October (almost over) is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I’ve wanted to write some pithy comments about how, over the years we’ve been distributing our comfort scarves, the problem of domestic violence, partner abuse, or whatever you want to call it, has decreased. It would be really great if that were the case. But it isn’t. There is more domestic violence, date rape, and trafficking than when we started Handmade, but there is also a lot more talking about it. The increase in violence is terrible for what it says about our society, but the increase in talking about it is good. People in general are more aware that it goes on. There is more recognition that women are not the property of their husbands or partners and cannot/should not be ruled by them. There is more understanding that intimate partner violence is due not to too much alcohol and/or drugs, but is a method of control, of the man exercising his “power” over the woman. Yes, this is exacerbated by alcohol and drugs, but not caused by them. Thus, the solution cannot be simply to send the man to AA or drug rehab. Social workers, psychologists, and family therapists agree that attitudes toward women need to change, that change should occur in schools, and especially in homes.
The #MeToo movement has done a lot to increase talking about the difference in power between men and women in the workplace; now these discussions are carrying over to discussions about more equality in the home. In previous “October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month” messages, I have written that boys who watched their fathers abuse their mothers learned how to become abusers themselves, that girls who watched their mothers take the abuse learned to become victims. Now I’m sharing the obverse: social scientists have observed that boys learn how to be good husbands, good partners, good men when they watch their fathers treat their mothers well. In like manner, women who stand up for themselves teach their daughters that women can be powerful and independent. More shelters use these axioms in working with the children who arrive with their mothers. They offer a 2-year program of learning to live without violence. They believe that teaching the children the alternatives to growing up to be abuser or victim will break the cycle of domestic violence, which so far, continues from one generation to the next.
Other important changes are going on as well. In 2008, when we started Handmade, the idea was that if a woman was abused, she should seek the protection of a shelter. Now, the pendulum is swinging in the opposite direction. Why is that? Reason Number One. There aren’t enough shelters to house all the women who need protection. For instance, Rainbow Services, (the first shelter to which Handmade donated comfort scarves), turned away 900 requests last year alone. Eve Sheedy, executive director of Los Angeles County’s Domestic Violence Council, reports that in LA County there are only 2,000 emergency and transitional shelter beds yet the Los Angeles Police Department receives and investigates more than 15,500 reports of intimate partner violence every year. This is a huge gap between supply and need.
Organizations that serve abused women have had to make a virtue of this reality. The prevailing view now argues that women shouldn’t have to go into hiding. Women and children shouldn’t be the ones “imprisoned” in shelters while abusers move around freely. Increasingly, women, and women with their children, shelter in their own homes. This is less disruptive for them, because they don’t have to make the hard choice of abandoning their friends and family for the sake of safety. Their children can continue at the same schools without a break. And, as we have read above, they have nowhere else to go. Beds at the shelters are full.
Changing societal attitudes support this solution. Long before Handmade came into existence, police were part of the good old boy network. When domestic violence calls came in, they regarded them as from “hysterical” women who didn’t know their place or just needed to calm down. They didn’t take restraining orders seriously. Now, restraining orders are more effective. They are easier for women to get, especially since the personnel at many shelters help women steer through the complicated maze of the legal system. In addition, police are more prepared to enforce them (although we have read many newspaper articles about murders of women who did have restraining orders against their abusers and the police didn’t or couldn’t enforce those orders). More police departments have domestic violence units and send a team composed of specially trained officers and a domestic violence service provider to answer domestic violence calls. Answering these calls is very dangerous for police, since they don’t know if the abuser is armed.
I have described a mixed picture. Some things are getting better, some are not. More women are protected; more women are killed. What can we do to keep the improvements going?
As participants or supporters of Handmade Especially for You, I want you to know we are still making and distributing comfort scarves. Last week Handmade shipped 600 comfort scarves, 299 kid’s hats, and 176 baby items to 23 different shelters for abused women throughout CA. As a result, our year to date totals grew to: 8,120 comfort scarves; 1,708 kid’s hats, and 481 baby items. Sit down when you read the next numbers. They’re incredible. Since the end of 2008, when Handmade started, we shipped 123,875 comfort scarves; 9,653 kid’s hats, and 2,035 baby items. This isn’t enough to cover the calls the Los Angeles Police Department receives every year, but it’s a lot. Women who receive our comfort scarves feel stronger, more able to make the hard choice in favor of education and therapy to work toward a future without abuse. Children who receive our hats know others care for them and want them to grow up without experiencing or observing abuse.
It takes more than the 18 people who participated in our wrapping/shipping party last week to achieve this. Handmade’s team is widespread, from our “locals” to volunteers all over CA and the rest of the US. We have many, many dedicated volunteers and supporters who cheer on our making of comfort scarves and hats. But we can and should do more.
I received the following message from supporters of the Violence Against Women Act. This act was passed in 1994 and expired earlier this year. The House of Representatives passed a bill to reauthorize it, but it has been suppressed in Senate. If you’re a Californian, contact our senators, Diane Feinstein https://www.feinstein.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/e-mail-me and Kamala Harris https://www.harris.senate.gov/contact/email, who already support the reauthorization of this bill, urging them to keep pressure on the leaders of the Senate to bring up this bill for a vote. If you’re in another state, contact your senators.
The bill has several benefits given our interest in reducing the incidents of intimate partner domestic violence. It
expands the definition of a domestic abuser to include current and former dating partners
prohibits those convicted of abuse from buying or owning guns (closes the “boyfriend loophole”
includes additional protections for college students, immigrants, Native Americans and LGBTQ victims
I know this is a lot to ask when I also want you “to keep your needles clicking.” We are strong and determined women. We can accomplish a lot. I’m counting on you. And so are all the women and children who experience domestic violence here in CA.
Thanks in advance for all you do to help them.