It’s Just NOT that Easy…

By Madison Filzer

Madison is a second year Master’s Candidate in the Women’s History program at Sarah Lawrence College. Her research interests include Civil Rights activism in Cleveland, Ohio, and Black women’s activism in the United States.

When someone tells us they are experiencing domestic violence or any type of abuse for that matter, many people are quick to ask the question, “Well, why don’t you just leave?” and I think we need to talk about that.

Let’s talk about the vast range of reasons why an individual might not be able to just pack up and leave their abusers. In my opinion, if we start the conversation with this in mind, then we force those who ask these questions to think about why it might not be realistic to chuck the deuces and bounce. Also, with a comprehensive understanding of why individuals can’t just leave, we can brainstorm ways to counteract the institutions and structures that place this undue burden on the survivor. 

I spent the majority of my undergraduate career working with agencies that provided services to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking, among many other things. Working with survivors from all walks of life made me start thinking of the “what ifs” when it came to domestic violence. It seemed as if the more time I spent thinking about the “what ifs,” the more I realized that those what-if situations were a reality for many individuals seeking out services from the organizations I worked with. Most statistics state that it takes, on average, seven attempts to leave an abuser before actually being able to end the circle of violence. Since seven seems to be the magic number, I want to propose seven random scenarios off the top of my head for readers to think about in regards to asking, or telling, a survivor to “just leave.” 

  1. What if you live with a physical disability and are dependent upon your abuser for mobility. How can you get up and walk away from your abuse if you’re unable to walk? By default, you cannot leave the vicinity of violence if you’re physically unable to move.
  2. What if you live in a community that has been traumatized by police brutality. Would you call the police if you’re stuck in a catch-22 between police violence and violence at the hands of your abuser? In this situation, who could you look to for protection?
  3. What if English is not your native language, but the 9-1-1 operator doesn’t speak your language? Who do you call? 
  4. What if you are hearing impaired or nonverbal? How do you communicate to anyone, let alone authorities, that you are in a violent situation? 
  5. What if you are financially dependent upon your abuser? If you leave, how will you afford to put a roof over your head or food on the table? 
  6. What if you’re married to your abuser and are dependent upon them for health insurance? If you leave, how will you get access to healthcare? 
  7. What if you’re undocumented? Do you call the police and risk deportation, or do you endure the violence? 

Now, these examples might seem far-fetched for some, but every one of these situations resonates with me. I can put a name, a face, a family, and a story to those “what if” situations because I know that is the reality for some. So when we talk about domestic violence we need to start with an understanding that not all people can “just leave.” 

Domestic Violence Is Not Straight Violence

By Sidney Wegener

Sidney is a first year Master’s Candidate studying Women’s History at Sarah Lawrence College. Their academic interests include lesbianism and lesbian history in American from the 1920’s to the 1930’s. They are currently pursuing many different avenues for research in U.S. history pertaining to women’s and queer studies and looking forward to working on a thesis related to the linguistic and social evolution of female sexuality.


Content warning: This article consists of narrative, rhetoric, and statistics that may be triggering for some readers as it discusses the queer experiences of domestic/sexual violence.


I sat and quietly listened, my heart pounding, while one of my close friends in high school told me about the fight she and her girlfriend had gotten into the night beforehand. I was doing my best not to stare at her bruised and swollen left eye. This was my first relatively close encounter with domestic violence. I remember, when I was younger, hearing about how sometimes “bad boyfriends or husbands beat their women.” However, all of the rhetoric I had ever heard, or read, about abusive partnerships consisted of a single story: men abusing women. I am writing this article for the purpose of displacing this narrative because domestic violence is not limited to cisgendered, heterosexual relationships.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence provides the following statistics on queer/trans relationship abuse:

  • 43.8% of lesbian women and 61.1% of bisexual women have expereinced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner
  • 26% of gay men and 37.3% of bisexual men have expereinced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner
  • Transgender victims are more likely to expereince intimate partner violence in public
  • LGBTQ Black/African American victims are more likely to experience physical violence, compared to those who do not identify as Black/African American
  • LGBTQ victims on public assistance are more likely to experience intimate partner violence compared to those who are not on public assistance (public assistance refers to state/government forms of support for individuals in need and/or disabled)

These are only a few statistics which counter the widespread presumption that domestic abuse occurs only among cisgendered/straight partnerships. While these statistics primarily address monogamous relationship dynamics, it is crucial to take into account the array of different genders, races, classes, and sexual orientations which experience domestic abuse and/or sexual violence. Domestic and sexual violence can occur on seperate grounds as well as overlap with eachother. Domestic violence can also come in many different forms, not all of which are readily recognizable in queer relationships. For example, if one partner threatens to “out” their significant other as non-cisgendered or non-heterosexual, the act constitutes as one of abuse between intimate partners. In addition to this, misuse of pronouns in intimate partnerships also operates as a form of emotional/verbal abuse. Parallel to the assumption that domestic violence transpires only between couples consisting of a man and a woman, gender plays a critical role in how abuse (sexual, verbal, physical, financial, or otherwise) is defined, perceived, and treated by the victim’s loved ones and the public. 

LGBTQIA+ people who find themselves experiencing domestic or sexual violence face many more obstacles in finding support and protection from the party responsible for the abuse. Often, sexual violence or abuse that takes place between same-sex and/or transgender couples is taken even less seriously than that which occurs betweeen cisgender/heterosexual couples. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, “In 2012, fewer than 5% of LGBTQ survivors of intimate partner violence sought orders of protection”.  This statistic reflects that there are numerous reasons why queer/transgender victims do not report their experiences, often pertaining to anti-queer/trans legislature or lack of support. 

Since October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month as well as LGBTQIA+ History Month, I found that this article is a particularly important one to write. In a world where systemic violence is inflicted upon LGBTQIA+ bodies daily, I would like to call attention to intimate partner violence which persists within our own community. Beyond that, it is crucial to disrupt the ongoing narrative that domestic abuse/sexual violence is a strictly cisgender/straight phenomenon. By bringing statistics on the realities of queer/trans relationship abuse and violence to light, I hope that cisgendered and straight allies can be more aware of and compassionate toward their queer/trans loved one’s expereinces. In addition to this, I would like to emphasize the importance of validating the violence experienced among members of the LGBTQIA+ community in all forms.

If you are located in a state that is anti-trans and/or anti-homosexual, lacking support from your community, or if you are unsure of whether or not you have experienced sexual and/or domestic violence; seeking help as an abuse victim, and member of the LGBTQIA+ community, involves facing many different obstacles. However, reporting the person responsible for the abuse and/or violence is a critical way in which victims can be validated and protected by community and law. Below are some resources for those who have experienced, are expereincing, or know someone who is a victim of queer domestic and/or sexual violence. Reach out, report, and support because Domestic Violence Awareness Month means standing up against intimate partner violence in all forms and for all people.

Statistics Source: National Coalition Against Domestic Violence,  https://ncadv.org/blog/posts/domestic-violence-and-the-lgbtq-community

The Anti-Violence Project: serves people who are LGBTQ; Hotline 1-212-714-1141, Bilingual 24/7

FORGE: serves transgender and gender nonconforming survivors of domestic and sexual violence; provides referrals to local counselors, 1-414-559-2123

Northwest Network– serves LGBT survivors of abuse; can provide local referrals: 1-206-568-7777

Weekly Feminist Smorgasbord: Support Body Positivity and Anti-Bullying Campaigns

I considered putting a really really frustrated title for this week’s smorgasbord, as every single thing in the news this week is infuriating me. See below for some examples. But first, some positivity.

  • Yesterday was NOW’s official and 14th annual Love Your Body Day. There are some amazing posts and stories around the blogosphere in honor of body love and self-acceptance.
  • Now, less positive. The Nation reports on the local budget cuts that have resulted in the decriminalization of domestic violence in Topeka, Kansas, and massive loss of funding for shelters and survivors of DV. Though it’s not surprising to most of us, I’m glad to see a journalist openly drawing tacit connections between the recession and violence. This is NOT where budget cuts should be happening:

80 percent of shelters nationwide reported an increase in domestic violence cases for the third straight year. Three out of four shelters attributed the violence to victims’ financial issues; almost half said that those issues included job loss, and 42 percent cited the loss of a house or car. More than half of shelters also report that domestic abuse is more violent than it was before the crash.

  • Relatedly, Jos at Feministing writes about the police, who, she reminds us, “are not your friend” :

This is a lesson many feminists have been slow to learn. Folks who have grown up with the police serving and protecting them understandably think the police work for them. Folks who’ve grown up being harassed by the police – who’ve seen their family members pulled over for no reason, arrested for being in public space, or totally ignored or even charged when they were a victim of a crime – have a different image. When the cops work for you, it seems like a pretty good idea to trust them to serve and protect. When you’ve been a target of the police, you tend to see a different picture.

  • The award for the sexist crap causing me the most nausea/anger this week: “Hot Chicks of Occupy Wall Street.” It’s exactly what you’re thinking: sexist bros photographing and videotaping women “being protesty” and, without their consent, posting the images on a tumblr. Read Jill at Feministe‘s brilliant and scathing smack-down, and then read Racialicious‘s awesome analysis, too.

The legislation has almost no chance of being brought to the Senate floor, and President Obama is certain to veto it should it ever pass both chambers. The House has brought a few bills aimed at limiting abortion access to the floor since Republicans took control in January.

But it’s getting scary out there.

If you’re at Sarah Lawrence College or in Westchester County, the following annoucements are for you!

Last year, with the Office of Community Partnerships, four Sarah Lawrence undergrad students hosted the First Annual Inter-College Women’s Cafe. We invited students from SLC and students from other colleges in Westchester (Pace, Iona, Westchester Community College, Mercy etc) to attend this event. Upwards of 80 students from all over Westchester came to discuss women’s issues on college campuses in a safe space. Some of the issues discussed during the last Cafe were girl on girl hate, body positivity, sexual assault on college campuses, the economy, the environment, bettering and empowering the Westchester/Yonkers community and many more topics! The event was well received and by popular demand we are hosting the Second Annual Inter- College Women’s Cafe! If you are interested in joining the conversation about women’s issues and meeting our neighbors, please come to the Women’s Cafe this year!
The event will be hosted in the Faculty Dining Hall on Saturday, November 12th from 5pm to 8pm. There will be free pie, cookies, coffee, cheesecake and much more! All are welcome, please feel free to bring your friends!

There is the opportunity for students to be a table facilitator for this event. The responsibilities of a facilitator would be to make sure the conversation is fluid and interesting.
If you have any questions, feel free to email me at ewilson@gm.slc.edu.
RSVP by November 2rd to partnerships@sarahlawrence.edu or call 914 395 2573.
Thank you and I hope to see you there!
*********
Please join the new SLC Feminist Collective!

A Weeks is an activism based meeting, creating an open, safe space for women (cis & trans) to talk about any & all issues they face. Meetings will be formatted as open dialogues. Members will be encouraged to share books, films, ideas, or anything they think will benefit the group. Here are some activities/events/topics that the collective will address: – American rape culture – Slut shaming – Body positivity, lookism, and the media – Sexual dynamics on campus at SLC – Female misogyny – Girl on girl hate – Sex Positivity – Acceptance and understanding of trans women – The success and failure of past feminist movements (W.I.T.C.H, riot grrrl, etc.), misconceptions of feminism – Male-identifying feminists as allies: how they can help? – Art history and religion buffs, we want you! Arts and crafts/zine making events to promote DIY fun and help spread the message of the collective!

B Weeks in the Spiritual Space– Will include guided meditation at meetings (to be led by Una Chung) intended to help women center themselves, as people often fall prey to outside influence. This meeting is reserved for female assigned at birth and female identifying people.
We created an anonymous, online help forum where women and men can submit questions, concerns, or anything the feel is relevant to the collective. All of these submissions will be discussed by the women of the collective during meetings, and those discussions will lead us to the answer we will post. All of these submissions will be gathered to be released in the form of a publication the following semester. Please visit slcwomen.tumblr.com and our facebook page SLC Feminist Collective!
A Week Meetings are Wed. 8- 9p.m. upstairs in the Black Squirrel
B Week Meetings are Wed. 8- 9p.m. in the Spiritual Space
-Potential Events are, but are not limited to, Clitfest (Combating Latent Inequality Together), workshops about sex and sexuality, zine making, dominant masculinity, harm reduction, combating the anti-choice movement, etc. We want you to help us shape this group. What are you interested in? Are there any topics you feel comfortable leading a discussion on?
Please, contact the co-chairs Ciaran Rhodes at crhodes@gm.slc.edu, Elizabeth Wilson at ewilson@gm.slc.edu or Emma Harris at eharris@gm.slc.edu and check out our Facebook page: SLC Feminist Collective!

Weekly Feminist Smorgasbord: Inclusive Populism, Domestic Violence Awareness, & Hyde Turns 35

To quote Rinku Sen’s headline on Colorlines today, there is “people power exploding around us.” It’s a good time to be a feminist, for the tools we use to understand power relations and structures in the world are coming in very handy as we predict and influence the direction of the #Occupy Wall Street movement. Indeed, everything–racial justice, gender and sexual justice–is related to our economic reality here in the US.

  • Here is Sen’s piece, which reminds us why inclusivity of interests strengthens, not divides, populist movements:

…[A]ddressing other systems of oppression, and the people those systems affect, isn’t about elevating one group’s suffering over that of white men. It’s about understanding how the mechanisms of control actually operate. When we understand, we can craft solutions that truly help everybody. Building movements that include groups that explicitly address the racial, gender and sexual dimensions of our economic system is key to that process.

  • Racialicious publishes An Open Letter from Two White Men, affirming that OWS must recognize that the oppression white men are feeling in this economic recession is a condition people of color have lived with for centuries:

This unintended marginalization is occurring daily at #OWS. We know this may be hard for some people to understand. Of course, who could expect us to understand what it is like to be reminded of your skin color every time you leave your home? Who could expect white people to understand that the spaces we feel so comfortable in may feel exclusive or even hostile to people of color? After all, we are never told; we are not forced to learn that our skin color is related to our social status; and we are not taught black and brown history, so many of us do not know how we got here–and cannot imagine it any other way.

  • October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Check out the Domestic Violence Awareness Project’s website for lots of resources and information. You can also sign the petition to support education in your community at the Love Is Not Abuse coalition. The National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-SAFE [7233]) is available to callers 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in all 50 states & Puerto Rico.
  • Jezebel reports that British marathoner Paula Radcliffe’s world record will no longer be considered as such because she ran alongside male pace setters. Whaaa?
  • The Hyde Amendment turns 35 years old this week. RH Reality Check has a couple of great articles about where we stand. The anti-choice movement is not backing down, and so neither should we. As one writer/activist puts it:

False claims that abortion is linked to breast cancer and causes women to suffer from post-abortion syndrome are intended to show that the anti-abortion movement cares as much about women as it does about fetuses. However, the theme of contempt and distrust for women, so clearly articulated during the original debate on the Hyde Amendment, recurs.  A recent attempt by Republicans to restrict government funding of abortion to cases of “forced” rape echoes the earlier debate where opponents claimed that “any woman who wants an abortion under Medicaid could go in and say” she has been raped, in order to get Medicaid to pay for her abortion.

  • This piece was written pre-SlutWalk NYC, but it does an excellent job of exploring the complexities of the SlutWalk marches/movement. Yet another example of how inclusivity promotes strength.

What have you been reading this week?

Don’t forget to check out October re/visionist, The Legal Issue, below!