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No end in sight 

Exiting TESSA director Cari Davis talks about the crisis of violence against women and children

click to enlarge During Cari Davis tenure at TESSA, she helped provide - services to thousands of domestic violence victims in El - Paso County. - PHOTO COURTESY OF CARI DAVIS
  • Photo courtesy of Cari Davis
  • During Cari Davis tenure at TESSA, she helped provide services to thousands of domestic violence victims in El Paso County.

After 5 1/2 years at the helm of TESSA, Cari Davis will step down next week for a respite from the "kind of work that is never done." As she takes two months to recharge before a new job search, Colorado Springs' domestic violence and rape crisis and advocacy center will relocate to the Myron Stratton Home campus off Highway 115.

Davis spoke with the Independent earlier this week about the challenges of making partner and family violence a community-wide issue.

Indy: What do you consider your legacy at TESSA to be?

CD: We have done a lot of deep work on cultural inclusiveness. We have looked at how our own biases and how different forms of oppression such as racism, sexism, heterosexism, ageism and classism affect the way we assist and support our clients. ... We have also engaged men in the movement to end violence against women and their children. ... And finally, we are migrating toward a community organizing orientation.

For those of us that do this work day in and day out, we recognize that while little miracles happen all the time, and while our clients are incredibly brave, tenacious, smart all those things that they have to be to survive fundamentally, we are going to continue to put Band-Aids on this problem unless the entire community feels this urgency that it is not OK for one in four women to be the victim of physical assault by an intimate partner or the victim of sexual violence.

Indy: What is the hardest part of this work?

CD: It is extremely difficult to see women and children hurt every day. To see women and children sometimes killed and violated and not feel some sense of community urgency to end it. ... It doesn't seem to be a priority for our country.

When you do this work, and you literally dedicate every moment and every breath to it, like our staff and volunteers do, and when you see what our clients go through to find safety and self-sufficiency, it is hard to reconcile that with the lack of outcry.

Indy: Why aren't more people outraged?

CD: I think violence against women is so normalized that we don't even see it any more. ... Though our laws have changed and the way that we speak has changed, the reality is that we have to look no further than popular culture to see how women are thought about and treated. When we buy video games for our children that involve killing women, when the music we listen to is misogynistic, it just supports the normalization of violence against women to the point that no one even hears it or sees it or notices it.

Indy: How does the media contribute to the problem?

CD: When women are killed by their partners, the media rarely calls it "domestic violence." ... [The media] also fails to do the race, the class and the sexual orientation analysis. A great example is [basketball star] Kobe Bryant. The focus was on rape. There was almost no race analysis [looking at] the long history of black men being accused of raping white women. Putting aside whether it occurred or not, we need to start having these discussions.

Race and class and gender and sexual orientation do figure not only in these crimes, but also into our responses to the crimes. When we don't have those discussions, we miss the opportunity to connect the dots around these forms of oppression that continue to be played out in violence.

Indy: Colorado Springs has received national attention for the rape allegations at the Air Force Academy. Do you see many military clients?

CD: We serve a lot of military folk. If they come to us we do maintain confidentiality. For some of them, they have chosen not to report through the military because of the lack of confidentiality under certain circumstances.

The military presence in our community makes it a very unusual place. ... The transience of the military creates an environment where you have a lot of people going in and out of our community on an ongoing basis. That doesn't cause a greater level of violence. In some cases [military folk] are more isolated. It might be harder for them to have that support system to link into in a time of need.

Indy: Is it challenging to do this work in a conservative city?

CD: I believe that, fundamentally, most people don't get out of bed every day and say, "I really hope another woman gets killed," or "I hope another child gets hurt." Most people get out of bed every day and go to work wanting to make the world a better place. While we may disagree about the path to that place, given enough time and given the opportunity to have that discussion, we would agree that violence against anyone is not good. ...

The work is about people not hurting people. There is no Democrat or Republican or conservative or liberal in that.

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