A Call to Action: Why sexual and domestic violence organizations are crucial to the anti-trafficking movement

profile photoBy Becky Owens Bullard

Over the past 6 years working in the anti-trafficking field, I’ve seen an enormous amount of positive growth in conjunction with many negative challenges.  I’ve often attributed this to the anti-trafficking movement being in its “adolescence,” as it is technically much younger than the anti-sexual and domestic violence movements that began in the 1960s and 70s.Human-Trafficking-Word-Cloud

This so-called adolescence has its benefits: the anti-trafficking movement is energetic, optimistic, and very popular. Everyone seems to want to work on human trafficking, the news media consistently covers the topic, and donors are looking to fund anti-trafficking efforts.  Additionally, passionate organizations and experts are doing ground-breaking work to combat trafficking. The field is understandably taking advantage of this energy and popularity by gaining some of the strongholds that the domestic violence and sexual assault movements were able to gain in the 80s and 90s – longer-standing organizations are solidifying their leadership, shelters are developing and programs expanding, and anti-trafficking laws are moving through political gridlock to assist survivors and hold exploiters accountable.

However, adolescence also has its “growing pains” and the anti-trafficking field can sometimes be just as erratic and impetuous as your average teenager.  New organizations with little understanding of the crime seem to be forming every day; some even end up harming victims further.  New individuals in the field may seem to claim expertise overnight, after seeing a movie or hearing a presentation on trafficking; some even falsify or elaborate on their credentials. Many of my colleagues in the sexual and domestic violence fields have told me they wouldn’t want to work in the anti-trafficking field for these reasons – because it can mean trying to reason with zealots who think they can “rescue” every victim or deal with individuals trying to “make a name” off of a new and burgeoning field.

Being the “popular kid” has its costs as well. When other anti-violence fields see that the anti-trafficking movement continues to garner the attention of news media and donors, it can feel incredibly discounting.  When the crime of human trafficking is so often painted in the extreme as an issue “like no other,” it can feel extremely alienating.  This frustration and alienation can be damaging, leading to a lack of collaboration and leaving other fields feeling like trafficking doesn’t intersect with the issues they work on.  But for sexual and domestic violence organizations, we can’t walk away from working on human trafficking – both because the anti-trafficking field needs our voices and because it is without a doubt “our issue.”

IMPORTANCE OF THE INTERSECTIONS

In my capacity as a trainer on the intersections of human trafficking with sexual and domestic violence, I’ve also seen exciting growth and frustrating challenges in the sexual and domestic violence fields’ work on human trafficking. There has been amazing progress towards incorporating exploitation into sexual and domestic violence programs as well as tremendous leadership in these fields to be a part of, and even at the helm of, the anti-trafficking movement.  However, I still frequently hear the sentiment that human trafficking just doesn’t fit squarely into these fields, making it more understandable why sexual and domestic violence agencies do not dive into anti-trafficking work.

For sexual assault agencies, sex trafficking typically feels like a natural fit into the parameters of working on sexual violence, whereas labor trafficking may not.  I remember doing a training for a state coalition that asked specifically for the presentation to “stick to sex trafficking” and not go into labor, thinking that their member agencies wouldn’t have occasion to encounter these victims.  However, when I asked the organizations what types of trafficking they had seen, many mentioned cases of individuals being sexually assaulted within situations of domestic servitude and agricultural labor.

For domestic violence agencies, finding parallels to this work may feel like an even bigger leap, especially with the way trafficking is often portrayed. The media and even anti-trafficking speakers typically highlight the more sensational stories of brutally violent “stranger-traffickers,” and rarely depict a trafficker as the husband selling his wife for sex or the father forcing his children to work. But as with many other crimes, traffickers can be those closest to their victims and exploitation can be a part of intimate partner violence and familial abuse.

The intersections are real and cases of human trafficking will fall into the laps of those working on sexual and domestic violence regularly. It may not be the primary case you see, but exploitative abuse is ever-present in your work, making it essential for you to be an integral part of the movement to combat trafficking.

On the other hand, even organizations that clearly see these intersections and want to be involved may not necessarily get invited to the anti-trafficking table as equal partners. At the first meeting of my organization, the Denver Anti-Trafficking Alliance, I asked how many of the 40-plus diverse agency partners in attendance had worked with a trafficking victim and almost all raised their hands. When I asked how many had attended a collaborative meeting on human trafficking, only a small number raised their hands.  I also remember a state sexual and domestic violence coalition telling me that anti-trafficking organizations in their state used their member agencies when they needed shelter for a victim, but wouldn’t include them in funding or collaborative discussions. This lack of inclusiveness has underpinnings in some of the issues of adolescence mentioned above, and is a significant barrier to providing a comprehensive response to human trafficking.

CRUCIAL VOICES IN THE FIELD

While the anti-trafficking movement may not be actively seeking sexual and domestic violence organizations’ participation, your voice is critical to anti-trafficking work. As mentioned before, being in its adolescence means the anti-trafficking field has several energetic, amazing organizations and experts doing exceptional work; however, the field is also vulnerable to inexperienced organizations and self-proclaimed “experts” that can do serious harm to victims and survivors. Sexual and domestic violence organizations can help prevent this harm by bringing a time-tested, trauma-informed perspective to the anti-trafficking table. This perspective and the non-harmful services available to victims through sexual and domestic violence agencies are essential to support the anti-trafficking movement where true expert voices may be in the minority.

At this point, let me be clear (because I can visualize some people getting worked up about now), I am not asking you to drop your work on sexual and domestic violence and become an anti-trafficking “only” organization or to take on “one more thing” with no funding behind it. I am asking you to recognize human trafficking as part of your existing work on abuse. Because, let’s be honest, you are already doing the work. If a man is sexually assaulted by his employer who is also trafficking him, your organization will serve him if you can because he is a victim of sexual violence. If a woman is sold for sex by her husband to “make ends meet,” you will serve her if you can because she is a victim of sexual and domestic violence. Right?

CALL TO ACTION

So now is the time to claim your seat at the anti-trafficking table and to add your voice to those of anti-trafficking advocates working to help the movement mature past its adolescence. By doing this, your organization can provide services to trafficking survivors that are time-tested and trauma-informed, take part in collaborative funding opportunities to support those services, and vet agencies and individuals whose experience may be lacking and ultimately harmful to survivors.

Your voice is not only important because the sexual and domestic violence movements are technically in their “adulthood” and have a seasoned perspective of trauma-informed service and collaborative work— it is also critical to this work because human trafficking is, without question, your issue too.

Also posted on the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault Blog  http://www.ccasa.org/a-call-to-action/

Image credit: http://catalinamethodist.org/event/human-traffiking-workshop/

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Filed under Domestic Violence, Familial Violence, Human Trafficking, Intimate Partner Violence, Labor Trafficking, Sex Trafficking, Violence Against Women

Take off the cape: Why using the word “rescue” is harmful to anti-trafficking efforts

Becky Owens Bullard

By Becky Owens Bullard

Originally Posted on the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CCASA) Blog

When I came to the human trafficking field from working on domestic and sexual violence, I was shocked by a lot of things. It was disturbing to learn about the various ways traffickers abuse and exploit victims for labor and sex and surprising to see how frequently human trafficking intersected directly with intimate partner violence, sex assault and child abuse.

However, a different type of unsettling surprise for me came not from the crime itself, but from the terminology used to discuss it. More specifically, I was shocked by how commonly the word “rescue” was used to describe identifying and assisting victims and survivors of human trafficking.

This was so foreign to me because in the domestic and sexual violenceTake off the cape:  Why using the word “rescue” is harmful to anti-trafficking efforts fields it would be unthinkable to refer to victim identification and assistance as a “rescue” or “rescue mission.” I can only imagine the faces of my former colleagues if I had said that my work with an individual had “rescued” them from their abuser. There would have been some serious questioning of my ability to provide appropriate, trauma-informed services to that person without doing considerable harm as well as my motives for doing the work in the first place.

Having come from disciplines where the use of this term would be seen as highly inappropriate and demeaning to a victim or survivor of crime, it was very odd to me that “rescue” was a term used not only in everyday language around the issue but also in awareness and education, news media and even in the names of anti-trafficking organizations and programs. Although “rescue” is a word that evokes images of life-saving missions to pull people from a burning building, I soon found out that the anti-trafficking field had essentially reclaimed the word to convey uniqueness in the ways trafficking victims are identified and given assistance.

Now you may be wondering, “What harm can using a term like this really do?” Unfortunately, the frequent use of “rescue” has a serious impact on victims and survivors of human trafficking as well as to the human trafficking field as a whole. Here are some reasons why:

Trauma Bonding & Psychological Abuse

Some of you may have been thinking “but human trafficking is unique and usually involves kidnapping and confinement, so rescuing fits!” However, more often than not, traffickers aren’t complete strangers utilizing brute force but are known or become known to their victims by forming relationships and strong trauma bonds, making it difficult to leave because of love, hope and fear involved. Some victims are even trafficked by intimate partners, parents and other relatives. Also, anyone who has worked with trafficking survivors will tell you that the dynamics of this crime are complex and the forms of power and control employed by traffickers are often psychological rather than physical, similar to domestic violence.

Impact: So if your idea of a human trafficking victim is someone waiting to be rescued, you will find yourself confused when, instead of holding out their arms to you in relief and gratefulness, a victim uses some choice words to tell you where you can go and returns to their trafficker over and over again. Using the word “rescue” simplifies this incredibly complex crime and promotes misconceptions about who traffickers are and how they control and manipulate their victims. This is not only detrimental to law enforcement and service providers’ ability to identify victims, it is also harmful to our capacity to prosecute traffickers when a jury expects a victim who was chained up by their trafficker rather than one who leaves and returns to a trafficking situation multiple times.

Uneven Power Dynamic between “Rescuer” and “Rescuee”

Wondering why my previous coworkers would have been concerned if I said I “rescued” someone from their abuser? Because when you say that you “rescued” someone, that statement is about empowering and aggrandizing yourself while disempowering the person you think you rescued. This is because “rescuing” creates an uneven power dynamic where the “rescuer” (read: hero) has all of the power in the relationship and the “rescuee” (read: helpless victim) has no agency or role in the exit of his or her abusive situation. While not everyone using the word “rescue” is purposefully trying to pump their own egos and disempower victims, they are certainly using the term without thinking of its true meaning and impact.

Impact: A relationship built on inequality with an empowered, potentially self-serving role for the “rescuer” and a demeaning and demoralizing role for the victim mirrors the uneven power dynamics they experienced with their trafficker. This unequal relationship is the antithesis of trauma-informed care, as it doesn’t allow for mutuality and true empowerment, and ultimately inhibits a victim’s path to healing and survivorship.

Everyone wants to Rescue a Victim!

The use of the exclamation point is for sarcasm and the point is that this simplistic view of human trafficking gives a simplistic idea of the solution. Well-meaning, compassionate people hear about the horrors of human trafficking and how victims are just waiting to be rescued, and think, “Hey, that is something I can do!” without understanding of the complexity of the situation and the necessity for a trauma-informed professional response. Look no further than Nicholas Kristof’s Half the Skywhere he discovers in his chapter entitled “Rescuing Girls is the Easy Part” that taking women out of brothels doesn’t mean they won’t return or that all their problems have been magically solved.

Impact: Multiple organizations are forming with the idea of “rescuing” trafficking victims without professional experience in victim services and trauma. Sometimes these organizations even plan their own undercover rescue missions or try to be a kind of renegade force to fill in where official law enforcement can’t respond. A week doesn’t seem to go by that I don’t hear of a new organization that wants to “rescue” or “save” victims of human trafficking. And while they may have good intentions, ignorance and inexperience can be incredibly harmful to victims and survivors who need professional trauma-informed services. Moreover, the ease with which organizations are able to form and claim expertise in this relatively new field of human trafficking is astounding and frightening. Because the field is younger than say the domestic violence or sex assault fields, new organizations can often form without much question from funders or even partners in the field as to how qualified they are to be providing services in the first place.

For all of these reasons and the harmful impacts they have, the anti-trafficking field has to reevaluate the use of the word “rescue” in everyday language among practitioners, in communication to the general public and most importantly, to victims and survivors themselves. We should rely on more traditional, professional terms when we talk about discovering and working with victims of this crime that truly reflect its’ nature, such as “identification” and “assistance.”

This reevaluation and revamping of our terminology is crucial because before we can meaningfully move forward in our efforts to end human trafficking, we have to communicate the correct information about what this crime looks like and have appropriate responses and services that don’t further disempower victims and survivors. It’s time we take off the “rescuer’s” cape and elevate our language around anti-trafficking work to the trauma-informed, victim-centered place that it should be.

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Filed under Domestic Violence, Familial Violence, Human Trafficking, Intimate Partner Violence, Labor Trafficking, Sex Trafficking, Sexual Violence, Violence Against Women

Losing my Self-Care: a Dedication to my Girls

by Becky Owens Bullard

So, I haven’t written for the blog in a long time.  Believe me, there have been many serious issues about violence and abuse that I wanted to write about, but I just haven’t had the energy for it.  I’ve chalked this up to a lot of things – the fact that work has gotten busier and life has been crazier lately, but the honest truth is that it is from losing something that has sustained me through this work for a long time: my self-care.

Self-care is an essential part of working on issues of abuse in order to avoid secondary or vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue. Trauma and fatigue of this kind are incredibly common and serious issues for individuals who work directly and indirectly with victims and survivors of crime. For example, a study of Colorado child protection staff found that approximately 50% of workers suffered from “high” or “very high” levels of compassion fatigue.girls

This trauma and fatigue can be debilitating and mimic the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for the individual working in this field. As a result, practicing self-care has become an integral part of many social work and psychology programs as well as for a number of agencies working on violence and abuse. It has even made its way to the mainstream as a mechanism for the general public to cope with the massive amounts of traumatic information communicated through the news media on a day to day basis.

So what is self-care? There are a number of different definitions, but the general idea is taking care of your psychological and physical health by recognizing the impact of trauma on your day to day life and honoring your needs by creating a balance between personal and professional life.  People accomplish this in a number of ways – through healthy relationships, exercise, meditation, hobbies, etc.  Valuing and prioritizing the things that feed our souls can support us in continuing to work on issues that can be traumatizing and disheartening.

For me, like many others, I have multiple methods of self-care that I’ve learned I need over the years, such as hiking, cooking, photography, and spending time with family and friends. But one of the most indispensable forms of self-care that sustained me over the last 7 years were two shaggy, smiling, goofy souls waiting for me at my door at the end of every day.  We got our two dogs, Mona and Pita, when I started my first job in the domestic violence field at a shelter in Tennessee. We lost them both to cancer this past March as I was settling in to a job in Colorado where I had decided it was time to take a break from direct work.

Mona and Pita, our girls, were there for me through some of my first experiences with very complex and traumatizing work.  When I worked in the courtroom as a domestic violence advocate and struggled not to take the stories of the people I’d worked with home with me or worry about the terrible dangers they faced when they went home themselves, the girls were energetic young pups who licked my face constantly when I walked in the door and made me laugh with their crazy antics chasing each other around our yard.

When I came home from taking calls and coordinating tips of awful forms of abuse and exploitation on the national human trafficking hotline, the girls were slightly calmer in their older age and would lay on my lap and let me stroke their heads even while I was still sending out tips from my bed at night.

girls on hikeTheir smiling, goofy faces waiting anxiously for me at the door as I tiredly walked down the hill to our house, gave me an energy and strength that I can’t describe.  Sometimes I would walk in the door and immediately collapse on the ground to hug them for as long as they’d let me before bombarding me with smelly dog kisses.  On the weekends, we’d go on walks, hikes, camping and canoeing.  They allowed me to heal from trauma and to still have faith in humanity after days of hearing some of the most awful things humans can do to one another. They showed me joy and love that I could have easily forgotten existed in this world. They were my constant companions.

Now, I should acknowledge that I am also very fortunate to have an amazing partner whose support to me has always been invaluable.  But something that we both agree on and feel strongly about is that our girls gave both of us a form of support that each other could not exactly provide. There is something about the unconditional love of an animal and the healing power it can have that is honestly, just magical.  This isn’t something that my husband and I are unique in feeling – a study by a Swedish doctor has shown a strong correlation between the positive interactions with humans and their dogs with the release of stress-reducing oxytocin for both.  We see this therapeutic relationship put into action with service dogs, hospice dogs and even with dogs to support victims of violence while testifying in court.

Dogs and other animals can be such a powerful source of self-care. It is one that I always knew I had, but never knew how central it was to the work that I did and the life I was able to lead outside of work until it was gone. So what do we do when one of our primary sources of self-care is no longer there? How do we cope with that loss?  Sometimes it may mean taking a step back from the work we do and recognizing the limitations that we have given this change. Other times, it may mean reworking our self-care structure and the things that we need to balance ourselves when experiencing secondary trauma in the workplace.  For me, I know that reconstructing my self-care is a process that has taken time, but has been made easier by remembering what the girls taught me about life and love.

I realize more and more each day how lucky I was to have their amazing spirit in my life and how much they helped me to smile and laugh when life seemed dark.  There are terrible things in this world, but how we lift each other up and empower each other to move forward can be every day miracles. I am so thankful that I had two wonderful souls that helped me to do the work I love and care about so much, while helping me to see the miracles in the world I could easily have forgotten.  I miss you and love you, my self-care, my goofy girls.

Mona Pita paws

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Filed under Self-Care, Violence Against Women

Dear Colorado

By Michelle Spradling

Dear Colorado,
You finally want to talk about rape.  How timely.  Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) is around the corner, and the 2013 theme is perfectly fitting: “Let’s talk about It! Colorado Communities Coming Together.”

Sexual violence has become one of the hottest topics at the epicenter of the gun debate in Colorado, with common arguments like:  Victims need guns to protect themselves. Guns can backfire in sexual violence. Guns are the key to protecting women which of course means that anyone against guns is against women!

Suddenly, our community is taking notice of sexual assault, which is the ultimate goal for all anti-sexual assault activists. However, instead of welcoming this change, I want nothing more than for everyone to just stop talking.

Within the Colorado gun debate there hasn’t been any real talk about sexual violence, only personal attacks on representatives and political agendas cloaked in a flashy and radiant disguise of rape.

After Representative Akin was subsequently voted out of office for his infamous comment alluding that it was physiologically impossible to be impregnated from rape, I had high hopes. Perhaps legislators would see sexual violence as an important issue to their constituents. Perhaps legislators and the public alike would seek education on the realities of the crime and learn about how they could make a difference in the world. Unfortunately, it seems there was a nastier lesson to be learned: rape is the golden ticket to political gain.
Instead of learning the facts about how sexual violence can overlap in the gun debate, time and attention has been spent on ousting members of the opposite political party.  Any comments made about sexual violence by legislators have been molded in to ammunition to target the other side.  The right is declaring that Democrats don’t care about rape victims, and the left is affirming that it’s the Republicans who don’t care about rape victims.

Shame on all of us. No political party owns the issue of rape. Republicans are raped. Democrats are raped. Anyone can be raped, and both parties can and have come together to support meaningful legislation on sexual violence.  I am proud to call many republican and democratic representative allies for sexual violence. Just yesterday, national legislation, the Violence Against Women Act, was signed in to law with bipartisan support from our Colorado representatives and senators. Last month, I had the honor to testify as a survivor in front of the house judiciary committee about the SAVE Bill—HB 1163, which will create an emergency fund for victims seeking medical care after a sexual assault. It passed with unanimous support from Republicans and Democrats alike—just as it should have.

My biggest fear is that the ugliness of the gun debate will spill over in to other bills impacting sexual assault survivors; that bills like HB 1163 will get lost in a fight straight down party lines.  Sexual violence is a bipartisan issue, and in the spirit of the SAAM theme, it’s time for Colorado communities (and their representatives) to come together and fight sexual violence.

I’m urging you—representatives and activists on both sides of the gun debate—it’s time to disarm your sexual violence weapon and have discussions based on facts and the reality of rape. There will undoubtedly be survivors on both sides of this issue, and we need to honor their voices and allow them to be a part of the conversation, but these personal attacks for political gain need to stop. These strategies are at the expense of survivors, and it’s offensive. Period.

Michelle Spradling is the chair of the CCASA Policy committee and a local sexual assault response coordinator. 

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Where we’ve been and How We can move forward in the Fight against Human Trafficking

By Becky Owens Bullard

This past Friday, January 11th was National Human Trafficking Awareness Day and the month of January has been declared National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month by President Obama. While this awareness day and month are naturally used to increase the level of attention to and action around the issue of human trafficking and its disastrous effects on women, men and children in our country, they can also be an important time for self-awareness and reflection on how far we have come in the effort to combat human trafficking.  During this January, I have been thinking about where the human trafficking field has been during the past few years and where it is headed.

While the field has made great strides in the short time since it was officially recognized as a crime with the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) in 2000, the movement to combat human trafficking is still relatively young compared to others such as the sexual assault and domestic violence movements. The relative novelty of the issue and movement to combat it has both positive and negative effects. A positive aspect is that people are undeniably drawn to the issue of human trafficking as a “new” type of crime (though it is not new at all) and want to become involved, hear about how it affects their community, and look for solutions. Conversely, while there is great interest in the issue, there are still prevalent misconceptions about what human trafficking is and isn’t as well as a need for more comprehensive, victim-centered responses to the issue.

So when reflecting on how much the human trafficking field has accomplished and what lies ahead to be achieved, I thought about some of the things I’ve seen in the few years I’ve worked on the issue:

While we hear about human trafficking more and more in the media and in our communities, we still have a long way to go to clear up misconceptions commonly associated with the issue. When I started working on the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) hotline in 2009, we received an average of 636 calls per month and many were requests for information about what human trafficking is and how to identify it. Just two years later, the monthly call average had almost tripled to 1,619 and calls about tips of suspected trafficking and crisis calls directly from victims were more prevalent. This demonstrates an enormous growth in understanding and awareness around the issue.

Nonetheless, even though most people have seen enough news specials or gone to a sufficient number of trainings to understand that trafficking does not only affect foreign nationals and that trafficking does not necessarily have to involve transportation, there are still lingering misconceptions about what trafficking can look like. For example, I often train on the intersections of human trafficking and domestic violence and in every training I conduct, participants express their surprise that a trafficker can be a family member, a parent, a spouse or an intimate partner. So while we have achieved a level of success in clarifying some misconceptions, we still have work to do to broaden understanding of what human trafficking can look like and how it can be very different from prevalent images of organized criminal activity, kidnapping of children and chains and shackles.

Though we have more agencies than ever working on human trafficking, there is still a long way to go to develop comprehensive and trauma-informed services for victims of this crime. The human trafficking field has seen an enormous increase in law enforcement and victim services agencies working on the issue over the years. When I began my work at the national hotline, infrastructure was still weak or growing slowly in many places and now, we see a number of task forces and coalitions (funded and unfunded) working together on this crime as well as multiple service organizations dedicated to these victims.

But while the human trafficking field is undoubtedly growing by the day, there are still a number of gaps to cover in service provision and response to victims. For example, the NHTRC recently conducted a nation-wide survey on how many beds were available for trafficking victims and found that there is a serious shortage of space for victims with fewer than 2000 available beds and only a little over 500 of these specifically designated for trafficking victims. Additionally, we need to ensure that the many new programs that are emerging are operating with victim-centered and trauma-informed practices. So, although we have more services for trafficking victims than we’ve ever had, the need to ensure holistic service provision is still very great.

Finally, although the human trafficking field has become a more robust group, there are still a number of ways that we can expand our reach and work with other fields that are vital to ending human trafficking. As mentioned above, the human trafficking field has grown exponentially over the past decade and has made great strides in reaching out to related fields to engage them in the issue. Yet at times we can get caught up in the increased special attention to the issue and treat human trafficking as an issue entirely unique unto itself.  In doing this, we neglect opening the issue up to related fields and creating meaningful partnerships.

So while we may develop tunnel-vision, like all movements do at various points in their history, we must remember that human trafficking is an issue that intersects with so many others, like sexual abuse, domestic violence, child abuse, teen dating violence, runaway and homeless youth, labor rights issues, immigrant and refugee issues and many more. In short, we cannot solve this problem on our own and our voices are louder and stronger working together. With these essential partnerships, we can make this issue everyone’s issue and work together to stop human trafficking and modern slavery.

By recognizing how far we’ve come and what we still need to accomplish this year during Human Trafficking Awareness Month, we can continue to move forward on this issue and work towards even more meaningful partnerships, comprehensive services and innovative strategies to combat human trafficking.

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Let’s Call It What It Is: Domestic Violence

KL.jpg

by Kari Lorimer

Photo: Jamie Squire, Getty Images

Let’s not skirt around the issue, I’m just going to call it what it is: Kasandra Perkins was a victim of domestic violence.  Period.  Perkins’ death was tragic, heart breaking, and wrong.  And unfortunately, it is not an uncommon story; almost one-third of female homicide victims that are reported in police records are killed by an intimate partner.

Having said that, I’m not going to discuss Belcher’s character or even the serious problem the NFL seems to have with players that are perpetrators of domestic violence and sexual assault.  Instead, I want to discuss the role that media isn’t playing in calling it what it is.

The vast media coverage of Jovan Belcher murdering his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, and then killing himself is both disheartening and frustrating.   There has been some mention of domestic violence but, if anything, the media might be reinforcing stereotypes about domestic violence by what they choose to focus on, such as alcohol use causing the argument to become more heatedindicating that Belcher doesn’t fit the typical profile of an abuser, or touting that Belcher had pledged to never be violent to women.  Let’s be clear: alcohol does not cause domestic violence and anyone can be a perpetrator of domestic violence, even if they have made a pledge not to be.

In my time working as an advocate for victims of domestic violence, I had the opportunity to train throughout the community about domestic violence.  In order to prepare for the trainings, I would do an internet search to research current events related to domestic violence.  Sometimes the search was rather difficult – not, unfortunately, because the violence wasn’t happening but because the media didn’t call it what it was.

I would cringe every time I read something about an intimate partner that was brutally murdered or beaten but the article indicated that it wasn’t domestic violence because there was no history of violence or the perpetrator hadn’t shown any violent tendencies.  Or even worse, the phrase domestic violence wasn’t even referred to at all.

I cringed for multiple reasons.  I cringed because the media doesn’t seem to understand intimate partner violence and all its nuances and is passing those misconceptions on to their readers.  But, I also cringed because it feels like a waste of time determining if there had been prior violent tendencies because if you understand domestic violence, the lack of visible history shouldn’t be surprising.

In their 2003 report “Criminal Victimization,” the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics indicated that domestic violence is one of the most chronically underreported crimes.   The reasons for not reporting the violence are endless ranging from embarrassment to fear and the idea that “what happens in the home stays in the home” is still very prevalent in our society.  So, is it any wonder that there often doesn’t appear to be a history of violence?

Rather than focusing on the lack of violent history in the relationship, the public would be better served if the media focused on the violence itself and using its power to educate the readers.  Rather than focusing on how none of the neighbors thought there were any problems, the focus should be on what would keep a victim from telling their story and educating the public about all the different types of abuse, the red flags that could indicate a violent relationship, and how to help someone who is in an abusive relationship.  And most importantly, please call it what it is: domestic violence.

To give credit where credit is due, the Kansas City Chiefs called it what it is.  They took a step in the right direction when they held a moment of silence for victims of domestic violence at their game last Sunday.

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Filed under Domestic Violence, Intimate Partner Violence, Violence Against Women, Violence in the Media

Ending Violence against Women is “a responsibility for all of us”

By Becky Owens Bullard

“This is not just a women’s issue, this is a responsibility for all of us. This violence is an outrage and it must be stopped. Time has run out for complacency or excuses. Let us show the will, the determination and let us mobilize greater resources to end what is a scourge of humanity, violence against women.” – Michelle Bachelet, UN Women Executive Director November 20, 2012.

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Photo from Say NO – UNiTE to End Violence Against Women

Every November 25th is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, yet I’m always surprised at how little coverage this day and the issue itself receives.  In some countries around the world, including my own, this time of the year is a time where most people are consumed with upcoming holidays and what presents to get our loved ones.  So most often, this day of awareness is lost on these countries and the millions who inhabit them, but the importance of raising awareness to eliminate violence against women and girls can not be understated.

With some of the progress that we’ve seen in issues like domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, harassment, human trafficking, femicide, forced marriage and rape as a method of war, it may feel easier to overlook violence against women and girls as an issue deserving of serious attention at this time of the year or really at any time of the year. However, violence against women and girls continues to be incredibly pervasive, much more so than you might think. In a multi-country study conducted by the World Health Organization finds that in most countries between 30 to 60 % of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence, with the highest proportion of findings at 71% of women in Ethiopia.

Additionally, people will often ask why the focus on women? And aren’t men affected by violence too? While a number of men and boys are certainly affected by violence, the unfortunate reality remains that violence disproportionately affects women and girls. This is a result of discriminatory gender norms that view females as the weaker sex, as property, as subservient to men, and as objects to be gawked at and grabbed whenever men please.

The most common number taken from the WHO study above and additional studies on the subject is that on average around the world 1 in 3 women will be affected by some form of abuse or violence in her lifetime. So if women and girls make up half the world’s 7 billion human beings, over 1 billion of these individuals have been victims of some form of violence. over 1 billion people.  This constitutes a pandemic of very serious proportions. Nonetheless, it is an issue that is commonly placed behind other international, national and local priorities even though violence against girls and women between ages 15 to 44 cause more death and disability than war, cancer, malaria, and traffic accidents combined.

For example, in the U.S. during the most recent elections there wasn’t a single question in the presidential debates concerning this pandemic or the long overdue ratification of the Violence Against Women Act, even though 1 in 4 women in the U.S. are victims of domestic violence, 1 in 6 women are victims of rape and 1/3 of women murdered in the U.S. are murdered by their intimate partner.

Sadly, what we did hear were various comments about “legitimate rape” not causing pregnancy, rape being “something that God intended to happen” that girls don’t get pregnant from statutory rape or incest, pregnancy from rape being similar to “having a baby out of wedlock“, and that “some girls they rape so easy“. Disturbing comments like these show a troubling lack of understanding that half the world’s population is at very serious risk of becoming a victim of very real violence.

These persistent misogynist attitudes and the staggering statistics on violence perpetrated against women and girls clearly demonstrate why we cannot ignore this issue and the opportunity to raise awareness about ending this violence today or any other day of the year.

But why should you be bothered with this difficult and depressing issue, especially at this time of the year?  Because you know her.  You know a woman/girl who has been sexually harassed, you know a woman/girl who has been so terrified of her intimate partner that she’d do anything to calm him down, you know a woman/girl who has been a raped.  While you may be thinking, “I don’t know anyone who has had that type of horrible experience”, these statistics aren’t just numbers and the prevalence of violence against women and girls is very real. You know her I guarantee you, you’ve just never heard what she’s been through.

So during this time of the year when we are supposed to focus on love, togetherness and humanity, do your part to raise awareness about this issue.  Do your part to help the women/girls you know who have been affected by violence. And like with any issue, if we work together to educate ourselves, our children and our communities on the important role that every single one of us has, we can end the pandemic of violence against women and girls.

Ask your government to commit to end violence against women.

Take action against gender violence during the 16 days between today and December 10th (International Human Rights Day).

Learn how to help someone who may be suffering from abuse or from sexual assault.

And finally – share this post on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women with your family and friends to raise awareness!

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Filed under Domestic Violence, Familial Violence, Gender Equality, Human Trafficking, Intimate Partner Violence, Sexual Violence, Stalking, Stranger-Street Harassment, Violence Against Women