Our Widget:: Why Don't They Just Leave?

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

On the Philadelphia Domestic Violence Spike

The NYT carries an excellent story by Ian Urbina (click here) on an increase in domestic violence homicides in Philadelphia this year and broadens the scope to report on the nationwide domestic violence increase and simulaneous service cutbacks. In Philadelphia, DV homicides surged by 67% (to a total of 38) in 2009, at a time when overall homicides dropped by 9 percent.

On Monday, the Times ran two stories, which -- between the lines -- show a similar trend here in NYC. First was the report of a record-low homicide rate in the city for the year. But on the same day, the paper reported a marked increase in the number of "family offenses" in the court -- an increase from about 65,000 to 75,000 cases (click here).

Many observers are attributing the increase in domestic violence cases to the recession. These past two years of economic calamity seem to be correlated with a big jump in family violence around the country -- a trend which has yet to be officially confirmed by national data, but which is very apparent in numerous reports coming in from everywhere. We first discussed these developments about a year ago (click here for the previous blog).

This deeply troubling new development comes after many years when domestic violence seemed to be trending downward. There's some debate about why the decrease occurred. Some argue that tougher DV enforcement -- mandatory arrest in most states, no drop prosecution of offenders -- played a role, along with increased support for survivors. Others argue that the decrease can be attributed to demographic trends, such as couples getting married at an older age and an increase in the divorce rate, as well as to the overall drop in violent crime.

If this year's trend continues, let's hope that it's at least a wake up call for those in government, academia and the media who have lost interest in the domestic violence issue. We're fascinated by domestic violence as it pertains to Charlie Sheen, Tiger Woods, and Rhianna, but attention flags when it comes to seriously examining the tragic persistence of family violence in our society.

Addendum/Jan. 3. I missed some excellent reporting on the nationwise increase in domestic abuse. Philip N. Cohen blogs on the Philadelphia report and others, citing this strong report by Christina Davdison for the Atlantic.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Stark-Dutton Debate

One of the main strands of our domestic violence documentary film is a debate between leading lights of the mainstream domestic violence world and their critics, mostly from academia. In domestic violence, the mainstream approach is the view that at one time was radical, the viewpoint that was developed in the 1970s by the battered women's movement. The essential idea is that domestic violence stems from the patriarchal values of our society, and the related policy prescriptions have included mandatory arrest and batterer education programs.

The critics in academia claim to have an empirically based approach, one that challenges the mainstream assumptions. These critics question the significance of patriarchal values, and instead look at psychological and socio-economics factors.

A fascinating new window into this debate can be found -- of all places -- on the web sites of Fathers & Families and also on the site of Glenn Sacks, the men's rights radio host and pundit.
Evan Stark, a Rutgers professor and member of the "Power and Control" board of advisors, and Donald Dutton, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia who also appears in the film, engage in an online debate that's being carried jointly on the sites. The format is a point, counterpoint series of postings and responses from the two experts.

I was thrilled to come across this debate. It's great to see two impressive thinkers I've met in the course of shooting the film appearing in another forum. To follow the debate, go to these links:

Part I: Evan Stark on the prospects for changes in domestic violence policy during the Obama administration.

Part II: Dutton on the same question about domestic violence policy and Obama.

Part III: This is Part II of Evan's answer to the first question!

Part IV: Stark responds to Dutton.

Part V: Dutton responds to Stark

Part VI: Stark responds to Dutton. (Link good as of 10/20. Check back for updates)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

"Power and Control" Update

We're moving closer to finishing the first rough cut of the film. After taking a couple of months away from post production, the editorial operation is ramping up, with the goal of completing the cut by mid-September.

Our new editor will be Dara Kell. Dara has worked extensively with Peter Kinoy and Skylight Pictures (Skylight made "The Reckoning," which had it's TV debut last night on POV). Peter worked on "Golden Venture." He's spending most of the summer on Block Island, working on ancillary material for "The Reckoning." Dara worked a bit on "Golden Venture" as well, so it's only natural that she'd join us to complete the new film.

Thavisouk Phrasavath, who had done a brilliant job bringing the film to where we are now, has had an amazingly busy schedule recently, spending most of his time in LA working on a TV show. With these demands on his time (to be expected -- his film "The Betrayal" was nominated for an Oscar), Thavi is passing on the FCP controls to his worthy successor.

I've spent the past few months focusing on building organizational partnerships and fund raising. I've solidified our plans to work on distribution with Connect in New York and DAIP in Duluth. We've pitched this exciting collaboration to funders -- still waiting to hear if it moves anyone (in this impossible funding environment) to step in and back our vision.

There's also been a bit of shooting. On June 11, DP Octavio Warnock-Graham moved back into action when we shot at a conference sponsored by the NY Council on Working with Abusive Partners. Two weeks later, I was in LA, shooting at a conference that brought together many of the leading academics who have challenged the power and control model. I was able to interview Richard Gelles (University of Pennsylvania), Murray Strauss (University of New Hampshire) and Donald Dutton (University of British Columbia). I also interview Erin Pizzey, founder of the world's first domestic violence shelter, Chiswick house in London.

This weekend I'm going back to Duluth, to spend more time filming Kim Mosher and her family. DP Dominick Howse is driving up from the Twin Cities to do the shooting.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Surrogate Dialogue

Among the alternative approaches that are being developed by domestic violence advocates, probably the most talked about is “restorative justice,” which brings together batterers and survivors in an attempt to prevent further abuse.

Some view restorative justice as an alternative to jail sentences or batterer programs -- others see it as a supplement. It’s controversial. There’s a great deal of apprehension about restorative justice. Particularly when it’s presented as an alternative to the criminal justice-based response that’s been established as a result of the determined efforts of the battered women’s movement.

Yesterday we had an opportunity to observe one variant of restorative justice, an approach called “surrogate dialogue.” In these dialogues, a carefully prepared survivor is paired with a carefully prepared batterer -- both strangers to each other until the day of the dialogue. They go into a room together, along with the facilitators who worked with them in advance. They both tell their stories. They ask each other questions. The idea is to help the survivor continue to heal, feel empowered and listen, and to allow the batterer to achieve perspective on what he’s done.

Cathryn Curley of the Safe Haven Shelter in Duluth and Terry Fawcett of Duluth’s probation department organized this dialogue. It’s their fourth. They imported the idea from Hillsboro, Oregon, where the concept was developed by two domestic violence advocates at the Domestic Violence Surrogate program. The dialogues seek to “ generate understanding between the victim and offender as to each other's views and attitudes, as well as focus on the many consequences of domestic violence.”

In a phone interview this afternoon, Curley told us about the survivor’s reaction to the dialogue experience. She told Curley: “It was so healing for me, because he actually had empathy for me. He wasn’t my abuser, but he is an abuser.” Curley is also involved in another aspect of restorative justice -- sentencing circles. In these sessions, the offenders sit in a circle with community members for a dialogue that serves as an extension of any sentence that is meted out by the courts.

Camera person Alex Horner taped yesterday’s dialogue -- the session lasted for more than three hours. Stay tuned -- in coming months, we expect to post partial excerpts and transcripts of yesterday dialogue.

A Response from Anne Paulle

I think that perhaps the greatest irony in regard to domestic violence is that victim blaming revolves around excoriating DV victims for believing batterers while persons responding to DV -- lawyers, judges, health care professionals, clergy neighbors, Chris Brown enthusiasts-believe batterers all the time.

"Empathy" is a fluid, catalytic emotion: Receiving it can feel like fresh mountain water to somebody who is dying of thirst-- and leave one wanting more. Battered women's support and empowerment groups are more substantive with far fewer dangers and no specter of manipulation at all. Batterers routinely manipulate empathy: Any battered women's support group from Manila to the South Bronx, Shaker Heights OH to Birmingham UK will confirm batterer empathy manipulations.... and the support group's validation does not hold dangers for DV survivors.

I think that the most universally quoted data--I do not know exactly where it started--is that "studies show" that DV victims return to batterers six to seven times. Restorative justice initiatives support this reunification based on the emotional power of empathy.

But make no mistake, when battered women, validated through the empathy of restorative justice, return to the men who frighten,dominate and abuse them, we will blame them anyway.

Anne Paulle
Chair, "Power and Control" Board of Advisers

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Wrestling Against DV in CA

An immigrants' rights group in the San Fernando Valley has found an imaginative strategy for getting out the word about domestic violence, particularly against women who are vulnerable because of their immigration status: wrestling against domestic violence, literally.

The group, Hermadad Mexicana, based in Panorama City, sponsored Mexican wrestling matches as a way of bringing attention in the community to the issue. According to the the San Fernando Valley Sun:
Mexican wrestling is part comedic show and athletic prowess, with flashy outfits and names for characters. The open air matches held Sunday featured wrestlers called "Minute Men," formed by INS and other Mexican-hating fighters, who threw tortillas into the air and tried to burn a Mexican hat.

Facing them was Bandido and other immigrant defenders. But the main fight featured the true immigrant defender, "Super Mojado" (Super Wetback), a character that appeared last year after an immigration raid at a Van Nuys factory that ended with the detention of more than 100 undocumented workers.

"Super Mojado", whose identity is a secret, has been practicing the sport for 15 years, works in construction and has a mission to fight for the rights of immigrants, including women abused by their husbands.

"I try to help everybody and today we're fighting on behalf of women who are abused," he said during an interview previous to his match.

The matches are part of a broader community education effort which includes a focus on the aspects of VAWA that are of particular help to immigrants, including U-Visas, which provide work permits and a possible path to permanent residency for undocumented victims of domestic violence.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Our Board of Advisers

We're thrilled to announce that we've named our board of advisers. These 11 people have kindly offered to share their expertise with the project -- to look over our shoulders a bit as we complete the film and launch distribution and outreach.

The make up of the board reflects the scope of the film. Advisers come from our three primary locations: Duluth, MN; Baltimore, MD; and New York. The advisers are:

Cathryn Curley, Safe Haven Shelter

Ed Heisler, Community Education Coordinator, Safe Haven Shelter

Debra Holbrook, coordinator, forensic nursing, Mercy Medical Center, Baltimore, MD

Sally MacNichol, Director of Programs, Connect NYC

Tanya Macleod, Organizer, Voices of Women Organizing Project

Scott Miller, Domestic Abuse Intervention Project, coordinator of men’s' groups and coordinated community response.

Colleen Moore, Family Violence Response Program, Mercy Medical Center, Baltimore, MD

Anne Paulle (Board Chair), DV consultant; Adjunct Prof., Monroe College

Linda Riddle, Executive Director, Domestic Abuse Intervention Project

Ruth Smith, VIP Community Services, Bronx NY; Adjunct Prof, Monroe College

Evan Stark, Professor, School of Public Affairs and Administration, Rutgers-Newark.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Immigrants and Domestic Violence

The plight of immigrant women -- and particularly undocumented immigrant women -- who are victims of domestic violence is a critically important aspect of domestic violence in America. The huge influx of immigrants in recent decades has transformed many communities and brought to this country many women who are particularly vulnerable. The issue is made even more complex by different cultural traditions, including those where domestic violence is condoned.

We devoted yesterday to adding a major new immigrant character to our growing rough cut -- the important story of Ynocensia, an undocumented woman from Mexico who fled her husband (and a lifetime of abuse) and came to New York. A few months later, her husband showed up at her door, and the cycle continued. The story has a happy ending: the family eventually called the police, who intervened effectively. An order of protection ultimately protected Ynocensia from her husband. Now, tYnocensia has a work permit and is waiting for permanent residency -- with the help of Sanctuary for Families, she has applied for (and waits for), a U-Visa.

Thavi has been cutting away, and has made a major breakthrough with a strong new 20-minute version of the film. We'll be adding the Ynocensia footage over the weekend. Thavi, poor guy, has valiantly has moved on with his life, following his near miss at winning an Oscar for Best Documentary for his film, "The Betrayal." He vows to be back at the Academy within two years.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Linda Mills on Chris Brown

Linda Mills has been one of the more controversial figures in the domestic violence community. Her books have attracted a lot of attention, including an appearance for Mills on "Oprah." Mills, a professor and vice provost at NYU, has just been quoted in People with comments about the Chris Brown incident. Here's what Mills had to say:

But it's love, in all its complexities, that can often be the most powerful force for reconciliation for a battered woman. "They have insight into somebody in a way that none of us do," says Mills, who runs a program in Arizona that brings together couples with family members and a volunteer from the community to talk over what actually happened in a domestic-violence event. The process usually goes on for months. "The ideal might be that we can separate people who are in a violent relationship, but the problem is that that's not the reality," Mills says. "I address the reality, which is that people go back, and they're looking for avenues for the possibility of working through this issue like any other rupture in a relationship, working through this issue to the point where the violence could stop."

This is bound to provoke controversy in the domestic violence community. When Mills is given an opportunity in a mass-circulation publication to urge women in relationships with abusers to flee for safety, Mills instead speaks about working things out.

We interviewed Mills for "Power and Control" and have an excerpt from the interview on the film's main site. Some people in the DV community have objected to our including Mills in the film. It's tough for me, as the director, to face this criticism, because I have so much respect for the battered women's movement and people who work in domestic violence. But in the final analysis, I'm committed to presenting current significant ideas in domestic violence, and there's no question that Mills has had a high profile and considerable influence.

Looking forward to hearing from our readers on this one!

-- Peter Cohn

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Stimulus Bill DV Victory

Considering talks of cuts in core domestic violence programs, the stimulus bill yields a legislative victory. The three vital programs funding shelters, advocacy programs and police programs have emerged stronger from the bill. What does that mean for domestic violence in America?

The promised funding comes in at around $400 million for abuse programs. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) gets $300 million specifically for services, training, officers, and prosecutors (STOP) state formula grants; out of which, $50 million will be devoted to the (VAWA) transitional housing program. The Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) will see $100 million. A total of $4.4 million is being devoted to grants for fighting domestic violence. DC advocacy group NNEDV provides a succinct wrap up of the legislative outcome.

The Department of Justice sees $4 billion for grant funding to enhance state, local, and tribal law enforcement efforts, including the hiring of new police officers, to combat violence against women, and to fight internet crimes against children.

With past federal and state budget cuts, many victim services have suffered the consequences. Advocates have lost their jobs, even as the demand for domestic violence support services rise and resources faced peril. The final bill supports building on support for domestic violence victims along with encouraging economic self-sufficiency.
-- Sarah K. Grundy

Oscar Blues

Thavi's film, "The Betrayal," didn't win the Oscar it deserved. Not to disparage anyone else's work, but "Man on Wire" is a well made film about a narcissistic publicity stunt. As opposed to Thavi's work -- a complex, historical, autobiographical, artistic, political film unlike any other. From time to time I let my guard down and expect Hollywood will surprise us in some way. Once again, it didn't happen. Phillipe Petite confirmed my discomfort with "Man on Wire" with his ludicrous performance during the acceptance.
-- Peter Cohn

Friday, February 13, 2009

Family Justice Center in Duluth

Family Justice Centers offer a powerful service to victims of domestic violence. Under a single roof: lawyers, police, advocates and other services. While shooting the film, we spent a good deal of time in Brooklyn Family Justice center and also covered the opening of the Queens Family Justice Center, including a moving speech by Michael Bloomberg.

A Family Justice Center opened last month in Duluth, MN. Congratulations to Cathryn Curley, of the Safe Haven Shelter, whom we spoke to and spent time with in Duluth. Duluth has been ahead of the nation in just about everything else, so it's fitting that there also be a justice center there.

Nadine Meyer, an articulate and open DV survivor, has been helping get out the word about the FJC. She's interviewed in an article about the Center in the Duluth News Trib.

Monday, February 9, 2009

On the Celebrity DV Incident

"So many of the things tied up with experiencing abuse -- fear, rage, shame, boundary and trust violations, entangling love with violence, never learning how to resolve conflicts -- get absorbed, especially for a young child, and can be hard to escape or even understand without help." says Psychologist Dr. Andrea Bonior.

Sad news and a media frenzy, the news you've probably heard: Hip Hop mogul Chris Brown, 19-years-old, violently erupted on Rihanna, 20-years-old outside of a pre-Grammy party. The fight caused both pop stars to be no shows for their awards and scheduled performances at the Grammy’s.

He releases a statement to Source Magazine as cited in the Washington Post, "I don't want to mention the person's name - it wasn't my real father - but somebody hurt my mom and me, I had to deal with that from seven all the way to 13. It affected me, especially (my behavior) towards women -- I treat them differently. I don't want to put a woman through the same thing that person put my mom through. I was scared and timid when I was little. I used to pee in my bed... I think it was me being nervous, and scared to get up (out of bed) and see what was going on. My mom used to try and hide it from me and my sister, but we knew. Anybody that's going through it, just try to deal with it, talk it out."

Chris was arrested for criminal threats, a felony charge, rather than domestic abuse. The victim had visible injuries, which made all the difference in the charges which were brought against him. A criminal threat conviction can award him up to nine years in prison. Domestic abuse holds a less bold four year sentence. Further investigation and the District Attorney lead to higher charges.

As indicated by TMZ, E! and other entertainment websites, contusions were seen on both sides of her face, a black eye with alarming swelling, bruises and bite marks were documented. Her lip was split open and she had a bloody nose. Bite marks on her arms and many of her fingers. News reports belt out notes from the numerous witnesses saying, they saw Rihanna taking numerous tough blows while inside the car with Chris Brown.

How with such disturbances flooding about was he able to rise to such success? Many couldn't believe when Chris Brown surpassed Usher on the charts. Now we see him as a troubled young man. -- Posted by Sarah K. Grundy

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Monserrate Case

The Village Voice runs an amusing update on the sad story of newly elected Sen. Hiram Monserrate, the Queens, NY state senator who is involved in an ongoing scandal resulting from a domestic violence incident.

Although many observers were appalled, Monserrate was sworn into the state legislature last month. According to the blog in the Voice, Monserrate has hired a "reputation management" company to help him revive his image. This past weekened, as the head of NOW in New York was denouncing Monserrate, a group described as "Women for Monserrate" shows up and began a pro-Monserrate demonstration.

The Monserrate case highlights many aspects of domestic violence policing and prosecution in New York -- and is actually a reassuring example of how the system sometimes actually does work. The NYPD arrested Monserrate -- a former NYPD officer and New York City Council member -- at a Long Island hospital. Monserrate's girlfriend, Karla Giraldo, asked the cops not to arrest him -- but, as the NYT reported, arrests are mandatory in domestic violence cases of this kind. Later, at Monserrate's arraignment in Queens criminal court, the judge issued an order of protection automatically. And the prosecution of Monserrate -- on charges of second degree assault -- are continuing, even though Giraldo has asked not to press charges and requested, unsuccessfully, for the order of protection to be dropped.

The pro-Monserrate protesters (most observers agreed that this group was organized by Monserrate and hs handlers) vocally denounced the prosecution, turning the rhetoric of women's rights against the prosecution.

As Elizabeth Benjamin noted in her Feb. 2 Daily News blog:

"The organizer of the pro-Monserrate faction, Martha Flores-Vazquez, a Queens Democratic district leader and director of the Community Prevention Alternatives for Families, (which, as Queens Crap has noted, received $37,500 in taxpayer funds directed by Monserrate when he was in the City Council), said:

'A woman's right to choose begins with who she spends her time with. And (Karla) chose the honorable Hiram Monserrate, who did not beat her..I am saying that he is innocent. I am saying that Karla is telling the truth.' "

State Senator-Elect Accused of Slashing Companion’s Face NYT, 12/20

Hiram Monserrate's supporters say 'accident' was confrontation over drugs Elizabeth Benjamin, Daily News blog, 12/22

Lawmaker to Take Senate Seat as Assault Inquiry Goes On NYT, 1/6

Slash pol Hiram Monserrate is lashed in court Daily News, 1/16

Women For Monserrate Elizabeth Benjamin, Daily News blog, 2/2

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Thavi's Oscar for "The Betrayal"

Thavisouk Phrasavath, editor and collaborator, has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary for his film, "The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)." The film is Thavi's life story -- his escape from Laos at 12 and his journey, and his family's journey, since that time.

The Oscar nomination comes on top of Thavi's previously announced nomination for an Independent Spirit Award.

"The Betrayal" competes with four other films for the Oscar on Feb. 22.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The meaning of Biden

Having Joe Biden as Vice President is bound to be a huge gain for the DV cause. Certainly the economy overshadows all other domestic issues. At the same time, as noted previously, the
re/de-pression had already led to a jump in domestic violence.

An article from the New Republic this past summer very succinctly spelled out Joe Biden's huge accomplishments in fighting DV (with of course VAWA being the chief one).

Production Update

A busy week working on the film. Yesterday we had a shoot in Duluth. Camera man Dominic Howes drove up from Minneapolis to shoot a men's group meeting at the Duluth Absue Intervention Project. Dominic also interview two members of the group. Scott Miller of the DAIP co-facilitated the group and coordinated the shoot.

In the meantime, Thavisouk Phravath (Thavi) is working on our trailer and has also started cutting interview excerpts which we plan to post on our web site. Thavi, by the way, is a big deal. His film, "Nerakhoon--The Betrayal" has been nominated for a Spirit Award and is also on the short list for an Academy Award. I think he is going to win both.

Zoe and Mik are working on the film web site. We hope to launch in about two weeks.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Alarms Going Off: Economy Means Domestic Violence Spike

Early warning signs are being triggered across the country. Domestic violence is suddenly surging. And the collapse of the American economy is being blamed for it.

It makes intuitive sense that when people are losing jobs, seeing their savings wiped out or facing foreclosure, the added stress would lead to trouble, including domestic violence. News reports from around the country are proliferating, confirming this suspicion.

Here are a few of them:

Hard Times Mean More Abuse. Baltimore Sun. 12/14/08

Domestic Violence Calls Way Up, Crisis Center Says. WRTV. Indianapolis. 12/11/2008

Maine Domestic Violence Deaths Double. Seacoastonline.com 12/2/08

Hard Times Pack Tampa Bay Domestic Violence Shelters
. St. Petersburg Times. 12/7/2008

Number of Cases Overwhelms Family Violence Center. KYTV. Springfield, MO. 11/21/2008

Financial Strain Fuels Domestic Violence. The Gazette, Colorado Springs. 10/31/2008

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Youth Violence

The New York Times story on teen domestic violence highlights an issue of great concern. Although the US has made tremendous progress in reducing domestic violence, the high incidence of violence against teenage women raises the troubling prospect that the progress we've made could be reversed.

The story also reminds me of our plans to include the issue ofteenage domestic violence in "Power and Control." We've researched different youth programs around NYC and have found some interesting ones -- both Safe Horizon and the Center Against Domestic Violence run programs in the NYC schools. Jacqueline Campbell is involved in a strong program in Baltimore schools.

So far, we haven't had a chance to film any of these programs. We're hoping at some point to follow a high school "peer leader" to gain some insight into the attitude of young people toward domestic violence. I'm eager to explore the continuing impact of hip hop culture on high school boys and to also examine the role of texting, instant messaging and other technology.