A Response to “Jewish Bathrooms and Unicorns”

By Shana Brouder

Oh my gosh, you guys are the bathroom people, right?

The Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse (JCADA) has lovingly been called the “bathroom people” since 2001 when we published our first, now famous (or infamous depending on your view) outreach signs. We asked synagogues, Jewish community centers, and other communal organizations to hang our signs in the bathrooms – male and female – and once they did, our outreach signs became known as “the bathroom signs.” The latest signs, redesigned in 2017 to be more gender inclusive and reflect more accurately the types of abuse and violence that individuals can suffer, picture four individuals and a simple phrase: “It’s Not Love When Your Partner…” The sign then lists eight warning signs, which illustrate emotional abuse, physical abuse, financial abuse, and sexual abuse. The words “free” and “confidential” are presented front and center, followed by JCADA’s non-discrimination statement to ensure anyone reading the sign knows that JCADA’s services are available to them. The sign concludes with a simple fact, “Everyone deserves to be safe,” and the number to JCADA’s free and confidential helpline: 1-877-88-JCADA(52232).

Since 2001, JCADA’s bathroom signs have been one of JCADA’s top referral sources. Over 13% of clients in fiscal year 2018 reported that they found JCADA through our bathroom signs and decided to call. While many may think it was coincidence that we decided to place our signs there, it was not.

In a recent article published by eJewish Philanthropy, the placement of JCADA’s bathroom signs, and their potential bothersome effects was called into question. While JCADA is not named specifically in the article, there is no doubt the author is referring to our signs, as JCADA is the only Jewish-identified organization in the region serving and addressing power-based violence. Our materials can be found in most synagogues, Jewish community centers, and many other public places throughout the Greater Washington area. The author of the article indicates that the signs make her “feel strangely” and remind her of a time in her childhood where the bathroom was a space for bullying. JCADA defends our placement of our signs in the bathroom for one reason: it works.

Imagine you are in an abusive or violent relationship. Every aspect of your day is monitored and controlled: what you wear, what you eat, where you are going, and for how long. To an outsider, your phone may seem like a good place to look for help, but your abusive partner is the one who pays the phone bill. You also suspect there is a cloning device or tracking device on your phone. You lost access to the account long ago. You’re concerned that if you were to google “domestic violence hotline” on your device, your partner would find out. You only have one laptop in the house, and you’re not sure if it’s safe either. It’s Saturday, and your partner decides you’re going to services today. You get up to use the bathroom, and since it’s a public place, there’s no chance your partner will follow you in there. You sit down and get a moment alone for the first time all week. You look up, and that’s when you see it: a sign that tells you what your partner is doing is not love.

For most victims of violence, the only time they are alone and in control of their own actions is in a public bathroom. JCADA has strategically placed our signs in these public places because we know that this is the space and time they can safely think about their situation and decide to take action. We do not pretend that seeing the sign works the first time, the second time, or even the third time. For some individuals, they may need to see our sign hundreds of times before they feel confident enough to reach out for help. But, as the evidence tells us, we know that eventually many victims of violence and abuse do find the courage to call us because of our bathroom signs.

One in four women and one in seven men will experience some form of violence at the hands of an intimate partner in their lifetime.[1] In the Greater Washington DC area, this number increases to one in three for women.[2] Moreover, power-based violence is a deadly issue, with most women who die by homicide being murdered by an intimate partner[3]; between July 2016 and June 2017, the State of Maryland saw 46 deaths related to domestic violence.[4] In DC, during the last year that fatality reviews are available, seven victims died as the result of domestic violence. And while these numbers may be shocking, we know that the true number are higher. People are experiencing violence and abuse every day and not reaching out for help. The hard, and somewhat scary, truth is that this type of violence is happening all over our community. It is happening as often in Potomac and Bethesda as it is in D.C. or Fairfax. JCADA’s mission is to support these victims with our 100% free and confidential support services. Therefore we feel it is extremely important that we place as much information as possible in all the places victims and survivors may be. Because, as the statistics show, victims and survivors of violence are all around us, listening for cues to tell them whether or not a person or a place is safe to disclose the worst parts about their life.

In addition to supporting victims, JCADA’s mission is to educate the community about violence and prevent the next generation from experiencing it. Specifically, JCADA’s AWARE® program for middle school, #healthyfriendships, directly addresses the type of bullying mentioned by the author in her article. #healthyfriendships gives middle schoolers the chance to learn more about the dynamics of friendships and how to have tough conversations with their friends through this interactive, hands-on program, based on CDC best practices. Students learn how to be upstanders, which will serve them well as they move on to create healthy relationships in the future.

JCADA understands that the issue of power-based violence is an uncomfortable and emotional one. It’s not easy to talk about. However, just because it is uncomfortable does not mean we shouldn’t address it. Only by talking about it, and facing the facts, can we finally remove the stigma and shame surrounding victims and survivors of power-based violence. What message does it send to victims and survivors of violence, many of whom have children, if we took down these signs? “Sorry, your story doesn’t matter. Your experience isn’t suitable for children.” By choosing to hang the JCADA bathroom signs, synagogues and communal organizations communicate to victims and survivors in their community – and they are there – that they stand with them.

JCADA works hard to allow victims and survivors – and the data collected from them – to tell us when and where resources are most helpful. Data has consistently shown that bathrooms are one of the safest places for victims and survivors of abuse. In an age where victims of power-based violence are faced with so many barriers to seek service, JCADA stands with them to support their path to healing and empowerment – lead by them, not by what makes us (and others) feel comfortable.

If you or someone you know is experiencing power-based violence, please call JCADA’s free and confidential helpline at 1-877-88-JCADA(52232) to receive information, support, and safety planning. You are not alone. What you are going through is not your fault. You deserve to be safe, and JCADA is here to help you.

Shana Broude is JCADA’s Communications and Events Manager.

[1] Smith et al. (2017). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010-2012 State Report. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
[2] Black et al. (2011). The National Intimate partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010 Summary Report.
[3] Campbell et al. (2003). Risk factors for femicide in abusive relationships: Results from a multisite case control study. American Journal of Public Health, 93(7), 1089-1097.
[4] Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence. (2017). July 2016 – June 2017 Domestic Violence Fatality Statistics.