In the first three posts of this series, I laid out a collection of concerns regarding the direction that domestic violence work has taken over roughly the past two decades. The issues I’m raising are ones that have been brought to me by abused women themselves and by program staff, many of whom are also survivors. (Let me say again that the program staff are rarely the problem; the vast majority of them are fighting like hell to do what they think is right, but are finding themselves up against obstacle after obstacle, as I wrote about in Parts 1-3.)
I promised that I’d finish by proposing solutions. I am going to put my plan of action in three categories: 1) What individuals can do; 2) What groups can do (including established programs for abused women; and 3) What both individuals and groups should be trying. Today’s post is just going to cover the first of these – this series continues!
WHAT INDIVIDUALS CAN DO
Currently and formerly abused women are going to have to take the movement against domestic violence back. It has been removed from the hands of survivors and taken over by professionals. How can the movement be reclaimed?
1) ABUSED WOMEN, AND THEIR ALLIES, CREATE THEIR OWN SUPPORT SERVICES AND NETWORKS, DIRECTED BY THE SURVIVORS
The battered women’s movement was started by survivors and their allies, not by professionals. You don’t need anyone’s authorization, or any degree or certification, to start helping other survivors. If you live where services don’t exist, or you don’t agree with how services in your area are being run, start your own group.
Please don’t be intimidated by people who tell you that you aren’t qualified to do this, or that you should “leave it to the professionals.” That’s exactly what you should not do. For the first decade or more of the battered women’s movement, survivors were providing most of the services and doing an awesome job, much better than the programs are typically doing nowadays.
The first place to look for ideas and guidance on creating your own support network for survivors is the Justice Jones Facebook page So You Want to be a Justice Advocate . This page was created specifically for survivors who want to start their own support services on abusive relationships. (Please read all the information there carefully. It is not a crisis response page for survivors; it exists to provide training and mentoring to survivors for the specific work of advocating for other survivors. The page is open to the public, so posts and responses are not confidential.)
Here are a couple of additional resources you can draw upon, though these are not specific to issues of domestic abuse:
If you’ve ever participated in a support group yourself, you’ve learned some valuable approaches to being a group leader. You can do it. Groups can meet in person or online, and you can structure them in whatever way you choose. For example, it’s up to you:
* how often the group meets
* who facilitates each meeting
* what requirements you’ll have for who is allowed to participate
* what rules or guidelines you will have for behavior during the group
* whether the meetings will follow have scheduled topics or not
* whether you’ll follow a particular book or written program for abused women
It’s always valuable to get ideas and input from other women (or male allies), but what matters most is to run things the way you would like to see them run. That’s what will give you the most energy to keep the group going, and then to build a wider support network around the group,
2) ABUSED WOMEN, AND THEIR ALLIES, CREATE THEIR OWN ACTIVIST GROUPS, DIRECTED BY THE SURVIVORS
Demanding social change is as important as providing services; in fact, the two efforts should really be working side by side and supporting each other. But as domestic violence work has increasingly been taken over by larger and larger non-profits, the aspect of the work that is about activism has vanished.
The sad result of this split is that, although we now have more services available than ever (in most locations), the overall circumstances of abused women are considerably worse than they were fifteen years ago. The vastly increased corruption in the custody courts; the racist, class-prejudiced, and mother-blaming orientation typical of most child protective services; the huge cuts in public welfare benefits and public health resources (such as WIC and food stamps); and the general backward trends in policing and prosecution, moving back toward old habits of ignoring domestic violence and blaming the victims; all of these factors taken together make a crisis that no amount of service-provision can address.
So we have to get back in the streets, abused women and their allies together. And, as Judith Herman discussed in her classis book Trauma and Recovery, survivors who get involved in fighting for justice tend to see better progress in their personal healing.
Consider working with women in your geographical region, fighting for an end to male violence against women as a human rights issue (not as an issue of dysfunction, which is a misleading way to frame the problem, given its deep historical and societal roots). Work for social change by:
1) Holding marches and rallies that demand systemic change in the response to abused women, including calling out CPS, family courts, police, and prosecutors on their actions
2) Creating creative projects such as photo exhibits, framed collections of short writings by abused women about their experiences, clothesline projects, short plays, and other artistic ways to get the message across
3) Organizing and participating in non-violent civil disobedience actions, where some participants may choose to risk arrest, such as sit-ins, blockades, die-ins, and similar direct actions. Consider a range of other kinds of actions as well, including petitions, boycotts, public shaming of officials (such as family court judges), and picketing against human rights abusers at their workplaces or homes
(For one example, mothers in New Jersey put on a march where they all wore t-shirts that had the name and photo of the most egregiously mother-abusing judge printed on them).
4) Build a stable, lasting women’s rights organization that becomes known and visible in your community, with a focus on combating male violence and tyranny against females (using all three of the above tactics, and more)
Building solid and effective activist groups is hard work; I won’t pretend that it isn’t. For trauma survivors, organizing can sometimes be extra difficult, because of various triggers that group members are dealing with. But there are resources available to help you with your organizing, such as the Family Violence Response Initiative and the “So You Want to Be a Justice Advocate” FB page that I linked to above.
You might also draw upon the book Strategy and Soul by Daniel Hudson, which tells the story of a specific social justice effort but mixes it in with lots of suggestions about how to make change happen in your community.
And after I’m finished writing the remaining parts of this series, I’ll add a post that’s about basic principles in organizing for social change that I hope you’ll find helpful.
TO BE CONTINUED…
Photo by Josh Howard on Unsplash