The Gun Debate

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Mental health. They are two words that are seemingly obvious in their meaning. They are constantly used in news articles, in the social service field, and amongst conversations with friends and family. This is because it is estimated that about 1 in 4 adults are living with a diagnosable mental health issue in any given year in the United States. This is a LARGE number. Now regardless of what your thoughts are on the DSM – the diagnosing manual used among mental health professionals – it is undeniable that the rates of mental health in this country are high and the services and resources available to this population are low. Perhaps in your daily life, personal or professional, you are not constantly speaking to or working with individuals who are living with mental health diagnoses. In this case, the issue is not as apparent or even relevant to some major decisions facing this country. Or perhaps you work with individuals who have a diagnosis and you operate under a strengths-based approach – as anyone working with the mental health population should – and you advocate that they are active, productive members of society and should be seen and treated as such. Or maybe you or someone you love is living with a mental health diagnosis and your life is a combination of strengths and challenges. These are all conflicting experiences that lead to a controversial debate regarding some of the largest problems facing our country.

 

Mental health is the leading cause of disability in this country, preventing people from adequate healthcare, sustainable jobs, and higher education. Mental health comes with a strong stigma attached. Crazy, demented, out of control, problematic, weird, etc. are all words I have heard when referring to someone with a mental health diagnosis. Of course if this is how our society largely views this population, those living with a diagnosis are not stepping forward asking for help. And for those that are brave enough to push back against the unwarranted stigma, they are faced with barriers to services due to limited resources and minimal capacity among service providers working with this population. Undiagnosed and/or untreated mental illness can be debilitating to the individual as well as to society.

 

We have seen this debilitation play out on the news with mass shootings: Columbine, Virginia Tech, the movie theatre in Aurora, and just recently the tragedy that struck an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. In each case, an expert or a family member/friend/neighbor came forward and noted the mental health diagnoses that the perpetrator had been coping with. In each case we were always left asking what services could have been provided had the perpetrator just reached out and asked or if the services were available in his area. This common factor among these shootings has led President Obama to announce today that he wants to increase background checks for individuals wishing to purchase a gun and add mental health criteria to the databases for these checks (among other provisions to decrease gun violence).

 

Since 20 children and 6 adults were killed in Newtown, America has been in a heated debate about what needs to be done regarding mass shootings. The NRA has been adamantly arguing to protect the right to bear arms on the notion that the only way to stop a bad person with a gun is with a good person with a gun. Anti-gun activists have been quoting research about the impact of strict gun laws and why our country is seeing so much violence with it. And our government has been treading lightly to mitigate these tensions while also pursuing a productive legislative response to this tragic issue. It has been nothing short of complicated. While these debates ensue, I have seen some of my colleagues and friends in the mental health profession questioning why the focus is on mental health. Their confusion comes from the concern that they work with so many individuals with mental health diagnoses who are not inflicting violence upon anyone. So they want to turn the conversation away from those living with mental illness.

 

I caution this diversion though. The mental health profession is absolutely right – the majority of people with mental illness are not shooting dozens of people on a whim. The majority of people with mental illness are not violent or combative. But that does not mean we cannot ignore the trend. I think about my profession working with violence against women. We know that the majority of rapists are men but that the majority of men don’t rape. That does not mean we just ignore the male population to try and solve rape. The problem won’t be solved if we don’t address men. We know that the majority of people in gangs are non-White but the majority of the non-White population is not in gangs. Again, we can’t solve gang violence if we address the White population; we must address the non-White community. Solutions must be targeted based on trends. This is why I 100% support President Obama’s decision to overturn the 15-year-old ban on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) conducting research on gun violence. We must highlight the trends to inform our policies and actions to address this issue.

 

With all that being said, I think the proper precaution to take is not to solely focus on mental health. We need to dig deeper into the roots of violence – why are people inflicting violence, not just gun violence, at exponential rates in this country? Why are the majority of perpetrators male? We need to face our realities of the problems with gender, gender norms, and masculinity in our culture. We need to start genuinely trying to decrease poverty. We need to fix our educational system so that it is not fraught with corruption, poor academics, and burnt out teachers with no where to turn. We have so many issues to stare straight in the face if we want to get to the bottom of gun violence in this country. It doesn’t start with President Obama, the NRA, or mental health professionals. We all have our hand in the problem and we all need to cooperate to fix it.

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The Nanny Diaries

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As you may have read in my previous post, human trafficking is a human rights issue that I feel strongly about and devote my professional life to ending. Tomorrow is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day so a blog post is not only necessary but required (I have 3 events from morning to evening to attend so posting this would be impossible tomorrow).

When many people hear human trafficking they not only think of an issue happening overseas but one that is limited to the commercial sex industry. Rightfully so, they think of women being victimized. Indeed, roughly 98% of victims of sex trafficking are women and girls. But so often we overlook or even forget those who are being enslaved everyday in forced labor situations. This includes restaurant work, hotel work, construction and landscaping, agriculture, hair/nail salons, traveling sales crews, etc. The list goes on. The form of labor trafficking that I would like to focus on for this post is domestic workers — the nannies, caregivers, and housecleaners that make other work so possible in America.

Domestic work allows our country to be productive. Nannies come in to care for our children so we can go to work; caregivers take care of the elderly and disabled so we can go to work. Our homes our cleaned by someone else so we can spend more time at work, doing leisurely activities, and spending time with our family. Domestic workers are the backbone of America and yet they are so often taken for granted, overlooked, and exploited.

Women — who are traditionally the caregivers (ahh gender roles!) are entering the workforce exponentially today and policies are not keeping up to speed in terms of maternity leave, child care, elderly care and services for those with disabilities.Children are still in need of care, our elderly parents are still in need of monitoring and care, clothes need to be folded and dishes need to be cleaned after dinner is made. Right Romney?

These tasks are delegated to domestic workers, who are so often female and foreign-born. Domestic work is not included under labor laws and protections. Workers rarely enter into a contract. In a landmark study released by the National Alliance of Domestic Workers, over 2,000 domestic workers were surveyed and researchers found that of the few that did have some sort of employment agreement, all were missing key provisions of standard working conditions (fair pay, hours of work, conditions of work, etc). Also, 30% of those that did have some agreement reported that their employer broke at least one provision within the past 12 months. Who do they report this to? The Department of Labor? Right… because they (1) know what the DOL is as an immigrant (2) many are undocumented so they have a strong and real fear of deportation (85% did not complain about their working conditions because they were afraid they would be deported) (3) they are experiencing physical and emotional abuse that inflicts fear in them to report anything to anybody.

So many of these caregivers not only depend on their employers for income — as minimal as it may be — but they are often also living on the premise in which they are working. Therefore, they are dependent upon their employer for housing and food as well.

This problem is not just happening across the pond. It is not just happening in poor neighborhoods. It could be happening in the house next door or your boss may be taking advantage of a domestic worker. The woman picking out tomatoes at the grocery story with a young child in the carriage may be a trafficked domestic worker. We would never know if we didn’t look beneath the surface. Domestic work has been apart of American culture dating back to slavery and indentured servitude. It is normal and necessary in order for the “more advantaged” to live their lives and be successful. We hear that someone has a nanny, caregiver or a housecleaner and we never ask anything more. Name? Age? Story? I know I haven’t stopped to ask many people who tell me that they have a nanny or housecleaner who that person it is. Have you?

As a society, we have a lot of work to do and I encourage you all to start making steps that lead to strides in helping to protect and support domestic workers. I want to highlight one of the many great recommendations that the report from the National Alliance of Domestic Workers released:

We must create a more equitable economic environment for all low-wage workers. It is difficult to advocate for the rights of domestic workers in an economic and political environment in which the rights of low-wage workers more broadly are so badly frayed. An increase in the federal minimum wage, a strengthened safety net, paid sick and family leave, access to affordable medical care, and opportunities for career advancement for the low-wage workforce would be major steps
toward improving job quality and quality of life for domestic workers.The immigrant workforce would benefit dramatically from a pathway to citizenship. Public policies that raise standards across the low-wage labor market will positively influence the lives of domestic workers.

 

Domestic workers have rights and are entitled to the protections that you and I are granted every day in the work that we do. Stand up for those caring for: the next generation, the generation that worked so hard before us and those who cannot work due to disability. They are the backbone of America, we must support them in return.

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Exploitation, violence, and slavery is not dead, Congress.

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January. A New Year. A beginning, perhaps an end. A month full of added workouts, healthier foods, and a commitment to a “better” life. Every month has it’s thing. February – Valentines Day, school vacation for the kiddos and educators; March – drinkfest for St. Patty’s day and Spring break for college students; April — weather starts to get nicer, Easter, the Earth begins to bloom again… we all have things we look forward to each and every month. We also have our priorities, passions, and commitments that roll over each month. Whether it is our personal life or our professional, we have responsibilities, goals and achievements each and every month. Behind all of this hope for upcoming events and intertwined with the priorities, passions, and commitments, several months are dedicated to a cause or social issue. In October we are bombarded with everything pink and reminded to Save the Ta Tas for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. April is Sexual Assault Awareness month. The list goes on. For many, these causes and issues remain in the background — just words on a billboard or poster on the train. For others, these causes and issues make up a large part of who they are — perhaps a victim of sexual assault or a widow to a wife who died of breast cancer. And then for others, these causes and issues define their passion and they are dedicated to resolutions and a better place.

You see, January isn’t just a New Year beginning with empty promises to myself or a change of who I am and who I want to be. January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month (as of 2013, deemed by President Obama) and January 11th is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. January is dedicated to an issue that I am extremely passionate about and that my personal and professional life are wrapped up in every day.

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When people hear human trafficking, it conjures images of poor, vulnerable children in Thailand, India, or Africa. Most people don’t think it’s happening in the U.S., never mind their own back yard. People are right, it is happening in places like Thailand, India, and Africa, but it’s also happening in Europe, South America, Australia, and the United States. Human trafficking is happening every where. Foreign-nationals are being victimized in our country as well as domestic individuals.

Every day, women, men, and children are stripped from the life they were living and forced into prostitution, domestic servitude, or other labor such as construction work, restaurant work, or hair/nail salons. These victims are paid little, if anything, fed maybe one meal a day, live in abhorrent homes, and experience severe physical, sexual, and emotional trauma.

Every year, between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked into the United States. Right now, in the U.S., there are approximately 300,000 children at risk for being trafficked and exploited. Today, in 2013, there are more people enslaved in the world than at the peak of the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade. Estimates quote around 27 million slaves in the world.

Statistics to some are just numbers. Rightfully so. But when we can estimate that up to 17,500 individuals are being trafficked into the U.S. every year and yet over 10 years (2002-2012), the United States has only granted immigration relief through the T-Visa (visa for foreign-born victims trafficked into the U.S.) for roughly 2,400 people, The Violence Against Women Act just died in the 112th Congress because the GOP couldn’t bare to see protections expanded to immigrants, the LGBTQ community, and Native Americans.Within this act was the U-Visa — immigration relief for foreign-nationals who were victims of a crime in this country, including human trafficking. The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 was not reauthorized in 2011 and also died. The Act is the centerpiece of policies against human trafficking in the U.S. Our government — the officials WE elected, have failed us.

I am outraged. You should be too. Exploitation, violence, and slavery is not dead, Congress so the laws embedded with protections and services for those who are victimized should not be dead either. I have faith that the 113th Congress can look justice in the eye and do the right thing for the American people and those seeking safety and protections on our soil.

We are the land of the free. Home of the brave. The country dripping with opportunity and success. Yet slavery is happening in our backyard. It is hidden in plain sight — we MUST look beneath the surface. We have a lot of work to do but great work is already happening too. Support a local agency that does advocacy work to combat human trafficking or a social service provider that works directly with survivors of human trafficking. Volunteer your time or make an in-kind donation. Talk about the issue with your friends, family, and co-workers. Be smart consumers. Read about the issue. Urge your representatives to reauthorize VAWA and the TVPA and increase services for victims and their families. Consider how you can prevent the crime from occurring against the children in your community and the adults looking for work.Stand up for freedom.

As Obama said in his Proclamation on on December 31, 2012:

We reflect on the Amendment that wrote abolition into law, the decades of struggle to make its promise real, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that has drawn nations together in the pursuit of equality and justice. These achievements once seemed impossible — but on this day, let us remember that they were not, and let us press on toward the future we know is possible.

Why, America? Why/

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The lesson that was reiterated to me today: The GOP cares more about rich white men than women, the LGBTQ community, minority populations, the poor, and people who are suffering after a natural disaster combined. Haven’t read anything other than the Fiscal Cliff and your taxes? — Well that’s because that’s what the media chooses to inundate our Newsfeeds, News Channels, and front pages with. But the GOP also did not pass a recovery package for those whose homes and lives were torn apart by Hurricane Sandy. They also let the Violence Against Women Act expire because they could just not stand to bear protections also being for people who are part of the LGBTQ community or Native American women.

Way. To. Go, Old, Men! The recovery package is mind boggling and downright sad that they are arguing over pennies at the expense of people’s homes and well-being. But, as you all know, I want to focus my outrage on the VAWA (at no offense to those who are still suffering from the horrible Hurricane).

This holiday season, Republicans showed us that they think the proposed version of the VAWA protects… too many women. Wait, what? Not only did they show us that by letting the bill expire, but they told us they think LGBTQ victims and Native American victims are not deserving of protections, support, and assistance. Instead, I understand the GOP to be telling me that they think these victims deserve the violence and should fend for themselves. The GOP are showing us that they want to protect the men who are doing the abusing more so than the women who are being victimized and traumatized at substantial rates.

I don’t give a rats ass if you are white, black, brown — young, middle-aged, or old — heterosexual or homosexual. If you are a victim of such violence, you deserve protections and the right to feel safe again. This is not political, people. We should not have to have such debates and such restrictive proposals for policies about this issue. The fact that we do tells me society doesn’t 100% believe that violence inflicted against women and the LGBTQ community is ALWAYS wrong. I feel pure sadness by this harsh realization that has been stirring within me for years but has been solidified today.

Our media has drowned us with talks about taxes, the economy, entitlement programs, etc. Now, I will be the first to admit I cannot contribute to the Fiscal Cliff debate productively because my knowledge base is just not up to par. I also know that the economy is important and our futures depend on a lot of policies that are on the table right now. I am not trying to say that we should not care or be concerned with the so-called Fiscal Cliff. But I am disgusted that I had to Google Violence Against Women Act because it did not show up on my Google Newsfeed — which has topics such as sexual assault, human rights, domestic violence, and women’s rights. Why is it that I receive a Breaking News Alert from the NY Times in my inbox about Hilary Clinton being released from the hospital but I don’t get a Breaking News Alert on the GOP walking out on the millions of Americans severely impacted by domestic and sexual violence every day?

I am disgusted that less than the top 2% of earners have controlled the media. Let me throw you some numbers that you aren’t reading about on your iPhone or tablet tonight before bed or tomorrow over your first cup of coffee.

As of November 2012, there were 135.1 million people working in the U.S. Less than 2% earn $450,000 — which is the starting point for tax increases as a result of the deal that was passed today — so I’ll round up and say 2%. So roughly 2.7 million Americans fall into the category that all eyes were on and outrage poured out of during the Fiscal Cliff proposals and debates. All the outrage by the GOP because they weren’t seeing spending cuts — from the poor. And yet, the GOP let a bill expire that would strengthen protections for the 12 million victims of domestic violence, 6 million victims of sexual assault, and 1 million victims of stalking. They failed AT LEAST 19 million Americans but I would argue that number at least quadruples when you consider under reporting and the friends and families of loved ones beaten, raped, and even murdered at the hands of their intimate partner.

Change is needed now more than ever. Accountability of our representatives siting in the House and re-evaluation of what “representative” truly means needs to happen. The United States is made up of 50.8% women and yet 20% of the Senate are women and 17.9% of the House are women. Though Washington has beat records after this past election, it still falls short of general representation of the American people at a strictly gender-based analysis. Why are we okay with White men being the sole opponents of the reauthorization that went through the Senate back in the Spring 2012. Why are we okay with White men dictating the future of women? Why are we perpetuating the status quo of severe violence in our country to our mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts, grandmothers, aunts.

Why aren’t more Americans outraged and screaming WHY?

 

 

 

I am back and ready for 2013

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2013: I am back. HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

I took a pretty long break from blogging — life got a hold of me and I lost track of time to devote to blogging. I also went through a period where I wasn’t sure if anyone was reading this – I’m still not quite sure — and I was (still sort of am) insecure about what I was writing and who was reading it. But the 2 months or so that I was away from blogging, I was constantly reading about various current events, observing media coverage and how journalism impacts how we understand the world around us, etc. I was so eager to talk to people about these things. Social media is an excellent outlet for engaging many people in important discussion, but Facebook friends just complained about being political and ranting that they don’t care and don’t want it on their newsfeed. I am constantly baffled by this. You want to read about what people are having for lunch, what outfit their wearing to the club tonight, and various rants about bad days at work and break-ups, yet you don’t want to discuss issues that are impacting our world — our lives — every day? Sad. That’s all I feel and that’s all I can say.

So I am not going to drown myself in pointless, materialistic Facebook posts because that’s the norm. I am going to talk about these issues. I believe we NEED to ALL be talking about them, whether we agree or not, in order for change to happen. We need to put aside our worthless hours spent on Facebook and spend just 20-30 mins reading various sources of news and comparing both sides. We need to be intelligent, informed, and ready to take on these issues. So I’m ready and this blog will boom in 2013.

In thinking about 2013 and what I hope to happen based on how 2012 went, I have a long list of things both personally and professionally. But I will not bore you with that as this blog is not about me or my life. It is about our society and how issues are being talked about. I am always viewing the topics I pose here through a feminist lens. Yes, the big F word. If you’d like to read more about that, refer to my very first post.

For 2013, I want our society to be kinder. That is all. It sounds so simple — corny even — but I think it speaks to a lot of issues I’ve covered here already and issues I intend to cover in 2013. If we are kinder human beings, our rights would not constantly be violated, our lives would be safer, happier, and healthier, our children would be on a path to success, our world would be better. If we were all operating out of kindness 100% of the time, perhaps we’d be more proactive rather than reactive. Perhaps we’d be more equal. Perhaps all members of society would feel wanted and accepted. Perhaps we could all just be a little bit kinder to ourselves and our neighbor.

I challenge you to be kinder every day. To be thoughtful. Hey, you could even blog about your kindness and how that directly has impacted your life and the life of others. I’d follow you…

I look forward to my blogging journey of 2013.