#WorkAgainstViolence: Domestic Violence

By Qudsia Raja
Advocacy & Policy Manager of Health and Safety, YWCA USA

By now, you’ve likely seen the video of former NFL player Ray Rice brutally assaulting his then-fiancé Janay Rice and then dragging her unconscious out of an elevator. While everyone has been talking about this particular incident, domestic violence is a systemic problem.

This incident has inadvertently sparked much-needed conversation on the pervasive nature of violence against women. However, what many people don’t know is that if the news cycle were to accurately reflect the prevalence of domestic violence in the United States, you would hear about a new incident every 15 seconds. Ray Rice used his fist. But increasingly men are using guns. Every month, 46 women are victims of domestic violence related homicides in the U.S.

As one of the largest providers of domestic violence services in the U.S., with over 220 local YWCAs in 46 states and the District of Columbia, the YWCA is intimately aware of the grim and often lethal reality victims of domestic violence face every day. Domestic violence overwhelmingly impacts women across the board, irrespective of socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, religious affiliation and sex. One in four women will experience a form of domestic violence at some point in their lives. While this is often dismissed as a “private matter,” the repercussions of domestic violence are tantamount to a public health epidemic: 15.5 million children in the U.S. live in homes in which they have been exposed to or experienced violence, and studies indicate that women in abusive relationships have significantly higher rates of developing health issues, such as strokes and heart attacks.

We also know that, while domestic violence discriminates against no one, the lethality risk skyrockets when firearms are present. Perpetrators with access to firearms are five to eight times more likely to kill their partners than those without firearms. And the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide for women by five times. Intimate partner homicides account for nearly half of all women killed each year in the U.S., with three women murdered each day. Of these homicides, more than half are attributed to firearm use. In fact, if you’re a woman in the U.S., you’re more likely to die at the hands of a gun than in any other developed nation in the world.

For decades, YWCA’s all across the country have provided services and advocated for protection from intimate partner violence. Last year, as the YWCA celebrated the successful reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), we committed to working to end violence against women by repairing the glaring loopholes in federal law that keep many women from being safe.

First, we must recognize that relationship demographics have changed, and that expanding our definition of “intimate partner” to include current and former dating partners is necessary to appropriately prosecute perpetrators. Nearly 50 percent of all intimate partner homicides were committed by a current or former dating partner. Between 1976 and 2005, dating partners were responsible for 35 percent of intimate partner homicides, and the share of intimate partner homicides committed annually by current dating partners has been on the rise. In the case of Ray Rice, he was not prosecuted nor was he convicted of domestic violence misdemeanor. Instead, he was admitted into a pre-trial intervention program, which allows offenders to avoid incarceration and keep their records clean if they meet agreed-upon requirements.

Second, existing federal laws need to recognize stalking as a form of domestic violence and, in turn, prohibit convicted stalkers from purchasing and/or possessing guns. Eighty-one percent of women stalked by a current or former partner have been physically assaulted by that partner, and 31 percent report being sexually assaulted. Currently, federal firearms prohibitions, triggered by domestic violence, that would prevent individuals from purchasing firearms do not apply to individuals convicted of stalking crimes.

Lastly, and most importantly, we must ensure that states are adopting and enforcing current federal domestic violence gun prohibitions, particularly focusing on allowing state law enforcement agencies to use their discretion and temporarily seize all firearms when responding to domestic violence calls.

The YWCA believes that closing these key loopholes in existing federal laws will effectively reduce domestic violence homicides and in turn save the lives of millions of women across the country.  Long after the 24-hour news cycle has ended, we need to continue to have important dialogue about domestic violence so we can once and for all eradicate violence against women in all forms.

YWCA Week Without ViolenceThis post is part of the YWCA Week Without Violence™ 2014 Blog Carnival. We invite you to join the dialogue! Post your comment below, share your story and follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #workagainstviolence.

Posted in Advocacy and Policy, Children's Health and Safety, Domestic Violence, Empowering Women, Violence Against Women, Women's Health | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

#WorkAgainstViolence: Racial Profiling and Hate Crimes

By Donte Hilliard
Director of Mission Impact, YWCA USA

What would it take for us to experience just ONE Week Without Violence? What practice and policy changes would need to be implemented to make one Week Without Violence possible?

We know that not all violence is physical or visible. The YWCA seeks to educate the public about the full spectrum of violence that impacts the lives of women, girls, people of color and their communities. By referring to the “spectrum of violence,” we acknowledge that there are many types of violence in the world, and not all of these types of violence are acknowledged or responded to equally—especially as these forms of violence impact the lives of women, girls and people of color.

Today’s focus is on racial profiling and hate crimes. Triggered by media attention to several high profile cases of lives lost—Renisha McBride, Jordan Davis, Michael Brown, John Crawford—people across the United States, from all walks of life, have been engaged in serious conversations about the violence of racial profiling and police brutality.

Racial profiling refers to the practice of a law enforcement agent relying, to any degree, on race, ethnicity, religion or national origin in selecting which individuals to subject to routine or investigatory activities, such as traffic stops, searches, and seizures. African-Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, and Asians have reported being unfairly targeted by police. In many border-states and communities with high immigrant populations, law enforcement has been documented to use racial profiling as a method of border security and enforcement, which can have a chilling effect on immigrants and communities of color.

In the aftermath of September 11, Arabs, Muslims, South Asians, and Sikhs, and those who are perceived to be one or the other, have become hyper-aware of the ways in which law enforcement agents and agencies are using racist, Islamophobic stereotypes and bias to unjustly police, survey, scrutinize and detain them (particularly in airports).

Racial profiling is a common practice carried out by law enforcement conducting traffic and pedestrian stops. A U.S. Department of Justice report on police contacts with the public found that African Americans were 20% more likely than whites to be stopped and 50% more likely to have experienced more than one stop. This report also revealed that, although African Americans and Hispanics were more likely to be stopped and searched, they were less likely to be in possession of contraband. On average, searches and seizures of African American drivers yielded evidence only 8% of the time, searches and seizures of Hispanic drivers yielded evidence only 10% of the time, and searches and seizures of white drivers yielded evidence 17% of the time.

Shortly after taking office, President George W. Bush stated that racial profiling “is wrong, and we will end it in America.” Per his directive, the Department of Justice issued the Guidance Regarding the Use of Race by Federal Law Enforcement Agencies (“Guidance”) in June 2003. While the Guidance sought to eliminate racial profiling, it fell short of ensuring equal treatment under the law for all individuals in the United States. Recent coverage in The New York Times has suggested that Attorney General Eric Holder plans to make improvements to the Guidance. Proposed below are vitally needed revisions to the Guidance that many of the leaders in the Racial Justice and Civil Rights Community are calling for:

  1. Prohibition of profiling based on national origin or religion;
  2. Elimination of loopholes allowing for profiling in the national security and border contexts;
  3. Expansion of the ban on profiling to include law enforcement surveillance; and,
  4. Application of the Guidance to state and local law enforcement agencies that work with federal agents and/or receive federal funding, including enforcement mechanisms.

The YWCA USA supports legislation that bans the practice of racial profiling at the federal, state, and local levels. The YWCA firmly believes that all individuals, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, national origin or gender should be ensured justice and protected equally under the law. This includes policies that eradicate racial profiling, increase immigrant rights, retain and strengthen affirmative action, reduce hate crimes, and result in increased education on racism and its elimination.

Take Action: 

Tell Congress the time is now to end racial profiling—a problem that destroys American values of fairness and justice. Congress must take action and pass the End Racial Profiling Act this year. This bill requires that local law enforcement agencies receiving federal funds maintain adequate cultural competency policies and procedures for eliminating racial profiling.

Resources and Readings:

YWCA Week Without ViolenceThis post is part of the YWCA Week Without Violence™ 2014 Blog Carnival. We invite you to join the dialogue! Post your comment below, share your story and follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #workagainstviolence.

Posted in Advocacy and Policy, Empowering Women, Hate Crimes, Immigration, Racial Justice, Week Without Violence | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

#WorkAgainstViolence: Sexual Assault

By Qudsia Raja
Advocacy & Policy Manager of Health and Safety, YWCA USA

Violence against women impacts the lives of countless women and their families across the United States. Women and girls of all ages, income levels, racial and ethnic communities, sexual orientations and religious affiliations experience violence in the form of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, trafficking and stalking.

500 women on average are sexually assaulted every day. Women ages 20-24 are at the highest risk for experiencing rape and sexual assault, followed by young women between the ages of 16-19. Young women on college campuses are particularly vulnerable: one in five experience some form of sexual assault at some point of their college career. Of these, 40% of survivors have reported fear of reprisal by their attackers. And, while 8 in 10 know their attacker, only 13% actually report their assault .

These are not numbers to be taken lightly.

The reasons for the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses are many: policies to address sexual assault vary from campus to campus, perpetrators are often not held accountable, and victims do not have adequate counseling and emergency services resources available to them.

In response to the overwhelming need for an overhaul of the policies that address campus sexual assault, the White House has launched a series of campaigns this year in hopes of decreasing incident rates and creating safe spaces for students. NotAlone.gov compiles local resources and data for survivors, as well as tools to help victims of sexual assault file complaints. Moving a step further, It’s On Us was most recently launched as a way to engage men as active bystanders.

As one of the leading providers of programs serving victims of violence, the YWCA supports public policies that protect victims, hold perpetrators accountable, and work to eradicate violence against women in every form. YWCAs across the country #workagainstviolence every day through critical intervention and prevention programming in local communities, ranging from community education, empowerment programs for women and girls, and programs aimed at engaging men and boys in the conversation around preventing and ending violence against women and girls. In fact, nine local YWCAs were featured in a White House report, 1 is 2 Many, that highlights best-practice programs created as a result of VAWA funded grants.  While the implementation of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) nearly 20 years ago has helped streamline the criminal justice response to crimes like sexual assault, lasting and permanent change cannot happen until we are able to dismantle rape culture and change attitudes around the prevalence of violence targeting women and girls.

How will you #WorkAgainstViolence and take a stand against sexual assault? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

To find a YWCA program in your local community, click here.

For resources on violence against women, click here.

YWCA Week Without ViolenceThis post is part of the YWCA Week Without Violence™ 2014 Blog Carnival. We invite you to join the dialogue! Post your comment below, share your story and follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #workagainstviolence.

Posted in Advocacy and Policy, Children's Health and Safety, Sexual Assault, Violence Against Women, Week Without Violence, Young Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Understanding Protective Factors as a Buffer Against Violence within the Adolescent Community

By Caitlin Eckert, LSW
Sexual Violence Prevention Coordinator, healingSPACE, YWCA Bergen County

Caitlyn Eckert

Caitlyn Eckert

Seeing violence as being preventable, instead of inevitable, is the first major push to successful program implementation for adolescents. The beginning phases of violence prevention start by activating individuals, family systems, schools, communities, and regions in not only recognizing the factors that contribute to power-based violence amongst individuals, but also examining protective factors that may serve as a buffer.

For adolescents, unexplained or unprocessed exposure to violence through first-hand experiences or through media can serve as a risk factor for future perpetration of violence. However, through the strengthening of already existing protective factors, such as connectedness to family, ability to discuss problems with family members and peers, involvement in social activities, and positive social orientation, the occurrence of violence perpetration can be decreased. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention / National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, people too often solely focus on the risk factors that need to be avoided, while failing to further examine how to strengthen the protective factors.

Additional protective factors that decrease the likelihood of adolescents perpetrating violence include frequent shared activities with parents, high grade point average, an intolerant attitude towards deviance, and presence of a parent or caregiver during at least one pivotal time during the day such as when waking up, at dinner time, or when going to sleep.

An important understanding of adolescent protective factors as a buffer to violence perpetration is that protective factors can be rooted in the cultural, social, and environmental context that the individual exists in. For example, protective factors are unique to each individual based on multiple facets, including race, religion, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, immigration status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and other classifying information. This is key in understanding when implementing programming to prevent violence of any kind, as the recipients of the information are likely to hold their own protective factors that have been influenced by their own life experiences.

YWCA Bergen County’s healingSPACE —the only Sexual Violence Resource Center of its kind in the county—is a safe and welcoming place for survivors of sexual assault/abuse, their families and friends. Our 24/7 crisis intervention hotline provides free and confidential assistance, and trained advocates provide counseling and medical and legal accompaniments to survivors. HealingSPACE also offers support groups, volunteer training, and educational programs for schools and businesses, as well as sponsors activities to raise community awareness about sexual violence.

Caitlin Eckert is a Licensed Social Worker with her Bachelor’s degree in Family and Child Studies from Montclair State University, and her Master’s degree in Social Work from Rutgers University. She is currently working as the Sexual Violence Prevention Coordinator through YWCA Bergen County healingSPACE. She formerly worked in Paterson, NJ, as an educator for teens regarding HIV/AIDS and substance abuse. She enjoys working with adolescents and young adults by engaging them in conversations that influence them to create change within themselves or in their community.

YWCA Week Without ViolenceThis post is part of the YWCA Week Without Violence™ 2014 Blog Carnival. We invite you to join the dialogue! Post your comment below, share your story and follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #workagainstviolence.

Posted in Advocacy and Policy, Children's Health and Safety, Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, Violence Against Women, Week Without Violence | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2014 Week Without Violence Blog Carnival

By Katie Stanton 
Social Media & Online Engagement Manager, YWCA USA

violence_rgbThe YWCA Week Without Violence™, held annually every third week in October, is a signature initiative created by YWCA USA nearly 20 years ago to mobilize people in communities across the United States to take action against all forms of violence, wherever it occurs. Each year, YWCAs all around the country host local Week Without Violence™ events and create a public dialogue about violence, in all of its forms.

For our blog carnival this year, we asked: How we can come together to #workagainstviolence?

According to the American Medical Association, more than 20 percent of women in the United States have experienced intimate-partner violence, stalking or both. A full 17 percent have reported rape or attempted rape. On average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States (CDC).

Violence against women, in its many forms, has no demographic boundaries. It is known to all age groups, all races, all religions and all socioeconomic backgrounds. It can take many forms, including economic abuse, intimate partner violence, stalking, racial profiling, and domestic violence. What can be done to #workagainstviolence?

Check out all of the posts:

Caitlin Eckert, YWCA Bergen, Understanding Protective Factors as a Buffer Against Violence within the Adolescent Community

Chelsea Parsons, Center for American Progress, The Intersection of Guns and Domestic Violence

Doug Bair, Generation Progress, It’s On Us to Change How We Talk About Sexual Assault

Jelena Kolic, Legal Momentum, The Power of the Purse: Why Ending Economic Abuse is Vital to Eliminating Domestic Violence

Shelley Halstead, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Economic Justice Can Help Undo Economic Violence

Vicki Shabo, National Partnership for Women & Families, Domestic Violence and the Need for Paid “Safe” Days

Sameera Hafiz, We Belong Together, Why We Must Protect Immigrant Survivors of Domestic Violence 

We’re also posting daily informational blogs about different aspects of violence, authored by YWCA USA Advocacy and Mission Impact staff. Check back throughout the week for more of these posts!

Thank you to all of our carnival participants. Check out our hashtag #workagainstviolence to see all of the posts and activities that are taking place across the country today, and we welcome you to join the conversation!

To find out how your local YWCA is celebrating Week Without Violence™find the location nearest you.

YWCA Week Without ViolenceThis post is part of the YWCA Week Without Violence™ 2014 Blog Carnival. We invite you to join the dialogue! Post your comment below, share your story and follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #workagainstviolence.

Posted in Advocacy and Policy, Children's Health and Safety, Domestic Violence, Hate Crimes, Immigration, Racial Justice, Sexual Assault, Violence Against Women, Week Without Violence | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

National Voter Registration Day is Here!

By Desiree Hoffman
Director of Advocacy and Policy

Desiree Hoffman

Desiree Hoffman

The YWCA USA is excited to partner with Nonprofit VOTE for National Voter Registration Day (NVRD) 2014 on September 23!

Close to 50 local YWCAs across the country are engaged in this day of democracy, and have pledged to register their own staff, or partner with allied organizations such as the League of Women Voters, to vote in the upcoming midterm elections. The stakes are high, with the entire House of Representatives up for grabs and one-third of the Senate up for re-election. And there’s a chance that the House of Representatives could be made up of 20% female Representatives for the first time in its history if key races are won.

One way to rally and mobilize young voters, women voters and communities’ of color to the polls is to talk about the issues that matter most to them. These include equal pay, gun violence and domestic violence, immigration reform, education, raising the minimum wage, affordable and quality health care, and child care.

Unfortunately, there is a problem: turnout of women voters during mid-term elections is typically low. Although unmarried women made up a quarter of the electorate voting for President in 2012, voter participation among unmarried women will drop off significantly in the upcoming mid-term: from 58% in 2012 to 39% in 2014.

As Hillary Clinton said recently, “I know that they might not be as glamorous as presidential elections, but these upcoming midterm elections are crucial.”

The National Association of Secretaries passed a five-year resolution declaring the fourth Tuesday of every September to be National Voter Registration Day. If you haven’t registered to vote or need a refresher on how, click here, and visit your local YWCA to find out more.

Need help registering? Click here to download a PDF of state-based resources from the YWCA USA.

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Posted in Advocacy and Policy, Economic Empowerment, Empowering Women, Upcoming Events, Voting, Young Women | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why I (Will) Vote: To Make A Difference

Voting for leaders and policies that will put us on a path toward ending homelessness is essential. Registering to vote is the first step in creating change through the democratic process, but about a quarter of Washingtonians who are eligible to vote aren’t registered! To inspire our readers to register (or to update your registered address if you’ve moved), we invited a variety of people to tell us their thoughts on the importance of voting. We’re sharing their responses in the lead-up to National Voter Registration Day, which is tomorrow!

Today’s post comes from Leyi, a Franklin High School student who spent her summer working in my office at the YWCA. Leyi clearly understands the importance of civic participation, even though she’s not yet of voting age. This post reminds me that all of us who are old enough to vote bear the responsibility electing leaders who will best serve Leyi and other young people. -Denise

It's fun to intern with the Y-W-C-A! GirlsFirst summer intern Leyi Lei (front) strikes a pose with members of YWCA Seattle | King | Snohomish's Community Engagement team. As part of her internship, Leyi wrote today's blog post about the importance of voting. Photo credit: Katie Barnett.

It’s fun to intern with the Y-W-C-A! GirlsFirst summer intern Leyi Lei (front) strikes a pose with members of YWCA Seattle | King | Snohomish’s Community Engagement team. As part of her internship, Leyi wrote today’s blog post about the importance of voting. Photo credit: Katie Barnett.

Written by Leyi Lei, GirlsFirst participant and summer intern for the YWCA Seattle | King | Snohomish Advancement Division

Why is voting important? I mean, if things are just going to turn out more or less the same way every time, why bother to vote? Other people will make the change, right?

This idea travels through the heads of many teenagers, and even adults, today. This thought is dangerous is because it shuts down people who have the potential to vote. The “other people” who you hope to make the change are thinking the same thoughts as you. The “other people” are hoping you make the change by voting.

One voice won’t matter, right?

But now thousands of other voices are being shut down the same way.

Now I don’t mean to make this all dramatic. If you choose to vote, that’s great! If not, okay, that’s your choice. For me, I believe that this is the chance to really do something. Our voices are telling officials that we care about important issues in our community and the world, like housing, education or public safety.

No matter how insignificant you think your voice sounds, it is still your way to contribute and to speak up. That is one reason why I am looking forward to voting; even though my part seems small, it is a part of the bigger picture. Just knowing that my voice is not necessarily being ignored, but that it’s being counted as part of everyone’s collective voice, is the most important thing.

Voting is exercising your freedom to speak up. It’s your chance to legally have a say in the system. It may seem like such a long time ago that people fought for our rights to vote, and for women to finally have a say along with men. But those who fought so hard for our rights are to be respected. And what is a better way to honor our history than by speaking up?

Vote because you have the right to. But more importantly, vote to make a difference.

Click the image below to register or update your registered address online:

register to vote

WHAT YOU CAN DO

  1. Register to vote, or update your registration address. Not sure if you’re eligible to vote? Visit the Secretary of State’s website to find out.
  2. Are you a homeless service provider? Help your program participants register to vote. The Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness has a useful Homeless Voters’ Information Guide.
  3. Share this post on social media. It may be just the reminder your friends and family need to register!
  4. Subscribe to this blog, where we’ll keep sharing more compelling reasons you should register and vote.

Cross-posted with permission from Firesteel, a network of Washington YWCAs committed to ending family homelessness

Posted in Advocacy and Policy, Empowering Women, Upcoming Events, Voting | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Recognizing the Importance of the Violence Against Women Act on Its 20th Anniversary

By Hannah Brinson
Violence Prevention Project Coordinator, YWCA Knoxville

Hannah Brinson

Hannah Brinson

This Saturday marks the 20th Anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA. VAWA was enacted in 1994 and includes measures to keep victims safe, and to hold perpetrators accountable. Here at the YWCA in Knoxville, Tennessee, the funding provided by VAWA has revolutionized our preventative and victim advocacy services. As we celebrate the anniversary of VAWA, we are particularly excited about a program VAWA funding allows us to offer to our community.

Our Engaging Men and Boys project is funded through the Office on Violence Against Women and directly involves men and boys in domestic violence prevention. The YWCA Knoxville’s project is creating a bystander intervention curriculum for middle school males, specifically those who are at-risk to witness or perpetrate domestic violence now or in the future. The bystander intervention curriculum will teach young men about domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking, and help them learn new, creative, and safe ways to intervene when they witness violence against women, or acts or behaviors that perpetrate the culture of violence against women. Because it targets middle school males who were not formerly reached by efforts to engage young men in bystander intervention, this curriculum will be the first of its kind. The Engaging Men and Boys project will also utilize a multimedia campaign to raise awareness about domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking, and to increase understanding of men’s abilities to prevent violence against women in the community.

As it picks up speed, the need for this VAWA-funded project has become readily apparent: one middle school participant witnessed a sexual assault in the school bathroom; two young brothers are living with a father who, just the week before, strangled and beat their mother; and a professional contributor told of how her sister was murdered by an abusive husband.

The Engaging Men and Boys project’s importance and relevance is emphasized in light of two major news stories this week, one local and one national. Locally, a report released Tuesday ranked Tennessee 10th in the nation for male to female homicide, and nationally, headlines were made when the video of NFL player Ray Rice’s brutal assault on his then-fiancé was leaked. This is a perfect time to begin talking to men and boys in our communities about violence against women and how they can be a part of prevention.

Join us this month in celebrating the impact of the Violence against Women Act in your community, the work you do, and the services provided. Remember the role it has played in decreasing the rate of domestic violence across the country, and the groundbreaking programs it has funded and inspired. Keep it in mind when you discuss your work with colleagues, friends, and fellow community members, and encourage them to vote for politicians who will reauthorize it when the time comes.

As the Violence Prevention Project Coordinator, Brinson manages the Engaging Men and Boys project. She has experience in Child Welfare and in Domestic Violence Advocacy. Brinson has a Master of Science from the University of Tennessee in Child and Family Studies, and a Bachelor of Arts in Women’s Studies from Berea College.

 

Posted in Advocacy and Policy, Children's Health and Safety, Domestic Violence, Violence Against Women, Women's Health | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

YWCA Billings Launches Campaign to Reach Victims of Abuse

By Merry Lee Olson
CEO, YWCA Billings 

ywca billings

Twenty years after the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was put in place to try to protect women, its value is more important than ever—and as needed in lesser populated regions of the country as it is in cities. Such is the case in Montana, where the entire state’s population only recently hit the 1-million mark.

Through its campaign, “Reaching Every Woman®,” YWCA Billings helps victims of domestic violence understand how to obtain help and enlists the community in getting the word out about the problem and available resources.

One in every three women in the 18,512 square-mile region that surrounds Billings is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or harassment. And with VAWA-based funding and help from other grants and supporters, YWCA Billings is able to help women even in very rural reaches—including the small towns and Native American reservations near Billings, which is Montana’s largest center of population and commerce.

“We have a tool kit we provide that has information about how to recognize violence,” says Merry Lee Olson, CEO of YWCA Billings. “It takes many different forms.”

That might include physical, sexual or emotional abuse. In this age of technology, Olson said, it could mean a boyfriend texting 100 times a day, checking up on his girlfriend, which could escalate to other types of abuse.

“It’s interesting how these modern devices allow predators to be more predatory,” she says.

The information campaign uses billboards, bus benches, social media, and other kinds of advertising to disseminate messages.

The informative campaign encourages women to call or text for help. With the most rapidly growing sector of women suffering abuse being females ages 18 to 30, it only makes sense to offer them an alternative way to get help, Olson says.

“They’re not as likely to go to a website or use a brochure as they are to go to their mobile device and text for information,” she says. “They can discreetly text and an advocate at our Gateway domestic violence shelter will get back to them to see if they’re in immediate danger or if they need information.”

In another part of the outreach, advocates go to high school and college campuses, churches and community forums to get the word out. The hope is that women in abusive situations will get the information, or family or friends of those women will learn about it and pass it on.

YWCA is using social media, including Facebook and Twitter, to reach younger women.

“That’s not to say we don’t see women come into the shelter who are over 40, even over 65,” Olson says. “We had a woman in the last several months in the shelter with her grandson, seeking safety from her husband who abused them both.”

Gateway House offers 24-hour support to women in crisis. In addition to information and referrals, the shelter has 10 bedrooms that can each hold two single women or a woman and her children.

In the fiscal year that ended in June of this year, Gateway provided more than 7,800 nights of shelter to 132 women and 122 children. Women can stay up to 12 weeks at a time while advocates help them figure out how to move forward, Olson says.

That might include referrals to other community agencies for services the YWCA doesn’t provide. For example, Gateway partners with RiverStone health to help women and their children with their health needs.

But it isn’t always smooth sailing, Olson says. The biggest local hurdle is the lack of affordable rentals.

Some women end up on the streets or back with their abuser. Some are able to get help through Family Promise of Yellowstone Valley, which works with homeless families.

“We have a vision to create more transitional housing that would then allow up to two years of affordable protection,” Olson says.

Many of the women come back to Gateway House several times. Most of them leave their abusers five to seven times before they take permanent steps, Olson says.

Gateway House also offers other services, including the Employment and Training Center, which helps adults overcome barriers to finding full-time employment, and the Child Center, which provides a safe and enriching environment to children ages six weeks to six years of age.

Gateway is funded by a variety of federal, state and community funds that includes the United Way, as well as private grants from foundations and individuals.

The “Reaching Every Woman” campaign is supported by the Billings community, including St. Vincent Healthcare and other local donations.

To learn more about YWCA Billings, please go to www.ywcabillings.org or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

This post is based on an article written by Susan Olp of the Billings Gazette with input from YWCA Billings’ staff. Olp has worked for The Billings Gazette since 1988 and been a full-time reporter since 1990. She has covered a variety of beats, including medical, Yellowstone County government and education. Her present assignments include religion and the Crow and Northern Cheyenne tribes, plus general assignment reporting.

Posted in Children's Health and Safety, Domestic Violence, Economic Empowerment, Empowering Women, Sexual Assault, Violence Against Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Commemorating Women’s Equality Day

By Samantha Plotino
Mission Based Coordinator, YWCA Bergen County 

Samantha Plotino

Samantha Plotino

Historically, women in the United States have grappled with the perceived notion that they are not equal to men. It’s easy to forget that until 1920, women were not allowed to vote: they were, essentially, rendered voiceless.

Often subjected to a lesser status in society, women continue to fight for equality; a battle that has waged on for centuries. Thanks to some truly incredible women leaders – past and present – today’s women are graduating from college at increased rates, earning higher wages, and are better represented in all levels of government.

What is Women’s Equality Day?

In 1971, Rep. Bella Abzug (D-NY), requested that the U.S. Congress designate August 26 as “Women’s Equality Day.”

Why August 26? Rep. Abzug selected this date to commemorate the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution on August 26, 1920, which granted women the right to vote. This unprecedented Amendment was the culmination of a massive, peaceful civil rights movement by women that had its formal beginnings in 1848 at the world’s first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York.

Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, women have continued to fight for what they know to be true: there is no difference in the value of a woman versus a man. And while the status of women has vastly improved over time, it is critical that we continue to call attention to women’s continuing efforts toward full equality, including passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), equal pay for women, equal rights under the law, and a right to personal freedom and autonomy.

A Celebration of Women’s Equality Day

On Tuesday, August 26, YWCA Bergen County will be co-sponsoring a Women’s Equality Day event: From Girl to Leader: A Celebration of Women’s Equality Day. Presented by the League of Women Voters of Northern Valley, the event is also co-sponsored by the Women’s Institute at Bergen Community College, UniteWomen.Org, Women’s Rights Information Center, Girl Scouts of Northern New Jersey, and Bergen County Commission on the Status of Women.

We will hear from two vibrant leaders – Liz Abzug, Director of the Bella Abzug Leadership Institute, and Lucy Beard, Director of the Alice Paul Institute – and you will have the opportunity network with your local women Mayors, Senators and Assemblywomen.

We encourage you to bring your daughters, mothers, sisters, and friends to this dynamic event. Starting at 5:30 p.m., the celebration will take place in the Technology Education Building at Bergen Community College in Paramus. Drinks and refreshments will be available, and parking is free in Lot B.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Resources
The National Women’s History Project, www.nwhp.org

Cross-posted with permission from YWCA Bergen County

Posted in Advocacy and Policy, Empowering Women, Leadership, Upcoming Events, Voting, Young Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment