Republicans Retreat on Domestic Violence – NYTimes.com

Republicans Retreat on Domestic Violence – NYTimes.com

If you are a Republican, or live in an area where your political representatives have opposed the Violence Against Women Act, I would encourage you to contact your senator and congressman/woman to urge them to vote for VAWA. Find your House and Senate representatives (check your state for your local Congress members).

This bill is S. 1925 To Reauthorize VAWA. It has passed in its committee by a narrow margin (10 to 8) and now has to go through the House and Senate. If current voting patterns don’t change, it will not pass. Senator Chuck Grassley is proposing a different form to replace VAWA — one which weakens its power, lowers its funding significantly, and significantly leaves out certain groups of women.

You can click on your representative’s name in this list, go to the bottom of the page under “External Links,” and find the official’s own web page. That’s where information should be posted on how this official has voted on VAWA, in the past and in the present.

Here is more information about individuals voting for/against VAWA:

Supporters and opponents

VAWA update (as of February 2, 2011)

Congress is comprised of the House + the Senate. So your state should have one or more members of the Senate, and one or more members of the House. These are the people to contact — your representatives who vote for/against VAWA.

Read the VAWA link I posted above; it will bullet-list many of the specific goals that VAWA has accomplished in the lives of victims of violence of both sexes.

It has passed overwhelmingly in 2000 and 2005 in Congress, and it should have passed easily again this year. We can only speculate as to why these leaders have changed their minds on an act that has done so much good for so many.

VAWA has accomplished what it was passed to do, and that is not something you can say about every act of Congress. We must keep it going to support victims of sexual violence, domestic violence, stalking, and other crimes.

Thanks for contacting your local Congressional representative to support VAWA.  I am thanking you personally and on behalf of others I know who are grateful for VAWA and the difference it has made in their lives. VAWA is a lifeline, and it works.

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Quick Links for Stalking, Self-Defense, and Female Victims of Violence

These links don’t go together logically, but they’re not individually enough to knit a full post together out of — but they’re good enough I still want to post them.

Marital Rape

speak up against marital rape posterMarital or spousal rape is rape committed by one spouse against the other. This type of rape has been controversial in the modern era because of the historical assumption that marriage takes away the woman’s right to refuse to have sex.

As you read the following paragraphs, you may think to yourself, “Where did this information come from? What’s the source?” There are so many sources on this subject that I’ve chosen to list a number of them at the end of this post rather than insert them within the text.

The “ownership” view that rape couldn’t exist within marriage was upheld in British and American common law for a long time, based on legal opinions such as this: “But the husband cannot be guilty of a rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract the wife hath given up herself in this kind unto her husband which she cannot retract” (Sir Matthew Hale’s History of the Pleas of the Crown, 1736).

Additionally, even atheists will point to the Bible as an example of “common sense”: “The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Corinthians 7:4-5, NIV).

They interpret this to mean that neither spouse can ever say no to sex — and in an ancient patriarchal culture, the real effect was to give the husband sexual autonomy but not the wife.

Conveniently, people often skip the very next verse, verse 6: “I say this as a concession, not as a command.” They also skip over the numerous passages throughout the Bible regarding the mutual love, respect, understanding, and gentleness that are actually supposed to characterize marriage.

Even today, when laws against marital rape exist in all 50 states–historically a very recent development–the cultural assumption of sexual “ownership” presents a massive barrier to better laws and enforcement, and to providing support and care for victims of marital rape. The reflexive, unthinking assumption is that when two people get married, the wife no longer has a right to say “no” or to own and control her body.

Commenters on the Internet are quite frank: “If she didn’t want to have sex, she should’ve have gotten married.” Assumption: When a woman takes marital vows, she gives up her free agency, sexual autonomy, and sexual power of choice as a human being forever. Or until divorce.

The more “civilized” version pressures women to simply “choose” to not have a choice — to always have sex according to her spouse’s will — and then crows that the woman has made this choice herself. This is not genuine free choice either.

Both spouses should be able to say No to each other. Both spouses should respect the other person’s No and not punish them emotionally or physically for it. Spouses who are not free to say No are not free to fully love.

Today, when we have the benefit of more knowledge and of studies on the subject, we also know that men don’t always want sex either. I’ve focused on women not because rape of husbands doesn’t happen (it’s rare, but it does happen), but because historically the husband’s sexual agency and his ability to say No, own his body, and set his own sexual agenda were not interfered with. In general, married men still had control over their bodies; married women explicitly did not.

Here are key facts about marital rape law and the realities of marital rape.

  • Until 1976, rape laws in all 50 states contained a Marital Rape Exemption specifically to prevent husbands who raped their wives from being charged with a crime.
  • As of 1996, only 17 states and the District of Columbia had abolished this exemption completely.
  • While all 50 U.S. states have laws against marital rape, 33 of the states consider marital rape a lesser crime than other types of rape–typically they charge the attacker with spousal abuse or battery instead of rape.
  • Studies show that marital rape is the most common type of rape. Ten to 14 percent of all completed rapes are committed by husbands or ex-husbands, and in keeping with rape reporting statistics nationwide, experts believe this is an underestimation of the actual incidence of marital rape.
  • Marital rape involves extreme trauma. Many people consider marital rape less traumatic than other types of rape, but studies show the opposite is true (see this example of information, and there’s plenty more with a simple Internet search or your local library). Being raped by a spouse is a betrayal of one’s trust, one’s humanity, and of the relationship. This is a whole other level of trauma not found in stranger rape or even date rape–our trust in a stranger or a date is far less to begin with, and our personal investment in them minimum to none.
  • Victims of marital rape have very little of the support that other rape victims can access. Many people around the victim may not believe it was rape at all. Victims of marital rape, far more than victims of other types of rape, find themselves having to cope in nearly total isolation.
  • It wasn’t until 1993 that marital rape nationally became a crime in the United States. For many years the U.S. legal system allowed a loophole in the marital rape law having to do with whether the spouses were actually living together at the time of the rape. If they were, the perpetrator got off. Additionally, when it’s already so difficult to secure a rape conviction for any type of rape, convicting rape within a marriage based on evidence is vanishingly unlikely.
  • One of the most common myths about marital rape is that it happens when the wife withholds sex from her husband. Research and evidence demonstrates decisively that the wife’s withholding sex is not the cause of, and doesn’t lead to, marital rape. Interviews with attackers and other evidence have all pointed to marital rape as a demonstration of control and power or an outlet for the attacker’s rageaholism.

Bottom line for both spouses: How much respect and autonomy and ownership of your own body do you want? Give that same level to your spouse. Let’s be clear: We’re not saying to demand as much sex from your spouse as you want yourself. We’re saying to extend to your spouse the same level of self-ownership and freedom you want your spouse to extend to you. Full agency = full love relationship. There are no shortcuts.

Helpful sources of information include:

If you’re a victim of marital rape, you can access the same social services resources as all other rape victims. (See this earlier post on what to do if you’re raped. Also check the blogroll on this blog for RAINN, AARDVARC, and other resources for domestic violence and sexual assault.)

Be aware that individual members of law enforcement may still harbor prejudice about marital rape and may even encourage you not to report or not to get evidence collected at the hospital. Please don’t let this stop you. Someone has committed a rape against you, and that’s a crime–you have every right to protect yourself, gather evidence, and get help.

If you’ve forced sex on your spouse, whether by verbal pressure or threats, brandishing a weapon, or physical violence–get help now! Don’t do it even one more time. Contact any rape support group or resource, and they’ll willingly point you to the help you need. Or contact SHARPP in the list above and check the resource list at the end.

Getting safe and getting help: Stalking

woman with shadowy stalker in backgroundStalking Isn’t Like Other Crimes

See this previous post on stalking, with a definition and basic info about stalking. Today’s post will provide you with a safety plan and tell you what to do in a stalking emergency.

Stalking is a major issue for both sexes. Unlike rape, where the victim ratio is heavily skewed toward female victims, stalking happens to over a million women each year–and also to almost 371,000 men, over a third. Eighty-seven percent of stalkers are male, which means women comprise 13% of stalkers, a far higher rate than for any of the other crimes we’ve provided information for so far.

Interestingly, out of the 28% of female stalking victims and 10% of male stalking victims who obtained a protective order, 69% of the female victims and 81% of the male victims had the order violated. For whatever reason, protective orders against stalkers are more effective for female victims than for male victims. (This is not true, however, of protective orders against male stalkers who have committed domestic violence.) This information is worth noting if you’re facing a stalking situation.

The good news: Stalking is against the law in all 50 states. Whether it’s unwanted phone calls, letters, vandalism, threats, being followed, or other stalking actions, you have legal recourse. For information about specific laws in your state, visit “Stalking laws state by state.” For more information that’s well organized and easy to follow, visit Washington State University‘s Stalking Resource Center page (looks like it’s sponsored by their Sexual Misconduct Prevention & Response Taskforce).

Stalking Safety Plan: Immediate Danger

If you’re in immediate danger from your stalker, your first priority is to find a safe place. Family and friends can help you get out of a dangerous situation. Be very careful. Don’t pick tactless or argumentative people to help you–pick people who can focus on effectively helping you get out of danger.

  • Home of family/friend, a place your stalker doesn’t know;
  • Police station;
  • Domestic violence shelter;
  • Church;
  • Public area.

Your next priority is to contact the police. Call 911. If the police don’t respond, ask for a supervisor, or ask someone to contact police for you. Identify yourself, report the incident and request confidentiality. If you’ve previously obtained a protective order, tell the police so that the current incident will be linked to the order and the stalker can be penalized for violating the order. You might also decide to contact other social support services in your community as needed, such as a therapist or victim assistance program.

Here’s what the Stalking Resource Center (SRC, part of the National Center for Victims of Crime) suggests as an emergency safety plan*:

While a victim may not be in imminent danger, the potential always exists; therefore, a contingency plan (a sort of “fire escape plan”) may be appropriate. Suggested considerations include:

  • Knowledge of, and quick access to, critical telephone numbers, including:

    • Law enforcement numbers and locations;
    • Safe places (such as friends, domestic violence shelters, etc.); and
    • Contact numbers for use after safety is secured (such as neighbors/family, attorneys, prosecutors, medical care, child care, pet care, etc.).
  • Accessible reserve of necessities, including:
    • Victims may wish to keep a small packed suitcase in the trunk of their car, or at another readily accessible location, for quick departure;
    • Reserve money may be necessary;
    • Other necessities — such as creditors’ numbers and personal welfare items such as medication, birth certificates, social security information, passports, etc. — should be readily available;
    • Miscellaneous items — like always keeping as full a tank of gas as possible in the car, backup keys for neighbors, etc. — are practical; and
    • If a victim has a child(ren), she/he may want to pack a few toys, books, or other special items belonging to the child.
  • Alert critical people to the situation who may be useful in formulating a contingency plan, such as:
    • Law enforcement;
    • Employers;
    • Family, friends, or neighbors; and
    • Security personnel.

Stalking Safety Plan: Not in Immediate Danger

1. Apply for a protection order. These are given at the discretion of the courts–they’re not guaranteed. They may cost money. Contact your local court clerk to find out where and how to apply. While you may need an order to help your case–it’s just a piece of paper, not an armor, and it only takes effect when it’s violated. Continue taking steps to keep yourself safe as suggested below and in other resources listed here.

2. Research and find out your local stalking laws. State laws can be found here, and you may want to Google your local city and county as well. What precisely is defined as stalking? What’s the penalty? What do you need to do to support the legal process in dealing with your stalker? Contact your local prosecutor to find out more, and search “stalking+[your city]” on the Internet.

3. Document your stalker. Take pictures of the stalker stalking you and of any physical damage he/she does to you or your property. Keep a written log of times when you see the stalker–where, when, what circumstances. Keep this file in a secure place. This will support your case against the stalker, and as such, it may become evidence in court.

Steps to Keeping Yourself Safe

The SRC suggests these safety guidelines if you’re being stalked.* Ask police for other suggestions when you report. It may not be practical to, for example, hire a personal bodyguard, but utilize all the safety steps you can.

Preventive Measures.

  • Install solid core doors with dead bolts. If victim cannot account for all keys, change locks and secure spare keys.
  • If possible, install adequate outside lighting. Trim back bushes and vegetation around residence.
  • Maintain an unlisted phone number. If harassing calls persist, notify local law enforcement, but also keep a written log of harassing calls and any answering machine tapes of calls with the stalker’s voice and messages.
  • Treat any threats as legitimate and inform law enforcement immediately.
  • Vary travel routes, stores and restaurants, etc., which are regularly used. Limit time walking, jogging, etc.
  • Inform a trusted neighbor and/or colleagues about the situation. Provide them with a photo or description of the suspect and any possible vehicles he/she may drive.
  • If residing in an apartment with an on-site property manager, provide the manager with a picture of the suspect.
  • Have co-workers screen all calls and visitors.
  • When out of the house or work environment, try not to travel alone if at all possible, and try to stay in public areas. If you ever need assistance, yell “FIRE” to get immediate attention, as people more readily respond to this cry for assistance than to any other.
  • If financial means exist, use a “dummy” answering machine connected to a published phone line. The number to a private unlisted line can be reserved for close friends and family, then the stalker may not realize you have another line.

If someone is stalking you, you need the Stalking Handbook. It’s a terrific booklet full of solid information, not speeches, and it’ll help you stay safe.

Other helpful resources and web pages I found while putting together this entry:

*All rights reserved. Copyright © 1997 by the National Center for Victims of Crime. This information may be freely distributed, provided that it is distributed free of charge, in its entirety and includes this copyright notice.

Washington State’s Confidentiality Program

Address label with address crossed outAddress Confidentiality Program

I just became aware of a Washington State service called the Address Confidentiality Program (ACP). If you’re fleeing from domestic abuse, stalking, or a sexual assault, you may be able to access this program to keep your new address and contact information strictly confidential.

There are certain requirements you have to meet–the Confidentiality Program has to be only one strategy in an array of strategies to keep you safe. Essentially, they don’t want you to use this program as your only safety strategy while ignoring the other safety guidelines given to you by police and other agencies. They want you to be really serious about staying safe.

To access the Washington program, call 1.800.822.1065 or visit the Confidentiality Program web page. While you’re there, click on the More Services for Crime Victims link for more Washington resources.

Available in other states

The better news is that there are ACP programs in 31 states. View a PDF document with program addresses and phone numbers here. You may also want to do an Internet search, because most of these programs also have a web page somewhere with more information. Why the URL isn’t listed along with address and phone number, I don’t know.