photo of Jody Raphael

Expert on Battered Women, Welfare Reform

Welfare policy is based upon mythsómyths that Jody Raphael í66 wants debunked.

Her first book, Saving Bernice: Battered Women, Welfare, and Poverty, addresses the myth that most women receiving welfare are single mothers whose most common barriers to achieving self-sufficiency are low literacy skills and drug habits. The reality, says Raphael, is that many women receiving welfare are not single but, in fact, living with partners who abuse them, sabotaging their efforts to work and trapping them in poverty.

Raphael says that abusers fear their partners will discover a better life and leave them. In her book, she cites an official at a Chicago area employer who has hired about 45 welfare recipients, all dealing with some level of abuse. The abuse causes them to take time off from work, often for extended periods.

Raphael argues that the solution is welfare policy that is family focused. "We canít solve poverty by just helping one member of the family," she says. "Welfare focuses on the woman and provides resources for her. But if we were to admit that thereís a man in her life whoís not working and feels threatened when his partner is working, why not bring him into the picture, help him with his skills, and do something for him equally?"

Eliminating domestic violence, says Raphael, is ultimately a manís task: "Men have to intervene with other men. It has to be something that men are telling other men is unacceptable, and I donít think things are really going to change a whole lot until that starts to happen."

Since 1994 Raphael has been executive director of the Center for Impact Research in Chicago, formerly the Taylor Institute, which was founded in 1975 to eliminate poverty through grassroots research. CIR is currently conducting research on such problems as sweatshops, illiteracy and prostitution. But the research that stands to make the most impact nationally, says Raphael, is that on teen girls. National campaigns focus on unwanted pregnancy as the number-one problem facing low-income teen girls. But CIR maintains that housing is a bigger concern: "Teen girls are homeless or in very dysfunctional, unsafe homes. Itís hard for them to remain in school, given that. Many times they donít live at home but with relatives or a boyfriendís family. The current campaigns really ignore the reality of what these girls are up against. They say, use contraceptives or abstain from sex. We are pushing that further and asking, what can we do as a nation for these teens who really cannot stay at home?"

Another expert on domestic violence, Elizabeth Schneider í68, has recently published a book, Battered Women and Feminist Lawmaking, based on her work at the Center for Constitutional Rights from 1973 through 1980. Schneider was one of the first lawyers to develop the defense of domestic violence in criminal cases.

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