Laurita Dianita

Reflections and art on the topics of public health, social justice, and love

Archive for the ‘sexual violence’ tag

week 29

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A left-handed drawing to give my carpal tunnel syndrome a break, and a stay-in-the-house-doing-chores-in-my-pyjamas-and-never-fixing-my-hair Sunday photo session because that’s what’s real.

The practice of solemn recognition & active gratitude

Just as I made this week’s drawing with my left hand, I am typing with my left hand in an attempt to relieve the nerves in my right arm and hand. I am not one to complain about pregnancy—it’s overall super rad and I enjoy it. But this carpal tunnel syndrome part is rough. All pregnancies have some difficulty or another—or many difficulties—so it is very helpful for employers, partners, friends, and others to be attentive to these pains and helpful in the ways we can be. Not all pregnant women will assert their needs or ask for help; it can be embarrassing and tiring to have to ask for assistance lifting heavy things or cooking or, in my case, writing by hand. I will be making it a point from here on out to ask pregnant friends and colleagues about the kinds of help they might need.

I am also making it a point to be grateful for what I’ve got. Sure it’s hard to sleep when my hand feels like it’s filled with tiny, exploding needles and sure, I’ve got some back issues. But I am so grateful for my health, for my healthy hematocrit and blood sugar, for my core muscles, for having been raised with and exposed to good nutrition and exercise habits, and for having the financial means that make it easier to be at a healthy weight prior to and during this pregnancy. I am grateful to have a supportive partner, a mama who is a nurse midwife, great support networks of friends, a non-hourly job so I can get to appointments, health insurance, the knowledge and access and advocacy skills to get high-quality, competent and warm prenatal and birth care, a licensed and credentialed and beautiful birth center where I can give birth, and much more. When my hand isn’t hurting so much, I have made it a point, per the advice of my dear friend, Nihal, to write a nightly list of things and people for which I am grateful; these folks and these blessings appear regularly on those lists.

I am also grateful, as I think about the many thousands dead in the Philippines due to the super typhoon and the many thousands more displaced and scared and stressed, to be alive and safe and in a relatively low-stress environment. As I do my job, much of which revolves around training health care providers to provide patient education, screening, and support on domestic and sexual violence and reproductive coercion, particularly with women of reproductive age, I am often thinking about the kinds of stressful life conditions so many women and girls (and their babies) endure during and around pregnancies. These include food insecurity, job insecurity, crowded and unsafe living conditions, homelessness, refugee status,  facing threat of deportation, living in war zones or living through natural disasters. These include having controlling partners who isolate them from support networks, make them tiptoe around under constant threat of violence, beat and rape and strangle them, expose them to STIs, and cause pregnancies that the women or girls weren’t ready for. These conditions include intergenerational patterns of substance abuse, depression, PTSD, the death of a dear loved one, the deaths of loved one after loved one in a dysfunctional community, chronic health conditions such as asthma or hypertension that are exacerbated by stress and by pregnancy, childhood trauma that may be triggered by pregnancy or birth or breastfeeding and may not be well understood or handled by their healthcare provider…unfortunately, the list goes on. I don’t name all of these to be a Debbie Downer, but because it’s my job (and moral obligation) to think about these things and what health and social service systems and all of us can do to help change these harmful conditions and help those experiencing them, and also because it reminds me to de-center my little universe of experience, to count my blessings, and not to wallow in my pains.

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November 10th, 2013 at 8:42 pm

An all-the-things-I-want-to-write-about list

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I’ve been meaning to write, needing to think out some ideas thoroughly the way only writing can help me do, needing to share and dialogue. But I don’t know how to make time to write when…

  • buying a house
  • planning a wedding
  • dealing with a torn something in my shoulder and an obdurate and dishonest insurance company
  • planning somewhat regular presentations or speeches
  • until recently studying for my MSW licensure

So I will make a list instead! (Always a more fun and less intimidating undertaking.)

List of things I want to write about (and/or talk to y’all about in person):

Conference poster in Germany with my photo!

1.)  A research conference in Germany about Latin America, identity, and intersectionality, paid me to use one of my photos for their poster and conference materials! Super excited. And I have Flickr to thank.

2.)  How house buying seems to bring out the classist in us. (e.g. When you invest in a home, you want to think about resale value, and resale value depends on your neighbors, so if your neighbors have trashed-out cars in their yards…you get where this is going, right? We find ourselves in a position we never imagined ourselves in, with ideas we had scorned before now here in our palms…It’s an important thing for me to see, to better understand how disparities widen.)

3.)  Did you know that some guy named Satoshi Kanazawa who seemed to have miraculously landed himself a professorship at the University of London (lord knows how, since the man seems to have no concept of scientific rigor or even basic tenets of science) wrote an article that Psychology Today was dumb enough to publish on their Scientific Fundamentalis Blog the other day. The title of the article? “Why are Black Women Less Physically Attractive than Other Women?“ Hm. I thought we had put an end to eugenics being accepted in the scientific world. I…could go on here, at length, but the point was a list, not an essay, so I will direct you to one of many blogs about the “study”:

4.)  I want to talk about this concept that keeps coming up in my work examining health disparities in sexual and domestic violence, and keeps coming up in pop culture: this idea that some people, and most often, some women, are more “rapeable” than others. That is, in various eras of history (and today) social norms are created, often as a consequence of colonialism or slavery, that make people view forced or coerced sex against certain groups of women as more natural or inevitable or even justified. Therefore, victimization rates are higher and prosecution and conviction rates lower when someone rapes a woman from one of these groups.  Some of the things that have brought this up lately:

  • The scene in the (1950’s?) musical “South Pacific” where the Lieutenant, who previously had his eyes on the Southern white woman but had kept his respectful distance, is  presented to the very young Polynesian teenage girl. They immediately have sex on the ground. He claims this is love. And all the other men go over to the island to have sex with the Islander women as well. All this sex with the “Natives” is seen as comical and light and romantic. Meanwhile, the courtship of the Southern white woman by the Frenchman is proceeding in an entirely different manner.
  • When I was in Dillingham for a Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault training, I met a wonderful Yup’ik man working as a Behavioral Health Aide Practitioner in one of the surrounding villages. He told us stories about military training officers he met in college who would ask him, “Oh, is it true what they say about Native women, that you can give them a bottle of vodka and they’ll do the whole barracks?” He told us how his son in the Marines heard over and over again that soldiers were lucky to be stationed in Alaska because of what they can do with those Native women…And they seem to act on that encouragement. Both this Behavioral Health Aide Practicioner and Shirley Moses, the director of the Alaska Native Women’s Coalition, spoke to the incredible number of rapes and pregnancies, many of them drug and alcohol-related, caused by men from the barracks in Fairbanks. I imagine this dynamic exists from our military here in Anchorage too.  And not just the military, either. My friend Dena, who is Yup’ik and grew up in Bethel, was always sternly warned by her dad not to hang out with pilots because he had heard so much racist and sexist talk from them about Native women. We need good data on this issue and don’t have it yet.
  • Wonderful forms of media: Aishah Shahidah Simmons’ powerful film “No! The Rape Documentary”; a radio interview with her, Marc Anthony Neal and others in which they talk about the way forced sex with Black women in the South was not considered rape—not only during slave years but well after them–; and Andrea Smith (Native American anti-violence activist and academic)’s book Conquest, in which she speaks of the US colonization of American Indian land and the way Indian women have, like their land and treaties, been seen as inherantly violable, an attitude reflected in the disproportionate rates of victimization of Native women and children).

5.)  How I get frustrated when I hear social scientists or social critics talk about health problems such as obesity, violence, lung cancer, etc. as being caused primarily or overwhelmingly by only one thing or the other.  Even after we get through the nonsense of those folks who claim that all disease—including social disease–is largely genetic, there seem to be divided camps within those who look at environmental factors. There are those who say it’s an individual’s experience of trauma, (for which there IS overwhelming evidence) and those who point to the larger societal messaging about food, body, smoking, gender, etc. and strucutral barriers, such as lack of safe exercise space or fresh veggies in urban centers, etc.–there’s also a lot of evidence for this.  I encounter people so often who concentrate or offer only one side of this, skipping by the other factors with an almost dismissive mention, if anything. My response is that, uh, it all matters. And not only does one causal factor add on to another, but they intersect in really powerful ways that I’d love to see explored more. I’d love to see more research on, for example, how experiences of trauma shapes one’s reactions to racist and sexist messaging in the media and fast food and alcohol advertising.  Can’t we combine these critical analyses and get somewhere deeper?

6.)  Unresponsive and disconnected institutions and people within the institutions that are supposed to help people but don’t buy into the basic tenet of asking and involving the people they are supposed to serve.  (I’m dealing with this from a particular Federal Government body right now at work. They seem to be very out of touch and non-participatory, very top-down.  This is not effective, especially when working with indigenous peoples who have very good reason to mistrust agencies of the Federal Government.)

So if you want to talk about one of these things or argue about one of these things, please, when you run into me, just start. These are conversations I want to have. Or write me (though I can’t promise I’ll be quick in responding, what with moving and the wedding coming up in a month and a half).

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May 30th, 2011 at 8:17 pm

Things I Learned in Colombia: a List

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Partly from guilt but primarily from curiosity, I can’t travel without needing to learn about the places I go and learn from them. And since my learning is never as solid when it’s only bumping around in my head without being organized onto paper (or the blogosphere, as it were), I have felt some of that guilt creep in. I spent months this fall in Colombia with Oscar, living with his grandparents and getting to know his country and family, and I have not yet organized my thoughts into writing longer than my photo captions on Flickr. It is time to do so, but in the simplest format I can, in order to make the task less intimidating for myself: So here’s a list!

***But before reading it, I should tell you that I don’t think I or my culture or family or country or state or city are above the things I observed in Colombia. Many of the phenomena I observed there are similar to things that happen back home, and I try to relate them as much as possible. I also don’t think I am an expert, by any means. Some things I learned, but most things provoked questions about what’s left to learn***

Things I learned in Colombia (in no particular order):

1.) How to cook creatively with available ingredients

El Jardiñero

The challenge of not having a refrigerator and the blessing of having a large garden, tended to lovingly by Oscar’s abuelitos, pushed us to be more creative and resourceful than usual about what to cook (or me anyway; I think on the road Oscar acquired the ability to cook with whatever was available, no matter what). Therefore, many meals involved soups made from whatever we had to use before it went bad + whatever there was plenty of in the garden + what we could pick up at the corner store or farmer’s market and, on one occasion, the rabbit that Oscar and I hunted and skinned (it was delicious).

A few highlights:

coconut fish squash soup

  • The coconut fish soup pictured above, made with fresh coconut that Oscar broke apart and dissembled & plenty of hot red chilies (ají, as they call them in Colombia) from the garden
  • Cuminy spicy soup with acelga (a green leafy vegetable similar to bok choy) from the garden that we cooked with beef bone, cubios and chuguas
  • Breakfasts of arepas de choclo (like fluffy sweet corn pancakes) with fresh farmer’s cheese, eggs, fried plantains and mangos

2.) To be careful when calling people on their racism

This isn’t the first time I’ve learned this lesson, but I certainly had an enlightening experience in Colombia of how not to go about it. The consequences weren’t dire, but it certainly gave me an opportunity to reflect on how self-control is key to effective social change.

The backstory is that we had been spending a bit of time with Oscar’s cousin, Juan José and his wife, Dinaluz. They work in advertising/commercial media and were some of the most educated and in some ways, curious and exploratory members of the family. However, we had also noticed that they would make offhand comments about “negros” or “maricas” (the constantly-used, both derogatory and “affectionate” term for gay men in Colombia). One day, after a long and somewhat frustrating day of biking, we spent a few hours in Oscar’s auntie’s house with them and others when I was exhausted and wanted to go home and sleep. His auntie fed us some delicious soup and we were finally preparing to go. Dinaluz, wanting to aplogize for her eating and dashing, said, “Indio comido, indio ido.” It roughly translates to, “Eating like an Indian, leaving like an Indian.” She turned to me after, smiling, and explained to me that this is an expression in Colombia and it means you are being very rude for eating quickly and going away. The fact that Indian/indigenous/Native was being associated with rudeness and lack of manners had not escaped me.

Now, in that split second in my head, I—righteously angry, empathetic, overly-sociological me—am going through my mental Rolodex of incidents of anti-indigenous racism I had seen or heard in Colombia, in México, in the continental US and Alaska and all of the ways in which anti-indigenous racism has been transformed into children’s songs and expressions or the “Cigarillos Piel Rojo” (“Redskin Cigarettes”) or “Land of Lakes Butter” logos and my role as a white ally in changing this and before I know it, I blurt out—sleepy, exhausted, frustrated, impulsive me—“Pero ésto es racisto.”

In that split second in my head, I should have asked myself for a time extension so I could have thought of a better way to get at this point, perhaps through asking questions and helping Dina to get there herself. But I didn’t, and I imagine that this made her put up some defenses. Her first defense was that it wasn’t about feather-on-the-head and [hand moving over mouth making stereotypical “indio” sound] indios; it was just about rude people. When I asked her why the word “indio” was used for rude, and then explained that I grew up hearing similar expressions such as “Indian giving” or “Indian cuts” or the “Ten Little Indians” songs, she conceded that the expression had something to do with indigenous people. But  I had not succeeded in making her enthusiastic about discussing white/mestizo privilege. Nor did it endear me to the new family.

We had a very different experience with Oscar’s auntie and cousins in Palmira, a small city in the state of Valle–maybe in part because I was on better behavior, maybe because they have been exposed to different people and experiences.  After we bought delicious boiled squash-like fruit from an AfroColombian woman on the street, Oscar’s cousin, Hadie, told us about the importance of this fruit to the largely AfroColombian and indigenous populations in the Pacific states who suffer high rates of poverty and even starvation. She spoke about racial disparities in a way that was reflective and critical, and spoke of wanting her niece to have an open mind about Black Colombians. Clearly, in Colombia just as in Alaska, despite the ubiquity of racist ideas or comments (and in Alaska, believe me, racism’s ubiquity shows when people spit out “drunk Native” like a slur, and if you’ve been around long enough it’s hard to avoid hearing this slur), people can come to think critically about it. Hadie did. Colombian human rights organizations do. So my task is to figure out what role can I play as an ally (and in this case, as an outsider First Worlder) to ask the right questions and provide the right information, to help people at least step back and look critically. I don’t know what that involves, exactly, but I know it involves patience, impulse control, and a few more seconds to think.

3.) What it’s like to have grandparents again.

Tía Abuela Rosa


Although it made me miss the elders in my life that I’ve lost, it was so beautiful to spend time with Oscar’s abuelitos (grandparents) and tías abuelas (great aunts). They have so much energy and knowledge and giant, generous, loving hearts.

4.) How much I love the combination of yellow and turquoise, & the complexity of development

yellow & teal

I was drawn to these Aqueducto workers initially because of their turquoise-colored jumpsuits and the beautiful yellow rainboots and hats they wear. I was also fascinated by what they represented about the Bogotá government’s efforts to make the city more efficient and beautiful and to provide jobs. In some ways, the investments made by the government are great for the people (potable water, expanded & modern public transportation, bike lanes everywhere). But in some cases, development investments seem to favor the wealthy and shut out the vast majority of Colombians who work exceedingly long hours and make, on average, only four or so hundred dollars a month. Development of malls, cineplexes, and fancy restaurants may provide jobs, but they also seem to increase consumption without a proportionate increase in salaries for most workers. (Two notable exceptions are the local, pricey franchises Bogota Beer Company and Crepes & Waffles, who employ low-income female heads-of-household and pay them quite well.) Although produce was inexpensive, many things were not, especially imported items. I am suspicious of mainstream capitalist measures of development, such as consumption, when increased consumption may mean more debt. To better understand the Colombia that I observed from my own experiences, I’d love to look at measures of income disparities for Colombia; that seems to be a key issue in Bogotá and even more so between urban and rural areas.

Obrero de Acueducto


5.) How to get by with very little and take very short showers

It’d be nice for us First Worlders to get a refresher on this every once in a while from developing countries, because we sure do consume a lot of resources (myself included). People are ingenious there. For example, Oscar’s abuelitos had incredible rainwater catchment systems.

6.) That there’s a connection in Colombia, as in other places, between sexual & domestic violence, political violence, and poverty

Oscar’s cousin, Gina, who manages a rose production facility, sat across our small kitchen table over a cup of tea and told us about the low-income women who work in her rose factory—their frequent pregnancies by different men, their black eyes, their days of work missed because of abuse at home, their defense of the men in their lives, and the government aid they receive. Trying to look past the filter of her judgment, I could see in these women’s stories certain familiar patterns of internalized oppression, poverty and violence.

An article in La Semana, a weekly magazine published by the major Bogotá newspaper, described an alarming recent study. This study found that the majority of Colombian residents and the majority of public servants (police officers, judges, public health officials, etc.) blame victims of domestic and sexual violence. Large percentages of them believe that men can’t control themselves when angry, that women are at fault for inciting their husbands to anger or sexual provocation, etc.

Billboards over the main highway through Bogotá show a woman whose face blooms with bruises and cuts, the text reading something about how domestic violence is never okay. This is a relatively new campaign, trying to pick up steam and support in a country that has largely ignored the issue, but a country in which brave women and men feminists like those we met at a reproductive rights rally are organizing to create change.

día internacional para la legalización del aborto

It would be hard work, I think, combatting intimate violence in a country that has suffered violence of every type (often in ways that implicate the First World). Colombia is a country that endured colonization by the Spaniards, centuries of slavery, prolonged civil war and political violence, and training in human rights abuses by the US-run School of the Americas. Colombia is the country with the most displaced people in the world, where millions leave their homes because of guerilla and paramilitary violence (violence fueled by the First Word drug consumption). Therefore, I believe that the violence of guns and drugs and kidnapping that pushes people into homelessness and poverty also creates a culture of violence that places people at risk for abuse. Gina’s accounts of women speak not only to engrained psychosocial patterns of abuse, but also to the vulnerability to violence experienced by women and children living in poverty and in war zones, an issue seen throughout the world. In Colombia, the violence of poverty, of housing insecurity and unsafe working conditions, of houses in the poor communities that keep getting crushed in mudslides, and of militarism, is linked in complex ways that feminists are always trying to unravel to the violence of rape and battering.

We know in general that in war zones and prisons as well as in areas with lots of gang activity and police violence, there is more rape. We know that in military families, the rates of domestic violence are five times higher than in non-military families because you can’t train someone that it’s okay to kill people (including those  “collateral damage” civilians) but then assume it’ll be easy for them to be peaceful with their families.  We know that in times of job loss, domestic violence increases, and so we can imagine that the mass displacement and job loss experienced by over 2 million Colombians because of the violence has not contributed to family well-being.

However, it was clear from the article in La Semana and from victim-blaming discourses we heard from people we met and in the media, that it’s not only the poor and displaced, or the military/guerilla/paramilitary who abuse and suffer abuse. As in the US, violence against women and other forms of intimate violence are perpetrated and justified and excused away at all levels of socioeconomic status. This is because it is linked with patriarchal social structures, gender ideologies, militarism, and many other overarching cutural phenomena. This is true in all of the places that have high rates of sexual and domestic violence, such as the US. (By the way, not everywhere has high rates; in fact, there are some traditional societies in which sexual violence is almost unheard of, and most developed countries have  lower rates than the US.)

In Colombia in particular, I couldn’t help but wonder how much everyone’s attitudes and viewpoints were influenced by the years of political violence they’ve suffered, including massacres only a few decades ago (the ones Botero paints so hauntingly).  Oscar and I found that strangers in Bogotá were often standoffish and rude, which, as an Alaskan, upset me. But we wondered if, in addition to just being a big city, the terrifying political violence and corruption Bogotá faced not so many decades ago could have been affecting them. I wonder if it’s affecting them in their intimate relationships. I wonder if there is un-accounted-for trauma and historical grief, aggravated by ongoing violence and poverty, and propped up by machismo, the powerful church, and cultural norms to not talk about it.

I wish I understood all of the mechanisms by which poverty, colonial and political violence, and patriarchy influence sexual and domestic violence and how that works in Colombia, in the rest of the world, and in Alaska especially, but clearly I don’t. These are just observations from Colombia strung together with the research I’ve been pouring through lately for my job studying intimate partner and sexual violence affecting Alaska Native people. What I think I learned from seeing some of the attitudes and conditions surrounding violence in Colombia is that intimate violence is intricately and painfully linked together with larger, more institutional forms of violence.

If you have some insight into this, please please share it with me.

6.) I learned a lot about myself, my wonderful husband-to-be, and about communication as a couple. But that’s another story…

Okip.s. Some books I’ve found recently that explore some of the topics in the last section really well:

Shout Out! Women of Color Respond to Violence, edited by Maria Ochoa and Barbara K. Ige

Domestic Violence at the Margins: Readings on Race, Class, Gender and Culture, edited by Natalie Sokoloff with Christina Pratt

And I could give you a long bibliography of other readings and films and websites on sexual and domestic violence if you’re interested.

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January 28th, 2011 at 11:00 am