Understanding the Root Causes of Violence

June 7, 2019

Programming Spotlight: Building Healthy Relationships

By Hallie Cohen
Hallie is a Violence Prevention Educator on our Building Healthy Relationships Team. The BHR team is one of the programs that the Race Against Hate benefits.

My co-facilitators on the Building Healthy Relationships team talk to several hundred middle and high school students in a given year about topics related to, well, building healthy relationships. Sometimes our discussions are direct topics: what are the warning signs a dating partner is abusive? How can you support a friend in an abusive relationship? However, our goal is not just to give individuals checklists of do’s and don’ts for protecting themselves from relationship violence; we also aim to form relationships with students and have conversations that contribute to an entire culture shift that is more open, trusting and trustworthy, and that values all people.

Root Cause Tree diagram of Common Cold

“Culture shift” is easy to see as a buzzword goal that is lofty and intangible. How does one shift culture? It requires us to understand small individual behaviors as part of a larger pattern. One way to visualize and understand this is through a root cause tree. A root cause tree is a graphic organizer that connects the foundation and the impact of an issue. When we use this tool to teach high school students about the impact culture has on violence, we start with a simple example “issue:” the common cold.

The branches and leaves of the tree represent what we call the symptoms or impact; this is what we see and experience when we think of the issue. For a cold, possible symptoms would be fever or missing school or work. After brainstorming the symptoms, we shift to the root causes of the issue: “What causes us to have a cold?” The simple answer is a virus but we encourage them to think deeper: “What conditions allow the virus to spread and infect more people?” Students come up with behaviors such as stress or unhealthy diet, which weaken the immune system.

Typically, a cold is treated with medicine and rest. But this is a reactive solution that only attends to one symptom. We ask students to imagine what we would have to do in order to eliminate the issue fully. The answers range from prioritizing mental health, to regularly exercising etc. All of these solutions address the actual root causes of the problem.

When you look at any single root cause of a problem, it’s hard to understand how deep of an impact it has. When you’re in a rush and skip washing your hands one time, you don’t think “this is going to be the moment I am infected with a virus.” It’s the combination of all these small behaviors that creates the culture that allows for, and even compounds the issue. The symptoms of that issue cannot be addressed or eliminated separately from their roots, or the issue will continue to come back.

Root Cause diagram

When we want to look at a bigger, more serious and challenging issue like violence in our world, a root cause tree can be a useful tool in understanding the actual cause and effect of the issue. We can look at the symptoms to understand the depth of suffering caused by the issue, and we can look at the roots to understand the foundational culture that allows the violence to happen. In my field of work, you will often hear someone say “violence is about power and control.” Those of us who work with victims of violence understand that violence is not random; it is not just some “snapping.” Violence is a tool that some people have learned to use in order to gain control over others; it is a tool to maintain the status quo. In order to understand why people use this tool; we must understand the racist and sexist status quo it upholds.

As we approach the 20th annual Race Against Hate, which honors the life and family of Ricky Byrdsong, whom was murdered by a white supremacist on July 2, 1999, I would like to challenge readers and race participants to think through their own root cause tree for an issue like racist violence. What are the symptoms of this problem: who is impacted and how? What are the root causes: what patterns of behavior and beliefs built the white supremacist culture that motivates this violence? You could consider historical context, institutions like education, government, and religion, representation in the media, and cultural norms, ideas, and language. All of these things inform and impact each other when it comes to building a culture that privileges some and disadvantages and harms others. Finally, after you look at all of these root causes, what are at least two ways your beliefs and behaviors contribute to this culture, and how can you change them?

Fargo Police Chief David Todd featured in NYT Opinion Video on Gun Rights and Domestic Violence

FARGO – Fargo Police Chief David Todd has entered the gun debate on the national stage.

In a video on The New York Times’ website and Facebook page, Todd shares his views on gun rights and gun control, and discusses the death of officer Jason Moszer. “Even as a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, I have a red line. Individuals with violent records like domestic violence should never be allowed to own a gun,” Todd says in the video.

Interspersed with Todd providing his views, The New York Times video plays images and police radio recordings from the night officer Moszer was shot after Moszer and other officers responded to a domestic violence call.

“My biggest fear is losing one of my police officers,” Todd said in the video.

“Statistically, these (domestic violence calls) are the most deadly calls we get, and the trend is rising,” he added. Todd states in the video that the man who shot Moszer was a convicted felon with a history of domestic violence and who was able to legally own a gun because 10 years had passed since his release from prison.

“It does not have to be this way,” Todd said. “Domestic abusers should not be allowed to have guns.”

According to Todd, federal laws have loopholes when it comes to domestic abusers and guns and he said only 17 states require anyone with a domestic violence restraining order to turn in their firearms. On the other hand, in 2017, eight governors from both parties ignored pressure from the gun lobby and closed some loopholes, Todd said in the video.

“I understand criminals will always find ways to hurt people, but we can still take reasonable steps to prevent deadly acts by people who already have a violent record with firearms,” Todd said.

“We all want fewer people to die from domestic violence and we want our police officers to go home at the end of their shift to be with their families,” he added.

In an interview with WDAY, Todd said he agreed to record the video provided that it was done carefully. “I was not interested in being used as a pawn in a political agenda, so we worked through what my concerns were and I wanted it to be a common-sense message,” Todd said in the interview.

The New York Times contacted Todd, knowing the 2016 shooting death of officer Moszer was still fresh in the minds of people in the community.

“Gun ownership is a part of life here and that is a right we need to preserve, but there are common-sense things we need to look at when we have people convicted of violent crimes or domestic violence that perhaps they lose the right to own that gun,” Todd said in the video.

Millions of New York Times readers saw Todd’s video, and many seemed to agree with his statement.

“Watching comments, certainly more cynical outside our region, but the majority agree with what I am saying,” he told WDAY.

To view the video, click here.

CAWS North Dakota receives Community Innovation Grant

BISMARCK – The Consensus Council, in partnership with The Bush Foundation, has awarded eight grants to organizations in North Dakota through the Community Innovation Grant program. CAWS North Dakota received $10,000 for statewide resource planning.   Currently, there are 20 domestic violence and sexual assault crisis centers across North Dakota that provide services to all 53 counties and the four reservations. However, not all victims and survivors are able to access these services. Grant funds will be used to help CAWS North Dakota facilitate conversations in communities to help identify what victims need and want in order to be safe. Due to growing communities, especially in western North Dakota, crisis centers are continually asked to do more, often without additional funding. In order for these crisis centers to be sustainable in the future under these challenging circumstances, programs will be provided an opportunity to examine, rethink and modernize services.

During this year long project, CAWS North Dakota will work with a consultant to create a process for crisis centers to assess their services, generate the best way to deliver these services and determine the most effective approaches to operations. As a result, CAWS North Dakota will be able to identify key questions, help crisis center’s evaluate how best to meet the needs of victims and communities and develop a plan to modernize services.

“We are very excited about the opportunity that funding from the Bush Foundation offers. Many of our programs have been in operation for over 30 years and have expanded their services in response to the needs of survivors and communities. We rarely have an opportunity to reflect on the work we do and if we can find ways to improve our service delivery and accessibility for survivors,” said Janelle Moos, CAWS North Dakota’s Executive Director.  

Other grantees in North Dakota are as follows; from Bismarck–‐Mandan: Heart River Lutheran Church for the Bridges of Hope project, the ND Department of Health for Creating a Hunger–‐Free ND Coalition, and Charles Hall Youth Services for mentoring and academic tutoring of foster care children. From the Fargo area, grantees include the African Initiative for Progress for work with the immigrant community, and Theatre B, to use theatre as a tool to teach medical humanities. Additional grants were made to the Grand Forks Community Land Trust for their efforts toward home ownership for people of low and moderate income and to the Great Plains Institute (MN) for the Legacy Fund Initiative in North Dakota.

Nonprofit organizations and government entities of all sizes are eligible to apply for Community Innovation Grants from the Consensus Council ranging from $500 up to $10,000. The Community Innovation Grants support communities to use problem–‐solving processes that lead to more effective, equitable and sustainable solutions. The program is part of the Bush Foundation’s effort to support, inspire and reward community innovation.

ABOUT CAWS North DakotaCAWS North Dakota is a nonprofit membership organization representing the 20 domestic violence and sexual assault crisis centers throughout the state. It is our mission to provide leadership and support in the identification, intervention, and prevention of sexual and domestic violence. CAWS North Dakota is a member of the National Network to End Domestic Violence. For more information, go to www.ndcaws.org.

Planning underway for 2nd annual Race to Zero 5K!

BISMARCK— Planning for the second annual Race to Zero: Run/Walk for Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention is underway and registration is now open. The 5K event is intended to raise public awareness about sexual violence throughout the lifespan as well as military sexual trauma. This year, Race to Zero will take place on Saturday, April 12, at the Hay Creek Trail Loop with registration and displays in Shiloh Christian School.

April is both Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month and Child Abuse Prevention Month. In 2012 alone, more than 900 victims of sexual assault sought help from crisis intervention centers throughout the North Dakota (2013 statistics are still pending). Nearly 40 percent of victims were under the age of 18 at the time of the assault. The Pentagon reported that in 2012, more than 26,000 military service members experienced unwanted sexual contact. Nationally, more than half of sexual assaults go unreported. The intent of the race is to encourage community conversation about sexual assault awareness and prevention. Support for survivors from the larger community can translate into better response for victims of sexual assault and ultimately, change social norms like silence and victim blaming.

Pre-registration is $20 and participants receive a Race to Zero t-shirt the day of the event. Registration the day of the race is $25. Check-in and day-of registration begins at 8 a.m. in the Shiloh Christian School Elementary foyer, and the race begins at 9 a.m. Racers can register for either competitive or non-competitive categories. A small awards ceremony and light refreshments will be held after the race. Educational and outreach displays and activities will be located in the chapel of Shiloh Christian School (just inside the elementary entrance).

To help spread the word about the race, please visit www.facebook.com/RacetoZero or register directly on Eventbrite at https://racetozero.eventbrite.com. For more information about registration, please contact Stephanie Gerhardt at 701-225-6240 or sgerhardt@ndcaws.org. For more information about the race, contact primary organizer Heather Mattson at 701-333-3293 or heather.m.mattson5.civ@mail.mil.

Race to Zero: Run/Walk for Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention is a collaborative project between the Abused Adult Resource Center, Bismarck Prevention Task Force, CAWS North Dakota, the North Dakota National Guard Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program (SARP), Prevent Child Abuse North Dakota (PCAND), and Region 7 Foster Care/Adoption Recruitment Coalition. Along with advocacy centers around the state, these agencies work toward a shared goal of zero sexual assaults in North Dakota.

Where Do YOU Stand?

It’s Monday morning at work. One of your co-workers, Dave, keeps texting his ex. They broke up a few weeks ago and it seemed OK, but now Dave is becoming consumed with trying to revive this relationship. You respect your co-worker but know he’s crossing the line with his behavior. You say, “Dave, he’s not into you anymore. Let it go.”

It’s Wednesday night. You’re hanging out with some friends, and one of them, Jake, is on his laptop. You see over his shoulder that he’s searching escort ads online. You think this is a bad idea – it’s cold and unfeeling, not to mention illegal. You say, “Jake, I wouldn’t do it. It’s not right.”

It’s Friday night. You’re at the bar downtown with your friends, enjoying a few drinks and talking about the work week. You see your favorite server, Nicole, being harassed by a guy who’s clearly had too much to drink. Nicole keeps deflecting this customer’s advances, but he won’t let up. You and a friend walk over and say, “We heard her say no, so back off.”

All of these scenarios illustrate the concept of bystander intervention, where someone in a position to intervene in a potentially harmful or dangerous situation does just that. In the past, effective bystander intervention campaigns have focused on creating an “out” for a victim or stopping the immediate behavior of an offender. As prevention work evolves, organizations are seeing it necessary to widen the conversation to address offender behavior, especially men holding other men accountable.

Where Do You Stand? is a new awareness campaign created by CAWS North Dakota and national partner Men Can Stop Rape. Four scenarios encourage bystanders to intervene and prevent sexual assault, while starting conversations about how unhealthy expressions of masculinity increase violence against women. The scenarios also address behavior such as intimate partner stalking, buying sex, group intervention, and making a visible commitment to prevent violence in the community.

Products include large posters, postcards with intervention strategies on the back, beverage coasters, and all-weather yard signs that promote “the kind of guys who take a stand.” Informational kits have been assembled that contain information about the campaign, a brochure about the wider Healthy Masculinity Initiative (HeMI), a guide for employers to develop victim-centered violence policies, statewide resources, and campaign product samples. All products are free and make a great tool to do outreach with men and boys in your community.

So why focus on men? Men who are business owners, community leaders, educators, coaches, elected officials, faith leaders, or youth leaders have enormous potential to positively influence men and boys in North Dakota. Most men don’t commit violence, but their silence toward the men who do speaks volumes. Men who treat women and girls as “less than,” display sexist behaviors and attitudes, or relate to unhealthy stereotypes of masculinity thrive in a culture where their behavior is not questioned. So we need people, especially more men, to stand up and speak out.

To make the campaign diverse enough to work in communities across the state, CAWS North Dakota worked with a local photographer, Final Proof Photography, to create custom imagery for the four messages, reflecting urban, rural, college, blue collar, and oilfield environments, for a total of eight designs. North Dakota men served as models for the campaign, adding a layer of authenticity and meaning to the project. Making sure the campaign “felt” like the changing North Dakota we see was an important part of the customization process. Volunteers from the Men’s Action Network in the Fargo-Moorhead area, with support from Rape and Abuse Crisis Center, were integral to the completion of this campaign.

To get free campaign materials or information kit, contact your local advocacy center – a directory is available online at www.ndcaws.org. Larger quantities of materials are also available from the CAWS North Dakota office at 525 N. 4th Street.

Funding for the project came via the Office on Violence Against Women, Department of Justice, under the Engaging Men in Preventing Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence and Stalking Grant Program.