Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Unemployment Rate: More Than Just a Number

9.7% of the D.C population is unemployed.When I think of this number, I think of women and men waiting in line at the unemployment office, families making the impossible decision between putting food on the table and paying their rent. One thing I didn’t associate with the unemployment rate was the increase of domestic violence incidences.

Bad economic times have lead to an increase in the rate of domestic violence. People who are unemployed are more likely to have arguments with their intimate partners that end in violence than people who are employed, according to a study by the National Institutes of Justice. In addition, according to this study, women who are already in violent relationships are at greater risk of violent incidences because they are more accessible to the abuser when they lose their jobs. In contrast, when you look at abused women that are employed 64% indicated their work performance was significantly impacted, a research by the Corporate Alliance to End Domestic Violence reports.   

Unemployment fuels a dismaying cycle of violence for those who are already vulnerable because of the economic hardships they face. So as we look to  yet another increase in the unemployment rate , and the largest increase in women’s unemployment rates in 25 years (women are more likely to face intimate partner violence to begin with), it begs the question – what should we be doing? I don’t have the answers but perhaps I have some helpful starting points. First of all, we can start by helping out organizations that can lend a helping hand to survivors of domestic violence. Perhaps you can refresh your memory about ways to give this holiday season with a great blog post of ours from just a couple of days ago. Or you can lend your voice by taking action on important issues that deal with what services we should be protecting when localities are facing difficult budget decisions. We can also spread the word about domestic violence and how it affects our communities. These are just starting points, but the most important thing to remember is that things are connected and when we’re reading about the current economic woes, we should keep in mind how it perpetrates violence in our community.

Thao Nguyen

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Ending Abuse with Facebook?

For the past few days my Facebook feed has been full of cartoon characters replacing the profile pictures of my friends. I, personally, chose Tom and Jerry for mine. A social media campaign has been taking place for about a week (scheduled to end Dec. 6, 2010) to spread awareness about child abuse on Facebook. The point of this campaign is to spread awareness about the prevalence of child abuse by engaging people in conversations stemming from their favorite childhood cartoons characters.

I have a handful of cynical friends, many of whom posted statuses like ‘how does this end child abuse?’ These friends missed the point completely without even realizing they were indeed accomplishing the goal of the movement, simply by publicly criticizing the campaign. They initiated comments, which grew into debates on their walls and statuses. Many posted links for work that people could ‘actually’ do instead of just posting a picture for this cause. In my opinion, the campaign was a success! Their cynicism was disconcerting though. I wondered why these questions didn’t arise with the social media campaign for breast cancer awareness when these same cynics happily posted statuses with the color of their bra. It was the same concept. The same argument could be used against the breast cancer campaign. How does stating the color of your bra help breast cancer research and awareness?  It raises awareness by creating dialogue! So why didn’t this question occur with breast cancer, as it did with child abuse?  People didn’t ask this question then because child abuse enters the realm of domesticity and becomes personal.

Not only was this social media campaign criticized for its approach, it was also marred by a rumor. Someone actually posted this:

IMPORTANT: The group that told people to put a cartoon on your profile was a bunch of pedophiles. They did it so more kids would accept their friends request if they had cartoons instead of faces.

Not only was this post reposted several times, it was also a hot debate on Facebook leading to a newspaper article by Huffington Post

This sparks an interesting thought.  People have an easier time getting mad at the pedophile whom we assume to be  some type of outcast of society than being mad at a child’s abusive parent/relative/guardian.

In the case of child abuse, when  an unknown abuser  comes into the picture we take the crime as a crime against society and everyone is willing to take action and stand up against the injustice. When a guardian/ parent/relative who is supposed to love the child, abuses the child we have a hard time confronting the situation. We hate to question the love a parent has for his/her child. When the issue becomes domestic, we step back in fear of interfering in a personal family matter. 

We do the same thing when it comes to domestic or intimate partner violence. We look away; we don’t ask those we suspect of being victims because ‘it’s none of our business.’ We let our loved ones suffer the pain because we are uncomfortable admitting that the person that loves us is also capable of physically or emotionally hurting us. Would you be likely to offer help  if a co-worker consistently came to work with injuries? Do we differentiate between victims based on their age and gender or who their abuser is? Is this fair? We need to break ourselves from our comfort zone and help those that need us no matter what their situation happens to be. We need to stop judging and start supporting the victims of abuse. We need to stop the blame game. We need to take action in prevention of such crimes. The first step to this is with dialogue. Start talking…on or offline!


What do you think we can do in order to create the same kinds of awareness for domestic violence online as with child abuse and breast cancer awareness? Suggestions are appreciated!

~Saira Saim 
Department of Communications and Organizational Advancement

Friday, December 3, 2010

Doing the Holiday Dance: I Called It Walking on Eggshells

The story of my childhood holidays is the story of my dad’s bad luck. My dad had the misfortune of being born on Christmas Eve so the holidays were always tough for him. Having a birthday on Christmas meant he never had birthday parties like other kids and he always felt like he got short-changed with presents. As a child, his family never had much money and so I’m sure, in some ways, this was true. Somehow this created a deep wound that spread through the generations.

What it meant for me growing up in a sometimes-but-especially-at-the-holidays violent home, was that the Christmas was not the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, but rather, the Most Treacherous. The stakes are so high at the holidays. All my mother wanted was for us to have a great time. She spent money and time to make everything perfect and it was my job as a kid to look good, smile pretty, and have fun – “or else!”
The key to a successful holiday, I quickly learned, was to completely detach from your feelings and focus on performing as expected to make the adults happy. Sadly, I was a terrible failure and was punished and/or sent to my room for not being cute enough with some frequency.

Luckily, it didn’t take long for me to come up with a distraction from my inconvenient feelings: FOOD! And the holidays were full of delicious food. I would stand near a table eating sausage balls or cannolis until I could no longer stand. The cannolis loved me. They didn’t make sudden movements and they didn’t judge me. In fact, the cannolis seemed to invite me to ignore the negative sensations in my body and focus on pleasure – and that’s what Christmas was about, right?

Food kept me from getting in trouble with my parents and it kept me from the terrible sense that something was wrong. I wanted to enjoy the holidays like I was supposed to but that seemed to mean an intricate dance of walking on eggshells that I wasn’t very good at. Eating was my secret weapon -- my way on to the dance floor.

The first Christmas I didn’t have a knot in my stomach from trying to please everyone and disconnect from myself, I was confused. It didn’t feel very festive, it kinda felt boring. Somehow I’d come to associate the stress and anxiety with Holiday cheer.

I’ve since recreated Christmas wonder by creating new traditions and rituals, playing new music, and even changing the day I celebrate! I now celebrate Yule on 12/21 instead of Christmas and I have a new found, spiritual attachment to New Year’s.

I do hang out with my family on Christmas day, but the stakes are lower. I’ve let go of the pressure to perform or to disconnect from my emotions. I’ve got strategies for leaving the room or for avoiding conversations. And mostly, I show up on Christmas day with a shopping bag full of compassion. We’ve all got our “stuff”, and high drama events like the holidays bring it all to the surface. What I know now is that I’m an adult. I get to feel my feelings. I am empowered to create a culture of respect and the best gift I can give my family is to love them even when it’s hard – especially when it’s hard.