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The YWCA Knoxville advocates for women from all walks of life and follows cultural trends and legislation that impact our clients and community. You can keep up with some of the issues we care about by subscribing to our blog.

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Pink & Purple: Creating a New Movement and Conversation

Sunny Slaughter is a federally certified Instructor and Consultant for the Department of Homeland Security/Federal Law Enforcement Training Center where she reviews and approves training material and certifies law enforcement officers and others as Adjunct Instructors. She is also a subject matter expert for ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and makes regular appearances on CNN’s HLN/After Dark.

“If you champion the cause of ending violence against women in any form or fashion then you might know a few stats. Maybe you have even volunteered at an event, shelter or made a donation. Some people recognize the purple ribbon, and even a few happen to know that October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Notice I said a few.

Recently on several of my social media outlets, I had to remind some and inform a lot more that October is not only Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but National Domestic Violence Awareness Month as well. As the daughter, family member and friend of many who either directly or indirectly have been affected by breast cancer, I proudly support the cause and can flaunt the pink as well. But in the same breath and stride—as a once victim, now survivor and a staunch advocate who has shared my own story, wiped tears, held hands, prepared victims and survivors for trial, sat in the courtroom with the families of murdered victims and ultimately became a federally certified law enforcement instructor on DV—I strut the purple and the passion 365.

For me and so many others this is not just about a race for the cure for both issues. This is about the conversation of breast cancer and domestic violence awareness in the month of October becoming a full conversation that impacts, encourages and educates while eradicating the SILENCE that leaves women vulnerable to both domestic violence and diseases like breast cancer. Victims of domestic violence most often don’t get the medical treatment they need and deserve, leaving them vulnerable to diseases like breast cancer. These are not two separate conversations but one, and it all begins with SILENCE! When you don’t check your body this vicious disease can and will spread, giving you little hope if not caught in time. When you don’t evaluate negative relationships for what they are and put into place safety measures, then the violence escalates, giving you little hope if you don’t seek help. They both can make or break a victim.

Either way SILENCE can be deadly! Unite the conversation and create a new movement! Let’s do what we can to save lives not just in October but every day of the year, because disease and crime don’t take a day off, and neither should we! “

*This blog was re-posted with permission from YWCA Central Alabama. To see the original blog post, click here.

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Engaging men and boys to prevent violence against women: Part 4

Guest Blogger: Ryan Bliss
Creating an educational environment that recognizes the potential for a new masculinity

[This post draws on Rus Ervin Funk’s Reaching Men: Strategies for Preventing Sexist Attitudes, Behaviors, and Violence.]

One of the main jobs of the educator is to create an opportunity for men to have a real and honest conversation about sexism and violence. This means creating a space where men can get in touch with their feelings of anger, outrage, fear, anxiety, sadness, and so on that frequently arise around topics and experiences of sexism and violence. Understanding men’s acting up as ways that men express these feelings is important for educators, as long as it does not interfere with the goals and process of education.

Rus Funk, pgs. 72-73

The educator must create a multifaceted environment. A straightforward lecture on the aspects of sexism is insufficient. The educator must invest in the emotional reality of presentation, where many are likely to become uncomfortable and possibly disruptive. Therefore, only certain people are able to handle the stress of this interconnected and occasionally quite harsh environment.

In Chapter One, Funk discusses the qualities of an effective educator, reminding his audience, “No educator has all of them. In addition, these are qualities that can be developed in educators as they grow” (4). These qualities include passion, flexibility, self-awareness, honesty, comfort with chaos, keen perception of others’ emotions, ability to handle confrontation, habits of organization, positivity, ability to actively listen, and slowness to judge.

At the first stages of planning, an educator should decide on a target population. There is no uniform group of males. Men differ on account of race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, career, level of education, familiarity with the issues, age, and histories of abuse and being abused. Different groups of males experience the costs and benefits of sexism differently, and Funk points out the need for cultural relevance. An educator would present to an African-American male audience, for instance, with special mention of the role sexism has played in lynchings and racial violence in the past as well as racial profiling and incarceration rates in the present.

Another aspect to consider is the goal of the presentation. Funk encourages an educator to narrow his or her goals and accept the fact that men hardly ever become instantly active in the fight to end sexism and violence. He exhibits a spectrum that divides men into seven categories of willingness (78). The most an educator can hope to achieve in typical circumstances is to move each man one step closer along the spectrum to being an activist (79).

For my part, I have studied in the Women’s Studies program at UT for three semesters now. I had a professor last fall who inspired me a great deal and emphasized the need for us to fight for women’s rights, especially the right to birth control, almost every class. She told us that by not standing up, we were consenting to those rights disappearing. Her insistence has inspired me such that I don’t think it’s possible for me to stop working for women’s rights and gender justice. An effective educator in this setting will use the same tactics. He or she might apply this tactic to rape myths (90) that have such deep and insidious roots in our culture.

Men encounter many barriers as they work to become allies in movements against sexism and violence. And though all men benefit socially and economically from sexism, there are ways they can benefit from its disintegration as well. Namely, the world will be a much safer place in which to live for not only women in general, but for men’s loved ones—wives, daughters, mothers, sisters, and friends. Men won’t have to worry that their brothers are behaving in sexually violent ways and thus creating an environment of mistrust that affects everyone.

Change is possible, but without significant numbers of men working passionately for this cause, it is highly unlikely. Much depends on those people who possess a decent grasp of these issues, some educational tactics, and most importantly, a will to inspire men. As Funk says, “By not educating men, educators run the risk of having men continue to act in ways that, at the very least, disempower women, and at most, harm women” (63).

Funk, Rus E. Reaching Men: Strategies for Presenting Sexist Attitudes, Behaviors, and Violence. Indianapolis: Jist Publishing Inc, 2006.

Ryan Bliss is a senior at the University of Tennessee majoring in women’s studies and minoring in English. He volunteers at the Family Justice Center through the YWCA Enough! volunteer initiative, which assists survivors of domestic violence. He loves to ride his bike and help out in the community. He was raised in Kingsport, Tennessee, and has enjoyed living in Knoxville for six years now.

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Engaging men and boys to prevent violence against women: Part 3

Guest Blogger: Ryan Bliss

Change is possible, but women have no time for men to feel guilty

[This post draws on Rus Ervin Funk’s Reaching Men: Strategies for Preventing Sexist Attitudes, Behaviors, and Violence.]

You have the time to feel guilty. We don’t have the time for you to feel guilty. Your guilt is a form of acquiescence in what continues to occur. Your guilt keeps things the way they are.

-Andrea Dworkin, page 91 of Reaching Men

One of the most important parts of men’s work to stop sexism violence is that they begin immediately. “It is worth pointing out that men often do things even though they do not know what to do, from building a wall to replacing plumbing, to working on a car. It is even a common theme in sit-coms that men take on projects they know nothing about” (90, Funk). In many areas of society, men seem to improvise just fine.

A man attempting to become active may feel guilt for a variety of reasons, but perhaps foremost would be that he has committed an act of violence or has eroticized abusive behaviors (91). Nevertheless, “[n]o program or political agenda is worthwhile if it requires that people feel guilty in order to be involved” (91).

Despite my own occasional sexist acts, I was raised by a mother who encouraged my sister and me to mark up hymnals in church, replacing a number of “he’s” with “she’s” and a number of “men” with “humans” or “people.” She also had a number of things to say to my father, who neglected most of his household duties because he was “too busy with work” or “pooped” because of it. My sister grew up to be a strong symbol of womanhood, going to protests and risking her life on wild adventures all over the country. When I came to Knoxville, I met a couple of guys who showed me that men too can fight sexism, and during that year, I read my first feminist book, The Chalice and the Blade. Role models are crucial for men, and there are not nearly enough of them.

Sometimes, like many men struggling to get involved but still lapsing back into old habits, I feel like a hypocrite. I have to remind myself that though I am not perfect, I still have a “response-ability” to fight for gender justice. Rus Funk lists assumptions that educators can use in planning a session to positively perceive men’s roles in stopping violence:

Everyone has experienced various forms of violence and abuse[, ]Everyone has the right to be free from violence, abuse, and threats [,…] Men are not naturally or innately sexist, violent, or abusive [,] Men do care [,…] Men can handle their anger and other strong feelings that may be triggered as a result of talking about sexism and violence. (9)

Funk gives emphasis to the last assumption by claiming it is crucial in the education process to give the topics the weight they deserve (10). Through these feelings, men can cultivate a passion to be allies with women.

Finally, educators may encourage men to see issues of sexism and violence as a human rights issue. Though men have been highly represented in movements for such goals as environmental justice, racial justice, and labor rights, as of yet, few men fight for gender and sexual justice. Funk says, “The rationale is the same” (57). Men can be involved just as passionately in movements that see sexism and violence as infractions on human rights, because, “morally, they can’t not be involved” (57). If men are to recognize this reality, educators must be well organized and ready to meet men where they are.

Funk, Rus E. Reaching Men: Strategies for Presenting Sexist Attitudes, Behaviors, and Violence. Indianapolis: Jist Publishing Inc, 2006.

Ryan Bliss is a senior at the University of Tennessee majoring in women’s studies and minoring in English. He volunteers at the Family Justice Center through the YWCA Enough! volunteer initiative, which assists survivors of domestic violence. He loves to ride his bike and help out in the community. He was raised in Kingsport, Tennessee, and has enjoyed living in Knoxville for six years now.

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Engaging men and boys to prevent violence against women: Part 2

Guest Blogger: Ryan Bliss
What women have the right to and why men do not speak out

[This post draws on Rus Ervin Funk’s Reaching Men: Strategies for Preventing Sexist Attitudes, Behaviors, and Violence.]

Women have a right to walk down the street and not be accosted, to sleep in their own beds and be safe, to live in their own homes and not be beaten, to walk into convenience stores and not see images of themselves displayed as men would like to see them, and to spend a day at work or in school and not be harassed.

Rus Funk, page 54

Men have much to gain by the elimination of sexism. Funk lists three main “freedoms” for males: “[1] Freedom from the threat of a significant other experiencing sexist violence [2] Freedom from worrying about friends and loved ones perpetrating the violence [3] Freedom from women fearing men” (55). Furthermore, many men would be free from being abused themselves. Surprisingly, the rate for men being sexually assaulted is 1 in 7, and that violence is perpetrated mostly by other men (112).

A wary look, a defensive stance, a quickened step. Women’s fear of men is felt to some degree by all men, though men of color and working-class backgrounds often feel this most acutely. This is one way the question of gender is tied to race and class, which a wise educator will acknowledge. Overcoming this problem is another benefit to ending violence against women.

Still, there are plenty of barriers. On a surface level, all men benefit from sexism. If a man is not acting violently or viewing women negatively, he is still privileged economically and socially by institutions that have roots far older than feminism. Culture is always difficult to change, but men have a duty to start working to change these institutions, social relationships, and most importantly, themselves.

One of the most fortified barriers to men’s work is homophobia (83). Years ago, I was bullied. A shy, gentle boy, I was an easy target for another boy in eighth grade. He would walk up behind me in English class to throw something away or leave class to “use the bathroom.” He’d slap me in the head. He would vary his abuse to keep me guessing, but after years of socialization, I learned that the way to resist his treatment was to act more manly and try to win the approval of him and his friends. So I too would disrupt class and engage in sexist mistreatment of my classmates. Once I purposely knocked a pencil off the desk and asked the girl in front of me to pick it up. I was hoping to see her behind as she bent over. The strong need to be “manly” by rejecting the title of victim, mistreating women, and ridiculing other men for their perceived weaknesses inhibits men from allying themselves with women to fight for gender justice.

Another barrier is the shear enormity of the problem (83). The amount of trauma victims of sexual violence experience—and many men know at least one person who has experienced that trauma—is difficult for to grasp. This may cause some men to shut down emotionally. They may honestly have no idea what to do to improve the situation, which is linked to how rarely these topics are discussed with men. Nevertheless, educators have a duty to give these issues the gravity they deserve and, if possible, to guide men out of despondency.

Finally, upon hearing definitions for terms such as rape, domestic violence, or street harassment, men may ponder their own participation in these acts. They may minimize and deny their actions (82). This could be a source of much defensiveness, for despite even a herculean effort by an educator to not cast blame, men often feel blamed in these settings. However, a compassionate educator will remind them that “there is much more to them than that behavior” (82). Understandably, men want to see themselves as good people, which is a perfect way to encourage men’s transformation into allies.

Funk, Rus E. Reaching Men: Strategies for Presenting Sexist Attitudes, Behaviors, and Violence. Indianapolis: Jist Publishing Inc, 2006.

Ryan Bliss is a senior at the University of Tennessee majoring in women’s studies and minoring in English. He volunteers at the Family Justice Center through the YWCA Enough! volunteer initiative, which assists survivors of domestic violence. He loves to ride his bike and help out in the community. He was raised in Kingsport, Tennessee, and has enjoyed living in Knoxville for six years now.

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Engaging men and boys in preventing violence against women: Part 1

Guest Blogger: Ryan Bliss

Pornography, prostitution, rape, sexual assault. Sexual, gender, and street harassment. Stalking, domestic violence, dating abuse. All of these actions can be prevented by a coordinated and strong movement for women that includes men. Men, however, must be educated. In order to pull more men into a movement that demands respect for women, men must see their “response-ability” to end sexism.

I was taught by society to reject weakness and “be a man.” Again and again, I simply looked on as racist, sexist, and homophobic attitudes developed in my fellow youth—and occasionally in myself. I was sometimes a victim of bullying, which gave me fear and anger towards certain types of men. Perhaps these are feelings I hold in common with many women, for I was mistreated predominantly by the male sex.

These commonalities are a critical part of reaching men. Getting started is often the most gut-wrenching part, but Rus Funk’s Reaching Men: Strategies for Preventing Sexist Attitudes, Behaviors, and Violence does an excellent job of providing exercises that promote active reading and reflection. Before men can change, they must want to change, and a knowledgeable, self-aware, and adaptable educator is crucial in that process. Though men face obstacles in becoming advocates for women, as Funk shows, a well-planned approach can create the educational environment necessary for cultivating a new definition of masculinity—one that recognizes the need for gender justice and an end to the violence.

Throughout Week Without Violence, I will be writing a series of posts inspired by Rus Funk’s processes for educating men. Be sure to check back every day this week for additional posts. Later in the year, I’ll add to the series by addressing the issues surrounding men’s engagement and working from within the movement.

Ryan Bliss is a senior at the University of Tennessee majoring in women’s studies and minoring in English. He volunteers at the Family Justice Center through the YWCA Enough! volunteer initiative, which assists survivors of domestic violence. He loves to ride his bike and help out in the community. He was raised in Kingsport, Tennessee, and has enjoyed living in Knoxville for six years now.   

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VAWA: Where the Senate’s right and the House is dead wrong

Introduced by then Senator Joe Biden in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act is a tremendous piece of legislation that strengthens penalties, requires states to enforce protection orders from other jurisdictions, makes it more difficult for abusers to threaten immigrant victims with deportation, promotes coordinated community response, and funds programs that save lives.

VAWA funds directly support the work of YWCA victim advocates. But it’s not just about funding. VAWA transformed the way communities approach domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. At the YWCA, we see firsthand the benefits of this legislation every single day.

Preventing violence against women has long been a nonpartisan issue, but recently VAWA’s reauthorization has become controversial. After much debate, the Senate recently passed S. 1925, which adds provisions for underserved communities. The House is set to vote on HR 4970, a version of VAWA that strips these protections, which are fundamental to women’s autonomy, family harmony, and community safety.

Immigrant needs: All victims face barriers to safety, but for immigrants, the task is nearly insurmountable. Without advocates to guide and support them, they cannot overcome barriers of language, culture, isolation, and lack of income, childcare, transportation, and knowledge of their rights. Abusers use all of this against them, telling victims they will be deported and lose their children. Legal protections and funding for culturally specific programming help to counteract these problems. While some may not support undocumented immigrants receiving services, all victims of crime are entitled to services in this country. Violence in the community is violence in the community no matter the circumstances. Children in violent family situations frequently grow up to be perpetrators and victims, and the children of immigrants are often US citizens.

Immigrant provisions: VAWA has always included protections for immigrants, such as U visas, which give victims who cooperate with law enforcement temporary legal status. S. 1925 recaptures unused U visas (due to a backlog in 2006-2011) and makes them available for the new VAWA term. HR 4970 undercuts the visa program, discouraging victims from working with law enforcement and allowing batterers to perpetuate abuse by threatening deportation. It also strips confidentiality protections for immigrant victims. All victims deserve confidentiality; otherwise, they will be deterred from reporting.

LGBT needs: LGBT individuals experience approximately the same rates of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking as everyone else, yet they rarely receive effective services because protocols are typically designed for heterosexual couples and providers tend to lack cultural competency. LGBT victims are sometimes arrested because of assumptions about which party is the aggressor. Often, they are denied services. In one study, 25% of LGBT victims were denied shelter due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

LGBT provisions: S. 1925 prohibits law enforcement and service providers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and allows federal funding to go toward programs helping LGBT victims. HR 4970 strips those provisions, allowing discrimination to go unchecked and leaving barriers to prevention and intervention intact. It’s a matter of equal access.

Tribal needs: Native American women face the highest rates of violence in the country. Non-Natives comprise 40% of reservation populations and commit 80% of violent crimes against Native people, yet they are not subject to Tribal prosecution. While the rest of us can go through our local jurisdictions, the Department of Justice has jurisdiction over felony crimes against Native Americans, which means that victims must travel hundreds of miles to access federal, or sometimes state, courts prioritizing homicide and terrorism. Consequently, federal and state governments rarely prosecute domestic violence and sexual assault crimes. Without an effective response, non-Natives can more or less attack women in Indian Country with impunity.

Tribal provisions: S. 1925 gives tribes limited jurisdiction on crimes of domestic and dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking by non-Native offenders. This holds offenders accountable and increases safety on reservations. HR 4970 contains no Tribal provisions, leaving Native women subject to continued assault and allowing rapists and abusers to go unpunished, leaving us all vulnerable.

VAWA’s legacy cannot be underestimated. Since its initial passage in 1994, domestic-violence reporting has increased by 51% for women and 37% for men and the number of DV-related homicides has decreased by 34% for women and 57% for men. By 2000, VAWA had saved taxpayers $14.8 billion. Like all cultural problems, the dynamics of gender-based violence fluctuate, and VAWA must respond to those changes if it is to remain effective.

We encourage you to contact your Congressperson today and share your thoughts on this vital issue.

–Written by Sara Baker, YWCA Director of Women’s Advocacy and Written Communications

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