On October 26, we kicked off our Eight That Can't Wait Discussion Series, with a panel about Oregon's epidemic of domestic and sexual violence. The conversation (read a transcript below) covered everything from root causes, to common myths, to potential solutions. 

eight that cant wait violence against womenLeft to right: Emily Evans, Executive Director, Women’s Foundation of Oregon; Vanessa Timmons, Executive Director, Oregon Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence; Michele Roland-Schwartz, Executive Director, Oregon Attorney General's Sexual Assault Task Force; Cheryl O'Neill, Domestic & Sexual Violence Coordinator, Oregon Department of Human Services; Desiree Coyote, Family Violence Coordinator, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation

One of the big take-aways from the event was that every one of us can make a difference. Here are five concrete steps that each of us can take to create change:

5 Things You Can Do to Address Domestic and Sexual Violence in Oregon

  1. Believe Survivors. When someone discloses their assault to you, say: "I believe you. It was not your fault. I’m so sorry that happened to you. How can I help?" Resources: Myths and Facts about Domestic Violence, Myths and Facts about Sexual Assault, Intersections of Domestic Violence and Economic Security

  2. Use Language that Holds Perpetrators Accountable. Much of the language around domestic and sexual violence uses the passive voice, erasing the perpetrator and even implying consent. We can combat this by always centering the perpetrator with our words. For example, instead of saying, "she was raped," say, "an assailant raped her." Resources: Reporting on Sexual Assault: A Guide for JournalistsWatch Your Language: Presenting Domestic Violence in News Reports

  3. Intervene and Create Safe Environments. Intervene in situations where consent has not or cannot be given. Create an environment in which sexual assault and domestic violence are unacceptable and survivors are supported—such as calling out rape and domestic violence jokes as unacceptable. Resources: A Call to Men, It's On Us Campaign, Green Dot Bystander InterventionThe Trouble With Rape Jokes And 3 Tips for Surviving Them

  4. Amplify the Voices of the Most Affected and Least HeardCount Her In found that perpetrators attack women of color—particularly Native American women—as well as houseless women, women with disabilities, women with mental health challenges, and women who live in isolated areas, at higher rates. If you do not hold these identities, amplify the voices of those who do. Make sure representatives from underserved, marginalized, and oppressed communities are invited to the table, listened to, amplified, and have their needs met. ResourcesThe Facts on Violence Against American Indian/Alaska Native WomenAmnesty International's Maze of InjusticeWomen of Color NetworkOregon Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence - Work Groups and Caucuses 

  5. Spread the Word on Social Media. Share our new video, "Eight That Can't Wait" - Sexual Assault and Carolyn's Story on Facebook. Like the Women's Foundation and our panelists' organizations on Facebook: Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian ReservationOregon Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, and the Oregon Sexual Assault Task Force

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Thank you to our wonderful panelists, and to former Representative Katie Eyre and to Senator Elizabeth Steiner Hayward for sharing their powerful personal experiences with us!

Eight That Can’t Wait Discussion: Violence Against Women

Comments have been condensed for clarity


“Domestic violence isn’t anger. Domestic violence isn’t a loss of control. It’s not about addiction. It’s not about mental illness or stress. Domestic violence is a deliberate act of violence to gather power and control in your intimate partner’s life. It’s about power and control.” – Vanessa

“Sexual violence is epidemic, but it’s not endemic. That is to say, it’s not a natural part of our human development. This is not something that each of us should expect. It is behavior that is learned.” – Michele

“As far as sexual assault, the unfortunate reality nationwide for a majority of the tribal nations, the girls and the mothers grow up knowing: it’s not if, it’s when. That is life.” – Desiree

“Instead of ‘she was raped,’ put the rapist first. ‘So-and-so raped.’ Talk about the perpetrator.” – Cheryl

On what domestic violence is, and isn’t
There are a lot of myths out there about domestic violence. Could you tell us what domestic violence is, and what it isn’t?

“Domestic violence isn’t anger. Domestic violence isn’t a loss of control. It’s not about addiction. It’s not about mental illness or stress. Domestic violence is a deliberate act of violence to gather power and control in your intimate partner’s life. It’s about power and control.” – Vanessa

“I think the biggest myth is that it’s not intentional. Because survivors often think it’s their fault, that there’s something that they did: they’re not being good enough moms, they’re not being good enough dads, they’re somehow lacking, something is their fault. And one of the things that I talk about is: If your perpetrator went to church and was disappointed with the sermon, would they batter the minister? Perpetrators know where to be violent and how to place their violence in a way that will not be challenged. So there is that intentional capacity to it.” – Vanessa

On sexual assault in Oregon
A couple weeks ago, writer Kelly Oxford tweeted, “Women: tweet me your first assaults. they aren't just stats. I'll go first: Old man on city bus grabs my "p---y" and smiles at me, I'm 12.” Over the course of a single evening, a million women responded to her call. 

Two things stood out to me about the tweet and the stories: the disheartening certainty of the phrase “first assaults;” and the fact that many perpetrators had assaulted girls in grade school, middle school, high school. 

Does this reflect the experiences of Oregonians as well?

“As far as sexual assault, while in the state of Oregon I can’t state that I know this for all nine tribes, but definitely for my tribe, we can state that we don’t expect that. The unfortunate reality nationwide for a majority of the tribal nations—especially in the Dakotas and Montana and Alaska villages—the girls and the mothers grow up knowing: it’s not if, it’s when. That is life. And I know that for those who live in poverty, that is expected.” – Desiree

“I’ve worked with survivors directly for many, many years. And what I learned from doing that work is that almost every survivor I worked with had the experience of early sexual violence in their lives.” – Vanessa

“When I look at those statistics I’m always struck by how underestimated they can be and how true it really is that so many men and women experience sexual violence in their early life. What I’ve also learned is that there is a continuum of sexual assault and domestic violence throughout a person’s life. And so we’re seeing that the idea of the first assault is really meaningful because it really points to that this happens throughout a lifetime on a continuum.” – Vanessa

On how to support survivors when they disclose an assault
What’s the best way to respond to disclosure and best support the survivors who are all around us?

“The best response is: ‘I believe you. It was not your fault. I’m so sorry that happened to you. How can I help?’” – Vanessa

On the lack of resources for survivors
“As a coalition director, I hear from our member programs on a pretty regular basis. And one of the tremendous gaps that I’m hearing across the state of Oregon is the direct client services and being able to support survivors with the numerous needs that are often not funded with all of the grants and the fundraising that programs are doing. So the biggest gap that I see is this investment by the community in survivors and really supporting our programs in a vigorous way. Trying to connect with programs and understand what do you actually need in order to thrive and not just survive.” – Vanessa

“We have programs in the state where there’s two and a half people covering a county larger than many states back east, and they’re doing 24/7 response.” – Cheryl

On the perpetrators
More than half of Oregon women have survived a sexual assault, but that doesn’t mean half of Oregon men are rapists. What do we know about the men and boys who are committing these assaults? How many are serial predators?

“We know that the majority of men are not perpetrators. If we say that 10 percent are perpetrating or doing most of the perpetrating, then we have 90 percent of men who are not. And we need those voices, we need that activism, we need those men at the table talking about healthy relationships, healthy sexuality, and participating in this movement.” – Michele

A Call to Men does excellent work in regards to domestic violence and sexual assault. This work is a lot about men engaging men in addressing these issues.” – Desiree

“As far as sexual assault and domestic violence against tribal women, the numbers are a lot more staggering. For tribal members the offenders are majority non-Native against Native victims.” – Desiree

On the importance of language that holds perpetrators accountable
Much of the language around violence against women uses the passive voice, erasing the perpetrator. “She was raped,” or, “she was assaulted.” How does language contribute to rape culture and victim-blaming, and how can better language be part of the solution?

“‘The invisible perpetrator’—this is often what we see when we read the headlines. The language that we use to frame sexual assault is most often language that we use to describe consensual and typically heterosexual relations. It’s really important to use language that is accountable, that recognizes the forceful act. Because when we have that passive, consensual language, what we’re missing is the intrinsic violent act that’s happening. We erase that, and we also partly blame victims. We imply that they are to blame when we use that language.” – Michele

“Practice restating headlines. Rather than saying, ‘So-and-so admits to having an affair [with a minor],’ ‘so-and-so admits to coercing’ or ‘so-and-so admits to forcefully penetrating’—that kind of language. Obviously we want to be trauma-informed, we want to be careful in our language, but using that consensual language [of the affair] in our media is really problematic.” – Michele

“Instead of ‘she was raped,’ put the rapist first. ‘So-and-so raped.’ The survivor doesn’t even need to be in there necessarily. You want to talk about the perpetrator.” – Cheryl

“You want the perpetrator to be present in that sentence. And currently, our language erases all evidence that someone was involved in harming another human being.” – Michele

On how to meet the needs of survivors of color
One of the Count Her In findings was that perpetrators assault and abuse women of color at higher rates. What can we do to make sure we’re meeting the needs of survivors of color?

“What’s important to know about domestic and sexual violence is that there’s a lot of universal experiences there. All women experience the devastation, the isolation, the deep betrayal, the life-shattering impact of domestic violence. But for women of color, culture really informs how we heal, and what the interventions need to look like. One of the things that’s really important around this is to think about and to invest in culturally specific programming. For people of color, for people from specific cultures, how we heal, how we look at trauma, who we tell, who we look to for support, whether or not a system of criminal justice is going to work or not work, our approach to healing, therapy, and all of that is rooted in our culture.” – Vanessa

“Involving people of color, tribal nations, especially from the beginning is key. Money has been available to provide services to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking since before 1994. A majority of the service providers, law enforcement, domestic violence advocates, sexual assault advocates, are usually Caucasian—non people of color. So while this money’s been out there, there’s not a huge explosion of people of color being at the table, especially tribal nations, and saying that we’re going to ensure that we talk and meet with communities of color to get them at the table—they should have already been at the table a while back.” – Desiree

“I was the president of the original Women’s Foundation board. This is the second iteration. And this room, unfortunately for me, looks like the rooms did 30 years ago. The women’s movement, it was a movement of white women, chose to stand up and say they wanted to be a part of the workforce, they wanted to make change. So I was powerfully impacted by Desiree and by Vanessa, because the oppression, the powerful backlash, the harm, the danger, the death that happens to women of color, never elevates until more and more white women find themselves—that’s a fact. That’s not a challenge to you. My challenge, as it was 30 years ago, is if you would show up in these numbers, for women other than yourselves, for other than your interests, for other than your while privilege—and I have privilege as well. If you would show up in the sense of solidarity, where your limited resources could be deployed and applied, your language around those most harmed, usually on the bottom, you could flip this. We could flip this. Because I could be standing right there fighting with you. Because there’s so many systems, educated, informed, and those who are traumatized, who are low-income and struggling, who won’t show up where they don’t feel welcome. And it’s not just a simple paper invite. It is about what is in place, who is in place, whose language is being learned, whose history and expertise are being paid attention to. And so I ask you and challenge you 30 years later, if it really matters in Oregon, then we’ve got to do something different.” – Sharon Gary-Smith, Executive Director, MRG Foundation

On using gender-inclusive language to support male and gender nonconforming survivors
“When we use gender-specific language, some survivors feel really isolated and left out of the narrative. So how are we talking about survivors and the invisible survivors that might show up when we’re not talking about people who are impacted by violence. And in that discussion we don’t want to lose track of the gendered nature of domestic violence and sexual assault. So we’re really challenged in how we start to think about and talk about this. And I don’t have the answers yet but I’m really committed to bringing that up in spaces.” – Vanessa

“I’m learning how painful that can be, when we aren’t gender-inclusive when we talk about this issue.” – Vanessa

On preventing domestic and sexual violence
“I think that there’s an intersection to be considered here between oppression and sexism, racism, homophobia, and all of those oppressive practices and the violence that we experience throughout our lifetime. So I’m excited about prevention models that really look at ending oppression as a social norm.” – Vanessa

“Sexual violence is epidemic, but it’s not endemic. That is to say, it’s not a natural part of our human development. This is not something that each of us should expect. It is behavior that is learned. So looking at how we learn violence, and how we dismantle that, and going back to the 90 percent of men who are not abusers or rapists and getting them engaged. And then I also think looking at youth as an incredible asset for public safety. And how do we engage youth and talk about and support healthy sexuality and healthy relationships. Starting there is really important.” – Michele

“I know that it’s preventable. In terms of social norms, as long as it’s okay to speak violently about anyone, or to treat children in a violent way in the home, I think that the root cause is much deeper than we think. And so our prevention is going to have to radically change and shift. But I absolutely believe in the power of our movement and us as a people to change it.” – Vanessa

“Violence is preventable. We should think about this as a social justice issue. Because when we think about this as a social justice issue, it requires every one of us in this room, in this community, in our country, to address it. I absolutely think it is preventable. I think that there are approaches that look at the pillars of prevention as addressing systems of oppression, and then the other is looking at health promotion and giving youth information that they are hungry for, are asking for, at a young age. I think we have so much nervous hand-wringing when it comes to youth and sex and sexuality, and it’s really getting in the way of our ability to talk about what healthy relationships look like.” – Michele

“The difficulty with prevention is that for years, especially under Violence Against Women Act dollars or Department of Justice dollars, it was not something you could actually do. For years it was really specific to providing direct services. And a lot of us who’ve been doing this work for a long time were like, “We’ve got to do the other piece, we’ve got to engage in the other aspects for our community.” – Desiree

“I feel like prevention has really hit home in our community. I always brag about what an excellent team I have. I believe on our reservation, we can definitely, with prevention, end a lot of these pieces that were not a part of our community to begin with. And it’s because we have that cultural piece prior to European contact that I think that we will get there. We will get there.” – Desiree

On what Oregon’s leaders can do
What can be done in the 2017 legislative session to make a difference on the issues of sexual assault and domestic violence?

“The two that come to mind would be increasing the Oregon Domestic and Sexual Violence Services (ODSVS) funds, and that’s a direct fund to programs that allow them to continue to do the work that they do. And the other is the Temporary Assistance for Domestic Violence Survivors (TA-DVS). That fund has not been increased since I was a young advocate. And that’s the direct assistance for survivors in an emergency. That’s the support to try to move into a new place or to get out of the state or to fix your car so that you can go back and forth in a safe way and not be on public transportation, or to get your children into a safe childcare situation. So that direct fund is so important in an emergency. So those are the two legislative things to do. I think they’re the most urgent.” – Vanessa

“I know that housing is huge issue. We have many communities who are being displaced, and just lack of access for housing resources for survivors all across the state, and that includes domestic and sexual assault survivors. So working towards amending or creating new policies that will allow for additional housing or for folks to retain their housing that they currently have.” – Michele  

“The other issue that is really looking at health promotion and investing in youth, K-12. We’ve had so much conversation and we should have so much conversation about campus sexual assault, but I’d like to widen our lens and look at how do we talk with young folks. Age-appropriate information about consent and what does that look like? So really investing in state-level infrastructure to support our K-12 schools in implementing policies that support health promotion, healthy sexuality so that we can ultimately prevent violence from happening in the first place.” – Michele

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years. So when you ask this question of how do we end this gender-based violence? You’ve got to incorporate looking at who you are, your own biases, your own fears, your own history. Not just as an individual but also as your agency, as your department, and what your values and your beliefs are in regards to underserved, marginalized, and oppressed communities. What do you know of, what are your fears of in regards to working with the Hispanic community, the Hmong community, tribal nations communities?

And when you’re looking at providing funding, we talk about being meaningful, we talk about being supportive. Do you know how many times as a person of color I’ve heard by non-Natives, “I support you and your work,” and there’s really nothing to back it? So for me, while funding is important, the current money we already have, we should already be accountable for to underserved, marginalized, and oppressed communities and tribal nations. Not, ‘Oh, we need more funding if we’re going to work with tribal nations.’ There should be checks and accountability at every level. Not just law enforcement, not just sexual assault and domestic violence advocates, but grant funders, technical assistance agencies. And we all should be on the same page in regards to what would help the community in the way that they see help for their community. Checks and accountability at every level.” – Desiree

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