Survived and Punished: The story of a 14 year old girl and the system that failed her

Bresha Meadows of Ohio was 14 years old the night she is alleged to have shot and killed her father in what her mother describes as an act of heroism to save the family from his ongoing violence and threats of murder. That was in July 2016; she has been incarcerated ever since awaiting trial.

The system failed her long before that night.

Bresha on bus

Photo provided by Martina Latessa. Photo source: Huffington Post

In the months leading up to the shooting, Bresha’s grades dropped, she ran away from home twice, she told relatives that she was in fear for her life, and that her dad was beating her mom, threatening to kill them all.

In a 2011 petition for a Protective Order, Bresha’s mother, Brandi wrote, “In the 17 years of our marriage he has cut me, broke my ribs, fingers, the blood vessels in my hand, my mouth, blackened my eyes. I believe my nose was broken,” she wrote at the time. “If he finds us, I am 100 percent sure he will kill me and the children.”

Bresha is one of many girls and women of color who have survived and are being punished. Many survivors of domestic and sexual violence are targeted by systems of policing and incarceration, including juvenile and immigration detention, because their survival actions are routinely criminalized.

84% of girls in juvenile detention have experienced family violence.1

When adolescents are arrested for domestic battery, girls were more likely than boys to be defending themselves from abuse by a parent or caregiver.1

Free Bresha Teach-in poster

The Action Alliance, in partnership with the VCU Wellness Resource Center (The Well), and VCU OMSA (Office of Multicultural Student Affairs) will be hosting a #FreeBresha Teach-In this Thursday, April 20, 5:30pm-8pm at the Action Alliance office. Join us as we discuss the criminalization of youth of color, the trauma-to-prison pipeline, and the work being done in Richmond to reduce the incarceration of suffering and traumatized youth.

Rise for Youth has been invited to participate. Confirmed speakers for the #FreeBresha Teach-In include:

  • Fatima M. Smith, Assistant Director for Sexual & Intimate Partner Violence, Stalking, & Advocacy Services and Adjunct Faculty, VCU
  • Reginald Stroble, Assistant Director, Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, VCU
  • Jonathan Yglesias, Prevention & Community Wellness Director, Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance

From 1992 to 2012/2013, girls’ share of arrests increased by 45% and girls’ share of detention increased by 40%. Black girls were almost three times as likely as white girls to be referred to court. Black girls were also 20% more likely than white girls to be in detention, while Native girls were 50% more likely.1

To take action beyond the #FreeBresha Teach-In, here are 5 ways you can help Bresha:

  1. Write to Bresha
  2. Use the #FreeBresha curriculum to spark conversations in your community about trauma and overcriminalization of youth of color.
  3. Organize a #FreeBresha book drive for incarcerated girl and women.
  4. Donate to Bresha and her family via GoFundMe.
  5. Write an open letter to the prosecutors in Bresha’s case.

In Virginia, find out more about amazing groups working to shut down the trauma-to-prison pipeline locally:

  1. Rise for Youth
  2. Legal Aid Justice Center
  3. Performing Statistics
  4. Art180

 

1 Sherman, Francine T. and Annie Balck, in partnership with The National Crittenton Foundation and the National Women’s Law Center. 2015. “Gender Injustice: System-Level Juvenile Justice Reform for Girls.” http://nationalcrittenton.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Gender_Injustice_Report.pdf

Featured image source: #FreeBresha: A Night of Abolitionist Art & Action, Love and Struggle Photos, @loveandstrugglephotos


RSVP now to the #FreeBresha Teach-In: Overcriminalization of Youth of Color this Thursday, April 20, 5:30pm-8:00pm at the Action Alliance office.

Register now for April 26-27 Building Healthy Futures: Linking Public Health & Activism to Prevent Sexual & Intimate Partner Violence conference, where we will be talking more about the trauma-to-prison pipeline and work being done to shut it down.


Kate McCord is the Movement Strategy & Communications Director for the Action Alliance, a member of the Action Alliance’s Racial Justice Task Force, and has been working in the movement to end gender-based violence for over 25 years. Kate is working with other coalition leaders as part of the Move to End Violence initiative to mobilize against state violence nationally and shut down the trauma-to-prison pipeline in Virginia.

A Lifetime Legacy Day: We Believe You

Members join at the Lifetime level to show their commitment to engage in prevention and anti-violence work to solidify and strengthen the work of the Action Alliance.

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Annually, the Action Alliance gets together with Lifetime Members to celebrate their commitment to anti-violence work.This is an annual special event for Lifetime Members and their guests.

img_9203This year, our guest was Annie Clark – civil rights activist, co-founder and Executive Director of the survivor advocacy group, End Rape on Campus. She is the co-author, along with Andra Pino of We Believe You, Survivors of Campus Sexual Assault Speak Out. Annie joined the Lifetime Members group to speak on her journey from survivor to activist.

In 2013, authors Annie Clark and Andrea Pino, along with others filed a federal complaint against the University of North Carolina for mishandling sexual assault reports, and the government took their case. Annie and Andrea collected stories of experiences of trauma, healing, and everyday activism.

 

I love the Lifetime Legacy Luncheon because it gives me a chance to be in the same room with an incredible group of committed activists. Through this event we are able to honor multiple generations and their commitment to the work to end violence. 

Kate

Being a Lifetime Legacy member keeps me connected to the community of survivors and the advocates who work on their behalf. I am inspired by Annie’s activism and her book, and grateful to be part of celebrating the voices of survivors coming forth and grateful for their efforts to seek justice on behalf of all. 

Carol

 


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After the event, the guests enjoyed a complimentary day in the Botanical Gardens.

If you are not a lifetime member and want to join, please click here or contact Carol Olson at colson@vsdvalliance.org regarding membership or click on Join Us.

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Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call 804.377.0335. 

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

Mother’s Day for Peace

We tend to think of Mother’s day as a commercial ‘Hallmark’ greeting card kind of day to recognize mothers with cards, flowers and gifts. Celebrations of mothers and motherhood can be traced back to the ancient Greeks and Romans and our current commercialism around the holiday, and the role of mothers in families is indeed deeply rooted in our lives and culture. Nevertheless, the often overlooked herstory of the day is more aligned with the work of advocates and activists promoting peace and nonviolence and resonates with the early organizing efforts of our foremothers Ann Jarvis and Julia Ward Howe.

The herstory of the day is grounded in honoring women’s commitment to the past, present and future of our families and the world at both personal and political levels. It honors those who acted on behalf of not only their own children but of the future generations. So as in the past we work today to recall the origins of Mother’s Day’s as a call to women (and men) to join together to rise up to oppose war and violence.

In the words of Julia Ward Howe’s in 1870 her Mother’s Day proclamation:

Arise then…women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
“We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience ………

………In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

 

The full proclamation can be found at: http://womenshistory.about.com/od/howejwriting/a/mothers_day.htm

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picture credit: Janett Forte

“Mother’s Day is the legacy of Anna Jarvis and her mother Ann Jarvis. At the heart of the traditions around Mother’s Day are themes of honoring mothers, compassion, peace, reconciliation, and social action.”

Perhaps in honoring our mothers this year we can reframe our Hallmark holiday to one that recalls the shoulders we stand on and the gifts of our early foremother’s in organizing for peace this Mother’s Day.  We can consider the legacy we are leaving and we can remind each other that peace, kindness, non-violence, equality and stewardship of the earth are values we all hold and work towards- together for ourselves and for future generations.

Happy Mother’s Day for Peace.

Janett Forte is a ‘mostly’ retired social worker. She is a governing body member of the Action Alliance and has been involved in the movement to end violence against women for over 30 years. She previously worked at Virginia Commonwealth University and coordinated services in Chesterfield County through the Domestic Violence Resource Center, an office she designed. She started her advocacy work at the YWCA in Richmond.  Retirement life has offered opportunities for travel both personally and professionally to places including service trips to Haiti, Guatemala, Philippines and Honduras and pleasure trips to Hawaii, Costa Rica and Italy. Janett is the mother of one son, Sean. 

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Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call804.377.0335.

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

 

 

Mothers on Trial: Gender bias in the Courtroom

Imagine you are a mother, a victim of domestic violence, and have successfully severed the relationship in a step toward a life of safety. Yet, court papers arrive in your mailbox and on your front door almost daily for child custody hearings and criminal hearings. For accusations such as trespassing, for the day you brought your children to your abuser’s residence for court-ordered visitation only to be assaulted yet again by your spouse. Accusing you of trespassing was your soon-to-be ex’s legal tactic to rid himself of the assault charge pending against him.

Imagine being arrested for trespassing when you find out that your 5-year-old daughter is not in school, has a 105 fever, is being held in the marital residence with your ex’s girlfriend, and you go to the marital residence and ring doorbell to inquire about your child’s health. Imagine protecting yourself from an abusive spouse only to be dragged into court and accused by the court professionals, such as Guardian ad Litems and judges, as being unstable, a liar, the perpetrator of the abuse, and incapable of caring for and providing a stable socioeconomic environment for the children. Then imagine in the next hearing, being court ordered to sign over your house deed for $0 and to pay child support based on imputed income, not actual income, all to the man who threw you across rooms, called you a psycho b**ch, and threw your head into a wall.

But worse yet, imagine the children, who had never been separated from their mother, then lose access to their mother, except for three hours a week and every other weekend, with no explanation from any of the court professionals. Imagine this happening to three children, ages, 2, 3, and 4, and living with their abusive father for five years as you appeal court case after court case, taking one of your cases all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, only to be dismissed. Then imagine being ordered by the court to cease attending therapy with your domestic violence counselor and to attend therapy with a general licensed therapist because they do not believe the abuse happened to you.

This is a real story. It happened to one of our protective mothers.

Virginia is for Children is a nonprofit organization that advocates for the protection and safety of mothers and children who have been affected by domestic violence and child sexual assault and who become involved in family court cases in the Commonwealth. Virginia judges have labeled these cases as “highly contested” custody cases. They are usually heard in the Circuit courts rather than the Juvenile and Domestic Relations courts due to the volatile nature of the proceedings, often involving numerous professional experts, such as custody evaluators, vocational experts, psychologists, numerous attorneys, and physicians. Oftentimes the cases involve gag orders which prevent mothers from discussing the decisions of the court or discussing domestic violence if the court deems that domestic violence was fabricated by the mother or child. Therefore, if a mother speaks out against the injustices in the family courts or speaks about the domestic violence experienced, she could lose access to her children, even if she has been given a few hours a week with them.

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credit: ndtv.com

The latest research indicates that custody litigation can be a method by which abusers continue to maintain their authority and control over their victims after separation. Therefore, many abused women find themselves revictimized by the family courts and the professionals that become involved by tactics such as suppressing evidence of domestic violence, ignoring evidence of domestic violence, labeling violence as a “lover’s quarrel,” accepting false testimony that the father was just “doing the things she does to me,” and labeling a child’s abuse disclosure as maternal coaching.

More and more research is emerging that the interests of the father are given more weight than the interests of the mothers and children. Research shows that custody evaluators place more weight on maintaining the father/child relationship over domestic violence incidences. Research shows that battered mothers experience corruption, denial of due process, and gender bias in the family courts. Phyllis Chesler reports in Mothers on Trial, that fathers who contest child custody are more likely than their wives to win access to the children, that in 82% of the contested cases, the father won sole custody, and that 59% who won child custody had abused their wives. Molly Dragiewicz, Canadian battered mother’s advocate, asserts that gender bias is prevalent in the family courts today, including disbelief or minimizing women’s reports of abuse, disregarding evidence, punishing the woman for the abuse, unfair financial settlements, or holding mothers to a higher standard than fathers. Dragiewicz also asserts that the men’s rights and fathers’ rights movements have had detrimental effects on the battered women’s movement. Joan Meier, George Washington University Law Dean and Executive Director of the Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project, was awarded a 3-year grant in 2014 by the National Institute of Justice, to gather evidence regarding how family courts respond to cases of abuse. Her research shows that American courts have fallen into a trend of awarding custody to the abusive parent, even when the other parent warns the judge about the possibility of abuse.

In most of these cases, the abusive father’s legal team or Guardian ad Litem for the children claim that the mother is participating in parental alienation, particularly if the children make abuse allegations against the father. Parental alienation syndrome (PAS) has been labeled by the American Psychological Association as lacking data, and the organization has expressed concern over the term’s use. PAS originally took hold in American culture from the self-published writings of Richard A. Gardner, MD, who worked extensively with fathers who had been accused of molesting their children. Unfortunately, the term is widely used by Virginia guardian ad litems, custody evaluators, and attorneys to remove custody of children away from battered mothers. The term parental alienation syndrome is pervasively used in Virginia contested custody cases as a means to remove children from loving mothers.

Eileen King, Executive Director of Child Justice, Inc. in Washington, DC, specifically states that she knows of no case in which parental alienation used by the mother has been successful in positive outcomes for mothers and children in child custody cases, yet use of this term wields highly successful results for the fatherhood initiative and fathers’ rights movement. When custody is taken from the mother, due to domestic violence or child abuse allegations, child advocates are referring to this process as maternal deprivation, a form of emotional abuse on both mother and children.

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picture courtesy Virginia is for Children (facebook)

Virginia is for Children is working to educate the community and legislators about the problems that Virginia mothers are experiencing in family courtrooms. Most recently, several Virginia mothers attended the judicial reappointment hearings at the Virginia General Assembly in December 2015 to testify about the biases they have experienced in the family courts by certain judges in the City of Alexandria, the City of Chesapeake and Chesterfield County. These mothers were given 5 minutes to speak about the injustices, but unfortunately, we learned January 21, 2016 that all judges considered for reappointment were re-elected by the Virginia General Assembly. However, we do not see this as a failure, but as a need to continue to create awareness of the treatment of battered mothers and children in family courtrooms throughout the Commonwealth.

All too often, various private professionals become involved in these cases, such as custody evaluators and guardian ad litems, many of whom have no or little training in domestic violence or child sexual assault. We believe there must be a collaborative governance in place for these independent professionals to reach out to local domestic violence, feminist, and children’s rights organizations to ensure that battered mothers and their children are treated fairly and justly by professionals in the community and by family courts. Questions to consider are:

  1. What steps did the professionals take to collaborate with other organizations to ensure children have adequate access to nurturing parents and safety plans for aggressive parents?
  2. When a parent alleges domestic abuse against the other parent, what is the professional’s standard procedure for ensuring the safety of the children?
  3. Does the professional generally believe the alleging parent? Why or why not?
  4. Does the professional ever consult with domestic violence specific organizations or DV advocates before making recommendations for the custody of children?
  5. What kinds of collaborative measures does the professional take to ensure battered mothers and children are treated fairly and justly?

Oftentimes guardian ad litems and custody evaluators perform their jobs independently without any oversight or collaboration with domestic violence and child sexual assault experts, thereby making unilateral recommendations that are often far from the latest research for domestic violence and child advocacy. Virginia is for Children aims to encourage the use of collaborative governance in family law cases to better protect battered mothers and children.

Imagine your children had been living with your abusive ex-spouse since they were 2, 3, and 4. Now, they are 7, 8, and 9. They have only seen you every other weekend and for three hours on a weeknight. They aren’t allowed to call or email. They can only wave to you across a room during school assemblies—all because you tried to protect them from the abuse. And you have to ask permission to file another motion with the court to try to see your children for more time before they become adults.

Where is the justice for battered mothers and children? Join with us to advocate for unbiased courts, judges, legal and forensic professionals, as well as collaborative governance of family law cases involving domestic violence and child sexual assault.

For more information about Virginia is for Children, visit the Facebook page or email kobriensmith@gmail.com.

Kerry O’Brien Smith is Executive Director of Virginia is for Children, a nonprofit organization that promotes the safety and development of children in Virginia by addressing, educating, coordinating, and providing assistance and relief to promote social and legislative reform of organizations serving mothers and children who have been affected by domestic violence and child sexual assault.  She holds a Bachelor’s in English Literature and Business from CNU, a Master’s degree from the Graduate School of Political Management at GWU, and is pursuing a PhD in Health and Human Services with specializations in nonprofit management and public service leadership at Capella University.  Her dissertation is about the role of collaborative governance on the treatment of battered mothers and their children.

For more information on training on legal advocacy, check our our Basic Advocacy Training  (BATS) and our Continued Advocacy Training Series (CATS) here

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Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call 804.377.0335.

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

 

 

In the Beginning: Perspective of Mothers of the Movement

I have been a member of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance (Action Alliance) for approximately 30+ years. Therefore, I have been a member since the late 80s. I became a member as a survivor and then gradually moved into various aspects of the Women’s Movement which has been synonymously linked to Virginians Against Domestic Violence (what the Action Alliance was called in the early years and their acronym was VADV). The sexual assault state coalition at that time was called Virginians Aligned Against Sexual Assault (VAASA). Both of these organizations merged into one organization approximately ten years ago.

My rationale for becoming active within the coalition in the late 80’s derived from their “fundamental principles” pertaining to victim services and how these principles fed my need to fight oppression and the passion to become familiar with every aspect of victimization. I devoured research and I still have an insatiable appetite for any and all research pertaining to victimization and trauma and recovery. I became the chair of the Women of Color Caucus (WOCC) and watched the caucus blossom into a membership of 40 women which thrived for three years. During that time I was facilitating support groups for a non-profit, creating my own non-profit, reading and participating in as much of the field of domestic and sexual violence and stalking as I could. I watched VADV morph into a viable organization of women who saw their dream of shelter structure and service delivery come true.

However, somewhere a transition occurred and the core of our work began to be dictated by what was beneficial to becoming renowned versus what is best for survivors. Upon reflection I cannot really put a finger on the actual time this occurred but it was the wave of the future which tended to narrow the scope of service delivery and impose restrictions and requirements that affected how we viewed provision of services to victims. The feeling of family and comradery was replaced by the mechanics of output and accomplishment. A few of us maintained contact and managed to preserve a sense of purpose, while some of us abandoned the vision of healing many future survivors, for the viability and aggrandizement of an organization. This happens to many organizations as growth becomes the goal opposed to being a viable entity in which output and productivity embraces the needs of the victims; promoting healing on a continuum while constructing and maintaining a place where victims’ voices are heard.

We should remember that we built our foundation on the mantra “Peace on Earth Begins at Home”. If we do not alter our course and remember our historical journey, who was at the table in the beginning, and the longing we had to maintain the belief that we are stronger together, we will lose our vision of our future. We believed strongly in diversity and maintaining ideologies which challenged the “majority culture” as we practiced the essential components of cultural competence and victim driven services. We have gravitated toward embracing the mainstream societal influences while overlooking or not comprehending this is not always beneficial to victims, especially the underserved populations. Is not this what sank the Titanic? The disaster was not caused by the icebergs. Yes, that is what caused the ship to sink but the captain’s belief that his ship was unsinkable caused him to stay the course which took him straight into danger. I urge us all to be aware of the distress warnings being heard from those who were tossed overboard for the good of the coalition. No organization is infallible. If we do not heed the cries of the survivors we will capsize. It is not what is seen that takes us down, it is what remains hidden.

Reverend Patricia Jones Turner, MA is a preacher, pastor, teacher, poet, trainer, counselor, educator, writer, and a motivational speaker who guides those who participate in her workshops into self-enlightenment.  Rev. Jones Turner says, “One cannot transcend the ‘world’s’  perspective without confronting and accepting our own inadequacies. It is in the acceptance of our ineptness that we come to understand we control nothing but should seek to give everything; thus fulfilling our destiny and accomplishing our purpose unto Heaven.” 

Links:

Our guiding principles  As The Alliance conducts its work, it is essential that survivors, the interests of survivors, and those impacted by sexual assault and domestic violence are at the forefront of all decision-making.

Interested in learning more about advocacy and prevention? Our Training Institute delivers forward-thinking and accessible education, training, and resources for professionals working on the front lines to address and prevention sexual and domestic violence. Register here for trainings.

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Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call804.377.0335

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

Restorative Justice: Restorative of Right Relationships, of Community.

On August 15, 1995 my sister was shot several times in the face and chest while she lay sleeping by a male “friend” our family had known since childhood. She was a wife and mother of 2 small children, a daughter, and a sister. Her family was shattered. Our family was shattered. The hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life was to tell my seven-year old niece that her mother was dead.

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picture courtesy of Jennifer Garvin-Sanchez

Because there was a confession and a plea-bargain, we had no day in court. It was all handled by the state prosecutor, and because my sister was not considered my “immediate” family because we both had families of our own, I was not kept in the loop by the police and prosecutor. I was not informed when the murderer was released from jail, finding out only through a picture of him through a friend of a friend on Facebook.
Neither I nor my family have ever received any communication from him, no explanation, no apologies. I am still waiting for an explanation.

Retributive justice is the idea that those who commit crimes should have to pay in some like fashion for the crimes they have committed. An eye for an eye. We have some innate sense that the scales of justice need to be balanced; offenders must pay in some way for the crimes they commit. Through paying for their crimes, they somehow rebalance the scales, and we feel in some way that justice has been served. But I never felt that way. Of course, he did not receive the death penalty, which would have been in-kind, but for me, that would never have balanced the scales, the only way to do that would have been to bring my sister back from the dead.

What I have been seeking is something else—restorative justice. The goal of restorative justice is a restoration of right relationships, sometimes through restitution, sometimes through talking, and a restoration of community. For example, a few years ago a neighborhood teen stole our motor scooter. A goal of restorative justice would be to re-establish right relationships between neighbors, perhaps having the teen work off what he had done through yard work, thus balancing the scales and restoring community. This lets the teenager know just how much hard work it is to work off $1300, and through getting to know us, it would have humanized us to him. So what if we were to redefine our concept of justice, to rethink it? This is not difficult to envision when it comes to teen petty theft, but in violent offenses it is much more difficult.

But I can imagine what might bring me some peace of mind. Crimes are not just a matter between the perpetrator and the state—all family members should be kept abreast of all developments in cases like these, including release of prisoners. Perhaps I do not want a restoration of a relationship with the murderer, but some kind of explanation why and an apology would go a long way in my healing. I long ago, intellectually, forgave him, but emotionally is another thing. Restorative justice sometimes involves a sit-down conversation between parties—I would welcome that. It is also important to realize that not only my family was shattered, but his family as well. Restorative justice involves reintegrating the offender into community, maybe not with my family, but with his. Judging from Facebook photos, his family has welcomed him back, but my family and his family have had no contact and no restoration of community or an attempt at an apology or understanding.

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picture courtesy of Jennifer Garvin-Sanchez

Perhaps an illustration from Africa would help our nation reformulate ideas of justice. After the genocide in Rwanda and Barundi, many perpetrators of the violence were put in prison. A few years ago, when they were about to be released, the community was worried that the survivors would retaliate—an eye for an eye. That is when the program Healing and Rebuilding our Communities was born (the Richmond Peace Education Center has since brought this program from Africa). This program brings together survivors and perpetrators in weekend-long settings to talk about the trauma that resulted from the violence. As survivors talk about their trauma, those involved in violent crime see the effect their actions have had. But they also begin to open up and speak about their own trauma, in a non-judgmental setting. What happens, then, is through the telling of stories, and seeing the others point of view, both sides begin to heal, forgiveness sometimes occurs, and community is restored. Even though it seems like it shouldn’t work–bringing murderers and rapists together with survivors–their experience is that it has rebuilt their community and prevented more violence. This is restorative justice at the most difficult level. But only through a rebuilding of right relationships, a restoration of community, and healing from trauma, will future violence be prevented. This is justice re-imagined.

Jennifer Garvin-Sanchez is affiliate faculty at Virginia Commonwealth University.  She holds a doctorate from Union Presbyterian Seminary, here in Richmond, and has lived in Richmond since 1986.  She is a board member of the Richmond Peace Education Center, and the producer, along with her students, of “A Time for Peace” radio segment on WRIR 97.3 FM.

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Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call 804.377.0335. 

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

 

Perspectives of Mothers of the Movement: Alice Twining

“What will matter is the good we did, not the good we expected others to do.”

-(Elizabeth Lesser)

 

What does “A Mother of the Movement” mean to me? – Nurturing, loving; mentoring, encouraging; positive communicating; excited about others’ energy and drive for social justice.

First I think, “I am not a mother of the movement,” I have just been around a long time! I was a farm girl. I worked my way through school in Boston where I first learned about sexual and domestic violence from Antioch graduate students I taught: a co-founder of Emerge (Batterers’ Intervention) and a domestic violence advocate in Cambridge. What I would learn later in California was the sneaky power of a psychopath.

In 1987 I moved to Virginia, fleeing with my baby from an abusive husband. My sister, Mary, took us in and mothered us. She found a lawyer at HER Shelter with advice on legal steps.  I saw a therapist who helped me manage my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and secondary trauma. New friends at Virginians Against Domestic Violence (VADV) and the YWCA helped me recover. We worked, played, laughed, cried, sang and danced as we evolved with Virginians Aligned Against Sexual Assault (VAASA) into the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance (Action Alliance). Many advocates joined us. I focused my practice on assisting survivors and children who witnessed abuse, and joined the VADV (now Action Alliance) Training Institute to facilitate learning on violence and trauma, prevention and intervention.

I feel like I am always standing on the shoulders of mothers  – from Seneca Falls women in 1848 and Sojourner Truth in 1850 to Patricia Hein and others in 1983 who walked the halls of the General Assembly in flowered dresses and large hats (“To meet the legislators where they are.”). When I was asked to serve on the VADV Board, I did not think I could help since my self-esteem had been crushed in the two years I was married. I wanted to contribute, and was mentored and encouraged to do so. My work as a YWCA crisis counselor and at Samaritan House was invaluable: we listened to women and children. We mothered each other.

Our movement expanded with trainings by national experts such as Carole Warshaw. More of us learned how to lobby and build bridges with other advocates to get protective orders and other laws passed. I will never forget the day when hundreds of us attended the Senate committee hearing to add marital rape to sexual assault laws. The room filled with VADV and VAASA supporters wearing ultra-green-stickers: “Married Women Can Be Raped, too.” We brought the media with us. None of the committee members attacked the bill, and it became law. I know we made a powerful difference, and we continue to make a difference.

The social change I have observed in 68 years is remarkable: freedom to evolve past stereotyped gender roles, freedom to marry persons we love, and to establish norms based on equality for all. More profound is knowing the loving children and grandchildren we raised with values and prevention tools from our work. Looking back, it is a joy to be a role model and mentor.

(Dedicated to my late mother and my loving son, 30.)

Alice Twining is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, trainer and expert witness in the psychology of women and children, and trauma and its impact on survivors. She was a psychotherapist for 30 years, specializing in domestic violence, sexual assault and battered women who are criminally charged. She has been on the faculty of the Action Alliance Training Institute since 1997, and is also a Lifetime Member of the Action Alliance. She was Program Director of the YWCA Domestic Violence Program of South Hampton Roads and Program Director at Samaritan House in Virginia Beach. Previously, she served for fourteen years on the VADV Board of Directors, and was President of the Board for four years. She is a painter, gardener and a jazz singer.

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Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call804.377.0335

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

Working Together to Empower the Survivor.

Years in the making, Governor Terry McAuliffe recently signed into law a layer of safety for those who seek relief from the fear, intimidation and threat of lethal violence. This measure will enable individuals and families to begin rebuilding their lives outside of abusive relationships without firearms looming in the background.

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Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, center, with survivor and advocate Lisette Johnson, and Del. Kathleen J. Murphy, D-Fairfax,, after signing her bill relating to removal of guns owned by persons who have a restraining order against them during a news conference at the Executive Mansion in Richmond, Va. Friday, Feb. 26, 2016. Behind him are Sen. Janet D. Howell, D-Fairfax, Sen. L. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe, Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran, and Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Prince William. Picture credit: The Action Alliance

 

This is as a significant improvement in the protective order process; celebrated by and for those who advocate for and who are survivors of intimate partner violence. Empowered by measures beyond that of possessing a piece of paper, more women will seek and follow through to make their protective orders permanent now that the law gives it bones by requiring respondents to surrender firearms within 24 hours.Police now have the leverage to seek search warrants to find and seize guns of those who do not comply, and carries with it a Class 6 Felony charge with up to five years in prison.

As a survivor, after it is all said and done, I am brought back to the simple fact I just wanted a divorce. That is all. I did not want to speak out against domestic violence. I did not dream my life’s calling was helping women make tough decisions about their futures, their safety and that of their children. I never saw myself as an activist who would be a public voice, or represent those silenced by abuse and lethal violence.

I just wanted to move forward with my life and give my children a peaceful home.

In that simple statement is the heart of what every person leaving an abusive relationship wants; to leave without event and rebuild a life without violence. This legislation provides a needed protection and is the first step in letting survivors of abuse know they are not alone now that they have backup in the legal system, and that they can move from victim to survivor, with a much lower risk of being a statistic.

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picture taken by the Action Alliance

The journey of a thousand miles has only just begun. There remains much work still to be done. We need funding for prevention and awareness. We must continue to look for new ways to keep families safe. When they are not safe, we need to have funding for adequate shelter, resources and support for survivors. Just for today, though, let us stop to rest and enjoy this victory.

Lisette Johnson is a survivor of an attempted partner homicide/suicide. She is an advocate for those experiencing domestic and sexual violence and collaborates for violence prevention education and awareness. You can read her first post on this issue published on January 25th here

 

Lisette Johnson is a survivor of an attempted partner homicide/suicide. She is an advocate for those experiencing domestic and sexual violence and collaborates for violence prevention education and awareness.  

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Note from the Action Alliance: The Action Alliance is proud to stand with Governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, as he signs historic bipartisan legislation that will increase safety for victims/survivors of ‪#‎domesticviolence‬ by prohibiting the possession of firearms for persons subject to “permanent” (max 2 year) Protective Orders.

The connection between guns and lethal domestic violence in Virginia is clear: over a 10 year period, firearms were used in more than half of all intimate partner homicides in Virginia.

We applaud the Governor’s willingness to reach across the aisle to enact common sense gun legislation to reduce lethal gun violence.

 

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Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call 804.377.0335.

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

The Cost of Freedom

Lisette D. Johnson – Survivor

Every day the price for loving the wrong person is paid with lives. Once you know this, it is impossible to ignore the news. For every one woman killed, there are eight to nine who survive an attempt. Survivors share emotional scars that intertwine with the very fiber of who we are, who we’ve become, and who our children have become. It ripples into families and communities.

The price is high. Beyond the emotional toll there is another cost of freedom; the dollar price tag not calibrated by studies. It is increased health care costs for victims of IPV (intimate partner violence) which can extend as much as 15 years after an abusive relationship is exited. Compound the extraordinary costs of survival from gun violence and the profound associated residual physical challenges. I personally know women left paralyzed, blind, brain and neurologically impaired who will require lifelong intensive medical interventions, some lifelong caregivers.

Guns and abuse are proven to be far and away the most lethal combination; not knives, bats or hammers as naysayers insist. Bullets are quick, they’re clean and shooting can be accomplished from a distance.
The cost of my freedom continued long past the initial trauma surgery and hospital stay in ICU. It includes two subsequent surgeries, periodic cardiac monitoring, extensive psychotherapy for the children and me, at one point with five therapists between the three of us, plus hospitalizations for a suicidal child. Inching close to $200,000; some, but not all of which was covered by insurance, my bills are minimal as compared to the bills of others I know.

Nothing could have prepared me for the fallout from the shooting. Recovering from the physical injuries and my trauma while navigating the solo parenting of two traumatized children proved emotionally impossible when combined with running a business with employees. I closed a business I had owned for sixteen years within months.

Some days I wonder if I’ll be done paying for someone else’s choice to shoot me. Beyond the abuse, beyond the end, beyond my children’s suffering, beyond difficult days, I failed to take into account my recovery was going to plateau. I had no way of knowing that I would continue to struggle with focus and memory, and be continually exhausted. I expected to bounce back. I took for granted that I’d be on top of things again, be sharp, have the energy and mental acuity to go out and create a living like I enjoyed before it happened. I could not have imagined how I would struggle with simple things that are so every day you don’t even know you are doing them. Acknowledging that others have challenges far greater than mine does not negate my own.

I am eternally grateful to wake up every day to another sunrise. Even my worst day now is better than my best day in my marriage. Still, there is no denying the layers of damage when I add it all up.

Lisette Johnson is a survivor of an attempted partner homicide/suicide. She is an advocate for those experiencing domestic and sexual violence and collaborates for violence prevention education and awareness.  

*Statistics: Jacquelyn Campbell PhD RN FAAN Anna D. Wolf Chair & Professor Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing Multi City Intimate Partner Femicide Study and CDC Injury Prevention and Control Division of Violence Prevention.

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Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call 804.377.0335. 

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org