Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Defeatist Attitude of the Domestic Violence Movement: The Need for Prevention

By Lyn Twyman

There's a defeatist attitude in the domestic violence movement in this country.  There are several state coalitions and organizations that instead of coming together and finding solutions, they bicker, whine and complain about why things aren't working.  They are keeling over in the wallow of despair and have become more concerned with the continuous band aid remedy instead of writing a prescription (words in part by Susan Murphy-Milano) for the domestic violence epidemic.  They lack the utilization of prevention, intervention and technology to keep victims and the public at large safe.  As a result, newer, more comprehensive methods like the Mosaic Method, The Evidentiary Abuse Affidavit, and now the National Domestic Violence Registry are being embraced in growing numbers throughout the United States in response to the lack of prevention in this country. 

Recently I spoke with the executive director of one of the largest state domestic violence coalitions in the country.  Within the first minute of phone introductions, the executive director was almost hollering at the top of her voice at this mild mannered, gracious advocate.  Her voice was filled with anger and a heaviness of breath as if she was about to explode.   I am a survivor of domestic violence and I made that very clear to her in our conversation, not some person who is far removed from this issue.  That didn't matter to her, however.  Her words to me were, "Most of us are survivors so that's neither here nor there."  Ladies and gentlemen, these were the words of the leader of an organization whose mission is to help victims of domestic violence!  And what was she so upset about?  She was upset at the fact that she returned my call to discuss The National Domestic Violence Registry and desire to engage in a friendly dialogue of solutions to the problem of domestic violence.  After all, her organization came highly recommended from several sources.  Never did I think that she would become an angry individual over the phone in just a matter of seconds.

The executive director proceeded to make comments like a sex offender registry was better than a domestic violence registry, that victims will end up in the registry, that a registry will cost millions of dollars, that a domestic violence registry won't work!  But I'd like to publicly rebut those comments here:

No. 1 For any domestic violence advocate to deny her own cause and minimize victims is appalling and a sick tragedy to the movement of helping crime victims especially, in this case, domestic violence. 

No. 2 The National Domestic Violence Registry has created a model where we encourage the states to take a greater look at repeat offender records.

No. 3 Domestic violence is causing this country billions of dollars each year in just its aftermath alone.  Millions of dollars is nothing compared to the billions that are wasted on cleaning up the gruesome battlefield.  As the saying goes, 'An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.'  There’s no price tag that can be placed on any person’s life.

No. 4 A domestic violence registry, just like any program, will work if it's run effectively.  There are many coalitions and organizations that have programs now that aren't effective.  So to that executive director, her statement was one of a curious, eyebrow raising sort, not a resilient, hopeful one.  And aren’t we to be positive change makers if we are to continue to help victims survive this battlefield?

Why aren't some of these coalitions focusing more on prevention with the funding and man power that they currently have? I believe it's because many organizations, like the sounds of that executive director, are simply burned out, defeated by working in a system for 15 to 30 years.  Additionally, to that executive director, she mentioned carrying the frustration at going through domestic violence records, finding it hard to determine who the real victims are.  But frustration will get us NO WHERE.  What she has managed to do is to become so desensitized that to me the evidence of compassion burnout has dominated her speech and rationale. Change is not too much to ask for those who are living in the nightmare of domestic violence or for those who have lost a loved one to it.

Many people said the sex offender registry would not work but it does work, and it's very telling when an executive director for one of the largest domestic violence coalitions says that a sex offender registry is better than a domestic violence registry, again denying her own cause.  Why are advocates like this ED giving up and even discriminating against the very people they're paid to help.  Why are they choosing to fight against the legislatures that are trying to help them and others in the community?   We all know that help is hard to find these days and it seems that victim services are being stale mated in part by the very people who say they want to help.  So we are truly at a sad state right now in this country because of this unhealthy mentality.   Talk about unhealthy relationships, there are unhealthy mentalities within the domestic violence movement and it's quite sickening.  According to Benjamin Lichtenwalner, founder of Modern Servant Leader, he writes, “frustration is a sign that you may be focused on yourself and not the needs of others. Therefore, as a leader in you[r] organization, frustration should be a warning sign to you as well. When you feel frustrated, remember your calling as a leader to serve those you lead, first.”  Leaders of domestic violence organizations should work extra hard to avoid letting frustration overtake them as to avoid lashing out at strangers and fellow advocates so solutions to helping victims can be created and more prevention takes place in this country.

Had the executive director not chosen to lash out at me, maybe she would have learned more about The National Domestic Violence Registry and all of the wonderful educational models and programs we promote, created by survivors, survivors of lost loved ones, and even leading experts.  Her assumptions were wrong and quite closed minded, a ‘Let’s cut her off at the chase because it’s either my way or the high way’ thought process, no respect for the person she chose to call back.  But as I told that executive director, domestic violence registries are not going away, and instead of working with the states, organizations, and survivors that want to see change in this way, organizations like hers are fighting against women and men that want more preventative solutions.  Like I said, it's time to stop putting band aids on the problem and start writing prescriptions.

There are thousands and thousands of repeat offenders of domestic violence each year including misdemeanor and felonious civil and criminal offenders.   These are the ones who belong in the registry.  Yes, it's a given that some state laws have to be changed, but the assumption on the part of some domestic violence coalitions and organizations who just continue to make excuses against prevention models, instead of saying 'How can we make this work?', is getting quite old and more and more people are dying to domestic violence.  And it's not necessarily that all of those said orgs just don't want change, it's that they're afraid and stuck on old ways of thinking.  And yes, some of them are afraid of losing funding. 

The realities that victims face today include modern day complications that require modern day solutions.  The domestic violence movement has progressed but there are some that are stuck back in time 15 years ago, advocate organizations and law makers alike.  That's why it's important to work together, not go on the attack at survivors, organizations and legislatures who finally decide to speak up. This crabs in a barrel, defeatist attitude feeds the abusers and re-victimizes the victims.  It doesn’t empower the victims into becoming survivors nor help the families that have lost loved ones.  It doesn't help in shattering the silence of domestic violence.  The sad thing about it is, this defeatist attitude will continue to keep all of us in a losing battle if we don't create and implement more preventative solutions very soon.  There's no more time for the domestic violence field to poke its mouth out and pout any longer.

So to the women and male survivors, to the children survivors, to the elderly survivors, to the disabled survivors, to the LGBT survivors, and to the families and friends that grieve everyday for lost loved ones, I say this to you, you are not forgotten.  The National Domestic Violence Registry and its partners will not bear a defeatist attitude.  We have a team of experts and supporters that want to see change and we welcome EVERYONE with an idea on how to make prevention stronger in this country. 

They said ending slavery was a bad idea.  They said desegregation was a bad idea.  They said the feminist movement was a bad idea.  They said The National Sex Offender Registry was a bad idea.  So let's end the slavery of domestic violence, the fear that causes even coalition executive directors to lash out at those they say they have committed to serve.  The National Domestic Violence Registry and public state registries aren't bad; they are indeed good and to the benefit of the public at large.

Domestic violence is the number 1 killer of women in this country.  We all have the right to know if someone is a repeat domestic abuse offender.  It's better to find out in order to prevent the assault from occurring again than to lie over a casket and cry aloud to the high heavens 'I wish he/she had known'.  And yes, a registry will be a deterrent against repeat offenders.  The evidence won’t be in more deaths, it will be in people becoming more aware of repeat offenders, the seriousness of these offenses, and making more informed decisions. This will logically result in fewer deaths.  So the time is here; the time is now.  Don't talk about why something can't work; talk about why it will work and save lives. 

And now I’d like to leave you with this.  The Japanese have a bond of unity, a tradition called "ittai," which means to become one body.  In the midst of national crises, they have learned to organize themselves and support each other without little instruction from the government or outside interception.   Domestic violence is one of our country’s national crises.  The domestic violence field can take a big lesson from the Japanese and practice some “ittai”.


  1. Thank you Lyn for your contribution to this subject and support for a domestic violence registry. As someone who regularly works with DV agencies and coalitions, I know that they do some wonderful work, but there are also some leaders and some organizations that have the kind of negative approach you describe. At the start of the protective mothers movements many of the moms complained about the lack of support they received from the established domestic violence movement. I believe some of that was agencies not wishing to challenge people who controlled their funding sources and that it is so hard to believe respected court officials could be getting these cases so wrong. I think there has been a lot of improvement since that time and certainly the NCADV has done everything we ever asked. At the same time I saw the New Jersey Coalition undermine what would have been the spectacular opportunity of an international dv conference in NJ and my friend Dara Carlin spoke about how the Hawaii coalition often undermined the efforts of protective moms in Hawaii. I would join your call for unity in the movement and to remember the good gals (and some guys) are working to end domestic violence and we must keep our eyes on the ball.

  2. Barry, thank you for your insight, wisdom and words of experience about this subject. Just like you, I will continue to emphasize the need for unity, support for protective moms and the falsely accused, and helping our young men and young women know the warning signs before it's too late. You do tremendous work and those like NCADV have been a great help in listening to the concerns of the DV community. At the end of the day, it's the victims and their children that have more to worry about than those who continue to oppose good prevention programs.

  3. The defeatist attitude stems from no one listening... our plea for help is falling on the deaf ears to those who have the ability to make law. We hear that the public needs to get involved. The public is involved... especially those of us who are victims of abuse and a failing family law system. The idea of the "best interest of a child" is at most... a slogan rather than the highest standard. Most importantly, no one who is making decisions is being held accountable. As victims, we are told to tell someone... but who is listening. What is interesting is that what is happening to women across the country is backed by statistics... and still there is no justice. Victims fall between the cracks and get left behind. In cases where domestic violence is present; 90% of victims are women. This number is under-reported; many state laws regarding domestic violence only address physical harm or threat of harm. Psychological abuse is permissible... even encouraged by our family law system. The number of cases involving DOMESTIC VIOLENCE HAS INCREASED IN THE LAST THREE YEARS but you will NOT FIND ANY ELECTED OFFICAL report this increase LET ALONE COME UP WITH A SOLUTION. Exactly where federal laws governing Violence Against Women comes into play in state laws is a mystery. When a victims voice is ignored... their CHILDREN, grandmother, grandfather, aunts, uncles, mother, father, sisters, brothers, friends, co-workers voices are ignored too. BIG MISTAKE AND OUR FAMILY IS WATCHING AND PAYING ATTENTION TO WHO REALLY IS TAKING ACTION. Law enforcement is not equipped to catch someone stalking and harassing victims. Each day that goes by that my daughter is with an abuser simply because she was failed and I didn't have enough money for security or an attorney.

  4. Anonymous, I agree with your comments. Very well said on all levels. Amen and amen!

  5. It's truly a shame that an issue as important as domestic violence has to be ripped to shreds over and over again because of the ridiculous politics involved. Between those of us who truly "get it" and truly want to fix the problem and those who are systematically working to undo the progress that has been done up to this point (by saturating as many media outlets as possible with false statistics which show that women are the instigators of most domestic violence and by attempting to dismantle the VAWA from the inside), there are those who get caught in the middle. And they are the ones who need our help.

    The truth that anyone who's been the victim of an abuser knows is that abuse IS often hard to prove in court. This is one reason that so many offenders go free, and every single dismissed case only serves to add ammunition to the weapons cache of the "false accusers" camp.

    Add to that the refusal of the victim to leave the abusive situation (for reasons that few will ever understand), the refusal of the victim to press charges against her abuser after calling the police on him, the traumatic bond that the victim feels with the abuser, and the apparent backlash against women in family courts in this country that compels judges to award custody to abusive fathers, and gee, well....it's just a ridiculously complicated situation.

    I'm a survivor. I've been divorced from my abuser for nearly four years. I am intimately familiar with the inner workings of an abuser's mind, as well as that (obviously) of a victim. I've spent the last year or so studying the issue of domestic violence through a political lense, and like I said, what I see is, quite honestly, pathetic. And on behalf of all victims everywhere, it angers me.

    Who knows, if I'd decided to volunteer at my local DV shelter (haven't yet, because of the politics that I've mentioned), and you (Lyn) called me, you might've gotten the same response from me that you got from the person against whom you spent this article railing. Maybe she is as frustrated as I am. Maybe she was having a bad day. Maybe she's as frustrated as you yourself are, you know, YOU, who framed this entire article in such an adversarial way that someone like me, who is unfamiliar with your work, is immediately suspicious of your motive in writing this article. Because I am all too aware of the fact that you can no longer take what a DV advocate says at face value. You have to look at his or her agency, and then you have to research their history and their political ties.

    We're all frustrated. And in the meantime, we contribute to the defeatist attitude. But for me, I'm going to apply what I KNOW about domestic violence to the effort of preventing it from another angle. Because the DV resigstry is too controversial, and too apt to failure.

    I'm going to continue to fight against a society that tells little girls that their value lies within what they can give to men. A society in which our daughters aren't taught to be assertive, but to gain acceptance at any cost. A society that tells them that if they just love a man enough, no matter how "angry" he is, or how bad he treats her, he'll be good to her. I'm going to do what I can to teach our daughters what abusers look like on the very first date, and I'm going to try to put a STOP to the problem before it even starts.

    THAT is the way we defeat domestic violence. THAT is the key. Everything else is just political wrangling and desperate, hand-wringing reaction.

    I'm sorry. But that's just not good enough for me.

  6. *The above rant wasn't meant to be directed at the author. I just felt the need to vent, at the ridiculous nature of the problem that seems to put us all, no matter what we do to fix it, in the loser's bracket from the word "Go".

  7. Miranda, completely agree in every way! Thank you and continue to speak up the way you have been. "I'm going to try to put a STOP to the problem before it even starts." I love it!


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