October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM). According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), one in three women and one in four men have been victims of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime. La Casa de Las Madres, a local empowerment program for survivors, reports that the San Francisco Police Department responds to about 4,200 domestic violence reports annually.
As part of recognizing this tragic and important issue, we spoke with Raija Freeman-Patterson, GLIDE’s Violence Intervention Programs Manager, about how our Women’s Center and Men in Progress programs are evolving to better address the needs of our community. Before coming to GLIDE, Raija worked for many years with the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department in homeless services programs as well as batterers intervention programs both inside and outside of the prison system.
Why is it important to have a month dedicated to domestic violence awareness?
Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM) is really important to me for a couple of reasons. I have been a victim of violence. If you ask me about why I was interested in this job at GLIDE, that was the main reason why. Because of my own experiences. When I was going through it, I didn’t seek any support. Having something, even just a month, where people are aware of real-life situations that can happen, is super important.
We had a rally at City Hall back on October 6 to mark the beginning of DVAM. It didn’t turn out to be the best situation because a young woman was murdered just a day or two before the event. The rally still happened, but most of the participants who would’ve been there went to the vigil for the woman who was killed. She was very active in the community, and no one knew this was going on.
When you’re in a violent situation, you can’t spend time trying to figure out why someone is behaving like that. You can only think of ways to protect yourself from it happening again. So any sort of period of time where you can highlight the issue and give information to people about how to keep safe from toxic relationships is very important. It should be more than one month; it should be all year round. That is a benefit of having the Women’s Center and Men In Progress programs—we get to teach those life skills every day rather than just in October.
You started in your current position here at GLIDE relatively recently. What are your goals for the violence intervention programs at GLIDE?
Since I started, my goal has been to merge the two programs and have them mirror each other. In Men in Progress (MIP), we work with men who have a violent history, [helping them move toward] understanding what their cycle of aggression and anger is, and giving them a different perspective on how to address anger and violence.
In the Women’s Center (WC) we mostly work with victims, but we do have some women who have been batterers themselves, so we help them understand as females what that role is and how to figure out the best tactics for treatment and recovery.
Why are people who suffer domestic violence often reluctant to report it?
For a number of reasons. For me, I didn’t say anything for years and years. I didn’t report it for two reasons. One is the field I work in. It was very hard for me to admit that I was vulnerable enough to be in a situation like that. When you directly help people as part of your profession, it’s hard to sit back and admit, “I’m the one who needs help and support right now.” I was confused about it for a long time; I didn’t understand why it was happening or why I allowed it to happen.
I also think it’s shame. You don’t want people to ask those questions: “Why are you still in it? Why don’t you just leave?” A lot of times it’s not that easy. A lot of people don’t have alternatives; they are stuck in those situations and they keep dealing with it until they have an exit plan.
That’s one of the things we’re working on with women here: having a backup. We gave out these kits; they are little wallets that include a whistle and places to keep important documents and we call them escape kits. If a woman needs to immediately flee a situation, then they’ll have something with all of their original documents in it and they’ll have access to it if they have to just get up and leave one day.
At GLIDE, we’re exposed to so many different situations. Many of our participants are on drugs, they don’t have a place to stay. Then you factor in they’re in unhealthy relationships. All of that is traumatic. Most of our clients have all of these different things going on and there is no simple solution. Many of our clients say, “I would rather stay in this (violent) situation because I don’t have anybody else to protect me when I’m out on the street”; or, “We live in our car and he/she is always there.”
Nine times out of 10 people think of a man violating a female when it comes to domestic violence. But about 20% of our MIP clients are not heterosexual cis-men. Abuse in general can show up in any form. For example, if your partner is sending you a barrage of text messages while you’re at work, and you cannot function because somebody is invading your space and constantly demanding your attention. It’s important to recognize that domestic violence can occur in all populations and all types of relationships.
Are you coordinating with any other local organizations on issues related to domestic violence?
We are actually partnering with Women’s Inc for a human trafficking certification, which means that all of the Women’s Center staff will be certified to work with trafficked individuals. That can be any sort of trafficking, whether it’s sex workers, an individual being told to sell drugs to pay off a debt—all of those things are considered trafficking. We’re being trained to recognize and deal with trafficking because a lot of times it will come up. Once you get into an individual’s history more deeply, you start to unravel what is really happening.