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29th Oct

2017

Shelter from the Storms

Alice Anderson (FB photo posted by family)

In her 2017 memoir, Some Bright Morning, I’ll Fly Away, American poet Alice Anderson weaves together her experiences as survivor of a series of gale force winds. The devastation of Hurricane Katrina is backdrop to the private/public storms of intimate violence, blowing through her life over many years. Anderson’s extraordinary narrative is not an easy read, but it is an important one. With a mixture of poetic voice, intrepid introspection and journalistic clarity, the author writes of what she knows: incest, silence, domestic abuse, the deadly dance of power and control, and the hidden, scandalous nightmare world of family court for protective mothers who risk everything to flee a dangerous abuser.

Family violence is far more costly and dangerous to society than any weather event.

Baton Rouge Flood Shelter ~ Louisiana Army National Guard August 15, 2016

Massive efforts were made in 2017 to ensure that all in harm’s way were given shelter from the storms of Harvey in Texas and Irma in Florida. We followed the televised images, cars creeping along clogged highways following mandatory evacuation orders. We saw communities come together to make sure that those in danger would be kept safe until the storm had passed. The world shuddered with collective horror in 2005 when victims of Katrina were abandoned to the lethal storms, to forces unleashed blindly but not without warning, on a vulnerable population. Perhaps we learned something from that massive failure to protect. Something about prevention. Something about compassion. Something about community.

Women and children living directly in the highly predictable path of family violence are, on the other hand, generally left to fend for themselves. Their cries for help are met with a half-hearted response at the time, then uncovered later and predictably woven into the newspaper reporting about their deaths.

On the eve of Hurricane Harvey, Crystal McDowell went missing. Her ex claimed that Crystal was scheduled to pick up their two children, five and eight years old, but had never appeared. Waterlogged roads and intense flooding hampered authorities’ search. Two weeks after Crystal’s disappearance, Steve McDowell was finally arrested. He confessed. The father of two had strangled his former wife while their children slept upstairs, then disposed of her body the following day. He led authorities to the decomposing corpse of his children’s 38 year old mother. Try to imagine Halloween this year through the eyes of Crystal’s young son and daughter. Grim reaper. Tombstones. Screams and ghosts and monsters. All too real. Then there will be Thanksgiving without their mother to cook or eat with them and their father (her killer) behind bars. Then Christmas, all about happiness for girls and boys. And then they will turn six and nine years old as another year with its predictable cycles will begin. Cycles of seasons. Cycles of violence.

Every year in the United States, over half of the killings of American women are related to intimate partner violence, according to a report released July 2017 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC analyzed the murders of women in 18 states from 2003 to 2014, finding a total of 10,018 deaths. 55% (fifty-five percent) were intimate partner violence-related, meaning they occurred at the hands of a former or current partner or the partner’s family or friends.  In 93 percent of those cases, the murderer was a current or former romantic partner. (Strangers perpetrated just 16 percent of all female homicides, fewer than acquaintances and just slightly more than parents.)

The statistics are mind-numbing. As an exercise in waking up, we need only try to imagine the same public health scourge but with genders reversed in this perfect social shitstorm. If women were murdering their ex-husbands and boyfriends at the rate of three per day? The tally would never mount to over 10,000 men. Action would be taken, by God! Bills would be passed. Speeches would be made, yes, but words would be followed by swift, decisive action. Funds would be found and allocated. Perhaps the thousands of TSA and border patrol agents would be reassigned, mobilized as part of emergency measures to end the flood of domestic terrorism. Causes would be researched. Remedies would be found.

One hundred and forty six (146) women were murdered in the State of Texas in 2016 by a male boyfriend or partner. In 2015, the total was one hundred fifty eight (158) women killed by an intimate partner, the highest number on record for the State, according to the Texas Council on Family Violence.

Thirty two domestic violence programs in Texas have been impacted by Hurricane Harvey. Countless survivors face unique vulnerabilities during such a disaster.

According to Beth Meeks, Executive Director of the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, “There are women who have been successfully hiding from an abuser who are now [after a natural catastrophe] in a very exposed situation.” And yet, when the floods struck Louisiana in August 2016, fewer resources than ever were available for victims of intimate violence. All domestic violence programs in the State had been cut by 3.5% in June. State lawmakers needing to close a $943 million budget deficit found a partial solution. They chose to put women and children already at risk on the chopping block.

Court records show that Crystal had claimed months before that her ex had threatened to kill them both along with their children. According to Baytown Police Department Lieutenant Steve Dorris, Crystal also called police in March 2017 after Steven made threats to hurt himself and to hurt the children.

It happens that Crystal was already doing what our nation’s courts not only encourage but mandate mothers to do when their children’s father is abusive. She was sharing parenting time with her husband. She was cooperating as best she could with her ex, the father of her children, despite the red flags pointing to danger ahead. Women who flee to shelters with their children in tow soon discover they are less able to protect their children than if they remain in some kind of relationship with their abuser. Perhaps Crystal knew this. Perhaps there were no beds available. In Texas, 39% of requests for shelter from an abusive relationship are turned away due solely to lack of resources.

 

Fact: the risk of femicide or family massacre increases dramatically within hours after a woman files for a restraining order. Risk of fatality rises exponentially within the weeks and months following her filing for separation or divorce.

The Battered Women’s Justice Project seeks to shed light on the disturbing facts. It’s hurricane season and open season on women too, twelve months a year, year after year, for the women who attempt to step out of the cycle of abuse and to free themselves from male partners obsessed with maintaining power and control above all and at any price.

In their recent webinar Abusive Endings: Separation and Divorce Violence Against Women, a conversation with the authorsWalter S. DeKeseredy, Director of the Research Center on Violence, and Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at West Virginia University; Molly Dragiewicz, Associate Professor in the School of Justice, Faculty of Law at Queensland University of Technology and Martin D. Schwartz, George Washington University, discuss their findings about the violence following separation and divorce.  

For her own safety, a woman must never inform her significant (dangerous) other in private that she intends to leave him. A woman filing for divorce or a restraining order or a change of custody must take every safety precaution possible, for her children’s sake. She must not travel out of state with the children, however, even if it is for their sake she has found the courage to leave. If she does, she risks losing custody of the children and any right to visitation with the children she sought to protect. Though it sounds far-fetched, it’s absolutely true.

Action Steps:

House Congressional Resolution 72 is currently in the House Judiciary Committee with bi-partisan support. It recommends that all 50 states investigate their practice of mandating reunification of families when that “family” has already been blown apart by the storms of violence. Click HERE for the complete text.  Contact your U.S. Congressional representative urging them to support H.ConRes72.

Join Dr. Riane Eisler on November 9th for a free webinar, “Changing Our Stories, Changing Our Lives.”  Click HERE for more information and registration. Explore new ways of living in peace and partnership, in our families and in our world. Dr. Eisler is the Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Partnership Studies (of which S.A.I.V. is one project,) author of the Chalice and the Blade and many other books, renowned for her work as attorney, social scientist and visionary teacher. Learn more at www.rianeeisler.com.

October 31st is Halloween or Samhain.
October 31st is also the last day of this year’s National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

For Crystal McDowell’s children, family and friends, and for the thousands of families whose loved ones are swept away by the storms of family violence, every day for the rest of their lives will be marked by an awareness of the costs of domestic violence.

~ Blog Post by Rhonda Case (http://saiv.org/staff/) ♥

 

 

 

 

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