Friday, July 8, 2011

Domestic Abuse Around The Globe

Domestic violence is a global phenomenon, and while in America we have institutions whose goals are set on preventing domestic violence, some other countries aren’t as fortunate.  One such country where domestic violence isn’t depicted as a severe problem is Lebanon.  Lebanon is part of the Arab world where domestic violence is considered a family law.  This family law means that all domestic violence cases are governed by the religious courts, and not state courts.  Recently, Lebanese supporters took to the streets regarding a bill that would make domestic violence a crime punishable by the government.  This Lebanese law, while not in effect yet, could create quite a shockwave, in a region known for neglecting women and their rights. 

In the Asian-Pacific region of the globe, they experience many of the same struggles.  A report by UN Women claimed that half the populations of women in the Asian-Pacific region have experienced physical and sexual violence.  The report also stated that a third of respondents thought it was sometimes acceptable for a man to beat his wife.  Women in this region of the globe are under-represented in government and only 8 out of the nineteen countries explicitly criminalize marital rape.  

Many women in the eastern hemisphere are products of their culture. In both regions discussed above, it is extremely difficult for women to escape acts of violence in their homes because of the rigid patriarchal society in which they live.  Different cultures approach the issue of domestic violence through different lenses.

Islam is the predominant religion in Lebanon and even the government is influenced by its teachings.  In Islam’s holy book it describes particular ways where violence against a spouse is acceptable without moral or lawful consequences.  This has been a large influence in why women in Lebanon are revolting; to change the way the government depicts the issue of domestic violence.  An Islamic scholar, Ahmad Shafaat said, “If the husband beats a wife without respecting the limits set down by the Qur'an and Hadith, then she can take him to court and if ruled in her favor she has the right to apply the law of retaliation and beat the husband as he beat her”.  If you can change the culture, you can change the person. 

The Asian-Pacific regions dilemma is more concerning, since the women have little say in any government or familial issues.  The way the culture runs is similar to the Lebanese culture except small villages or towns may not have a formal government to enforce any domestic violence laws.  Both of these regions, while different in customs, have similar values and cultures. To us it may seem unsettling, but to many these actions are ingrained and accepted as a normal part of culture.  

Scott Anderson / Communications Intern

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Rape in Day Time Soaps

General Hospital is an American soap opera that owned my after school hours with my mother. It was all so intriguing witnessing the blossoming and drama that surrounded the relationships of many of the characters. The other day after doing some research on the day time phenomenon  (my mom totally DVRs it now); I came across the story of Luke Spencer and Laura Webber, the superstar couple that captured the hearts of so many women watching. Through the progression of the soap the writers have Laura fall in love with Luke despite the rape— their relationship meant to signify an act of love and redemption. However, as a young audience viewing what could be perceived as a sometimes noxious relationship, it is difficult not to question whether their relationship was healthy or even right for Laura Webber.

What puzzled me most was the dramatic climax of the rape depicted through a series of visual snippets (Luke’s aggression and Laura attempts to stop him) and Laura’s declarations and insistent 'no' to Luke. Further I was puzzled by the method used to frame the scene because it could have been construed as moment of seduction rather than rape.It is because of Laura’s blatant verbal refusals that the audience can really understand what happened

In reality the popularity of Anthony Geary, the actor playing Luke, increased exponentially even winning him an award from a devoted fan that read “America’s Most Beloved Rapist” (Levine 2007, 209). It is interesting to see how audiences accepted the rape and how some women worshiped Geary’s character. In Wallowing in Sex, Elena Levine notes the in the 1970s many daytime soaps used rape to add to the drama of their story lines. Days of Our Lives, Guiding Light even The Young and the Restless depicted acts of domestic violence to create appealing stories for their audiences. Thus leading to Levine’s question “… why was this subject so compelling for so many soap producers, as well as so many soap viewers, at this particular historical moment?” (Levine 2007, 224).

Through the years many soap operas still use the dramatic flair of domestic abuse and violence in constructing their story lines. As a viewer I wonder, as does Levine, why is this depiction so compelling? Further, why did audiences accept the character of Luke after he committed an act of rape?

Devonne Cusi | Communications Intern

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Public Display of Anger


People watching must be one of my favorite past times. I usually can’t help but make up colorful stories about   the fabulous and mysterious lives of strangers. So the other day, while enjoying some gossip and post work relaxation with one of my closest friends, we spotted the cutest couple at the bar.

I began my story…
He seemed a perfect mix of handsome, intellect and charm. She seemed happy and they spoke closely as if they were sharing an important secret…

Back to reality…
As I began to concoct a funny secret for them to share, both my friend and I were shocked by his abrupt and explosive outburst. “Why would you ask her if everything is okay? She’s my woman… You should ask me!” the man screamed at the startled bartender. A verbal battle began to ensue and all while the man’s  girlfriend began to shrink into her chair obviously embarrassed. “ I just wanted to make sure her food was alright,” said the bartender. “Well you should have asked me!” he shouted back. Grabbing his girlfriends arm roughly he forced her to defend his outburst as well. “Am I right?” he said.

 Long story short the metro police came and forced her boyfriend to leave. But I will never forget that forlorn look on her face that screamed ‘not again.’

Actions like these are not uncommon in unhealthy relationships. Public Display of Anger is the new PDA to look out for. Set off by the tiniest thing, public anger and abuse can escalate unless something is done to combat it. In this instance the police got involved and escorted the man out of the restaurant, but there are many instances where people stand idle. What would you do if you found yourself a witness or even participant in a situation like this?

Devonne Cusi | Communications Intern

Monday, March 21, 2011

Life imitating cartoons?

When I was younger, watching Saturday morning cartoons was the most important ritual of the weekend. Action, adventure, comedy, suspense even the dramatic flair of the characters attracted my youthful eyes. I drank in every scenario with blissful naivety— not realizing every time a Powerpuff girl struck a villain like Mojo Jojo or Tom and Jerry chased each other with hammers and hunger that there was a surprising lack of consequences. Unlike real life, animated cartoons ignore realistic outcomes of violence.

Violent cartoons presented with a comedic plot distort views of violence because they downplay the seriousness of aggression. Steven J. Kirsh notes in Children, Adolescents & Media Violence: a Critical Look at the Research that “the more violence deviates from reality, the less likely it is that the act of violence will be taken seriously by the viewer” (Kirsh, 162). Further in more realistic cartoons I think that that violence can influence aggressive behavior in children. Despite the inability for children to reenact the violence of episodes like Looney Tunes’ Roadrunner and Wiley Coyote, some children can still experience the act disinhibition [situation where a young person willingly acts out a previously learned aggressive behavior] (Kirsh, 168).

There are also some cartoons that for the most part are purely violent. An article from USA Today notes that unlike earlier cartoons, now characters are “caught in dark, powerful, oftentimes scary scenarios where there is hard violence.” I think the dilemma of exposure to these scenarios is that these shows can manipulate concepts of right and wrong to vulnerable young viewers. Personal experience has demonstrated to me that cartoons can have an effect on how young children sometimes deal with conflict. After a Batman- Pok√©mon- Clone Wars filled morning my younger cousin used to provoke his brother to mock fight in order to reenact those cartoons. Whether one boy was in the mood to be mischievous or was holding a grudge from the previous day, the result was the same and one of them always ended up hurt. You can chalk it up to boys being boys, but the cycle continued every Saturday morning.

I’m not saying that violent cartoons are the main triggers for violence and aggression in children, but not making young viewers aware of the real implications of violence is problematic especially to more susceptible viewers.

It seems that a big issue in today’s society is people are becoming increasingly desensitized to viewing, enacting and experiencing violence. Violence is a big issue and cartoons are just one aspect of the big picture. It you wonder if you really aware of how much influence the media has on you and your children?  

Devonne Cusi
Communications Intern | DCCADV

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Social Responsibility

February 2011 has been a great month for teen dating violence awareness. I am so glad to see more television programs, whether  talk shows or regular entertainment, have addressed the issue of abuse in some way. I’ll admit, a little shamefully, that I watch Desperate Housewives. I guess you can say I watch it out of habit more than anything being that the show usually has unimportant storylines, meant for pure entertainment value. However, this week’s episode sent chills down my spine.

Gabrielle Solis, a housewife who had left a modeling career behind seeks therapy for the abuse she had suffered as a child. Her therapist advises her to confront her abuser who is now dead by going to his grave. When Gabrielle goes to her hometown she finds that her anger is directed towards another person who wasn’t her abuser. She confronts a teacher, who is also a nun, about her past. As a child, Gabrielle had confided in this teacher and told her about the abuse she suffered. The teacher had told her that she had a wild imagination and hadn’t done anything about it. Gabrielle ends the conversation by saying, ‘Shame on you, because you were the adult.’ Gabrielle believed that as an adult it was the teacher’s responsibility to stop the abuse, but she didn’t live up to her responsibility. 

This episode made me think about our responsibilities as adults and community members. What do we do to help children who are in abusive relationships? Are we propagating a culture of abuse for the next generation? In the talk show, ‘The Talk,’ Dr. Phil said that one of the reasons we are facing high numbers of teen dating violence is that children today are exposed to more violence and sex on TV. Yes, some of the responsibility of this lies in the parents, but how much of it is our fault on the whole? Do we take responsibility for what we are doing? 

An article I was reading a few months ago made me think the same way. The article informed readers that Disney’s ‘Tangled’ was the last princess movie for the company. The reason was that girls over the age of 8 are no longer interested in princesses, rather more interested in acting like teenagers. The article didn’t explicitly say it, but I’m assuming the next Disney movies will be geared towards the changing attitude of children. Girls are acting and dressing more grown up. When they act and dress older, all future experiences in their lives are sped up.  They enter the dating scene sooner and by default, their exposure to abusive relationships starts sooner.  

Not having any control over media content, our responsibility comes down to two things; vigilance, and education. We have to observe the young people we are around,  be mindful of any warning signs of violence, and educate them. We have to talk about violence and make sure they know we are responsible for their safety and will not dismiss their concerns. How adults react to children and their abuse can affect their entire lives so we have to act now, when data is just starting to rise on tween and teen dating violence, to end the culture of abuse from gaining momentum.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Straight Talk with Teens

During my recent research on teen dating violence, I have come to realize something startling. It seems that many young men who are abusive don’t realize the extent of trauma their actions inflict on their victims. My last blog post on sexting covered the story of Philip Alpert who accepted his guilt but didn’t understand why his punishment was so severe. He insisted that what he did to his ex-girlfriend wasn’t traumatic, but rather simply embarrassing. While watching Dr. Phil’s episode, ‘Teens Obsessed with Love,’ which is part of his campaign to ‘End the Silence on Domestic Violence,’ I realized that this was a pattern among many abusive young men.  The relationship featured on the show was of a young couple, Samantha and Aron. While Aron was being interviewed by Dr. Phil, he denied being abusive. Aron repeatedly said that he loved Samantha and wanted her back. He denied his stalking of Samantha, which was witnessed by Samantha’s mother and friends. Aron said that the two of them “would play around” but it wouldn’t hurt anyone. 

These two situations raise a red flag on what’s in store for our future generation of adults if we don’t take actions to educate youth about healthy relationships. This was my first experience seeing an abuser being interviewed. I never thought that I would feel sorry for anyone that could be violent to another person, but I felt sorry for Aron. As I watched him, I didn’t see a violent person, I saw a young man in need of a lot of help. Dr. Phil offered Aron the opportunity to receive therapy after the show with the hope that he will recover and someday have a normal, healthy relationship with someone. 

Aron agreed to leave Samantha alone, but Dr. Phil stressed that Samantha and her family need to be very careful and vigilant. He emphasized the Separation Assault phenomenon. Separation Assault is when the abuser realizes he has lost control and tries to get it back with violence. Research has shown that incidences of assault increase after the victim leaves the relationship.

Dr. Phil talked briefly about a few signs parents need to look out for in their teen’s relationships. The first sign is isolation; is your teen becoming reclusive? Is he/she not talking to anyone but their partner. The second thing is emotional extortion. The abuser threatens their victim emotionally, which usually plays out as: ‘if you don’t do this I’ll harm myself.’ Dr. Phil said that teens usually hide the abuse from parents because they are embarrassed and ashamed that this is happening to them. Because teens don’t seek out help, the problem can quickly escalate. 

On his show Dr. Phil spoke about a few great campaigns. The first is a program called ‘Respect Works’ which is a part of his campaign to ‘End the Silence on Domestic Violence.’ He is partnering with Hazelton Pubilshers and Break the Cycle to incorporate a healthy relationship curriculum in 1000 schools across the U.S this fall. Another program, also by Break the Cycle, is called, ‘Let Your Heart Rule.’ In this program people will wear heart stickers on their arm to encourage talks on teen dating violence. The last program mentioned on the show was of a National PSA contest. Verizon and Break the Cycle are hosting a contest to encourage teens to produce an awareness PSA in their own ‘language,’ in order to create the greatest possible impact by their peers. 

Dr. Phil’s partnership with the National Network Against Domestic Violence and commitment to domestic violence education has brought a great deal of attention to a topic that is often taboo.   Talking about domestic violence on national television is an important step towards creating better outcomes for healthy relationships. Please watch Dr. Phil throughout this year while he brings more domestic violence issues to light.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


At age 19 Philip Alpert registered as a sex offender. A year earlier he was arrested and charged with transmitting child pornography. When he broke up with his 16 year old girlfriend, he mass texted a nude picture of her to a network of 70 people including the girl’s parents. After being charged with the crime of transmitting child pornography, Alpert is sorry for what he did, however, he stated: “I didn’t cause trauma to her. I didn’t ruin her life. I embarrassed her.”

Though many people consider the charge of transmitting child pornography a harsh punishment for teenage sexting, arguing that the child had willingly taken the picture, Alpert’s comment suggests that he is still unaware of the depths of the consequences of his actions. A similar situation took place in Cincinnati, OH around the same time as Alpert’s offense. Jesse Logan’s boyfriend sent a nude picture of her to her high school peers upon their break up. Jesse was viciously teased. She tried to overcome this incident but eventually committed suicide.

Jesse’s suicide is haunting. It tells us that sexting, whether intentional or unintentional can have traumatic effects. What can start off as a seemingly harmless exchange between two people can turn into something with life-altering consequences.. The fact that an offender of this crime admits guilt but makes light of the situation is a sign that awareness and education is much needed on this subject.

A survey done by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and reported that ‘1 in 5 teens — and one-third of 20-somethings — have electronically sent or posted online nude or semi-nude pictures or videos of themselves.’ The report also concludes that “40% of teens and 60 percent of young adults — are “sexting,” sending raunchy messages via text, e-mail or instant message to each other.” These numbers are disturbing especially since data on such crimes is usually underreported due to fears of embarrassment by victims. In most cases, adults of authority like parents and teachers are not aware of the situation. Jesse Logan’s mother says that she only knew “bits and pieces, until the very last semester” when the school notified her of her daughter’s poor attendance. Would the consequences be different if Jesse’s mother had been aware of the situation from the beginning? No one can answer that question definitively. However, chances are that the consequences may have been different if all three parties involved; the bullies, the texter, and the victim, were counseled by specialists on the matter and Jesse had been taken out of the torturous environment.

With 40% of teens and 60% of young adults abusing each other via texts, technology is becoming the catalyst for a growing epidemic. The only way to deal with this is with prevention. Jesse’s story and those like hers need to be told again and again so teens and young adults are aware of their action’s possible consequences. A law also needs to be made solely addressing this issue so the problem is seen as a serious crime and not a teenage act of testing boundaries. Another effective way of reaching the target group would be to include sexting, teen dating abuse, and domestic violence in school curriculum along with sex education. Since this crime is new, adults along with teens need to be educated of the severity of such crimes.

Unfortunately, sexting cannot be prevented just by taking away a teen’s cell phone. Pictures can be sent via the web and can land on social networking sites like Facebook, forever scarring the victim. The first step towards prevention is making teens aware that such pictures should never be taken or exchanged, even in trusted relationships.