Out of the Mouths of The Advocates

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When Human Rights expert Margo Waterval questioned the delegation from Croatia, I recognized her words; they came directly from The Advocates for Human Rights’ “one-pager.” Astonished, I turned around to look at Rosalyn Park, director of The Advocates’ Women’s Human Rights Program; she knew those words, too. The look on her face probably mirrored mine. Simply put, we were thrilled.

Rosalyn and I, along with The Advocates’ Croatian partner, Valentina Andrasek, and other volunteers of The Advocates, were attending the United Nations Human Rights Committee’s review of Croatia in Geneva, Switzerland. The responsibility of the Committee, which is comprised of independent experts on human rights, is to monitor the compliance of State parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Committee examines reports and listens to statements by the State, as well as non-governmental organizations. At the end, the Committee addresses its concerns and makes recommendations to the State party in the form of “Concluding Observations.”

Starting in 2010, The Advocates has studied Croatia’s domestic violence laws in action. Together with its partner on the ground, Autonomous Women’s House Zagreb (AZKZ in Croatian), The Advocates’ lawyers have interviewed police officers, prosecutors, judges, counselors, and shelter staff about how the laws have worked in practice. In 2012, The Advocates published the comprehensive report, Implementation of Croatia’s Domestic Violence Legislation. Based on this report and updates from AZKZ, The Advocates and AZKZ submitted a parallel report on domestic violence to the Committee in advance of Croatia’s March 2015 review. The “one-pager” Professor Waterval quoted in her question to the delegation summarized this parallel report.

In its reviews of State parties, the Committee provides for input by non-governmental organizations, such as The Advocates and AZKZ. Valentina Andrasek, the director of AZKZ, made a presentation to the Committee summarizing our parallel report. We also participated in a forum for NGOs and Committee members. It was at that forum where we met Professor Waterval and gave her a copy of our “one-pager.”

Professor Waterval’s question to the Croatian delegation began with our words. “Research shows that men are the perpetrators of violence 95 percent of the time. Yet in Croatia, police arrest and charge women in 43.2 percent of the cases,” she said. She continued, using our words, and asked the Croatian delegation to respond and explain these “dual arrests.”

Over its two-day review of Croatia, the Committee considered many issues in addition to domestic violence. The Croatian delegation responded, but said little about domestic violence. The chairman of the Committee took notice. He said, in summary, “We all know domestic violence is about power and control, and I would like to hear Croatia’s answers to the questions that were asked about why police arrest the victims along with their abusers.”

Again, Rosalyn and I exchanged looks. Here before our eyes was evidence again that The Advocates and AZKZ, working together, helped focus the Committee on protecting victims of domestic violence in Croatia. The Committee recently issued its Concluding Observations based on its review of Croatia, and much of it reflects The Advocates’ advocacy and recommendations on domestic violence:

“While commending the State party for criminalizing domestic violence in its Criminal Code, the Committee notes with concern the inconsistent application of penalties due to the fact that domestic violence can also be defined as a misdemeanour. The Committee is concerned at reports of lack of investigation and prosecutions as well as lenient sentences imposed on perpetrators. In particular, the Committee is concerned at recurrent reports of dual arrests and convictions of both the perpetrator and the victim of domestic violence. The Committee is also concerned about the low number of women benefiting from the free legal aid system, the low number of protective measures issued and the lack of follow-up to protection orders, rendering them largely ineffective. Furthermore, the Committee is concerned about the lack of a sufficient number of shelters for victims of domestic violence. The Committee regrets the absence of statistical data on acts of domestic violence (arts. 3 and 7).

“The State party should:

“(a) Adopt a comprehensive approach to preventing and addressing violence against women in all its forms and manifestations;

“(b) Intensify its awareness-raising measures among the police, judiciary, prosecutors, community representatives, women and men on the magnitude of domestic violence and its detrimental impact on the lives of victims;

“(c) Ensure that cases of domestic violence are thoroughly investigated by the police, perpetrators are prosecuted, and if convicted, punished with appropriate sanctions, and victims are adequately compensated;

“(d) Eliminate the practice of dual arrests and convictions of both the perpetrator and the victim of domestic violence;

“(e) Ensure the issuance of effective protective orders to ensure the safety of victims and that measures are in place to follow-up on protection orders;

“(f) Ensure the availability of a sufficient number of shelters with adequate resources; and

“(g) Collect data on incidences of domestic violence against women and, based on such data, continue to develop sustainable strategies to combat this human rights violation.”

(The full Concluding Observations document may be found here.)

By Julie Shelton, attorney and long-term volunteer who The Advocates for Human Rights honored with its Volunteer Award in 2014. Ms. Shelton traveled in March to the United Nations in Geneva with The Advocates and other volunteers.

You can learn more about how to conduct advocacy at the United Nations in The Advocates’ new manual Human Rights Tools for a Changing World: A step-by-step guide to human rights fact-finding, documentation, and advocacy. Follow the link here for Chapter 9: Advocacy at the United Nations.

Volunteer Relishes First-hand Experience Working at U.N.

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A volunteer for human rights, or more accurately for The Advocates for Human Rights with whom I first became acquainted in the late 90’s when I joined The Advocates to conduct domestic violence training for NGOs from Moldova, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Armenia. Soon after, I teamed with The Advocates’ staff and an Armenian NGO to undertake careful fact-finding with the goal of assessing the status of the rights of Armenian women to be free from intimate violence. The recommendations from the report which resulted were used to increase services for survivors and to hold more offenders accountable in Yerevan and other communities in Armenia.

Today, more than 15 years later, I am sitting with a number of The Advocates’ staff and volunteers in the Serpentine Lounge in Building E, otherwise known as the home of the Human Rights Council in the United Nations Office in Geneva, Switzerland. The Serpentine Lounge is two floors below the formal major chamber where delegates from around the world sit in an orderly fashion, each taking their turn to deliver two-minute statements or sound bites to comment and vote on proposed resolutions on issues like food, sustainability, or listen to reports from special experts or rapporteurs on the status of a state’s record on various aspects of human rights as defined by a myriad of declarations and conventions.

In contrast, the Serpentine Lounge is a hub of activity against a mellow Geneva landscape. Delegates are in earnest conversations with each other and NGOs to learn from each other and no doubt try to persuade one other. Of the many opportunities I have had here over the week “working,” the Serpentine Lounge has been one of the most energizing.

Every four and one-half years, 16 countries are scheduled to appear for their Universal Periodic Review by the Human Rights Council. Given The Advocates’ special consultative status with the United Nations, we have the ability to meet with delegates who will be submitting comments on the status of the countries up for review this May. Building on the tremendous work already completed by The Advocates, my colleagues and I are meeting with delegates from literally every part of the world. I have met with delegates from countries as diverse as Finland and Paraguay who are interested in how effectively countries to be reviewed, such as Mongolia and Croatia, are with eradicating gender-based violence. We share our findings with the delegates, and in the instance of Croatia, our Croatian colleague, Valentina Andrasek, is here to offer her NGO’s first-hand experience helping battered women. The delegates are both surprised and discouraged to learn the way in which the Croatian criminal law is being implemented. In Croatia, more than 40 percent of domestic violence cases in which arrests are made result in dual arrests, with both the victim and the offender being arrested.

Not only do we share our recommendations and hand the delegates fact-filled one-pagers, we get the chance to learn about the values and politics of countries we may never visit. My mind has been going the proverbial mile-a-minute; I have learned so much about the complexities of the UN world—an alphabet soup of shorthand—where work really gets done. I have found my co-travelers as fascinating as the delegates with whom we have met. And as one of the few non-Minnesotans in The Advocates’ delegation, I have throughly enjoyed the Midwestern grace and calm that has infused our time together.

Thank you, The Advocates for Human Rights, NGO extraordinaire.

By: Joan Kuriansky, an attorney who has been involved in women’s rights throughout her career, has experience running local and national organizations that address a range of issues, including women’s economic empowerment and violence against women. Ms. Kuriansky recently traveled to the United Nations in Geneva with The Advocates for Human Rights and other volunteers.

In Memoriam: Sharon Rice Vaughn

Sharon Rice Vaughan Photo: Lisa Miller, U of M
Sharon Rice Vaughan
Photo: Lisa Miller, U of M

Dear Friends,

What a great privilege to have known Sharon Rice Vaughan. She was an amazing teacher, and one of the greatest examples of a servant leader I have ever met. Sharon was the first expert to consult with us at The Advocates for Human Rights when, more than 20 years ago, we started our Women’s Program. I remember listening to her story and thinking how amazing it would be for her to share that story with women around the world.

Sharon was part of our delegation to the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China in 1995. I witnessed how easily she connected with women from every corner of the globe and how her story touched them in profound ways. The following year she traveled with us to Tirana, Albania, and shared her story again with women from nine countries in the Balkans. Sharon mesmerized the entire room with her story of how the seeds of the first shelter were planted by welcoming battered women into her own home in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and how she and other amazing women built the first shelter. She inspired these women who were in the earliest stages of organizing after the fall of communism; through her example, she showed them that with passion, commitment, and creativity, they too could start a movement.

I am grateful for the ways Sharon changed my life, and I am inspired by the ways she changed the world.

Sincerely,

Robin Phillips, Executive Director
The Advocates for Human Rights

Sharon Rice Vaughan was a national pioneer in providing safe havens to abused women. Her life ended this week, as a result of a car accident in Cuba. Learn more about Ms. Rice Vaughn.

More slaves today than at any other time in history

Flower in barbed wire fence

There are more slaves today than at any point in history. They labor in fields and factories, under brutal “owners” who threaten violence if they try to escape. They work on construction sites or in homes for families, virtually imprisoned. They are forced to work on the streets as child beggars, fight in wars as child soldiers, and toil on farms, in traveling sales crews, and in restaurants and hotels. Some are forced to work in brothels and strip clubs, or for escort and massage services. They are often held far from their homes, with no money, no connections, and no way to ask for help. They fear the consequences if they fail to earn their daily quota.[1]

Slavery is illegal in every country in the modern world. Nonetheless, there are about 35.8 million victims worldwide,[3] with 70 percent of them female and nearly one-third children.[2]

The problem is so severe it warranted a presidential proclamation, declaring January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Today this modern-day form of slavery, also known as human trafficking, is one of the largest and fastest growing criminal industries in the world.[4] Human trafficking refers to the sale of adults and children into both commercial sexual servitude and forced or bonded labor, and involves the recruiting, harboring, receipt, or transportation of persons for some exploitative purpose.[5]

Human trafficking happens every where, in every part of the world. The United States formally abolished slavery 150 years ago with the passing of the 13th. Regardless, cases involving sexual exploitation and bonded or forced labor are prevalent, with estimates as high as 50,000 people being enslaved.[6] Cases of human trafficking have been reported in all fifty states. The United States is also a source and transit country for human trafficking, and is considered one of the top destination points for victims of child trafficking and exploitation,[7] and U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents are trafficked within the country. Cases of human trafficking have been reported in all 50 states.

The Advocates for Human Rights plays a major role in fighting sex trafficking. The Advocates worked to draft and help pass Minnesota’s 2013 Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Youth Act. The law, in effect in Minnesota beginning August 1, 2014, drastically changes the way in which Minnesota views prostitution and responds to sexually exploited youth. Using delinquency proceedings to punish prostituted children has ended in Minnesota, and a new victim-centered response to meet with needs is being established.

The Advocates also worked to draft and help pass the law’s precursor, the 2011 Safe Harbor Act. Not satisfied that the 2011 law had left out 16- and 17-year-olds, The Advocates zeroed in on expanding the law’s protections to all children under 18, and drafted the Minnesota Human Trafficking Task Force‘s 2013 legislative agenda, leading to the 2013 law expanding protections.

The Advocates also participated in creating a victim-centered response — referred to as the “No Wrong Door Model” — and published a report on the process, entitled Safe Harbor: Fulfilling Minnesota’s Promise to Protect Sexually Exploited Youth.

The Advocates is now focused on developing educational resources for community, social service providers, and teachers. It is pinpointing best practices for identifying victims and preventing this abuse, as well as cataloging referrals and resources available under the law. In addition, The Advocates is providing public education on trafficking, and is working throughout Minnesota in collaboration with the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office, the Minnesota entity charged with training law enforcement agencies and prosecutors on the law’s new approach to trafficking.

Setting the stage for Minnesota’s paradigm shift was The Advocates 2008 report, Sex Trafficking Needs Assessment for the State of Minnesota, which included recommendations for responding to sex trafficking. Paramount was the human rights principle that people who are trafficked should be identified as victims, not criminals. The report emphasized that trafficking victims require specialized services, not detention and prosecution.

“Our ultimate goal is to bring the sale of people to an end; it must cease to be normal, acceptable, or profitable,” said Beatriz Menanteau, a staff attorney with The Advocates’ Women’s Human Rights Program.

By: The Advocates for Human Rights’ Emily Farell and Susan L. Banovetz


[1] Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons Report, 2009, http://www.womenfound.org/people-not-property-zero-tolerance-for-trafficking/

[2] United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2014 Global Trafficking in Persons Report, http://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/glotip/GLOTIP14_ExSum_english.pdf.

[3] Walk Free Foundation, 2014 Global Slavery Index, http://www.globalslaveryindex.org/.

[4] UNHCR. Conference puts focus on human trafficking, fastest growing criminal industry. Oct. 11, 2010. http://www.unhcr.org/4cb315c96.html.

[5] The Advocates for Human Rights, “Sex Trafficking Needs Assessment for the State of Minnesota,” http://www.theadvocatesforhumanrights.org/uploads/report_final.10.13.08.pdf.

[6] Clawson, Heather J., Nicole Dutch, Amy Solomon, and Lisa Goldblatt Grace, “Human Trafficking Into and Within the United States: A Review of the Literature,” Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2009. http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/07/humantrafficking/litrev/.

[7] UNICEF USA, Child Trafficking, http://www.unicefusa.org/mission/protect/trafficking.

2014’s Lesson: Take Action. Lives Depend on It.

Painted hand for WordPressDecember has been a terrible month for human rights—from the U.S. Senate’s report confirming the use of torture, to the slaughter of Pakastani school children, to two grand jury decisions not to indict police officers for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Overall, 2014 has been an extremely troubling year. Some human rights abuses garnered a lot of attention; many did not, taking place under the radar of the media and public conversation. Let’s consider a few examples, and let them serve as a call to action.

  1. Boko Haram militants kidnapped 276 girls from a school in Chibok, Nigeria one night in mid-April. This travesty garnered wide media attention and support from around the world, with celebrities carrying “Bring Back Our Girls” placards and rallies demanding the girls’ return. Unfortunately, 219 girls are reported to remain in captivity. Boko Haram continued its reign of terror, and is responsible for other atrocities throughout Somalia and Nigeria during 2014, including kidnappings, mass recruitment of child soldiers, and bombings of churches and public squares. Just this month news reports surfaced that Boko Haram kidnapped at least 185 women and children and killed 32 people in northeast Nigeria.
  2. Central American refugees―mostly children (and many by themselves)―are seeking asylum, after journeying across one of the world’s most dangerous migrant routes to escape horrific violence in their home countries. The crisis was brought to light and much of the nation was shocked when, in June, images of children being held by US authorities surfaced, showing children crowded in makeshift prisons, and crammed into rooms and sleeping on concrete floors. Instead of treating them as refugees and in accordance with internationally-recognized human rights standards, the U.S. has treated these children as national security threats, warehousing them in razor-wired prisons, detaining them in horrendous conditions, and subjecting them to expedited proceedings to deport them at warp speed and back to the life-threatening dangers they fled.
  3. The terrorist organization ISIL has committed gruesome acts of violence that have alarmed the world community, including murdering political opposition members in mass, enslaving and brutalizing women and girls, and forcing young boys into its ranks. An August attack by ISIL in the Sinjar region caused thousands of Shiites and Yazidis to flee; in October, ISIL abducted 5,000-7,000 Yazidi women and children and sold them into slavery, reported the UN.
  4. Grand jury decisions not to indict police officers for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner highlighted racial profiling, police brutality, and failures of the justice system throughout the country, including a police officer shooting 12-year-old Tamir Rice to death in Cleveland, Ohio.
  5. The Ethiopian government attacked a student protest in the nation’s Oromia region in April, killing as many as 47 students, as some reports indicate. The Ethiopian government has persecuted and targeted the Oromo people for years, subjecting Oromo to abduction, mass incarceration, and extreme levels of torture, including electric shock and repeated rapes.
  6. Nearly 200,000 people have been killed and millions more took flight because of violence in Syria―the world’s largest refugee crisis resulting from a civil war that has raged in the region following popular uprising during the Arab Spring in 2011. To date, UNHCR estimates that more than 2.5 million refugees have fled the disaster, surpassing the refugee crises in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, and Central America.
  7. Countries took huge steps backward for rights of LGBTI communities, enacting draconian laws which punish homosexuality with prison terms, torture, and death. Members of LGBTI communities in some countries are hunted down by vigilantes and are beaten or killed. In 2014, Uganda enacted one of the most notorious laws—its “Kill the Gays” law—punishing homosexuality with life in prison. The Ugandan Constitutional Court struck down law. Unfortunately, because the court ruled on procedural grounds rather than on the merits, the court’s decision does not bar parliament from adopting an identical law in the future. And homosexuality remains a criminal act in Uganda, as it was before the new law was signed.
  8. The U.S.’s use of drone strikes are a significant setback to international law, setting new precedents for use of force by nations around the world. As of November 2014, attempts to kill 41 people resulted in snuffing out the lives of an estimated 1,147 individuals, reports The Guardian. The U.S. has, to date, used drones to execute without trial some 4,700 people— including civilians and children—in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, all countries against whom the U.S. has not declared war, the organization Reprieve reports.
  9. An Egyptian court sentenced 529 people to death in a mass trial in March. The next month, a court sentenced another 680 to death in a proceeding that lasted only a few minutes. These mass executions, issued by a military government than came to power in a July 2013 coup, represent some of the largest ordered executions in the last century. Activists who supported efforts to oust former President Hosni Mubarak continue to be rounded up and targeted by the military, aiming to crush political opposition and to roll back achievements made during the Arab Spring. And in November, an Egyptian court dismissed conspiracy to kill charges against Mubarak, and he was cleared of corruption charges; he will likely be freed in a few months.
  10. Women and girls have suffered immeasurably where they should be safest, in their homes. Women aged 15-44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, motor accidents, war and malaria, according to the World Bank. On average, at least one in three women is beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused by an intimate partner in the course of her lifetime. One high profile domestic violence incident this year involved NFL player Ray Rice beating his then-fiance into unconsciousness and flattening her to the floor of an elevator. As a result of the attack, Rice was suspended for two games. When TMZ posted the video of the attack for the world to see, the NFL suspended Rice indefinitely and the Baltimore Ravens pressured his victim to apologize. Ultimately, the NFL reversed its decision to suspend Rice indefinitely in late November.
  11. Harmful cultural practices violate women. Many governments “address” human rights violations—even the most cringe-worthy, stomach-churning―against women and girls by punishing the victims. Or—as in the case of women from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala seeking refuge in other countries—governments turn their heads to the violence, empowering the perpetrators and further victimizing and subjugating the women. These abuses include acid attacks, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, honor killings, bride burning, and gang rapes. Consider the death of Farzana Iqbal, 25, in May in Pakistan; her family stoned her to death outside a courthouse in Pakistan because she sought to marry without consent from her family a man she loved. Consider Hanna Lalango, 16, who died a month after she entered a public mini-bus in Ethiopia and was gang-raped by strangers for five days―a case similar to one in India two years ago, but one that did not garner the same level of attention and outrage. As an added note, Lalango’s father said he would not have made the case public if his daughter had lived because the shame would have shadowed her for the rest of her life.
  12. The U.S. Senate “torture report” released on December 9 graphically details the CIA’s use of abuse, including keeping a prisoner awake for 180 hours with his hands shackled over his head, threatening to sexually assault and cut the throat of a detainee’s mother, penetrating a detainee’s anus for “rectal feeding,” and tying a prisoner to a floor until he froze to death.
  13. Taliban militants stormed a school in Peshwar, Pakistan and killed more than 130 students in a terrorist attack on December 16 to retaliate against the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Malala Yousafzai, the young girl who caught the world’s attention for being shot for going to school. Responding to the Peshwar slaughter, Malala stated, “I, along with millions of others around the world, mourn these children, my brothers and sisters—but we will never be defeated.”
  14. Forty-three students traveling to a protest in Mexico were rounded up and “disappeared” in September. The mayor of Iguala, Mexico in concert with local gangs ordered the capture and murder of these students, reports indicate. Federal police may also have complicity in the crime. The act has garnered widespread attention in Mexico, with people questioning the legitimacy of federal and state Mexican authorities, who for years has been corrupted by the influence of narco-traffickers and gangs.
  15. More than 2,000 Gazans were killed when Israel launched a military operation in the Gaza strip in July to stop rocket attacks that followed an Israeli crackdown on Hamas in retaliation for the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers. The disproportionate level of force used by the Israeli military resulted in large number of civilian deaths. Of the 2,192 Gazans killed, about 1523 civilians (including 519 children), 66 Israeli soldiers, five Israeli civilians (including a child), and one Thai civilian were killed, reports indicate. At the end of the conflict, 110,000 people were internally displaced and 108,000 were made homeless, according to Amnesty International.

What can we do in the face of these human rights violations and the countless others that go unnoticed? Pay attention. Look behind the headlines. Make our voices heard by public officials, leaders, and the world community. Volunteer for projects that address the issues most important to us. Support organizations such as The Advocates for Human Rights which take on the larger systemic issues that allow human rights abuses to continue. We are not helpless. In 2015, we can, by working together, move closer to our vision of a world in which all people live with dignity, freedom, justice, equality, and peace . . . because every person matters.

By: The Advocates for Human Rights’ Deepinder Mayell, Robin Phillips, Jennifer Prestholdt, and Susan Banovetz

Donate now. Because every person matters.

“He could take her away from us”

Woman cryingI watched someone close to me become a victim of the horrific cycle of domestic violence. Her name is Kavita.

“My fiancé took out his anger on me,” she said. “I was told I was worthless and stupid. Sometimes, it was very subtle—he would withhold his affection from me, or he would completely ignore me like I was not even there. The worst was when he would slam me against a wall, hit me, or hold me down until I was unconscious. It was horrible to listen to him laughing as he tortured me.

“He was controlling. There were rules for everything. I was not allowed to do my homework on the couch because it was brand new and he worried that I would get ink on it. Whenever he was gone, I would sneak and do my homework on the couch. (Perhaps I was trying to get some power back.) One day, I dropped my pen on it and left a small mark. I looked at the clock; it was 1 p.m., and I knew he wouldn’t be home until 6 p.m. or later. I quickly got out soap and water, and I was able to get the stain out. I was so relieved.

“Not five minutes later, I heard a key in the front door. He was home—early. I panicked, and I sat on the spot so he wouldn’t see it. He walked into the door, and the first thing he said to me was, ‘What the hell did you do?’ How did he know? I got up and tried to laugh it off, telling him that it was an accident, and that I had succeeded at getting the stain out and was just waiting for the sofa to dry. He acted like it was okay, and I was happy. Five minutes later, he grabbed the back of my ponytail and pulled me to the ground.

“We began our relationship in Minnesota, while we both were in school. Soon after, he left for Washington, D.C. and medical school with the U.S. Navy. After many conversations, he persuaded me to leave college and my family and friends and move to D.C. to be with him. I was used to living in the Midwest, and D.C. was a whole new life for me. I became isolated. I now think that this was part of his plan.

“Money wasn’t an issue for my fiancé; the Navy paid him well while he was in school and he had other resources. But, soon after moving to D.C., I learned that in a different and harmful way, money was indeed an issue for him—he used it to leverage power and control. He controlled all of our finances, and he controlled what I purchased. I was only allowed to buy expensive clothes. Even though we had the money, he made me work full-time at a cake shop and part-time at a high-end clothing store in order to get a discount to subsidize the extravagant purchases. I never saw the money I earned because he made me give it to him. One day at the grocery store, he held up the line and told me that I had to pay for the groceries, or we would starve the next two weeks. I was so embarrassed and humiliated. I charged the groceries on my credit card. Eventually, I maxed out my credit card because he would make me pay for everything.

“Even though I’m extremely close to my parents, it took me a long time to confide in them—they were miles away in Minnesota—that something was wrong. Even though they sensed something was wrong, I was frightened to say anything. When I finally did, my mom would get mad at me for not leaving my fiancé. My dad told my mom that if they didn’t support the relationship, they may lose me forever. ‘She’s planning a wedding with him, and she’s already in D.C. He could take her away from us,’ my dad cautioned my mom.

“I needed to hear that I was loved, even though I had left everything to be with my fiancé. My dad reminded me how much he loved me, and told me that what I had with my fiancé was not a loving relationship. My dad told me that I deserved respect, and that when a man hits a woman that is not respect or love. The level of support my dad gave me helped me leave my fiancé.

“I know now that there were many aspects of abuse in that relationship. It was all about power and control. And my response was a common one. ‘I love him, and there are times he is very loving toward me,’ I would tell myself and my parents. I hoped—I believed—he would change. ‘Why would he really want to hurt me, someone he loves?’ I would ask myself. I downplayed his behavior and the abuse, telling myself that it was not that bad and that it could be much worse. I thought I deserved it every time I was hit. I believed I was dependent—financially and otherwise—on him. And I was afraid to leave. I feared what would happen to me or my family if I tried to leave. I know now that when leaving the abuser, it is the most dangerous time in an abusive relationship.

“I know now that my parents, especially my dad, were wise and did the right thing. They didn’t blame me, and they were there for me. I can only imagine how frantic and sick they must have been, living so far away from me and worrying about me, wondering if they would get a call about me being in a hospital—or worse. They helped me develop a plan to leave, and they helped me put it into action. They didn’t keep what was happening to me private. They spoke up. When I was ready, they told close family and friends, creating a circle of support for me.

“I know now that one in four women and one in seven men aged 18 and older in the United States have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. I know that this is an epidemic that affects every single person.

“I know that many people don’t have the network of support I had. That’s why it’s important for communities to respond to help victims realize they can survive on their own. The best thing you can do for your community is help educate them that they should not tolerate attitudes that contribute to a mindset that someone should be entitled to exercise power and control over another person. Come together to create a network that victims can turn to when they are leaving the abusive relationship. Just like a neighborhood watch, these folks can help a victim leave the relationship. Go to your local shelter and local police to discuss options on helping the victim report the incidents of abuse. Remember, strength is in numbers.

“Each of us needs to speak up and take action because, now or in the future, it could be someone close to you—your daughter, your son, your sister, your brother, your best friend, or even you.

“I watched someone close to me become a victim, and that person was me.”

By: Lindsay Kavita Dreyer, a staff member with the Advocates for Human Rights.