“Violence Unmasked: The Men Behind the Abuse” Panel Sponsored by NOW-NYC

By Tunisia L. Riley*

In light of public figures connected to domestic violence scandals in New York like White Plains Mayor, 2010 Puerto Rican Day Parade Godfather Osvaldo Rios, and Governor Patterson’s aide , the New York City chapter of the National Organization of Women (NOW-NYC) brought together a panel discussion to address the men behind domestic abuse.

The panel, “Violence Unmasked: the Men Behind the Abuse & the Culture that Fuels It”, was moderated by NOW-NYC’s Executive Director, Sonia Ossorio. Panelists included Phyllis B. Frank, Director of VCS Domestic Violence for Men, Lead Contributor to the NY Model for Batterer Programs & President of the Rockland County Chapter of NOW; Stephanie Nilva, Esq, Executive Director of Day One, an organization devoted to ending youth dating abuse and domestic violence through “community education, legal advocacy & support, and peer leadership”; and Dan Goodman, LCSW, Program Coordinator, for CHOICES Domestic Violence Program in the Bronx, NY.

One of the speakers, Phyllis B. Frank, called men’s violence against women “a pandemic issue in every country in the world” thereby speaking to the magnitude of the problem. In short she said men’s violence against women stems from their sense of entitlement. When asked by the moderator “is there more domestic violence or are we more aware of it?” Frank noted that abusers are being exposed and thanks to her efforts and many others she worked with during the 2nd Wave of Feminism, Domestic Abuse now has a name. Women who have been abused are speaking up and telling their stories.

Panelist Dan Goodman, who also works with abusers, discussed the common themes of batterers which included: seeing themselves as victims first, blaming others for their actions, minimizing their actions, negative attitudes towards women, and low self-esteem. His program seeks to make batterers understand their accountability in abuse. While Goodman named these common characteristics he’s seen in batterers, both he, and the rest of the panel agreed that “you can’t always pick out a batterer.” Panelists pointed to the Yardly Love death , the Chris Brown/Rihana abuse case and personal stories as examples of this.

Panelist Nilva, Esq, works mainly with New York City youth to end dating abuse and domestic violence. She was the only panelist whose work focuses solely on teens, offering legal services, and education to teens who may otherwise be unaware of the help available. Like Frank, she also noted a heightened awareness of abuse, although she quoted some startling statistics that stated: of the age group 16-24, 1-in-3 youths have been abused, and 1-in-5 youth have been sexually assaulted. She however urged that there needed to be more accountability, choices, and penalties for abusers. According to Nilva, the Department of Education doesn’t teach or train adults on the culture of Domestic Violence therefore her organization offers these services in the schools. (She also mentioned the Relationship Abuse Prevention Program (RAPP) offered at some schools).

What intrigued me the most about this panel was that it focused on the abuser rather than victimize the abused. The recurring theme of each panelist’s position was to address accountability of the abuser, which can often be forgotten or overlooked. Too often we point the finger at everyone else but the person perpetrating the abuse. However, Frank left the audience with a quote “our greatest failure is to become a service provider movement instead of a social justice movement.” Goodman noted we must hold society accountable. And Nilva noted the violence and accepted voyeurism in youth culture through video games, music, and social networking sites.

For More Information on the CHOICES Program (A Domestic Violence Intervention Program for Batterers) Please call: 718-960-0308 or 718-960-3063 (they’re located in the Bronx, NY)

*Tunisia L. Riley currently volunteers with NCRW in their Communications Department. She holds a BA in English and Women’s Studies from the College of William & Mary and an MA in Women’s Studies from the University of South Florida. Her interests are on Black women’s use of creative expression as a means of healing, empowerment, and activism. She believes “when we tell our stories, we empower those around us to agitate injustice, inspire change, and create activism.” Tunisia currently serves as the incoming editor of Under the Microscope a site for women and girls in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) to tell their stories. Under the Microscope is for, by, and about women in STEM, consider submitting your story today.

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