% during the program mandate period, 31% during the one year following the end of the mandate and 44% during the two years following the mandate.
  • Overall, from the moment of index arrest to two years post release, 62 % of all defendants were rearrested.
If the restriction of batterer's gun rights is deemed "unreasonable" by the courts, this will be a huge blow to the safety of women across the country.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Fishermen's Wives Face Post-Spill Trauma

An article today from Mother Jones describes the St. Bernard Project, a nonprofit founded in 2006 to provide rebuilding services to Katrina-ravaged St. Bernard Parish in Louisiana, as well as offer "psychological rebuilding" through a wellness and mental-health center. Since the oil spill started, the organization has been looking to vastly expand its services to meet the area's latest mental-health crisis: the unrelenting depression falling on families living and working on the Gulf Coast.

There are a myriad of things that contribute to domestic violence. One of the most common that we cite are a batterer's loss of control in others areas of his life, which causes him to seek to recapture that control where he can. People who feel out of control also often turn to alcohol use, which lowers inhibitions and might contribute to some people using violence who otherwise would not have considered it. Both of these things could be contributing factors to the rise in domestic violence seen in gulf areas since the spill.

"My husband's goin' drinkin'. My husband comes home and screams at me. The food's not good enough, the floors aren't clean enough. That's why I'm here, for him to take it out on me."

In next-door Plaquemines Parish, 11 domestic violence calls came in on one recent weekend, compared with 3 on a typical weekend. Cathy Butler, the woman who takes the calls, isn't ready to attribute the spike entirely to the oil spill; it's a hundred degrees outside, after all, and calls always increase a bit in the summer. The mayor of Bayou La Batre, Alabama, says they've had 320 percent more incidents of domestic violence since the spill. Whatever the cause, Butler is sure it's gonna get worse soon. "The more people are out of work, the more trouble we're gonna have," she says. "Plaquemines Community CARE is offering help now, but we're gonna need some more counselors. In the coming months, I'm gonna see a definite increase." She says she is also seeing an increase in child abuse calls.

Michelle tries to offer some perspective to the women by explaining that their husbands' anger is just a reaction against helplessness. He can't fix this, but he can fight.
These are not men who are accustomed to seeking therapy and, indeed, most therapy services in the area are aimed at the wives, hoping that some of the calm and coping strategies will make it back to the husbands. But when we as a culture place a man's value in how well he provides monetarily for his family, we cannot see that taken from him and expect him to know how to handle it alone. Anger, loss, depression, anxiety, and many other emotions are to be expected. That doesn't make family violence OK, but it does underscore the need for us to take men's emotional needs seriously, and to offer mental health services to them as well. If anything, they should be offering counseling to men to protect the wives, not the other way around.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Sylvester, GA Man Killed in Self-Defense

A Sylvester woman fatally shot her son after her held her and his girlfriend at gunpoint Tuesday.

Around 9 o'clock officers were called to a home in the 800 block of North Isabella Street.

Witnesses told investigators that 28-year-old Christopher Terrell Bunn was beating his girlfriend and his mother, 58-year-old Brenda Haire.

Haire shot Bunn in the chest with a handgun. Paramedics tried unsuccessfully to revive him.

Several people were taken in for questioning, but no charges have been filed.

Police say it appears Haire acted in self defense and that witnesses say Bunn had a history of domestic violence.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the Haire and Bunn families.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Texting: the New Trend in Dating Violence

We've covered this before, but more media outlets are taking notice of use of text messaging in domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking.

The text messages to the 22-year-old Virginia woman arrived during the day and night, sometimes 20 or 30 at once. Her ex-boyfriend wanted her back. He would not be refused. He texted and called 758 times.

In New York, a 17-year-old trying to break up with her boyfriend got fewer messages, but they were menacing. "You don't need nobody else but me," read one. Another threatened to kill her.
The harassed often feel compelled to answer the messages, whether they are one-word insults or 3 a.m. demands. Texts arrive in class, at the dinner table, in movie theaters -- 100 or more a day, for some.

Harassment is "just easier now, and it's even more persistent and constant, with no letting up," says Claire Kaplan, director of sexual and domestic violence services at the University of Virginia, which became the focus of national attention in May with the killing of 22-year-old lacrosse player Yeardley Love.

Police have charged Love's ex-boyfriend, George Huguely V, also 22, with first-degree murder and allege that he removed her computer from the crime scene as he fled. Police were investigating whether Huguely sent Love threatening e-mails or text messages.
Text messages allow batterers and stalkers to get their message across whether or not their former partner answers the phone. Harassment can be constant and recipients cannot decline receipt of the message if the sender can just switch phones. They can delete messages, but sometimes can't do so without opening the message first. It can be very hard to open a message like this without reading it.

Batterers also use text messages to monitor their victims' whereabouts.
In Rockville, a woman in her 20s was so closely tracked that her partner insisted that she text him photos to prove her whereabouts -- each with a clock displaying the time, says Hannah Sassoon, coordinator of Montgomery County's domestic violence response team.

Katalina Posada, 22, a recent graduate of the University of Maryland, says one of her friends is frequently texted by a jealous boyfriend. "It's like the 20 questions a parent would ask," she says, adding that she finally told her friend: "This isn't right."
On the flip side, saving the messages can help a victim get a criminal warrant for threats or file a restraining order. Judges are more likely to grant such protections if the victim can provide proof of harassment or threats.

In the case involving the 22-year-old who received 758 messages from her ex-boyfriend -- all unanswered -- the harassment led to stalking charges and a protective order, Kirkland says.
It's very important for parents to educate their children about domestic violence, and for adults to share information about warning signs with their friends and family. Texting can be very private and others may not know about threats or harassment until it is too late.

In a recent survey, nearly one in four of those ages 14 to 24 reported that partners check in multiple times a day to see where they are or who they are with, and more than one in 10 said partners demanded passwords, according to a survey by the Associated Press and MTV.

One challenge is that many teens do not view excessive texting as a problem and may not recognize abusive behaviors. "If you're getting 50 messages an hour and you want 50 messages an hour, that's not a problem," says Marjorie Gilberg, executive director of Break the Cycle, which works to end dating violence. "But if you're getting 50 messages an hour and you don't even want one, that's very different."

These sorts of topics are addressed through a teen help line called Love Is Respect and several national awareness campaigns, including MTV's effort on digital abuse, A Thin Line, a joint effort on digital dating abuse called That's Not Cool and the initiative Love Is Not Abuse.

In California, Jill Murray says her cases have included a 16-year-old whose ex-boyfriend paid four friends to help him text when he was asleep or at work. "It was like psychological torture."

Murray urges parents to pay more attention to their children's texting lives, checking to see how many messages they get, at what hour and from whom. "Parents don't know this is going on whatsoever," she says.

That's why it's so important to make yourself available to friends or family members who may be experiencing domestic violence. Do not judge their choices but instead let them know that you are supportive of them but that you fear for their safety. Abusive partners will often try to isolate their victims from their support systems. If you let a woman know that you are there for her no matter what, she may be more likely to share threatening or worrisome text messages with you. You can then let her know how serious this behavior is and encourage her to reach out for help.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Quick Links

We have two quick links for you today:

Our partner organization Men Stopping Violence tipped us off to this great article at the Huffington Post entitled "Fathers Can Stop Violence, Too". We encourage you to read the whole thing.

Also, in a moment of self-promotion, we wanted to invite you to find us on facebook. Our fan list is growing strong, and we'd like our Facebook friends to become blog readers and our blog readers to become Facebook fans. You'll receive information and updates on our local work that you can connect back to our posts. Thanks!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Man Forces Pregnant Ex To Drink Bleach

In a story that provides credence to our recent post on reproductive coercion, the AJC is reporting that a Savannah man was arrested for forcing his pregnant ex-girlfriend to drink bleach.

Authorities say Alexis Milton is wanted on an aggravated assault charge. The charge stems from a June 10 incident in which authorities allege Milton walked into the unidentified victim's home and told everyone but her to leave. Savannah-Chatham Police spokeswoman Gena Moore says the victim alleges Milton then forced her to drink an unspecified amount of bleach or be killed, then punched her several times and took off.
This crime is especially egregious because the victim is pregnant, and it is hard to believe that her pregnancy was not a motive in this particular offense. Abusers often try to force their partners to miscarry or to have abortions they do not want. If the child survives such treatment, there are often major long-term health effects. Pregnancy is a time when abuse often increases, and it is vital that women experiencing abuse during pregnancy seek help. It is also important for obstetricians and midwives to receive training on the warning signs of domestic violence. Prenatal appointments can be an opportune time for doctors to discuss safety options with women without their partners present. If you are pregnant and would like to speak with an advocate, or if you work with pregnant women and would like to bring a domestic violence training into your workplace, please call our 24-hour hotline at 404-688-9436. (Outside of metro Atlanta: 1-800-33-HAVEN. Outside of Georgia: 1-800-799-SAFE.)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

DV Increases After Oil Spill

The mayor of an Alabama gulf town is reporting a significant increase in domestic violence.

Bayou La Batre, Alabama, Mayor Stan Wright told the BBC that domestic violence has risen by 320 percent since the Gulf Coast oil spill began. There has been a 110 percent increase in daily calls and complaints to the local police department.
This isn't the first time domestic violence rates have risen with a natural disaster.

After the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, rates of alcoholism, suicide, and domestic violence all increased in towns affected by the spill. After Hurricane Andrew in Miami, spousal abuse calls to the local helpline increased by 50 percent, and police reports of domestic violence went up 46 percent following the eruption of the Mt. St. Helens volcano in 1980.

We say over and over again on this blog and in this movement to end violence against women that domestic abuse is about control. When a batterer feels out of control in other areas of his life (i.e. he is losing his business or source of income), he often seeks to exert control where he can. Our society places less value on women and, therefore, a man can often exert control over his female partner, through physical violence or other tactics, and escape consequences. Until we make it inconvenient for men to abuse their female partners, either through criminal penalties or social consequences such as loss of status, harming wives and girlfriends will continue to be the outlet for many men's frustrations.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Expanded DV Protections for Gay Couples

The US Justice Department has directed federal prosecutors to enforce the provisions of the Violence Against Women Act with gay and lesbian couples as well.

Tracy Schmaler, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said that the office’s conclusion had been sent as guidance to federal prosecutors around the country.

Ms. Schmaler said she could not answer questions about the context of the request because it was a matter of internal deliberations.

But Brian Moulton, the chief legislative counsel of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay and lesbian advocacy group, said his group asked the Obama transition team after the 2008 election to have the office “clarify” for prosecutors that the Violence Against Women Act covers violence that might arise in same-sex relationships.

“It’s a step towards equality and recognizing that our relationships exist and are subject to the same sorts of issues that face other committed couples,” Mr. Moulton said. “Unfortunately, sometimes that is domestic violence and other issues that need to be dealt with through the criminal justice system.”

Congress first passed the Violence Against Women Act in 1994. Among other things, its provisions made it a federal crime to cross state lines with the intent of committing domestic violence, stalking, or violating a protection order. Lawmakers have since expanded the act several times.

The federal government’s treatment of gay and lesbian relationships has been a matter of sharp dispute against the backdrop of efforts to legalize same-sex marriage.

A 1996 law, the Defense of Marriage Act, requires the federal government to define legal terms like “marriage” and “spouse” as categories that can exist only with a union between one man and one woman.

But Mr. Barron argued in the memorandum that although the Violence Against Women Act defines possible victims as including the “spouse” of the abuser, the act also includes terms not covered by the Defense of Marriage Act, like “dating partner” and “intimate partner.”

Moreover, he noted, the text of the act uses gender-neutral language, like saying “another person” instead of “a woman.” He cited such language as proof that Congress intended the protections to cover same-sex couples as well as heterosexual ones.

Domestic violence in same-gender relationships is a serious issue that occurs at approximately the same rates as violence in opposite-gender relationships. Additional barriers exist for GLBT individuals, however, because they may fear homophobia from law enforcement, advocates, or even other residents of the shelter if they try to seek help. Regardless of your gender identity or sexual orientation, no one deserves to be abused. GLBTQQI survivors in the Atlanta area can call the United 4 Safety helpline at 404-200-5957 or our 24-hotline at 404-688-9436. We will help you create a plan that takes into account your unique needs and barriers and helps you create a new life of safety for yourself.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Where Domestic Violence Comes From

Today in the New York Times, Maureen Dowd paints a disturbing picture of the culture that produced George Huguely V, the Virginia lacrosse player who has been charged with murdering his girlfriend Yeardley Love.

It was set up like a fantasy football league draft. The height, weight and performance statistics of the draftees were offered to decide who would make the cut and who would emerge as the No. 1 pick.

But the players in this predatory game were not famous N.F.L. stars. They were unwitting girls about to start high school.

A group of soon-to-be freshmen boys at Landon, an elite private grade school and high school for boys in the wealthy Washington suburb of Montgomery County, Md., was drafting local girls.

One team was called “The Southside Slampigs,” and one boy dubbed his team with crude street slang for drug-addicted prostitutes.

The young woman who was the “top pick” was described by one of the boys in a team profile he put up online as “sweet, outgoing, friendly, willing to get down and dirty and [expletive] party. Coming in at 90 pounds, 5’2 and a bra size 34d.” She would be a special asset to the team, he noted, because her mother “is quite the cougar herself.”

Before they got caught last summer, the boys had planned an “opening day party,” complete with T-shirts, where the mission was to invite the drafted girls and, unbeknownst to them, score points by trying to rack up as many sexual encounters with the young women as possible.

“They evidently got points for first, second and third base,” said one outraged father of a drafted girl. “They were going to have parties and tally up the points, and money was going to be exchanged at the end of the season.” He said that the boys would also have earned points for “schmoozing with the parents.”

His daughter, he said, “was very upset about it. She thought these guys were her friends. This is the way we teach boys to treat women, young ladies? You have enough to worry about as a 14- or 15-year-old girl without having to worry about guys who are doing it as sport.”

Another parent was equally appalled: “I think the girls felt like they were getting targeted, that this was some big game. Talk about using people. It doesn’t get much worse than that.”
This would have been the perfect time for an intervention. If the school had taken this predatory behavior toward women seriously enough and the boys had seen a meaningful consequence for their actions, this could have been a turning point. Men can be shown how their behavior negatively impacts the women in their life, and they can be persuaded to change. However, some of the parents don't think the boys were sufficiently punished. By not punishing young men when these mindsets and behaviors are discovered, we are telling them that punishment is not warranted and that what they did wasn't all that bad.

Maybe, to some, this wasn't all that bad. But this is just the early stage of a man seeing women only as sexual objects to be obtained, not as partners with feelings of their own. If a young man continues down this road of not seeing women as full people, something much worse could happen.

A gunman who shot and killed his wife and three other women at a South Florida restaurant before committing suicide was the half-brother of former baseball star Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez.
Police said the shooter bypassed at least two men when he fired at the women inside. Three women were hospitalized in critical condition, Hialeah police Detective Eddie Rodriguez said.

"He went straight for the women," Rodriguez said.
Four women are now dead, and three others are injured in what is only the most recent in our nation's history of gender-motivated mass murders.
This time it was Gerardo Regalado, half-brother of former baseball star Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, and the crime took place in South Florida. Last year it was George Sodini in Collier County, PA, who opened fire in an all-female aerobics class in an act of misguided revenge for a sexually frustrated existence. Before that, it was Cho Seung-Hui, the mentally unstable stalker of women at Virginia Tech, who ended up being responsible for the worst school shooting in U.S. history. In 2006, it was the school shootings in Amish country and in Colorado’s Platte Canyon. And in 1998, it was the murder of four elementary school girls and their female teacher in Jonesboro, AR.

I am sick to death that I have to keep writing some version of this same article or blog post on loop. But I have to, because in all of these cases, gender-based violence lies at the heart of these crimes — and leaving this motivating factor uninvestigated not only deprives the public of the full, accurate picture of the events at hand, but leave us without the analysis and context needed to understand the violence, recognize warning signs, and take steps to prevent similar massacres in the future.
Those steps are exactly what parents of the girls targeted by the Landon boys were advocating. They wanted the predatory mindset punished early. They took it seriously because they saw the negative impact on their daughters. The family and friends of the women murdered and injured in Florida will be taking the punishment of predatory behavior seriously, because they have also seen the negative impact. We take it seriously, because we see its impact every day. Won't you take it seriously, too?

Monday, June 7, 2010

You Are Not A Failure

Marketing a domestic violence agency is hard because people don't want to be depressed all of the time. People want to give their time and their donations to a cause that is hopeful. They want to make things better. They want to see success.

But "success" and "failure" are subjective. Is a woman a failure if she returns to an abusive partner? Even when so many of the cards are stacked against her?

We'll be honest. It's tempting to gloss things over. It's tempting to make it sound easy to rebuild your life in 90 days in a strange place that you share with many other families. If we make it sound easy, our program looks successful. And if our program looks successful, you'll give us more money that we can use to help more women. But if we do lie, if we do make it seem easy, what happens when it isn't?

Even if we raise $10,000 more dollars that we can use to pay rent, or utilities, or childcare costs for survivors of domestic violence, how does it feel to them when everyone assumes it was easy for them to pick up and start over? And how does it feel when you're at day 75 in your 90-day stay and it hasn't been easy, and you haven't found a job, and people are wondering what is wrong with you that you're still living with your children in a shelter? How do we convince those with power that we need more funding for childcare subsidies, more affordable housing, second chances at jobs, second chances at bank accounts, and work that pays a living wage when we've told them that starting over is a snap?

So we don't lie. But we also can't spend all of our time laying out the myriad of ways that women are told every day that they can't make it on their own. It's not uplifting to acknowledge the hundreds of times each day a battered woman staying in a shelter probably thinks about going back to her partner if that partner can put food on the table for her children. When her food stamp application is rejected, when the doctor won't take Medicaid, when her phone gets cut off, when the judge won't grant her restraining order, when she gets turned down for the 92nd job, when her mom blames her for her marriage falling apart, when it's raining while she's waiting for the bus, when her pastor says God hates divorce, when her baby just won't stop crying, when her children want to see their dad, and when the bruises heal and she can almost forget for a moment what it was really like at home, she thinks about going back. For most people, going back doesn't count as a success.

If she gives in, does that make all of us failures? No. A thousand times no. Because the next time she leaves, she knows that WRC will welcome her back, no questions asked. And the next time she leaves, she knows what she is facing. She knows how hard it will be and she knows that all of that hardship is better than what she is leaving. She is running from something, but this time she knows where she is running to.

So we're going to tell you about it. We're going to walk that tightrope between uplifting and depressing with honesty and integrity. Because if we make it seem easy, it makes it harder for her. So we're willing to do the hard work. We're willing to raise money for a cause that can sometimes seem hopeless. We're willing to look foundation representatives in the eye and say, yes, sometimes the women go back. And we won't keep stats about a "95% success rate!" because we refuse to call any women failures. We'll do this hard work so that it's a little easier for her. We'll do this hard work so that, when she makes it, she gets the applause that she deserves.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Pregnancy and Abuse

When thinking about teen pregnancy, most people think about preventing it. That debate usually centers on sexual education and what a sex ed curriculum should contain. Not long ago, the media took notice of some teenage girls who actually wanted to be pregnant. But very rarely do we hear about teenage boys who want to get their girlfriends pregnant, with or without their consent.

Leyla W. couldn't figure out where her birth control pills kept going. One day a few tablets would be missing; the next, the whole container. Her then-boyfriend shrugged and said he hadn’t seen them. She believed him—until she found them in his drawer. When she confronted him, he hit her. "That was his way of shutting me up," says Leyla, who is in her mid-20s and living in Northern California. (For her safety, Leyla wishes to withhold her last name and hometown.) He also raped her and, most days, left her locked in a bedroom with a bit of food and water while he went to work. (A roommate took pity and let her out until he came home.) Thanks to the missed pills, she got pregnant twice, the second time deciding against abortion.
Leyla's story turns a modern fable on its head: that of the woman—call her the femme fertile—who conspires to get pregnant, perhaps by "forgetting" to take her birth control pills, as a way to “trap a man” and force marriage—or at least keep him in her life. In reality, experts researchers on dating violence and unintended pregnancy say, it’s Leyla's version of that story is all too common. Two new studies have quantified what advocates for young women’s health have observed for years: the striking frequency with which it is in fact young men who try to force their partners to get pregnant. Their goal: not to settle down as family men but rather to exert what is perhaps the most intimate, and lasting, form of control. (“Control” may also include attempts to force both pregnancy and abortion, even in the same relationship.) Together with earlier small-scale studies and reports by those in the field, the new figures help fill out the picture of a long-known, but under-addressed, phenomenon now referred to as "reproductive coercion,” in which abusive partners subject young women already at risk of violence to the additional health risks of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. The new data confirm that we must expand not only our assumptions about who’s forcing whom to get pregnant but also our understanding of the meaning and causes of “unwanted” pregnancy. “If we are serious about stopping unplanned pregnancy in this country, we simply must address the sexual violence and reproductive control that often cause it,” says Esta Soler, president of the Family Violence Prevention Fund, which has been a leading advocate on the issue.

A new study has found that among 71 women aged 18-49 with a history of intimate partner violence, 74 percent reported having experienced some form of reproductive control, including forced unprotected intercourse, failure to withdraw as promised or sabotaging of condoms. Women who became pregnant were coerced to proceed in accordance with the wishes of their partners, who in some cases threatened to kill them if they had an abortion. Study authors Ann Moore, Lori Frohwirth and Elizabeth Miller, MD, recommend that service providers in women’s health clinics ask questions designed to identify women who may be experiencing reproductive coercion, and should be aware that some women may need birth control (such as IUDs) that can be hidden from partners.
Though this article focuses on teens, the issue isn't limited to one age group. Many adult women who come to us for services report similar tactics being used against them, and unplanned pregnancy has profound consequences for their lives too. It is a lot easier to flee an abusive home with one child than with three. It is a lot easier to find a job that supports three people than five. And it is a lot easier to stay completely away from someone if you don't have children linking you together forever. Pregnancy also increases the intensity of family violence and makes just being in the relationship even more dangerous. Teen or adult, if you suspect that your partner is sabotaging your birth control or is trying to get you pregnant against your wishes, please call us at 404-370-7670. We'd like to help before things get worse.

If you are outside the metro Atlanta area and need help, call the GA statewide hotline at 1-800-33-HAVEN (42836). Elsewhere in the US, you can call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Campaign in England Targets Abusive Attitudes

A new education campaign in Wales is taking on the same challenge as this blog: trying to help the public connect every day behaviors that are demeaning to or dismissive of women to a culture that perpetuates violence against those women.

A TV advert shows "abusive" behaviour towards a woman, including being leered at and enduring sexist comments.

Social Justice Minister Carl Sargeant said while that could seem harmless to men, women can feel threatened.

Welsh Women's Aid said tackling "widespread social attitudes" was crucial.

The advert shows a gang of men in a van sounding their horn and gesturing at the woman in the street, a male office colleague ogling her, and two strangers in a bar making suggestive remarks as she passes.

The video ends with her being followed down a dark street by another man, with the headline One Step Too Far.

It then asks: "To you it's nothing, but it all adds up. Where does 'harmless' end and 'abusive' begin?"

The Welsh Assembly Government said the campaign aimed to "stamp out unacceptable attitudes and behaviour towards women before it leads to more violent forms of abuse".

Mr Sargeant said: "Whilst the odd comment or gesture may seem harmless enough, to the woman on the receiving end they can feel threatening and abusive.

"Any behaviour that intimidates a woman should not be tolerated. If the campaign makes people stop and think then it will have served its purpose."

Campaigners say social attitudes towards woman must be challenged Paula Hardy, chief executive of Welsh Women's Aid, said the campaign linked "everyday behaviours which demean women (and the attitudes underlying these behaviours) with the epidemic social problem of violence against women.

"The link is essentially gender inequality - which the assembly government now recognises as both a cause and a consequence of violence against women."
Click through to the BBC here to watch the ad.