Last month was an eye opener. I attended my very first National Coalition Against Domestic Violence conference (NCADV) in Atlanta. It was an intense five days of workshops, pleanaries, networking and caucus events. It has been a long time since I have told my story to so many people in one short time period. I think the last time was to the police those many years ago. It was also overwhelming to hear other women's stories. Terrible accounts of being stabbed, shot, children murdered before their eyes, neighbors murdered who tried to jump in to rescue.....and the list goes on. I know I had seen many of the attendees on shows like Oprah, but they were not there to talk about any kind of ill won fame. They were there to share their experience and offer inspiration and education. Attendees filtered off into groups that they identified with and when I looked around for the place that I would fit in, a group that I never thought in my life I would feel like a member of had their door open and waiting for me -The Battered and Formerly Battered. Why I never thought myself a part of "them", well, there are probably still many reasons, but I walked through the large double doors anyway and looked at the number I had been assigned - table number 4 - and sat down. Immediately I knew I belonged. Sweet, kind, caring women from all walks of life and at every stage of healing from their abuse shared with each other their experience, strength and hope. We got creative and we listened. When one of us broke down to cry, we offered an unparalled shoulder of understanding and cried together. We reinvented the wheel (the Power and Control wheel) and taught each other about diversity and new respect. And at the end we issued a statement of union. It is posted on the NCADV website (NCADV.org) and it goes like this:
In order for the domestic violence movement to facilitate effective and positive social change in our society, it is imperative that Battered and Formerly Battered Women have a clear presence and a loud voice to direct and guide this movement. We have a commitment to provide compassionate, respectful support to the women we serve. As a movement, it is in our best interest to consider survivors wealth of knowledge and resources, as well as represent those who have been silenced.
As Battered and Formerly Battered Women we fight against the stereotypes dominant culture forces on us. Then, we turn to the Battered Womens Movement that purports to validate and support us to find we must continue to struggle and educate. We refuse to have our experiences, reactions and our history pathologies. We will not be defined as having a psychological malady that caused, created, or attracted abuse to us and to our lives. We will not be defined as having a psychological malady because we have been battered.
The Battered and Formerly Battered Womens Caucus of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence call upon all Battered Womans Projects, Organizations and Workers to stop using clinical language, and mental health/social work models in their work with Battered Women and Children. These approaches were embraced to gain respect and support for the battered womens movement, but they have failed to do so. While this approach may have gained respect and financial advantage for some battered womens workers, this language has done so at a cost of revictimizing, disrespecting and demeaning Battered Women. It has also inadvertently aided batterers using institutional systems to persecute Battered Women, in areas such as child custody proceedings.
The Battered and Formerly Battered Womens Caucus of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence call upon all Battered Womans Projects, Organizations and Workers to recognize that it is your day-to-day advocacy and interaction with Battered Women and children that create social change. Focusing on mental health/social work models that promote the idea that Battered Women need treatment distracts from our most immediate work and deepest belief: the needs she brings to us for safety, support and justice and her inherent autonomy to direct her life and define her identity.
The Battered and Formerly Battered Womens Caucus of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence call upon researchers and academics within the movement to make their primary focus the cultural and systemic basis of abuse to women and children. We challenge researchers and academics to step up as partners in promoting social change to end battering and sexual assault. We also challenge them to reevaluate current practice that focuses on the outcomes of such research that concentrates on creating and perpetuating the concept of domestic violence as individual psychopathology and/or as caused by alcohol/drug abuse. We recognize past research has increased funding and validity for some; however, we believe the interpretation and implementation of such findings has aided in the suffering and death of the very individuals the research was intended to serve Battered Women and Children. ____________________________________________
I stood at the end of five days and made myself known as one who was formerly battered and was making a commitment to use my experience and knowledge - my voice - to help stop the violence against women.