This morning anti-domestic violence advocates in Queens face the news of Lana Morris’ death. Ms. Morris was shot by her husband in St. Albans yesterday evening. This tragic event is faced by us advocates with the questions that plague us every time a sister in the community falls to Domestic Violence: What did we do? What didn’t we do? What could we have done? What needs to be done better?
An anti-domestic violence advocate faces a fatality as a real loss, a face we see every day, a client we cared for very much during her process of healing and her search for social justice.
I remember one time a friend had casually suggested that a challenge of the work I do was to face the place and time where I can’t do anything about the situation. People will look at Ms. Morris case and think that perhaps any service provider who came in contact with her is now going through this difficult challenge. They are, but perhaps not in the completely disempowered fashion my friend had suggested. Sure, service providers, even those who are first responders like EMT and the NYPD, can’t take a gun away from a violent individual once he chooses to commit a heinous crime. We can’t get into his conscience after the full effects of patriarchy implanted the anti-social trait that would make him a perpetrator of femicide, goes off after years of pressure building that makes him think what he is doing is completely justifiable by whatever problems were present in the relationship, which according to him: “she created”.
But that is not what makes me feel dis-empowered that I “can’t do anything about the situation”. I am living in the era where the need for responsive services is still needed to prevent the further victimization of a person already victimized and I accept that. I accept that my efforts may come too late or not have a big enough impact at the face of the huge social dysfunction that is Domestic Violence. I can accept it, because I facilitate an amount of social justice to people who would otherwise not have it if I were not sitting at this desk. I accept it because more Spanish speakers can have access to services once I arrived here.
What would have made me feel really dis-empowered at a time like this would have been to have chosen some other path in my career, to not have become politically active about Domestic Violence, to not have conversations at home and in my community about the real phenomena that is Domestic Violence, as opposed to the droned out message full of stigmas, isms, prejudice and oppression that still meanders about in society which reinforces every aspect of Domestic Violence.
What would make me feel real dis-empowered is to not have known, ever, that the preventive services needed for the next generation to have no Domestic Violence like this program are grossly underfunded. The demand to educate young men and potential batterers in the community is huge, but the programs hardly have the fuel. We have the money to build and privatize Correctional facilities, fund wars, pay high executive people, but not enough money to teach a young man that he needs to treat a woman with respect. We have huge funding to clog the entertainment industry with misogynist messages, but not enough to change mentalities about aggressiveness, violence and family dysfunction.
We still live in a time where comprehensive conversations about Violence Against Women do not take place. We want to exclude the topics of more immigration remedies, global solutions, women empowerment and equality, and present women inequality. We want to talk about how men suffer from domestic violence too, even though the numbers are still and will be on a median of 80% female victims to 20% male victims ratio due to economic, educational and social factors. But we want to pretend that this is a responding/reporting problem and not a social problem that actively discriminates on the female gender. We want to pretend that during domestic violence incidents men are not empowered on a larger scale to leave violent home situations as opposed to how females are still to this day dis-empowered. We want to speak in egalitarian terms about Domestic Violence so that all services are accessible to everyone. Hey, I am all for providing equal services. And I do every day. I provide my male clients with no less information about services and resources that I do with my female clients. What I am not for is a genderless conversation about Domestic Violence where the 80% to 20% ratio is completely ignored or credited exclusively to an underreporting problem. By the way, these are not a made up number. These are the numbers I see on the regular, inside of Criminal Court during my normal work hours, where I am one of the first people to receive referrals on Felony level cases.
We also want to keep talking about the clothing women wear while being sexually assaulted, as if these crimes didn’t have any other basis but pieces of fabric and cloths that precipitated a perpetrators motivation. As if numbers didn’t show that most sexual assaults happen to women operating on their regular schedule: inside of their own homes by their partners, walking to the dorm from the class room, taking a subway, during a date with someone who looked like a friendly person who wanted to get to know them better, a church member, pastor or priest using their position in an institution to gain access to a fellow church member, a co-worker and while trying to carry on under the influence of no control substance. But wait…we need to talk about that mini-skirt one more time.
We like conversations where no institutions operate or oppress on the basis of patriarchy, no group of men are getting organized to commit pedophilia and human trafficking, no group of corrupt men are in positions of power to quiet down the noise around sex slaves or the lucrative economy created by perpetrators of human trafficking.
By the way, I am using the general social “we”. Not the “we” that is me and my colleagues. WE in fact hate that these conversations do not take place….or that we live in a world where they need to take place at all.
If I was ignorant of all these facts and was just providing services blindly to a person, whose gender is so neutral is unrecognizable, who was victimized by a violent situation that came “out of nowhere”, I may feel disempowered in the face of a fatality where I could not do anything about it.
But the truth is WE do everything we can do about it. But there are too many people who are not.
The challenge is not to face what I can’t do. The challenge is facing what you are not doing. The conversations you refuse to have at home, the educational material you will not read, the workshops you won’t attend, the parenting of boys and girls that is still not in place, the funding you are not providing, the stigmatizing you still insist on partaking on. And by you, I do mean the general social you who are not actively doing something…anything.
Read the Daily News article again. See if you can live with the huge cost of that fatality. Or the huge cost of every fatality. The women who leave us unnecessarily, regardless of how much the provided for all of us in the community. The children left without parents to fates unknown, marked for life after the loss of their mothers. Families left mourning.
I can only live with it because I am doing something.
Become empowered. Here is a list of what you can do:
- Have conversations about Domestic Violence
- Have conversations about gender based violence
- Support your local non-profits
- Organize around this much needed cause
- Support organizations financially or with your time and effort.
- Write to corporations who can be potential sponsors. Write to politicians who make policies. Many letters. Heartfelt letters. Long letters.
- Learn of ways to stop stigmatizing survivors so that they can feel the support in their communities. Be brave to face any internalized or socialized sexism and misogyny.
- Become a mentor to youth.
- Become a facilitator in schools.