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From 13 October 2002 Issue

The Active Activist
Putting together a First Strike Conference

By Michelle A. Rivera - MichelleRivera1@aol.com

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. So what better time is there to plan a First Strike Conference? A “preemptive strike” is legalese for a point made by an attorney in anticipation of a potentially damaging point made by his opponent. By anticipating what opposing counsel may say, and arguing the point before it can even be made, lawyers take the legitimacy of an argument out of it before it is uttered.

Herein lies the idea behind the national initiative known as First Strike. By looking at the earliest indicators of family violence, we are in a position to affect an anticipatory strike against it. And experts have determined that one of the earliest indicators of family violence is animal abuse. Simply put, those who are beating the family pet are most likely to abuse other family members too. If not now, then soon. And by identifying those abusers, treating and/or punishing them, and finding safe haven for the victims, we are effectively preempting the almost certain violence to come and take steps to avoid it.

So what can be done to encourage local law enforcement, prosecutors, educators, social workers and others to become involved at the first sign of abuse? We can help them to carry out the initial strike against family violence. We can bring them together to share resources, statistics and remedies. And we can do it at a First Strike Conference.

For the second year in a row, I have been the promoter of a First Strike Workshop in my area. I encourage all activists to do the same. Here is the way to do it.

Set your date! Make sure you have about 4-6 months lead time to line up your speakers. Try to pick a Saturday so that everyone who wants to may attend.

Line up your speakers: My speakers include Randall Lockwood, Ph.D, (HSUS), Lt. Sherry Schlueter, (Broward County Sheriff’s Office); Dr. MaryAnn Jones of the Governors Task Force on Domestic Violence; Lanna Belolavek, Assistant State Attorney and a veterinary panel. Your speakers list should include a local assistant state attorney (or THE state attorney) as well as law enforcement personnel, counselors or attorneys in the private sector. Dr. Lockwood and Lt. Schlueter are both available and amenable to traveling to speak at these events. Other speakers you may want to consider and who I highly recommend are Ann Gearheart from the Snyder Foundation for Animals and/or Judy Johns of the Latham Foundation. Phil Arkow and Frank Ascione are also noted speakers on the subject of animal cruelty and domestic violence. Local activists may have their own access to people who are experts from other animal agencies that have successfully initiated programs to assist animal victims of family violence.

Last year, I included Pat Preu, a victim of domestic violence who suffered the loss of her cats when her husband drowned them in retaliation for her leaving him when he held a gun to her head. Her story has been told on Entertainment Tonight and in Cat Fancy Magazine. Working with local battered women’s groups, you may be able to find a similar victim willing to tell her story. You will find that most speakers will not charge a fee, or you may have to pay to reimburse their travel expenses. You may be able to get the airline to donate the airfare, and local hotels, in exchange for putting their name on the flier, may offer a free night’s lodging.

Find a venue- You should not have to pay for the room. Try government offices, churches and even condo meeting rooms. The local hospital may have a classroom they are willing to allow you to use, and even your local animal care agency may offer a classroom. Plan for about 100 people.

Find a printer- Make up your fliers and ask a local printer to waive the printing and/or copying costs in exchange for putting their name on the fliers as a sponsor. Ask your local animal control agency or humane society if they would sponsor the event by doing the mass mailing for you. Your regional headquarters of the HSUS will gladly send out fliers in your state to all interested parties. Also, find sponsors in the form of local business owners who may be willing to donate stamps and/or mailing costs. And don’t forget the power of e-mail.

Who should attend? Be sure to send fliers to local law enforcement officers, domestic violence workers, prosecutors, educators, social workers, animal control agencies, and other members of the community who are committed to stopping animal abuse and domestic violence are encouraged to attend. By making contact with your local Bar Association, Mental Health Centers, School Boards and Nursing Licensing agency, you will learn how to offer continuing education units for your event.

These units are needed by certain professionals to keep their license current and are sure to generate interest. You will find that the workshop is about more than just learning about animal abuse, it’s also an occasion to meet others who share our goal of stopping violence in its many forms. Indeed, for years, government agencies and humane organizations have been working together to find a solution.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), released a study in 1996 entitled “The Tangled Web of Abuse” which details evidence that those who abuse animals, especially those who begin at an early age, will go on to abuse people. Indeed, Jeffrey Dahmer, Kip Kinkel and the Columbine killers, to name just a few, all had a history of animal abuse. But nowhere is animal cruelty more prevalent than behind closed doors. With little concern for consequences, abusers mistreat family pets for a variety of reasons, including:

* To demonstrate and confirm power and control over the family
* To isolate the victim and children
* To force the family to keep family violence a secret
* Teach submission
* To retaliate for acts of independence and self-determination
* To perpetuate the context of terror
* To prevent a victim from leaving or coerce the victim to return
* To degrade victim through involvement in the abuse

There are compelling reasons why we should recognize animal abuse as a form of battering. It differs from other crimes committed against animals in that abusing animals exposes the deliberateness of battering rather than loss of control. The abuse of animals and children is closely related because both targets are small and vulnerable.

No single event can reduce a social illness as devastating as domestic violence, so, there should be post-conference plans to support victims who fear for the lives of their companion animals if they flee for their own safety. Since 28% of the women who call shelter hotlines refuse to seek safety for themselves if it means leaving their pets behind; it stands to reason that programs set up to help battered women are not meeting all their needs. After our conference, the Animal Rescue League seeks to set up a foster network to provide safe, temporary homes for these at-risk animals. While battered women and children seek shelter from the storm of domestic violence, we seek to give them peace of mind and their animals care and comfort until a permanent solution can be found for both. The First Strike Conference will address this project as well.

For more information on how to put together your own First Strike conference, and to learn about other national anti-violence initiatives, visit the following websites:

The Humane Society of the United States www.hsus.org
The Latham Foundation www.latham.org

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