I am not quite old enough to remember Bull Connor, his dogs and fire hoses and how those actions playing out on the mostly black and white televisions of the day were able to finally begin to awaken white people to the facts that there were such injustices of the day. But I do remember in the later 60’s and early 70’s the many marches, protests, and riots that were continuing a reaction to injustices that had not been addressed. And I remember Kent State when the National Guard was called out to “control” students who were protesting the Vietnam war.

And here we are yet again. But this moment feels different. Or at least I am hopeful.

Over the last five years I have learned much about how my decades’ long work against violence in our homes intersects with the violence that occurs in our communities. Oppression of women and children has been the driving philosophy behind the anti-domestic movement. But what does that really mean? Domestic violence is directly connected to racism and classism. If we are not examining how these different actions tie together in the lives of people seeking assistance from our DV agencies, we are losing opportunities to more fully assist them on their path to safety and security.

The anti-DV movement has leaned heavily on the justice system – civil and criminal – in an attempt to reduce violence in our homes across the country. And we have made some progress for some individuals. DV shelters are certainly much safer places to be than they were 15 or 20 years ago, but how much safer are our homes and communities? Why do reports of child abuse and domestic violence continue to rise? Why are domestic violence homicides still occurring at such significant rates?

Is it because – just like with racism and classism – we continue to look at the problems as individual issues rather than systemic barriers that require fundamental change? We keep trying to educate and train individuals, but are we examining our responses to see if they are really making a difference?

We know that when a family enters a DV shelter they are safer while they are there. But what does it take for them to have a safer life? And why do we keep needing the shelters? After 40 plus years, shouldn’t we begin to see a difference?

Right now our focus is on individual police officers who use violence. But if we are really going to make a difference, we have to examine the whole system nationwide to figure out why we keep returning to these moments in our history where people die and we don’t change. That includes DV anti-violence advocates. As I witness recent events, I know there are changes we as DV advocates need to make to help make all victims safer and be more responsive to their needs. I also know we don’t have all of the answers and learn by listening to victims and seeking community resources that help them build sustainable solutions. So I challenge you, Reader, to help us make communities safer. How can you help us be more responsive to families seeking help to end violence in their lives?

Author:  Vickie Smith, CEO/Executive Director, ICADV