Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Power(less)

This semester, my nonprofit PR class is promoting domestic violence awareness and supporting the local shelter/outreach organization Safe Harbor. The students have been wonderful, throwing a lot of time, effort and energy into projects to promote awareness on campus and raise money. They arranged for purple ribbons to be on every Homecoming float and are hosting an on-campus education event at the end of the month. They are also updating materials to better reach high school students. They make me so proud.

In all my efforts to focus on PR and doing good, though, I seem to have forgotten the sheer enormity of the issue (1 in 4 women) and incredibly depressing and difficult stories it involves. Relationship violence is difficult to understand ("why would you hurt someone you love?") and to emphathize with ("why didn't she just leave?"), but it's even more difficult to hear about injuries, destroyed childhoods, deaths.

All of this became very personal for me during last year's class when a dear friend of mine shared her own story of dating abuse. I was shocked. This year, it has hit home in that an incident of violence just occured in our community. This time, it was not dating violence, but a homophobic assault. The story involves drunk students, exchanged insults, and a beating that led to hospitalization. Interestingly, the students who want to address the issue/help/do SOMETHING have formed a group that covers not just queer discrimination, but all sexual violence. The students had the foresight and compassion to relate all sexual violence - violence against another person for anything related to sexuality - as a common issue. It's all about power and the horrific displays of it over another person.

I want to commend these students and their new campus organization, Tigers for the Elimination of Campus Sexual Violence. I also want to commend them for approaching this issue of sexual power from all angles. They helped draw attention to an offensive article in the campus newspaper's sex and dating column. They are organizing a peaceful protest today. They are giving power and support to the powerless and hurt.

I'm glad my class is doing their good work, but as with anyone who has worked with a charity, it's also easy to get overwhelmed in how much more we should be doing. Sexual violence is pervasive. It is happening in your community. It has affected someone you know. Let's talk about it, share stories, raise funds, support others, listen, get help, be involved. If you don't know how to start, get educated. Please. Let's stop this.

2 comments:

  1. If she leaves, he may try to kill her (women in an abusive relationship are in the most danger of death when they try to leave).

    If she has children and tries to leave, a court will more likely grant custody to the abusive father than to her.

    If she has property and lives in a community property state and tries to leave, he will get half of everything - even if he earned none of it.

    In many cases, during the relationship he did not allow her to work outside the home. If she leaves, she will struggle to find a job and earn enough to stay afloat.

    They don't hit you on the first date. They wait til you're "in," until your lives are intertwined, both emotionally and logistically, and then they slowly introduce the control and the abuse. And then years later, you find yourself in a situation you never imagined, trapped by myriad social pressures, financial dead ends, and concern for your own safety - and, of course, the judgment of most everyone you know, who think you share in the blame because you let it happen (and of course, you feel that way, too). It's astonishingly easy. It can happen to anyone. It really, really can.

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  2. We had an employee call us yesterday. She has been missing for a few days, we have been unsuccessfully trying to reach her, and now we know why. She is in protective custody. She finally left him, took her kids and ran to a nearby shelter, but was afraid to make contact with anyone outside the shelter for fear he would kill her. She sounded scared, but proud, if that can even happen. She's out, but the worst has only just begun.

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