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Linguistics And Meaning Of “Why Did She Stay?”

In response to Feministe: Why did she stay? which I commented on here there is a post Rambling On: Feminist language, where Lottie writes:

My perspective, is that feminists typically blacklist questions that they don’t have answers to. Why do victims of domestic violence stay? There isn’t a nice, neat, blanket response to that. Domestic violence crosses every border imaginable. It is not restricted to race, age, economic status, social status, level of education, (dis)ability, religion, sexual orientation, gender, genetics, blood type, name, rank or serial number. Domestic violence is an equal opportunity social problem. This being the case, how can we possibly answer the question of why? There doesn’t seem to be an answer at the moment.

Feminists can’t fix it, and so they quell the question.

Language control is directly related to thought control. If feminists (or anyone else) can control our language, they can control how our thoughts are perceived by others. This also allows them to control the dialogue which, in turn, helps create the illusion that they have all the answers, simply by eliminating some of the questions. They stifle the flow of discussion and exchange of ideas, under the guise of supporting women and minorities, and more specifically to this topic, victims of domestic violence.

Lottie is right in saying that there is no dominant answer to, “Why did she stay?” but I see that lack of a common answer as being meaningful and educational. This lack of a dominant answer contradicts much of the mythology about domestic violence.

There is much more commonality and meaning in the answer to, “Why did he (or she) abuse or murder someone that person had a relationship with?”

Therefore the only general meaning which can be derived by looking at why victims stay is to examine failed prevention steps and to look at the barriers which prevent domestic violence victims from leaving safely and the barriers to their safety if they don’t leave for whatever reason.

With that in mind the better questions would be, “How do we more effectively help victims and potential victims of domestic violence remain safe?” and “How can we more effectively reduce the harm done by abusers?” These questions both involve commitment on the part of the questioner.

It makes sense to begin by getting a broad grasp of the problem. A CDC study found that 23.6 percent of women and 11.5 percent of men have experienced intimate partner violence.

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“Why did she stay?”

I’m disappointed to say that I had to shut down this thread because of victim-blaming and off-topic comments. But The Holy Fatman at Shakesville has a great post up (also at her own blog) about why those kinds of comments — and questions like, “How could such a smart girl be with a guy like that?” — point us in the wrong direction. It’s not about being smart or not-smart; it’s not about being strong or not-strong. Do check it out.

And, I probably shouldn’t have to say this but I’m going to anyway: Further victim-blaming comments are not acceptable on this thread. This thread is a safe space for survivors and allies to talk about the various barriers women and men face in getting help (although I’m glad to say that there’s one less barrier in NY). It is also a space to talk about how we can improve things — both the actual situations that survivors of abuse face, and the discourse around abuse. If you’re unsure as to whether your comment crosses a line, I would suggest holding onto it and instead reading and learning. Moderation on this thread will be heavy-handed.

Very many thanks to The Holy Fatman for sharing such an important and poignant story.

After 20 years’ fight, expanded domestic violence law in NY state

Twenty years ago, Assemblywoman Helene E. Weinstein of Brooklyn introduced legislation that would expand protections for victims of domestic and intimate partner violence in New York state. After reintroducing similar legislation every year since, the Fair Access bill has finally passed in the state legislature and will soon be signed into law by Governor David Paterson. From the NY Times:

The new law would make it possible for people in dating relationships, heterosexual or gay, to seek protection from abusers in family court. As it stands, New York has one of the narrowest domestic violence laws in the country, allowing for civil protection orders only against spouses or former spouses, blood relations or the other parent of an abused person’s child …

“New York lagged behind all the other states in the Northeast in terms of addressing orders of protection,” the governor said. “We expanded the coverage to include what we would consider to be intimate relationships. They do not have to be sexual. Theoretically, it could be two people who are dating and haven’t had sex. They’ve come close, one refuses the other and then the stalking starts.”

Advocacy groups say that current law has deterred teenagers and gay men and women from seeking protection from abusers, because their only recourse is the criminal courts. Getting an order of protection in criminal court requires reporting abuse to the police, the arrest of the alleged abuser, and the cooperation of a prosecutor.

Civil protection orders in family court accept a lower burden of proof and do not require police involvement, and an accuser can be represented by a lawyer and not have to rely on a prosecutor.

This is an incredibly important development. My partner works as a lawyer representing victims of domestic and intimate partner violence and has frequently voiced her frustration and anger at the lack of recourse available to clients whose relationships with their abusers do not fall within the incredibly narrow requirements of the current law.

These limitations do work against many adults in heterosexual relationships – as it stands, the law only allows orders of protection “against spouses or former spouses, blood relations or the other parent of an abused person’s child,” excluding a vast swath of intimate and domestic relationships of any sexuality – but they also tend to severely limit the options for queer people and teenagers, as the NY Times article points out. Both populations are particularly vulnerable to domestic and intimate partner violence, both because of the lack of options and because of the lack of awareness that this violence happens all too frequently to teens and queer people.

A survey released on Tuesday reveals that “sixty-nine percent of teens who had sex by age 14 reported some type of abuse in a relationship, with slightly more than one-third saying they had been physically abused.” That is one horrifying statistic. And safer sex education isn’t the only thing that’s severely lacking; education about abuse in relationships is also missing, and the results are clearly damaging, as the CNN article states: “Despite the number of teens and tweens who say they have experienced abuse or say they know someone who has, only about 51 percent say they are aware of the warning signs of hurtful dating relationship.”

Intimate partner violence is also a serious problem in the LGBTQ community, but one that frequently goes overlooked and unreported. People tend to think of domestic violence as resulting from clearly gendered power dynamics, with abusers tending to be men and victims tending to be women. And though it is true that sexism and misogyny create a society in which this is true, that doesn’t mean that the gender dynamic is always the same in instances of domestic and intimate partner violence. We can’t pretend that same-sex relationships create instant equality, eliminate power dynamics and erase the chance of intimate partner violence. That only serves to limit the resources available to LGBTQ survivors of abuse and force them into silence and even shame. The LGBTQ community must recognize that this is a problem for us as much as it’s a problem for straight people, and we must respond as a community by acknowledging and condemning abuse and supporting survivors.

I hope that the passage of legislation like the Fair Access bill will help LGBTQ, youth, and other survivors of abuse not only by giving them more recourse for protection from their abusers but by also bringing attention to the problems of abuse in these communities. Tremendous thanks to Assemblywoman Weinstein and all of the domestic violence advocates, including my partner, who have fought this twenty year battle to win protections that should have existed as a no-brainer in the first place.

cross-posted at AngryBrownButch

Thank You Jana Mackey

Jana Mackey

We lost Jana Mackey last week, a young feminist activist who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend. Adolfo Garcia-Nunez killed her, and after he was arrested killed himself.

There’s a facebook group about Jana, where people are posting pictures and anecdotes about her. Her funeral will be held today. Her family is asking that if you wish to donate, you can send donations to:

Jana Mackey Support for Public Advocacy Fund
c/o Dean of Law
Green Hall
1535 W. 15th St.
Lawrence, KS 66045

Thanks to Veronica for letting us all know about Jana
. My thoughts are with Jana and her family.

INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence has a new website

Stop Police Brutality Against Women of Color & Trans People of Color! Let's Organize Safe & Sustainable Communities!

INCITE! is one of my favorite feminist organizing projects and I’m excited to spread the word about their gorgeous new website. If you don’t already know about their amazing anthology, The Color of Violence, I highly recommend picking it up (especially since I helped craft the chapter that intersects with trans issues, toot toot.) Even if you don’t have a copy, the website is right at your fingertips, right now. Go check it out!

I especially want to draw your attention to one of the centerpieces of their website launch, the Organizing Toolkit To Stop Law Enforcement Violence Against Women of Color & Trans People of Color. If you have any doubts as to whether police brutality is a feminist issue, their analysis does a much better job of explaining than I have recently. Their toolkit highlights the fact that law enforcement violence against women and trans people often becomes invisible, while at the same time stressing the need to work in coalition with other organizations that struggle against the police state, institutionalized violence against people of color, immigrant rights, and so forth. (See in particular the joint statement put out by INCITE! and Critical Resistance, the prison abolitionist organization founded by Angela Davis and others.) They’re simultaneously working to integrate a gender analysis into conversations about police brutality, and also raise awareness that this isn’t just a problem that happens to young, straight black men.

INCITE!’s toolkit addresses everything from law enforcement violence against marginalized women and trans folks on the streets to violence in immigration practices and against native communities, police brutality against sex workers, and strategies for community accountability — which could be an alternative to calling the police, especially for people and communities who can’t always do that. I’ll quote a couple of my favorite sections after the jump.

Also, check out this sweet poster version.

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I Blame the Kyriarchy

Happy May Day. As people around the world celebrate the struggles of laborers, and as many immigrants and supporters of immigrant rights set off on protest marches around this country, I wanted to link you to one of my favorite blog posts of the last week: Sudy’s explanation of kyriarchy, a concept coined by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza.

It’s a useful neologism for an idea that comes up a lot: multiple, overlapping, shifting pyramids of power. Try to focus too hard on just one, try to figure out with some kind of precision exactly which individuals are at the top, and you lose sight of the entire awful kyriarchy, that has any number of ways to crush people. It’s another trick that power structures play to distract you. I’ve heard this kind of concept discussed before — some people I know just use the word “hierarchies” to talk about this, and in some feminist writing this is what “patriarchy” means. But I like the word kyriarchy, not least because it doesn’t just focus on “fathers” as the top of the pyramid.

For me the word summons up a bizzare image of holographic, floating, disappearing and reappearing ancient step pyramids. Because that’s how complex the overlapping of power can be, and how surreal. Sometimes we talk about this stuff like patriarchy, white supremacy, or homophobia is a bunch of craggy old white guys having a meeting down the street where we can kick the doors in and turn over the table piled high with money and blood. Too bad that the history of oppressive cultural attitudes, social enforcement, the accumulation of religion and greed and control and security is never that simple. But don’t think I mean it’s all ideology either. Kyriarchy kills. Don’t let it slip behind you when you’re not looking — or under your feet.

Forced marriages in Britain may be higher than originally thought

A government agency in Britain charged with investigating forced marriages has released a report estimating that the number of forced marriages may be as high as 4,000 per year, up from earlier estimates of about 300. These cases involve young women and girls being taken abroad and married against their will. And there are some differences of opinion on how to proceed with investigating these:

Sayeeda Warsi, a Muslim member of the House of Lords, said forced marriages should be treated as a criminal offence like domestic violence, to protect young women from ethnic minorities.

“As a society we draw a line in the sand,” she told GMTV. “This is not a culturally sensitive issue, this is an abhorrent act which we must stand together on.”

Khanum added: “Forced marriage has nothing to do with religion. It is a part of a patriarchal system where parents believe they know what is best for their children.”

But the government argues that criminalising forced marriage would only drive it underground.

Home Office Minister Alan West told the House of Lords Monday: “The difficulty is that these things happen in families. We have taken a lot of advice and talked to many people.

“There is a feeling that the crime would go even further underground because people generally do not want to put their families through this.”

There was also a separate study released which may tie into the forced marriages:

A separate study to be released Tuesday highlights how many children have suddenly stopped attending school, amid fears that some have been forced into marriages against their will.

The BBC said it had been told by one teenage Pakistani girl that she was withdrawn from school aged 13, taken to Pakistan and forced to marry a man who raped her.

She blamed the authorities for failing to launch a search for her. “I think they let me down,” she said. “I did still secretly think when I was in Pakistan, the school might search for me.

“Nobody looked for me. It was horrific.”

It was disclosed this month that 33 girls were missing from schools in Bradford despite efforts to locate them. It is feared they have been forced into marriages.


Some Numbers.

afghan woman
An Afghan woman at a protest in Kabul against the death sentence passed on the student Pervez Kambaksh for downloading allegedly blasphemous material.

87: The percentage of Afghan women who report suffering physical abuse, half of which is sexual.
60: The percentage of marriages in Afghanistan that are forced.
57: The percentage of Afghan brides who are under the age of 16.
88: The illiteracy rate amongst Afghan women.
5: The percentage of Afghan girls attending secondary school.
1 in 9: The number of women in Afghanistan who die in childbirth — that’s the highest in the world, alongside Sierra Leone.
1 Million: The number of Afghan widows who have no rights, including no right to work — leaving them to beg on the street.
£800 to £2,000: The price of a child bride if Afghanistan.

And Afghanistan is the only country where the suicide rate is higher for women than for men.

Just a few things to think about today, and every time you hear politicians talk about how we “liberated” Afghanistan and Afghan women.

Kill them to kill part of yourself

Earlier this week there was an update in the death of Sanesha Stewart: apparently the man who is suspected of killing her — let’s be clear, he was dragged from her apartment early in the morning, covered in her blood — had known her for quite some time. That doesn’t seem to fit with his claim (and the media’s original lurid story) that he was shocked to find out that Stewart was trans and flew into a homicidal rage as a result. Sadly, I wasn’t surprised to hear this at all.

Most Feministe readers will agree that the “trans panic” defense is bogus, and that one’s own fear or disgust of queer or trans people is hardly an excuse for violence or murder. But a lot of these “panics” are suspicious on more levels than one. In similar killings in the past, there’s been evidence that suggests the murderer knew very well that the victim was trans, and may have killed her in order to erase the association between them. The revelation in Stewart’s case brought to mind the aptly titled 2003 report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, “Disposable People.” Washington DC activist Earline Budd, who’s dealt with her own share of transphobic violence on top of fielding more than a dozen calls a month about other trans people being assaulted, sums it up well:

Budd, like many transgender activists, believes the “discovery crime” motivation is often bogus. Most transgendered people are up front with potential sex partners about their identities and anatomies, she says — and even in cases where they’re not, “how can you say that’s an excuse for killing somebody or beating them up?”

Bella Evangelista’s murderer, Antoine Jacobs, is reportedly considering a “panic defense” when he goes to court.

According to Sgt. Brett Parson, head of Washington’s GLLU police unit, Jacobs told police he and Evangelista “were engaging in sex for hire, he liked it, the act was completed, they parted ways, and some of his friends said, ‘Hey, man, that’s a dude,’ and he returned and shot her.”

Budd suspects that Jacobs simply got embarrassed when his friends found out he’d been with Evangelista, who was well known as a transgendered woman in the neighborhood where Jacobs lived.

“This was all to show off for the guys,” she says. “He came back and confronted her, and when she turned around to walk away, he pulled out a gun and shot her and just continued to shoot her. In the back. And that’s a panic defense? Come on now.”

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Rape Just Ain’t What It Used To Be

Apparently there’s a big problem with making a rape exception to anti-abortion laws: Rape today just isn’t what it was a few decades ago, when “unchaste” women could be forced into sex with impunity. Or at least that’s what pro-life Tennessee State Senator Doug Henry thinks:

“Rape, ladies and gentlemen, is not today what rape was. Rape, when I was learning these things, was the violation of a chaste woman, against her will, by some party not her spouse. Today it’s simply, ‘Let’s don’t go forward with this act.’ ”

You mean rape is forcing a woman into a sexual act against her will, after she explicitly tells you ‘no’? Well knock me over with a feather. Those feminists are just ruining everything. They’re taking away your right to force someone else into sex simply because she’s had sex before, and they’re even challenging your natural right to rape your wife (who, of course, you love dearly, almost as much as you love babies). Femi-nazis.

Here’s the video: