Anne Menard’s remarks

Kansas Family Strengthening Summit includes National Domestic Violence Expert as Featured Speaker

Anne Menard, National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, was a featured speaker at the Kansas Family Strengthening Summit held in Wichita on June 8-9th. The following are her remarks given to approximately 400 participants of the two-day summit.

It is a real pleasure for me to be here and to have been given this time to talk to you about the importance of accounting for and integrating a concern for safety into efforts to strengthen families and communities.

I'm also very pleased to be in position of underscoring this concept, rather than introducing it, and I appreciate the genuine commitment on the part of the Summit organizers and my fellow colleagues to make sure that safety is not at the margins of these family strengthening discussions, but one of the issues at the center.

And I am very aware that I am the 15th speaker and now stand between you and lunch. So let me give you the headlines up front - the 2 take aways from my 15 minutes at the podium:

The first is that we ALL have a role to play in combating and ultimately preventing violence and abuse within relationships, within families and within communities.

And the second take away is that OUR professional and organizational relationships matter - the shared values that we articulate, the common ground that we identify, and the respectful partnerships that we build and nurture with each other - our relationships are central to any successful efforts to strengthen families.

The lens through which I am looking at this shared work of strengthening families is that of an advocate working to end domestic and sexual violence. And as always, I want to define the key terms I am using.

What do I mean by domestic violence?
Domestic violence -- or battering, and increasingly referred to intimate partner violence - is most usefully understood as a pattern of abusive behaviors - including physical, sexual, and psychological attacks as well as economic coercion - that adults and adolescents use against an intimate partner. Domestic violence is about one partner's need to control the other, and the intentional use of a range of tactics to secure and maintain that control.

Domestic violence includes behaviors that frighten, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, isolate, too often injure or sometimes kill a current or former intimate partner.

So domestic violence, under this definition, can be distinguished from "fights that get out of control" -- what some researchers call situational couple violence - an outburst or angry and violent reaction to something a partner has done or might do but which does NOT involve a chronic pattern of controlling, intimidating, or stalking behaviors and does not typically leave the partner with ongoing fear.

As should be obvious to all of you, both what is labeled situational couple violence -- those fights that get out of control -- and domestic violence - the intentional and sustained use of coercive control -- are problematic and have no place in healthy relationships.

We are not talking about "good violence" and "bad violence". It is all problematic!

However domestic violence is far more likely to result in injury or death and raises the most serious concerns about participation in relationship and marriage education programs.

What do we know about domestic violence?
Research and experience tell us that domestic and sexual violence within families and relationships is not a small or insignificant problem in our society, and in most societies around the globe.

Nearly 25 percent of U.S. women and 8 percent of men report being sexually and/or physically assaulted by a current or former intimate partner at some time in their lifetime.

While domestic violence most frequently involves a male abusing a female partner, abuse by same-sex partners and of males by female partners occur and are the focus of increasing concern.

We know that the health care and criminal justice system and workplace costs of intimate partner violence against women in the United States, updated to 2003 dollars, exceed $8.3 billion annually. This does not include costs related to reduced cost of living for victims and their children.

We know that each day in the United States, an average of 3 women are killed by an intimate partner or ex-partner.

We know that literally millions of children of all ages are exposed domestic violence in their homes, and that this exposure impacts them in a range of negative ways, many of which look similar to the negative outcomes associated with divorce or being raised in families with only one-parent. We know that there is a strong overlap of domestic violence and child support.

We know that one in three high school students will be involved in an abusive relationship.

We know that domestic violence occurs in all relationship types, and cuts across all demographics groups.

Over the last 30 years, we've learned a lot about what matters about our understanding of domestic and sexual violence and our intervention and prevention efforts, and I want to focus on some of the more recent lessons learned that most relate to these discussions about family strengthening initiatives.

First, we know that individual experiences of violence and abuse matter.

Research and experience tell us that lifetime experiences of interpersonal intimate violence have a profound effect on the relationship decisions that adults - and women in particular - make, how they think about and approach intimate relationships; the hopes, fears, and expectations that they bring into relationships.

For many victims, experiences of child sexual abuse, child physical abuse, exposure as a child to abuse of one of their parents, teen dating abuse, and domestic violence can profoundly erode trust in others, distort the sense of self, and reduce expectations of safety and respect in intimate relationships.

It matters a great deal whether or not the traumatic impact of these early and perhaps ongoing experiences with violence and abuse are recognized, whether or not opportunities and support are provided to support healing and recovery, and whether or not they are exposed to other models of healthy and safe relationships.

There is an increasing emphasis on the development of trauma-informed services and supports to individuals and families, and this has implications for family strengthening initiatives as well as our ongoing work as domestic and sexual violence advocacy programs.

We've learned that what domestic and sexual violence programs do matters.

In 2010, over 3.8 MILLION calls were made to community-based domestic violence domestic violence hotlines, like those in Kansas. This is in addition to the 22,000 calls received each and every month by the National Domestic Violence Hotline, often by victims or a family or friend of a victim who are reaching out for help for the first time.

In 2010, 1,500 community-based domestic violence shelters like those in KS and Missouri, and Oklahoma and all the other states you are from provided over 8 million emergency shelter nights to victims and their children who fled homes that were no longer safe.

Almost 172,000 victims had to be turned away because of lack of bed space.

In total, over 1.2 million women, men and children were sheltered or provided advocacy services, support groups, counseling or other services and supports in 2010.

These community-based domestic violence programs also provided over 160,000 presentations reaching 6.7 million adults and almost 1.9 million youth about the prevalence and scope of domestic violence and dating violence and the importance of healthy relationships.

Research shows that victims/survivors themselves find these services to be highly responsive, very helpful, and in many cases, life-saving.

We know that intervention matters AND prevention matters.

While the historical emphasis of our work has been on intervention - responding to the everyday crisis - recent funding from CDC to promote primary prevention activities has been incredibly important, and I know that Debbie Zelli from the Kansas Coalition against Domestic and Sexual Violence will be talking to you about that later.

We know that children matter.

In the context of our domestic violence advocacy work, research and experience tell us that concern for their children is central to many battered women's relationship decisions.

Concern for their children's well-being drives many women to leave an abusive relationship. And concern for their children's well-being, and fears of poverty and homelessness, motivates other women to struggle to "save" the relationship at the same time they seek help to make the abuser's violence stop.

Clearly, as domestic violence advocates, we have an interest in ensuring that initiatives organized to "enhance child well-being" also recognize and respond to the negative impacts of children's exposure to domestic violence and also fully support mothers who make decisions they consider to be in their children's interest.

Research has demonstrated that children's resilience in the face of exposure to domestic violence is directly related to the strength of the bond with the protective parent. Family strengthening efforts need to encompass this reality.

We have learned that economic issues matter. And that poverty particularly matters.

Family and interpersonal relationships are complex, especially when framed by economic hardship. Over 90% of victims in a recent study reported being subjected to financial abuse - and partner who systematically ruined their credit, controlled their access to $$$, and sabotaged their employment or education.

We know from research and experience that poverty and domestic violence, for example, exacerbate each other.

That living in poverty makes it even more difficult to escape a violent and abusive relationship. And that having a partner who is isolating and controlling you and actively sabotaging any attempts to become economically independent, makes it difficult to escape poverty.

Failing to understand these interconnections make our family strengthening efforts less responsive and may have unintended negative consequences.

In our work to end domestic and sexual violence, and in all of our collaborative work with many of you, we have learned that culture matters...in so many ways.

Not just in whether the content and language of the programs and services we design and offer are reflective of and responsive to the lived experiences of the diverse and multi-faceted communities we are serving but also in whether they acknowledge the impact of racial, gender and other forms of social injustice that profoundly affects too many individual, families and communities across the country.

And whether community-based family strengthening efforts reflect and support and build on cultural strengths and resilience, rich and diverse faith traditions, and tap current and emerging leadership from within these communities. That we make sure the resources are shared to support the development of culturally-specific programs and services that emerge from the communities themselves.

It also matters whether the research designed to capture the impact of our efforts to strengthen families is culturally sensitive and captures the whole picture, including the rich and diverse range of lived experiences.

We know that how we define the nature of our work together matters.

As domestic and sexual violence advocates, our constituency consists largely of women who became single parents when they left an abusive husband or who decided not to marry the abusive father of their child, and those who are struggling with whether to stay or leave their current relationship.

Many battered women have stayed in marriages and other types of intimate partner relationships because they love their partner. They want the abuse to end, not necessarily the relationship.

After repeated experiences with the abuse, many eventually reach a decision to leave because the violence has not stopped and they and/or their children remain threatened and in danger. They conclude that the ability to reconcile and the likelihood of change have passed.

For us to fully participate - beyond merely providing training on domestic violence, helping you develop domestic violence protocols, or serving as a referral when domestic violence issues arise -- family strengthening initiatives need to be more broadly scoped, and include the provision of supportive services to all families, regardless of their marital status or family composition, support healthy co-parenting and opportunities to engage in early intervention and prevention of abusive relationships.

Strongly related to this, we have learned that how we define the "success" of our individual and collaborative family strengthening efforts matters.

Is the traditional nuclear family, with 2-married economically stable parents, while desirable, the only kind of family we care about and are investing in? Of course not.

What performance and outcome measures are we identifying and assigning value, and what will they really show?

Obviously, counting an increase in marriage or a decrease in divorce over time tells us little about the quality of these relationships.

If someone realizes through healthy relationship education decides NOT to marry the father of their child because she or he recognizes the abusive nature of the relationship or a fundamental incompatibility, isn't that a positive outcome? Of course it is.

Are we designing child well-being measures that fully account for the negative impacts of child abuse, child sexual abuse, and childhood exposure to domestic violence on children, along with those negative outcomes commonly attributed to the absence of two biological economically stable parents?

What about healthy co-parenting? Should that be part of family strengthening initiative, even it doesn't lead to marriage? If child well-being is our goal, healthy co-parenting has to be part of what we care about.

Will initiative goals be set based on what we (which begs the question of who "we" includes) want families to look like, or more fully account for the rich diversity and complex realities of the families and communities being targeted?

Will communities or individual participants be afforded self-determination in identifying the goals and outcomes of most value to them?

We have learned that the language we use to describe what we are about matters.

As the language of the federal debate shifted from "marriage promotion" to "healthy marriages" to "healthy relationships and marriage and responsible fatherhood" to now "family strengthening" - all tied, at least rhetorically, to an overriding concern for "child well-being" -- what does this signal to the current or potential partners in these efforts?

Many of us in the domestic violence field are excited and encouraged, if not also nervous, about the potential that rests in emerging collaborations between domestic violence programs, batterer intervention programs, and responsible fatherhood programs.

We know that many domestic violence victims, even after ending a relationship with an abusive partner, remain in contact with that partner, either because they are mandated to by the courts under custody or visitation arrangements, or because they want their children to have a relationship with their father.

How can we, working together, create more opportunities for fathers interested in restoring relationships with their children after abuse, to do so without jeopardizing the ongoing safety of their mother?

And because of who we work with - many women with a good reason to leave a marriage - we bring a whole set of fears and trepidation to discussions and policy proposals to make divorce more difficult to secure.

Clearly, there are many questions to consider, including unintended consequences. And addressing them will require ongoing dialogue and collaborative problem-solving into which we hope domestic violence advocates will be invited as respected and valued partners.

And finally, at least for today, we have learned that the nature and quality of OUR relationships with each other matter - particularly the breadth and depth of our relationships. The respectful recognition of what we each bring to the table. And the shared understanding of the challenges that each of us face to keep our doors open and respond to the demand for services we face.

But also our attention to language differences. And perhaps our own histories of conflict, differences in philosophies, constituencies, and even language.

We've learned together that making distinctions between conflict and domestic violence matters. And that making these distinctions is challenging, given the development level of the research and tool development in this area.

Again, the relationships we build with each other -- between domestic violence organizations, responsible fatherhood programs, healthy relationship and marriage programs, other community organizations who work with families, the educators that prepare the social workers and clinicians and counselors who work with families, the faith community, the business community and the media - these relationships and the common ground we find and expand on is critical to really bringing to the rich array of families that exist the range of supports they need to thrive, withstand adversity, and raise healthy, happy, safe children, equipped with the skills and support to build and sustain healthy, safe adult relationships.

A key focus of our work as domestic violence advocates has always been on promoting healthy non-abusive relationships. We share common ground with many in the movement to support healthy relationships and marriage and promote responsible fatherhood and certainly with those looking more broadly at family strengthening.

So will end with the overarching "what matters." Safety is a critical element of health and well-being and family strengthening. If it's not safe - whether we are talking about relationships, families or communities - it won't be healthy and it won't be strong.

Thank you for sharing our concern for safety and doing what we can do to create and healthy and safe world for our grandkids."


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