Stopping Domestic Violence

It wasn't just the O.J. Simpson trial that put the issue of domestic violence in America's face this past year. "There's No Excuse," a major public-education campaign by the San Francisco-based Family Violence Prevention Fund and the New York-based Advertising Council that featured graphic billboards and dramatic TV ads confronted us with sights and sounds of domestic violence -- and challenged us to do something about it. I have to confess: that last part is where I've been blanking out a little. I know the FVPF offers packages of domestic-violence prevention suggestions for community organizations. But if you aren't part of a group, what does it mean to "do something"? Walk into the home of a couple you've never met before and wade into their fight? As it turns out, a lot of other people have had the same question. A survey taken last February by the New York-based Leiberman Research group found that people were more aware of and concerned about domestic violence than they had been six months earlier. Many said they'd like to do something about it but didn't know what they could do. So the FVPF came up with another package of things -- some brilliantly simple -- individuals can do. Even doing something as small as wearing a sweatshirt or using a coffee mug with an anti-domestic violence slogan identifies you as a sympathetic person a battered woman might approach. (Make sure you know a phone number she can call for help.) You could also ask your doctor to put a poster in her waiting room or leave flyers with phone numbers of local shelters in the women's restroom (so a woman can pick one up without being seen). FVPF offers dozens more ideas, some a tad more ambitious, such as asking local radio and TV shows to air programs on domestic violence. Meanwhile, community groups across the country have been developing new ways to support battered women and to create a climate in which abuse is not tolerated. The FVPF, together with Marshalls stores, awarded seven of these groups the first Domestic Peace Prize last month. Most of the winning projects were urban -- a Chicago elementary-school parents' group, a Boston teen theater, a Korean American organization in New York -- but the California group that won an award was a project working with women farmworkers, a United Farmworkers' spin-off supported by California Rural Legal Assistance. According to project member Millie Travino Sauceda, the organizers have gathered small groups of rural women -- many of whom have been active in the United Farmworkers of America or in their communities but have never been in a women's group -- to talk about "their own issues." The house meetings often open with a skit on domestic violence, staged by other women farmworkers. The skit, Travino says, shows situations involving husbands, wives, kids, friends, mothers, mothers-in-law, police who don't respond to calls for help, and problems of being undocumented. After the play women are often eager to talk about similar experiences they've had, and professionals are on hand to discuss what they can do about them. "We talk about the myths," Travino says -- myths like "she has the chance to leave but she likes to be hurt" and "it's her fault because she talks back to her husband or because she didn't have dinner ready." Usually at the end of the meeting participants say they want to get together again, in part because they hope to bring other women. "The ones who come know others who couldn't get out," Travino explains. The women who are most dominated or abused have the most trouble leaving home to go to a meeting.Organized by the Farmworker Women's Leadership Project, meetings like these started in the Coachella Valley, a UFW stronghold. With funding from the Ms. Foundation, the group organized a three-day weekend during which farmworker women met domestic-violence experts. Although the training was valuable, Travino says, not all the experts' ideas about domestic violence seemed to fit farmworker women's experience. "There are many factors we are talking about," Travino explains. "Pressures from society, discrimination, economic problems.... Many times we stay in the situation and even die because of family, society, religion." Since the project started, Travino says, some of the most active participants have been able to leave abusive relationships. "But they are the ones most politicized, most independent. The women not in that situation are the ones we are worried about." Travino is very clear that she and the other organizers don't have all the answers. But they've started the process, with activists starting to gather women together in communities throughout California's agricultural valleys. "Now the dialogue is out in the open," she says. "And there's momentum for change." For information on domestic violence and ways organizations and individuals can help combat it, call the Family Violence Prevention Fund at (415) 252-8900 or see the fund's site on the WorldWide Web at http://www.fvpf.org/fund/.

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