Posts Tagged ‘Peace Over Violence’

Teen Dating Violence – a V-Day Panel

February 16, 2013

my article today in LA Progressive

One billion women violated is an atrocity.

One billion women dancing is a revolution.

That was the statement sent out by the One Billion Rising campaign urging women around the world to dance in the streets on February 14 and demand an end to violence against women and girls.

While the campaign’s music video, screened in the background, three dozen women and a few men in the meeting room of the Los Angeles chapter, National Council of Jewish Women got up and danced before settling down to the serious business of a panel on teen dating violence.

Teen relationships “mimic adult relationships,” said Patti Giggans, executive director of Peace Over Violence (formerly the Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women). “If we are really going to stop domestic violence, we have to work with the young.”

Perez and Horvath
“It’s more complicated than hitting and physical abuse,” said Barrie Levy. We have to look at emotional abuse as a girl’s self-confidence and healthy functioning are undermined by “a pattern of coercive control.”


Levy, a clinical social worker, psychotherapist, and UCLA faculty member, has decades of experience working with families affected by domestic violence and teens affected by abuse in intimate relationships. She offered a typical scenario:

A boyfriend uses verbal attacks and humiliation to stay in control of his girlfriend. He constantly criticizes her, making her feel bad about herself. He’s possessive and jealous, calling or texting her all the time to make sure where she is and to accuse her of being with other guys. He knows exactly how to hurt her and so she is watchful, afraid to upset him. She apologizes all the time. She is aware that she can’t do anything separate from him and so she stops spending time with her best friend. The emotional abuse begins to escalate to physical. In the beginning, sex was special but he’s been rough lately. He uses or threatens to use physical force. He’s pushed her against the lockers at school. Now he’s hit her a couple of times. And she can’t stand the thought of losing him.

What’s wrong with these kids anyway? Just more examples of teens and bad decision making? Lindsey Horvath, Regional Coordinator for the One Billion Rising campaign, asked therapist Ava Rose if science has some answers.

Rose, the director of Women Helping Women, the community counseling and support services at the NCJW, said, “We’re hardwired to stay in connection.” As humans–unlike most other animals–we remain vulnerable and in need of care for many years of life. “Relationships are essential to survival,” she said, which is why “when somebody becomes attached, that can feel like a life-and-death story.” So breaking up isn’t just hard to do: it may feel life-threatening. This is particularly true for teenagers. Contrary to stereotype, “teens are perfectly capable of making good decisions when their minds are calm,” Rose said. But the part of the brain that helps us manage emotions is still developing at that age. Teens therefore “have a harder time calming their emotions down” and that’s when bad judgment comes into play.

Ava Rose

But the great part about working with adolescents–the reason Levy loves it–is they are still developing. Which means, she says, “they can change.”
Levy reminded the audience what teens may envision as the ideal romance. “It’s what you see in the movies. He loves me so much, he wants me all to himself,” she said, “but what starts out romantic becomes a prison. You’re locked in and can’t move.”

If we look back honestly at our own lives, “How many of you thought, I want to be in a healthy relationship?” asked Patti Giggans.

Patti Giggans Peace Over Violence

And what does one look like?

Terra Slavin, attorney with the Domestic Violence Legal Advocacy Project at the LA Gay and Lesbian Center, challenged the audience to name a high profile gay couple. Society has changed enough that the media gives us many positive examples of gay and lesbian individuals, she said, but what we don’t see are the healthy relationships.


She also pointed out that lesbian-identified women report abuse by intimate partners at a higher rate than straight-identified women, and for lesbian teens, it may be particularly hard to leave the relationship. “The fear of being outed to family and school is a threat a same-sex partner can use on the other. LGBT youth are still a disproportionate number of the homeless youth — 40%,” she said. “So when an abusive partner threatens to out them to their family, it can mean they don’t have any place to go.”

Giggan’s Peace Over Violence organization has now introduced a pilot program in a few LAUSD schools to train teachers to be aware of the signs of teen dating violence and to take appropriate action. If teachers see a boy push a girl up against the lockers and ignore it or just walk by, it’s “the worst thing that can happen,” she said. It sends the message that people accept this behavior as normal.

Miguel Angel Perez, coordinator of the Male Violence Prevention Project in Santa Monica, acknowledged this as he talked about transforming “bystanders” to “upstanders,” adult men who model a different sort of masculinity for the next generation. “Masculinity is at the root of violence,” he said, “so men need to step up and change the culture about masculinity.”
The project works, for example, with athletic coaches who may use sexist language to motivate their players. If coaches continue to use misogynistic insults, the assistant coaches and players themselves are encouraged to speak up and challenge this. With fifth-graders, discussions focus on the kids’ idea of what makes an ideal man. What does it mean to be strong? Tough?
Yes, boys need a different concept of manhood and identity. Whether we look at gang violence or the recent examples of Adam Lanza and Christopher Dorner, we see men turning to guns and killing to erase stigma and shame and to reclaim a sense of respect and honor.

Slavin added, “We code masculinity in terms of men. We assume that masculine-identified people are the ones perpetrating violence.” This leads to automatic–sometimes incorrect–assumption that the more feminine person in an LGBT relationship is the victim.

Altogether, too many teen relationships–Giggans cited an estimate of 25-30%– involve coercive control. And if you think it doesn’t apply in your home because your kid doesn’t date, think again. Many kids today don’t even use that language, Giggans and Slavin agreed. They aren’t “dating.” They are just “hanging out.”

How can you know if your own daughter (or son) is affected?

Levy said a tip-off can be behavioral changes. A girl has become more self-conscious, self-critical. She’s begun dropping activities, afraid to do anything that will get her boyfriend upset. She’s become isolated, not seeing her friends anymore as the unhealthy relationship demands all her emotional and cognitive attention.

So what do you do? Telling her not to see the boy leaves her caught between a controlling boyfriend and a controlling parent. And if you ask her to choose, the boyfriend will win.

According to Levy, a parent should accept that it’s not easy to end a relationship. Focus on keeping your daughter safe. Ask her, Are you emotionally safe? Physically safe? What are you doing to get yourself safe? For example, does she have a way of not being in the car when he’s been drinking? Does she know how to get away when he’s in a jealous rage? At the same time, focus on building her strength and support. Encourage her participation in other activities and a life outside the relationship.

Parents of a boy should be aware if he’s temperamental, volatile, quick to blow up. A mother might hear her son being cruel and critical to the girl. She might realize he’s obsessed with his girlfriend because she notices how he pays constant attention to everything the girl is doing.

Levy acknowledged some of the behavior would be hidden, but “You have to assume it’s worse than what you see.” A boy may try to blame the girlfriend for his behavior with excuses like, You don’t know how she pushes me.” Of course a mother wants to believe her son is not at fault. But he needs everyone in his life to point out to him that the way he is treating his girlfriend isn’t healthy.

“The best thing parents have to offer their kids,” Levy said, “is a strong relationship. Your kids should know you’re there to support them and help them make good decisions no matter how you feel about the choices they’re making.”

For parents and other caregivers who want more information and support, Levy and Giggans have co-authored What Parents Need to Know about Dating Violence as well as another book forthcoming in Fall 2013. (When they asked around for advice on a title, parents of daughters wanted to call the book I Want to Kill the Bastard while teenagers suggested Parents–You Don’t Have a Clue.)

Dating Violence

This spring, Levy will also facilitate a two-hour workshop, Dating Without Danger, sponsored by Women Helping Women at the NCJW, 543 N. Fairfax, Los Angeles. The date is not yet confirmed but interested parents should contact Abha Verma at 323-852-8522 by March 4 for further information or to enroll.

Finally, a confession: As I left the meeting to meet a friend and go join the dance, there were memories I couldn’t shake. I remembered when instead of being an upstander, I was a bystander. Junior high. There was a girl in my class, a lovely girl, an honors student, friendly, liked and respected. Then the gossip started going round that she was seeing the local “bad boy” and she was “letting him” hit her. And while we gossiped, we felt ashamed of being girls. Our classmate’s situation made us feel uncomfortable, icky. Even disgusted with her. I used to have nightmares in which she’d be running from that boy, trying to escape. She’d come to me for help, crying and showing me her bruises. In real life, I never tried to talk to her. I certainly hope someone did, that she had a friend or parent who did more than just gossip about her. And then wake at night from bad dreams.

ACTION ALERT: On February 12, the Senate reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act, S. 47. But now the VAWA measure needs a vote in the House where conservatives wish to remove about 14 words (out of 200 pages) intended to ensure that tribal women, immigrants, LGBT populations, and communities of color are not discriminated against in funding or services. Please contact your representative to urge support for the Senate version of VAWA and protect all women.

How Progressives Can (and Must) Lobby for Social Change

July 28, 2012

My article in today’s LA Progressive:

Abbe Land, West Hollywood Mayor Pro Tem, doesn’t want activists to think of “lobbying” as a dirty word. “In the purest form, it’s about educating and helping elected officials understand the issue,” she told more than 100 community members attending the July 25th workshop, “Your Voice: Learning to Lobby for Social Change,” organized by the Advocacy Committee of the National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles. “Paid lobbyists can keep knocking on your door till you let them in, keep telling you their side, their side, their side–till it’s possible forget about the other side.” Progressive organizations lobby, too, “to move our agenda forward,” she said in her keynote address, but don’t have the resources to keep up that kind of constant pressure without the help of the individual activist. The role of citizen lobbyist is crucial.

Abbe Land

In the breakout sessions that followed, community members got tips about individual activism while much of the discussion focused on the role of organized nonprofits as well as informal ad hoc advocacy groups.

(While 501(c)(3) nonprofits can lose their tax-exempt status if lobbying takes more than 5% of their time and resources, they are not banned entirely from approaching officials on behalf of specific legislation. Good information on how to navigate rules and restrictions and maximize lobbying to the full extent of the law is available at the website of the organization Alliance for Justice.)

Legislate? Or Educate?

There’s no limit on 501(c)(3) organizations (or anyone else) when it comes to campaigns to educate officials about issues.

Emily Austin, who facilitated the workshop on “Policy Process 101: Transforming Ideas into Policy,” explained that education must sometimes precede any attempt to make policy given the many obstacles to getting a bill into law. Even if you can get legislation introduced, it’s likely to die in committee unless the ground has been fully prepared.
To illustrate how this might work in real life, Austin shared her experience addressing teen dating violence in her role as Director of Policy & Evaluation for Peace Over Violence, a nonprofit dedicated to intervention and prevention of domestic violence and sexual assault. Through its work with survivors, POV was aware that many teens were victimized but when staff went to the broader community, they found parents insisting their kids didn’t even date so couldn’t possibly be affected. POV collected statistics and reports to show the prevalence of the violence and began to collect powerful personal stories as well.

“Think about who your allies might be,” she said. “Unlikely allies, too.” Progressives sometimes overlook the support a cause might get from groups–in this case, law enforcement and prosecutors–that aren’t always in agreement with our values.

Emily Austin

You also need to identify the opposition and what their arguments might be. An Orange County politician, for example, was opposed to any discussion of dating violence because dating implied sexual activity. In today’s economy, you can expect arguments about funding, so think about possible resources and be ready to make the argument–with specific figures–that spending money now will prevent higher costs later.

Determine your venue, Austin said. Do you think the issue is best addressed on a federal, state, local, or organizational level? Once you know your venue, find a champion there. Whether a bill needs to be shepherded into law or a regulation or policy needs to change in a bureaucracy, someone has to work toward this goal with almost single-minded focus and push hard for it in a knowledgeable and articulate way.

POV connected early on with Steve Zimmer, a Los Angeles teacher and counselor for 17 years, who knew firsthand that students were suffering abuse. When he was later elected to the school board, he became an ideal champion–committed, able to speak at a press conference in an entirely credible way. He didn’t need to have talking point provided to him and was able to answer any questions with ease. (As Abbe Land pointed out, a paid lobbyist has to be prepared because they get fired if they don’t know the issue very well. We have to be sure we are every bit as knowledgeable when we speak to people in power.) In October 2011, Zimmer got the school board to pass a unanimous resolution in favor of a prevention program for the city’s public schools. Though no funds have been identified yet to implement such a program or the curriculum prepared by POV, the problem–after years of educating the community–is at last officially recognized. As Austin said, “It’s on the map.” Even this limited progress to the goal took years while POV did the research, developed and nurtured relationships, and prepared the ground with public awareness.

For now, the organization continues to educate peer leaders who can talk to other teens. And while you’re figuring out how to influence others, Austin said, look at your own organization. Is it living up to its stated goals? For example, when people think of teen dating violence, the common assumption is this refers to girls who are victims of boys. Austin said POV looked to be sure its own board and policies were friendly to LGBT teens and youth who were questioning their sexuality and/or gender.

Whatever your cause, remember you need to raise community awareness and support before trying to promote a bill. Sometimes, Austin warned, the community may get passionately behind a cause after a particularly terrible event. These laws sometimes go through quickly–too quickly. “Legislation created after one specific set of facts–such as laws that tend to be named after a survivor or victim” are often poorly drafted “without thinking of unintended consequences.” Think through any proposed bills or recommendations with care.

Everyone Has a Role

Serena Josel, Director of Public Affairs at Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, spoke on “Mobilizing Your Base: Grassroots and Grasstops Lobbying.”

Serena Josel

For legislative advocacy, she said, you need three ongoing components that work together: a policy analysis team to study a bill and consider what real-life impact it would have; a media team to communicate these impacts to the public; a lobbying team of paid lobbyists if possible, plus the grassroots and the grasstops, the latter being members or allies of your group who are prominent in the community or have special relationships or access to decision makers because they are big donors or as colleagues or former staffers or through, for example, family, friendship, business.

“Last spring when Congress tried to defund Planned Parenthood,” she said, “what did we do?” First, the policy team warned the organization to take the threat seriously. Though the same amendment had been offered in Congress every year for six years, it never before had a chance of passing. This time, the policy team put out the alert that “it had legs.” The media team got to work with radio and television interviews and social media to make the buzz louder and get people engaged.

As for the grassroots lobbyists, how much could they accomplish here in LA where Planned Parenthood enjoys strong longterm support from our elected representatives? First, whatever your cause, if you’ve got a compelling personal story, an official who’s already on your side can use it in working to convince others. Then, Los Angeles grassroots activists turned to technology. They phoned sympathetic voters in targeted states, told them what was happening in DC and said “Your senator will be one of the deciding votes. Will you let me patch you into their office right now?” In this way, people power in Los Angeles generated calls to senators all around the country. “We won on the federal level,” Josel said, though Planned Parenthood is still under attack in eight states.

Grassroots volunteers have also fanned out with cell phones on college campuses and at farmers markets, talking to people and inviting supporters to make calls on-the-spot to elected officials.

As for the grasstops, Josel passed around copies of a sample chart set up to list all the decision makers relevant to an issue. After you poll the organization’s board and active members, you fill in the blanks on the chart: who has a personal connection to each decision maker; who is a professional contact; who knows someone who is an indirect contact and in those cases, fill in that person’s name and the nature of the relationship. You can then identify who is best suited to make the approach.

Don’t ask your grasstops to call everyone they know, Josel advised. Choose targets with care. Track what happens. Some grasstops turn out to be have more clout than they expected; some less.
Before any contact is made, the grasstops spokeperson should be carefully prepared. Their relationship means they are likely to have a real back-and-forth conversation with the decision maker so they’ll need to know their stuff. The organization can follow up later with additional information if needed and, of course, with thank you notes.

Decision makers who support you need to be thanked whenever they do the right thing with their vote, Josel said. Just because a person’s belief system matches up with yours, doesn’t mean they’ll always want to go out on a limb for you, especially in an election year. Let them know that constituents have their back by sending a note or a even a photo of a large group of people holding up a big thank you sign.

Keep your grassroots people engaged with updates and reports of progress.

Tips for Individuals

Citizen lobbying is most effective when the decision maker can see you face-to-face (in their district or Capitol office or at a town hall meeting) or at least hear your voice on the phone. Meeting with an official’s staff members is just as valuable.

Personal letters get more attention than petitions or mass emails. Snail mail shows a higher level of commitment than email. But keep in mind: Physical letters sent to local district offices will rarely be subject to delay but in DC, mail goes through security screening and can take several weeks to reach the recipient. For an urgent matter or when a vote is imminent, phone calls and personally composed emails are necessary.

Use personal language, Josel said, not political jargon or bumper sticker language, e.g., talk about pregnancy and families, not the opposing camps of pro-choice and pro-life.

On-line petitions may have some effect if the numbers are huge and come from appropriate zip codes.

Think about visual impact. If you’re part of a pre-printed postcard campaign, save the cards and deliver them all at once. A thousand cards dumped in a legislator’s office can’t be ignored. The same number trickling in over the course of a year or two can be overlooked.

If your letter to the editor is published, send copies to relevant decision makers, or, a participant suggested, bcc (send blind copies) to the people you want to influence. That way, they’ll know your opinion and that you cared enough to write even if the letter isn’t published.

Facebook and Twitter campaigns tend to work best with corporations concerned about their image and their brand and are less effective when targeting elected officials. It’s worth tweeting a representative who’s known to use Twitter a lot. If you catch him or her during a particularly boring committee meeting, you may have the chance for an extended exchange.

A Last Word

Matt Leighty, who has worked as a lobbyist and teaches a graduate-level course on “Lobbying and Policy Change” at Pepperdine University offered a workshop on “The Art of Persuasion: Winning Them Over,” focused on preparing and delivering oral arguments. As participants could only attend two of the three breakout sessions, I missed his presentation. Which leads to my own tip to fellow activists: Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t do everything.

But here’s something you can do. The meeting ended with:

Action Alerts

Contact Congress to support:

1. The reauthorization of the Violence against Women Act (VAWA) as approved by the Senate (S. 1925) rather than the House version (H.R. 4970) which was designed to undermine or deny protection to immigrant women (including mail-order brides), Native women, students on college campuses, and LGBTQ victims.

2. The Fair Minimum Wage Act which would raise the minimum wage in three gradual steps from $7.25 to $9.80/hour by 2014. Get your representative on board as a co-sponsor.

If you need help finding your members of Congress and their contact info, call the Capitol switchboard at (202)224-3121 or go online: and

For California actions, contact your state senator to support these Assembly bills being considered by the Senate:

1. AB 2348 which would allow RNs to dispense birth control to women who have no risk factors. Today thousands of women who want contraception are turned away at health centers as there aren’t enough doctors to see them. (If you make this call, please let Planned Parenthood know how it went by emailing

2. AB 593 and AB 1593 which would aid incarcerated battered women who were unable to present a domestic violence defense at the time of a petition for habeas corpus and would give them a chance to present this evidence effectively during the parole process.

To find a California state senator: