Blog posts

The following posts were originally published in the RICADV News & Media Blog, which is undergoing a makeover.

Mothering in a Domestic Violence Shelter

Sheila Johnson, June 12, 2010

Rebecca Martin is making a difference in Rhode Island by helping survivors of domestic violence care for their children after they leave the abusive situation. As the child advocate at the Women’s Center of Rhode Island, Rebecca makes sure women and children living in the safe house get the services and tools they need to recover and move on. Among her duties, Rebecca teaches parenting skills to mothers: “Some mothers need to relearn how to be a parent because there isn’t any normalcy in violent homes. Children don’t have set bed times and they may not eat properly.” Rebecca says one of the most important things that she does is to prepare moms to have age-appropriate conversations with their children about the violence that occurred in the home. “Mothers need to start talking about it now. You may think your child isn’t old enough to understand the violence, but kids recognize when something isn’t right. Girls who experience violence in the home are at a higher risk for victimization,” she explains “talking to an eight-year-old now will help her manage the issue when she turns fifteen.”

Rebecca lives in Pawtucket with her husband Nick, six-year old son Ben, and four-year old daughter Sarah. She says the best thing that Rhode Island can do for women is to stop pushing them aside in the court and social services systems. “Women are still getting the shaft, and it’s time for things to change.”

Wife Carrying

Sheila Johnson, August 14, 2010

Remember the good old days when a woman found a husband by hanging around the village until Mr. Right threw her over his shoulder, and carried her into the night? You are probably shaking your head and saying, “Thank god that barbaric practice no longer exists!” Or does it? For the past sixteen years, Finland has held the World-Wide Wife Carrying Competition. Last month, 47 couples from 10 countries competed in front of 6500 spectators.  Husbands carry their wives for 250 meter race over obstacles, including a water jump. The prize: the winning wife’s weight in beer. Men, competition, women’s bodies, and beer, need I say more about its popularity? The Finns acknowledge that the practice is rooted in male dominance and violence (they don’t actually use these words), but the sport has taken on a more self-conscious irony over the years. One of the competition’s many rules is that everyone must have fun. Watch this YouTube video and you will hear roars of laughter from spectators and contestants alike. What’s funnier than a man collapsing from the weight of a woman on his back? There is also a rule about the woman’s weight. She must be a minimum of 107 lbs. If she is any less, she can carry stones. The lighter the better? Wrong, the lighter the woman, the lighter the beer.  For once, men appreciate full figure women.

Bibi Aisha in Time Magazine

Sheila Johnson, August 29, 2010

The cover of the August 9, 2010 issue of Time magazine carries a photograph of a young woman whose nose and ears were chopped off by her brother-in-law, while her husband stood by and watched. The men are Taliban members and this is why Bibi Aisha made the news. Every year, 1,095 American women are murdered by an intimate partner. Unlike Bibi, Rhode Island women who are raped, beaten, tortured, and even killed by their husbands and boyfriends do not make the cover of Time. I was curious if domestic violence issues had ever made the cover of Time before, and in what context and circumstances. I did some informal research, and what I found didn’t surprise me: twelve sensationalistic covers. A murderous-renegade survivor, a he said/she said rape case, and something suspiciously called “private violence.”  Two stories about the Taliban’s treatment of Afghan women. Seven stories about O.J. Simpson.

Time magazine shouldn’t have put Bibi Aisha’s photograph on the cover and those of us who have a conscience shouldn’t have looked twice. Yet, the shocking image of brutality is enticing; even those of us who are disgusted by it, both philosophically and physically, can’t help but gaze at the gaping hole in her face. Looking at Bibi is even more appealing because she is a beautiful, young woman. As one reporter said, “she was so beautiful that the first time I saw Bibi Aisha on the cover of Time magazine, it took me a moment to realize she didn’t have a nose.”

Breast Cancer and Domestic Violence

Sheila Johnson, August 14, 2010

Most people are unaware that October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. We generally recognize it as a month dedicated to raising awareness (and money) for breast cancer. It gets a bit more attention because breast cancer does not have a stigma and it’s not the victim’s fault. People shy away from domestic violence in Rhode Island and in California and everywhere in between. Yet, we know people care. I know this because when I tell people I work for the Women’s Center of Rhode Island, someone always says how horrible it is that a woman must go through “something like that” or someone tells me that a sibling went through it or a friend is going through it right now or “it happened to me.” I hear stories by teens, pregnant women, and the elderly. I have heard stories from family members of homicide victims.

While at a women’s health fair last year, I visited the Gloria Gemma Foundation’s pink bus. Within a half hour, three women had disclosed being both survivors of breast cancer and domestic violence. At least one woman said that the abuse and cancer occurred simultaneously.

Since this is awareness month for both, I thought I would provide you with some comparisons and contrasts between domestic violence and breast cancer and make some suggestions on how to help victims and survivors.

  • Breast cancer most often occurs (or is detected) after 40. Unlike breast cancer, age is not a risk for domestic violence. Violence can occur to women at any age, from thirteen to ninety.
  • Family history is a significant risk factor. If your mother had breast cancer, you are at a higher risk to contract it. If you saw your parent being abused, you are at a higher risk for abuse. Children who witness domestic violence are more likely to be victims or abusers. It is one of the biggest indicators.
  • Rates of breast cancer vary by race and ethnicity. According to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, Caucasians have the highest rates, followed by African Americans. While there is no specific race or ethnicity that is linked to domestic violence, it is important to note that women of color tend to have fewer resources available to them since our society does not practice equity. However, just like breast cancer you can be the richest or poorest woman on the block and still be at risk.  Wealth doesn’t keep you safe from domestic violence, nor can it keep you safe from breast cancer.
  • Men get breast cancer. According to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, on average 1.3 per 100,000 men can get breast cancer, vs. 123 per 100,000 women. Men are also victims of domestic violence, but at a smaller percentage than women. Many men are embarrassed by both domestic violence and breast cancer because they are often seen as a woman’s problem.

Both claim lives.  In 2005, breast cancer claimed the lives of 40, 410 women.  In 2005, 1,181 women were murdered by an intimate partner. We cannot rate the importance of one over the other. The loss of life, regardless of the cause, is horrible.

What can you do to protect yourself? There are recommendations on how to decrease your risks for breast cancer. You can find those here. There are guidelines on how to decrease your risk for domestic violence. Among the things that reduce risks are high-self-esteem and the ability to recognize conflict before it begins and use positive communication to resolve it peacefully. Those people who respect themselves and demand it from others are less likely to experience domestic violence.

What can you do for others? Learn more and talk about the issues. Point out red flags. Share information. Tell your story as a survivor to others who may or may not be suffering. Encourage your friend to get that suspicious lump looked at. Share a crisis hotline number to a domestic violence agency. Hold your friend’s hand.




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