Archive

Archive for the ‘domestic violence’ Category

Projecting A Cyber Snowball from my Laptop

February 25th, 2010 1 comment
A useful spell in the tub.

A useful spell in the tub.

Just a few short minutes ago, as the snow began to really pile up and the wind to howl, I hit “send” on the manuscript my seven co-authors and I have been working on for what seems like a decade. (In fact, the project began with a symposium almost two years ago; we signed with Cambridge almost a year ago; and the chapters began coming in by this Fall). I’m the editor of the volume, with all of the great and challenging tasks that position commands. So what is this book, and when will you be able to find it at a bookstore near you? Thanks for asking.

The book takes some of the most red-hot, and polarized issues on the political landscape and puts them through a public health, population-based wringer. The topics are: reproductive (abortion) rights; end of life matters; marriage equality (my chapter); the persistent connection between racism and health disparities; gun violence; domestic violence; and tort law and reform. How might these questions and issues be illuminated by looking at them from a perspective that didn’t focus so much on rights and morality, but on the health and welfare of the population? Through some cosmic stroke of good fortune, I managed to convince some of the very brightest and most thoughtful legal and public health scholars to participate, and editing the book was a special privilege (albeit an exhausting and occasionally frustrating one, as when documents wouldn’t do what they were requested, then commanded, to do. I hate Word but that’s another issue entirely.)

I’m guessing at this point that the book will be out later this year, but it’s a bit early to say for sure. But now I can say with confidence that it’s going to happen. (Now where did I put that Grand Marnier?)

I’ll be shamelessly flogging the book in the months to come. What is its title, you might wonder? Well, that’s the one thing I’m not crazy about — it has a tentative title that can still be changed. I’ve been wracking my brain, but for some reason the perfect title yet eludes me (and all of us). Any ideas, readers? Please? A valuable prize to be named later awaits whoever can bring me to my feet in an Archimedes-inspired exclamation. (Archimedes might never have actually yelled “Eureka!” — but I will.)

What’s Wrong with CBS, the Super Bowl, and Football

January 29th, 2010 No comments

This will be the official Grouch Post for January. One of them, anyway.

Maybe you’ve heard by now about CBS’s decisions on ads for the Super Bowl. They’ve decided to “relax” their policy against advocacy ads to allow one from Focus on the Family that uses NFL star Tim Tebow and his mother to condemn  abortion. (The message: “He wasn’t aborted! Therefore no one should be, ever!” What were you expecting in thirty seconds, sophistication?) It turns out that their policy had been evolving, but we just didn’t know it until now. Very convenient.

Meanwhile, an ad from an entity known as ManCrunch has been rejected, with the following explanation: “the creative is not within the Network’s Broadcast Standards for Super Bowl Sunday.” It might help to know what those standards are, but CBS isn’t saying.  Here’s the rejected video:

No, the Super Bowl isn’t being aired on April 1 this year. There’s a great deal that can be said about CBS’s decision. I begin with the obvious question: Would they have rejected a similar dating service ad for an opposite-sex couple? But that’s the easy observation. I’ll bet that the real reason had something to do with the way the ad brings to the surface the simmering homoeroticism in male contact sports (and here extended to the jersey-wearing couch potatoes who watch them).

I can’t say I’m sorry to see the ad go, though. I have no idea why a gay dating site would want to run this ad. The two guys don’t seem to know they’re even gay until they find their hands together in the chip bowl (yuck, btw). Worse, it closes with a pan over to the flummoxed friend who, one thinks, might be checking out other Super Bowl parties within the next few minutes. And do not get me started about the production values. I’m not the first to suggest that ManCrunch is offended like a fox, as they (never) say. They couldn’t have expected CBS to actually run this thing; but now they’re getting tons of free publicity. My tastless ad submission for this blogsite will soon follow.

As the Janet Jackson warbdrobe malfunction moment that will live forever reminds us, the Super Bowl has long been an uneasy mix of family entertainment, statement on the current culture, and — lest we forget — controlled violence.

It’s this violence that makes me so not a fan of professional football. As I’ve written before, distressing numbers of pro football players sustain long-term neurological and physical problems,  often leading to early death and disability. (One might say, uncharitably, that it’s too bad that Tim Tebow’s mom’s concerns about her son don’t seem to extend to his life after football.)  And watching the level of aggression that leads to such serious issues is itself a producer of violence: Domestic violence, fueled by alcohol and the negative emotions sustained by the fans of the losing team, spikes on Super Bowl Sunday. Enjoy the game, everyone!

Equality Forum Day 1: From VIP Kickoff to the Margins

April 27th, 2009 2 comments

Imagine this life: You’re not safe at school. The very sight of you makes people uncomfortable, sometimes angry. Your family disowns you, but no one else will adopt  you or take you in for foster care. Without mooring, and unsure of your own identity, you turn to drugs and alcohol, perhaps landing in jail. You can’t find a “legit” job, so sex work becomes your “best” option. You contract HIV, or Hepatitis, but have no access to health care to pay for your treatment. Low-level bureacrats decide whether to honor your chosen gender on identity documents, making routine transactions an occasion for recurring humiliation.

This nightmare is reality for many transgendered people. Even the “mainstream” gay and lesbian community has only recently begun to wake up and recognize these realities. The National Transgender Panel — significantly, the first substantive program of this year’s Equality  Forum — was an energizing, often moving conversation about the legal, social, and political obstacles that block the full citizenship and dignity of the transgender community. Indeed, the story told  above was pieced together from the comments made by both panelists and audience members, whose input the panelists constantly sought — and received in effective abundance.

The panelists, themselves all members of the community, spoke authoritatively about legal issues (Benjamin Jerner); the national political landscape (Kathy Padilla) and the hugely complex public health challenges faced by this community (Ben Singer).

Perhaps because of my own interest in public health and the legal issues relating to it, I  found Singer’s presentation particularly compelling. He’s a smart activist who understands the need for data-driven results; as he puts it, if you’re not on the public health radar (and you get there by showing a problem affecting a population), you don’t exist. But the issues facing the transgender community are more than a “blip” on any morally defensible radar; they amount to an on-going emergency. A few of the sobering examples confronting this community will have to suffice here: (1) Violence against them is epidemic, and the situation becomes graver as the categories of oppression pile up. Thus, transgendered women of color are at the greatest risk. (2) HIV/AIDS are at levels otherwise associated with sub-Saharan Africa. (3)The community faces high levels of medical uninsurance, a problem connected to joblessness and homelessness, themselves endemic.

Against this backdrop,  many of the issues of formal equality that many of us (including your humble blogger) most often concern ourselves with seem less vital. Really, do you think people facing the kinds of issues I’ve just mentioned have marriage equality on their plate? Again, Singer:  “We talk more about these grand legal issues and not these other ones.”

But “these other” issues were thoroughly chewed over — by the audience. In a wonderfully  generous move, Singer invited the audience to answer a question about the kinds of problems routinely faced by transgendered youth. The answers should pain any person with a halfway developed sense of empathy. One young woman was thrown out of her home and not adoptable. A young man ended up abusing drugs and doing time in prison. Several regarded every day of school as a kind of torture. Of course, any kid growing up gay — or different in any way, really — can share painful experiences. But these really did seem different in kind, not  just degree.

“Every spark of friendship and love will die without a home.”

Yet not all transgendered people are in the desperate situation Singer describes, and, for some at least, it would be very helpful if the state were to grant them basic legal rights, including the recognition of their marriage. Jerner discussed a case with which I’m familiar, in which the Kansas Supreme Court idiotically declared null a long-term marriage between an opposite-sex couple (where the wife had been born a male), thereby disinheriting the surviving spouse in favor of an evil offspring. Although I have a quibble with his reading of the case,1 his point about the need for legal remedy is sound.

The panel ran over time. The audience was large; about 100, I’d guess, many of them young, bright activists.  They didn’t seem to want it to end, and that’s not surprising. There was a great deal to be said. Afterwards, I had a chance to speak to Singer, Padilla, and moderator Joelle Ruby Ryan, a warm and gentle giantess who ran an open and generous forum. Singer and Padilla are very interested in the untold story of transgender activism (newsflash: Stonewall wasn’t the first time members of the GLBT community rose up in protest). Padilla showed me some of her materials, and I’m sure I’m only one of many encouraging her to turn these into a book, or at least a long article. In the meantime, I’m hoping to do a follow-up blog on this issue of the history of transgender resistance — with help from Singer and Padilla,  who are enthused, knowledgeable, and in possession of all kinds stuff that’s by turns really cool and very moving.

I couldn’t have asked for a better blogging assignment to get me excited about the rest of the week.

———

Before this amazing panel, Equality Forum kicked off, as always, with the VIP Party in City Hall. This year’s event was staged, aptly, in the grand Conversation Hall. Probably a couple of hundred folks were VI enough to have garnered invitations, and most of the people I spoke to were impressive leaders of various organizations, or were directly involved with Equality Forum.

Dwight Evans, the Pa. State Representative who received a distinguished service award for his legislative efforts on behalf of the LGBT community, is a gregarious man with an expansive view of equality and opportunity. His charter school has been around for more than a decade, and he’s been a consistent advocate for GLBT rights in Harrisburg, where  the political winds don’t reliably blow in a favorable direction. I enjoyed a brief conversation with him, in which he showed himself to be a member of a rare and beautiful species: the pol without affect. His view of equality? “You don’t have to convince me.” His acceptance speech spoke to the need to “get past typical barriers and walls,” and concluded, quite sensibly (yet somehow movingly) with: “Thanks. And let’s move on.”

Also effective was Mayor Michael Nutter, the poor guy stuck with a job that no reasonable person would have taken had he known of the economic collapse to visit the city within nanoseconds of his inauguration. On radio, he comes across as bright and logical, but a bit stiff. In person, he’s witty and relaxed – but just as compelling. The short: He’s on our side. And Equality Forum founder and Executive Director Malcolm Lazin, to whom I must give props for giving me this “forum” to blog about the event, closed the proceedings with an inspiring call to take part in this Sunday’s Equality Rally and March, linking these events to a courageous march here in Philadelphia forty years ago led by gay pioneers Frank Kameny and the late Barbara Gittings. Very effective — now let’s hope the event is the success it needs to be.

Well, it’s late and I’m almost blogged out. But here’s a light moment from the Kickoff Party. Having just speared an unwilling olive after a too-epic struggle at the hors d’oeuvres table, I was standing near it (catching my breath), when a jovial fellow spun around and bumped into me. He was so apologetic that I didn’t have the heart to tell him he’d sent my only olive spinning out of my hand and through the air. I was reminded of the Seinfeld “Junior Mint” episode, and only hoped that the escaped refreshment hadn’t had a similarly calamitous result. Alas, I believe (but do not know for sure) that it landed in a scoop of perfect, high hair — unknown to the “victim.” If so, I’d like it back. No questions will be asked.

  1. He says the court declared that transgendered people couldn’t marry anyone — I think that reading is possible but not compelled. The case is In re Estate of Gardiner,42 P.3d 120 (Kan. 2002).

Iowa Marriage Decision: Further Thoughts and Some Perspective

April 4th, 2009 No comments

With the ramparts crumbling all around them, marriage equality opponents seem to be left with two talking points, which are really cris de coeur, the last howlings of a doomed defense. First, they fall back on their definition of marriage. Thus, the Iowa Supreme Court, in recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples, has spoken an “untruth.” Second,  they tirelessly remind us that, where people get to vote on others’ right to marry, they consistently vote against it (otherwise put, “courts are undemocratic”). The first is an assertion in search of an argument, while the second overlooks what is probably the central function of courts: the protection of minority rights against the vicissitudes of majority will, whim, or prejudice.

When this is the best you can do, you’ve lost the argument.

Of course, the Iowa court’s unanimous decision, portentous as it is, can’t be expected to bring a quick end to the debate. In fact, in the short run it may yet impel a few more states to strengthen their marriage bans by driving them into constitutional concrete. (For reasons cogently developed here, it’s somewhat unlikely that Iowa’s own constitution will be amended in this way. It certainly won’t happen soon.) Nonetheless, the opposition to marriage equality is starting to seem like a last stand. (Remember the Alamo?) Perhaps this commentator is right in thinking that a “tipping point” may just have been reached:

Moving from politics back to law: The Iowa court shoved the debate towards conclusion with its brisk and effective dismissal of the state’s arguments. I was especially struck by how the court, echoing the California Supreme Court’s decision from last year, gave no credence at all to the vague speculation that marriage equality will somehow harm the institution “in the long run.” And by now courts have seen just about enough of the  “virtual equality” promised by the civil union — Iowa would have no truck with it, and all three of the states that currently have it  (Vermont, New Jersey and New Hampshire) are likely to take the marriage equality plunge very soon.

The court’s willingness to address the religious argument directly will prove important, too. I read the point to be this: “We  respect religious opposition to same-sex marriages, but you need a properly public, secular reason to exclude people from a privileged institution.” That is a thoughtful and respectful response to citizens who sincerely oppose marriage equality for religious reasons, or because of a more general unease. Both of these sentiments were poignantly reflected in the comments of one Iowan:

“Diane Thacker’s eyes filled with tears when the ruling was read to a crowd that had gathered outside the Iowa Judicial Building.

‘Sadness,’ she whispered. ‘But I’m prayerful and hope that God’s word will stand.’ Thacker said she joined a group of gay-marriage opponents ‘because I believe in the marriage vow. I can’t see it any other way.'”

With respect to Ms. Thacker and so many like her, do we really want to deny basic equality on this kind of basis?1 Here’s a quote I’ve always liked, from a California tort case:

“No good reason compels our captivity to an indefensible orthodoxy.”

Finally, I find myself asking yet again: How much energy can opponents justify expending on this issue? In Afghanistan, a law is passed that sets back women’s rights (and arguably permits marital rape); in Iraq,2 gay men and condemned are killed for their “perversion.” I could go on and on.

Yet stopping the marriages of gays and lesbians is worth all of this time and effort? Go build a house, or something. You’re not going to stop marriage equality in any case.

  1. This, by the way, is a “rhetorical  question.”
  2. Nb., the nation we liberated from a dictator.

Beyond — Way Beyond — Rihanna

March 10th, 2009 1 comment

Yesterday, as I was returning my rental car after a mostly pleasant Florida vacation to visit both sets of grandparents, I witnessed a sickening scene that I was powerless to affect.

An SUV pulled in right behind our bare-bones Corolla. Out came mom, dad, and a boy of about three or four. Based on their clothing and the contents of the vehicle (as well as the vehicle itself), I’d guess the family to be at least comfortably middle class. The father, in response to something I hadn’t heard from the mother, stormed over to her side of the vehicle (near me) and shouted “Give me a f***kin’ minute!” He then told her: “Get out of my way!” With that, he pushed her away — hard — and reached into the SUV to pull out who-knows-what. The woman looked a bit startled, but not angry. She walked into the lobby of the rental car facility without argument, comment, or any kind of response. The son was right next to both parents as this creepy tableau unfolded.

While the sickening spectacle of Rhianna and Chris Brown (whoever they are) gets broad coverage, and elicits justifiable outrage , cases like the one I’ve just described may reflect a greater yet much less visible problem. Many women (and it’s almost exclusively women) live under what conditions of what Dr. Evan Stark has termed “coercive control,” in which the dominant partner makes the other’s life intolerable by exercising obsessive control over many aspects, large and small, of her life — and often, the lives of the children, as well. Such acts, in the aggregate, compromise the very personhood of the victim.

Consider this distressing account of one spouse’s daily degradations by Beverly Horsburgh in her article Lifting the Veil of Secrecy, (published in volume 18 of the Harvard Women’s Law Journal in 1995):

“He controlled absolutely everything. At our home…he wanted the air-conditioning at 72 degrees. If I changed it, he would scream, hit, carry on so. The radio station he liked had to be on in every room. I wasn’t allowed to touch it….We have six children. When [they] talked in bed past bedtime he would make them do push-ups. Those poor little kids, trying to do push-ups, so young….I couldn’t interfere. I would get such a smack across the face, my nose would bleed.”

After a short time, the very threat of violence makes the coercive control work. Was the scene I witnessed yesterday but one window into a situation of such control, or a non-representative case, the worst day of the man’s life? It’s hard to know, but if he’s willing to allow others to observe even this much, my guess is that her life (and maybe the son’s) is a frequent, perhaps constant, stay in hell.

But the case also highlights a big problem with acts of coercive control, which is that they often are invisible. Thus, law enforcement, which is now heavily involved in the Brown-Rihanna case, can typically exercise no power to prevent the destructive behavior. That’s why some, like Dr. Stark, propose using a public health approach rather than a criminal justice model to deal with domestic violence. The public health perspective focuses on the population rather than on individual cases, and emphasizes identifying and quantifying problems and issues, and then intervening through community education, outreach and awareness. Such measures would be supplemented by a criminal law approach that would target acts of intimidation and coercion. This multi-pronged approach may be more promising when trying to combat the distressing problem of coercive control.  

Of course, in situations of substantial violence, the criminal justice model has a major role to play. Rihanna’s reported request that the judge not bar Brown from having contact with her (as well as the “couple’s” supposed reconciliation) points to the importance of protecting women: If even celebrities, who typically suffer from no lack of confidence, have internalized the idea — even in 2009! — that their physical integrity can be violated with impunity by those who supposedly love them, then the legal system’s role in deterring and punishing offenders is no less important than it ever was.      

Categories: domestic violence, public health Tags: , , , , , ,