Courtesy of Walk This Way
I met Becky Lee, local advocate for Domestic Violence and Founder of Becky’s Fund, at her awareness and fundraiser fashion show, Walk this Way, last month. Becky has clearly made an impact on this town and earned some clout: her fashion models were the Redskins AND the DC United.
But fashion and fame aside, Becky fights hard against a serious and sobering problem: Domestic Violence. Find out why Becky advocates from DC, be reminded of the signs and symptoms of DV, and hear about some of the resources available here in town.
Cathy: Why did you pick DC as home base to fight your cause?
Becky: During law school I had several internships in DC, including a position with the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. I loved the combination of my interests in law and policy, as well as being able to make a positive impact on the lives of people in the community. After receiving my law degree from the University of Pittsburgh, I decided to return to DC and took a position with the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), and then an attorney position with the Battered Women’s Justice Project. I learned a tremendous amount from these experiences, and through interacting with the victims of domestic violence in particular, I was inspired to create and found my own domestic violence organization in 2006.
After coming in third on the CBS reality show “Survivor: Cook Islands,” I used some of the prize money to start Becky’s Fund in 2006. I knew DC was the perfect place to start my organization and fight for this cause after being down here for a few years and experiencing the positive energy of this city. I also had maintained several strong relationships with the groups I had worked with over the years and felt confident that I would have the support needed to start this organization on my own.
How many of your clients and the people you are fighting for are in DC versus another area?
Most of our large fundraising and awareness events, such as Domestic Violence (DV) Awareness Day at the Park and “Walk This Way” Fashion Show have so far been held in the DC metro area. While it is important to establish ourselves as a leader in domestic violence awareness and prevention in the DC area, it is also important to spread our message out on a larger scale. I travel to schools all across the United States for our domestic violence college tour, where I educate tens of thousands of students on how to recognize the warning signs of dating violence, how to get help, and how to help a friend in need. It is great to be able to serve domestic violence victims in the DC metro area and also know that we are actively spreading awareness and education across the country at the same time.
How is DC different in domestic violence from other parts of the country?
Domestic violence in DC is no different than anywhere else in the country. At Becky’s Fund we have worked with victims who were high class society women who seemed to have it all on the outside but struggled with leaving abusive husbands, teenagers who were experiencing dating violence but didn’t recognize that excessive texting and stalking were signs of abuse, women on welfare who were suffering from abuse, and even men and women who had grown up in abusive households and were starting to continue the cycle of abuse in their own lives. Domestic violence occurs on all socioeconomic levels, racial, religious and ethnic groups, and affects one in three women today regardless of geographic location.
Why is it so important for you to be doing your work based in DC?
DC is a center for policy and potential change. Being located here gives me direct access to Capitol Hill and the prominent individuals to whom I can advocate policy change. For example, the new Health Care bill passed by Congress includes a stipulation that would disallow domestic violence to be considered a preexisting condition upon which victims can be denied health care coverage. This is an issue that Becky’s Fund has helped bring awareness to, and this bill would be a huge victory for domestic violence victims. It is exciting to be down here in DC and to be at the center of these positive changes.
So, how do you recognize a healthy relationship?
A healthy relationship is one characterized by mutual understanding and respect. The key to a successful relationship is the balance of power. A relationship becomes unhealthy when one member intentionally uses power and control tactics over their partner in order to create and maintain an environment of fear and intimidation.
Then, how do you know where to draw the line when it comes to recognizing an unhealthy or controlling relationship that could lead to abuse?
Abusive relationships don’t begin with violence. Just like healthy relationships, abusive relationships begin with a honeymoon stage in which everything is fun and exciting. But in unhealthy and abusive relationships, tension builds and escalates rather than being addressed through peaceful communication and compromise, and can culminate in abusive incidents, ranging from verbal, mental, and physical abuse.
It is most important for a person to listen to his or her instincts, because if he or she is feeling powerless and victimized by his or her partner, this is not something that should be ignored. It is important to be aware of and look out for warning signs and destructive patterns of behavior before they escalate into physical abuse.
When and how does domestic violence affect men? And is this regarded in the same way as for women?
Domestic Violence is often considered to be a women’s issue, but it is really a human rights issue. Men are often categorized as the “abuser,” with the visual of a man beating his wife often coming to mind when people think of domestic abuse. Domestic violence can entail both verbal and mental abuse, in addition to physical abuse, all of which can obviously go both ways.
If anything, with the expected stereotypical roles for men in our society, it makes it that much harder for men to speak out and to even identify themselves as victims. Cultural stigmas may prevent them from seeking help or going to the emergency room or calling the police, whether they are in a same-sex or heterosexual relationship, because of these cultural norms. Becky’s Fund is bringing awareness to men, women, and children alike, because domestic violence can truly happen to anyone.
What other ailments affect those who are affected by domestic violence?
Bruises, cuts, fractures, sprains and concussions are a few of the many injuries typically associated with domestic violence, and are the most obvious visible signs. Victims are also likely to suffer from depression, dissociation, anxiety, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder, and are at a higher risk for suicide. Those who have experienced domestic violence are more likely to participate in binge drinking, fighting and smoking and are at an increased risk of suffering from mental illness. There is also the chance that the cycle of violence can lead to Battered Person Syndrome, which refers to a pattern of psychological and behavioral symptoms commonly found in women living in battering relationships, such as a fear for her life, belief that it was her fault, and believing that the abuse is omnipresent and omniscient. However, research has shown that social support can mitigate the negative mental health consequences of abuse.
Should we be taking self-defense classes? Are there classes in DC we should know about?
Taking self-defense classes is a personal choice, and one that helps many women feel confident and empowered. Self-defense can be an effective tool in supplementing lessons on domestic violence because it reinforces the idea that women have the power to stand up for themselves and fight back, taking back the power that the abuser tries to take.
I have taught self-defense and kickboxing classes in the past to both empower women in the class and also show them moves to protect themselves. Currently, we are working with Tim Dumantt with Critical Incident Awareness Training, Inc. in setting up free classes for victims of domestic violence across the DC metro region. We recently held a self-defense workshop at the CW Life Expo back in October, and are now working on incorporating a self-defense training portion into a workshop we are doing with the Girl Scouts in January. Please visit Tim’s website at www.ciatinc.org to learn more about their program and where you can go to take a class.
What resources and laws protect us in DC?
Always call 911 to report an abusive incident. Protection orders can also be filed against abusers. Some websites that women can go to and get more information are www.womenslaw.org which organizes the sections by each state and its laws regarding domestic violence, as well as Becky’s Fund’s website at www.beckysfund.org. We also have staff available as advocates and sources of help for those in need and can be contacted at 202-730-1333 or firstname.lastname@example.org with any specific concerns.
What can we do, as DC citizens, to help you in this fight?
Bystander accountability on domestic violence must be emphasized. For domestic violence to end, everyone must realize their responsibility in creating community change in behavior and thinking and actively work together to prevent this violence. If you see abuse happening and do nothing to stop or prevent it, then you are actually part of the problem. Your inaction tells the abuser that his or her abusive behavior is acceptable and you are telling the victim that it is ok to suffer in silence with the abuse.
We must also raise awareness about this issue to support those who have experienced abuse, as well as to prevent future abuse. Beyond that, you can come out to our future Becky’s Fund events in order to help us maintain a strong presence and bring greater awareness of this issue to the DC community.
What is the one thing you’d say to the women of DC?
One of the things that I try to emphasize is that as a victim, it is NEVER your fault. There is a lot of guilt and shame that victims experience that is due to the negative judgment of the community and questions like “why doesn’t she leave?” – thus, many do not have the courage to come forward to access help. We must stop blaming victims for the abuse they endure – abusers choose to abuse and thus, we must instead ask the question “ why does the abuser continue to get away with the abuse?” I encourage, not only the women of DC but also our community to “demand accountability!” and say no to abuse!