Monday, January 16, 2017

Is Domestic Violence a Bipartisan Issue?

By Christopher Hall
I've found comfort during several political seasons in remembering that as a society, we tend to be against domestic violence. We've reached a point in history where there are several different criminal charges that can be brought up in DV situations. Most states have guidelines and standards that create certain quality assurances for intervention programs. While I have my own political views, I can be comforted -- win or lose -- that victims and perpetrators of domestic violence will be addressed, and societal laws and politicians will work to support such efforts.

Are there differing political positions regarding domestic violence?

Let's consider the history of intervening in domestic violence. I have spent a prior article discussing some of the challenges of how the United States of America responded to the issue. The nation started on the concept of certain "unalienable human rights" and noted life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as the values we held to be "self-evident." At the time, being "equal" meant something very specific: male, white, an adult of age, and own land. "Equality" was only for some people, and there were several justifications as to why these rights were not to be held by all.

Relationships between men and women at that time, and for nearly 200 years after, were rigidly defined. Adult White rich men were the ones with equality so they were the ones to set the standards. Deviation from that standard, and showing care and value for women and children was perhaps looked favorably upon, but wasn't a requirement. The main focus was on maintaining the ability to control women and children—making them do things they did not want to do, and keeping them from doing things they wanted to do.

During that period, one could argue that domestic violence was indeed a bipartisan issue. Neither side of the political fence held a particular interest in women's rights, or rights for anyone who did not meet the standards of being deserving of "equality." Their focus was much different at the time, working on creating independence and empire, establishing a stable government (as 1777 to 1789 were particularly precarious due to the Articles of Confederation), and demonizing Native American peoples.

English Common Law established the "Rule of Thumb" allowing men the ability to apply "moderate chastisement" of their wives with an implement no wider than their thumb. Much of early laws in the United States did not directly address women's safety, but instead enforced what men were and were not allowed to do to their wives. It wasn't until 1871 that there was any direct movement to prevent or reduce domestic violence (outside of some work within the Puritan church in the 1600s, read Elizabeth Pleck's work "Domestic Tyranny" for details of how that system operated similarly to our criminal justice system today). During the post-Civil War Reconstruction, notions of slavery and freedom became political hot topics.

While analysis of the foundation of domestic violence law focuses on the "Rule of Thumb," it is important to consider the politics of "English Poor Laws" from the 1500s. The distinction between the "deserving" and "undeserving" is strong within that history, and as far as domestic violence law and societal responses are concerned, women and children as victims of harms were seen as not deserving of protection. Legal responses -- and media reporting -- to this day find ways to blame victims for their own experienced abuses, finding "loopholes" to justify the harms, and making it easy to drop charges of domestic violence if a victim refuses to testify (and in some cases, courts seeking to charge victims if they do not testify [1] [2] [3]).

In efforts to weigh political support against domestic violence, analyzing this history and these foundations are important in understanding conservative and liberal viewpoints of fairness and societal responsibility. Conservatives believe in tradition and hierarchy. Fear is a strong motivating factor, along with purity of moral values (often religious), and individual ability being more important for one's success in life. Liberals, on the other hand, believe in societal progress and creation of egalitarian systems. Equality and fairness are strong motivating factors, along with purity of environment and body. Environmental surroundings contributing to individual success are considered, and left-leaning people tend to want power and wealth to be redistributed to create what is thought to be a more just system.

Taking these differences in value systems and orientations to differences in societal ethics and morals, each apply differently to domestic violence responses. Conservative beliefs of traditional family roles, and support of patriarchy can lead to responses that come from religious settings (such as Christian churches) and aversion to public airing of circumstances that might be seen as private. Intervention can be seen as a "do what I say" educational approach using materials that lecture and create comparisons to "good" vs "bad" behavior. Use of law enforcement and punishment are important conservative responses that lead to changes and reduction of domestic violence based on ideas of fear as a change agent. Judgments of domestic violence offenders as having moral failings, and the need to shame such individuals into ending their hurtful behavior are also strong desires for right-leaning responses.

Liberal beliefs in societal progress, and in egalitarian systems, focus on the ability of abusers to make changes through guidance and education, and consider the challenges and grey areas of relationship issues and domestic violence. A focus on self-care, and a look at an individual abuser's environment can be important factors, and non-traditional family systems are kept in mind as a part of where such environments might be respectful and healthy or disrespectful and hurtful. While law enforcement is still often a factor in liberal responses, it is looked at as a way to push people into entering into education/counseling/intervention. Domestic violence can be looked at as an aspect of toxic masculinities, sexism, or other forms of oppressive values and beliefs.

Both sides of the political fence, due to these ideas of ethics and morals, will consistently argue and push for different sorts of interventions, legal responses, and funding for programming. The first major federal focus on addressing domestic violence was the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) which was mostly focused on law enforcement responses and creation of grants to fund hotlines and educational programs. As both conservative and liberal perspectives value the involvement of law enforcement (for much different reasons), the initial voting in 1993 was partially bipartisan. Of the Senate, there were 67 sponsors of the bill with 50 Democrats, and 17 Republicans. In the House, of the 225 sponsors, there were 185 Democrats (including Bernie Sanders as an independent), and 40 Republicans.

This bill was seen as a great success for the United States, and created a global leading stance on addressing domestic and sexual violence. The only major component of the initial bill that was challenged, and later removed as unconstitutional, dealt with civil rights of a victim/survivor to sue an abuser directly. While this limits civil lawsuits in cases of domestic violence, VAWA created a more consolidated response to abuse and violence in relationships across the nation.

However, VAWA was also a part of a greater bill, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act which created increased incarceration funding (while eliminating inmate education programs), added funding for 100,000 new law-enforcement officers around the country, and VAWA accounted for 16% of the budget of the overall bill.

In the name of bipartisanship, the greater bill included things that both sides wanted. On one hand, law-and-order politics have been a great boon to conservatives since the 1960s. On the other hand, quality-of-life concerns for the oppressed are a part of liberal agenda, and VAWA became a way of addressing domestic and sexual violence within the system in ways it had mostly been ignored before.

Vice President Joe Biden was the initial sponsor for VAWA, and has been proud of that aspect of the bill even if he and other Democrats have expressed reservations about where the bill has been directly associated with increased incarceration, sentencing minimums (such as a federal "three strikes" policy), and overstepping of police authority. Domestic violence advocates have questioned the wisdom behind much of the funding for law enforcement but little to no resources provided for restorative justice, transitional housing, and methods of creating prevention and treatment/counseling options. In the rush to legitimize systematic responses to domestic violence, there has been a question if we as a society went too heavily into punishment, and not enough into opportunities for treatment, empowerment, and cultural change.

Politically, we find ourselves in an interesting situation where conservatives have had their desire for law and order (to assuage their fear of crime) met by liberals enacting law to protect victims/survivors. Both sides come down hard on abusers who commit acts that have historically been seen as private affairs against people who are considered less important or valid than their aggressors. Democrats felt a sense of success behind validating the experiences of the downtrodden victims of violence, but only upon reflection noticed the side effects of their compromises in the name of law and order.

Biden noted his desire to create "holistic" reforms, and while initially focused on easing penalties for drug offenses in the name of better treatment options, added in the idea of addressing family violence as a part of this. Unfortunately, the reforms have been far from holistic. VAWA has evolved, somewhat, from its initial setup - adding in some "second chance" clauses - but it has not addressed aspects of racial disparity, issues of mandatory sentencing guidelines, has not included victims/survivors in decisions about legal responses and penalties, and has not provided funding options for prevention and education.

Included in the 2013 update were provisions to protect LGBTQ+ victims, and ability for Native American Tribal Authorities to more directly respond to non-tribal offenders on reservations. These provisions were hotly debated by Republicans, and a bill that had once been mostly bipartisan, fell much more along party lines.

The question of domestic violence as a political issue is that it is inherently partisan. It is a issue about values and beliefs, not about mental illness or addiction. The ethics and morals against domestic violence are going to be held by both sides, but unfortunately the values and beliefs about how to address it are vastly different. Liberals take action to try and help those who are hurt, and try to offer changes and education to those who are doing the hurting. Conservatives take action to stop those doing the hurting, while narrowly defining who is worthy of assistance and support out of fear of being "unfair" toward men, and helping those who are undeserving (this also serves to support the social hierarchy).

For those with right-leaning ideas, treatment and potential for change is not as important as getting those offenders out of the picture, by both shaming and claiming "batterers never change." Even if our reflection and experience with treating offenders through shaming them demonstrates such responses are ineffective and potentially inflict greater damages on individuals and communities, there has been a rise in shame-based responses to crime in general over recent years.

President Barack Obama, taking a liberal approach to leading the nation, successfully implemented changes that worked toward equal treatment for the LGBTQ community, created the White House Council on Women and Girls, and ushered in the Affordable Care Act to address health insurance disparities for the poor. His policies and responses have supported domestic violence work as it has been conducted with VAWA funding, and added in additional protections for communities that had previously been ignored and invisible to systematic responses.

With an incoming president who has a history of admitting to inappropriate sexual behavior with women, has engaged in direct physical assaults of women, someone who has been directly accused of domestic and sexual violence (albeit retracted), and denies that "marital rape" is a thing - where will we tread in our responses to domestic violence as our society moves forward? To project potential answers, it's important to reflect on Donald Trump as a candidate that is in many ways a personification of viewpoints politicians held in the early years of the nation.

Trump is one of those White, wealthy, male landowners who can afford to ignore the perspectives and experiences of groups that are often the targets of hurtful, controlling, and abusive behavior. He would like to keep his personal affairs private, and sees no conflict of interests in having his family continue to run his global businesses while he makes decisions that lead our nation. He is quick to mete out compliments to those he believes are deserving, and viciously attack those who he believes are undeserving. Trump believes in the hierarchy of his control over everyone and everything. He uses fear to motivate others, and believes he is solely responsible for his own success.

Remember that the core ethic and value against domestic violence is common to both sides, but the ideas on to address it are not. We will certainly be bipartisan in condemning violence and abuse in relationships, but moving forward with a conservative-empowered government, our methods of intervention will likely turn in a different direction. Under President George W. Bush, there was a certain focus on religious-based responses to family violence and other national policy issues. With Trump's take on right-leaning politics, chances are we will begin to lean toward punishment, shaming, and incarcerating offenders. In these responses, we will be more apt to question the stories of victims/survivors, holding those experiencing pain and fear to certain standards of "being deserving" of assistance, and increasing funding for law enforcement while reducing or eliminating funding for treatment options, education, prevention, and resources for both victims and perpetrators.

I know there are people working to end domestic violence on both sides of the political fence. Each side has had various things to contribute to the cause, some that have been successful, some that have not. Domestic violence is an inherently political issue, and those of you working in intervention need to know where you stand, both politically, but also within your values, ethics, and morals in doing this work and what you are trying to accomplish when you say you are working to end domestic violence and create a safer state of family.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Stalking Behavior: Building Hurtful Patterns

January is National Stalking Awareness Month, and a time for highlighting a pattern of behavior that often gets portrayed in extremes with little detail on where it might originate, and how it builds over time. In general, when asking people to think about stalking, these extreme examples portrayed by entertainment media and focused on by news sources are the commonly discussed and explored aspects.

Sadly, such a focus leaves little room or opportunity for intervention - it leaves us picking up the pieces and wondering what went wrong rather than actively seeking methods of noticing and stopping patterns of behavior as they build and develop. In this article, I'm going to be breaking down some different categories of hurtful behavior and addressing ways irritating and alienating behavior in relationships might build to stalking behavior. So I hope you take some time this month to use this to reflect on opportunities for intervention, both to honor the purpose of the awareness month, but also for your own ability to adequately and appropriately respond to danger signs.

Emotional Harms:
Broadly defined, emotional harms entail patterns of behavior which create distress in others. This is a huge category of ways abusers might commit acts we commonly define as domestic violence, and as such, it is useful to be as specific as possible when considering emotional harms. I find in my BIP/DVIP groups, a part of the classes involve creating clarity for terms and concepts that are often poorly understood or identified. Emotions are some of the most common terms and concepts that people may feel instinctively, but can be unable to adequately express or discuss due to lack of concrete definitions.

A big part of this confusion is due to the fact that as children, some of the first words we learn are emotions. Parents identify behavior patterns and name them as emotions, such as "Johnny, you're angry right now" or "aren't you happy your friend is visiting?" So we associate those sensations with words, rather than being able to break down why we feel them, or what to do about them.

Stalking is a heavily emotional-based pattern of behavior. Abusers stalk their victims/partners/survivors due to justifications of jealousy, anger, desire for revenge, suspicion, or even projecting their own lack of fidelity onto others.

I enjoy doing an exercise of attempting to define emotions using two criteria - do not use another emotional word within the definition, and do not use an example of the emotion itself. When people go to define emotions, that is the default method of describing what something feels like rather than identifying what it actually is.

An example of this in action is considering the emotion of jealousy. When I define it, I talk about jealousy being an emotion that gives you signals that someone is doing something you would like to be a part of, and gives you energy to do something about it. When defined like this, it is simple to understand that jealousy is not a "negative" emotion, but the actions that come out of it might be.

Abusers who choose to stalk their partners find various things they want to know about or be involved with in that person's life. Over time, this desire grows and an abuser may want to know all details and be present at all times. Emotionally, abusers can create distress in their partners/victims by increasingly pushing boundaries and denying personal space. It starts small, however, and often for many it can seem endearing.

After all, "he wants to spend all his time with her! Isn't that sweet? I wish MY partner wanted to spend more time with me! Honey, you should just appreciate him for the attention he gives to you because it won't last forever!" This is an example of how we readily place our sense of safety onto someone who may not have safety in their life or relationship. It is also an example of how common these warning signs present themselves to family, friends, coworkers, and others - and how often they are ignored or pushed away because considering the danger, or the unhealthy display of control is frightening to others who want to believe the patterns fit into healthy pro-social patterns.

While it is not practical to associate all desires to be together in a relationship as a warning sign for stalking, considering an overall pattern, and listening/noticing discomfort or distress in the person who is the object of these "affections" is critical to prevention and providing support and opportunities for reflection - both for victims/survivors, but also for perpetrators who may be clueless for how their patterns violate boundaries and are problematic due to their justifications and thinking they are just attempting to be loving.

Spiritual Harms:
It behooves BIP/DVIP to discuss spirituality and culture directly during groups. That is, what provides value and meaning to each participant's life, how do they understand their cultural background and conflicts in culture between them and their partners, and how any religious beliefs fit into both areas in their relationship with themselves and others.

Stalking behavior is in part based in a foundation where the stalker values a sense of omnipresence and omnipotence - seeing/hearing all, and knowing all. This can overlap in values and beliefs on several levels. Men who believe in patriarchy and control of women by men can easily have a value in questioning and finding information and desperately seeking discrepancies to justify those behavior. And part of the charm behind initial buildup of stalking is that victims/survivors often feel a sense of protection and care by the behavior (abusers may think they do it in their partner's "best interests"). The abuser might try to limit contact with friends and family, but says the only reason given is due to the expense of the visits, or that they should spend more time together, or that certain family are mean or abusive or have bad history. All of these justifications sound, on surface level, like caring gestures - but under that surface is the potential to build patterns of isolation, monitoring, and stalking.

This pattern may build up through the use of technology and social media, scouring of mail and records, seemingly innocent questions to friends and family. Asking a partner to use Foursquare/Swarm/Facebook to check-in wherever they go might be a simple way of playing a game together, or might be a way of knowing where a partner is, and questioning when a check-in does not occur. Going through mail and internally keeping track of various correspondence until there is an inconsistency or material that is not mentioned might be an organizational method, or might be a way of pressuring someone to divulge random information that appears unimportant. Inquiring about a partner's childhood or prior relationships with friends and family could be small talk, or could be information to use later.

Some of these examples appear on surface level to be a more "simple" form of control, and not stalking, but that is in part what makes these methods so effective. Stalking is often not obvious at its start, or as it builds, but only makes sense in hindsight. This is a major challenge of intervention, is being open to the idea that side comments and random patterns might be a small piece of a bigger, dangerous attack against a partner's agency. The goal of stalking in these cases is more about creating dependence and removing a partner's ability to think or make decisions. These values and meaning behind the control suffuse a person's life until their values become their abuser's values. Their beliefs mirror their stalker's beliefs because disagreeing is not allowed.

This form of stalking is often not addressed, or is addressed in indirect ways because it can be so hard to put a finger on. As mentioned at the start of this section, including extensive reflection on culture, beliefs, values, and meaning in life can help ferret out patterns and discover patterns that are otherwise easily obscured.

Sexual harms:
BIP/DVIP can easily skirt around discussions of sex outside of rape or other forms of assault. Talking about sexual health and respect can be awkward for facilitators and participants if they are uncomfortable with the topic, or do not fully understand how pervasive human sexuality is as a part of relationships.

The layers of harm in sexual behavior are also often missed. How frequently have BIP/DVIP groups discussed "selfish sex," non-sexual flirting with others, how they talk about their sexual desires or dislikes in their relationships, or discontent with frequency and how to communicate this?

Stalking behavior pushes boundaries. Stalking behavior seeks domination, omnipotence, and omnipresence - and sexual behavior can provide illusions or reality for those things. Extreme behavior that is often mentioned with stalking involve things such as the stalker smelling/investigating a partner's panties or genitals as a method of determining sexual behavior outside of the relationship. This is, of course, a humiliating and horrible experience for victims/survivors, but that extreme does not start at that level.

A stalker who suspects a partner of cheating may do these investigations without that partner knowing. That stalker may ask probing questions about contact with friends, or even discuss his/her own sexual past in attempts to gain info from their partner. If the information does not come up during that discussion - that is fodder for tactical attacks about personal vulnerability and the partner not reciprocating. If the information does come up from the stalker's partner, that sexual past can be used to compare, judge, and save for later control.

Even if a victim/survivor is cheating, how does the abuser/stalker handle this information? Some stalkers are actually seemingly happier with this information, because it is an instant trump card to be used during arguments, and justify any controlling behavior from that point forward. When abusers discuss their partner cheating on them, and their desire to continue their relationship despite this, interventionists need to ask probing questions about reasons for this decision as well as gain more details about their relationship's sexual history.

Sadly, with the proliferation of men's rights groups and their large overlap with the "art of seduction" hawkers, there are several techniques taught in these groups to have sex with women. Often these lend themselves to stalking behavior. The concept of "negging" is one which undermines someone's confidence in theory that they will be easier to seduce. Talking to / flirting with another woman who is friends with the "target" in attempts to create interest. That level of manipulation sounds a lot like the interviewing friends and family technique above, doesn't it? Consider how these tactics fit into an overall strategy to remove agency and create dependence.

Manipulative Use of Children:
Children can be excellent tools for parents to use against each other. Even in the healthiest of relationships, there are going to be arguments about parental decisions and care, but in relationships that are respectful, there will be negotiations, compromises, listening and caring during discussions, and consideration of personal desire vs. what the needs/wants are of the children will all be a part of managing parenting styles and decisions.

For an abuser who is out of the familial home, it can be a simple thing to drop by uninvited to "check on the kids," or to drop off things for them. When doing so, adding in comments about new purchases, suspicions of guests the abuser does not approve of, asking probing questions to the children to monitor behavior, or outright sabotaging the household to try and force a situation where the family needs to be reunited (such as leaving water running or turning up heat to make a higher utility bill, refusing to contribute to finances if not living at home, questioning any contributions and where the money is going when they are made).

In BIP/DVIP, these behavior are often separated out from stalking behavior and labeled as "using children" - however, as a pattern these sorts of manipulations feed into methods of gaining that sense of omnipotence and omnipresence. It is no small thing that abusers often fight for full custody during a separation or divorce - having the children is a huge source of control that can be exploited in many ways. It also makes sense why victims/survivors often make clauses in protective orders that allow for visits with children. There is a lot of guilt put forward both by abusers, and by society, for blocking contact with a parent.

Even if an abuser is required to stay away from his/her partner, if there is a clause allowing contact/visitations with children, there are ways to casually ask questions to children to gain information that can make it seem like a stalker is using technological tracking devices. "Does mommy/daddy have any new friends?" "What do you do after school?" "Is there anything new going on around the house?" "Where do you go grocery shopping now?" In these examples, an abuser might learn potential new dating partners, patterns of activity and places a victim/survivor might go after picking up the children from school, different activities that may lead to more intimate knowledge of changes in routine, and even specific locations the children and the other parent go to.

Child visitation centers have workers who are trained to notice these and other questions asked by a visiting parent mainly due to these manipulations. These traps are smooth and work well because they sound so casual, like small talk, and make it seem caring and interested. And since children can often feel saddened by parental separation, they may choose the abusive parent and want to divulge information that they believe will bring their parents back together.

Financial Harms:
Money and finances are an ongoing stressor for most relationships. Negotiation regarding budgeting, individual spending vs. family/couple spending, ideas about "needed" purchases, and financial mistakes are all contributors to this stress. Finances can also be a concrete and "safer" method of stalking a partner/victim.

If a couple shares finances, there are several methods people use to pay bills and separate out responsibilities. Some relationships create a shared pool and pay everything from that pool. Some create a pool based on the percentage earning of each individual, and have independent spending money separate from the pool. Some relationships have one person who pays bills and monitors budgeting. The most focused on economic strategy used by stalkers is the final example, however all the others also can be places where a stalker can build a pattern of monitoring and domination.

Stalking is separate from economic equality. A couple can seem economically partnered and seem independent while behind the scenes, an abuser can make sidelong comments about spending to make a victim/partner question themselves. A stalker can make a majority of the money and assure a partner that he/she doesn't need to worry about finances and then create various checks and balances on that partner's spending. Someone who chooses to be abusive can even buy gifts that seem nice, but have controls connected to them (of course that might include technology with installed tracking and spyware, but it could even be expensive gifts that once accepted are a leveraging point from then on).

Marriage proposals and pregnancy/reproductive coercion can also fit into economic controls. Does the person being abusive choose to make these proposals of having children or entering into marriage when things seem to be falling apart? Does the partner/victim have the option to decline or to wait when considering the request? Is there pressure to make decisions quickly in other aspects of their relationship?

Stalkers commonly press for immediate answers, and hesitation is grounds for suspicion and justifies patterns of monitoring, following, and tracking. Another pattern that is subtle and potentially non-abusive is long term planning for a relationship. The hidden factor may be if the individual's partner has been informed of this plan, had input into this plan, and has had concerns addressed/incorporated into this plan.

There is a fantasy and comfort for stalkers in a world completely planned out, and with technology granting illusions of divinity (virtual omipotence and omipresence) it is a simple thing for any abuser to develop these methods of dominating their partner. The challenge for interventionists is to find the profound in the subtle, the danger in the seemingly innocent, and the intentional in behavior that seems coincidental. It's not just about finding inconsistencies, however, it has a lot to do about caring enough to get to know each abuser as an individual, complicated human being and in doing so begin to put the pieces together of the puzzle of their pattern of hurtful, controlling, abusive, and violent behavior.