Posts Tagged ‘domestic violence’

Hyper-Masculininty’s Violent Response in NA/Indigenous Populations

In Prevention, Sexual Assault Awareness on April 23, 2011 at 8:17 am

One in six women will experience rape or attempted rape within their lifetime (Tjaden, P. & Thoennes, N., 1997). Every two minutes a woman is sexually assaulted in the US (U.S. Department of Justice. 2007 National Crime Victimization Survey. 2007).  One third of female murder victims, are killed by an intimate partner, and the rate of female homicides that are committed by an intimate partner is increasing (U.S. Department of Justice. 2004 National Crime Victimization Survey. 2004). These statistics provide tangible evidence of the environment of women. An environment that can be defined as “sexual terrorism” (Sheffield, 2007). Women’s daily lives are affected by violence and the implicit threat of violence. Violence against Native American women is even higher than any other racial group in the country, the National Violence Against Women Survey [NVAWS] found that “almost 65% of American Indian women…reported experiencing rape or physical violence is compared to 55% of the total NVAWS sample” (Wahab & Olson, 2004).  According to the NVAWS, “the lifetime rate of physical assault [for Native American Women] was 64.1% compared 51.8% for the total population” (Wahab & Olson, 2004). Native American women are twice as likely to be assaulted compared to those in other racial categories (Bureau of Justice).  Men commit the vast majority of violent crime in the country, and while the majority of men’s violence is committed against other men, women pay the heaviest price. Patriarchy, the supremacy of men in all respects of life, the social, economic, and political spheres, is the system of oppression that excuses, legitimizes, and even encourages this type of violence. Fortunately, not all men are violent. But, what makes those violent men violent? And, why are Native American men violent, despite a history of equitable and mostly (gender) violence free existence?

The idea of performativity was introduced by Judith Butler in her seminal work Gender Trouble. Butler’s contention is that our identities are the result of performance constructed from “acts, gestures, [and] enactments” (Gender Trouble, 1999). Butler argues that society and culture are socially constructed, that our reality is fabricated (Ibid., 1999). These “acts [and] gestures[…]create the illusion of an interior and organizing gender core” (Ibid., 1999). That is to say that the reality that we construct, through these behaviors, is held so deeply and are thus viewed as being natural, that we accept them as biological and they go unquestioned.

Butler argues that to maintain, and ensure to others present, one’s gender identity, individuals adopt strategies during “duress” (Ibid., 1999). These behaviors are continuously performed , “the repetition is at once a reenactment and reexperiencing of a set of meanings already socially established; and it is the mundane and ritualized form of their legitimation” (Ibid., 1999). Butler argues that gender has a fluidity, that is to say that it is constantly changing and acting and reacting to social stimuli, this is a “stylized repetition of acts” (Ibid., 1999).

When it comes to masculinity, performance takes on even greater urgency and necessity. Men must meet our culture’s standard of manhood, or they are thought to not be men, or gay. Michael Kimmel, sociologist and masculinity studies scholar, argues that men are constantly on alert to prove their manhood, and that this is the true homophobia (Masculinity as Homophobia, 1995). Men are not necessarily afraid of homosexuality but rather other men, and that those men will perceive them as being less than a man (Ibid., 1995). One of the ways that men may be seen, or at least they feel they my be perceived, is through their behavior when it comes to gender and interaction with others.

Robert Brannon devised a model of four characteristics that define true manhood, “No Sissy Stuff,” “Be A Big Wheel,” “Be A Sturdy Oak,” and “Give ‘em Hell” (The Male Sex Role, 1976). What these four boil down to is essentially, don’t show weakness; attain as much power as possible (and keep it), the more power one has the more masculine they are; show no emotion, “Boys don’t cry;” and be aggressive and competitive (Brannon, 1976). This is, of course, not realistic and is unattainable (and unhealthy) for any man, certainly all the time. Raewyn Connell developed the idea of ‘Hegemonic Masculinity’ to describe the culture standard of manhood. Using Antonio Gramsci’s concept of hegemony, or rather “the cultural dynamic by which a group claims and sustains a leading position in social life” (Masculinities, 1995). Jeff Hearn adds to Gramsci’s theory by stating “hegemony involves both the consent of men, and, in a very different way, the consent of some women to maintain patriarchal relations of power. As least some powerful men are dominant in the construction of women’s consent and the reproduction of men’s consent” (From Hegemonic Masculinity to the Hegemony of Men, 2004). Connell defines hegemonic masculinity as “the configuration of gender practice which embodies the currently accepted answer to the problem of the legitimacy of patriarchy, which guarantees the dominant position of men and the subordination of women” (Ibid., 1995). What every man should embody in order to call himself a real man. This idea is impossible for men to meet, so they sometimes respond with violence.

Everyone is aware of the incredible violence, what many would call genocide, systematically carried out against Native Americans (The Familiar Face of Genocide, 2003). The impact of this, not just in terms of the decimation of the population, on the culture of these peoples is often ignored (Patriarchal Colonialism, 2003). Prior to the arrival of Europeans, indigenous culture was largely based on ideas of communalism, were matrilineal (Ibid., 2003). The roles of women differed drastically from those we think of today, often “communal models of indigenous governance granted women respect and authority; exemplary of the gender egalitarianism practiced by many Native societies is their use of both matrifocal and patrifocal councils to negotiate consensus and make decisions in times of peace and war” (Ibid., 2003). In fact, very much to the contrary of our ideas of masculinity, Warren Goulding argues that part of women’s role was to “protect the family and act as breadwinners” (Goulding). European men very obviously held different beliefs, as we still do today, about women’s role in society. M.A. Jaimes Guerrero, argues that “the impact of U.S. colonialism on Native American peoples, especially on women, has been to accomplish a further erosion of their indigenous rights as the earliest groups in the Americas. For Native American women, this has meant a double burden because they must deal with both racist and sexist attitudes, and with the discrimination that results from such prejudices” (Patriarchal Colonialism, 2003). The influx of new people’s will no doubt always have a big impact on the people native to these immigrants new land, but the way in which European’s decimated Native American people’s and disregarded their cultures has had a lasting impact, and has altered the gender role ideologies of the Native Amercan population.

Using Butler’s concept of performativity and combining it with Connell’s concept of hegemonic masculinity, we have a situation in which men are defining their gender by how well they meet societies ideas of what men should be. If they do not meet these standards, their gender identity is in question, to themselves internally and perhaps to others, men in particular. Today men often report feeling as if they are powerless. This is in part due to women’s empowerment and push for equality. This is what many feminist scholars would call a crisis of masculinity. This crisis has had an impact on the ideas of manhood, and has caused, according to Susan Faludi, a backlash against feminism and women’s rights as men attempt to reclaim their masculinity from the women who they feel has stolen it (Backlash, 1992).

Native American men have the impact of colonialism on their identity as a people as a result of the genocide carried out against their ancestors, the emasculation based on the cultural ideas of the European invaders’ ideas of androcentric culture that treated women as property as well as the rest of nature (Patriarchal Colonialism, 2003). Today they still must live in a culture that the rest of us occupy that still, to an extent, holds these beliefs. Lisa M. Poupart argues that “through western formal education, conversion to Christianity, and assimilation into Euro-American culture and the capitalist economy, tribal people learned to speak the language and to interpret and reproduce the meanings of [their] oppressors; [their] own meanings, languages, and cultures were simultaneously devastated” (The Familiar Face of Genocide, 2003). Native American people have internalized the racism and hatred the European colonizers had for them and their way of life (Ibid., 2003). Poupart argues that “virtually non-existent in traditional communities prior to European invasion, contemporary American Indian communities struggle with devastating social ills including alcoholism, family violence, incest, sexual assault…homicide, and suicide at startling rates similar and sometimes exceeding those of white society” (The Familiar Face of Genocide, 2003). She continues arguing that “American Indians sometimes express pain, grief and rage internally toward [themselves] and externally within [their] own families and communities” (Ibid., 2003). The “internalized oppression” felt by Native American as a continued result of the genocide against their ancestors has contributed to some of the biggest problems facing the Native American Community, including the gender violence. Poupart argues that “domestic and sexual violence against women and children is linked to other forms of domination within society, including racism and classism” (The Familiar Face of Genocide, 2003). Poupart, using the theory of intersectionality argues that “American Indian women and children are among the most economically, socially, and politically disenfranchised groups in the United States. Since contact, American Indian women and children have become victimized by Euro-American imperialist governments, religions, economies, and educational systems” (Violence Against Women, 2005; The Familiar Face of Genocide, 2003). Poupart continues adding

Within these Western patriarchal-family structures, many American Indians recreate the power structures of the dominant culture. That is, Indian men often have privilege and authority over Indian women, and Indian fathers and mothers have privilege and authority over children, whereby each may exert violence as a socially acceptable operation of Western patriarchal power. Like other politically, economically, and socially disempowered individuals in the dominant culture, then, American Indian men may assert male authority violently in their homes and communities against women and children, and Indian women may assert parental authority violently against children (Ibid., 2003).

What this means, according to Richard A. Rogers, is that the performances of these Native American men, “deployed in the maintenance of an unstable, elastic, and historically mobile hegemonic masculinity, nevertheless leave the underlying tensions unresolved” (From Hunting Magic to Shamanism, 2007).

Despite all efforts to ensure their masculinity, they still cannot meet the cultural standard for what a man should be. This is the crisis of masculinity in Native American men. They can’t ever meet that standard because of the continued emasculation of Native American cultural manhood through historical narratives, because the hegemonic masculine standard is white, and because they are the most underprivileged male group in our culture. This is where Butler’s concept of performativity comes in handy. These men cannot possibly meet these standards, thus negating their gender identity, something Kimmel shows us is imperative, and so they resort to violence to prove their manhood. They feel the need to dominate, so they take their frustration out on women by attempting to enact hegemonic masculinity. This behavior is reinforced by the larger culture that they live in and so the violence seems ordinary and appropriate.

Butler, Judith (1999). Gender Trouble. New York: Routledge.

Connell, R.W. (2005). Masculinities. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Rogers, Richard A. (2007).From Hunting Magic to Shamanism: Interpretations of Native American Rock Art and the Contemporary Crisis of Masculinity. Women’s Studies in Communication. 30, 79-110.

Anderson, K, & Umberson, D (2001). Gendering Violence: Masculinity and Power in Men’s Accounts of Domestic Violence. Gender and Society. 15, 358-380.

Wahab, S, & Olson, L (2004). Intimate Partner Violence and Sexual Assault in Native American Communities. Trauma, Violence & Abuse. 5, 353-366.

Guerrero, M.A. Jaimes (2003).”Patriarchal Capitalism” and Indigenism: Implications for Native Feminist Spirituality and Native Womanism. Hypatia. 18, 58-69.

Hamby, Sherry (2008).The Path of Helpseeking: Perceptions of Law Enforcement Among American Indian Victims of Sexual Assault. Journal of Prevention & Intervention in the Community. 36, 89-104.

Tjaden, P. & Thoennes, N., (1997). The Prevalence and consequences of partner violence: Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey. Center for Policy Research, Denver, CO.

Sheffield, Carol J. “Sexual Terrorism.” Gender Violence: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Ed. O’Toole, Laura L.et al;.  New York, NY: New York University Press, 2007.

Kimmel, M. “Masculinity as Homophobia.” Kimmel, M (Ed.). (2003). Privilege: A Reader. Westview Press.

Hearn, J. (2004).From hegemonic Masculinity to the Hegemony of Men. Feminist Theory. 5, 49-72.

Brannon, R, & David, D (1976). The Forty-Nine Percent Majority: The Male Sex Role. Random House.

Crenshaw, K. “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color.” Bergen, R, Edleson, J, & Renzetti, C (Eds.). (2004). Violence Against Women: Classic Papers .Allyn & Beacon.

Poupart, Lisa M. (2003).The Familiar Face of Genocide: Internalized Oppression among American Indians. Hypatia. 18, 86-100.

Fairchild, D.G., & Fairchild, M.W. (1998). Prevalence of adult domestic violence among women seeking routine care in a Native American health care facility. American Journal of Public Health, 88, 1515-1518.

Perpetrators in the Movement

In Sexual Assault Awareness on April 16, 2011 at 10:22 am

Recently I attended a Take Back the Night event and march. During the Survivor Speakout, the opportunity for victims and survivors to tel their stories, a perpetrator got on stage and spoke. He began by saying that he wasn’t sure that ‘this was the right place’ for telling his story but that he knew what he did ‘was wrong’ that he ‘pushed too far.’

After his speech, everyone clapped. But the question is, ‘What place do perpetrators have in the movement against sexual and intimate partner violence?’

My view, is ‘some.’ What this guy did was the right thing. He got up in public and he named what he was, what he did, and why it was wrong. He didn’t make excuses. He apologized.

However, is WAS the wrong place. Take Back the Night’s are for survivors. At the very least, he could have spoken with the organization putting the event on beforehand and told that that he was considering speaking. That way special consideration may have been made, or he could have been told that he wasn’t allowed to speak so as not to ruin the experience for survivors.

It is important to recognize that perpetrators do have a story as well. They have a place in our movement. To get to that point, however, serious thought and serious listening and education needs to be accomplished. There are some perpetrators who simply do not have a place in this movement. Serial rapists do not have a place in this movement.

Perpetrators who wish to work in this movement need to be forthcoming and need to be understanding that they may not be welcomed. When this occurs, not ‘if’, they need to be ok with that. They need to not get defensive and reactive. They need to take it maturely. Perpetrators who wish to get involved in ‘the movement’ need to understand that they will never outgrow what they did, and can never apologize enough. Their place is tenuous, it will always be that way. They can be involved as examples of what not to do, how behaviors early on lead to their perpetration.

The right place isn’t at Take Back the Night. The right place is…I don’t know, somewhere safe for victims and survivors.

Tuesday Prevention: Teen Magazines

In Sexual Assault Awareness on March 29, 2011 at 7:00 am

Recently, an article came out in the journal Violence Against Women titled ‘Teen Magazines as Educational Texts on Dating Violence: The $2.99 Approach.’ The article examines what role magazines aimed at the teen audience have on teen dating and teen dating violence [TDV].

The article states that teen magazines have the position of a counselor to young women. This role influences how young women look at their own relationships, including whether they should be in one or not, and whether or not they should be sexually active. The study revealed that, of stories about TDV, case studies were the most common. In these case studies, aspects of the teens’ stories were mixed in with ‘cursory references’ to information about the broader social context of TDV (Kettrey, H.H. & Emery, B.C; 2010). This method of storytelling is deemed effective by the authors because of its ability for articles to ‘hit home’ and make them identifiable to teens’ lives. When discussing the cultural frame of TDV, using these case studies can make the information in the article easier to digest and understand. This also helps teens understand that dating violence is both an individual and cultural problem. Of the articles examined in the study that explored the broader social context of TDV, two influences were ‘alluded’ to, ‘’gender socialization and family transmission of violence’ (Ibid, 2010).

The focus of these articles is overwhelmingly on the victim. The victim’s story is told from the victim’s perspective. Exploring how victims were portrayed, the authors found that the ‘circumstances of the victim were often maximized’ (Ibid., p1282). Unfortunately, the dynamics of the violence were framed in the framework of the individual. This was done by ‘highlighting victim naiveté and failing to recognize the cycle of violence’ (Ibid., 1285).

Interventions were found to be framed as legal outlets or services in the community (like RCASA!). The solutions to TDV found in these articles were ‘checklists, psychological counseling, or fairytale ending’ (Ibid., 1287).

The media is a powerful influence on our behavior. It plays a major role in our socialization and how we view and interpret life. With the television being widely available now, as well as the internet, media messages have become more powerful with each succeeding generation. These messages come to u from every angle; walk outside and you will be bombarded by advertising. We spend more and more time in front of the TV, listening to music, surfing the internet. This creates a very obvious disconnect between individuals, this means that these messages are becoming more prevalent and more profound in their effect on us. When we don’t have others to ask the questions of ourselves we can’t, or won’t, we tend to accept the easiest solutions, or what is the first thing we hear.

The article makes clear that, while teen magazines have the ear of young women and can influence positively their ability to avoid or get out of abusive relationships, it is no way presently truly preventing TDV. Prevention of violence is only necessary when there is someone using violence. Thus, prevention efforts must target perpetrators, not victims, or rather not solely victims. These magazines could do wonders in preventing violence is the messages are directed more towards the abusers as well as exploring the social context in which TDV occurs. We need to, as a society, have an open and honest discussion about violence. TDV, IPV, SV, SA….etc, happen far too often to strictly be considered an individual problem. We have a cultural problem.

This is a great article, and it focuses on an incredibly important avenue of information distribution. There are some issues, however, as the article is inappropriately titled. Most teen magazines are directly aimed at young women. Guys tend to either not read magazines, or read magazines aimed at an older audience* (wink, wink) e.g. Men’s Health, Maxim…etc. So they have left out a huge audience of messages. The article also normalizes heterosexual relationships. It neglects to mention the very real, though still rare, gay and lesbian relationships. Also missing is the violence experienced by young men. We know that men experience violence at the hands of their female partners.

The issue is with violence in general, prevention efforts need to be varying and crossing all social structures.

RCASA Friday Facts: Sexual Assault and Homeless Women Part 2

In Friday Facts, Sexual Assault Awareness on March 25, 2011 at 8:00 am
Taken from No Safe Place: Sexual Assault in the Lives of Homeless Women

By Lisa Goodman, Katya Fels, and Catherine GlennWith contributions from Judy Benitez

Question of Causality

A range of factors increase homeless women’s risk of adult sexual victimization, including childhood abuse, substance dependence, length of time homeless, engaging in economic survival strategies (such as panhandling or involvement in sex trade), location while homeless (i.e. sleeping on the street versus sleeping in a shelter) and presence of mental illness (Kushel, Evans, Perry, Robertson, & Moss, 2003; Nyamathi, Wenzel, Lesser, Flaskerud, & Leake, 2001; Wenzel, Koegel, & Gelberg, 2000; Wenzel, Leake, & Gelberg, 2001). Many of these factors, discussed in more detail below, coexist, interact with, and exacerbate each other over time, creating a complex and distinctive context for each woman.

It is important to note that all of these factors would have a much more tenuous connection with sexual assault if social institutions were in place to prevent homelessness, to protect vulnerable women, and to help them recover and become safe following an initial assault while addressing the myriad other challenges they face. And yet to date, no research has been conducted on the impact of institutional failures on the prevalence or correlates of sexual assault among homeless women. For example, research has not yet examined the unsuitability of traditional sexual assault crisis services, such as hotlines and in-office counseling, for individuals who lack access to a telephone, transportation, literacy skills, and safe housing.

Sexual Assault Prior to Homelessness

The relationship between sexual assault and homelessness is complex, with either experience potentially laying the groundwork for the other.   Indeed, given the traumatic lifestyles of so many homeless women, sexual abuse may precede and follow from homelessness in a vicious cycle downward.   In the next two sections, we take a closer look at existing research on two different types of sexual assault (child sexual abuse and sexual violence at the hands of a partner) as precursors to adult homelessness and subsequent victimization.

Childhood Sexual Abuse

A number of studies have emphasized the correlation between childhood sexual abuse and homelessness among adult women (Bassuk and Rosenberg, 1988; Davies-Netzley & Hurlburt, & Hough, 1996; Simons & Whitbeck, 1991; Stermac & Paradis, 2001; Wenzel et al., 2004; Zugazaga, 2004). For example, one study of women seeking help from a rape/sexual assault crisis center found that childhood sexual abuse was reported by 43% of the homeless participants, compared to 24.6% of the housed participants (Stermac et al., 2004). Another study that took a qualitative approach found that homeless women identified child sexual victimization as a cause of their homelessness (Evans & Forsyth, 2004).

Childhood sexual abuse is also correlated with adult victimization among homeless women (Nyamathi et al., 2001; Terrell, 1997; Tyler, Hoyt, & Whitbeck, 2000; Whitbeck, Hoyt, & Ackley 1997).   One study found that homeless women with histories of childhood sexual abuse were twice as likely to experience adult violent victimization as those without such histories (Nyamathi et al., 2001). For homeless women with serious mental illness (SMI), the connection between child sexual abuse and adult victimization is even stronger.   In one study of women with serious mental illness and histories of homelesness, the chance of revictimization for women who had experienced child physical or sexual abuse was close to 100% – difficult odds to beat (Goodman, Dutton & Harris, 1995; Goodman, Johnson, Dutton, & Harris, 1997).

A number of explanations have been offered for the relationship between child sexual abuse and subsequent homelessness and sexual assault, respectively.   It is possible, for example, that child sexual abuse survivors may find it difficult to trust others, so they develop fewer of the sustaining and supportive relationships necessary to avoid homelessness (Bassuk, 1993). Also, the posttraumatic stress disorder that often results from child sexual abuse can cause women to miss danger cues in their environments due to hypervigilance (attending to everything as a threat) or dissociation (shutting down when faced with threatening situations), resulting in risk for further victimization (Salomon, Bassuk, & Huntington, 2002; Tyler, Hoyt, & Whitbeck, 2000; Whitbeck, Hoyt, & Ackley, 1997). Finally, women who experience childhood sexual abuse have been shown to be at increased risk for developing substance abuse disorders, which put women at increased risk for both assault and homelessness (Burnam, Stein, Golding, Siegal, Sorenson, & Telles, 1988; Salomon, Bassuk, & Huntington, 2002; Simmons & Whitbeck, 1991; Tyler, Hoyt, & Whitbeck, 2000).

However, these explanations alone do not tell the whole story.    A much fuller explanation for these devastating correlations emerges from an exploration of the complex array of historical and current contextual factors many women face, including multiple oppressions, lack of appropriate, culturally relevant, and timely resources, and growing up in unsafe settings without sufficient material and emotional support. Rather than one causing the other, we suggest that the contextual factors that often precede child sexual abuse (and repeated victimization) also precede homelessness.    For example, poor families; people of color; and immigrants, refugees, and victims of sex trafficking may experience systems such as law enforcement, social services, foster care, or welfare not as sources of care and assistance, but of neglect or punishment.   Childhood sexual abuse survivors in particular may have experienced caregivers acting appropriately in public and inappropriately in private, and therefore may be reluctant to trust people whose job it is to help them. As children and as adults, they may be reluctant to seek help from people in “the system” and therefore remain particularly vulnerable to ongoing victimization and homelessness, in addition to self-medication through substances and isolation.

Abuse by Partners

Not surprisingly, a number of studies point to abuse–including rape–at the hands of a current or former partner, as a risk factor for homelessness among women (Toro, Bellavia, Daeschler, Owens, Wall, Passero, & Thomas, 1995).   This is particularly evident for women who experience partner violence at the more severe end of the continuum, and who have been isolated by their abusers from family and friends who might have offered to help them (Baker, Cook, & Norris, 2003).   Indeed, it is estimated that half of all homeless women and children have become homeless while trying to escape abusive situations (Browne & Bassuk, 1997, as cited in Evans & Forsyth, 2004). Experiences of partner violence have also been shown to predict risk of repeat homelessness and shelter use (Metraux & Culhane, 1999).   Yet, there are few studies documenting the impact of partner violence on women who are currently homeless, how the threat of such violence might shape women’s decision-making while homeless, or the nature of the complicated tradeoffs many partner violence victims make to survive on the streets.   For example, a homeless woman may stay in a relationship with a person who abuses her physically or sexually because the risks associated with leaving—homelessness, hunger, poverty, violence on the streets, lack of resources for children, risk of further abuse by additional perpetrators —seem worse than the abuse. Furthermore, the abusive partner may also provide protection and companionship some of the time.

Homelessness as Risk Factor for Sexual Assault

Although childhood sexual abuse and intimate partner violence often precede, and may contribute to women’s homelessness and risk for revictimization, the condition of homelessness itself dramatically increases women’s risk of being sexually assaulted.   Women on the streets do not enjoy the same degree of safety as women who have four walls and a roof to protect them.   Despite being in very close quarters with many others, women staying in shelters often lack robust and nurturing social connections, as people in crisis have fewer resources to dedicate to developing mutual trust than those who feel safer and more grounded (Goodman, 1991).    The need to serve a maximum number of people with limited dollars, combined with some communities’ unwillingness to host shelters in their neighborhoods, often leads shelters to locate within or close to high-crime areas (Burt, et al., 2001; Wenzel, Koegel & Gelberg, 2000).   Moreover, as discussed in subsequent sections, many homeless women have little choice but to participate in activities that place them at further risk for sexual assault, such as panhandling or trading sex for needed resources (Kushel, et al., 2003; Lee & Schreck, 2005).

Individual vulnerabilities also play a role.   Homeless women are more likely than non-homeless women to suffer from substance abuse (Toro et al., 1995; Wenzel et al, 2004), a mental illness that may include psychosis (Toro et al., 1995; Wenzel et al, 2004), domestic violence (Toro et al., 1995), or severe physical health limitations (Wenzel, Leake & Gelberg, 2000) that make self-defense in a dangerous situation harder.   In one of the most rigorous studies of antecedents of sexual assault while homeless, Wenzel, Koegel, and Gelberg (2000) found that women who were dependent on drugs or alcohol; who received income from survival strategies such as panhandling, selling items on the street, or trading sex for drugs or other items; who lived outdoors; who experienced mania or schizophrenia; or who had physical limitations were especially likely to have endured a recent (at most, 30 days prior) sexual assault.   The next sections review our knowledge of some of these factors in more detail.

Survival Sex and Prostitution

Survival for some homeless women is contingent on trading sex for money, goods (food, shelter, clothes, medicine, drugs), services, transportation, and protection on the street (Wenzel et al, 2001).   It is debatable whether sex under these circumstances is ever really a choice; certainly, it is often a requirement last resort strategy for survival.   Further, outright sexual violence is a common occurrence for women who engage in sex trade (Dalla, Xia, & Kennedy, 2003; Nyamathi, et al., 2001).   Wenzel, Koegel and Gelberg (2000) found that over the course of a year, homeless women who panhandled or traded sexual favors for drugs or money were three times more likely to experience sexual assault and other forms of violence relative to their homeless peers who did not engage in sex trade.   Indeed, 84% of women who use prostitution as an income strategy report current or past homelessness – which can mean living with abusive pimps or “customers” in the absence of a more stable option (Farley & Barkan, 1998); and homeless prostituted women are at much greater risk for sexual assault than their non-homeless counterparts (El Bassel, Witte, Wada, Gilbert, & Wallace, 2001). When substance use (often “paid for” by sex) is a factor, the risk of sexual assault increases further, as described in the next section.   Because these assaults often occur in the context of an illegal act (prostitution) and among drug users, victims may be seen by perpetrators as attractive targets, as they are less likely to report the crime or to be believed or seen as worthy of services and protection by authorities.

Substance Use

Homeless women are more likely to have substance abuse problems and to engage in substance use than low-income housed women (Wenzel et al., 2004).   Although substance use and abuse among homeless women may represent their best method of coping with the chaos, unpredictability, and isolation of homelessness, as well as previous victimizations, it is also strongly associated with risk for further sexual assaults. One study found that homeless women who had experienced either physical or sexual victimization in the past month were three times more likely to report both drug and alcohol abuse or dependence than homeless women who were not victimized (24.3% vs. 7.9%) (Wenzel, Leake, & Gelberg, 2000).   As with so many aspects of homeless women’s lives, the causal relationships between substance abuse and victimization are far less clear than the correlation itself. Nevertheless, substance abuse and dependence may put women at risk for victimization in a number of ways, such as by altering women’s perceptions of what is dangerous; leading them to engage in risky survival strategies; causing disorientation that may make it difficult to ward off an attacker; making them a target for assault because authorities will be less likely to believe them; or putting them in an environment that involves interactions with criminals.   Indeed, offenders often rely on drugs and alcohol to incapacitate their victims (Lisak & Miller, 2002).   Furthermore, drug and alcohol services and rape crisis services largely remain fragmented, which can make it difficult for individuals to receive the services they need to recover.

Severe Mental Illness (SMI)

Homeless women with serious mental illnesses such as major depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder are highly vulnerable to victimization. Indeed, in one in-depth study 97% of the participants, all of whom were homeless and had a mental illness, reported experiences of violent victimization at some point in their lives (Goodman, Dutton & Harris, 1995; Goodman, Johnson, Dutton, & Harris, 1997), with an astonishing 28% reporting at least one physical or sexual assault in the month preceding the interview.   Another large-scale study of 1,839 ethnically diverse, homeless women and men with mental illnesses from 15 cities across the US found that 15.3% of the women participants reported being raped in the past 2 months (Lam & Rosenheck, 1998), compared to 1.3% of the men. For homeless women with mental illnesses, rape appears to be a shockingly normative experience. This is deeply troubling, as no one should ever become “used” to being raped or assaulted. To the contrary, there is evidence that the cumulative effects of multiple victimizations may be far deeper than single rape events (Goodman & Dutton, 1996).   Moreover, these women’s ability to get help are greatly compromised by social attitudes that people with mental illnesses   do not experience violation as searingly as others; that their accounts of the abuse and assault are “made up” (Goodman & Dutton, 1996; Goodman, et al., 1999); or that women with mental illnesses cannot clearly communicate a lack of consent. Homeless women with mental illnesses who are also victims of sexual violence shoulder the burden of three forms of social stigma—against poor or homeless people, people with mental illnesses, and victims of rape.

Barriers to Accessing Institutional Support

Although more research is needed to understand the relationship between sexual assault and homelessness, especially research that explores the social and institutional contributions to this enormous social problem, action is also needed.   In this section, we provide an overview of situational, contextual and systemic barriers homeless women face in finding the support they need to heal in the wake of sexual assault.

Homelessness often involves spiraling crises, which means that homeless women might not deal with, attend to, or process sexual assault in the same way as housed women do.   For example, a rape may be followed only weeks later by a notice of loss of social security disability benefits because the victim failed to appear at a hearing scheduled the day after she was raped.    This new crisis may shift the woman’s attention temporarily, but the impact of the previous crisis—the rape—becomes interwoven with the impact of other crises. It is important, therefore, that the sexual assault be addressed in culturally sensitive ways as part of a complex context of trauma and crises.   Unfortunately, few services available to homeless victims of sexual assault are set up to deal with these compounding crises. This complexity presents a range of challenges both to staff at programs responding to the homeless, who are rarely trained to detect and respond appropriately and sensitively to trauma or sexual violence, and to rape crisis counselors, who are often unequipped to deal with the multiple challenges brought on by homelessness.

By their very nature, homeless shelters can worsen women’s psychological distress and compromise their ability to do what is necessary to regain residential stability and increased quality of life.   Homelessness is inherently chaotic, internally and externally, with others controlling access to such basic resources as food, clothing, and shelter. Indeed the very process of accessing the variety of programs necessary to rise out of homelessness may itself create a chaotic situation. There is little privacy, and entering many programs requires subjecting the private details of one’s life to regulation and/or scrutiny.   This lack of privacy and power differential can mirror and exacerbate the impact of the violence many homeless women have survived. This combination of chaos, power dynamics and feeling watched can trigger traumatic memories or symptoms that, in turn, make it more difficult to abide by shelter rules or stay “in control” as shelters require.   Many shelters are neither culturally sensitive nor “trauma-informed,” and have not provided staff adequate training to, for example, deal with women’s angry outbursts therapeutically rather than punitively, or recognize the differences between flashbacks and psychosis. Overburdened staff must balance the needs of the individual with the needs of many.   A woman whose trauma-related nightmares wake up an entire dorm, for example, may be told to leave.

At the same time, many of the options for self-care and self-soothing following a sexual assault are not available to homeless women. As noted earlier, homeless women lack telephones, making hotlines irrelevant.   A woman may become alienated from a traditional sexual assault support group when she cannot make weekly meeting times or finds that unlike her peers, her history includes so many assaults when others report significantly fewer. To make matters worse, general shelters are often full to capacity and may have to turn women away, while battered women’s shelters rarely offer beds to women who fear violence from people who are not traditional partners, leaving them no choice but to return to dangerous and out-of-the-way places to sleep (Amster, 1999, as cited in Evans & Forsyth, 2004).

There is a widespread, although increasingly disputed, belief that trauma must not, indeed cannot, be addressed before a woman is in a stable situation with regard to food, shelter, physical safety, and housing (Herman, 1992) Yet, few rape crisis centers are equipped to help provide the stability that they prescribe, making services fragmented at best, and possibly even irrelevant.   Furthermore, stability may be elusive until the trauma is named and at least partially explored. Fragmented services that force an individual to separate problems that are inextricable can exacerbate existing trauma.

The relationship between homeless sexual assault victims and law enforcement is equally complex.   Sexual assault and rape reporting rates are very low in general (Rennison, 2002).   Homeless women may lack someone, whether peer, volunteer or advocate, to support them through the often-intimidating process of reporting an assault.   Homeless women, already turning to bureaucracies for even their most basic needs (e.g. food stamps, housing vouchers and the like), may be reluctant to engage with yet one more system that they expect will be unresponsive.

Homeless women may not see the police in particular as providing protection and safety. They may be afraid to report a rape because they are involved in illegal activities (e.g. drug related, prostitution) or have outstanding warrants from other activities.   They may distrust police officers because their only contact with them is when they are kicked off park benches and forced to sleep under bushes that are far from the public eye and therefore more dangerous.   For women who engage in street-based sex trade, harassment and abuse by police is so commonplace that many women no longer perceived police as sources of help.   Homeless women of color, immigrants, refugees, and victims of sex trafficking may be even more skeptical about law enforcement and less likely to turn to them for help or protection. Further, law enforcement personnel are not immune from general social attitudes about stigmatized groups such as homeless, mentally ill, prostituting, or substance abusing women, resulting in discriminatory behavior.   Last, because homeless women are highly transient, they generally make poor witnesses in victimization cases; and the very public nature of life on the streets means that few women have a place to hide if an abuser or rapist learns she has “ratted” on him.   These obstacles result in shared feelings of helplessness between even the most sympathetic criminal justice personnel and homeless women.

Breakfast at Preventiony’s

In Sexual Assault Awareness on March 23, 2011 at 7:59 am

This Friday RCASA will be hosting a breakfast for the Rappahannock Area Pinwheel Partnership for Child Abuse Prevention Month Coalition (PPCAP), formerly the April Blue Ribbon Month Coalition.The breakfast will be held at the Rappahannock Area Office on Youth, 405 Chatham Office Park. RCASA will also be conducting a presentation about Bullying and its link to Teen Dating Violence at the breakfast.


To RSVP please call RCASA at (540) 371-5581.

Tuesdays with Prevention: Anger in Activism

In Sexual Assault Awareness on March 15, 2011 at 7:00 am

Saturday’s blog “I Get Angry Sometimes…” was basically a long rant. A good rant if I do say so myself.

But the anger displayed in that blog will get you nowhere when it comes to activism.

We’re all angry at something. Everyone working in a social justice field has some level of anger about something. Anger is a normal reaction. Who wouldn’t be angry if they heard an 11-year old was gang-raped and later blamed for the assault. There comes a point, however, in which anger becomes detrimental. Detrimental to the individual personally and detrimental to them professionally.

When I wrote the blog on Saturday, I was expressing what was going on in my head hearing this news and reading some of the articles around the incident. I gave a presentation on Wednesday and used what happened, and the NY Times article, to facilitate a discussion about victim blaming. I am, and will always be angry about what happened and the response, and all prior and future instances where victims are blamed. My anger exists on two levels really. One level is what you (hopefully) read on Saturday. The other is the level on which I move on and I use the event to facilitate a discussion; I use it for educational purposes.

Anger is key to social justice movements. If we aren’t angry we likely do not have the intense passion necessary for success. Burnout also becomes an issue; our anger can consume us (because we hear about these kinds of things daily, and sometimes from the victims themselves) and so we become ineffective and eventually we must quit (at least for a while). When anger crosses the plane, the line, between normal or healthy anger to a consuming force that takes over someones life, it has become detrimental. Practice in dealing with one’s anger is helpful in diffusing and reducing the harmful impact of anger; taking a deep breath, counting to ten, whatever works for an individual.

General Assembly Update

In Legal Advocacy on March 9, 2011 at 8:08 am

News from the Action Alliance on the 2011 General Assembly Update

 The 2011 General Assembly regular session ended Sunday, February 28, 2011.  Below is an update on the Action Alliance’s priorities and other key legislation of interest to our constituency.   If you have a question about any of the bills listed below or any other sexual or domestic violence related legislation, please contact Action Alliance staff directly at khall@vsdvalliance.org or gboyle@vsdvalliance.org.  

For actual votes and language of the bills, please contact the Action Alliance or go to the General Assembly website at http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?111+men+BIL .

Please note that legislation that passed the House and the Senate and approved by the Governor will take effect July 1, 2011.

 Bills passed:

 1.      Restore the proposed cut to the child services coordinator grant—Budget Item 99 (c) 


DEFEATED   The Senate and House released their budgets on February 27, 2011.   Unfortunately, neither body restored the Governor’s proposed cut to the child services coordinator grant.  The cut remains in both budgets.  Thankfully, neither the House nor the Senate budgets propose any additional reductions in funding for sexual and domestic violence services.   


2.      Expand access to Protective Orders for victims of dating violence, stalking, and sexual assault— Support HB 2063 (Delegate Bell) & SB 1222 (Senator Barker)


PASSED House and Senate; Awaiting Governor’s Approval   This bill expands access to protective orders for victims of dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, and domestic violence.  The bill provides equal access with regard to eligibility for protective orders and equal protections to enforce them.   The bill does the following:  

  • Removes the criminal warrant requirement for the protective order issued by the General District Court;
  • Creates one standard for getting protections for victims of family abuse and for victims of other acts of violence, including sexual assault, stalking, and dating violence.   Expands access to a protective order to any person subjected to any act involving violence, force, or threat that results in bodily injury or places one in reasonable apprehension of bodily injury (Such act includes, but is not limited to, any forceful detention, stalking, criminal sexual assault, or any criminal offense that results in bodily injury or places one in reasonable apprehension of death, sexual assault, or bodily injury). 
  • Adds enhanced penalties for violation of the protective order issued by the General District Court so that the penalties are the same as those for violating the Family Abuse Protective Order (mandatory minimum sentence of 60 days for 2nd violation; Class 6 felony with a mandatory minimum sentence of six months for a 3rd or subsequent offense).
  • Requires law enforcement to make an arrest for violation of a protective order issued by the General District Court (“Pro-Arrest” provision).  Current law already includes this provision for violation of a Family Abuse Protective Order.  
  • Changes the name of the “Stalking, Sexual Assault, and Other Acts of Violence Protective Order” issued by the General District Court to “Protective Order.”
  • Redefines “family abuse” to any act involving violence, force, or threat that results in bodily injury or places one in reasonable apprehension of bodily injury (Such act includes, but is not limited to, any forceful detention, stalking, criminal sexual assault, or any criminal offense that results in bodily injury or places one in reasonable apprehension of death, sexual assault, or bodily injury). 

3.      Expand the Address Confidentiality Program statewide—Support HB 1757 (Delegate Wilt) & SB 1199 (Senator Obenshain)

PASSED House and Senate; Awaiting Governor’s Approval   This bill extends the Address Confidentiality Program statewide.  Currently, the program is limited to 18 jurisdictions.   This will expand the program and no further action will be required. 

For more information on Virginia’s Address Confidentiality Program, please visit http://www.vaag.com/KEY_ISSUES/DOMESTIC_VIOLENCE/DV_AddressConfidentiality.html


 4.      Preserve access to services for ALL victims of sexual and domestic violence in Virginia regardless of immigration status—Oppose HB 1421 (Delegate Albo), HB 1430 (Delegate Albo), HB 1934 (Delegate Miller), & HB 2332 (Delegate Lingamfelter)


DEFEATED.   The Action Alliance opposed these bills and worked to have them defeated because the policies they proposed would have threatened the safety of victims by expanding the role of local law enforcement agencies and by requiring all localities to engage in immigration enforcement activities under the threat of losing state funding.  The Action Alliance opposes any legislation that threatens access to safety for any victim of sexual and domestic violence, including but not limited to, services provided by law enforcement, the courts, crisis services, and protections made available through the Violence Against Women Act. 

If you want more information on working with immigrant survivors of sexual and domestic violence and the barriers they must overcome to seek help, please read our latest issue of Revolutionhttp://www.vsdvalliance.org/secPublications/Revolution_4FINAL%5B1%5D.pdf

5.      Celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the Action Alliance—HJ 800 (Delgate McClellan)


APPROVED This resolution was presented and agreed to in the House of Delegates and the Senate of Virginia to commend the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance on the occasion of its 30th anniversary.   If you want to read the resolution in its entirely, please visit http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?111+ful+HJ800.
Other Legislation:    PASSED House and Senate; Awaiting Governor’s Approval


Protective Orders


HB 2089 (Delegate Herring)  This bill allows a law enforcement officer to effect service of an emergency protective order by serving the person subject to the order (respondent) with notification of the order on a form approved by the Supreme Court of Virginia.  The form must contain all of the information and individual requirements of the order.  The officer making service shall enter or cause to be entered the date and time of service and other appropriate information required by the Department of State Police into the Virginia Criminal Information Network. 

Sexual Assault


HB 1476 (Delegate Albo) & SB 1145 (Senator Quayle) This bill extends the civil statute of limitations for for sexual abuse committed against an child/minor or incapacitated person from 2 years to 20 years from the time the minor reaches 18, the removal of the incapacity or from the time the cause of action otherwise accrues.   In essence, this bill gives a person who was sexually assault as a child more time to consider options and seek justice from the courts. 



HB 2106 (Delegate Armstrong) & SB 925 (Senator McDougle) This bill allows the use of GPS (Global Positioning System) tracking as a condition of release for persons arrested and released on secured bond.


SB 1094 (Senator Hanger) This bill requires Department of Health to develop and administer a survey of students to facilitate planning and implementation of effective programs for the prevention of substance abuse through collection of data and information to (i) identify trends in the use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs and (ii) assess the prevalence of risk and protective factors among the youth of the Commonwealth.  The bill also requires schools to develop and implement policies for notifying parents when the school has been selected to participate in the survey to inform the parent that their child may be randomly selected to participate unless the parent denies consent in writing prior to administration of the survey. The notice shall inform the parent regarding the nature and types of questions included in the survey, the purposes and age-appropriateness of the survey, how information collected by the survey will be used, who will have access to such information, whether and how any findings or results will be disclosed, and the steps that will be taken to protect students’ privacy.

Human Trafficking


HB 1898 (Delegate Hugo & Delegate Watts) This bill provides that abduction of any person for the purpose of prostitution or of any minor for the purpose of manufacturing child pornography is a Class 2 felony. The bill also provides that any person who receives any money or other valuable thing for or on account of causing any person to engage in forced labor or services, concubinage, prostitution, or the manufacture of any obscene material or child pornography shall be guilty of a Class 4 felony.  Lastly, this bill expands the rape shield act, which prohibits the reputation or opinion evidence of the complaining witness’s unchaste character or prior sexual conduct from being admitted, to apply in prosecutions of abduction of a child under sixteen years of age for the purpose of concubinage or the abduction of any person for the purpose of prostitution.


HB 2190 (Delegate Ebbins) This bill requires the Department of Social Services to develop a plan for the provision of services to victims of human trafficking, which shall include provisions for (i) identifying victims of human trafficking in the Commonwealth; (ii) assisting victims of human trafficking with applying for benefits and services to which they may be entitled; (iii) coordinating the delivery of services for victims of human trafficking; (iv) preparing and disseminating educational and training programs and materials to increase awareness of human trafficking and services available to victims; (v) developing and maintaining community-based services for victims of human trafficking; and (vi) assisting victims with family reunification or return to their place of origin if the person so desires.

SB 1453 (Senator Newman)  This bill requires the Department of Criminal Justice Services to, in conjunction with the Office of the Attorney General, advise law-enforcement agencies and attorneys for the Commonwealth regarding the identification, investigation, and prosecution of human trafficking offenses using the common law and existing Virginia criminal statutes. 

 Thanks to the Action Alliance for their hard work on these issues that impact members of our community.  If you would like more information contact: Kristine Hall, Sexual Violence Advocacy Manager
Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance
434-979-9003 fax
1-800-838-8238 hotline

Visit their website at: www.vsdvalliance.org

Tuesday’s with Prevention: International Women’s Day

In Sexual Assault Awareness on March 8, 2011 at 7:00 am

Today is International Women’s Day. A day to celebrate women’s achievement and to raise awareness about the undeniable oppression women experience.

Today I want to thank all of the women I admire, who inspire me and are the reason I do what I do.

To my Mom,

What can I say? You raised me, by yourself, for 27 years (and counting!). You worked long days (driving to Fredericksburg from Fairfax every day…hey…that sounds familiar!). You were strong even in the face of layoff after layoff. You broke with convention and did what was right for you and your child (me!). I love your laugh, laughing with you,  and your overall goofiness, yo inspire me and I would not be where I am without you (and your support!). You are a great example of a strong woman. Thank you.

To my Grandmother,

You are such an inspiration to me. Your political activism, standing up to the racism and sexism in the South is plenty enough by itself. But you also are (still!) an activist in your community in regards to peace and nonviolence. It if hadn’t been for your gentle nature and always stressing understanding and compassion for others, I don’t know where I would be today. I am so proud to call myself your grandson.

To my Sister,

One day you decided to show me a book that you were reading. It changed my life completely. Something so simple as a book suggestion profoundly changed the path that I was on and has given me the purpose I had been searching for. Your acceptance of me, the way that I am, a shy, quiet, introvert, always endeared me to you, I could never thank you enough. When I see you with your son I can’t help but feel proud of you and I know that you’re going to be a great mother (and you’re going to raise an awesome FEMINIST son!). Thank you.

To LR,

You always took care of me when my mom was out of town and have been a great friend to her. You were the first example I ever had of a survivor. The fact that you have raised two beautiful sons in spite of the hardships you’ve faced, and they’ve faced (and will always face) is remarkable. You are tough, and you should be proud. Thank you.


There are no words to express how much you all have inspired me. I will never forget you all. I came into this ‘movement’ scared and unsure of myself and my place. You all welcomed and accepted me when it would’ve been so easy to dismiss me. I think about all of those experiences every day. I still cannot believe my luck to have met you all and to be able to call you ‘friend.’ I grew profoundly in those four short years, and I continue to grow and reflect and mature from that time. I can’t wait to hear about all of your accomplishments in the future. I know that you are going to change the world. Thank you.


I know I have only been here for six months, but seriously, I love you all. You’re all so different and unique and special, it’s incredible to see. Day in and day out you all come to work, knowing what we know and seeing what we see (daily), it is difficult for anyone. However, doing so with all of the speed bumps that we’ve encountered, even since I’ve been here, it is inspirational to never see that passion die. Who could ever truly forget their first full-time job? I am so thankful that I was given the opportunity to be a part of RCASA and feel so blessed to have gotten to know you all. You inspire me and I hope to continue to learn from all of your experiences and wisdom. Thank you.

We celebrate International Women’s Day to show our admiration for women and to raise awareness about the issues that women face. Every two minutes a man rapes a woman. This is not freedom. This is not equality. This needs to stop. For so long women have been told to just ‘wait their turn’ in the ‘oppression cast-off relay.’ Why should anyone wait to be free from violence?

Today begins as all others do, the sun rises and everyone starts their day. We come home and go to sleep, expecting tomorrow to be the same. Perhaps today we should work to make tomorrow different. Time is made up of yesterday’s and tomorrows, but today we have the opportunity to change things. Today we must changes things. There is a reason we call ‘now’ the ‘present,’ let our gift today (and all days to follow) be a ‘present’ to truly enjoy, for all.

Tuesdays with Prevention: Women’s History Month

In Sexual Assault Awareness on March 1, 2011 at 10:09 am

March marks Women’s History Month.

…Why do we need a Women’s History Month?

Because every other month is unofficially Men’s History Month.

Having a month in which stories are told by women and from women’s experience is key to equality, and thusly violence prevention. Because history is told by men and of what men have done, the female experience and voice is virtually non-existent.

The movement to end violence began with women. Women, collectively, demanded an end to violence. Feminism was born out of a demand for equal rights and a life free from violence.

We need to celebrate the women we know, the women who inspire us. We need to recognize those women who’ve given voice to radical movements aimed at challenging oppression, not just those whose images are safe for patriarchy’s consumption. Straight-able-white-middle class  women have done some great things, but they aren’t the only ones. Women of color have contributed tremendous amounts of work and vision, and a check to the privilege common to anti-violence/(some)anti-oppression movements.

Without the work of women, there are no rape-crisis centers. Without the work of women there is no sexual assault prevention. We need to honor the work of women every day, every month.

%d bloggers like this: