EXCERPT from Hijacked by the Right: Battered Women in America's Culture War


ISBN 978-0-9886742-0-2 Diane Wetendorf, ©2013 All rights reserved. Available through Amazon and PG Direct

Law Enforcement

What could possibly go wrong when Law Enforcement enters into partnership with other institutional powers: religion, marriage, government, corporations?

Community policing is a strategy by which law enforcement attempts to build public trust by forming relationships (i.e., partnerships) between citizens and the police. These community partners then become valuable sources of information for police and prosecutors in pursuing evidence-based prosecution. Critics say that police infiltration into community life serves the police far more than it serves citizens as it increases the reach of police. Partnerships come at a cost. Community leaders, independent advocates, and other professionals who agree or who are coerced into partnering with law enforcement may lose the community's trust. Those who agree to join may be given a seat at the table when decisions are made; those who refuse risk being excluded from decisions that impact their ability to provide services. Safety can become an issue, especially in cases involving domestic violence. Battered women's advocates often fear that if they alienate the police or prosecutors, battered women in the community will ultimately suffer the backlash.

Many domestic violence victims don't go to the police because they fear the police and are terrified of being caught up in the criminal justice system. They ask what good it will do to report an incident when the police are notorious for not believing women's reports and not taking them seriously. They know that calling the police may escalate an already volatile situation and lead to serious long-term negative consequences for them, their intimate partners, and their children. Such consequences include immediate physical danger when they attempt to call 911, retaliation from the abuser after the police leave the scene, and the risk of further abuse when the abuser is arrested and then released on bond. There are also long-term financial consequences if the abuser is incarcerated. Victims have many other reasons for avoiding the authorities. They, their intimate partner, or someone in their family may have a criminal record, an outstanding warrant, or be on probation; they or their family member may be a public figure; either or both may be police officers; they may fear or mistrust the police based on prior experience; they may be lesbians, gay or transsexual; either or both may be undocumented; they may have a history of substance abuse or mental illness. Some may have involved the authorities so many times that they have been warned not to call again. Some prosecutors have tried to force victims to testify against their will, arrested victims for having failed to appear in court after being ordered to do so, and/or attempted to prosecute victims for perjury or for conspiracy to violate restraining orders. None of these reasons have anything to do with having too many places to go for help; they have everything to do with fear of the criminal justice system.

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Government

What could possibly go wrong when Government enters into partnership with the other institutional powers: law enforcement, religion, family, corporations?

The evangelical President George W. Bush established the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (FBCI) in 2001 proclaiming, "I believe government needs to stand on the side of faith-based groups, not against faith-based groups. Our goal is to end the unfair discrimination against faith-based charities by the federal government." Bush openly used evangelical language to sell his plan, allocating billions of dollars to "save a family in jeopardy — one soul, one heart at a time." The Departments of Justice, Education, Labor, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture, Commerce, Veteran Affairs, Homeland Security, the Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Small Business Administration were mandated to participate in the FBCI. Secular groups challenged the FBCI as being a blatant violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.

In 2003, the President's Family Justice Center Initiative allotted $20 million for twelve Family Justice Centers (FJC). Three existing programs — the San Diego Family Justice Center (opened in 2002 as part of the City Attorney's Office), Hennepin County (MN) Domestic Abuse Service Center (a county-based program begun in 1994), and The Julian Center (founded in 1975 by the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis) — were to provide support and technical assistance in the new federal demonstration project. Casey Gwinn, then San Diego City Attorney and staunchly evangelical, was named Comprehensive Technical Assistance Provider.

The Family Justice Center Initiative was led by the Justice Department, with six additional cabinet-level departments. The goal was to "bring together advocates from non-profit, non-governmental domestic violence victim services organizations, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, probation officers, governmental victim assistants, forensic medical professionals, civil legal attorneys, chaplains and representatives from community-based organizations into one centralized location ... to provide comprehensive services for domestic violence victims at one location, including medical care, counseling, law enforcement assistance, social services, employment assistance, and housing assistance." Included in the expected services were "chaplaincy or faith-based counseling programs."

Undoubtedly, faith-based services do help many people. The issue is the diversion of government funding to faith-based organizations, especially at a time when the government is cutting the funding of secular services. A representative of Americans United for Separation of Church and State said the FBCI is "a huge privatization scheme, a bait and switch." The bait is the funding, and the switch comes when the funding is cut off, leaving people with nowhere to go for services. Progressive-minded charitable organizations who openly opposed the FBCI during the Bush administration found they got "a steady diet of financial audits, criminal investigations, onerous reporting requirements, and outright defunding."

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Corporations

What could possibly go wrong when Corporations enter into partnership with the other institutional powers: religion, family, government, law enforcement?

Privatization transfers the responsibility for public services from the government to the private business sector, reducing their accountability to the government for things like quality and effectiveness of services. Liberals believe it is the government's responsibility to provide for the public good, while conservatives believe that government provision of public benefits such as food stamps, Medicare/Medicaid, Social Security, and free social services encourages dependence on the government rather than forcing people to be self-sufficient. Despite conservatives' claim that privatization reduces government spending, what it actually does is simply reallocate public tax dollars from public to private service providers through government-funded vouchers and government-sponsored fee-for-service programs. In the case of services for victims of family violence, privatization threatens the diversion of funds away from existing community-based domestic violence agencies and shelters to corporate entities.

Privatization of services for individuals and families affected by family violence opens up a huge market for corporations who wish to provide, direct, or sponsor victim and children's counseling, risk assessment, security services, law enforcement, correctional facilities, batterers' counseling, spiritual counseling, crisis pregnancy counseling, addictions programs, job training, housing, child care, parenting classes, budgeting... the list is virtually endless.

Though corporations may claim they are 'socially responsible' and concerned for the safety and well-being of women and children, their corporate policies and practices often prove otherwise. Many major corporations have made and continue to make their profits on the backs of women and children through lower wages for women employees, unsafe working conditions, environmental pollution, poor health care benefits for employees and their families, and a plethora of family-unfriendly policies. The same corporations that exploit women and jeopardize their children then turn around and fund programs that 'help' the very women they exploit.

Privatization changes the relationship between government and business by making the government a partner rather than a regulator. This disables government from holding private entities accountable for meeting basic standards of stewardship, safety, and financial stability. Unfettered public/private partnerships give corporations access to politicians, legislative influence, and ultimately, control of the government. This is a major shortcoming of the privatization of social services. It's a bait and switch scheme: access to corporate funding lures cash-strapped community partners to the FJC, the switch comes when sponsors lose interest or a better investment comes along ... and victims are the ones who pay.

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Faith & Family

What could possibly go wrong when Religion enters into partnership with the other institutional powers: law enforcement, family, government, corporations?

Faith-Based Providers

The DOJ Press Release announced: "the faith-based component of the Family Justice Center Initiative is critical to its overall success." Most if not all FJCs engage volunteers from faith-based organizations as service providers in a variety of ways: financial counseling, transportation, food, healthcare, and so on. On the surface, such involvement by the faith-based community may appear good. For decades, faith-based organizations — many people of many faiths — have supported and contributed to the work of domestic violence agencies. But we must remember that many if not most of the partnering FBOs are socially and politically conservative Christian organizations that support traditional patriarchal values, gender-roles, and lifestyles.

All who seek services at a FJC have a right to know which service providers are faith-based organizations, and what faith-specific principles apply to their services. The fundamental issue is simply that of disclosure. For example, a victim who is pregnant has a right to know that her local FJC uses a pro-life facility for women's health care services so she can make an informed decision whether to use that service. Mothers who allow their children to participate in FJC programs have a right to know if those programs have an evangelical underpinning. A victim should know whether her prosecutor favors faith-based counseling over certified Batterer Intervention Programs.

Secular community-based providers do not offer to pray with or spiritually counsel victims, if a victim expresses a desire or need for spiritual counseling, the provider helps her contact a counselor or clergy of her choice. In contrast, a hallmark of the FJC model is that spiritual counseling is available onsite. Casey Gwinn claimed that domestic violence victims experience "tremendous spiritual trauma" and that they are "more likely to use the counseling services of the faith leaders" when clergy are located onsite at the FJC. Some FJCs are located on church property or in complexes run by Christian organizations. The presence of Christian chaplains may have a chilling effect, making some battered women reluctant to go to a FJC. Consider a victim's discomfort or fear if she or her abuser is a minister, if the chaplain is from her congregation and she prefers anonymity, if she is nonreligious, if she is of a non-Christian faith, an agnostic, or an atheist.

Christian Marriage

The country's high divorce rate is alarming to the Religious Right. Though pastors believe it is their responsibility to defend the institution of marriage, many shy away from the subject of divorce for fear of losing their many divorced congregants. They continue to emphasize that men have a sacred obligation to lead their wives and children, but they advise them that they need not do this in the old-fashioned, authoritarian way. Many pastors now call upon men to lead in a humble and loving way — the way of the servant leader.

The servant leader husband is not said to dominate his wife, but to serve her by assuming the burden of decision-making and leadership. He is not said to exercise power over her; he simply exerts a gentle and guiding influence. The wife's role is to accept her status as her husband's helpmate so that he can be the leader God intended him to be. While it is the husband's duty to unconditionally love his wife, it is the wife's duty to unconditionally respect her husband's authority. She is not to see her role as inferior or oppressive; paradoxically, in submission she discovers the joy of true liberation. A woman who rejects her God-given role will find only unhappiness and dissatisfaction because she displeases God.

What about the men who cling to the ideology that reinforces their right to dominate through force? How does the Religious Right deal with them? To whom do they tell a woman to turn when the man who promised to lead, love, serve, and protect her turns violent? Feminists see advice for men to do whatever it takes (short of physical violence) to maintain control of their wives and children as a dangerous reinforcement of men's sense of entitlement to male dominance. Men who feel entitled to exercise power and control (even though they refrain from the use of physical violence) are considered to be benevolent batterers. These men exercise power and control over their partners verbally, emotionally, psychologically, sexually, financially, and legally — the feminist definition of abuse. Non-feminists typically judge these benevolent batterers to be normal men, good husbands, good fathers, and good providers... and question why a woman would want to leave such a good man.

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Advocacy

What could possibly go wrong when Independent Advocates enter into partnership with the institutional powers: religion, family, government, corporations?

The FJC model requires advocates to collaborate with the very systems that they monitor, challenge, and hold accountable when they hold true to their advocacy role. The FJC turns their world upside down. The question, "What does this victim want us to do and how can we best serve her" is replaced with, "What is the new protocol, and how will we fund and implement it?" The charade of philosophical and political adversaries as allies requires everyone to pretend to like people they do not like, and to accept practices that they fundamentally abhor. Advocates must either censor themselves, thereby betraying their deepest beliefs and loyalties, or risk being ostracized and excluded from the work they love. They end up living a "life out of context," out of synch with their personal worldview, values, politics, and philosophy.

What is so distressing is that service providers in many of the communities where the FJC sets up shop already had collaborative relationships where peoples' roles were obvious and in the context of their professional capacity. People didn't have to leave their egos, their values, or their politics at the door — relationships were candid. But there are a number of accounts where the planning or operating of a FJC disrupts this delicate network of collaboration, undermines established relationships that took years (decades) to build, and breeds mistrust among community members.

Genuine relationships and community progress are at risk. People no longer know whom they can trust amid all the political posturing and strategizing. While this book was being written, several communities where FJCs are being planned reported severe upheaval. On the East Coast, the town council and citizens said the county is ignoring their expressed concerns and failing to inform them of developments. Another mayor was concerned about regionalizing services, "Once the city gives up the ability to do some of these services, it can be very difficult to put them back together." In the Northwest, long-established community agencies are finding themselves at odds with each other. On the West Coast, nonprofits reported the FJC would adversely impact their funding streams. And in the South, a long-time grant provider lost community support when they failed to renew a FJC grant because of their own financial difficulties.

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Women in America's Culture War

The spark that lit the Battered Women's Movement was women's realization that the personal is the political, that the problems women were experiencing were not the consequence of their personal faults or poor choices, but because they were females living in a male-dominated world. Women were once again realizing, as their foremothers had, that men ceaselessly imposed their will on women in an effort to enslave their bodies, their minds, and their spirits.

In the 1960s, women began to break the silence that had kept them trapped in limited and suffocating gender-based roles. Women revealed to one another the degrading oppression and abuse they suffered at the hands of the men who claimed to love, serve, and protect them. They also revealed the degrading oppression and abuse they suffered at the hands of the patriarchal institutions to which they turned for protection from their alleged protectors — the police, the courts, religious institutions, family members, physicians, and therapists who typically offered some version of 'you married him,' or 'you stayed with him,' or 'this is your cross to bear because you are a woman.'

The philosophical foundation of the Battered Women's Movement manifests itself in its domestic violence shelters, advocacy agencies, and women's support groups. Women support one another as they shed the weight of a lifetime's worth of conditioning, religious indoctrination, and socialization that keeps women 'in their place.' These women gain the strength to resist male dominance, refuse to surrender their personhood, and define feminism as "the radical notion that women are people."

The original philosophy of the Battered Women's Movement held that each woman could discover her authentic self, become attuned to her Inner Voice, think for herself, experience her own genuine emotions, and identify her own values. Women struggle to give themselves permission to live an authentic life rather than a scripted one, and struggle to live according to their own will rather than the will of men, men's institutions, and men's interpretation of God's will — which, not incidentally, are often one and the same. Women are increasingly aware that any man, institution, or man-made god that seeks to control women's lives is not a protector, but a dangerous predator.

Women have ample evidence that the Religious Right is willing to risk women's lives; all women need do is look at the Right's relentless assault on women's equality and reproductive freedom. The anti-equal rights agenda is not about protecting women but about controlling them, as the Religious Right seeks to deny women access to the very rights that would protect them. The anti-abortion agenda is not about reducing the number of abortions, as the Religious Right seeks to deny women access to the very things — comprehensive sex education and contraception — that would reduce the number of abortions. So it is with the anti-domestic violence agenda: the Religious Right seeks to perpetuate rather than remedy the gender-based imbalance of power that would reduce male violence against women. I believe that the FJC movement's focus on protecting the patriarchal family potentially puts battered women's lives at risk.

The goal of the Religious Right remains what it was at the beginning of the Culture War. They want women back in the home and out of the workplace, dependent on men, deprived of the opportunities and freedoms the Constitution is supposed to guarantee to all. The Religious Right can undo the progress of the last fifty years if they can prevent women from deciding when and how many children they will have. Women's education, employment, and ability to leave an abusive relationship all hinge on women's freedom to control their reproductive capacity.

If the FJC Alliance succeeds, it will do so because we treat it as if it were a legitimate player in the effort to free women from patriarchal violence. If it succeeds, it will do so because we did not stop it. The Religious Right wants to destroy the Battered Women's Movement, but it cannot do it. It cannot do it because the Battered Women's Movement is not an organization that resides inside a building, but a social justice movement that lives in the minds, hearts, and spirits of the women who choose to resist male tyranny.

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