The images will be etched in our memories forever, the loss felt in our hearts for a lifetime.
The bloodiest day on American soil since the Civil War played out, not with soldiers on a battlefield, but in an everyday scene with folks like you and me.
That was 9/11.
More recently, natural disasters, tsunamis and hurricanes, have wreaked havoc on thousands of lives. Again, the images won’t go away.
The terror that has reverberated throughout the world has not eliminated other global atrocities that continue to affect people on a daily basis.
And what about the terror that invades our homes, in the confines of one’s supposedly safe refuge?
In observation of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, here is an acknowledgement of the efforts of Venice residents in advocacy and healing that make a difference for domestic violence victims.
ADVOCACY — Carol Tantau recalls that after the O.J. Simpson verdict came out in 1995, a fellow board member of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Community Police Advisory Board of the Pacific Area Police Station approached her about looking at domestic violence in terms of a partnership that could be productive between the community and the police.
Carol suggested this project at the next board meeting and it has been non-stop for her ever since.
“Coincidentally at that time,” says Carol, “there was a request from Sojourn, an agency in Santa Monica that empowers battered women and their children to stop the cycle of violence, to Pacific Division to consider opening up to an emergency response team from Sojourn.”
LAPD Captain David Doan, commanding officer of Pacific at that time, got Carol together with Sojourn and thus was born the OCEAN program (On Call Emergency Advocate Network).
Forty hours of training is mandated by the state for anyone dealing with victims of domestic violence, whether they are volunteers or staff.
Carol completed the training in October 1996 and started to volunteer on Friday nights.
If the police were summoned to a domestic violence situation they could call a hotline that would page the volunteers on call, who would then go to the location to provide resources to the victims.
The program was not an overnight success. For the first three months there were no calls from the officers.
“I don’t think we were in their face enough,” says Carol. “They had forgotten about us.”
Carol changed that by attending roll call every Friday night to remind the officers that she and her group were available and let the police know who was on call that evening.
“So I became a thorn in their side,” Carol said.
A lot has happened in the last nine years. Carol went from being a volunteer to a full-time employee.
After all, she sometimes put in free time up to 15 hours straight and was clearly doing the same work as someone earning a paycheck.
Additional staff has been hired so that services can now be provided 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
And there is a true partnership between the community and the police.
“It’s a fabulous relationship with Pacific Division,” says Carol. “There’s a lot of trust on both sides.”
Domestic violence is not only men against women. It also happens to men, although probably not reported as often because the men are embarrassed or ashamed.
“Domestic violence against men tends to be a different dynamic,” says Carol. “It’s more an issue of codependency. There’s not the same element of fear.”
It also happens in gay and lesbian relationships.
“It’s generally conjectured that the level of domestic violence in same gender relationships is probably the same as it is in heterosexual relationships,” says Carol, “but far less reported because of the added factor of issues that confront same gender relationships, such as where one partner may not be outed and that’s an additional threat that the other partner can pose.”
Carol also knows that both men and women have learned how to manipulate the system.
It’s a state law that if there is a visible injury on one party, the other party is to be arrested.
“It’s becoming more and more important for police officers to learn how to evaluate a situation to really determine who the aggressor is,” says Carol.
Men and women have been known to self-inflict injuries and then report to the police that their partner injured him or her.
Or when one person assaults another person, the second person is likely to try to defend himself or herself and may in fact injure the assailant, and then the person originally assaulted is arrested.
“It’s so complex,” she adds. “Verbal abuse is not a crime. It is not illegal to be mean to somebody.”
She also tells me that Sojourn definitely recognizes that verbal, psychological and emotional abuse can be far more devastating than physical abuse.
“Bruises go away but the kind of battering self-esteem can take without any physical violence at all can be far more devastating and take much longer to recover from,” she adds.
Carol emphasizes that there are no boundaries in domestic violence — it reaches across the board to all walks of life.
“It’s absolutely astounding that the frequency of the idea that a ‘battered woman’ is somebody who is downtrodden and meek and mild,” says Carol. “That’s just not who these victims are.”
Did you know that the law against domestic violence in the State of California has been in effect for only 18 years?
After much lobbying and education, the lawmakers were finally able to distinguish the special circumstance difference between the assault of a stranger and the battery of an intimate partner.
“Until that whole O.J. fiasco and all that TV coverage, domestic violence was a very closeted subject, and it still is, ” says Carol.
n Every nine seconds, a woman is battered;
n One out of every four American women reports being physically abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives; and
n Between 30 percent and 50 percent of female high school students have experienced dating violence.
“There are still people who just flinch when you say ‘domestic violence’,” says Carol. “They don’t want to see it, they don’t want to hear it. They know they’ve known somebody at some point in their life who’s been a victim in one degree or another, but acknowledging that is a very scary thing.”
Since the O.J. verdict, the City of Los Angeles has put a lot of money into additional beds for victims and their children. Ten years ago, there were about 200; now there is in excess of 800.
“Our culture sets us up for that whole image of needing to be with a man,” Carol says. “It’s a huge task to counteract the effects of handling all the media images that we’re assaulted with. We’ve come a long way but it’s insidious.”
Donations may be sent to Sojourn at P.O. Box 7081, Santa Monica, CA 90406-7081, Information, (310) 264-6646.
ART HEALS — I first met Cathy Salser 11 years ago.
It was right before artwork from “A Window Between Worlds” was to be exhibited in the Russell Senate Office in Washington D.C. as part of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
At that time Cathy said, “This exhibit shows people what they do not see in most media coverage of domestic violence, that a shelter is not a place for battered women so much as it is a place for women who are deciding not to be battered.”
The same exhibit was shown in Cathy’s studio upon its return to Venice. I remember it well.
There was one painting of an elderly lady who was Cathy’s great aunt. I asked about her story.
It turned out that she had lived under terrorizing conditions for years because she “didn’t know she had a choice.”
Can you imagine that? It brought tears to my eyes.
In 1991, Cathy came up with the idea of traveling across the country and sharing art in a way that could make a difference. It felt right to her to share her art with women.
She sent out letters to shelters and women’s centers around the country to let them know she was coming. Thirty responded.
Cathy’s work went beyond art, it changed lives. Women started to use art as a vision for what they wanted their lives to become.
That is how the project came to be called A Window Between Worlds (AWBW). Art became a window of time for each of the women.
Through creative expression, battered women and children recover a sense of renewal and power.
Their images of hope, survival and strength become “a window between worlds” for survivors taking steps to change their lives.
In 2004 alone, AWBW worked with more than 150 trained leaders providing art workshops in 55 domestic violence programs in 16 states and began art programs at ten new agencies.
In addition to the art workshops, the shelters offer an art journal with resources for assistance. It was created as an outreach so women know that they are not alone and help is available to them.
“Often the shelters find that the victims aren’t interested in resources because it’s scary and threatening,” says Cathy. “Women will accept an art journal because it’s a gentler way of communicating.”
A Window Between Worlds received a grant to provide this same type of journal to Latinas and Asian/Pacific Islanders and would be happy to make one to reach out to any group that is underserved or who needs a special kind of outreach.
Possible publications would focus on African American, Native American Indian, teen and lesbian survivors.
In 1996, the Los Angeles Domestic Violence Council asked A Window Between Worlds to create an arts program for children in the county’s domestic violence shelters.
The program was launched in 1997 in 17 shelters reaching 1,406 children.
In 2004, AWBW reached more than 13,200 participants (2,700 children participating in an average of five art sessions) through the Children’s Windows Program held at 1,683 workshops in 52 shelters.
“The women are in such crisis that sometimes children get lost,” says Cathy. “Children know that the ‘windows time’ is their time, the only time they really get listened to.”
Cathy related a story from a workshop where the children trace each other’s body forms on butcher paper and then decorate the figure.
A boy accidentally stepped on a girl’s body. She told the boy to apologize to the body.
It was the first time the staff had seen her stand up to someone. She was able to stand up for what she had made while she had not been able to do so for herself.
“Often we are able to fight for someone else, not ourselves,” Cathy says. “Like women who won’t leave until their children are threatened.”
Exhibits are still an important part of AWBW outreach.
“Silence is one reason domestic violence continues to flourish in our communities,” says Cathy.
“AWBW is committed to using the power of art to break the silence. AWBW exhibits and publications unveil the strength, hope and pride of survivors, so that battering will no longer remain a painful secret.”
A “Survivors Art Circle” has been developed to help survivors use art as a healing tool on an on-going basis once they leave the shelter. All survivors of domestic violence and their children are welcome to join.
Circle members inspire and support each other by sharing their art, experiences and discoveries via mail.
A Window Between Worlds recently celebrated its 14th anniversary.
“In this period of time, AWBW has been able to provide a certain component to the shelters that enriches their programs,” says Cathy.
“It’s not more important than the food, the legal help or anything else. But it’s really important to the women and children to be able to work through their experiences.”
Join A Window Between Worlds for an Open House from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, October 19th, at 710 Fourth Ave. #5, Venice, to view “Story Trees,” a new survivors’ art exhibit in commemoration of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Donations may be sent to A Window Between Worlds at 710 Fourth Ave. #5, Venice 90291, call (310) 396-0317 or e-mail email@example.com
Check out their Web site at www.awbw.org