We’re not safe.

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Content Warning: discussion of domestic violence and murder

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A DeKalb County man recently returned to the area fleeing California after allegedly shooting another man to death. (Links to local reporting on the crime HERE and HERE). Mark Sypien had a host of criminal convictions in the northern Illinois area, the vast majority of which were convictions on domestic battery and violations of order of protection charges.

This case shows, once again, that domestic violence is a threat to ALL of us. We should care about domestic violence simply because it is a threat to the victims, but if we can’t work up enough national attention for that, can we at least be honest about the very real threat to the general public when abusers are allowed to escape accountability?

Sypien clearly showed that he was unconcerned about breaking the law.  He abused intimate partners.  He violated court orders of protection.  He harassed victims and family members.  And then he moved to California and did the exact same thing.  The man Sypien murdered was the father of one of Sypien’s former partners.  John Moore, age 76, was concerned about Sypien’s violence, had previously obtained a restraining order against Sypien, and had spoken to family members about his concerns that Sypien might continue to harass the family. His concern was, devastatingly, justified.

How did Sypien continue to evade law enforcement for so long?  How was he able to obtain a firearm when he had so clearly demonstrated a inclination toward violence? How can we tolerate a world where so many victims live in fear of an abusive partner returning to harass or harm them?

Abusive individuals who are not held accountable are a risk. Violence, stalking, and controlling behavior cannot be tolerated.  We can’t just look the other way. Shooters in the mass shootings that are becoming all-too-common almost always have one thing in common: a history of domestic violence or misogyny.

If we are serious about ending violence in our community, our nation, and our world, we need to take a hard look at domestic abuse. We need to look at how we are raising our kids to have healthy relationships.  We need to talk about the connections between toxic masculinity and violence. We need to hold abusers accountable and we need to commit to working together until everyone is safe.

I’m not throwing away my shot

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My partner and I went to see Hamilton last night.  For those of you who aren’t familiar, Hamilton the Musical is the story of Alexander Hamilton, the Founding Father who came to America as an immigrant, fought in the Revolutionary War, and paved the way for the financial success of the new country.  He was also pretty famous for dying in a duel after being shot by Aaron Burr.

I’ve been in love with this show since I first heard the music and seeing it live was an incredible experience. As I listened to the songs I’ve heard a million times before, seeing them coming to life for the first time, some of the lyrics struck me in a whole new way.

In one of the most famous songs, My Shot (link), Hamilton sings about making the most of every opportunity that comes his way, no matter the challenges he faces.  Several moments in the song stuck out to me.  The first, in light of #MeToo, is when Hamilton sings that “This is not a moment, it’s the movement.”  We’ve written about it before, but #MeToo and #TimesUp are not just a glitch or an aberration.  People have been being abused, harassed, and assaulted for thousands of years and brave survivors have been talking about it.  We just haven’t been listening.  This is the moment when we started to seriously listen but it has to be more than that.  It has to be more than the moment when we started paying attention.  It has to be the movement for lasting change.

The next moment that stood out to me was when John Laurens (historically, a close friend of Hamilton) sings that “we’ll never be truly free until those in bondage have the same rights as you and me.” On its own, this is something we as a nation have to learn to face.  We need to reckon and struggle with that issue that our country was founded on ideals that we didn’t extend to people of color.  We have to reckon and face the fact that our country was built on slavery.  Our struggles as a nation to this day are connected with the racist history that pervades every element of our modern institutions.  We can’t ignore that.  And on a more personal level, for the movement to end sexual assault and for the women’s right’s movements, we have to address the fact that our struggle for equality and action was often promoted at the expense of people of color.  White women, particularly, led early action but left their sisters of color behind.  People of color cannot be collateral damage on the path to equality.  We are not free until we are all free.  John Laurens knew this and we have to learn it.

Finally, the villain in the story, Aaron Burr sings that Hamilton and his friends should “lower your voices.  Keep out of trouble and you double your choices.”  He tells them to keep quiet, don’t rock the boat, and go along to get along.  This kind of moderating influence is popular in social change organizations.  We tell people not to upset the status quo.  We encourage changemakers to work within the system as it exists.  We try to reform from within.  That can work.  That can be the right option.  But sometimes it isn’t.  Sometimes we have to be bold.  Sometimes we have to be like Hamilton and be willing to wade into the mess and get dirty fighting for what we know is right.  We can’t patiently wait for men and women to be treated equally.  We can’t just hope that society will stop victim-blaming and shaming survivors of sexual assault.  We can’t ask politely for the gun control reform that will save the lives of thousands of abuse victims who are at higher risk of death due to easy gun access for abusers.  We have to speak out and stand up, even if we speak out and stand up alone.

Hamilton had a difficult life.  He faced overwhelming childhood trauma.  He faced bias and prejudice as an immigrant.  His boldness angered many people in power.  But his strength changed a nation.  My hope is that our agency will have a similar courage and power in speaking out for survivors of domestic and sexual violence and we hope you’ll stand with us until everyone feels truly safe and truly free.

If you need help or support, you can reach us 24/7 at 815.756.5228.

Justice and Injustice

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Today we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Today, we share our favorite MLK quotes.  We hear people talk about his dream.  We feel good, remembering the feelgood moments of a powerful, inspirational leader.

Those parts of Dr. King matter.  We need to hear his powerful words of love and hope.  We need to hear that the “arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”  We need to remember that dream of a world where every child is judged by their character, not their race.  We need the inspiration that through it all, Dr. King chose love, not hate.

But we also need to hear and to heed his powerful words of justice.  We need to remember that while he lived, he was often reviled and dismissed by white leaders and white communities.  He was considered dangerous and radical because he spoke truth into a world of racial injustice.  He is the man who reminds us that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  He is the man who reminds us that “freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” Dr. King was and remains a reminder that we must all choose a side, that remaining neutral is not an option.

Today, of all days, we must be honest about the history of the movement for female safety and empowerment that gave birth to shelters and crisis centers like Safe Passage.  Too much of our history was tied up in racism and classism as much as it was tied up in feminism.  Founding mothers often fought for the rights of white women at the expense of our sisters of color.  We fought for emancipation for white women, willing to sacrifice emancipation for people of color if it got white females the vote.  We made progress in diagnosing and treating critical women’s health issues, but have rarely admitted or made restitution for the fact that these medical breakthroughs were thanks to non-consensual medical experimentation on enslaved women of color.  We have fought for reproductive justice, ignoring the very recent history of sterilization programs for incarcerated women of color.  We speak out against domestic and sexual violence, but rarely stop to highlight the incredible dangers faced by transwomen, and particularly transwomen of color.  Our shelters, our boards, our coalitions are too often overwhelmingly staffed and led by white, cis-gendered women.

If we truly want to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, today is a day to be honest about both our successes and failures to live up to his dream.  We are proud of the work we do as crisis center employees.  We are proud of the work we do as activists.  We believe in the mission and vision to end domestic and sexual violence.  But we know we must do more to include and support people of color in our mission.  We know we must do more to acknowledge and overcome a history of racism in our movement.  We know we must do more to fight systemic racism alongside sexism, homophobia, transphobia and so much more.

Today, we remember and honor Martin Luther King, Jr. and all those who have followed in his powerful footsteps to speak truth to power and hold allies accountable.  We dream of a better future without violence of any kind and we commit to holding our movement accountable to that dream.

We Will Not Be Silent

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Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. – Martin Luther King Jr.

Growing up, MLK day was one of my favorite holidays. In school, we spent the days surrounding the holiday learning about King’s sacrifices and together we were able to reflect on the world then compared to now. It was always hard for me to comprehend how much hate there was – it almost seemed unbelievable.

As I’ve grown up, I’ve unfortunately learned that in many ways, we still live in the world that sought to silence Martin Luther King, Jr.  We live in a world too often filled with violence and hatred and injustice. But like Dr. King, we can’t give up.  We cannot stay silent in the face of injustice.

As we celebrate Martin Luther King Day, think about the injustices in our world.  As King did, let’s speak up. Let’s talk about the things that matter to us and educate our friends, family and neighbors. For us, we will speak up and will never stop speaking up about domestic and sexual violence. Stand with us and stand for justice everywhere by speaking up about the violence you see and even the violence you don’t see all around you.

One day, I hope our children live in a world free from domestic and sexual violence. One day, I hope their minds can’t comprehend the abuse, hate, and injustice we’re all too conscious of. Until that day, learn how you can help or get help. Give love, get love, live the love like Martin Luther King, Jr.

Give us a call: 815.756.5228.