A Portland Program’s New Approach To Ending The Cycle Of Domestic Violence

By Margaret Foley

A flyer on a university campus introduced Carrie Banks, the founder and executive director of Domestic Violence Safe Dialogue (DVSD), to domestic violence work. “I was studying for a master’s degree in political communication at the University of Arkansas, and I saw a flyer for night advocates at a local women’s shelter,” she said. “I loved the work, but I didn’t know then that I was beginning a career.”

Based in Portland, Oregon, DVSD is one of the country’s only domestic violence programs that uses a restorative justice model to work with both survivors and offenders. In restorative justice, the focus is on repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior by including victims and offenders in the response to the crime to create accountability and make amends.

Banks became interested in the restorative justice model while obtaining her Ph.D. from George Mason University. “I saw a study about a program where rape survivors would go to prisons and talk to offenders,” she said. “They got to ask questions like ‘why?’ and whether or not it was something they did, and they found out it was never about what they thought it was. They got closure, and it made me wonder if something similar could work for domestic violence.”

carrie image
Carrie Banks founded Domestic Violence Safe Dialogue in 2006. Photo courtesy of Carrie Banks.

DVSD facilitates professionally supervised, safe conversations between survivors and offenders who have never met before to work toward stopping the domestic violence cycle. Banks began with a pilot program in 2000 in Oregon’s Washington County and officially founded Domestic Violence Safe Dialogue in 2006. The program now operates in five counties in the greater Portland metropolitan area and has worked with hundreds of survivors of domestic abuse.

Two programs form the core of DVSD: the survivor impact panel and the dialogue impact program. To participate in either program, participants are chosen based on a set of criteria and given support; in some cases, they must be referred by their counselors. For the survivor impact panel, a small group of domestic violence survivors speak to an audience of approved participants in battering intervention programs to describe how their lives were affected by domestic abuse.

In the dialogue impact panel, a survivor and an offender with no prior contact engage in conversation in a structured environment that includes support and facilitation teams. “Survivors get out of these programs what they need,” she said. “It can be the act of telling an offender how it impacted them or hearing offenders be held accountable for their actions.”

Because DVSD is the most well-known program to work with both survivors and offenders, Banks has learned to deal with criticism. In practice, restorative justice brings victims into contact with offenders, and the use of restorative justice in domestic violence is controversial because of the intimate, personal nature of the crimes. Critics argue that this type of program has the potential to revictimize survivors, many of whom suffered years of abuse. Most domestic violence programs focus on survivors and don’t include offenders, but DVSD includes them as a core part of its structure. “For the men, it’s a way to give back to the community they harmed, and they learn a lot,” she said. “For many of them, it is really the first time they are hearing about the violence and its effects.”

Another concern is for the psychological safety of victims, who are rebuilding their lives. “Critics are coming from a good place,” said Banks. “What we are doing is having survivors go into rooms with offenders, and some people say that could revictimize them or that it’s not what survivors need, but when survivors find out about our programs, they ask to participate. In the dialogues, it’s a way for survivors to get answer to questions. I see hope and strength in the panels and a lot of things people in the domestic violence community don’t see.”

One-fourth of all women will experience some type of physical violence in their lifetime, but until recently, there have been few avenues to discuss these issues in public. “I’m always looking for ways to bring more people into the conversation about domestic violence,” she said. To foster discussions, Banks is currently working with a local school system to create a program for domestic violence prevention to be used in schools. Two years ago, she started a conversation series to bring speakers on domestic violence to Portland. Past speakers have included Denise Brown, the sister of Nicole Brown Simpson, and ex-NFL player Ray Rice and his wife, Janay, who discussed his termination from the Baltimore Ravens for a domestic violence charge and how they are working through it.

More recently, the #metoo movement is bringing sustained attention and energy to issues of violence and harassment. “I’ve never seen anything like this before in terms of consequences and public accountability,” Banks said. “It’s amazing when people speak out because there is always backlash and criticism for speaking your truth. I think the speaking out will continue because there is strength in numbers with such a tremendous amount of #metoo. People are reading their stories, realizing that when they speak out, they will not be alone.”

For more information on Domestic Violence Safe Dialogue, please visit their website.


Margaret Foley is a writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. You can read more of her writing and connect with her at http://www.margaretfoley.com.

Cover photo by Christian Gertenbach via Unsplash

Copyright © 500 Pens. January 2018

Volunteers In More Than One Hundred Countries Make Quilts To Commemorate Holocaust Victims

By Margaret Foley

In January 2016, textile artist Jeanne Hewell-Chambers was watching a documentary on the Holocaust when her attention was caught by a mention of Aktion T4, a little-known Nazi program in which 70,273 physically and mentally disabled people were killed between 1940 and 1941. Nazi doctors would read patient files, and if they thought the person was unfit to live, they would put a red X in the file. If two doctors put an X, the person would be executed.

Horrified by what she heard, Hewell-Chambers was immediately inspired to create The 70273 ProjectHer idea was to visually commemorate these unnamed and unknown people through quilt blocks. “The design came to me almost instantly,” she says. “I saw two red X’s on a white background. The white is for the paper in the files, and the red X is for the pen marks.” A few days later, she announced the project on her blog, The Barefoot Heart, inviting people to join her in making blocks.

Hewell-Chambers has long been interested in the connection between women, arts, and disability. “I learned about sewing and quilting from my grandmother,” she says. “I have an innate love for it. It’s tactile, and of course, it’s got a nostalgic element, but working with fabric is also a way to make connections and create meaning.”

And it’s clear that the meaning behind the project resonates with people all over the world; from her small town of Cashiers, North Carolina, the project has gone global. So far, people from more than 120 countries have participated. “From the first day, it’s grown and grown,” says Hewell-Chambers. “It’s very grassroots, and people connect to the human factor.”

Participants have found ways to make the project personal, and one of those ways has been through fabric. A woman in Kosovo sent a quilt to an exhibit of The 70273 Project in France last summer that was made from her wedding dress, and another woman found a way to connect her quilt to the 1940s. “She went into the attic of the house of a woman who had been a midwife in the early 1940s and found a cache of baby clothes,” she says. “She created this quilt from baby clothing from the time period when this Nazi program was going on.”

Others have connected through history, particularly in countries where World War II was fought. “That part is very interesting,” Hewell-Chambers says. “It’s still very fresh for them. They don’t live in the past, but they honor the past.”

To keep track of this worldwide-quilting activity, Hewell-Chambers has people send her blocks, pieced blocks, and finished quilts. She assigns each block a number and catalogs it using a provenance form sent in with each block. So far, she’s cataloged close to 25,000  blocks, and that number only includes projects she’s been sent; she hopes in the winter of 2018 to stage a large-scale exhibit of everything that’s been made. Other exhibits for The 70273 Project include QuiltCon and exhibits next January in England’s Rochester and Durham cathedrals.

Historically, quilting has been an art form that brings people, usually women, together, whether through the creation of a quilt that has been handed down through generations or through the tradition of getting together to make quilts. This sense of community has been an important aspect of The 70273 Project. In addition to making blocks on their own, people have organized block-making events in places such as the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, and the Channel Islands. Some of these have taken place in conjunction with other events, such as a multigenerational The 70273 Project block-making stall at the Hever Castle Handmade and Homegrown Festival in Hever, England, in September.

In Portland, Oregon, quilter Michelle Freedman has been arranging block-making days at Modern Domestic, a sewing workspace and store where she is the programming and education coordinator. At these events, she provides sewing space and access to machines and makes quilting materials available. She first heard about the project from a friend and decided to come up with a way to get others involved. “I can not only participate easily, I can gather community and make space for it,” she says. “I like the idea of art that speaks to a cause.”

Like other people involved in the project, Freedman also had personal reasons for wanting to participate. “I felt connected because it was beautiful and meaningful to me,” she says. “I feel like being Jewish, you have to know and own your story. This was a new way to tell the story, and its background story was one I’d never heard. I feel like it’s timely because for the first time in a long time, I’ve felt exposed. Projects like this are a way to have a voice in what’s going on.”

For Hewell-Chambers, in the larger social context, The 70273 Project is about activism not politics. “I don’t allow politics in the project,” she says. “Politics are divisive, and in The 70273 Project, we’re about finding common threads that bring unity without squashing differences and individuality. For reasons that escape me, politics doesn’t allow this kind of unity, so I just close the door on it. Politics? Nope. Social activism? Yes.”

To find out more about The 70273 Project, visit its website.


Margaret Foley is a writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. You can read more of her writing and connect with her via http://www.margaretfoley.com.

Cover photo: A volunteer participating in The 70273 Project at Modern Domestic in Portland, Oregon uses a sewing machine for the first time. Photo courtesy of Michelle Freedman.

Copyright © 500 Pens. October 2017.