November 16, 2016
By Laura Van Zandt, Executive Director

What Laura is Thinking: Where Do We Go From Here?

Times of change and transition are never easy. They always bring questions, uncertainty, and apprehension. After a long and tough campaign season, we find ourselves in the aftermath of an election that upended conventional political wisdom and proved the polls and the punditry wrong.

Now what?

No one really knows what to expect next. Comments made during the duration of this campaign and in the past by the President-elect have caused profound fear among immigrants, religious minorities, people of color, LGBQ/T individuals, and sexual assault survivors. At REACH, we just spent a whole month talking about the need to listen to and believe survivors. Whether or not you personally feel impacted or at risk in the coming administration, these concerns are very real. Many of the survivors we work with are expressing them, and I urge you to listen, really listen, and believe those who are experiencing acts of violence or abuse.

This post is not about the election, who won and who didn’t. It is about how we move on from here.

At REACH, the best way we know to move forward is to continue doing what we have always done. Building healthier communities by ending domestic violence. That is our purpose, and it has not changed. It may get harder, as survivors within immigrant and religious minority communities who already feel isolated become more so. It may get harder if LGBTQ survivors worry that they have to hide who they are in the face of decreasing government acceptance. It may get harder if survivors of sexual assault and abuse are afraid to report their experience for fear that their perpetrator won’t be held accountable.

But none of us signed up for this work because it’s easy. We signed up for this work to change the world, and our mission has not changed.

Every day, as people in this society, we get messages about what is okay, normal, best. These messages feed our aspirations to be all that we can be and they also feed the belief that people who are not “normal” or not [blank] enough are not as worthy. These messages are coming at us every day, making many people feel marginalized and “less than.”

A young girl is raised to believe that she can’t be okay without a husband…

A woman of color calls the police and gets told she’s too “tough” to possibly be a victim….

A lesbian whose abuse experience is denied because she’s told “you can’t be abused by another woman…”

A man is turned away from services because he can only be seen as a perpetrator…

A survivor without immigration documents is afraid to access help because helping systems are dangerous…

A woman in a wheelchair is convinced that she is lucky to have someone – and absolutely terrified to have no one…

 

Sharing the reality of our whole identity can feel so risky – even more so in the environment created by this election. Finding a place to be our whole person without feeling judgement or blame opens a door to authenticity, to safety, to stability, to connection.

At REACH, people can be their whole, authentic selves and we can meet them “where they are” rather than expecting every person to fit a certain image of a victim. We stand with survivors, we walk with them, we sit with them – and together they find their own strength, their full identity, their next chapter.

In doing this work, we understand the need to address the intersecting issues that contribute to the prevalence of violence in our society. Domestic violence thrives not only in silence – it is sustained by the voices of sexism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, transphobia, ableism, ageism, and so on. There are more aspects to a survivor’s life than the abuse they’ve experienced. Abusers use every tool they can access in order to control and violate, including aspects of a survivor’s life like religion, cultural identity, age, ability, gender identity, sexual orientation, immigration or socioeconomic status.

These things don’t change based on which political party is in power, however uncharted this new era may feel. Now more than ever we need you to stand with us and advocate for healthy relationships, respectful communication, and peaceful resolution of conflict at all levels. Let’s resolve to think about the little things we can do every day to make this world a safer place for those who are marginalized, afraid and hurting. In doing so, we will make this world a safer place for ourselves and our children.

Together we will reach beyond domestic violence.

Red hearts on the street