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(en) US, NY, After The Fall - anarchist newspaper and collective - Domestic Violence and Social Work from an Anarchist Perspective by Inza

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sun, 1 Jun 2003 09:10:19 +0200 (CEST)


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Katie was a physically fit 30yr old mother of two toddlers when she
decided to leave her abusive partner of many years. Never having
seeked help due to the isolation she faced in their rural lakeside
cabin, she did not know that the most violent attacks from intimate
partners are brought on by the victim's decision to separate (or,
curiously, by the announcement of a pregnancy). As she loaded her
children into their car, (she had made a secret set of keys the last
time she had gone for groceries), her man went for the
semi-automatic weapon he had kept and intimidated her with when
she spoke of leaving. Katie was stepping into the driver's seat when
he unloaded the gun into her. He then sped away in his truck,
leaving her for dead. Katie and her children arrived at the women's
shelter after several months in various medical facilities. Help had
come for Katie, but not in time to save her left leg, which was
completely destroyed by the shots sustained.

Katie was lucky to have her life. The statistics read like a war zone.
30% to 80% of women in emergency rooms are there due to
domestic violence, or "intimate partner violence" as it's sometimes
called. 50% of women homicide victims in NYC are killed by intimate
partners. Teenagers comprise almost 10% of those victims.
Feminists believe these statistics quite low, stating that many
boyfriends and husbands don't get caught or that the crime goes
unsolved, or the woman remains "missing" (disappeared). Deaths
due to DV (domestic violence) are comparable to those by drunk
drivers in some areas. The NYC domestic violence hotline receives
about 8,000 calls a month. The NYC Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence
project serves over 500 victims of DV a year. Each year about
700,000 people are stalked by intimate partners or ex-partners in the
United States. This includes 10% of female college students. These
statistics are from the NYC mayor's office and Sanctuary for
Families, all available on the Internet.

I've worked as a domestic violence counselor for about six years
now. I do this work from an anarcha-feminist perspective. That
means that I have a political analysis of DV. This sets me apart from
other "social workers", suprisingly because the vast majority of
whom don't even identify as liberal feminists. In order to maintain a
society as rigidly hierarchical as ours, the threat to women's physical
and mental safety must be maintained. Especially if we dare to
challenge the authority of patriarchy. Disabling women is a very
efficient way to maintain the hierarchy complex since women
comprise over half of all people, a "minority" that is actually a
majority, the trump card.

The most obvious level of sexism is that which disallows freedom
minded women space in the public media or in any political position
that promises power, as well as the overtly sexist policies of our
government. On a more localized level, there is a gradient of
mechanisms used to oppress including denied access to an
education that is honest about women, access to health care, to the
resources that influence the democratic process, to the validation of
rape as a crime, and to abortion as a right.

On a familial level, we see physical, sexual, emotional, financial, and
spiritual abuse. All of these mechanisms of oppression are upheld by
deep seeded, often undetectable ideas about women as inferior,
animalistic, weak, and disposable beings. The most devastating
level of sexism is that which culminates as an assault on a woman's
body and mind by her most intimate partner. Since women are not
by nature masochistic subservients, and will reach out for help, the
success of this level of sexism is dependent on the complicity of the
community. In my experience, many social workers are at the
forefront of that complicity, engaged in a betrayal as they claim to be
trying to make the world a better place.

Most social workers, case managers, and other administers of public
benefits hold an inordinate amount of power over women seeking
help. At a worker's whim, a woman can receive or be denied public
housing or food stamps. If a worker dislikes a client, which is sure to
happen if the client even utters question as to the validity of the
worker's authority or of the bureaucracy, that client is sure to have to
comply to all kinds of mandates before she can receive even the
most basic help. She'll be asked to provide extensive and obscure
documentation of her identity or her history. She'll have to gather
"proof" of her poverty and need and present it as though it's showing
her innocence in a crime. Women seeking help are looked upon as
cheaters, criminals, and liers. Their word is useless, yet the social
worker's word is all-powerful.

In "the system", as poor people generally refer to social service
agencies and the webs they create, domestic violence victims are
often looked upon with skepticism and disgust. Their children are
removed from their custody if they do not leave the abusive partner
when an ACS (Administration of Children's Services) worker
demands them to. Of course, no child should live in a dangerous
home. But where should a woman go who has no access to the
household money, who has been alienated from her friends and
family due to the isolation she experiences in the relationship, or who
has real concerns about her physical safety if she makes an attempt
to leave? The ACS worker never suggests that the abusive partner
(usually the man in a heterosexual relationship) should get picked up
by the police and leave the apartment. Instead, the ACS worker
insists that the woman and her children leave the home and enter a
shelter while the abuser remains master of the castle.

The ultimate form of control is to hold one's children hostage and
give one a list of things she must do in order to get them back. There
are between 30 and 40 thousand children in foster care on any given
year in NYC. In addition are those moms that are dealing with ACS
in a "prevention" stage. This is when the parents are, for one reason
or another, deemed potential abusers. A neighbor may have called
ACS and when the worker came, there were empty beer bottles
about the kitchen. Perhaps the police were called when a woman
was beaten by her partner and found the children home from school,
the mother unwilling to drop them off with her face black and blue. It
is important to note that "the system" views the mother as the one
responsible for the children. It is she that must comply to ACS
mandates while the children's father often goes about his business
unmolested.

Those in prevention stages are also given a list of things they must
do or ACS is going to take their children. In the case of something as
inane as beer bottles, a parent may have to check into a drug
treatment program and complete it, visiting up to 6 hours every day
for the next year or two. The parent may or may not be an addict.
The important thing is that the ACS worker is not an addictions
professional, yet wears the hat of one if he or she pleases. It is my
opinion that if the parent wears dread locks, has radical political
posters or clothing, is a vegetarian, is a social user of alcohol or
marijuana, enjoys punk music or skateboarding, or gets arrested for
civil disobedience, she or she can be pretty much certain to have this
used against her or him as evidence that he or she may not be a fit
parent. The ACS worker will put in the report saying something like,
"improper lifestyle that could lead to danger in the home." This is
especially likely to happen if the parent is a non-white person or
doesn't speak a mainstream dialect of English. I want to make it
clear that there is no excuse for child abuse and that we as a
community do have an obligation to protect the most vulnerable of
oppressed people. The problem is when the aforementioned
obligation is used as an excuse to exert all kinds of control over
parents. It is a problem when the organization that handles
children's well being, like ACS, is in no way accountable to the
community it's snatching kids out of.

Currently I work in two locations, with two different populations. The
first of these populations is in the South Bronx, at an alcohol and
drug treatment program (80% of women in rehab programs are also
victims of DV), and the other is in Manhattan, at an immigrant's
advocacy non-profit. I previously worked at a DV shelter. Many of
my undocumented immigrant clients are participants in what is
commonly known as "mail order bride" businesses or victims of an
international dating service. All of them were fleeing abhorrent
conditions in their homelands. Many of them were in dangerous
political situations due to their gender or political points of view.

On a daily basis, I try to practice feminism and anarchism in the
social service workplace. In the United States, this where the
casualties and injuries of the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy
are gathered under the umbrella "needy". There's a lot of ways we
can assert a radical perspective on a daily basic. Firstly, basic logic
can be used to question decisions made by higher-ups that
undermine those with little power. For example, social workers have
meetings called case conferences where they discuss clients and
make decisions about clients' lives. One can be an advocate for
clients who will be held back due to difference or if they are trouble
makers.

Clinically, a political understanding of the root causes of oppression
can be worked into one's counseling approach as a form of
empowerment. A client who is court mandated into a drug treatment
program for cocaine addiction will surely be bombarded by a
plethora of behavioral modification techniques and twelve step
meetings. An anti-authoritarian counselor might interview the client
regarding who has excercised authority over her throughout her life,
and how they have used it. In other words, it is important for
survivors of domestic violence and child abuse to truly understand
partriarchy. It's equally important for people struggling with poverty
to understand capitalism. Only in this way will the client be able to
get to the root of the problem and begin to heal consciously. Women
in my DV support groups are always exited to learn about radical
black women in history, and to learn their stories. There is no reason
the therapeutic environment should be void of empowering
educational information.

Support groups can be handed over to their members who are
usually capable of making their own rules and lists of topics. The
conversation will be more energetic and useful. The counselor or
group leader can guarantee that the group runs smoothly by serving
as a facilitator, using the same skills she would use to facilitate a
spokes counsel or coalition meeting. This also goes for the running
of a DV shelter. Gather the shelter residents and tell them to write
out the program. Let them say what they need and want.
Liberal non-profits often have rallies like Take Back the Night or
Walk-A-Thon Against Hunger. While important, these events are
often closely monitored. The NYC Domestic Violence March, which
takes place every October, unbelievably "requires" marchers to
register with the NYPD. The organizers of these marches have lots
of money and do pull in a lot of people. I think we should flyer at
those events so participants, often survivors of domestic violence
and rape who are looking for some place to be active, know there is
another level of resistance possible.

Finally, clients and benefits recipients can be given the tools
necessary to organize. I have had the pleasure of traveling to
Washington D.C. with some my clients to a day of protests, part of
which was a demonstration outside of a building where the World
Economic Forum was meeting to discuss what to do with the
anti-globalization activists post Feb. 2, 2002. Currently, nearly all of
my clients are preparing to organize a massive demonstration with
Community Voices Heard to oppose cutting welfare and increasing
slave-type welfare work programs.

I had a boss once who said that social workers didn't really want
society to get well. That would leave them all out of jobs. There is a
particular energy that drives a person to do social service work.
Much of the time the person doesn't want to earn a living in
corporations, can see that the world is messed up, and has a desire
to somehow fix it in some small way. There is real potential in those
convictions. I can only remotely imagine the power inherent in social
workers if they were to unite against this system of brutality. It
would be truly revolutionary.


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