Tuesday, October 25, 2011

'Waitress' emphasizes importance of addressing domestic abuse

Three women sit on a bench outside of a the small-town diner where they work as waitresses. They start up what appears to be a conversation familiar to them. Dawn: "But now here you are [Jenna], married to this handsome guy … who's got very good hair, and pregnant with a little girl. But neither of us would trade places with you for one second, now would we Becky?"

Becky: "No we wouldn't, Dawn, No we wouldn't."

As the offending, attractive-haired husband in question, Earl, tears into the parking lot to pick up Jenna, the nature of the waitresses' conversation becomes clear: Earl is a controlling jerk.

Earl speaks in a threatening tone and reacts with satisfaction when Jenna gives in to his every command. As he proceeds to collect all of Jenna's tips from the day and threatens to make her leave her job, the viewer gets the uncomfortable feeling that Jenna is walking on egg shells with her every move around Earl.

The film, "Waitress," depicts between 600,000 and 6 million women's realities in the United States per year. This number doesn't take into the account the number of men who experience the same violence and control. While women do make up the majority of domestic violence victim, 15 percent of those affected are male.

The myth that only physical abuse can be considered domestic violence saturates the media. Films and television shows typically show cases of murders or extreme physical attacks. This is an important and very real occurrence in the world. The Domestic Violence Resource Center states, "On average, more than three women and one man are murdered by their intimate partners in this country every day." However, a typical case can be much more subtle and complex.

As demonstrated in "Waitress," domestic abuse includes much more than physical abuse; intimidation, isolation, emotional and financial abuse are all common weapons perpetrators use to control their victim. Perpetrators can lower the victim's self-esteem, restrict the victim from seeing or speaking with friends and family, and control their access to finances.

These all serve to keep the victim under their control and create major barriers that keep them from leaving. It is important to recognize that these behaviors are just as serious and abusive as physical attacks and are often more difficult to detect.
With young people comprising almost half of domestic violence cases, it's important to remember these myths when observing relationships in our daily lives. Whether for our personal relationships or those of our friends and family, it is necessary to keep an eye out for these traits. They are neither excusable nor normal; they are indicative of a violent relationship and must be taken seriously.

Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment (PAVE) is a student organization dedicated to ending sexual assault, dating/domestic violence and stalking on the UW-Madison campus through education and activism. In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, PAVE will be screening "Waitress" on Tuesday, October 25 at 7 p.m. in Ogg Hall.

-Olivia Jonynas

**As published in The Daily Cardinal

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Cosmopolitan and sexual assault reporting on campus

The September issue of Cosmopolitan features an article that hits home for many students here at UW-Madison. Molly Triffin ‘s “The Scary Truth About Rape on Campus” details the flawed systems for reporting and processing sexual assault cases in universities across the country. It shares personal stories of victims who were failed by these systems on their campuses, one of whom attended UW-Madison. Although it is certainly wonderful that Cosmo is giving this issue national attention, there are several problems with the article and its presentation.

The article uses specific examples and personal stories from victims to communicate the severity of the problem with reporting sexual assaults on college campuses. However, Triffin fails to honor the survivors in her article by using victim-blaming language. According to her, all of these women were “allegedly” assaulted. Each statement about their assaults is qualified first by words that imply the possibility that these women are lying. They “claimed” to have been assaulted. They “say” that this horrible thing happened to them. These seemingly miniscule changes remove all blame from the perpetrator and place responsibility for the assault on the victim herself.

Victim blaming is prevalent throughout the article. It is heavily implied that those victims who choose not to report their assaults are somehow wrong. Laura, the UW-Madison student who waited a year before coming forward with her story, seems to have her reasons for hesitation trivialized. Rather than address how incredibly difficult it is to report a sexual assault to school authorities or the police, Triffin instead outright states that victims simply “don't want to believe it happened to them.” Again, Triffin's article places all responsibility on victims. She seems to invalidate the reasons a survivor of sexual assault may have for not reporting, and ultimately hold victims responsible for cases where the assailant is not convicted. She also ignores the possibility that some victims don’t feel reporting to the police or campus officials is the right step for them.

The article goes on to completely disregard a victim's right to privacy. Triffin poses the question, “So why don't [colleges] turn these cases over to the police?” Without the consent of a victim, no college should ever consider sending a case onto local police. It is entirely up to the victim should they decide to file a police report in addition to a report to campus authorities. Triffin offers the rather unsatisfactory answer that “students want to keep the matter private,” and does not acknowledge that a police report is not always what is best for the victim.

On top of the victim blaming that litters the story, there is a sense of hypocrisy present. Cosmopolitan, while helping to normalize female sexuality, is not a terribly socially conscious magazine. It is completely hetero-normative, only discussing women and their sexual encounters with men. The magazine portrays the sexes in stereotypical ways: Men are masculine and women are feminine. End of discussion. And while the magazine does promote the still taboo subject of female sexuality, it spends the majority of its pages telling women how to please their men, oftentimes boiling down the success of a relationship to conforming to gender norms and doing whatever her man wants her to do in the bedroom.

As these trends demonstrate, Cosmopolitan doesn’t understand the forces behind rape culture and how sexual assault happens. Until they magazine demonstrates it has educated itself about the implications of gender norms, how the language we use perpetuates rape culture, what victim blaming is and how it happens and, perhaps most important, how to support a survivor, it will be difficult to take moves like this seriously.

If an impact is really to be made, then the inclusion of the occasional article on sexual assault is not enough. Before Cosmo puts itself at the forefront of the movement to stop sexual violence, perhaps some of its content should be reevaluated to promote a healthier idea of sexuality.

-Tessie Benser

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Observing DVAM as a survivor

Throughout October, UW-PAVE will host a number of events for Domestic Violence Awareness Month. For many in the campus community, these events will truly bring them awareness about an issue that has long been called a "silent epidemic." But for those of us who are plenty aware of the current pervasiveness of domestic, dating and intimate partner violence--whether through prevention work, as survivors ourselves or both--this month can be both an energizing and personally trying time. I have met so many people like me who have become advocates because our own DV experiences, wanting to take an active role in helping end the cycle. But during DVAM, and really every other month of the year, we cannot advocate for others until we advocate for ourselves. To that end, I highly recommend the book "Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide To Caring For Self While Caring For Others" by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky. This text has been making its rounds in social work offices across the country since its 2010 publication (it was gifted to me by a facilitator from the Seattle-based non-profit The NW Network of LGBTQ Survivors of Abuse last year). Lipsky helps "anyone who interacts with the suffering, pain and crisis of others or our planet" empower themselves to find healthy paths of response to these daily interactions. "Trauma Stewardship" can be found at most bookstores and libraries, so do yourself a favor and check it out. Take care PAVEers!

In solidarity,

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Help exists for domestic abuse victims

When most people think of October, they picture falling leaves, football games and wrapping themselves up in layers before heading to class. However, October has a significant meaning for Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment (PAVE), a student organization on campus.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM), a nationally recognized time of observance and action. This year, PAVE is taking a stand for the UW-Madison, creating awareness about domestic violence's existence on campus.

Domestic violence is an ongoing pattern of behavior in a relationship where one person exerts power and control over another. This includes physical, emotional, verbal or sexual abuse. As such, no one, regardless of sex, gender, race or sexual orientation is immune to the realities of domestic violence.

Some people may think, "Really, it exists on campus? Doesn't it take place in the movies with someone who everyone knows is bad? Surely it can't happen to me. I'm too smart to put myself in that situation, right?"

Unfortunately, domestic violence exists in Wisconsin; it even exists here on campus. From national statistics published by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), one in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, and females ages 20-24 are at the highest risk of non-fatal domestic violence.

That means our fellow Badgers, the people we attend class with, "Jump Around" with and party with on the weekends, are often survivors of domestic violence or currently in an abusive relationship.

When it comes to domestic violence, there is often no physical evidence of wrongdoing. It is easy to cover up bruises with long sleeves, and emotional abuse doesn't leave any plainly visible scars. But it is impossible for victims to erase the memories and effects of domestic violence.

According to research conducted by the Domestic Violence and Mental Health Policy Initiative, victims of domestic violence are more likely to have sexual difficulties and eating disorders. Victims are also more likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder and are at a significant risk of suicide.

These are the issues plaguing student victims on campus, day in and day out. Try adding the challenges of PTSD on top of worrying about financial aid, getting good grades and the rest of college-imposed stresses.

Conversely, think about how difficult it can seem to rid yourself of your largest support system. It may not make sense to you, but that's what it feels like to victims when they break it off with an abusive partner. It's a situation of constant worry, and it is something that people all over campus experience.

Domestic violence knows no bounds. It is not limited to a specific gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, mental capacity, physical capabilities, etc. It could happen to someone with a 4.0 GPA or someone on academic probation. Unfortunately, it could happen to anyone.

Some of the signs of an abusive partner may be: controlling behaviors, not allowing you to see friends, threatening to harm you or themselves based on your actions, telling you things to put you down or treating you as a sexual object. This list is not at all exhaustive, but demonstrates the different facets of domestic violence.

Because any one of us could be at risk of being in an abusive relationship, it is important to know that there is help. You can get out of it, even though it may seem impossible. The Madison community and our university offer plenty of outlets for assistance. It is OK to ask for help. You are not weak for reaching out. In fact, it is one of the strongest things you can do.

Yesterday marks the 30th anniversary of the National Day of Unity, a day started by the NCADV to bring advocates against domestic violence together. The day of awareness was turned into an entire month, and that is why DVAM is now observed throughout October.

PAVE is observing DVAM in East Campus Mall from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. today to encourage students to sign pledges in support of healthy relationships and the victims of domestic violence. Please come out and show your support for your fellow students, community members and friends.

If you believe you are in an abusive relationship, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-723 for assistance. Locally, you can call the Dane County Rape Crisis Center's rape hotline at 608-251-7273 or Madison's Domestic Abuse Intervention Service's hotline at 608-251-4445.

Tomissa Porath wrote this article and is a PAVE media volunteer.

PAVE is a student organization dedicated to ending sexual assault, dating/domestic violence and stalking on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus through education and activism. PAVE's general member meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on Oct. 6 in the PAVE office, suite #3147 of the Student Activity Center. For more information or to find out how to get involved, e-mail uwpavemedia@gmail.com.

**As published in The Daily Cardinal