SHALVA envisions a world in which all people feel safe in their relationships and homes. With this vision in mind, the past few months have ushered in a very public recognition of the importance of the increased need for equality and safety in the workplace, and at home.
The #MeToo movement has become a watershed moment for gender inequality. While it started as a cause of action for survivors of sexual harassment, others have been strengthened to speak up. Speaking up, however, does not always mean posting with a hashtag. It could be that someone has the courage to tell a parent about a date rape or to confide in a friend about the domestic abuse she is experiencing behind closed doors in her own home. And for those who choose to remain quiet, we must respect their decision and ensure they know there are safe places to seek help, like SHALVA.
The Golden Globes ceremony deserves applause for highlighting this conversation. On the red carpet, the majority of celebrities wore black to focus the conversation on awareness of and to demonstrate intolerance for the pervasive sexual harassment that has been occurring in the entertainment industry. We admire the Hollywood community for speaking out and helping others with the #timesup campaign, which raised millions of dollars for a legal defense fund. This campaign is not just drawing attention to the experience of movie stars, but is also helping people from Main Street to Wall Street, and everywhere in between. This awareness coupled with the disapproval of the prevalent mistreatment of workers is the ripple effect that we strive for when doing prevention and education work around the issue of domestic abuse and gender based violence.
The powerful messages at the Golden Globes continued during the awards ceremony, as Oprah Winfrey’s speech was a call to action for all of us. At SHALVA, we recognize that all gender based violence is about power and control. Winfrey’s words, “What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have. And I’m especially proud and inspired by all the women who have felt strong enough and empowered enough to speak up and share their personal stories,” ring true no matter what one’s struggle or issue. Winfrey’s remarks are a strong reminder that we have the power to change society and our country.
While there is reason to celebrate the awareness that has been created, the Golden Globes also drew some criticism. Amy Zimmerman from the Daily Beast observed, “With all the hard work that female actresses and activists put into making the Golden Globes actually mean something this year, it’s insulting that those women had to sit next to accused abusers…and sadly inevitable that misconduct stories will continue to surface in the coming days and months.”
SHALVA’s longstanding message that everyone deserves to live their lives in safety and peace has been echoed quite loudly as of late. As we embark upon a new year, let us all resolve to listen – listen to the voices coming through, listen for the silence that still lingers, and take what we have heard and turn #timesup into reality.
The trauma children experience when witnessing their mothers being abused has been researched many times, but new research is focusing on the relationships between the mother and child. “It is crucial that a strong relationship is developed and that mothers keep a line of communication going with their children,” says SHALVA Clinical Director Barbara Siegel. This observation is the focus of a recent article in the December/January 2018 Domestic Violence Report from the Civic Research Institute. A study conducted by the Canadian Social Services and Humanities Research Council yielded four fascinating findings:
The research concluded that women’s experiences of abuse and children’s exposure are inextricably linked. It is not surprising that the children’s sense of well-being depends on the mother’s experiences and well-being.
Ms. Siegel has seen the same results during her 21 years at SHALVA. Mothers must reassure children that regardless of the situation, they will always be there for them. When there is a strong mother-child relationship, “Mothers listen to their children, validate what they are seeing, and teach their children tools to communicate with the other parent. A child being able to tell Dad, ‘I need to spend some time by myself in my room,’ is going to be much more effective than Mom telling her ex-husband, ‘You need to let her spend time in her room.’”
I was the luncheon speaker at SHALVA in 2007 and fell in love with the people in this organization. A couple years later, I was invited again to be the speaker, and we joked about me being on the Board as we were posing for a photo. It was a joke only because I live in Boston! But my family is from Chicago, I grew up in Skokie, and my Mom lives in Northbrook. I come back to see her once or twice a month. So I joined the Board.
SHALVA is an organization with such a big, generous heart. The staff is so dedicated and loving, the board members are so caring. We all want to lift each other up, to keep one another safe, to help one another out of any situation that holds us back from living a full and equal life.
What do you think will change about domestic abuse over the next five years?
I think the #MeToo movement will start focusing on domestic violence very soon, and that we are witnessing—and creating—an historic moment of social change. You can participate by just having #MeToo conversations about how it applies to family violence. The door is open, and we need to walk through it now! We need to have real dialogue about women’s rights to be free from all gender discrimination.
What do you do when you aren’t giving your time to SHALVA?
When not giving my time to SHALVA, I teach at Harvard Law School and am the Founding Director of the Gender Violence Program. My main areas of focus are preventing intimate partner homicide through the use of GPS monitoring for high-risk offenders to enforce orders of protection and working to stop campus sexual assault.