Statement regarding Harbor House

We’ve been hard at work, behind the scenes, and allowing those with more power and knowledge to take the reins on certain issues. I am extremely excited to post some updates on where we’re at, where we’re going, and some of the changes that have taken place because of voices that refuse to be silenced.

Today, we will not provide all those updates (look for them to come out in the next 7 days) but we will release a brief statement regarding a newsworthy story.

Over the last few days, I’ve received several emails asking about the termination of Carol Wick, the Executive Director at Harbor House. Some have assumed or asked if the blog titled An Open Letter to Mrs. Bush was referencing Harbor House.

As a rule, I do not name shelters directly on this blog. I do not name them because I do not have a personal vendetta against specific shelters. I take issue with ALL centers in Florida that are currently overseen by the FCADV. It’s the system in Florida that I take issue with, not one specific shelter. It was, however, my experience with one shelter that opened my eyes to the many problems in Florida’s Domestic Violence Industry. Make no mistake about it; it is an industry at this point… and a profitable one at that.

That being said, because of the inquiries and questions surrounding the termination of this Executive Director, I feel I should clarify that the blog post titled An Open Letter to Mrs. Bush is NOT about Harbor House, nor is it about Carol Wick.

I do not personally know Carol Wick. I can’t say we’ve never met, as I spent 5 years working for a shelter and attending numerous FCADV related events. It’s possible we ran into each other. Truthfully, I do not recall.

I will say that when I posted An Open Letter to Mrs. Bush, every Executive Director of every certified shelter was emailed the link and given an option to respond. We only heard from 4 Executive Directors (out of 42) and Carol Wick was one of those 4. She was polite in her response and provided Harbor House’s financial portrait (you can view that here: http://cffound.guidestar.org/nonprofit.aspx?orgId=2629).

That is my entire experience with Harbor House and I have no more information about Harbor House or the Executive Director.

Until next week…

 

Letter to a Survivor

survivor

Dear You,

One of the concepts that I teach to my students is the significance of connotations. As an example, I often say to them:

“Imagine if you’re reading a book, and a guy says to a girl, ‘I like being with you, its home to me.’ Does he mean it feels like being in a building? Of course not. What does he mean… what are the words or emotions that come to your mind when you hear the word ‘home’ in that sentence.”

The responses are usually things like: loved, secure, warm and safe.

One day, a student said to me, “That’s not what home is for all of us…”

And she was right. It’s not what it is for all of us, and I know it’s not what it’s like for you.

There are a multitude of reasons you’re still there. I know because I’ve been there. Fear is the heart and soul of all those reasons. Maybe it’s fear that he will follow through on his threats if you leave, whether that’s to physically harm you or take the children from you. Maybe it’s the fear of starting over and not knowing if you’re capable financially. Maybe it’s the fear of the unknown. It’s all fear based… even if it’s your fear of loving him.

I know. I’ve been there. I’ve seen it. I’ve walked in your shoes, albeit down a different path, as no two are alike.

I will not tell you what to do or when to leave. You’ve been told what to do enough, whether by your partner or your well-meaning family and friends. I will not ask you to tell me why you’re staying. However, I do want you to know that you don’t have to be ashamed if the reason is something you identify as love.  During this month, you’ll hear people give off a laundry list of reasons a victim might stay with her abuser. There may be another reason, one that the public doesn’t like to hear: You love him.

I know.

I imagined I couldn’t live without mine. I imagined no one else could ever love me. I imagined no one else could see me and know me the way he did. Our highs were so high. I was so convinced.

And I was so wrong.

The school of psychology you choose to listen to will give you a multitude of reasons for this. Maybe you grew up in a domestic violence home, and that tension and fear in the home is what feels normal to you as it’s what you grew up with. Maybe you’ve been brainwashed into believing you’re all the things he tells you that you are: worthless, unlovable, whore, ugly, stupid… just to name a few.

There’s no excuse for making you live in fear. There’s no excuse for making you feel like you are less than. You deserve to know how incredible you truly are. Yes… you. You, sitting there reading these words and thinking, “Not me… I’m flawed and ruined.” No, no you’re not. You’re amazing. And you deserve to hear that far more often than you probably do.

Whatever it is you’ve come to believe about yourself, I can promise you that you are not all the negative inner-monologue you hear. I can promise you that you are worthy.  I know you’re scared of probably a hundred different things, your physical safety is just one piece of it all.

But there is hope.

If someone had told me, the day I finally left him, what my life would look like today, I would have laughed in their face. In fact, for two years after the relationship ended, I was lonely and fought depression, but I was also doing the important work of healing. It took time, education, and therapy for me to feel ok again.

And then, a funny thing happened, something I would have never expected… I began to like myself. I began to see that I was not pathetic or worthless, as he’d said. I was more than his definition of me.

I have always liked writing, but I hadn’t put a pen to paper in some five years when I left him. He was the writer. He was published. He was quick to tell me that my writing was “amateur” when compared to his. I should probably do something else, he’d tell me. Even today, when I receive accolades from someone I share my writing with; I have to silence my self-talk (which is still in his tone of voice) that tells me the person is only complimenting me because they pity me. Some of him lingers, but I still silence it, and I still write.

I also became ok with the idea of not being in a relationship. I truly accepted that I might not find love again, and I was ok with that. And, although he was so sure that I would never again find someone that would want me… I did. I found something I’d never had before: a partner. After three years together, next month we’ll say “I do.” We are not in a perfect relationship. We argue, like any couple. But, we do not say words to wound. We do not try to push each other down; but, instead, we build each other up. The sight of my tears is gut-wrenching to my fiancé, whereas the sight of my tears was fuel to my abusers fire.

I tell you this so you realize you have no idea what life will look like for you in the future. The unknown is scary, but it can also be beautiful. It can be healing, enlightening, and all the things you’ve hope for. You are strong enough and good enough, and when you’re ready you’ll find the survivors that have walked before you will support you, believe in you, and be there for you.  Today you may feel you are a victim, but the day will come when you’ll see yourself as the survivor you truly are.

Above all, know that you’re worth it. You’re worth the life you want. You’re worth love. You deserve to hear the word ‘home’ and think of words like safe, loved, secure, warm… You deserve so much more than you think. You are valuable to this world. No one should tell you any less than that. If they do, I promise, it’s not love that motivates them. No one can truly love you if they don’t first value you. And no one that values you will try to hurt you (physically, emotionally, or otherwise).

You know what today looks like but tomorrow can look so different. When you’re ready, we’ll be here. Until then, stay safe and know that someone out here is thinking of you and will always be on your side.

In love and respect,

A Survivor

**If you’re worried about your physical safety when you make the choice to leave, reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline to develop a safety plan for your departure.**

Unchartered Waters

october dv**Disclaimer: This is a raw and unedited blog… don’t judge the writing today, but the message**

October 1st marks the kick off of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Some will wear purple, some will donate items to shelters, Take Back the Night will appear at college campuses, as will the Silent Witnesses.

I spent October 1st curled up at the end of a hospital bed, listening and talking with a domestic violence survivor.

I’ve mentioned her before in previous posts; she is the victim I call Sarah. She is, by far, the most intelligent woman I’ve ever known. She is beautiful, strong, well educated, a loving mother, a fierce feminist and advocate for women, and a dear, dear friend.

Over the last few years, her husband has abused her horribly. One incident, a few months ago, could have easily killed her. She survived it, by the grace of god.

She’s also an alcoholic. Drinking has been her coping mechanism for far too long, and with stress levels that have caused PTSD, she’s self-medicated with the bottle.

And then, last week, she suddenly realized she was going to die, one way or another, if she didn’t get help. Whether it would be the abuser that kills her or the alcohol she’s used to cope, pick your poison – both had proved deadly.

With the support of family and friends, she checked herself into detox and will soon transfer over to a rehabilitation program to address her alcoholism. Like any alcoholic or addict, she has good days and bad days. Like any domestic violence victim, she questions whether she should stay or go a few hundred times a day.

This is where we hit the unchartered waters.

You see, what you do and say to a domestic violence victim is in direct conflict of what you do and say to an addict at this crucial point; at least, according to the research that is published here in the sunshine state.

The Florida Coalition against Domestic Violence believes in the empowerment based model and therefore, believes that we should empower an individual to do “what’s best for herself or her children.” Basically, we support a victim or survivor for however long it takes. We never tell a domestic violence victim that she MUST leave the relationship; we never cut them off from support. We are here for them, no matter how long it takes for them to decide to leave. And, in theory, it can work.

Years ago, another friend of mine was dealing with domestic violence. After one of the more violent fights that left her with two black eyes and contusions to the back of her head, I went to see her. As we spoke, she told me I was one of the view friends she could turn to. It wasn’t because of anything I did or said, it was simply because I was still there. Most of her friends didn’t want to “hear about the drama” anymore. They told her, “I can’t watch you go through this, so call me when you’re really going to be done.” Every time she went back, she had to cross off the name of a friend that would no longer support her.

Only because I knew how dangerous this could be, did I not say the same. If I abandoned her, the only person she’d have left is the abuser. He becomes her only ally as well as the source of her pain. Instead, I was patient, listened, and waited it out. Every single time she left, she could stay with me. Every single time she went back, I told her I hoped it was better. I understand that, to some, this seems like it won’t work. The truth is, a survivor has already been controlled and manipulated by her abuser – she doesn’t need it from a friend. She will, when she’s ready, make the difficult choice to leave. And, until she does, she needs all the love and support she can get (and maybe some gentle, gentle encouragement).

Eventually, that friend did leave her abuser and she’s now happy, fulfilled, and living a rather good life.

On the other hand, years ago I had a friend that was addicted to drugs. I knew almost nothing about substance abuse and thus, reached out to experts for help. I was told some interesting things, especially about boundaries. For example, because this friend was deep into their addiction, it was recommended that I not listen to them complain about their lives and the consequences of their addiction until he was ready to get help. His family was told to help provide the “rock bottom” he needed to get help by cutting him off financially, threatening to call DCF, and the like.

Do you notice the problem then?

How we need to support a domestic violence survivor and how we need to support an addict/alcoholic are in direct conflict.

And yet…

The Mexico fatality review study documented that a third of female victims had alcohol in their system at the time of autopsy, with a blood alcohol content of twice the legal limit.

Among women treated in emergency rooms for injuries caused by their abusers, those who suffered from substance abuse had increased risk of violence from partners.

Another hospital study found that victims injured by partners were more likely than other injured women in emergency rooms to test positive for substance abuse.

Sigh.

I don’t need to tell you about the link between domestic violence and addiction. You know it if you’ve read this blog. It’s there, no matter how uncomfortable it is to talk about.

Those that are in abusive relationships AND are battling out addiction face uncharted waters. Experts in both fields recommend the opposite approach. Because the FCADV seems to not acknowledge the link, it’s very difficult to get real advice or help on the subject.

The truth is, I’m doing the best I can. But, until Florida catches up with the real needs of victims, I’m just hoping I’m doing what’s best.

I try to walk the rope between encouraging and empowering, and at the same time speak truthfully of the need for sobriety. She’s in a dangerous situation on both ends. Her family looks to me for advice, after all.. I’m the domestic violence advocate. Yet, my training doesn’t prepare me for this. My training in Florida is to empower her and believe that if we remove the abuser than she’ll naturally not want to drink. I’ll let you consider how ridiculous this notion is when it comes to addiction.

So, I didn’t wear a shred of purple. I didn’t post a meme. I sat on a hospital bed and listened. I hope I helped. It would be nice if the FCADV, the organization in charge with helping survivors in Florida, could provide any real advice.

Is silence the answer to serve a greater good?

MLK quote1

I have found that irony is one of the more challenging concepts to teach to my students. In part, it’s the preconceived notions that get in the way.  Anything that’s coincidental is assumed to be ironic. By definition, it’s the reversal of expectation that is the true hallmark of irony. Which is why, this experience has been nothing short of ironic.

When I started down this rabbit hole six months ago, I never expected to land face to face with a former employer. True, I’d worked at a shelter and was raising concerns that were, in part, based on my experience with that shelter. It was also my belief that I was going to find a widespread problem within the movement, thus I was never interested in taking aim at one shelter. When I first began my research, I had my own assumptions about what I would find.

First, I believed the problem was national. I believed that every state was set up the way Florida and the FCADV are set up. I was wrong.  It would seem that former Governor Jeb Bush and the passing of 2003 House Bill 1099 would be the root of Florida’s problems. I also believed I was going to find this was a Democrat problem more than a Republican fault. I was wrong; at least, as far as the money and lobbyists go. Finally, upon understanding Florida’s money flow, I thought the problem would be at every shelter in Florida. This assumption, as well as the others, proved false. Not every shelter in Florida operated the same way as the one in question, though it seems that some do.

Still, with my sights focused on the FCADV, it never occurred to me how wrapped up I would become with this one shelter.  One of my first tasks was contacting a few people that I believed could explain to me why and how this one shelter exemplified the problems within Florida’s domestic violence field. The more I questioned, the more other people wanted to share their experience. It was only from the voice of others that I arrived here. People that called, people that emailed, people who shared document after document that confirmed allegations were more than mere allegations; they were indisputable facts. I could not possibly know the data, figures, and facts of salaries, management plans, raises, etcetera had it not been handed to me by others. I simply was not high up enough to have that information had it not been handed to me. As of this writing, the amount of documents that were shared with me stands at over two feet tall in the corner of my room… all regarding this one shelter in question.

Many of the people that contacted me were scared to speak out. Some had jobs on the line, some feared how they would be perceived if they spoke out, and others just weren’t sure anything could be done. Not by desire, but because of the fears of others, I became the voice of a group of concerned citizens, former employees, former board members, affiliated organization members, and survivors.  It was the original intention of all concerned parties to speak to the Board of Directors of the shelter in question, and present the facts and concerns, and then let them make decisions as they saw fit. I was given the task of contacting the Board to try and arrange this meeting. I did contact them. Three times over three weeks. I left messages, and I sent an email.

And then, on September 11th, 2015, I received this letter from the organizations legal representative:

LetterAttorney

I can’t quite understand how they “thoroughly reviewed such concerns” since they’ve yet to hear them. One could argue that they knew my concerns based on the blog “An Open Letter to Mrs. Bush.” But, as I’ve already publicly stated, I chose to omit many of the concerns from the “Open Letter” in an effort to protect the organization and myself, until we could discuss those issues privately. Either way, it is a cease and desist letter. Whether or not it would hold up in court, I have no idea; I suppose it could if the First Amendment were to vanish from my rights. If the intention of the letter was to intimidate or create fear, it failed. Considering how many people warned me about the consequences of asking questions when it came to this shelter, this letter did more to validate that concern than anything else.

It’s disappointing that a Board of Directors isn’t interested in hearing from so many people with so many concerns. I’m not interested in being the face or voice of those concerned parties, I’m not interested in attending the meeting myself (should that be an issue), the intent was only for all concerned parties to be heard.

I would be lying if I said the letter didn’t bother me. It felt like a blatant attempt to avoid transparency and silence the issue. However, I also knew that the shelter in question would work hard to establish that I was nothing more than a disgruntled employee, hell bent on taking them down. I cannot battle out a former employer and give any credence to the idea that I am involved because of some vengeful resentment, regardless of how ridiculous I find this theory.  The problem is, when I’m contacted by individuals that want to remain nameless but want me to share their story and concerns, it creates a scenario where I’m the only one shouting from the mountaintop.

Well, I can’t be the one shouting when I’m not seen as credible. I just can’t. But you can. It is up to everyone else to fight for the injustices and to speak out for survivors. With this many people aware of the issues, many of whom are respected in our community, it can no longer be on me and me alone. I will support you, I will stand with you, I will speak with you, if need be… but I cannot speak for you. Asking me to do so will not create change, it will stifle it. Be brave. Change is in your hands.

As for me… while I do believe that this shelter desperately, desperately needs to be held accountable and listen to public concern – I also accept that they are only one piece of a much larger problem. In addition, there is absolutely no way that I can disprove the “disgruntled former employee” rumor. Therefore, pursuing the organization further, on my end, would not be beneficial to the cause or to me. I jeopardize damaging the cause by continuing to be the voice of the many.

My strength is in my research and writing, as it always has been. My strength is not in battling it out with a former employer. I do believe that we should demand more from this organization, and I certainly hope that you do. However, as much as I’m angered at what this shelter is doing (or rather not doing) for survivors in my community, I’m angrier still at the FCADV’s lack of oversight and deluded agenda.

Aldous Huxley once wrote, “Hell isn’t merely paved with good intentions; it’s walled and roofed with them. Yes, and furnished too.” That, to me, sums up the FCADV. They began with good intentions, I believe. They have done good things. But, somewhere along the way, they lost focus. I’m not sure why. Greed? Possibly.

I hope to answer that question one day. Going forward, I have two goals that will be the focus of all research, writing, and posts.

1)      To understand the problems within the FCADV’s agenda, adequately and thoroughly.

2)      To determine a solution that involves honesty, transparency, and advocating for survivors. How do we help survivors obtain the services they need?

As always, we welcome your feedback, comments, and ideas as long as they focus on the two goals above!

“The Open Letter” Update

Seven days before my son was born, Michael Jackson died. Like most people, nostalgia took over, and I began listening to my old Jackson CDs.  I sang along to “Thriller” and “Bad” for the first time in years. I jammed out and danced around with the watermelon belly that comes with nine months of growing a human.  I can only assume that my son picked up on the vibrations in utero.  After he was born, Michael Jackson tunes were the only thing that soothed him through colic. I have no science to back it up, and I could be wrong. To this day, he loves Michael Jackson.

One of his favorite songs is “Man in the Mirror.” My son says that it’s a great song because:

“If we all changed ourselves a little, the world would just be better.”

It’s a message he understands at the tender age of six.

On the drive to school this week, we listened to the song and I felt a deep connection to the lyrics.  This is what brings me to this post.

This post is open to the public. That said, I am specifically talking to those of you currently working at Domestic Violence centers in Florida.  Change is in your hands.

Since the publication of “The Open Letter to Mrs. Bush,” I have heard from many different individuals. Most of the comments, feedback, and discussion have been positive and helpful. However, it would not be a proper discussion if there were not some who disagreed with my stance.

Let me start by addressing the most frequent criticisms I have heard.

You did not include your last name: There are a multitude of reasons why I chose to omit my last name from “The Open Letter.”  First, protecting those affected or involved in my childhood experience is essential. The second reason is to provide some protection for the shelter I “called out” in The Open Letter. My last name would lead folks to discover which shelter I address in “The Open Letter.” That shelter is a necessity in our community and my objective is not to lose public trust in an important social service and force it to shut its doors. It is my intent, however, that valid concerns be addressed as openly as possible.  The shelter deserves the opportunity to address serious concerns (many of which I chose to omit from “The Open Letter” to protect them) before anything is public.

You are a disgruntled employee with an axe to grind:  In fact, I am disgruntled, just not in the way you might think. First, let me be clear that I was not fired nor did I leave the profession on bad terms. I left on my own accord five years ago. I have a profession, am well paid, and am a happy mother and spouse living a good life. Yet, day after day, I read a new story about a domestic violence murder, assault, or issue and it bothers me. I am disgruntled with a failing system, and not just by my account. I have heard from many, many advocates, case managers, and citizens who have acknowledged and/or recognized similar concerns. If this one shelter in question were the only shelter with these issues, there would be no blog to post. Unfortunately, that is not the case. This shelter may provide the best example of where we have gone wrong due to lack of oversight and blatant mismanagement.

There will be more details on the shelter in the coming weeks. That is all I can say on that topic today.

Why are you criticizing a woman making $450,000 a year when men have been making that much for decades in similar positions? I do not take issue with the salary of the Executive Director of the FCADV. I take issue with a salary that is so high that it results in necessary services and needs going unmet. Social service is a notoriously underpaid profession. Considering the compassion fatigue and burnout rate, this is a problem. I am certainly not critical of those providing direct services. Domestic Violence advocates in Florida often make close to or slightly above minimum wage. As a Case Manager, I made roughly $25,000 a year. I absolutely do not believe that every Executive Director of centers and shelters are overpaid. For example, I heard from an Executive that has been at her shelter for over 30 years and her salary is rather low.  But I cannot ignore the fact that several are making much higher salaries as services decrease. These discrepancies are too extreme to ignore. Some say that my chart was an unfair comparison since other states have a smaller budget and less oversight.  One only need to visit GuideStar.org, look up organizations with a budget over 20 million in Florida, and read the 990s to see that the Executive Director of the FCADV is still making a higher salary than most. Also, if the argument is that the ED of the FCADV makes that much because she is “overseeing” more than other EDs, I expect oversight, as should everyone else who cares about these issues). I, personally, have not seen sufficient oversight and the numbers make that quite clear.

And now the argument/criticism that deserves the longest response…

You are hurting the Domestic Violence movement. If people read this, they will stop supporting necessary services and put women and children at risk. If the public becomes aware of the amount of substance abuse and mental health issues in shelters, they will not continue to fund these programs. People are sympathetic to domestic violence; they are not sympathetic to drug use and mental health.

Last year the domestic violence homicide rate in Florida increased by 14%. Over 200 lives lost in Florida to domestic violence.  Despite numerous initiatives and changes, we are not winning the battle to protect families from domestic violence. Why?

Domestic violence is complex. Its complexity baffles me still, even after hundreds of hours of research and discussions. For years, we thought it was all about power and gender roles. To be clear, it often is. However, it is also so much more intricate than a Power and Control Wheel can demonstrate. The truth is, the general public often envisions a Lifetime movie when they think of domestic violence. They imagine a woman beaten by her husband for burning dinner. She flees under the cover of darkness with her children to seek safety in a shelter. Sometimes, this is an accurate portrayal. Often, it’s not.

This week, I spoke to a woman and friend we will call Sarah. Sarah is strong, beautiful, well educated, and has spent years advocating for women. She is so intelligent that it is hard to not feel intimidated in conversation with her. She is married with a beautiful child.

Sarah is also currently a victim of severe domestic violence. Sarah also battles alcoholism. Sarah also suffers from extreme anxiety.

Why is she not in a shelter or center? Because, as she explained, she has resources from family and friends to help. She has medical insurance and access to counseling from a Licensed Mental Health Counselor or Psychologist. She has insurance to receive treatment and counseling for her alcoholism. She has the resources she needs.

Unfortunately, the majority of women in domestic violence shelters do not.

If Sarah came into one of our shelters today, we would address the domestic violence. We would develop a safety plan with her and come up with a case plan to improve her life. We would ignore the alcoholism and the anxiety. Do you think she would be able to follow through with that safety plan or case plan while still battling alcoholism and severe anxiety?

Sarah knows that until she achieves sobriety, she cannot make safe choices for herself or her child. She knows that we cannot empower her until she is no longer in the clutches of her addiction and anxiety. If she entered our shelter today, there would be little we could provide for her.

We can argue, if you want, which came first and have a long chicken or egg discussion. Did she begin drinking to deal with the domestic violence? Did she cope with the anxiety by drinking? Did the drinking aggravate her anxiety?

Does it matter?

Is her domestic violence any less significant because she is battling alcoholism and anxiety issues?

Again, let me restate the data from the Department of Justice’s last national Fatality Review:

Up to 88% of battered women in shelters suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The Mexico fatality review study documented that a third of female victims had alcohol in their system at the time of autopsy, with a blood alcohol content of twice the legal limit.

Other studies have found that as many as 72% of abuse victims experience depression.

Among women treated in emergency rooms for injuries caused by their abusers, those who suffered from substance abuse had increased risk of violence from partners.

75% (of battered women in shelters) experience severe anxiety.

Another hospital study found that victims injured by partners were more likely than other injured women in emergency rooms to test positive for substance abuse.

The FCADV provides information for and helps publish the Florida fatality review, which is different from the DOJ’s national findings. The Florida Fatality Review, unlike the DOJ, did not include victim characteristics such as mental health and substance abuse. The reason, I have been told by others, is to look at those victim characteristics would be considered “blaming the victim.”

Would it? Or would it force them to address funding limitations and possibly share the “honey pot”?

Illinois published a “Safety and Sobriety Manual: Best Practices in Domestic Violence and Substance Abuse.” From this manual is the following:

A significant number of women seen in domestic violence agencies suffer from substance abuse problems. A study of Illinois shelter staff suggests that as many as 42 percent of their clients abuse alcohol or other drugs (Bennett & Lawson, 1994). There are a number of reasons for this:

  • Victims may begin or increase their use of alcohol/other drugs in response to domestic violence or other trauma. Alcohol/other drugs may be used to medicate the physical and emotional pain of domestic violence or to cope with the fears of being battered.
  • Alcohol/other drug use may be encouraged or even forced by the partner as a mechanism of control. Efforts at abstinence may be sabotaged.
  • Outcomes of victimization may include diminished self-image, guilt, shame, powerlessness, depression, sexual dysfunction, and relationship dysfunction. All of these provide a foundation for the development of substance abuse.
  • Victims may have the disease of chemical dependency, and this may have preceded their victimization.

A victim with a substance abuse problem is at increased risk because:

  • Acute and chronic effects of alcohol/other drug use may prevent the victim from assessing the level of danger posed by the batterer.
  • Under the influence, victims may feel a sense of increased power. Victims may erroneously believe in their ability to defend themselves against physical assaults or their power to change the batterer.
  • The abuse of alcohol/other drugs impairs judgment and thought processes so that victims may have difficulty with adequate safety planning. Alcohol/other drug use makes it more difficult for victims to leave violent relationships.
  • Victims may be reluctant to contact police in violent situations for fear of their own arrest or referral to the Department of Children and Family Services.
  • Use of alcohol/other drugs may increase involvement in other illegal activities.
  • Victims may be denied access to shelters or other services due to substance abuse.
  • Another perspective to keep in mind when working with substance abusing domestic violence victims is that a significant number of substance- abusing women are experiencing symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of various forms of victimization in their life experiences. Domestic violence advocates need to be aware of this and be prepared to recognize the potential for PTSD in their clients.

Why am I overloading you with this data? Why am I harping on the link between domestic violence, substance abuse, and mental health?

Because it’s the truth. Because there is a correlation. Because not talking about it is putting women and children at risk.

Here’s the truth about why we don’t want to talk about it:

No one wants to share funding.

Florida Tax Watch released their findings in March of 2015 on Florida’s Mental Health and Substance Abuse funding titled “Analysis of Florida’s Behavioral Health Managing Entity Model.” I highly recommend reading it. However, if you cannot, let me pull just a few pieces from it that are of relevancy today:

Florida is currently ranked 49th in the nation for mental health funding.

The inflexible structure of funding silos makes shifting money around particularly problematic for clients with concurrent substance abuse and mental health disorders. Such clients are common, but the funding structure for BHMEs and providers does not allow services to be reported or funded simultaneously by substance abuse and mental health dollars, making it difficult to finance treatment and complicating the ability to effectively record services provided. Most importantly, these silos might dictate treatment. BHMEs show concern that providers may deliver services according to what money is available as opposed to what services are most required. This means that treatment is occasionally insufficient at worst and not tailored to individual needs at best; a problem only exacerbated by limited funding.

One cannot talk about substance abuse without talking about mental health. We know they go hand in hand. Yet, despite that knowledge, funding models limit service providers in which treatment and tailored services they can provide.

The same is true in domestic violence. If we are honest and truthful, we see that domestic violence, substance abuse, and mental health concerns are often inextricably linked. Admitting that means that we have to share funding. I understand that this is scary.

I am only asking that you, dear reader, reflect on the truth. Those of you who provide direct services: know about these connections.  If you care about this cause, ask your local organizations if they are addressing the needs of the women in their centers. Other states may lack in domestic violence funding, but Florida does not. We must stop saying we are only a “crisis center” when we are asking for funding to do so much more.

I blame the FCADV because they control of domestic violence funding in Florida. More importantly, they control the conversation. It’s not only ineffective that they ignore the reliable data—it’s dangerous.

We should all demand more from them, if we are honest.

That is all I am asking and pleading for.  The FCADV cannot continue to be in control of the conversation if they continue to put their head in the sand in order to meet their agenda and salaries.

Can we just be honest? Can we admit that domestic violence is more complex than gender roles? Can we admit that people are profiting from the Domestic Violence industry in Florida and that they may be turning a blind eye to issues that desperately need to be addressed?

I would never intend to harm the movement or stop funding. But I am willing to adamantly express that what we are doing today is not working. We need change.

This issue matters to me very much. The idea that I’m simply mad at a former employer is both ludicrous and offensive. It minimizes my experience and ignores the lack of help so many women and children who trusted us to do better experienced. The guilt on my shoulders for those families is heavy; but all I can do is start with me and those who have reached out to join the fight for change. It is scary to speak out against an organization that is respected and seen as the authority on domestic violence in Florida. The roadblocks, politics, money, and bullying are intense.

Today another story on another murder trends on my Newsfeed. Another life lost to Domestic Violence. I come back to “Man in the Mirror” and the words that rang in my ears all day. Could it be that we, those of us who have been trusted to help, have turned a blind eye to truth and needs of survivors?

All I ask is that we look in the mirror, we start there, and we try to do better. If my six-year-old son can figure that much out, why is it so hard for all of us?

An Open Letter to Mrs. Bush

Dear Mrs. Bush,

When I was six years old, I hid behind a couch with my ears covered by my tiny hands. I sang “Somewhere over the Rainbow” to drown out the sound of my mother screaming as my stepfather beat her.  Black eyes, a busted lip–all were common to see on my mother’s face. Another night, I awoke realizing I needed to use the restroom.  I was so scared to run into my stepfather in the hallway that I chose to urinate in the bed. I slept in it all night.  The predominant feeling throughout my childhood was fear. Fear that my mother would die, fear that I would die… just fear.

We survived. I received counseling. The scars from my youth never faded.

This is why I chose to get involved in the Domestic Violence movement. I did not find a job on Career Builder; I sought out a shelter for this work. When I began my work at the shelter, it was due to a genuine care for victims and their experiences.

I left the field five years later. I left because I realized the domestic violence movement had been hijacked by the very organization I imagined was its greatest ally: the Florida Coalition against Domestic Violence (FCADV).

You, Mrs. Bush, have partnered with FCADV since the early 2000s. According to their last 990 filing, you sit on the Board of their Foundation. In 2003, your husband, then Governor, Jeb Bush signed House Bill 1099. This bill allowed the FCADV to attain control over all funding for the 42 certified Domestic Violence centers in Florida. Over the past two weeks, your husband has publicly referenced his and your work on domestic violence as he makes his bid for Presidency.

For this reason, I can no longer be silent.

Immediately after your husband signed House Bill 1099, a multitude of things began to change at our shelter and others. In 2005, our Children’s Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) left and was never replaced. Our shelter seemed to have decided the service was no longer necessary. In 2010, our Adult Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) was laid off and never replaced. Also in 2010, two members of our Board of Directors raised concerns about various issues, including the possible misappropriation of funds, blatant mistruths on the shelter’s 990s, and the fact that the Executive Director was rarely on-site. Since the shelter’s oversight was and still is the FCADV, those affected reached out to them, calling and expressing concerns.

The result? They were dismissed from the Board.

Our longstanding Board of Directors included fourteen members; today it has six. In 2010, a strategic planner came in to help the shelter create a more concrete and effective plan to meet shelter objectives. However, it seems he was dismissed when the Executive Director was unhappy or, rather, “unsatisfied” with his findings.

Among the findings? The lack of full time presence of the CEO (Executive Director).

In 2012, the three top administrators at the shelter received two raises in two months. With those raises, nearly 40% of the entire funds of the shelter paid (and still pays) the three top administrators, one of which is the Executive Director who is almost never on-site. No action has been taken regarding any of these facts because, as previously mentioned, their only oversight is the FCADV and they do not appear to be concerned, based upon their lack of response to clearly expressed, valid concerns.

Certified Florida domestic violence shelters are required to report their counseling hours to FCADV monthly and FCADV compiles the numbers. The FCADV boasts that its centers provided approximately 455,000 hours of counseling to victims of domestic violence in 2014.

I called every one of Florida’s 42 certified centers and all but three confirmed that they have no LMHC counselor on staff. Most of them clarified that while they did not have licensed counselors, they follow a “peer counseling” model, which allows for a much looser conception of what counts as counseling. At the shelter where I worked, each and every moment a staff member spoke to a victim counted toward counseling hours.

Internal memos signed by our director encouraged advocates to “get counseling hours up.” One specific memo (which I have in my possession) reads: “Do their nails, hair, gather them for a movie” … just get the hours up. I find it troubling that they consider this counseling. Had that been the counseling service I received as a child, or my mother received as an adult, I fear what would have become of us.

In 2009, the Department of Justice released their national fatality review on domestic violence victims. Among their findings were the following:

Up to 88% of battered women in shelters suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

The Mexico fatality review study documented that a third of the female victims had alcohol in their system at the time of autopsy, with a blood alcohol content of twice the legal limit.

Other studies have found that as many as 72% of abuse victims experience depression.

Among women treated in emergency rooms for injuries caused by their abusers, those who suffered from substance abuse had increased risk of violence from partners.

75% (of battered women in shelters) experience severe anxiety.

Another hospital study found that victims injured by partners were more likely than other injured women in an emergency room to test positive for substance abuse.

This is not about blaming victims; it is about establishing which services victims truly need. How did it come to be that FCADV would ignore the desperate need for mental health counseling and substance abuse help in your shelters and centers? How did it come to be that FCADV stopped providing those services?  The official word from FCADV is that, “It’s not one of our core services” and/or “We can’t assume that every victim needs those services.” If credible data demonstrates that 80% of women in shelters have PTSD, shame on FCADV for not helping them.  This is especially true when Executive Directors continue to receive raises while those in need struggle for resources. The FCADV claims they “refer out” for mental health services. But to what resources? Mental health and substance abuse are incredibly underfunded while the FCADV is not. When I worked at the shelter as an advocate, most referrals I was required to recommend involved month-long waiting lists.

The Empowerment Model looks good on paper but one cannot empower an individual to do “what’s best for herself or her children” when the individual needs sobriety, substance abuse counseling, or mental health care. Blatantly ignoring what statistics make clear is irresponsible, unethical, and, at best, ineffective.

I worked with at least 600 women in our shelter. How many had what the average person or shelter employee would consider a “happy ending” or beneficial outcome? I would wager that fifty is a more than generous guess. In my opinion, approximately fifty of 600 women left our shelter better off than when they arrived. The vast majority left almost no better from their time in our center. The reason is that, of the 600 women I worked with, roughly fifty dealt solely with domestic violence. The other 550 dealt with (and are likely still dealing with)co-traumas of substance abuse and/or mental health.

Our shelter sent them back out into the world with none of what they needed to stay safe. Where did they go? Sometimes we dropped them off behind a Publix to walk into the woods, sometimes at homeless shelters, sometimes back to their abusers, sometimes to different shelters.  Not one of the highest paid administrators who take home nearly 40% of the shelter’s funding demonstrated concern about the outcome of these survivors—or in this case, victims. I blame the FCADV.

I applaud the efforts of FCADV to raise awareness. I applaud their efforts to change the conversation and place the blame on abusers. I do NOT applaud their efforts to save lives because they are failing. And as long as they continue doing what they are doing—putting salaries above services and greed above goodwill—they will keep failing. Hiding behind the Empowerment Based Model does a disservice to victims, and that is not okay.

To empower women and victims, you must start by having honest conversations about the co-traumas that shelter workers see. The FCADV spends a great deal of money on lobbyists, to maintain their status quo. Domestic violence victims and survivors are not interested in the politics that have allowed this to spiral out of control, but it is certainly political in nature.

The FCADV has dwindled away needed services, such as mental health care, at its 42 centers, all while top executives and administrators continue to receive unjustified and unnecessary raises. It is unconscionable that the Executive Director of the FCADV makes nearly half a million dollars a year while victims go without essential services. Florida does not even come close to comparing to other Executive Director salaries.

I took the time to look at the 990’s for all State Coalition Executive Directors… here is how Florida’s Director compares:

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Florida is often cited as leading the nation in domestic violence initiatives. I am terrified that other states would model themselves after ours. I cringe to think about what will become of the victims as executives’ pockets get bigger. I believe the FCADV began with good intentions. However, as often happens, when left unchecked, greed found its footing.

Please stop listening to the highest paid executives and go back to the basics. Speak openly with advocates, case managers, and all those who provide direct service.  Ask what they see, what services and resources they need to protect women, and to provide comfort and safety through their transition. You will find that the FCADV has gotten in the way of saving lives.

For too long, I stayed quiet. For too long, I tried to justify what I knew was wrong. For too long, I covered my ears like I did when I was a child hiding from the abuse in my own home. Now I will speak out. I will speak to State Representatives and individuals in Congress. I will reach out to others to join the fight. I will reach out with documentation of everything I have collected through my extensive research. I will never again let Mr. Jeb Bush go on TV and claim he has made positive changes to Florida’s domestic violence system. Perhaps you have both raised some important initiatives, but you have also helped the rich to get richer by ignoring the needs of victims.

Enough is enough.

Domestic violence survivors and victims in Florida deserve better. Every victim deserves better. It is time to take back the movement whose vast potential for change has been stolen by the FCADV. I sincerely hope you will consider my plea and use your position of power to benefit those in need rather than contributing to their further victimization.

Sincerely,

Cassandra
www.floridadvreform.com
dvindustryissues@gmail.com
www.facebook.com/FLDVReform
https://twitter.com/cassandra_dye

Feel free to repost this blog, link to it, and/or share. If sharing on Twitter, use #FloridaDVReform. You may also tweet it to Columba Bush and Jeb Bush.

Break the Silence

Resources from The Open Letter

I stated that Mrs. Bush was on the Board of the FCADV foundation – you can view that 990 here: FCADV 2013 FOUNDATION.

Regarding House Bill 1099 2003: Florida Voice 2003 Summer

FCADV’s yearly counseling hours can be found here

I mention that FCADV has peer counseling. You can read about that in their minimum standards. FCADV Program Standards FY 2011-12

I quoted statistics from the DOJ National Fatality Review, you can read the entire review here: National Fatality Review

I mention how underfunded mental health services are in Florida. Read up on that here

To take a look at the latest finances of the FCADV, see their 990, you can also view the ED’s salary here: FCADV 2012 990

To complete the chart of national salaries, I first visited the National Coalitions list of centers. I then went to Guidestar.org and looked up EACH of the centers and downloaded the 990 tax forms for each one. I put that data into this file: State_National Coalition ED Salarys

If you would like to read about other programs that are doing better and addressing co-traumas, take a look here

A word about the shelter I mention:

At this time, I have not posted the name, memos, salaries, etc of this shelter. However, as things progress – I will. If you wish to see them, simply email me a request at dvindustryissues@gmail.com