You Didn’t Talk About This At The Country Club

May 20th, 2013

From Leslie Morgan Steiner’s  book”Crazy Love”

Updated October 12, 2014

Kit, it might be good if you’d provide a statistic. I’m no expert, but it’s my understanding that domestic violence only affects poor, uneducated people.  Lawyers, doctors, and professors do not beat their wives and children.”  Sociology professor to Kit Gruelle

One of the scenes I found most compelling when I was looking at footage a couple of years ago for the upcoming HBO documentary “Private Violence” is the one above.  My friend, colleague, and narrator, subject and special adviser to the film, reads this from her sociology professor in a scene we hope will challenge one of the age old myths of domestic violence- that it doesn’t happen to people who grew up like me.

I was raised  in a family of privilege in the 1950’s, 60’s, and early 70’s in a small city in Iowa.  We had a lovely home with a swimming pool, in a pretty neighborhood.  My father owned his family cattle business, my mother was a community volunteer and a member of the Junior League.   My parents’ friends were CEO’s, doctors, lawyers, and “pillars of the community”. We had great vacations, summer camp, and college educations provided.   We spent much of our time at the Country Club, playing with the children of those pillars of the community.

I don’t think I’d ever heard much about family violence.  I’d never seen it in my home, because there wasn’t any.  I don’t remember any friends who ever spoke of it.  It just wasn’t discussed.  As Gloria Steinem says frequently, “there was no word for domestic violence,  it was just called “life”.  It wasn’t a life I knew.

The first time I heard from a victim of this secret subject was when I was in my first year of college.  The story was from an older woman, I’ve just called her “Emma” when I’ve told her story.

Emma was a neighbor, a woman of wealth and position, a college graduate with a lovely home, a grandmother. Emma was the May Queen at her University, where she graduated in 1922.  She was knocked down by her husband in the hallway in that lovely home in the 60’s, and hospitalized with a broken back.  The man wasn’t her first husband, they had no children together, and she was fortunate as she had means, owned the home, and was able to get him out of the home with the help of family. So many women aren’t that fortunate.  He was never charged with anything.  Few men like him were in those days.

I was stunned by her story, and was certain that this was a rare case, particularly among people like that… like us.  My social work education and career opened my eyes to the scourge of family violence, the victims, the perpetrators and the kids permanently scarred who witnessed it.  Perhaps this fueled my later support of violence prevention.  Or perhaps it was for Emma, who had her back broken.

One of the myths of domestic violence is that there is what my friend, colleague, and long time domestic violence victim’s advocate Kit Gruelle , receiver of the rather stunning note above, calls “the typical victim”.  She scoffs at that phrase. To her the “typical victim” isn’t typical, and whatever the unenlightened think it is, as she says musically, “it ain’t that”.  And, it isn’t.

We still too often see “that” victim as poor, struggling, and uneducated, as did her professor, when she was completing a degree in social work.  The note wasn’t written in the 1960’s.  It was a couple of years ago.  And though Kit says today that many of her teachers were absolutely amazing and well versed in domestic violence, this one, a PhD in Sociology, wasn’t.

When we began gathering stories for a history project of just a few of the millions of victims of domestic abuse, Kit wanted to make sure we had footage of women who’ve experienced abuse who didn’t fit “the profile”.  She knew of many.  She can leave the names off and tell you their stories.  She found one during the filming, who not only told us her story, but told readers of story in her book “Crazy Love”, told countless interviewers, and recently told close to a million people via a TED talk.  Her name is Leslie Morgan Steiner and her talk, viewed over 2,000,000 times is here.   It’s powerful, it’s honest, and it’s worth watching.

Leslie, in 2009 to CNN, summarized the attitudes some of us still have of families with power, stature, wealth, or celebrity.  It was shortly after after the highly publicized story of the assault of Rihanna by Chris Brown, “ Like Rihanna, I had a bright future in my early 20s. I met my abusive lover at 22. I’d just graduated from Harvard and had a job at Seventeen Magazine in New York. My husband worked on Wall Street and was an Ivy League graduate as well. In our world, we were the last couple you’d imagine enmeshed in domestic violence.”

She’s right.  We wrap a bubble around those of status, fortune, fame and privilege.  We have footage from years ago of Senator Patrick Leahy, a longtime sponsor and supporter of the Violence Against Women Act, talking about that bubble. He speaks of  people who don’t want to think it happens in the house next door and says, “It DOES happen in your town, it DOES happen in your neighborhood..” And it does.

Dr. Susan Weitzman, who spent years researching what she calls “upscale violence”, and authored the 2000 book  “Not to People Like Us: Hidden Abuse in Upscale Marriages” has profiles of both victim and perpetrator on her site.  She echoes much of what Kit Gruelle has to say about what Dr. Jeanne King calls “Domestic Violence, Tiffany’s Style”.   There are specific challenges to this type of case, including societal disbelief, peer pressure to remain silent, and the difficulty of taking on someone with wealth, position, and power.   Gruelle says, “Because their husbands are men of position and this guy has a very public persona, it adds another complex layer for the victims. Everyone in the community has their mind made up about this guy.”  

As more high profile cases of abuse “Tiffany’s style” keep coming to light, it’s worth remembering that the “typical victim” isn’t so typical any more and perhaps never was. I still go to the Country Club with my mother, and I sometimes look around the jovial and gentile crowd and think about the stories that might always be hidden, that may never be talked about, but stories and experiences surely, for the victims and the families, that won’t be forgotten.

Emma, this one is for you.


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We Were Looking for a Few Good Men

February 21st, 2013

Willie Mays, Sergio Martinez, and Joe Torre on April 12, 2012 at a gathering of national leaders in violence prevention called “The Y Factor-Men Leading by Example”. Futures without Violence’s International Center to End Violence.    Photo by Joseph Driste courtesy of Futures without Violence

“There are a lot of good guys out there, who are dying for the opportunity to do something, because, after all, it’s their mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends who are being victimized”  Municipal Court Judge Ron Adrine

Almost fifteen years ago, the Waitt Foundation and Futures Without Violence went looking for a few good men and…we found them.  And then, they found us.  What we learned was what we already knew.  There weren’t a few…there were many.  This is just a piece of the story of  our involvement with the men who made the decision to stand with women, and use their voices, their power, their positions, and their resources to make a difference in preventing violence against women and girls.  Standing on the shoulders of women leaders, and like those women, they HAVE made a difference.

It started for us in the late 1990’s.  A former colleague and domestic violence activist, Judy Stafford, approached me with an idea.  She asked us to think about new partners in domestic violence prevention-men.  It wasn’t completely new.  There were men already out there doing the work, such as Mentors in Violence Prevention founder Jackson Katz,  Men’s Resource’s Center founder Steven Botkin, former Philadelphia Eagles player Don McPherson, NOMAS, and the venerable White Ribbon Campaign in Canada.  They were connecting  with others and  starting to speak up and speak out, working collaboratively with the women who were pioneers in the anti- battering movement in America and elsewhere.   But, as Judy saw it, the budding movement needed some help from men from outside the movement, men in  politics, media, sports, and business.  She asked us, and more specifically, asked my brother Ted to not only consider putting the Waitt Foundation’s considerable funds behind the idea, but his voice as well.

He did consider it, and he acted.  His green light took us to our crucial first contact with Esta Soler at Futures Without Violence, then the Family Violence Prevention Fund.  Esta, already a national leader in the field of violence prevention, is a woman who gets things done, and those things tend to be big.  Her advice?  If we wanted men in the movement, we’d have to ask them not only “if” they’d do it, but “how” they’d do it.  We asked and they told us.  Our 2000 Peter D. Hart Research national poll said that they would get involved, they just hadn’t been asked.  The “how” was that they were willing to talk to boys.  Out of that research came a multi-year Advertising Council campaign  that ran from 2002-2006 that asked men across the country to be role models and mentors to boys coming of age.  It hadn’t been done before and it began to move needles. From a baseline study in 2001, we learned that only 29% of men had talked to boys about the issue of relationship violence.  By 2007, that number had increased to 55%.

“Awaiting Instructions” campaign, part of Future’s without Violence multi- year marketing campaign with the Ad Council

During the same time period Ted became the first chairman of what is called “The Founding Fathers”, a group of men from all walks of life committed to public action and public statements about ending violence against women and girls.  He and other men made phone calls to men in leadership positions across the country to not only lend their voice, but give their resources to this issue. On Father’s Day 2003, 350 men  joined in an historic public statement to call for an end to violence against women and children. Their pledge along with signatures of all those men,  appeared as a full-page ad in the New York Times.Over the next few years, many of those men joined activists and policy leaders at events in New York and Washington D.C., working with women and men who were “in the trenches” in any way they could.

One of those ways to get into the trenches was to gather a group of activists and sports figures, such as former Boston Celtics player and coach M. L. Carr, to create an on ground program that Futures Without Violence, the leader of this effort,  called “Coaching Boys into Men”.  Again, when men were asked how to help, they, along with the women who are always at the table,  came up with something tangible.  In this case, the program that was developed used the influence of coaches to talk to young male athletes about respect for girls and women.  The program premiered in 2005 and was introduced in all 50 states and 23 countries.  It’s still growing.

We began to see a sea change in the sheer numbers of men coming to the table to help.  Baseball legend Joe Torre’s mother suffered horrific abuse at the hands of her husband, and prompted Joe to start his own foundation called “Safe At Home”.  He remains one of our strongest allies.  Mark Wynn, a former police lieutenant, tells the story of  being the stepson of a man he calls ” a criminal”, who beat his mother before the time there were laws on the books.  Mark now devotes his life to speaking to future law enforcement professionals and others in hopes that they’ll begin to understand the dynamics of domestic violence.   People touched by what Gloria Steinem calls “original violence” are in your town and in your neighborhood and many of them are men like the man I had lunch with today, a former politician, whose mother was brutally murdered by a stepfather when he was in the 5th grade.  Joining those men who may have acted to prevent the violence they personally witnessed were other men, like my brother and so many others, who may not have been touched by family violence, but could see how vital curbing this violence is to the future of our country and to our world.

We can see the traction in this movement against violence and see where it’s making a difference. Men’s groups such as Men Can Stop Rape, A Call to Men, and Men Stopping Violence began to grow and expand. Jackson Katz, Michael Kimmel, Byron Hurt, Tom Keith, Joe Ehrmann and others were writing books, making films, and speaking to college campuses about the importance of engaging men and boys.  The Global MenEngage Alliance has more than 300 non governmental organizations worldwide. A CDC-funded evaluation of  Futures’ “Coaching Boys into Men”  found that athletes who participated were significantly more likely to report intentions to intervene when witnessing abusive or disrespectful behaviors among their peers than those not in the program.  “Mentors in Violence Prevention”, a peer to peer in- school bystander program we have partnered with for 13 years, shows promise in improving school culture – with a significant decrease in the percent of students perpetrating one or more bullying behaviors in schools where MVP has been implemented.   Those are just two of the programs now doing the crucial work educating young people.  “Engaging Men” as allies in educating young men and women is now a strategy recognized by the State Department, the Department of Justice, the Clinton Global Initiative, the World Health Organization, and the White House.

The story doesn’t end there. There are many battles still raging on the front lines.   Though progress is being made and domestic violence has decreased, the numbers are still staggering.  Women suffer two million injuries from intimate partner violence each year, and an estimated seven million children live in families in which severe partner violence occurred. Despite this, vital funds and services to victims in my own home state of Iowa, as in many others, are being cut.

The future. Kids on the ground as part of Mentors in Violence Prevention in Sioux City, Iowa 2012   Photo by Dr. Alan Heisterkamp courtesy of the Waitt Institute for Violence Prevention

It takes time to change social norms that accept violence as a part of life.  Women have been working on the issue of family violence for over a century.   Men as allies are new to this movement,  but as women are half of humanity, so are men. The majority of men don’t batter, but some of them like Joe Torre  and Mark Wynn have been witnesses to assaults on their sisters, daughters, mothers, colleagues, and friends.   Every man can do something to help and do it in concrete ways. They can give to vital protection programs for women and children such as local shelters, they can speak to policy leaders in their town and in their state,  they can donate time and resources to school education programs, and like the men I’ve talked about, they can speak up, speak out, and most importantly, pass the message on to future generations.  While the few who began to act have now become the many, we hope that someday soon,  there will be many more.


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The Color Purple

October 16th, 2012

The color purple stands now for both domestic violence awareness and bullying and October is the month.

If the numbers we see in domestic violence were applied to terrorism or gang violence, the entire country would be up in arms,and it would be the lead story on the news every night.”– Rep. Mark Green

“Bullying is killing our kids. Being different is killing our kids and the kids who are bullying are dying inside. We have to save our kids whether they are bullied or they are bullying. They are all in pain.”  Cat Cora

Preventing violence is the most crucial work I will ever do in this lifetime.  Herman Wouk said once, “Either war is finished, or we are”.  I believe him.  We need to stop the wars we wage against each other every day, in the home, at work, and in school. Read the rest of this entry »

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