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”.