presenting at the NACDV conference

by mraynes


it already seems like my presentation was ages ago. as soon as i finished the conference yesterday i came straight home to prepare for my parents and little sister coming into town. they got in around 11:30 and this morning has been a whirlwind of excitement with the kids absolutely thrilled to be with their grandparents and aunt.

but i do want to give a brief account of my presentation just so that i can remember in the future what it felt like to speak at a national conference.

it was such an honor to be selected to present. i was among the leaders of the domestic violence field and famous researchers–it’s hard to overstate what an opportunity this was. i am also incredibly blessed to have brilliant friends and colleagues who trusted me enough to present with them.

overall i thought the presentation went very well. it was a late session so i was expecting a small crowd but the room was packed. of course, this had the unfortunate side effect of making the room unbearably hot but we muddled through. the women who attended our session were engaged and interested in the topic and i felt the conversation was incredibly productive.

our topic was actually quite subversive. the title was “best practices: the risk of shelters becoming secondary oppressors.” domestic violence shelters do incredibly important work but today’s iterations are quite far removed from what battered women’s shelters historically started off as. when women and feminists first began talking about the problem of domestic violence they created safe houses where women who were being abused could go to escape the violence. these shelters were matriarchal and empowering, based off of a feminist model of communalism. there was no hierarchy, no executive directors and the distinction between staff and resident was very small.

as society began taking the problem of domestic violence more seriously and started instituting policy to address it this bled over into the shelter movement as well. shelters became much more professionalized and soon a medical mental health model replaced the feminist ideal. additionally, government began funding shelters but as with any funding there were strings attached so shelters became overburdened with a hodge podge of policies that often were not in the best interest of victims.

here are a few common policies that many victims have found disempowering:

  • teenage sons are not allowed in many shelters
  • no substance use, either drug or alcohol
  • strict curfews
  • disclosure of mental health status
  • disclosure of medicine
  • must sign in and out and let staff know where they’re going
  • disclosure of medical conditions
  • chore requirements
  • confidential location that keeps victims isolated

i could go on. i want to make it clear that nobody put these policies in place to disempower women, most of these policies were designed to increase the safety of residents in shelter. however, women who have escaped from an abusive relationship where their every action was controlled find themselves in a place where once again their every action is controlled.

and this is what we meant by the risk of shelters becoming secondary oppressors. i have heard from many women who refuse to ever go back to shelter because they feel it is one more place where they are told what to do by somebody more powerful than they. i don’t believe that any advocate wants this and so our session was meant to address some of these problems, to raise awareness and brainstorm some ways to get around these roadblock that we unwittingly put in the way of the women we serve.

like i said before, the attendees were very willing to engage with the topic which says to me that many advocates are feeling that things are not quite right with the current system. we got back some excellent feedback that will help with our presentation skills in the future. so all in all i am thrilled with how it went.

in another lifetime i used to sing in competitions and on stage and i always got such a rush from doing this. i got the same rush from presenting so hopefully it won’t be the last time i get to do something like this.