Can you imagine not being able to cry?

Bay Area domestic violence direct service workers convened yesterday at the Ivory Steuben luncheon to discuss the worldwide epidemic and what we can do about it in our community.

The panel of direct responders included Dr. Catherine Main, a therapist in Marin County, Julie Robbins MSW, ACSW, LCSW in SF, Rabbi Sydney Mintz of Temple Emanu-el, and Jill Zawisza of Women, Inc.

Catherine Main spoke about how her goal is to help people to identify DV earlier. The sooner it can be recognized, the more chance we have to stop and change the behavior. She said the beginning is subtle. Typically, it starts with intimidating behavior from the male in the family. He begins to withdraw emotionally, soon exhibiting signs of jealously. The next step is that he restricts the woman’s movement and friendships so she becomes more isolated and more dependent on him.

Julie Robbins began her talk saying she was happy to be with this crowd because the worst part of her job is all the time she’s got to spend just convincing people that the problem actually exists. She said it’s our job as a community to make it visible. Here are some stats:

One in four women (25%) has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime.

85% of domestic violence victims are women.

Women ages 20-24 are at the greatest risk of nonfatal intimate partner violence.

Nearly three out of four (74%) of Americans personally know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence.

On average, more than three women are murdered by their intimate partners in this country every day.

Domestic violence is one of the most chronically under reported crimes.

Only approximately one-quarter of all physical assaults, one-fifth of all rapes, and one-half of all stalkings perpetuated against females by intimate partners are reported to the police.

On a positive note, Robbins said that kids who grow up in violent homes can and do get better. She’s seen it. One of the best things about getting older, she said, is seeing a three year old survivor she played with on her office floor all grown up, stopping by to visit her with his new wife. The cycle can be broken, but just as with  other family epidemics like alcoholism, the disease is inter-generational. Everyone is affected. Repair takes time. The first step is recognition.

So how do we break the cycle?

Robbins summarized what happens to a kids in a DV home. A home is supposed to be the safest and most secure place in the world. How do kids deal with the fact that someone they love is hurting someone else they love? How do their developing brains process all the contradictory information? Robbins says kids decide it must be their fault as a coping mechanism. The kid thinks if he can be perfect, he can keep the chronic abuse from happening. Robbins spoke about how these kids become so hyper-vigilant they know when the violence is going to happen. They can recognize signs like hearing a car pulling into a driveway crooked. Kids who have been abused or around abuse have brains that get wired up that are hyper-vigilant and hyper intuitive– they hear, smell, and taste differently.

Rabbi Mintz talked about the caveman model– the cave guy whacks the woman on the head and drags her back to the cave. The rabbi said it may be a cartoon but that this is the model for the first relationship. I like what she said because I write about cartoons. Listening to her, I thought again about the lack of healthy role models for men and women out there. It was also great to hear the rabbi because she called the group to a higher level of action than we are used to. Listening, it almost made me wish I were religious so I would hear these kinds of words more often or more regularly. The rabbi believes we are all first responders. She also said she’s got a kid in her congregation who had just been picked up by Child Protective Services. She wants to know who in her community is going to take this kid in? Who of the Temple Emanu-el families will step forward?

Again, calling individuals to action, the rabbi also spoke about a fundraiser for the public schools where one of the donors said: “The best thing you can do right now is write a check.” The rabbi told us that’s not the best thing you can do. The best thing you can do is send your kid to a public school. Then write checks to that school and get involved in the community there.

Eve Ensler’s talk was amazing and I already posted about part of it, but I didn’t mention yet that she also talked quite a bit about men. Ensler said that in order to stop violence against women, we must include men in the movement. Men need to be able to stand up and say violence against women is wrong. She told a story about getting in a cab in New York and forgetting her wallet. When she realized she had no money, she said, “I’m so sorry. You can take me back home and I can get it or I can mail you a check.”

The driver was furious, screaming at her, shouting, calling her names. Ensler said she saw a man in horrible pain, a man who got no recognition for his work, a man who was angry about sitting in New York traffic, a man who was tired and frustrated. Ensler said that we have no idea the kind of pressure men are under to perform, to please everybody, feeling they are coming up short, feeling they can’t do everything right. She said, “Can you imagine not being able to cry? You cry, you go on, you cry, you go on. If I couldn’t cry, I would’ve been institutionalized fifty years ago.”