The most amazing conference of my life – National Coalition to End Domestic Violence (NCADV)

29 October 2016

I truly do not ncadv-picknow how I am going to get in to one blog what I learnt and how much I got from the NCADV conference this year. Firstly I was reunited with my other DAHA co-founders Meghan Field, Nicole Jacobs and Kelly Henderson as we were all doing workshops on our work in the UK. These women mean the world to me and leaving them was so hard!

The first day was opened by the leaders of the reservation our amazing hotel was situated on. The Sheraton is a Native American Hotel and the surroundings could not have been more amazing and serene for this conference.

The first session was entitled from ‘Caterpillar to Butterfly: The Trajectory of the Domestic Violence Movement’ and it was mind blowing. It is the first time I have ever sat at a conference and heard so many bold statements made, realisations come to, honest questions asked and deep reflections made on the history and future of our movement including the fact that there has been an over reliance on the Criminal Justice System, that we have much to undo before we can move forward and that the needs of the most marginalised need to become truly central in everything we do. This session got the first of many standing ovations. I love that it is called a movement in the US and not called the sector like it is in the UK. In the UK we need to embrace this and start seeing this as a movement to create social change. The sessions focused on these three questions: Where we have been? Where we are now? Where are we headed? This set the theme for the rest of the conference for me and I would love to see a similar thing done in the UK.

The following morning we had a plenary about the life and story of Jessica Gonzales Lenahan who brought the first ever case against the US government in a human rights tribunal. Her story is utterly horrifying and tragic. Her three daughters were murdered by her ex-partner, before he was killed by the Police as he crashed his car in to the front of the Police station. The girls were found in the back of his car. On initially reporting that her children had not been returned to her by her ex-partner the Police failed to take her concerns seriously or enforce the restraining order she had in place. Jessica advised me that Castle Rock – Colorado never completed an investigation in to the death of her children and that all the evidence was destroyed three weeks after their murders so it is still unknown how they died. Words simply do not do this justice so I am not going to try but the documentary that has since been created and followed Jessica for 8 years of her life tells this tragic story and her plight and is entitled Home Truth.  I do not remember crying so much in a session and  I am utterly floored by Jessica’s strength but also spirit as I got to know her on a more personal level at the NCADV party on Wednesday night.

I also went to some extraordinary workshops throughout that day. One on a rapid rehousing programme at the House of Ruth Maryland, the second delivered by Peg and Cris on flexible funding assistance which I have talked about in my other blogs and the third Nicole and Meghan’s on the Co-ordinated Community Response to Domestic Violence in Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea and Islington (tri-borough) and they smashed it as per usual! speaker-badges-arizona

Over a lovely lunch we heard from Caroline Bettinger-Lopez the White House Advisor on Violence Against Women and then there wasa key note from Julian Castro (JC) the Secretary of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) followed by a panel on housing. This was unreal as this is exactly what my fellowship is about and highlights the growing need for this to be a focus of governments from across the world and our movement. It also made me very proud and thankful that one of my objectives of this fellowship is to create a global coalition and that this is actually happening!

Key points from speeches:

  1. That we have had enough of toxic masculinity and need to move away from phrasing and narrative like ‘boys will be boys’ – JC
  2. Nobody should have to choose between being unsafe or being homeless – JC
  3. Intersectionality needs to be acknowledged, addressed and dealt with properly (this means understanding how gender, race, class, ability, sexual orientation, religion, caste, age, nationality and other sectarian axes of identity interact) 
  4. That housing is a powerful platform to help people – JC
  5. Women  and children should never be put at risk for reporting a crime – Lakisha Briggs – JC

The Tuesday morning plenary was outstanding and was about Trauma Informed Advocacy. This is talked about in the UK a lot but I do not think I have ever had such a comprehensive overview of what this actually means. The panel session was run by the amazing Dawn Shiller, Terri Pease and Arlene Vassell.

Key points raised were about:

  • Intersectionality, positionality, implicit bias, horizontal hostility, assimilation and the fact that privilege ignores the humanity of a group.
  • We heard of Peggy McIntosh’s work: ‘White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks’
  • ‘When we eradicate inequality we eradicate violence.’ Jackson Katz TED talk is well worth a watch.
  • ‘Just because that is what we did in 80’s doesn’t make it right today.’
  • Services should not be punitive i.e. mandate you on to programmes and advocacy should be truly self determined.
  • Services should be ‘screening IN…..’ not screening OUT i.e adolescent boys, substance or alcohol abuse
  • We need to take a critical look at our programmes to ensure they are survivor centred and focus on those most marginalised
  • Do we really understand or have taken the time to find out the lived experience of our communities?

The next workshop I did was ‘Building an Intersectional Movement: Shifts and Pivots’ by Alex Lanagan, Patina Park and Sandy Davidson from Move To End Domestic Violence and it was life changing. Approximately every two years, Move to End Violence selects a group of inspired individuals who are committed to ending violence against all girls and women in the United States through social change. At this session I was able to take a proper look at my position in society and asked myself some very hard questions about my own privilege and how this translates in to my work.

We then had a lunch keynote from Robyn Thomas the Executive Director of Law Centre to Prevent Gun Violence and the only conclusion I can make from this is how ridiculous the situation is, how much gun laws need to be changed and how happy I am that in the UK this is not the situation.

I then went on to Cris and Linda’s workshop on DV Housing First #DAHousing and this was a great summary of all the work I had heard about in Seattle (see previous blog) and then it was Kelly and I’s turn to deliver our workshop on DAHA and our research. It was so much fun and we had a great audience and I fed back on some of my main thoughts so far:

  1. We need to take a long hard look at our programmes in the UK
  2. We need to look at flexible funding assistance
  3. We need to look more deeply at Intersectionality as part of our review
  4. We need to make sure our services are truly trauma informed
  5. We need to look at what other housing programmes might look like to add to Refuge as an option

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Gudrun Burnet
@GudrunBurnet