In many, many ways in our lives we are imperfect creatures, we will cause harm, that means we should be held accountable for the harm that we cause, but that doesn't mean that we become only the worst thing we ever did.
In this episode, our host Juan Carlos Areán is joined by Mary Case, Manager of the Legal Advocacy Project for Survivors at the Los Angeles LGBT Center and Cat Shugrue dos Santos, Deputy Executive Director for Programs at the NYC Anti-Violence Project. They discuss the importance of applying an intersectional lens when intervening on intimate partner violence within LGBTQIA+ communities. They highlight the ways that oppression, discrimination, and bias perpetuate violence within the LGBTQIA+ community and the role addressing those collective traumas plays in the process of healing and accountability within abusive partner intervention programs.
The following is a transcript of the podcast:
JUAN CARLOS ARÉAN: Greetings everybody. My name is Juan Carlos Arean, and I'm a program director in the Children and Youth Program at Futures Without Violence. I use the pronouns he and el. And we partner with the Center for Court Innovation on the Abusive Partner Accountability and Engagement Project, an initiative funded by the Office on Violence Against Women. We provide training and technical assistance to communities across the country to help them enhance their abusive partner intervention and engagement strategies.
We are producing a podcast series focusing on innovations and trends in abusive partner intervention programming, also known as battering intervention. And today I have the pleasure to be joined by Mary Case, manager of the Legal Advocacy Project for Survivors at the Los Angeles LGBT Center and Cat Shugrue dos Santos, Deputy Executive Director for Programs at the New York City Anti-Violence Project. We'll be talking about working with LGBTQ+ folks who use violence. Thank you both so much for joining us today.
So before we get started on today's topic, could you both share a general overview of your work and your organizations. Let's start with Mary.
MARY CASE: Well first of all I want to say thank you so much for having me, it's a pleasure to be here. My name is Mary Case. My pronouns are she/ her or they/ them. I work for the LGBT Center here in Los Angeles, we are the largest LGBT specific organization in the world, going on more than 50 years of service. We have so many different programs, I could not cover them all, but we do have legal services, which I work in now, we have mental health and health services, youth services, senior services, and a number of other projects. Currently I am the Program Manager for the Legal Advocacy Project for Survivors. I was also the Interim Program Manager for the Domestic Violence Program at the LGBTQ Center in Long Beach and also formerly the Program Coordinator and Group Facilitator for the Stop Partner Abuse Domestic Violence Program here at the Los Angeles LGBT Center.
AREÁN: Thank you, Mary. Welcome, very impressive. Cat, your turn.
CAT SHUGRUE DOS SANTOS: Sure, I also wanted to say thank you so much to both Futures and CCI for having us and to spend time with you, Juan Carlos and Mary, is really lovely for me. I'm the Deputy Executive Director for Programs at AVP or the New York City Anti-Violence Project. And we are one of the oldest Anti-Violence organizations that are LGBTQIA+ specific, we also work with HIV affected communities. We work to both prevent and respond to violence in all forms with the vision of helping LGBTQ and HIV affected people and our allies to live free of violence.
And we have co-located services, we have direct client services including counseling and advocacy, we run a 24-hour English/Spanish hotline for survivors, we have a legal program, we do extensive training and technical assistance. We also do community organizing, mobilization, leadership development, base building, and we coordinate the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, which is a 40-member coalition, including the LA Center, of Anti-Violence Programs across the country who come together and try to coordinate best practices, share resources, and advance policy agendas. We coordinate the New York State LGBTQ Intimate Partner Violence Network and in New York City we, in the last two years, have piloted programming focused on working with people who cause harm through sexual and intimate partner violence. We are part of a New York City collaborative that looks at restorative justice approaches around intimate partner violence that include working with people who cause harm. And I co-facilitate and co-chair the New York City coalition on working with abusive partners and have for about a decade or so. So we do a lot of work on violence from all angles.
AREÁN: Thank you, Cat. And our listeners probably already can tell the enormous amount of experience that we have here. We're so lucky to have you today, so thank you again. And I'll stay with you, Cat... this is a big question, what does intimate partner violence look like in LGBTQ+ communities, especially as compared to heteronormative relationships and what factors or motivations lead queer individuals to cause harm?
SHUGRUE DOS SANTOS: Sure, big questions Juan Carlos, big questions. So I think that intimate partner violence is as common or even more common in LGBTQ communities as it is in non-LGBTQ communities. The statistics demonstrate that folks in queer relationships, queer and trans folks, have sometimes elevated risks of this type of violence. So we know that power and control is central to intimate partner violence and understanding how it manifests in relationships and that is the same for LGBTQIA+ folks in relationships, but we also know that, in the same way that when people of color are experiencing intimate partner violence or engaging in harming their partner, the structural racism that they experience, other sorts of intersectional oppression that they experience, impacts both the survivor of the violence and the person who is causing harm and is impacting the way that they're able to cope with life, to live their lives, and to engage in relationships.
And so, for queer and trans folks engaged in relationships when intimate partner violence is happening, it often intersects with bias, discrimination, and other hate violence around those identities, so that someone who's experiencing violence in their relationship, may also experience bias and discrimination when they reach out for help. Someone who is causing harm in their relationship, may not be able to get access to supports or services to be able to change their own behavior.
So very often, in queer relationships where power and control are present and intimate partner violence is occurring, we see that people are experiencing violence in other parts of their lives as well. So someone who's experiencing violence in their relationship, may also experience discrimination when they try to get healthcare. Or if they're a trans person or they are a gender non binary person, they may reach out for support and be told by a mainstream program that they don't qualify for services because the services are geared for women and children. So there is both an increased risk of the violence occurring and also increased barriers to services, safety, and support.
AREÁN: Thank you, Cat. Mary would you like to add to that?
CASE: Very well said, Cat. I would like to add a few things and to echo a bit on what Cat already shared. Because members of oppressed communities systematically have their power taken away, it also is a contributing factor as to why someone who might cause harm attempts to have power and control over their partners. That lack of power due to all of these external, intersectional factors of how we have our power taken away, generally lead folks to wanting to find power in other ways. So I think that's really important in recognizing. Also, what's very different is the threats to “out” sexual orientation and gender identity on the part of folks who are causing harm. That is a huge barrier that keeps folks so much more locked in because very often LGBTQIA+ folks are not out in certain areas of their life, so that is a very unique factor that comes into play.
And just kind of to expand a little bit on what Cat was saying, we talk about the cycle of violence, we talk about power and control, and when we're looking at LGBTQI+ relationships that cycle and power and control wheel are exacerbated by external institutional and systemic homo/bi/transphobia, heterosexism, and also sometimes that internalized bias is perpetuating why folks may cause harm, therefore keeping LGBTQIA+ folks who are surviving, more locked into the relationship. Some of the factors that lead LGBTQI+ people to cause harm, from my experience, are that all folks that cause harm have experienced trauma. Often causing harm is also a learned behavior and/or maybe a survival or coping mechanism. However, with queer folks experiencing trauma, it's often interlinked with their identities. So the more trauma you've experienced based on your sexual orientation and gender identity, the more likely it may be internalized. And so one of the differences, if we have higher levels of internalized bias, when interacting with our partners, that may be triggered for us at an unconscious level, or as we might say, they may be mirroring our shame which could definitely exacerbate the level of violence and/ or harm that is being caused. So when I look at all of this and think about these things in working with folks who cause harm, I also keep in mind that it's very important I think that we mention that we are all trying to get our needs met and heal that trauma, those childhood wounds. So that factor is very similar.
AREÁN: Thank you so much, Mary. I think this is so relevant to all programs who work with folks who use violence. But given all the dynamics that you and Cat are describing, how does your organization respond to violence the way that you have defined it?
CASE: So Some of the things that our organization does a little bit differently is that because we have a mental health services program, the stop violence program has always operated under that program, so one of the ways is that all couples coming through for couples counseling, we screen for domestic violence. If there are indicators that there is power and control going on within the relationship, we're generally going to offer them group support first prior to doing individual work for folks that cause harm so that we can equip them with tools to be able to manage behaviors and emotions prior to really opening up trauma or working in a couple, because as we all know, in the field of domestic violence that couples counseling can be very highly dangerous. We're asking someone who is surviving in a relationship to be honest in a setting with their partner which can exacerbate that violence once they leave. So that screening is a unique piece.
Also, we look at group work as though we're creating a community group that can be empowering, that we cultivate safety and we want to nurture vulnerability because our goal of course as all batterers intervention programs is to help folks get to the point where they can be accountable for their behavior. And the way to do that is through working through de-shaming behaviors and also shame that we may have around our identities and experiences of oppression in relation to that. So we offer a lot of different tools, we explore emotions that are under the anger, which very often times folks that have these issues in causing harm are really not in connection with those other types of emotions, so we do a lot of grounding, breathing, working with meditation, supporting what other types of tools folks from their own upbringing and cultural belief systems may work for them. Also, we want to be careful not to really individually process trauma before those tools are in place so that if someone who is causing harm is triggered, they know how to utilize tools so as not to act out in relationships.
AREÁN: Thank you, Mary. What about the Anti-Violence Project, Cat?
SHUGRUE DOS SANTOS: At AVP, we focus on providing holistic services for folks who are experiencing violence. We support survivors by focusing on their healing from trauma by providing clinical services, that's individual and group work, overcoming the barriers that folks face to accessing safety services and support, and that's our advocacy unit, and then we also work directly around their economic empowerment needs... so working around helping them connect to income, to deal with coerced debt, the economic cost and impact that violence can cause, economic abuse through intimate partner violence, et cetera, working on things like housing. And we also have legal practice and that has been focusing, in the last four years, more intensively on immigration as that became a much higher need for survivors of violence and LGBTQ people fleeing violence and needing support with asylum. And now we're trying to rebalance that case load to bolster the family law and economic justice work that we do. We also work with those who cause harm… we have a group called Transform that is a non-mandated, voluntary group that works with people who have been identified as having caused harm in their relationships, working with them to understand their own behavior, understand the harm that they have caused, come to terms with that. Also, understanding, as Mary was speaking to about how they have been harmed and their own trauma and how that has shaped the way that they engage with partners and others in their lives, and beginning to shift those behaviors and heal and hold themselves accountable, as well.
The other work that AVP does is rapid incident response. We do community-based work or if there's a public incident of violence and that could be violence across the board, oftentimes it's hate violence, but it may be intimate partner violence or sexual violence, it might be bias or discrimination. We respond by reaching out to survivors, reaching out to elected officials to try to connect the people in power with people in their communities, and try to help move forward what the community is looking for from their government, in terms of how to support building safety and building community. We think a lot about trying to approach our work in a perspective that also begins to move away from what we think is often the anti-violence movement's reliance on the carceral system–working with communities to build safety and develop their own responses to violence. So that we can move away from an overreliance on the criminal legal system, which we think causes a great deal of harm particularly to queer and trans folks and queer and trans folks of color.
So we have policy work that we do, that ranges from supporting access to resources for survivors to housing supports to immigration work to making sure that we begin to decriminalize the folks in our communities that are over-criminalized on a regular basis. And again that often is related to the criminalization of black and brown Americans and the criminalization of queer and trans bodies. So those are some of the work that we do. We also do a lot of training and technical assistance to try to prevent the revictimization or the violence that can happen to people when they reach out for help and are met instead with violence, bias, discrimination, by training service providers on creating inclusive and affirming environments for queer and trans survivors and educating and sharing information in our communities on how to safety plan and doing things like bystander/upstander intervention trainings to help people to support one another in the moment.
AREÁN: Wow. Thank you for that. One of the things in this series of podcasts that I have been interested in asking, especially for folks that work in specific populations,
as you do, is what the mainstream programs can learn from the work that you folks do? And some of the things that you mentioned, right now with all the reckonings that we are facing or we should be facing at least… around race and intersectionality. So I'll start with Cat. What can be translated to mainstream programs and maybe what can not be?
SHUGRUE DOS SANTOS: I think it's a great question, Juan Carlos. At AVP, we really recognize that we need to center our work on those who are most impacted by violence and trauma. That tends to be the same folks who are experiencing disproportionate rates of poverty, of homelessness, who are disadvantaged because they're often at the intersection of multiple forms of oppression.
So I'm speaking to the epidemic of often fatal violence against black trans women and trans and gender-nonconforming folks of color in general across the country. In 2020 there were at least 44 homicides of trans and gender-nonconforming people and the majority of those were folks of color as well. And the reason I raise this when we're talking about intimate partner violence is because I think we, in the anti-domestic violence movement have learned along the way, we've adapted models, power and control wheels, to reflect different experiences from the way we originally thought about intimate partner violence. So we've thought about what does it mean if you're also an immigrant and you're experiencing intimate partner violence, what does it mean if you're also living with a disability, what does it mean if you're also homeless, right? And understanding that as we make something that more reflects the experiences of humans who are experiencing intimate partner violence, we need to be more nuanced and complex and we have to actually be led by the survivors themselves, the people who are most impacted.
I think that needs to be extended to understanding that the people who are coming to us as survivors of intimate partner violence have also experienced other forms of violence that impact the way they're experiencing this violence and that the people with whom we work who have caused harm, as Mary mentioned, have also experienced multiple forms of violence. And until we understand the way that web of experiences of oppression and violence work together, we actually can't move forward and create spaces where survivors can lead us, where we approach the work of supporting survivors and helping people who cause harm to hold themselves and one another accountable to those that they've harmed, to do that we really need to approach the work with a great deal of humility.
I'm speaking as a white, cis-gender, queer person, the identities that I hold that are dominant and benefiting from white supremacy and benefiting from cis-supremacy, it means that I need to really step back from thinking I understand what it's like for a survivor or for a person causing harm, and really be open to learning from them and with them and building our programming and responses based on what we're learning. Places like Casa de Esperanza and other linguistically and culturally specific programs often do these listening tours, work in community, create community responses. We in LGBTQ specific work do work that's very related to that. Where we need to understand what is different for a trans woman of color who's engaging in the sex trades that may be different from a cis-gender, biracial lesbian who is in a custody battle with a partner who has caused harm. All of those needs are different and there are an infinite variety. And we need to be centering the work on those who are most harmed, recognizing the impact of violence and oppression structurally and systemically, and have that not be something separate from the power and control dynamics in a relationship and what a survivor knows.
So being survivor-led and centering the work in people who are experiencing the intersections of violence and oppression and trauma and working with them to learn from what has worked for them. And I think, that there are ways that within queer communities, we have had to rely on each other, we have had to rely on our chosen family, and we have had to rely on the way that we define ourselves and our relationships, and that we are the experts on that. Recognizing that for all survivors across identities is essential.
AREÁN: Thank you for that, Cat. So interesting because there are such parallels, as you mentioned, with organizations, you mentioned Casa de Esperanza, where I actually worked in the past. What about you Mary, from your perspective, what do you think mainstream programs can learn from your wealth and experience in this field?
CASE: Well first of all, I just want to say how powerful that was, Cat. Really, really impactful and I think you covered so much. What could I add to that? From my experience, I think one of the things that mainstream programs need to recognize and think about, especially in providing services to folks who cause harm, is really looking at feminine based violence where that is a key factor… feminine power and femininity within LGBTQIA+ identities, that is often very triggering within the broad scope of cultures that we live in that perpetuates violence. And we can see that when we look at someone that steps outside of that very heteronormative gender role of this binary of what men, women should be like, should look like, and so we see that intersecting with a lot of the oppression that I think LGBTQI+ folks are experiencing and back to that can perpetuate violence and folks causing harm. So I think those conversations about feminine-based violence need to be had in mainstream programs.
I also think that mainstream programs have to be bringing in topics that look at how identities are intersectional. And we have to explore that in order to understand the traumas that folks have experienced, the triggers for those traumas and behaviors, and also all cultural beliefs and practices that we have contributed to who we are and how we show up in these relationships. In these interventions, open up to honoring all aspects of identities and cultures and bringing those conversations into the room to create that safety to create that vulnerability that allows folks to move through and past their shame.
I also really appreciate what Cat shared about how they do transformation groups for folks who cause harm and how powerful that is. Because in my opinion, I think that's prevention. Very often, we wind up working with, folks that are not mandated by probation, as very often it happens here in the state of California, but are looking to heal relationships and because we recognize that they're causing harm, we need to provide them with that support prior to them becoming part of these systems, that as Cat said, are oppressive. We need to be more open to supporting folks prior to becoming part of systems.
AREÁN: Thanks so much for that, Mary. Wow. Cat, did you have something else to say about this?
SHUGRUE DOS SANTOS: Ditto everything Mary just said, brilliant. I just wanted to add one other thing that I think that mainstream organizations can learn and I think it's building on what Mary just talked about. Mary spoke really effectively to the gender binary that we get attached to where cis-gender men batter cis-gender women, and that is how we think about intimate partner violence. And that effectively makes any of us who have experienced intimate partner violence outside of that paradigm invisible and I think it erases the experience of most of our communities’ experiences in many ways.
I believe the mainstream movement is attached to what I think is a real false paradigm, a false binary, that says, you are either the person who is causing harm or you are the person who experienced harm. And you in fact, by calling someone for instance an abuser or an abusive partner, we are taking that identity and attaching it to someone for life, that means that they are immutably that. So I think what's important here is for us to recognize that everyone who is causing harm has also experienced harm. And that if we really believe in a restorative justice approach, and I really do deep in my bones, then we know that all of us have caused harm.
So as a cis, white woman, I have caused harm though microaggressions where I might have engaged in... said something that was racist or said something that was transphobic even if I don't believe in white supremacy or believe in cis supremacy. And so understanding that in many, many ways in our lives we are imperfect creatures, we will cause harm, that means we should be held accountable for the harm that we cause, but that doesn't mean that we become only the worst thing we ever did, and I really believe in the potential of people to do better and to heal and to move forward and evolve.
And I think that that is really important and I think it's not found, in my experience, in many mainstream conversations and that's why there is still this very much of an attachment to a carceral approach because it's a very clear cut approach of, you are the perpetrator or you are the victim. And I think we have to move away from that.
AREÁN: Thank you, Cat. I'm so inspired by both of you and there's such richness in the work that you do. So I hope that our listeners will also be inspired and want to go deeper into some of these issues. You talked so much about intersectionality. You have made it so, so clear as well as being survivor-centered, partly of breaking that binary that you were mentioning, Cat. I would like to open it one more time to see if there's anything else that you would like to put out there that you didn't share before. Let's start with Cat.
SHUGRUE DOS SANTOS: I will just add this: I feel like this is a really important time for our nation and for our movement and I think it's essential for everyone to take a moment to take stock of our positionality in the movement, what we bring to it, what we have to learn, and really recommit to collectively working to end violence. Which means taking responsibility collectively and individually for understanding structural harm and how that impacts intimate partner violence. And I think to truly do that in a way that is with as much humility as possible and that's how I'm trying to hold on to the hope I feel in this moment in time when change feels possible and to continue this reckoning around racial and economic justice and gender justice, where gender is not binary and is very inclusive. So thanks so much for the time today.
AREÁN: Thanks so much, Cat. Mary, your last words?
CASE: I think it's really important that we understand that bonding and healing through processing collective trauma is a very important piece of the work that we do. We need to be creating more of those collective group-type settings. We may not call it a group, we may call it a circle, we may call it whatever. But I think that's an imperative part of starting to really heal the violence that is going on. From my experience, when we don't have to fall under this idea of a binary group where we have to have a group for men or women, we can be inclusive of all genders, in my experience.
I was able to do that when working at the Center in Long Beach and I found it to be super powerful and impactful because that creates really the setting for us to look at and explore all of those different intersections of trauma and violence that Cat had touched on. And we need to be healing, as LGBTQI+ folks collectively because often all of this external oppression has been integrated into our own experiences of queer people and may play out in certain ways. So I think all-gender groups are something we should think of moving into in doing the work with LGBTQI+ folks who cause harm. That's just the last thing I wanted to add. So thank you so much for having me.
AREÁN: Well thank you Mary, thank you Cat, thank you for your wisdom, for your dedication to this cause, and for the incredible work that you do in the world. I really hope and I trust actually, that many of our listeners will be really inspired by what they heard today. If you like this podcast, we invite you to listen to others we have produced as part of this series. We have covered several topics related to abusive partner intervention including working with a trauma-informed perspective, which of course we also cover today, working with Native American responses to DV, victim-centered approaches, working in faith communities, wrap-around services, and other culturally relevant work.