“It is a shared right and desire to be happy and free from suffering”
An interview with Barbara Gibson from the Women’s Resource Center to End Domestic Violence.
Barbara Gibson is the Safehouse Director at the Women’s Resource Center to End Domestic Violence in Atlanta, Georgia. We talked with her about her impression of Darlin’ Cory, her work with survivors, and the importance of speaking out against a culture of secrecy surrounding domestic violence.
What stood out for you in Darlin’ Cory?
What stood out for me most was the complicity of the community in the play. It was the sense of powerlessness they all seemed to share in the face of violence from the antagonist character. His will was absolute and nothing else mattered, not even the hopes or needs of his wife and daughter. They did not, could not, challenge him. When Clara does challenge him in the story, she pays a high price. This is exactly the experience of individual survivors. They remain in their relationship for various reasons. If or when they decide to flee, they risk greater harm or death.
Why is it difficult to speak about and confront domestic abuse in our communities? How are women, in particular, affected by a culture of secrecy?
We like to think domestic violence is a personal problem. We tell ourselves it only happens to certain people or in certain circumstances. We believe if we are not those people and don’t encounter those circumstances, we will be safe. But, no one is safe. Domestic violence can happen to anyone because as a culture we have decided that violence is an acceptable response to anger, disappointment, etc. The causes of domestic violence are baked into our systems: oppression, inequality, and “othering” are all at the foundation. Moreover, we have not done the important work of learning how to care for ourselves when painful feelings come up (for example, we scream and hit when we are overwhelmed and angry). We don’t understand that it is a shared right and desire to be happy and free from suffering. We fail to recognize that we are all connected and interdependent.
The harm a culture of secrecy causes to women, in particular, cannot be overstated. Secrets keep shame in place. They block us from the feeling of belonging that we need in order to heal. Secrets disempower us. However, when we speak up, we are heard, and we can hear from others who share our experiences.
In Darlin’ Cory, we see how domestic violence is cyclical—one victim can in turn become an abuser. How does the Women’s Resource Center, and Safehouse in particular, work to end this cycle of abuse?
We want survivors to understand that their experiences are unique but that they are not alone. Domestic violence is a cultural problem, and ending it requires a community-wide shift in thinking and values. Experiencing domestic or intimate partner violence is not a personal flaw. The Women’s Resource Center provides prevention and intervention services planned with survivors in support of their safety goals. Core program services include legal advocacy, safehouse services, a 24-hour helpline, support groups, supervised visitation and exchange, and resettlement assistance and financial planning. We are also committed to offering services that remind survivors they are not limited by their experience of domestic violence. These services include supportive conversations, yoga, mindfulness/meditation, and fitness groups. We do this with our SISTERs (Survivors in Service to Extend Resiliency) Group, where the focus is on service, self-care, leadership, and learning.
In addition, we have children’s programs, such as Camp PEACE. Camp PEACE is an important opportunity for children impacted by domestic violence to heal in a supportive setting, develop the capacity to manage the range of human feelings, and build healthy relationships with themselves and others.
How has your work to end domestic violence changed during COVID-19?
In the beginning, we received more calls from police and hospitals on behalf of the survivors they were helping. Then, during the lockdown, survivors had less direct access to supportive services. Now there are different challenges – childcare, affordable housing, employment. All of these impact survivors’ ability to get away and stay away from an abusive partner. We’ve had to be creative to balance the safety of those we serve with those who need services. We continue to help with temporary lodging, rent, utilities, childcare, and transportation with community support and with temporary protective orders, but virtually. All our weekly support groups are offered virtually as well.
How can people support the work of the Women’s Resource Center?
There are big and small actions everyone can do to end domestic violence. Believe survivors. Recognize that batterers can be anyone – even people who present as charming and accomplished. See the value and equality in all people. Learn how to be with your tender and painful feelings. Too often, we use pain as an excuse to wound. Reject violence as a response. Volunteer. Offer “Lunch and Learn” sessions in your communities about domestic violence. Advocate for workplace and housing policies that don’t penalize survivors and for affordable housing and enough income for everyone. Donate—your dollars make a difference, and they are especially needed now!
Is there anything else that is important for us to know about your work or the work of Women’s Resource Center to End Domestic Violence?
Please join us for our annual Candlelight Vigil Honoring Domestic Violence Awareness Month on October 21. This is an important time to honor the courage of survivors and celebrate the lives of those lost.
Listen, subscribe, and share our podcast SISTERs Stories. Each episode tells a survivor’s story. Their courage offers encouragement to others and creates general awareness of how prevalent the problem is.
Learn more and support our work: https://www.wrcdv.org/support
Follow the Women's Resource Center on FaceBook.
|Barbara Gibson is the Safehouse Director at Women’s Resource Center (WRC) and has been providing advocacy to survivors of abuse and trauma since she joined WRC in 1990. Gibson is strongly committed to partnering with women to create safe and stable lives that honor their highest vision of themselves. She encourages women to challenge limiting assumptions, shift perspectives, and combine cherished values with actionable goals to create a new normal. She has appeared on a variety of radio and television programs to explain the importance of providing safe places for victims of domestic violence, including children.|