Guest post: The Role of Nurses and Women’s Health Advocates in Advancing a Social Justice Agenda in the Current Climate: The Case of Wisconsin

Contributors (see bios below)
Lucy Mkandawire-Valhmu, PhD, RN; Jeneile Luebke, PhD, RN;
Carolyn Eichner, PhD; Kaboni Gondwe, PhD, RN;
Diane Schadewald, DNP, RN; Peninnah Kako, PhD, RN;
Jacqueline Callari-Robinson, BSN, RN; Brittany Ochoa-Nordstrum;
Nicole Weiss; Jacqueline Campbell, PhD, RN, FAAN

As nursing professionals and women’s health advocates, we have watched in disbelief events unfolding in Barron County, Wisconsin. Embrace, a shelter serving survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence in Barron County, is facing backlash for displaying a Black Lives Matter (BLM) sign. Reacting to the sign, local officials stripped the organization of funding worth $25,000 and law enforcement are unwilling to continue collaborating with Embrace.

Source

Embrace, located in Northern Wisconsin, serves a predominantly White populace, but also has a significant population of migrant farmworkers and Somali refugees. Migrant farmworker women face difficulties in accessing help following an experience of violence due to transportation and language barriers. Many refugee women also often have a history of sexual violence and trauma. Black women make up less than 2% of the population in Baron County yet constitute 10% of the population accessing help at Embrace’s shelter. Part of the St. Croix Chippewa tribe is also located in Embrace’s service area. Black women and American Indian (AI) women are disproportionately impacted by violence, but do not ordinarily seek help despite the potential for severe negative impacts such as injury or even loss of life.

The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) report shows that 84.3% of AI women have experienced lifetime violence (Rosay, 2016). The NISVS shows 41% of Black women have experienced physical IPV in their lifetime with homicide being one of the leading causes of death for women aged 44 and younger. It is in this context that Embrace seeks to serve the most vulnerable populations of women in a four-county area where they are the only available domestic violence shelter.

 We are in unprecedented times with an ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that not only disproportionately affects the lives of Black and Brown women and their communities, but also increases their risk of violence and homicide. A recent US study showed a surge in the incidence of severe intimate partner violence (IPV) during the Covid-19 pandemic compared to the previous 3 years, and a decrease in the number of people seeking hospital care (Gosangi et al., 2020). It is important to be clear that this supports the idea that the stressors of Covid-19 including the economic fallout may exacerbate existing IPV but probably does not start IPV that has not existed before.  Consistent with what has been seen in some other countries, IPV and sexual assault advocates across the state began to report an increase in self and police referrals to their agencies after the pandemic began (Luthern, 2020).

Domestic violence related homicides have been on the increase in Wisconsin even before the pandemic.  According to End Abuse Wisconsin’s Domestic Violence Homicide Report (2020), there were 47 domestic violence related homicide deaths in 2018, and 72 in 2019.  And frighteningly, as of September 29, 2020, domestic violence homicide has taken 69 Wisconsin lives this year.   If that pattern continues, it is estimated that 93 lives will be lost this year. Also concerning is that 22% of the victims, so far in 2020, were age 18 or under. 

Black communities in urban metropolitan areas like Milwaukee are disproportionately impacted by violence in general while also experiencing tensions with law enforcement. Recent acts of police brutality captured on video and circulated widely on social media have implications for community relations with law enforcement. The fear that community members have about police officers potentially using excessive and unjustified force in the policing of Black bodies (Frazer, Mitchell, Nesbitt, et al., 2018) can impact women’s help-seeking following an experience of violence. Black women may want to call the police if they feel like they are in danger from their partner’s abuse but they do not want that partner to be harmed and they usually do not want him to go to jail.  They, like most abused women, just want the violence to stop.  At the same time, there needs to be a non-racist police response available to abused women who are in fear for their and their children’s lives.  There needs to be carefully informed triage (a concept well known to nursing) for 911 calls for IPV so that police are not brought in when not needed but can be brought to homes where there is a high risk for homicide.  

Our state has also been the site of civil unrest in the past few months. In Kenosha, the police shooting of Jacob Blake in August resulted in protests requiring the declaration of a state of emergency. Clashes have also ensued between law enforcement and community members in Wauwatosa in the last few weeks as a result of protests for the February, 2020 shooting and killing of Alvin Cole by a police officer. Apart from these incidents that have created not only unrest but also continued mistrust between Black and Brown communities and law enforcement, there have also been concerns about the prevalence of the trafficking and sexual violation of young Black and Brown women. In Kenosha, Chrystul Kizer, a 19-year-old African American woman, was released this year after being charged for killing a man who sexually abused her as a child in what her defense team argued was self-defense (Fortin, 2020).  Her defense team spoke of how the criminal justice system fails to protect Black and Brown women and girls and yet also holds them disproportionately ‘accountable’ for crimes that would not be charged in cases of White women and girls. This is eloquently detailed by Beth Richie in Arrested Justice

Within the past few months, Wisconsin has had a number of Indigenous women murdered and missing.  Kozee Medicinetop Decorah (Ho-Chunk Nation) was found deceased on May 16, 2020, a victim of domestic violence related homicide (Volpenheln, 2020).  Stephanie Greenspon was found deceased on August 19, 2020. It is suspected that she was also a victim of violence related homicide. Her case is still being investigated by the FBI (Menominee Nation, 2020).  Kaitlyn Kelly has been missing since June 17th (Conklin, 2020). There has been little mention of the missing and murdered Indigenous women in local or national media, particularly taking into account the extent of national and even global media attention drawn to the missing of Jamie Closs;  Closs went missing in the area where Embrace is located, but she was eventually located.

Given all this, dialogue from law enforcement and local officials indicating willingness and commitment to community safety and wellbeing would be helpful. Instead, the response of law enforcement to Embrace’s display of a Black Lives Matter sign intensifies tensions and mistrust between the police and the communities they serve. It also seriously undermines the vital work of the only shelter in a four-county area, further endangering the most vulnerable populations Embrace serves.

 Employing relevant theories to our practice as nurses and liaising with our colleagues across disciplines has now become urgent. Together with colleagues across disciplines, nurses need to support and advocate for survivors of violence. Screening and identification of resources for women is of utmost importance, and shelters like Embrace both ensure the provision of shelter and connect women with urgently needed health and social services. As nurse scholars, we wrote this blog post in collaboration with our colleagues at Women’s and Gender Studies at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as part of building coalitions. But we also did so for the purposes of deepening our understanding of the urgent healthcare challenges experienced by the most vulnerable across our state, in the context of the rising tensions and mistrust among various institutions and agencies that exist to enhance the health, wellbeing and safety of all Wisconsin communities.

Violence is central and even essential to the sustaining of social hierarchies that inform the oppression of some groups while enhancing the privilege of others (Collins, 2017). Patricia Hill Collins (2017) points out how without human agency and resistance, institutions can engage in bureaucracies that replicate power dynamics, and even perpetuate normalized violence that maintains dominance and inequities. Law enforcement is one institution, and healthcare, of which nurses are a part, is another.

Robin Walter’s theory of Emancipatory Nursing Praxis comes to mind as one that guides us towards allyship in advancing a social justice agenda in pursuit of health equity, which is central to ensuring the health and wellbeing of the most marginalized in our communities during this time. In order to advance a social justice agenda, there is need for nursing as a profession to partner closely with domestic violence advocates and shelters like Embrace as well as law enforcement officers, who play an important role in enhancing the safety and wellbeing of our communities. We must engage in research and dialogue that would help us reimagine a criminal justice response that acknowledges the context of racism in which Black and Brown women experience violence.

As professionals, we need to respond and to meet their urgent needs for health and safety. It has never been more urgent to engage in the learning processes that Walter outlines, critically reflecting on our social location in relation to those we serve, shifting our worldview and experiencing transformation by expanding our consciousness (Walter, 2017).

References

Campbell, J. C., Webster, D., Koziol-McLain, J., Block, C., Campbell, D., Curry, … & Laughon, K. (2003). Risk factors for femicide in abusive relationships: results from a multisite case control study. American journal of public health, 93(7), 1089–1097. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1447915/

Collins, P. H. (2017). On violence, intersectionality and transversal politics. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 40(9), 1460-1473. https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/operation-cross-country/operation-cross-country

Conklin, M. (July 28, 2020). Searching for Katelyn Kelley: The 22-year-old Menominee woman is part of a crisis of missing Indigenous people that Wisconsin is just beginning to confront. Wisconsin Examiner.  https://wisconsinexaminer.com/2020/07/28/searching-for-katelyn-kelley/

Fortini, J.  (June 23, 2020). Chrystul Kizer, teen charged with killing abuser, is released on bond. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/23/us/chrystul-kizer-free-bond.html

Frazer, Eva et al. “The Violence Epidemic in the African American Community: A Call by the National Medical Association for Comprehensive Reform.” Journal of the National Medical Association vol. 110,1 (2018): 4-15. doi:10.1016/j.jnma.2017.08.009 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29510842/

Gosangi B., Park H., Thomas R., Gujrathi R., Bay C. P., Raja A. S., …  Khurana, B. (2020). Exacerbation of Physical Intimate Partner Violence during COVID-19 Lockdown. Radiology, 202866, Epub ahead of print. https://pubs.rsna.org/doi/10.1148/radiol.2020202866

Luthern, A. (May 18, 2020). Milwaukee is seeing a spike in homicides, and nearly half of them are related to domestic or family violence. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/crime/2020/05/18/milwaukee-homicides-nearly-half-linked-domestic-family-violence/3121220001/

Menominee Nation (October 22, 2020).  Press Release: Vehicle Arson and Discovery of Human Remains on Menominee Indian Reservation. Menominee Indian Tribal Newshttps://www.menominee-nsn.gov/NewsPages/NewsItem.aspx?NewsID=Vehicle%20Arson%20and%20Discovery%20of%20Human%20Remains%20on|10/22/2020

Richie, B. (2012).  Arrested Justice: Black women, violence and the America’s prison nation. NY: NYU Press.

Rosay, A. (2016). Violence Against American Indian and Alaska Native Women and Men. NIJ Journal, 277, 38-45.  Retrieved from:  http://nij.gov/journals/277/pages/violence-against-indians-alaska-natives.aspx

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, & National Center for Health Workforce Analysis (2017). Sex, Race, and Ethnic Diversity of U.S, Health Occupations (2011-2015), Rockville, Maryland.

Volpenheln, S. (June 29, 2020).  Wisconsin family calls for harsher charges in ‘heinous’ killing of Ho-Chunk woman.  Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/2020/06/29/wisconsin-family-calls-harsher-charges-homicide-ho-chunk-woman/3239543001/

Walter, R. (2017). Emancipatory nursing praxis. A theory of social justice in nursing. Advances in Nursing Science, 40(3), 225-243. Also see Walter’s Theory on Nursology.net

Acknowledgement:

We are grateful for the support and input of the following colleagues from Women’s and Gender Studies: Anna Mansson McGinty, PhD, Xin Huang, PhD, Kristin Pitt, PhD, Gwynne Kennedy, PhD, Melinda Brennan, PhD, & Jeremiah Favarah, PhD

About the contributors

Lucy Mkandawire-Valhmu, PhD, RN is Associate Professor in the College of Nursing at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM). Her research focuses on violence in the lives of Black and American Indian women. As a feminist scholar, she seeks to creatively identify interdisciplinary interventions and to inform policy that centers the voices of women in addressing gender-based violence. Dr. Mkandawire-Valhmu also seeks to contribute to the development of feminist theory that would help to advance nursing science.

Jeneile Luebke, PhD, RN is a post-doctoral nurse research associate at University of Wisconsin-Madison. She in an enrolled member of Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians. She received her early nursing degrees (LPN and ADN) in Bemidji, MN, and her BS and MS Nursing from the University of Wisconsin- Madison, and her PhD at UW-Milwaukee. Her area of research and expertise include intimate partner violence in the lives of American Indian women, community health nursing and utilization and application of postcolonial and indigenous feminist methodologies. She is a survivor of intimate partner violence and is passionate about sharing her knowledge and personal experiences to help to support and empower other women to transition to survivorhood.

Carolyn J. Eichner is Associate Professor of History and Women’s & Gender Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. She was a Member at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, in 2015-2016. Eichner is the author of Surmounting the Barricades: Women in the Paris Commune (Indiana University Press); published in French as Franchir les barricades: les femmes dans la Commune de Paris (Editions de la Sorbonne). She has two forthcoming books: Feminism’s Empire, which traces the roots of nineteenth-century French anti-imperialism in the race, gender, and class politics of the era’s first French feminists to engage with empire; and A Brief History of the Paris Commune for the 2021 sesquicentennial of the 1871 revolution (Rutgers University Press). Eichner he is currently writing The Name: Legitimacy, Identity, and Gendered Citizenship. She has published in journals including Feminist Studies, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture & Society, French Historical Studies, and Journal of Women’s History

Kaboni Gondwe, PhD, RN is an assistant professor at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee College of Nursing. Her research interests are on maternal and child health and she is focused on studying effects on how chronic life stressors moderates the effects of perinatal stress on preterm biomarkers in African American /Black mothers and Malawian Black mothers. She completed her PhD in Nursing from Duke University in 2018 where her research focused on relationship between preterm birth with postpartum stress and mother-infant relationship. She received her undergraduate degree and midwifery training from University of Malawi, Kamuzu College of Nursing and her Master in Nursing Education and Nursing Administration from Ohio University. 

Diane Schadewald, DNP, MSN, RNC, WHNP-BC, FNP-BC joined the faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, College of Nursing in 2013 and is currently a Clinical Professor. I have been certified as a Family Nurse Practitioner and a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner since 1993. As a board-certified Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner, I have experience providing care for Black women as well as AI women who are at risk for or who have experienced IPV. Since working in academia, I have practiced in primary care and am currently working for an online nurse practitioner service. Prior to working in academia, I practiced in an OB/GYN clinic setting. I’m a co-author of Women’s Health: A Primary Care Clinical Guide which is in its 5th edition. I have also lectured on care of women who have experienced female genital cutting and IPV. I’m currently working on an educational research project about female genital cutting.

Peninnah Kako, PhD, RN, FNP-BC, APNP is an Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) College of Nursing. Dr. Kako’s research focus includes improving health care access for underserved populations, issues affecting women living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa. Her research also focuses on violence in the lives of women. Her research aims to contribute to efforts that meet primary and secondary HIV prevention needs in sub-Saharan Africa; and build sustainable, timely, and effective interventions to assist African women and their families in accessing treatment and managing chronic HIV illness. Clinically, Dr, Kako has served in underserved populations including corrections as a family nurse practitioner.

Jacqueline Callari-Robinson, BSN, RN is a Doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, School of Nursing, Research Assistant for Tracking our Truth, and an on-call SANE Nurse for United Concierge TELESAFE Program. Previously, Jacqueline was the Director of Sexual Assault Prevention and Statewide SANE Coordinator for the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault and the Wisconsin Department of Justice. In that role, she developed the Wisconsin adult, adolescent, and pediatric SANE training courses. Jacqueline was also instrumental in the facilitation and creation of the Wisconsin Attorney General Sexual Assault Response Team (SART). Working collaboratively with SANE programs, law enforcement communities, and the Wisconsin Crime Lab, the AG SART addressed patient access to advocacy driven medical forensic care and the composition, handling, and processing of sexual assault kits. 

Brittany Ochoa-Nordstrum is set to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology in the spring of 2021. As a recipient of a SURF (support for undergraduate research fellow) award, Brittany is working under the mentorship of Dr. Lucy Mkandawire-Valhmu on various projects pertaining to advocacy for marginalized communities of color. Brittany’s area of study is medical racism and its impacts on maternal mortality amongst African American women in Milwaukee. She is applying to Ph.D. programs across the country in Sociology and African Diaspora studies. As a third generation Mexican American, her life experiences often inform her passion for these areas of study. When Brittany is not researching, she is often involved in planning and organizing community grassroots demonstrations and fundraisers to benefit marginalized groups around the city of Milwaukee.

Nicole Weiss is a current graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee pursing a Masters of Sustainable Peacebuilding. Nicole is the project coordinator for the Department of Justice funded project: Tracking our Truth, Providing Access to Advocacy Driven Medical Forensic Care. She received her BA in International Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her areas of focus include undertaking a holistic, systems approach to complex issues within our community through facilitation and conflict resolution strategies.

Jacqueline Campbell, PhD, RN, FAAN is a national leader in research and advocacy in the field of domestic and intimate partner violence (IPV). She has authored or co-authored more than 230 publications and seven books on violence and health outcomes. Her studies paved the way for a growing body of interdisciplinary investigations by researchers in the disciplines of nursing, medicine, and public health. Her expertise is frequently sought by national and international policy makers in exploring IPV and its health effects on families and communities.

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