Violence Against Women
News, Summer 2017
STANDING TOGETHER TO STOP ABUSE
BY JILL BRUCKNER
It’s an understated problem, a pervasive puzzle that persists as a whisper, paralyzing positive outcomes and penetrating victims’ psyche, robbing them of time, talent and treasure. It’s domestic violence, and the fight to give the whisper voice and volume is gaining ground, even as the problem persists.
“Domestic Violence continues to be an underreported crime, creating difficulty in accurately tracking the magnitude of those affected,” says Lynne Lange, executive director, Nebraska Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence. “We do know that data collected by the Statewide Coordinated Response Team from 2012–2013 illustrated that there were 22 domestic-violence-related deaths.
All of the deaths were tied to heterosexual relationships in which the abuser was male and the victim was female.” Lange, who points out the Nebraska Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence envisions “a world where domestic violence and sexual assault are a distant memory and healthy relationships prosper,” added a telling caveat to the 2012-2013 homicide statistics: “In each case, the victim was in the process of ending the relationship, or had ended the relationship, when the homicide occurred.”
Homicide alone is not the only indicator of an epidemic, however. “The Nebraska Coalition’s network of 20 member programs served an average of 20,000 individuals a year over the past three years. During the most recent annual reporting period (October 2015 – September 2016), 50,065 shelter nights were provided, and at the same time there were 1,998 unmet requests for shelter services due to a lack of resources,” Lange says.
During the same reporting period, The Nebraska Coalition’s network also answered 43,979 calls through crisis lines, and provided 63,068 service contacts for individual counseling and advocacy. An additional 56,000 individuals were reached through community education and prevention presentations.
What is Domestic Violence?
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCDAV) defines domestic violence as, “the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another. It includes physical violence, sexual violence, threats and emotional/psychological abuse.”
Nebraska Law defines domestic violence as abuse that occurs between spouses, persons living as spouses, or adult members of the same household. It is attempting to cause or intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causing bodily injury with or without a deadly weapon, or placing another in fear of imminent serious bodily injury.
Part of the complexity of understanding and identifying domestic violence results from misconceptions, misperceptions, flawed social norms, loosely defined values and a mentality of victim-based shame that umbrellas both the motivation of the abuser and the victim’s ability to seek help. “One of the most frustrating questions that we often hear about domestic violence relationships is, ‘Why doesn’t she just leave?’” says Lange. “I would like to point out that this question points a finger at the victim and creates an expectation that the victim is responsible for stopping the violence. Wouldn’t it be amazing to live in a society that points the finger at the abusive partner, asking ‘Why does he abuse her? Why does he treat her that way? Why does our society tolerate this? What can we do to change this?’”
Ending an abusive relationship is often multifaceted and risky; and, as Lange notes, placing the responsibility for stopping the violence on the victim is equal parts unjust, inappropriate and unfair. As for why a victim may remain in a frightening and destructive situation, the reasons are many. “They are often isolated and do not have access to resources or a support system, making the concept of leaving feel impossible. They may be dependent on the abusive partner for income. There may be religious reasons and beliefs that factor in as well,” Lange explains. “But the bottom line is that leaving a violent relationship escalates the violence, making it extremely dangerous. Leaving can be fatal.”
Dawn Conley, director of domestic abuse, sexual assault and hardship services for Heartland Family Service, agrees, “Most people ask, ‘Why doesn’t she/he leave?’ when they hear of a violent relationship. Most people assume leaving would be very easy and the violence would stop. It does not happen that way. Many times a victim may not have financial resources, so they are unable to get their own place to live. They may have lost their support systems over the years due to the abusive relationship.”
Conley adds that the victim “may be threatened by the abuser that they will lose the kids and never see them again. If there are children involved, the survivor still has to communicate with the abuser because of the children. Just because a person leaves an abusive relationship does not mean the abuse stops. The abuser still can, and many times will, abuse the victim by using the child, draining bank accounts, showing up at their place of employment, or just calling them repeatedly.”
According to The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010 Summary Report, there are more than 10 million victims of intimate partner violence annually in the U.S. That’s about 20 people a minute. The World Health Organization reports the U.S. economic cost of intimate partner violence is an estimated $5.8 billion to $12.6 billion. Given the nondiscriminatory nature of domestic violence, including the reach of the problem across social and economic lines nationwide, agencies are recognizing that a unified effort to combat the issue means not only identifying and understanding the reality of the situation, but also combining forces to rescue victims, identify perpetrators, bring justice and provide counseling to impacted parties.
Christon MacTaggart is the domestic/sexual violence project manager for the Women’s Fund of Omaha. She suggests systemic collaboration of agencies is key to advancing issues that address domestic violence. “Our goal is to end domestic violence in our state through solutions that are complex and multi-pronged, such as the abuse itself is,” MacTaggart says. “Multiple agencies and individuals will continue to work together to support survivors throughout their journey to safety. We stand stronger when we stand together against those who harm them.”
Standing Together to Stop Violence
Charlie Venditte and Bobby Brumfield are two men doing just that—standing together to eradicate domestic violence. The pair co-founded Men Against Domestic Violence Action Coalition (MADVAC) in response to Omaha’s need for proactive education about—and increased understanding of—the magnitude and impact of domestic violence. Brumfield, Venditte and their MADVAC colleagues—all of whom donate their time—share stories, strategies and statistics regarding appropriate roles and responsibilities in relationships, and what happens when those roles go awry. As MADVAC cofounders, Brumfield and Venditte also have extensive law-enforcement experience—knowledge that serves them well during teaching and speaking engagements.
“Our main mission is to proactively engage boys and men in preventing domestic violence to those who reach out to us,” says Venditte, a retired Omaha Police Officer and current criminal bureau investigator in the Douglas County Attorney’s Office. “We feel children will, in fact, learn the way they live,” Venditte explains. He says a 1954 poem by family counselor and writer Dorothy Law Nolte, Ph.D. entitled, “Children Learn What They Live,” has influenced his values and provided a framework for MADVAC’s mission. As a result, Venditte believes children who “live with acceptance and friendship learn to find love in the world.”
On the other hand, domestic violence has a profound, negative impact on human growth and development—suppressing motivation, creating an environment of fear and shaping attitudes regarding dominance and control. “Children are dramatically affected by domestic violence,” says Venditte. “If we could reach children at a young age we could have a good opportunity to change minds. No one has a right to control someone else. We try to spur discussion through education, training and awareness.” Venditte says that once, after one of the group’s speaking engagements, a young man said, ‘What you are trying to teach us is exactly what we need—because most men don’t feel that way.”
Brumfield, who is also a former Omaha Police Officer, believes that anything that happens “has to happen from the house outward” to make an impact on domestic violence. Currently a Violence Prevention Advisor, Brumfield incorporates his years of experience in local and federal law enforcement into a host of services designed to counsel and guide businesses, organizations and individuals. His mission is ending violence against women and girls—a foundational activity that aligns well with his MADVAC commitment.
“I wasn’t raised with domestic violence,” Brumfield explains, “so the first time I saw it up close and personal was as a police officer taking sexual assault reports.” During this time, Brumfield observed firsthand what the statistics support: The vast majority of offenders are men, and the victims are often isolated. “Then I got the opportunity to go into the Marine Corps,” Brumfield says. “I traveled overseas and saw how women were treated in other parts of the world—in cultures where they were subordinated. It was explained to me, this is ‘just part of their culture’ but I began thinking, ‘If this is just part of their culture, why do all these women and girls view it as wrong?’”
Brumfield became even more convicted about the complexities and importance of domestic-violence prevention as he continued his law-enforcement and consulting career. “Once I started doing workplace violence training, everyone wanted to talk about ISIS, but no one wanted to talk about intimate partner violence,” he says. “Maybe this is just too personal in the workplace—but there is a cost to the employer on many levels, associated with this. In the end, if we can put the stigma on the offender and not the victim, if we can frame violence against women as a whole, we can see change. You can judge a nation on how they treat their women and girls.”
MADVAC, while not a 501 (c)(3), is fully operated and funded by volunteers, works collaboratively with the Women’s Center for Advancement (WCA), and is striving to further the agency’s mission of “assisting victims of domestic violence and sexual assault and their children to achieve safety and empowering them to lead self-determined lives.”
While the WCA offers many programs, President and CEO Amy Richardson says the agency is committed to “positioning ourselves to be accessible to anyone at any time. You’re never told what to do when someone you love has injured you. What we want to do is to educate, and to offer services, because we know the main referrals are other people who have been through this. It is a very, very difficult journey.”
That journey, according to the CDC’s 2010-2012 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, is marked by staggering statistics. Case in point: “In the U.S., more than 27 percent of women and 11 percent of men have experienced contact sexual violence, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime and experienced an intimate partner violence-related impact.” Closer to home, the WCA reports 1 in 3 women are affected by domestic violence and sexual assault, while social media, online conveniences and a transition to location transparency are increasing opportunities for perpetrators to exert greater control—and greater fear—over a victim’s daily activities.
“We’re seeing a great amount of using social media to locate someone—to remove access, close things down with the click of a button. You can use extreme measures to control and isolate,” Richardson says, referring to abusers’ abilities to remotely manage bank accounts, freeze funds or intimidate victims by threatening to release illicit photos, or cyberbully victims and colleagues in the workplace. “It still comes down to power and control,” she adds. “These manners just have to be met with different measures as far as trying to help the victims—it’s much more difficult than it was 10 years ago, because there are so many more ways to be controlled.”
Regardless of the nature of the control, Richardson says individuals threatened by domestic violence can expect trauma-sensitive intervention as soon as they walk through the WCA’s doors, including immediate action to stop the violence in a safe, sensitive manner.
• Enter the WCA without an appointment and complete an intake form that has been designed in a “trauma-informed manner,”
• Meet immediately with an advocate in a private client room, and
• Work with the advocate to complete a Danger Assessment, as well as an individual safety plan.
Once the advocate has an understanding of the victim’s needs, the WCA offers “information to make decisions they need to make,” Richardson says. “It’s such a dangerous time, with a high percentage who are pregnant and have young children and are extremely vulnerable. We want them in a very neutral way to know all the things they can do.” The advocate will “explain all the possibilities and possible outcomes, never making a choice for the client. Domestic violence is a crime of power and control, so we strive to allow our clients to have control over their own choices—something that has been taken away from them in their relationship.”
According to the Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice and Statistics, Intimate Partner Violence in the United States, women ages 16 to 24 experience intimate-partner violence at the highest rate, almost three times the national average, while the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey reports 52 percent of women who are domestic violence victims / survivors show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. The result: A continued need for collaboration, intervention, funding and services designed to break the cycle of isolation and abuse.
The Need is Great, but Help is Here
“Continuous education about domestic violence is important, not only to continue to assist those who are in abusive relationships, but also to prevent our children from being in a violent relationship in their future,” explains Heartland Family Service’s Conley. The Nebraska Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence’s Lange concurs. “We embrace the fact that domestic violence is preventable. It is equally important to focus our energy on effective primary prevention so that we can change the social norms that allow and condone violence.”
Lange suggests preventing violence requires focusing on “attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, environments and policies to no longer tolerate those that contribute to violence, and to lift up those that embrace stopping violence. Social change work involves preventing violence before it actually occurs, and is the most important aspect in our movement.” Strategies such as learning more about domestic violence, “calling out” domestic violence and sexual assault, hosting a training or talking to others about what constitutes healthy relationships are all measures anyone can take to curb the spread of domestic violence, say professionals, including Richardson.
Further, while help is available to victims during crises, equally important is assistance in understanding the influence of domestic violence in moving forward. For this reason, the WCA offers such programs as Mindfulness Meditation and Trauma Sensitive Yoga, as well as classes, support services, education opportunities and more. Some of the best advice is also the bravest: “Let trusted people know what is happening so they can be there to support you,” Conley says. W