Tag Archives: HAVEN

Drain the Swamp

By Beth Morrison, HAVEN CEO

I don’t like mosquitoes and I have to admit the whole West Nile problem has me a bit freaked out.  I am glad that health officials, scientists and others are working diligently to come up with solutions to the problem, and to decrease the incident rate of this scary and sometimes fatal disease.

You may not be aware, but the mosquito and malaria epidemic is one of the analogies cited in the violence against women movement. The story goes that a community had an extremely high incident rate of malaria and they gathered together to find a way to decrease the rate. First they sprayed the grass, common areas, yards and woods of the community with minimal results. Next they treated water sources with again minimal results. After trying a few more techniques, the realization came that they were just reducing the risk of a mosquito bite but if they really wanted to eliminate mosquitoes and therefore malaria, they needed to remove the source. They needed to literally drain the swamp for true prevention and elimination.

As we approach eliminating violence against women and children, we too must “drain the swamp.”  We must put real concentrated efforts at addressing the root problems in our society and exploring why the violence occurs in the first place.  We must tackle the long-standing societal norms and culture of misogyny, oppression and sexism as a start.

Just like the West Nile has recently been labeled an epidemic, we must treat violence against women and children as an epidemic and commit adequate resources to its eradication. More women and children will die or be harmed, physically and emotionally, from abuse this year than those impacted by West Nile. Don’t they deserve the same attention and resources?

For a start, let’s get politicians to set aside their own personal and party agendas and pass a “real” VAWA . And then let’s start to look at the dollars and programming needed to provide true prevention efforts. Let’s work on making eliminating violence against women and children a top priority in our country and around the world.

It is a big and daunting but if we can position an army to combat mosquitoes certainly we are up to the task of saving the women and children in our lives too.


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The Must Have To-Do List

By Beth Morrison, HAVEN CEO

Beth pictured with her son Colin.

Another September, another year of sending off our children to school, whether it is kindergarten or college. For me this is my 17th year, as I “send off” Colin to his 4th year of college.

With the annual send off there is always a list involved – school supply list, book lists, clothing list, dorm or apartment lists and I’m sure there are even more lists! But this year I challenge parents of students of all ages to at least momentarily put their lists aside and pick up my to-do list. The good news is that it won’t cost you a dime!

Most Important Back to School To-Do List

  1. Talk with your child about respect. Respect for self and respect for others, especially those who are different from us. Talk about how we show  respect  and what to do when others don’t show us respect.
  2. Talk about personal space and healthy boundaries.
  3. Talk about tolerance, intolerance, indifference and apathy.
  4. Talk about healthy relationships.
  5. Talk about communication, the sharing of opinions and how to disagree with respect and dignity.
  6. Talk about consent.
  7. And most important, talk about trust and love. Talk about how your love for them equates into trusting them to make good decisions but in the face of bad decisions, you are there to listen and help.

And when you are done talking, continue to model your core values and beliefs around respect, tolerance, boundaries, relationships, communication, trust and love.

As parents it is so easy to get wrapped up in making sure that our kids have all the right “equipment” they need for school – the correct type of pencils, calculators, shoes, etc. But isn’t it more important that we equip them with the core values they will need to be successful as people?


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An open letter

(An open letter to a former client of Beth Morrison. The client name has been changed to protect her identify.)

Dear Jane,

Tonight I am thinking of you as I process the events of the past 48 hours. It was my honor to serve as your rape counselor 27 years ago and I can’t help but go back to those dark and difficult days sitting by your side.

Todd Akin had no right to make such outrageous and false statements about a subject of which he clearly has no real knowledge.  What struck me more than his idiotic comment was the pain and trauma that I knew he would ultimately inflict upon rape survivors such as you.

I spent much time by your side 27 years ago, from the night at the emergency room just two hours after your assault, to two years later in a victim support group. This is why I know how you might be personally impacted by Akins’ callous and harmful comments.  I held your hand and walked with you as you debated the painful decision of continuing with the pregnancy or not.  I know that the decision was difficult. For decades I have continued to be deeply touched by your bravery and the strength you demonstrated in making this life-altering decision.

I also recall time spent in subsequent sessions dealing with the shame and embarrassment of being raped. You lamented over whether or not you could have somehow contributed to being raped. In Todd Akin’s words, you were questioning whether or not your rape was “a legitimate rape.”  I hope that over the years since we last met that you have been able to hang on to the knowledge and belief that you did not deserve or in any way contribute to being assaulted – regardless of the victim blaming that Todd Akin or others like him insist on perpetuating.

We all have to let him know that women can’t prevent rape and certainly can’t prevent an unwelcomed pregnancy that results from rape and ALL rapes are legitimate!

Jane, you are one remarkable woman – a woman of great strength, bravery and class.  You are much stronger, wiser and braver than Todd Akin will ever be. You, other rape survivors and all women cannot let the Todd Akins of the world win – not in politics, in theory, in action or in belief. We have to stand strong and say NO MORE.

Now 27 years and potentially thousands of miles apart, I want you to know that I still stand right next to you.  We will get through this as we did many years ago by holding hands, fighting back and using our voice.

Beth Morrison

PS:  Note that I have decided to not address Todd Akin as a Representative – he does not represent me and does not deserve that honor.

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HAVEN Garden Project and Gratitude

By Emily Eisele

As a child, one has that magical capacity to move among the many eras of the earth; to see the land as an animal does; to experience the sky from the perspective of a flower or a bee; to feel the earth quiver and breathe beneath us; to know a hundred different smells of mud and listen unself- consciously to the soughing of the trees.”  –Valerie Andrews

With me constantly while I work at the HAVEN Garden Project is a feeling of gratitude for the little hands helping me do my work.  Nearly every time I am in the garden, harvesting, watering, packing vegetables for the fridge, a crowd of eager helpers materializes around me. If I change my schedule, I will be reprimanded for my absence!  Our garden time usually involves a “farm walk,” where we check the progress and flavors and smells of all the garden vegetables.

There is a specific group of siblings who are in the habit of narrating complex adventures and “discoveries,” and who refer to me as the “garden teacher!”  Last week, they made a straw bale into a giant cake–iced with grass clippings and snapdragons.  With a little work, they built a fort out of row cover fabric–complete with chairs, a table, vases of flowers, and squash leaves standing in as dinner plates.  They locked all the adults out of the fort, and after several minutes (and much audible giggling), presented their mom with a surprise birthday party.  A meal of carefully arranged pea gravel, green beans, and edible flower petals graced the table.  When the party was over, the adults were expelled from the fort so they could set up an imaginary “cooking challenge!”  These kids–all bright, sharp, and enthusiastic–are undergoing a crisis period in their lives.  They are reaching out for support, for praise, for stability and meaning.  Given a job to do and a little direction, all of that seems to fall away.

In the shelter kitchen, any kids that show up can take part in preparing veggies for the fridge.  When I roll the cart in with bins of greens, children at their cereal bowls bolt to the sink and clamor to help in their pajamas.  Lettuce washing turns the floor into a temporary lake, and each young one gets a particular job: running the giant lettuce spinner (always popular), swishing the delicate leaves in the water, holding the bags, transporting them to the fridge.  Shy teenagers edge in to assist with management. Two particular kids cry out to their mom, “Look!  We have a job!  We’re doing our job!” The hunger for praise, for affirmation and purpose, is so palpable.

For all of us, a reminder that we are useful is essential to our decision to get up daily, to move forward.  It is especially poignant to those who are small, who have may not have been cared for as they should have been cared for, and valued as important.  The work required of human stewards in a garden is abundant and meaningful–the results tangible (and delicious).  As Wendell Berry says, “One of the most important resources that a garden makes available for use, is the gardener’s own body. A garden gives the body the dignity of working in its own support. It is a way of rejoining the human race.”  The garden is a healing place.  It transports us elsewhere: there is work to be done, and games to play.  A garden space is a little universe where children thrive.

A few weeks ago, a particular family was in the garden for hours.  The children ran barefoot over a familiar circuit we often take, casually, through the vegetables and flowers and trees.  The most vocal sibling pronounced that they would be leading the Walk.  Today, they were the garden teachers.

“Emily! This is a gooseberry! Watch out for the prickers!” (“They go through your pants and make a hole in your pants!” squeals the youngest.)

“The baby pumpkin is getting bigger!”

“Oh…,” says the oldest gravely, “something is STILL eating up all the cantaloupes.”

We continue on through the site, one little one holding a flag I was using to mark an irrigation issue, leading us on like a marching band, all of us munching raw green beans.  I lose them momentarily in the corn and pick my way down the rows.  Little hands, smudged with dirt, grab my wrists and pull.  “There’s more! Over here! We made a discovery!”

I smile and laugh.  How many people are confronted daily with such a beautiful affirmation of their work?


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Domestic violence is everywhere

By Megan Widman, Social Action Program Director

Last night I was behind a woman in line at the grocery store who was buying infant formula and a multi-pack of pregnancy tests. At first, I thought, “Wow, she has a lot going on.” Almost immediately after that, my mind went to domestic violence and reproductive coercion – in which batterers keep their partners pregnant almost continually (through birth control sabotage, rape) as means of control.  Then I did the self-talk thing I do when I’m not working and told myself, “Megan, not everything is domestic violence.”

Then I saw the bruises.  As she reached to put something on the conveyor belt, her blouse rode up a bit and I could see the four bruises on her arm – in the exact shape, size and pattern as fingertips.  I have seen this pattern before on survivors I have worked with.

I quickly shuffled through my bag looking for my business cards.  Luckily, I had some.  Without giving it much thought because I didn’t have any time to waste, I tapped her on the shoulder and handed her a card, and said “Just in case you ever need help…”  She smiled in polite confusion and reached out to take the card, then looked down at it and frowned.  She did put it in her purse, though.

Domestic violence is everywhere you look – if you know what to look for.  With one in three American women experiencing domestic violence at some point in their life, it is statistically impossible that you do not know someone who was affected. The reason why domestic violence thrives is because we have a culture of silence.   People don’t talk about it, don’t ask about it.  We are leery of bothering someone, of being nosy, or being wrong.   As a result, victims are left feeling ashamed and scared.  Our silence is collusion.  It tells the batterer that he will get away with what he is doing, and, even worse, that it is acceptable.

I could be totally wrong about this woman – and I hope I am.  She could be absolutely excited about the prospect of having another baby.  Those bruises could be the result of a medical condition.  But if I am right, the cost of not saying anything at all is too great.


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Warning: Sharing with other cultures can result in self reflection!

By: Beth Morrison, HAVEN CEO

HAVEN was honored with a visit from a group of dedicated Guatemalan health care workers from Casa Colibri.

The group, under the local leadership of Linda Eastman of Rochester Hills, visited HAVEN to learn more about our domestic violence shelter and our crisis intervention efforts. We are really excited to forge a new relationship with a group of concerned individuals who, like the volunteers that started HAVEN 38 years ago, recognize the need to provide safe services for survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

Through our visit I was reminded that not so long ago domestic violence wasn’t talked about, it wasn’t against the law, and victims suffered in isolation.

As we shared stories, it became apparent that domestic violence victims in Guatemala have very similar fears and struggles as women here in the United States do. One of the Casa Colibri members shared that often women will come to their health clinic begging for help preventing pregnancy. They ask them to find a way to provide birth control medication disguised as a simple vitamin or other type of medication, to prevent their partner from beating her for not wanting more children.

Sadly, this is a story that we often hear at HAVEN. Women are forced or threatened into pregnancy as a way for the abuser to maintain their relationship and their control.  The approach may be different in Guatemala, but we all know that women’s reproductive rights are under attack in the US as well.

While we offered advice to our new Guatemalan advocates, we also shared with them that the battle for social change is both long and arduous.  Our staff was reminded that we do our best each day to assist victims and to offer safety options. Yet in order to end domestic violence the work must be done not just through individual acts but through significant social change.

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Sex and consent

By Ernestine McRae, HAVEN Residential Program Director

What a position it must have been for my father, or for any father, who finally decides it’s time to stretch those parenting muscles and have “the talk” with his daughters.

For me and my sisters, “the talk” was supported by a book about the birds and the bees that outlined everything in perfect clinical fashion.  To have such a helpful tool must have been quite a relief for my father.  He could have ended the discussion right there and given himself a pat on the back for making sure his daughters knew all there was to know.  However, he saw a need for more.  More discussion about intimacy, more discussion about the role sex plays in any healthy relationship, and more, much more, about consent.

True to his character, my father also saw the need for a more visual example and before we knew it, my sisters and I were whisked off to the local movie theatre for “more” in the form of the now cult favorite motion picture Super Fly.  Yes, I’m dating myself with this reference, I know.

My father’s point was to show us how women are often coerced, forced and bullied into doing things (including prostitution) that they don’t want to do.  I see now that this was his way of starting the discussion about sexual assault and rape, and educating us about the  necessity of consent.

Everyone has different views about sex and preferences. Sex is intimate, romantic, caring, and loving.  Sex has and will always play a role in any healthy relationship.  It’s nothing to be ashamed of or shy about. The one intrinsic quality about sex is that it’s consensual.

There is no going around this fundamental definition.  Sex, or the term “having sex,” communicates that all individuals involved have agreed to engage.

Obtaining sex by threats, force, intimidation, coercion or while someone is unable to use the word “NO” is rape.  It’s not sex.

In addition, we must all understand that being unable to use the words “NO” or being unable to give consent includes individuals who are intoxicated and children who are not mature or old enough to consent or legally say “Yes.”  So that’s an automatic “NO!”

Yes, my father’s tactics may have been different, unorthodox even, but the one thing he understood and wanted us to understand was the meaning of consent and the true definition of sex.

I am thankful to him for his efforts, and I encourage all of us to examine our belief surrounding consent, learn the laws concerning consent and find any tool, whether clinical or creative, to inform our children about the requirement of consent in sexual relationships.


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