Spotlight on Domestic Violence

Safe and Together Model CAP Academy

August 21st, 2015

spotlightPlease enjoy this update on last week’s Academy from AmeriCorps member Evan Abramsky!

Last week, a four-day Safe and Together Academy Training was hosted at the Iowa State Capitol as a part of our ongoing efforts to educate domestic violence caseworkers and staff in the Safe and Together model of child welfare-informed domestic violence response. By completing the training, the attending staff became certified Connect and Protect Members, ready to implement the Safe and Together model into state and regional practice. The training sessions were led by the model’s founder, David Mandel, and his associate and national trainer, Kyle Pinto. Both of them did amazing jobs inspiring the more than 40 workers and staff who attended to rethink the traditional philosophy of victim-based domestic violence response that fails to hold perpetrators accountable for their decisions.

David Mandel and his associates have decades of first-hand experience in the domestic violence and child welfare fields, and are thus acutely aware of the important nexus between them. David and Kyle effectively challenged many widely-held beliefs regarding the influence of domestic violence on the livelihood of children, reinforcing that domestic violence is in fact a parenting choice and children are also victimized, both directly and indirectly, by such choices. They also emphasized the importance for caseworkers and staff of mapping perpetrators’ patterns of behavior and engaging with perpetrators, as opposed to victims, when working to end the violence.

David Mandel led the first two days of the Academy Training, beginning day one with a pre-test that would later be compared to post-training test in order to determine the training’s efficacy and impact. Following the pre-test, David introduced some of the basic components of the Safe and Together model to the attendees, including the concepts of the “Domestic Violence Continuum” and perpetrator pattern-based approach. On day two, David shifted the focus to applying the concepts discussed during day one into the practical aspects of interviewing survivors and documenting information from a perpetrator pattern-based approach, and gave attendees several opportunities to practice their new skills within groups of their peers.

National Trainer Kyle Pinto led the last two days of the Academy Training. Kyle focused day three on learning to effectively map a perpetrator’s individual pattern of coercive control in order to better determine the extent of his control over the family and any harm he may have inflicted on the child; understanding a perpetrator’s pattern of control is key to pursuing actions that truly keep the survivor and child safe from harm. The final day of the Academy Training concentrated on recognizing the strengths of domestic violence survivors in their efforts to protect children from domestic violence in order to foster more trustworthy, reliable relationships between caseworkers, and the survivors and children they seek to protect.

With the end of the training, Iowa gained 43 new and enthusiastic Connect And Protect (CAP) Members trained in the Safe and Together model, and prepared to begin transforming practice throughout the central service region. While it will likely take years before the majority of state staff are familiar with the model and its tools, last week marked a promising beginning for the roll-out, which in time is sure to radically bolster Iowa’s success in protecting families by ending the scourge of domestic violence.

Over the course of the next few months, we will host two additional two-day supervisory trainings and ten one-day community trainings throughout the state that will inform casework supervisors and staff alike in the basic concepts and components of the Safe and Together model. You can find dates and locations for the coming trainings below!

Supervisory III Training, Waterloo, 9/9 – 9/10

Supervisory IV Training, Storm Lake, 9/16 – 9/17

Community – Western Training, Council Bluffs, 10/21

Community – Western Training, Sioux City, 10/22

Community – Eastern Training, Burlington, 10/26

Community – Eastern Training, Davenport, 10/27

Community – Cedar Rapids Area Training, Cedar Rapids, 10/28

Community – Cedar Rapids Area Training, Ottumwa, 10/29

Community – Northern Training, Waterloo, 11/9

Community – Northern Training, Fort Dodge, 11/10

Community – Des Moines Area Training, Des Moines, 11/12

Community – Des Moines Area Training, Des Moines, 11/13

Child Safety Trumps Spousal Immunity

August 4th, 2015

spotlight Please enjoy another insightful post from our AmeriCorps member, Evan Abramsky.

Disclaimer: This is not an article about Donald Trump, however, I have to thank the Donald for inspiring this discussion.

Over the last few weeks, the nation has been captivated by the rise of Donald Trump to the position of front-runner in the Republican Party’s long list of candidates seeking the party’s nomination, regardless of his inflammatory comments about Mexican immigrants, Senator John McCain, and countless others. As a potential nominee, the media has begun to thoroughly comb over Trump’s past, and recently unearthed allegations of rape that were made against Mr. Trump by his ex-wife, Ivana Trump in 1989. In an interview last week, Michael Cohen, a close adviser of Donald Trump, was questioned about these allegations by a reporter from The Daily Beast. In response, Cohen denied the allegations on the pretense that “you cannot rape your spouse.”
Mr. Cohen’s comments are of course blatantly incorrect, but are valuable for shedding light on an issue that many fail to think about or even accept as possible: spousal rape. Regardless of whether or not the allegations against Donald Trump are accurate, they do have many in the media discussing the issue, which can only help to raise greater awareness.
Little research has been done to determine the prevalence of spousal rape—in fact, only two studies of the issue have been conducted: one in San Francisco, and another in Boston. According to the studies, approximately 1 in 10 married women were victims of spousal rape. It is well established by other studies that approximately 30% of sexual assaults are perpetrated by a male lover, and that the chances of spousal rape and sexual assault are significantly increased when domestic violence is present. These are not isolated incidents, as the data indicates that a large majority of victims reported multiple incidents of rape. It is not clear whether those statistics differ significantly amongst social groups, as further research is necessary.
For those working in the domestic violence field, it is key to consider the possibility of sexual abuse in domestic violence cases as another tool in the perpetrator’s pattern of behavior and that if it is determined that sexual abuse is present, proper medical and legal services be notified. Spousal rape can also occur in the presence of children and children can be forced into participating by a perpetrator, as child abuse and domestic violence are often interconnected.

Information and resources regarding spousal rape can be found at RAINN, Pandora’s Project, and Aphrodite Wounded.

Domestic Violence Continues to Plague LGBTQ Community

July 8th, 2015

spotlightAnother guest blog by our DV AmeriCorps Member, Evan Abramsky. Thanks, Evan!

On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court handed down one of its most significant decisions in history. In the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court ruled that no state could legally deny the right to marry for same-sex couples based on their sexual orientation. This represents a major step forward for advocates of LGBT rights, and it should be celebrated. However, the LGBT community still has a great deal more work to do before victory can be declared. One area in which significant work remains is in how domestic violence prevention and response agencies handle violence in same-sex relationships.

Over the last 30 years, advocates have been successful at bringing the hidden epidemic of domestic violence out into the open. Through effective advertising campaigns, public policy work, and the expansion of available supports for victims, domestic and sexual violence are no longer taboo topics that are expected to remain in the home. While these efforts have raised significant awareness for female victims of domestic violence at the hands of violent males, many in the LGBT community argue that more work must be done to create visibility for domestic violence victims in same-sex relationships.

According to the National Violence Against Women survey, the prevalence of domestic violence amongst males in same-sex relationships was approximately five times higher than that of males opposite-sex relationships (35.4% as opposed to 7.1%, respectively). For women in same-sex relationships, the rate of domestic violence was slightly higher than that of women in opposite-sex relationships (21.5% versus 20.4%, respectively). A study by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health determined that 34.6% of members of the transgender community were victims of domestic violence in their lifetimes. These are significant disparities that will require a lot of hard work to resolve.

The LGBT community faces a unique set of issues when it comes to domestic violence. Many LGBT victims fear being outed if they seek help. Others fear that by reporting the violence, they will generate negative sentiments toward same-sex relationships and the greater LGBT community. Still others are unsure how responders may handle a domestic violence report if they were to call emergency services. The combination of these issues has forced domestic violence within same-sex relationships to remain a taboo subject within the LGBT community, while similar violence within opposite-sex couples has garnered national attention.

Thankfully, work can and is being done on local and national levels to create a less heteronormative standard of domestic violence. Training for responders to domestic violence is slowly expanding to be more sensitive to same-sex couples. Local supports and shelters are beginning to evaluate their policies so as to allow for greater anonymity for gay victims who do not wish to be inadvertently outed when seeking assistance.

As the LGBT community continues to gain wider acceptance around the country, so too must the notion that anyone can become a victim of domestic violence. While the legalization of same-sex marriage represents a major milestone for the LGBT community, we must not lose sight of the greater goal: the equal protection of all Americans, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.

Workers in the domestic violence field can be key allies for LGBT victims in their communities. By maintaining strict confidentiality with LGBT clients, becoming familiarized with the unique issues and supports of the LGBT community in your area, working to fill resource gaps for LGBT community members, and disregarding the heteronormative stereotypes of domestic violence, you can more effectively serve those in your community who need your help.

-Evan Abramsky


Abused Emojis May Send the Wrong Message

May 29th, 2015

spotlightAnother fabulous post from AmeriCorps member, Evan Abramsky!

It’s unfathomably difficult for victims of domestic violence, sexual violence, and child abuse to express to friends and family just what it is that they are experiencing. In an attempt to make communication of the situation and the feelings it brings easier for victims, Swedish charity BRIS (“Children’s Rights in Society”), has created the “Abused Emojis” app for iOS devices. The app contains 15 abused emojis that share the style and aesthetics of the emojis that come preinstalled with iOS, but with far more tragic representations. For example, one familiar, bright-yellow “distressed” emoji features a visible bruise around it’s left eye. Another depicts an angry father with a glass of red wine looming over a subordinate young girl.

While the idea behind the app is certainly well-intentioned, I have several apprehensions in regards to the BRIS’s Abused Emojis. To begin, in regards to compatibility, the app is only available for Apple’s iOS devices (including the iPhone and iPad). According to data collected by Forrester Research, the average household income of iPhone users is approximately $105,200 per year. Users of Google’s Android mobile operating system, for which the Abused Emojis are not available, have an average household income of $89,300–almost $16,000 less, on average. There is a significant amount of research indicating that, while domestic violence is present in every level of socioeconomic class, higher income households tend to have lower rates of domestic violence. By limiting the availability of the Abused Emojis app to iOS users only, BRIS is missing the opportunity to assist a sizeable portion of mobile users who may be at a higher risk of domestic violence.

Another issue I have with the Abused Emojis app regards the nature of emojis as a communication tool. While they are certainly helpful in communicating emotion in casual, whimsical conversation, it’s unclear how appropriate of a tool emojis are in communicating far more serious circumstances, like suicidal thoughts, self-harm, alcoholism, and child abuse, all of which are depicted in the Abused Emojis app.

Finally, Abused Emojis runs the risk of making depictions of domestic violence into comical relief for those who may wish to misuse the app. One particular abused emoji that itself has already shown signs of being abused for “comedic” purposes depicts a sad boy with the infamous poop emoji on his head. While the emoji was likely intended to symbolize a serious feeling of low self-worth which often accompanies victims of domestic violence, it’s use of the whimsical poop emoji gives the emoji a less than serious character. Already, users of the Abused Emoji app have taken up using the offending emoji for a host of imaginative situations that fail to capture the truly down-trodden feelings that accompany consistent rounds of battery.

The Abused Emoji app is by no means a terrible idea, however. There is no debate: the representations are mostly unsettling and certainly are effective at portraying different forms of domestic violence. But will they truly make it easier for victims to speak up, as they are intended? This author is skeptical–at least when it comes to the communication of situations and emotions to friends and family. It is more likely that the Abused Emoji app could find use in a clinical or professional setting, perhaps in assisting victims in expressing to their psychologist or therapist what they have experienced or in notifying a social worker of violent incidents when they occur. However, in the context of a conversation amongst friends or family, I doubt the Abused Emoji app could ever replace the thoughts and feelings a victim would need to communicate when discussing their experience with domestic violence, sexual violence, or child abuse. Whether or not the app finds a use between social workers and victims of domestic violence, only time will tell…

– Evan Abramsky