Why “Slap Her” Video by Fanpage.it and Ciaopeople Media Group is Important

If something begins, reignites, or furthers a conversation does it have merit?

Still shot from  Italian video journalist Luca Lavarone's "From a slap" PSA video.

Still shot from Italian video journalist Luca Lavarone’s “From a slap” PSA video.

The million of views of “Dalle uno schiaffo” or “From a Slap” in the days following its release ought to count for something. If nothing else, perhaps it is a demonstration of the yearning people around the world share for truly meaningful messages about domestic violence and the value women and girls ought to hold in society.

"Martina" of the "From a slap" video by Fanpage.it.

“Martina” of the “From a slap” video by Fanpage.it.

In the short video we see six young boys introduce themselves, state their age, say what they want to be when they grow up and why they want to do these careers. A few moments later a girl named “Martina” enters the frame, but we aren’t given any facts about “Martina” that humanize her to the boys or to the viewer. She never speaks, except once to say “Grazie” when one of the boys tells her she is a ‘very pretty girl.’ Her sole purpose is to be a pretty object placed before the boys in this “social experiment” from Ciaopeople Media Group that runs Fanpage.it, an online newspaper that had Italian video journalist Luca Lavarone produce the video to raise awareness toward the epidemic violence Italian women face in intimate relationships.

 

 

With startling article titles like “Watch a Grown Man Ask a Little Boy to Hit a Girl” (TIME) the video continues to circle the Internet. It is being called a “heartwarming tearjerker” and a “remarkable PSA” . Not only does AdWeek think the video is remarkable, writer Roo Ciambriello says the video “contains a powerful, effective message addressing a serious problem.”

Except that it doesn’t, as the main messages it contains oversimplify the complex issue of domestic violence. But maybe that is expecting too much from a video whose sole purpose was to highlight an issue, not solve it. “From a slap” is the perfect kind of viral video ad agencies create and stage to earn those coveted clicks and press mentions ahead of the creative award season, all the while knowing the vast majority of the public isn’t going to and doesn’t want to think too deeply about any one issue (outside of bacon and kittens). Much of the messaging in “From a slap” is completely contrary to what most violence prevention programs teach. It ignores consent, white washes Italian domestic violence and trivializes a desperately serious issue not only for the girls and women of Italy, but for female around the globe.

We need to be critical of and think critically on several facts here:

1. For the purposes of this video “Martina” is an object, not a person. That is a problem. The first step in violence towards a person is to remove their humanity (Jean Kilbourne).

2. The boys never ask for “Martina’s” consent to touch her.

3. “Martina” fits the Beauty Myth, and while non-beautiful girls are no less likely to be a victim of domestic violence than beautiful girls, the boys instantly give the attractive “Martina” a higher social rank than they would a girl who is less physically beautiful. To the boys, her beauty gives her value. The message should be that “Martina” being a human is what gives her value.

4. The boys have just met this girl on the street, yet domestic violence takes place between intimate partners and usually in the privacy of the home. It is different to ask a boy to slap a girl he just met who has not “wronged” him than it is to ask a boy to slap a girl he is already frustrated with, intimidated by, or angry at.

5. There is no information at the end of the video for Italian domestic violence shelters, help lines, anti-violence programs or educational resources. (There are resources at the end of this blog post.)

6. Research tells us that domestic violence is cyclical and the more violence a boy grows up with, the more likely it is he grows up to be violent in his own relationships. But we never see the parents’ reactions to the boys or “Martina” and we never hear them explain why their boys have been taught to not hit girls. It would have been particularly moving to hear the fathers explain why their sons have been taught this message.

7. The voice behind the camera sexualizes both the boy(s) and girl in the final frame when we read his command “Kiss her!” Our gallant little knight who had just refused to hit the girl does not turn to the girl to ask her consent to a kiss…..instead the boy keeps his impish gaze on the owner of the male voice and without him even thinking if he should ask the girl, the boy ask the man, “Can I kiss her on the mouth or the cheek?” Fade to black. And thud. The final frame of this video undoes the previous three and a half minutes as we go from the warm fuzzies we were feeling over these six adorable boys who tell the cameramen “No, I will not hit a girl, not even with a flower” to what should be a gut-churning “boys will be boys” response to a “remarkable PSA” ending with the very problematic consent issue of touching a girl in a sexual manner without her consent. Because she wants it. She was asking for it. I want it, I don’t need her permission. Riesci a crederci! Incredibile!

But Luca Lavarone wasn’t making a documentary on Italian domestic violence or how to teach consent to kids. He conducted and made public a social experiment meant to get people talking. He succeeded, and for that reason alone his efforts should be praised even with the video’s imperfections taken into consideration.

Remember – domestic violence festers in silence, shame, and obscurity. Lavarone has the world talking – THIS is important. Domestic violence takes place (almost always) behind closed doors and comes with social stigma and blame attached for the victim. For families and women with domestic violence in their past and present, you know exactly what this looks and feels like. While many American journalists and bloggers have been hypercritical of the video, I’d like to hear the voices of Italian women, specifically those who help the abused and those who have been abused. I’m willing to bet they and the families who survive the women murdered by their partners appreciate the conversation taking place around these dangerous situations.

So let’s keep talking.

And let’s consider……

Maybe “Martina” not having a back story could have been intentional because “Martina” isn’t any specific girl, she is there to represent “all girls“. “Martina” is “every girl” and serves as the potential victim despite being found beautiful and lovely by the boys, a position far too many women will find hauntingly familiar. Domestic violence victims are adored and loved, at first. Likewise these boys aren’t really specific boys, they are meant to represent a cross section of “all men” who could be prone to perpetrate – and perpetuate – domestic violence. A fire fighter, a police man, a pizza maker, a baker.

Let’s also note, none of the boys said “When I grow up, I want to be an abuser of women”. That’s ridiculous, right? No, it isn’t. Most boys don’t want to grow up to hurt the people they love but somewhere along the way they see might see violence set as the example set at home, they see it in the media coupled with the persistent objectification of women, they grow to understand violence and brute physical strength are tied to the cultural definition of masculinity, they see peers be abusive to girlfriends and are not taught to stand up to it, and so on. But no little boy says, “When I am a man I want to beat my wife until she is bloody, broken, and dead.”

While domestic violence doesn’t usually take place on the street and by definition wouldn’t take place between strangers, the request for the boys to caress “Martina’s” cheek then quickly followed by the order “Slap her!”/”Slap her hard!” has people upset, and rightly so. Again, important to note that while this video is likely staged, not a single boy asked for the girl’s permission to touch her face for the caress nor did the girl assert her personal boundaries. Consent is such an important concept to teach our boys and girls, and the video did not show this – but maybe that is part of Lavarone’s point. Perhaps Luca Lavarone wanted that to be part of the conversation he ignited. After all, we need to remember that we don’t know Lavarone’s personal history with domestic violence in a country where 30% of women experience it and thousands lose their lives to it.

And it is the caress/slap request that has me believing we are really losing something in translation as different cultures have different practices when it comes to physical contact. Part of me thinks for us non-Italians, we are missing or misunderstanding an Italian cultural reference to the caress/slap moment. I believe the intended message with the caress/slap was: A person uses their open hand for a caress just like you do an open palm or back-handed slap across the face or upside the head. What you do with that hand can be loving or hurtful. These actions are very different and yet similar. A boy who gives a caress could just as likely deliver a slap. Unless he is taught not to.

Another impression I had was that I felt a sense of trust between “Martina” and the cameraman/voice behind the camera. She made eye contact with that person when she was amused or surprised, like they were sharing a joke at the boys’ expense. There was an air of familiarity between the girl and whoever is behind the camera and it seemed she knew what to expect, what the boys would be asked. She stood in place calmly and confidently. And when the voice commanded “Slap her!”/”Slap her hard!” the expressions “Martina” made were very telling, but she never broke her gaze from the boys as they made their decisions whether or not to slap her. In fact, when you watch the video again pay very close attention to her face in those moments. You see her connect with the emotional struggle she witnesses within each boy – do I listen to the grown up or do I refuse and do what I know to be right? In those moments, we see our humanity. It is actually quite beautiful and reveals that as children we are very adept at loving ourselves and each other.

And the boys (possibly scripted to) refuse! Each boy has a different reaction and reason as one by one they all refuse. Important to note, we never hear “Martina’s” reaction to the commands “Slap her!” and “Slap her hard!” I’m hoping she would have said something like, “Oh HELL no. NO ONE uses violence to control me!” because her parents taught her that message just as they teach their little Italian boys to “not hit girls”. I’m also hoping the parents of Italy teach their girls not to hit the boys they love, as domestic violence is a lopsided but two-way street.

When told to slap the girl the reactions of the two littlest boys (ages seven and eight) reveal why this video is important. Even if these were a child actors and even if the video is by and large staged, the emotion behind their soulful eyes is real and anyone familiar with children can read what each is thinking: The littlest one smiles and shifts his weight in an uncomfortable moment of disbelief because he knows what the grown up is ordering him to do is wrong. He tucks his chin and turns his head slightly to the side as he thinks, “Nooooo, what you are telling me to do is wrong. I am not going to listen, even if you think I’m naughty for not listening.” After all, we teach our kids to listen to and trust adults, right? The other boy’s lips part as his mouth opens in shock and his eyes glisten with emotion. THAT is important because until we teach our boys via culture and/or personal experience to control and intimidate females via domestic violence, they know it to be wrong. We see they are surprised and shocked by it.

Perhaps we are left to question ourselves how it is we desensitize them to it?

While their initial “No’s” were softly spoken, with clarity each boy states why he will not hit the girl standing before him. The implied message is these young boys have been raised right, to know that men do not hit women and that somewhere there is an adult teaching him that. I think THAT is an important message here — children need to be taught domestic violence (all violence, yes?) is wrong and that violence is least acceptable in our intimate relationships. For my American friends, I’m assuming most of us have no idea how Italian society and families approach this and perhaps teaching boys not to be violent to girls (or anyone) is a new concept to Italians to address while raising families. We need to remember, Italians were the intended target audience for this video.

The emotional scenes finish with a stark black and white screen that reads ‘In the kids’ world, women don’t get hit.’ And anyone familiar with domestic violence knows it is anything but black and white. It is not a simple mess people find themselves in and it is not a simple mess to clean up. The UN’s special rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo, said after a visit to Italy in 2012 that there was an “urgent need” to tackle the issue of domestic violence in Italian society. Manjoo reported, “Most manifestations of violence are under-reported in the context of a family-oriented and patriarchal society where domestic violence is not always perceived as a crime, there is economic dependency, and there are perceptions that the state response to such complaints will not be appropriate or helpful.”

Couple that with the excellent point made by Mic’s Elizabeth Plank about the white washing of domestic violence in the video, “But it’s immigrant and undocumented women who are especially vulnerable in Italy, and they won’t be safe until they are part of the national conversation about the issue. No one is protected from domestic violence, but to erase the experiences of those who are most at risk can be damaging for the cause.”

So, what’s the verdict on the video everyone is talking about this week? Problematic? Yes. Most definitely yes. But should this video be condemned with the vitriol it is getting from some? I don’t disagree with the critical conversation around this video, but we need to take a deep breath and a step back see it for what it is: a marketing gimmick that is misinformed and only touches the tip of the iceberg that is the very important epidemic of gendered violence in Italy. And what do we know about icebergs? The most dangerous portions are under the water, where people aren’t looking.

This week, the world is looking under the waters. THAT MATTERS.

We should not turn to advertising agencies and video journalists to solve deeply troubling societal ills. We should count on them to contribute to and disseminate the conversation. Perhaps the whole point of this video, and why it IS SO IMPORTANT and should not be ignored, it that is has all of us now pulled into the conversation. Well done, Luca Lavarone.

Now it is our turn to do the meaningful work. Be not silent.

 

For information on domestic violence and how to get help for a domestic violence situation in Italy:

Italy’s National Women’s Helpline ‘Antiviolenza Donna’: Call (1522)   Help is free of charge and available 24/7

Italy’s National Association DiRe “Women in Network Against Violence”

Italy’s D.i.Re Cerca Il Antiviolenza Piu Vincino A Te (map of centers throughout Italy)

Information on violence against women in Italy from WAVE – Women Against Violence in Europe

The Pixel Project: Abusive Relationships and the Escape Checklist

Domestic Violence / Incest / Rape Help and Intervention for Women in Countries Around the Globe from Pixel Project

Helplines for the 28 EU Countries from WAVE

United States National Domestic Violence Hotline 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) Help is free of charge and available 24/7

 

 

Melissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of “Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween”. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com. Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can read her blog at: http://pigtailpalsblog.com or connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals).

Healing Hearts

A few months ago Amelia and I were at our breaking point, as a painful school year in a difficult classroom came to a close and we struggled on a daily basis to get through life while she was socially crippled with anxiety. I had no idea how the anxiety starts or what caused it, and I had no idea how to get rid of it. As a parent, there is no pain worse than seeing your child suffer.

My bright, strong, opinionated, brave, and wild girl had been taken over by this shadow and we didn’t know how to lift it. Friends put me in touch with mental health experts I needed to gather information from, a new school year with a teacher who is a unicorn have made all the difference, and medication to assist in bringing the anxiety under control has given us our girl back – the vibrant, high energy, laughing girl with mischievous eyes we had been missing for eighteen months is back.

One of the most touching moments of someone reaching out to help us was my friend Jacque, a fellow small-business owner and mom I had known for years messaged me and said she wanted to give Amelia a special afternoon to lift her spirits and allow her to be a carefree kid. “Carefree” and anxiety don’t often go hand in hand, but Jacque knew from experience her plan would work.

I was given directions to a farm about an hour from our house and didn’t know much beyond the fact that we were going to see therapy horses. When the big afternoon arrived we pulled down a long gravel drive on  a warm autumn afternoon and pulled up next to the barn with a table out front decorated with purple star balloons, a container of Amelia’s favorite flavor of ice cream, and the biggest bag of gummy bears I had ever seen.

Amelia and Jacque, one of HHHH's volunteers.

Amelia and Jacque, one of HHHH’s volunteers.

We were at the new site for Healing Hearts with Hooves and Hounds, a nonprofit organization on a mission to help survivors of domestic violence find healing and peace in their lives through animal therapy and spread domestic violence awareness and anti-bullying education. Through confidential retreats held on one of their two foster farms, HHHH uses rescued animals to give positive, healing, and healthy experiences to make domestic violence survivors and bullying victims whole again.

Can therapy come in the form of a miniature donkey? Apparently yes, when that pocket-size donkey runs to the marsh in the middle of his paddock to “hide” from his owners, unaware the tips of his ears were giving away his location and the irony of it all brings out giant belly laughs from the little girl who didn’t laugh for eighteen months. Also – pregnant miniature ponies are a thing to behold.

Benny makes a new friend, once they got the stinker out of his hiding spot in the marsh.

Benny makes a new friend, once they got the stinker out of his hiding spot in the marsh.

Healing Hearts with Hooves and Hounds is currently holding a fundraising drive right now, they are a great organization to donate to. But please act fast, the drive ends in ten days (Nov 16). 

Mark Schuring co-founded Healing Hearts with Hooves and Hounds (HHHH) in 2004 with his aunt, Traci Schuring, who shared his resolve to help victims of domestic abuse and bullying through the healing power of animals.  Sadly, on December 8, 2012, Traci was killed by her abusive husband in their home in Southern Wisconsin, while her daughters were waiting to be picked up from school.  In this dramatic fashion, Mark understood why the program was so important to her and has pursued the mission with a fervor ever since.

Healing Hearts with Hooves and Hounds, is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to helping survivors of domestic abuse and bullying find healing and peace in their lives through animal therapy.  Domestic violence is a serious issue; one in four women is abused, and one in three people know someone who is abused.  Meanwhile, animal therapy has been shown to promote emotional well-being in patients struggling with things such as post-traumatic stress disorder or depression.

HHHH is comprised of 30 volunteers, 3 horses, 9 mini-horses, 5 mini-goats, 5 mini-donkeys, and roughly 15 hounds.  Currently, HHHH’s animals are spread across two locations:  a small pasture located on 17 acres of farmland in Capron, IL, and an acre and a half of farmland in Lawrence, IL.  The primary goal of this campaign is to aggregate all of the HHHH animals onto one location, which is a 10-20 acre plot of farmland located in Harvard, IL.  Over the past 10 years, the HHHH animals have already positively impacted the lives of hundreds of domestic violence and bullying victims.

Benny said being near the horses and feeling their breath made him feel "warm and fizzy".

Benny said being near the horses and feeling their breath made him feel “warm and fizzy”.

So that’s the background on this great organization, but that doesn’t really give a clear picture of how this really works. I know there is science behind all of it, but…..

When a 2,000 pound horse with deep, dark eyes approaches your child and they stand eye to eye, her tiny hand on the giant beast’s warm and beating heart, you don’t really know how it works you just know some kind of magic is taking place.

Maybe it was the ancient oak tress all over the property, the golden sun on a gorgeous autumn day, the half pound of gummy bears we ate, or the genuine kindness and acceptance that were offered to Amelia by humans and hooves alike…..all I know is that as we left, this is what Amelia looked like.

Whole. Healed. Happy.

Amelia at the end of her HHHH retreat.

Amelia at the end of her HHHH retreat.

Healing Hearts holds private confidential retreats in northeastern Illinois via appointment with Mark Schuring (815/245-0842). HHHH also travel to events with the animals to promote domestic violence awareness and anti-bullying education.

Visit their website here: healingheartshh.org   and Facebook page 

Please consider donating to them here: startsomegood.com/healinghearts
$5 buys a bale of hay

$10 buys a 50lb bag of grain

$25 buys 5 bales of hay

$50 buys 5 50lb bags of grain

$100 buys 20 bales of hay

$200 buys 20 50lb bags of grain

$500 buys 100 bales of hay or 50 50lb bags of grain

$1,000 buys a 1 month lease for 10-20 acres worth of farmland

The Child Is Right: Walk Away

National Teen Dating Violence Helpline: www.LoveIsRespect.org 1-866-331-9474

National Domestic Violence Hotline: www.ncadv.org 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

Domestic Violence Safety/Escape Checksheet from the Pixel Project, click here

Let’s get one thing straight: I’m not upset the song was made. The lyrics stop you in your tracks and are performed with excellence. That what good songs are supposed to do. I’m not upset the video was made. Hit songs need videos. And this one is absolutely memorable.

I am smoking mad that the video for the Eminem and Rihanna duet “Love The Way You Lie” makes domestic violence look sexy and glamorous. It shows the girl going back for more. Liking it. Wanting it. Asking for it? It shows her going back for more. It shows her initiating some of the violence, yes. But it also shows hot make up sex right after the boyfriend puts his fist through the wall just inches from her head while his forearm is against her throat, holding her against the wall. And during the lyrics about “tying her to the bed and setting the house on fire”, the video shows the girl kissing the boy who just  rocked her face, and then ends with them laying in an embrace on a bed. Fade to black.

And that’s it. There’s no PSA. No number to call if you need help. No five seconds of Rihanna saying “No one deserves or asks for violence in their life, please call….blah blah blah” and then a cut to a website for people needing to escape the very same violence that turned her world upside down in early 2009.

Years ago I assisted with part of the investigations of two cases where women were the victims of domestic abuse. They were burned alive. In cars. They had both been pregnant. You don’t ever forget stuff like that.

Maybe that is why this song has me so upset. Domestic violence has affected two people in this world I love most, my husband and another dear friend. Maybe that is why I’ve been nauseated since Friday when I saw the video.

Maybe because I am the parent of two very small children, I see everything as a teaching moment. I have two kids that are asking questions from the moment they get up, so much of my day is spent teaching and explaining and repeating myself and then doing some more explaining. Some questions are easy, like “Do sharks get cavities?”. Some questions take my breathe away, but I still find a way to teach through those moments. I think that in the moments you most feel like being silent is exactly the time to be speaking up and using your voice. To teach others. Especially when you have people looking up to you.

I heard the song for the first time a couple of weeks ago in the car on the radio. I thought my daughter was asleep, in the backseat. She wasn’t talking, and the only time she isn’t talking is when she is asleep.

Then,

“Mama, what is this song about? Why is that boy so bossy?”-Amelia

“Uh, hi. Because he is being mean to his friend.”-Me. Radio immediately turned off.

“Why would a boy hit a girl?”-Amelia

“Well, maybe he doesn’t know how to be a good friend.”-Me

“He wouldn’t be my friend. Not if he hit me.”-Amelia

“You’re right. A friend shouldn’t…”-Me

“Mom if a bossy boy hits a girl, then she should just walk away.”-Amelia

She’s right, you know. She is four years old and she is right. It is simplistic, obviously, a child’s view of a very complicated matter. Yet, she will continue to be raised to think that way because she is absolutely right.

It took me only a second to place that haunting female voice singing the chorus. It was that of Rihanna, a recent survivor of an assault that became known to the world.

Just gonna stand there and watch me burn
Well that’s alright because I like the way it hurts
Just gonna stand there and hear me cry
Well that’s alright because I love the way you lie

That’s Rihanna? Singing those lyrics? Those words? Back up, was I understanding what this song was about? She likes the pain? She’ll stand there and burn? Because I remember an emotional Rihanna, last November, giving a very honest and commendable interview with Diane Sawyer on ABC’s 20/20. Notably, at 5:06-38 (see link), when she says she knew she had to set an example, she couldn’t rest knowing her actions would lead another girl to make a decision that would get her hurt or killed. She talks about realizing how young the girls were who looked up to her.

Those millions of girls? Still do. They still look up to Rihanna who last fall went through an incredible struggle with grace and made a very strong and brave choice in the end. This video is being hailed as provocative and a “conversation starter”. I get that. It is both. On YouTube alone there are just shy of 25 million views. Sadly the explosive video does nothing to educate or make a clear statement that the violence is wrong, and where to turn if you need help stopping it. Not a single concrete message to these millions of girls who look up to Rihanna that the violence is wrong, and how to stop it. Not a single word. Her website promotes the video with !!exclamation points!! And as of the morning this post is published, she has yet to comment. Really? No comment? No comment.

I’ve heard this is “art” and that it was something both singers “needed to get off their chest”. They both have histories of domestic violence. I don’t . I cannot and will not judge them on needing to create this project.

But they failed to teach. My community of media literacy experts and girl empowerment experts and body image experts are only as good as the people we reach. And the 25 million who have viewed the video? Are we really going to reach all of them? Are we really going to start conversations with the girls who need to hear our words the most?

Unfortunately, not. But the video could have. Five extra seconds to display this information at the very top of my post. Maybe even a cool,edgy shot of the four stars holding signs with the information, or standing in a line with some short PSA. Megan Fox donated her fee to a woman’s shelter. Some say that means some good came out of it. Some good came out of the Holocaust when the medical community made surgical advances after studying the notes of the Nazi doctors….. really? A crumb of good over not teaching a lesson to the millions and millions of fans,impressionable young people who would hear and see this song and be influenced, and influenced in a way that could be detrimental to their safety? That’s not good enough for me.

I’m in the business of raising strong girls. Girls who know their worth. Girls who know that love doesn’t hit. Love doesn’t put his fist through a wall or tie you to a bed and burn you. Love doesn’t pound his fist into your flesh or belittle you or intimidate you or rip out your hair in chunks or rape you or kill you. Love looks nothing like that. And if it does, then you need to get help. I’m in the business of raising girls who know this, who walk away before this starts, or who help a friend or sister or mother or neighbor when they see it.

The stars of this project failed to teach. This project is going to make those stars a lot of money. If you are going to profit financially from a project that highlights the dark underbelly of cyclical domestic abuse, then the very least you could do is teach. When you have a tattoo inked backwards on your chest so that you can read it in the mirror, the words “Never a failure, always a lesson”, you have the responsibilty to teach. When you participate in a project of this nature, when you sing lyrics that confuse and go against everything you’ve spoken out about and even won awards for, you have the responsibility to teach. To teach the girls who view you as a star.

I’m not a star and I’m not famous. But there will never be a time when I feel it is okay to teach to our girls that violence against them is acceptable or sexy or permissable.

I’m not a star and I’m not famous, but there will never be a time that I fail in my responsibility to teach a girl her worth.

“Mom if a bossy boy hits a girl, then she should just walk away.”-Amelia

National Teen Dating Violence Helpline: www.LoveIsRespect.org 1-866-331-9474

National Domestic Violence Hotline: www.ncadv.org 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

Domestic Violence Safety/Escape Checksheet from the Pixel Project, click here

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Update: Would like to add a link to my colleague and friend Deborah Reber’s post “Does Eminem’s and Rihanna’s New Song and Video Glamorize Dating Violence?” click here. She gives excellent analysis here:  

“The first time I watched the video, I put myself in my 15-year-old self’s shoes. At 15, I was insecure, longed to have connection, and often looked for validation that I had worth in others, especially boys. I would have watched that video, with every slow motion, passionate kiss and heated exchanges, and part of me would have thought, “I wish someone loved me that much, loved me so much that the thought of losing me would drive them to do dangerous things.” It’s not easy to admit that, but I know I’m not the only one who felt that way, and I know there are millions of girls today who, despite knowing intellectually that dating violence is wrong, would still have an emotional response similar to mine.”

 

Save Me From This Hell

National Teen Dating Violence Helpline: www.LoveIsRespect.org 1-866-331-9474

National Domestic Violence Hotline: www.ncadv.org 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

Domestic Violence Safety/Escape Checksheet from the Pixel Project, click here

Above is the information that I feel very strongly should have accompanied Eminem/Rihanna video for “Love The Way You Lie”. Video is below. Just one sentence. Just one phone number.

But it didn’t.

Tomorrow you’ll hear my voice about this.

But for today, please listen to the voice of my guest poster, Melissa D:

Watching the video with Rihanna and Eminem felt somewhat “normal” to me; I wish I could say I was horrified or that it was appalling, but sadly it wasn’t. I grew up in a home like that. When I first married my husband I helped create a home like that, because it took me a long time to realize I needed to get some direction on how to end the cycle and change my way of thinking. This is a very real experience for many couples, unfortunately. When you grow up in a home full of domestic violence, you learn to believe that it is love. You learn if someone loves you they hit you or that if they love you they are so full of passion that they can’t take it, they explode.

I think while this video shows a very real depiction of what happens it also needs to be used as a tool to start a discussion about what can be done to end the cycle. Some ask, “Why would a women stay in this situation?” or “Why would a women initiate the violence?” Women stay for a variety of reasons and they initiate it for a variety of reasons; I know for myself I stayed in many types of abusive relationships because of the domestic violence I grew up with, my dad was never punished for it and no one ever saved me from it, so it seemed acceptable.

Young girls are often very insecure, for a multitude of reasons: home life, media, school, you name it, and there are so many ways that women are left feeling inferior. All of this insecurity can be used against them when faced with an abuser. Even if you haven’t grown up in an abusive home you maybe so insecure, much like how my mother ended up in an abusive relationship with my father, that you tolerate the abuse. You think you deserve it or you can stop it. This is one of the many reasons it is SO important to teach our girls to respect themselves and to realize their own self worth; that they can be so much more than someone’s target.

I have found that woman that initiate domestic violence or participate in it are often from abusive homes themselves or have been in a cycle of abusive relationships. They initiate it because it feels like love to them; it’s giving and receiving love. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it can also be very real. In some strange way, when you grow up with domestic abuse you can become hardwired to believe that it’s passion. It feels safe when they hit you; it’s like an old familiar teddy bear, in a way. Much like how Rihanna referenced “I like the way it hurts.” I know that may seem crazy, but in some strange way it can be true.

I hope that the purpose of this video was to start conversations much like the one’s we’ve had on Pigtail Pals’ facebook page, about what we can to do to end the cycle. While it is “entertainment” it is an important tool to teach our children that violence in any form is never okay. We need all of our children, girls and boys, to learn to stand up for themselves without violence. End the Cycle.

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Melissa D’s story of the life long cycle of Domestic Abuse, and of her survival:

The abuse in my family started long before I was born; my dad grew up with two alcoholic parents and my mom grew up with a single mother and a semi uninvolved father. My dad started abusing my mom very quickly into their relationship; you would think she would leave right? Unfortunately not, she was so insecure that I think she actually believed she could make it stop, that she deserved it, and that he must really love her if he’s so suspicious. They married and the abuse continued, however my dad did quit drinking and has been sober for many years. I remember very little from before I was five years old as you might expect, but I remember everything after that very well. My sister was born that year and that’s when I really remember the abuse amping up. I never saw my dad hit my mom and I’m fairly certain it wasn’t going on during that time. My dad was a very intelligent man with very little ambition to do great things, he believed things were owed to him, not that he had to work for them; this made it very difficult for my mother as she always had to try and keep a steady income as he could never hold down a job. Plus, I think working was an easy escape for my mom; sadly this left him with us girls most of the time. I am the oldest; I have a middle sister as I said five years younger and a baby sister eight years younger. My dad really tried to focus his abuse on me as my mom was always gone and my sisters were too little. As I look at it now I think I spent a lot of time antagonizing him just to protect them. The worst was bedtime, I was a bed-wetter as the result of his abuse, but then every night from the time I was five years old he would come in; in the middle of the night to see if I had wet the bed. If I had he would yank me out of bed and throw me on the floor and then when I would get up I would have to take my sheets off and put them in the washer and wait to switch them to the dryer, school night or not. You can imagine the impact this had on my school life. The abuse continued to escalate for years, I remember one of the most embarrassing times was when I had a birthday sleepover and I had all of my friends over and my dad got mad that I had taken chips out of the cabinet so he bit me on my thumb right through the skin and flesh, I was bleeding pretty profusely and my friends noticed and we spent the rest of the night huddled under blankets scared of my father. It’s funny really, that I would have had people over to the house at all, you would think I would have wanted to keep that a secret, but I think it was such a normal part of life that I didn’t consider until I was an adult how strange it really was, plus I am fairly certain I was hoping someone would save me from this hell. Unfortunately, we looked like a normal family from the outside, my parents were very active in the community and at school and we never showed any signs of abuse, or at least not one’s people noticed, I guess.

The abuse went on with daily stories much like the one’s above until around my 12th birthday. My mom took me to get a perm for my birthday, I was really excited. School had just started and I was in 5th grade with Mrs. McClure (only the best teacher in the whole school!!) One night I woke up in the basement where my sister and I had rooms and I heard a shrieking and sobbing sound coming from upstairs; so my middle sister and I went upstairs to see what was happening. My mom was crying and my dad hurried us back downstairs, my mom assured us everything was okay and my dad took us back downstairs. What I didn’t know until later is that while my dad took us downstairs my mom had called the police, my parents were fighting because my mom told him she was leaving him and he threatened to kill her and they must have started fighting. Shortly after my dad took us downstairs a police officer came down and asked us to come up, I was 12 and my younger sister was 7, it was scary but somewhat of a relief, FINALLY SOMEONE OTHER THAN US KNEW WHAT WAS GOING ON!!!

My Mom never talked to us about what happened. The police hauled my Dad off and we went back to bed, we had school the next day. My mom worked at the elementary school that we attended so my teacher already knew what had happened the night before, as soon as I came in she hugged me and the tears rolled down my cheeks, it was such a safe feeling, a little release from what had been a very heavy load.

My dad never came back into the house after that, the next weekend my mom, sisters and I loaded up his belongings into his van and drove it down the street for him to come and get. Several weeks later he moved into an apartment down the block from the duplex we were living in. My parents fought in court for two years, but our visits with dad started up shortly after he left. The abuse continued and no one did anything. I was not forced to go, but I couldn’t bare to let me sisters go alone, at least not until they were old enough to take care of themselves, so as they got older I saw him less and less although he would call and verbally abuse me several times a week.

When I was 14 is when I started looking for boys and choosing acceptable “mates” the boys I had my eyes on were nothing but trouble from the word go, we lived in a very dangerous neighborhood on Madison’s west side, so there were plenty of troubled boys to find everywhere I looked; gang bangers, pedophiles, and criminals galore. My mom was gone working most of the time and I was left alone with my sisters, but still struggling to become a woman. I put myself and my sisters in very dangerous situations. This is how I truly understand the meaning of “but for the grace of God go I” because it is a mystery how we didn’t end up dead or kidnapped or worse.

My first “boyfriend” was a 14 year old boy that was really putting the pressure on me to have sex. He wasn’t the first boy to ask but he was my first boyfriend, so it was a much more intense pressure. Thankfully I had the good sense to wait, but it wasn’t easy. Our relationship was intense, I ran away from home to be with him. He was “so nice to me” which at that time meant he wasn’t hitting me. He was a good guy and actually turned out to be a decent man. While I was busy with him, my mom was busy dating too many men to count each of them weirder than the last, mostly because she was so insecure that she was looking for the wrong type of relationship too. It’s strange really, because growing up I never thought of my mom as insecure, I used to think she was the strongest woman I knew.

As time went on my relationships with men got more complex, I wanted so badly to be with a man that “wouldn’t hit me” but I kept choosing one’s that would. I realize now that it was because I was truly more comfortable with hitting than with not. The last boyfriend I had before I met my husband was an amazing man and truly deserves a medal for putting up with me. He would have never hit me no matter how hard I pushed him. We dated for several years and he finally had enough of being pushed and left me two weeks before I graduated high school, it was devastating. I wish I had realized then the help I truly needed, but unfortunately no one that knew what had happened with my father or how I grew up guided me towards getting help. It wasn’t until after this amazing man broke up with me that I realized how much help I truly needed. Over the summer, I got help and learned that I need to start seeing the world differently, so that I can change my perception that abuse=love. In order to move on with my life, I moved to Chicago with a friend. This is where I met my husband. We started off so in love we met in November and by June we were engaged, I was 20 years old, by July I was pregnant and we were on the fast track to a family. He had grown up in a horribly abusive home full of drug use and domestic violence, thankfully not directed at him but between his parents; initiated by both his father and his mother. We truly believed that we could create a normal life together without abuse; it was a nice dream but an almost impossible one because we were both hardwired to believe that domestic violence is an acceptable way of life. By the time our son was six weeks old we were fighting weekly like prize fighting boxers. I initiated it, he initiated it; it just went on and on until one night at the bottom of the stairs I was screaming for help and a neighbor called the police. The police came and explained that they would take us both away if we were fighting especially with a newborn in the house. It was interesting really, that we were under so much stress that we just resorted to what we knew best, domestic violence. Along with the violence came passion, if we had fought we would “make up” like crazy, it was a horrible cycle but it felt like love. We realized after some time that this wasn’t working and had to make changes. We started making changes and realizing that we have to rewire ourselves so that we can rewire our future together. We still have some arguments, but we never put our hands on one another.  We also realize that we have to make a conscious effort to end our cycle of domestic violence and remove it from our family’s history so that our children don’t repeat the same behaviors.

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Thank you, Melissa D., for you voice and the strength to share your story. And thank you for being willing to teach.

National Teen Dating Violence Helpline: www.LoveIsRespect.org 1-866-331-9474

National Domestic Violence Hotline: www.ncadv.org 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

Domestic Violence Safety/Escape Checksheet from the Pixel Project, click here