Making It To Safety

By Liz Massey, June 2018 Issue.

At 5 years old, Cesar Cramton escaped from an abusive father by fleeing with his mother and brother. Like most who’ve survived scenarios like his, Cramton explained that this experience impacted his life in many ways, leaving him with scars, feelings of lack of safety and questioning his worth, for decades after he reached safety.

“It affected my ability to bond and my self-esteem,” Cramton said. “The trauma and the memories [caused] me to live in fight-or-flight mode until my early 30s, when I got the help and received the tools to build a stronger sense of self and more self-esteem. When I learned to trust and believe in myself, I could begin to trust others and their intentions.”

Cramton has poured his personal passion for domestic violence issues into volunteer work with the Valley nonprofit organization Chrysalis, where he is now the vice chair and chair-elect for its board of directors. He’s also a gay man, something that exemplifies recent shifts in domestic violence advocacy and outreach trends to become more fully inclusive of the entire LGBTQ community.

Since its founding in 1981, Chrysalis has broken down barriers to provide inclusive services to those seeking them. In recent years, the organization has focused on configuring its training, housing, counseling and other service components so that the unique needs of LGBTQ persons impacted by domestic violence are addressed.

Cramton acknowledged that domestic violence is a difficult topic to discuss within the community, but also asserted that it is essential to reducing its prevalence everywhere.

“Given my own life experience, and society’s response to the pain of abuse, I know that domestic abuse is a difficult topic to discuss within our community,” Cramton said. “However, this discussion is essential to reducing its prevalence everywhere. And with the new #MeToo movement, now is the opportune time to begin deeper and more meaningful discussions and actions to stop this epidemic. The more we can talk about abuse, the more people become aware of all resources that exist to help those affected by it.”

DV in the LGBTQ community

There is a pressing need to have these conversations about domestic violence within the LGBTQ community, according to Elizabeth (Eli) Ditlevson, director of development for Chrysalis. She pointed to statistics provided by the Human Rights Campaign that highlighted the urgency of the issue for people who are in a same-sex relationship and/or identify as trans or non-binary.

  • In the National Violence Against Women Survey, 39 percent of women living with a female partner reported experiencing rape, physical assault or stalking by an intimate partner (versus 21 percent of women who had only cohabited with men).
  • Among men who had cohabited with same-sex partners, 23 percent had experienced rape, physical assault or stalking by an intimate partner, compared to 7 percent of men who had cohabited with women only.
  • Nineteen percent of respondents to the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey reported having experienced domestic violence from a family member. Significantly higher rates of DV were found among trans people of color.
  • Bisexual women are at a particularly heightened risk of experiencing domestic violence, with 61 percent of bisexual women experiencing rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner, compared to 44 percent of lesbians and 35 percent of heterosexual women.

Growth that Creates Independent Beings

Ditlevson explained that one factor in play for LGBTQ victims was that abusers often use all the layers of societal disapproval a person may experience to retain control over those whom they abuse.

“Offenders often use homophobia and transphobia against their partner,” she said. “Abusive partners can tell victims there are no shelters for trans people or gay men, for example. An abuser can use anything in the larger culture against their victim to try and retain control.”

According to Ditlevson, Chrysalis president/CEO Patricia Klahr, has been a leader in doing a better job of integrating LGBTQ-friendly services into its offerings. These actions, in addition to changing employment policies before most organizations did, have made the organization a safe place for LGBTQ staff to be out at work.

Although Chrysalis was making strides in serving trans women and other marginalized populations in the early 2000s, Ditlevson said that 2010 was a major inflection point when it came to creating housing facilities that were able to accommodate people of all genders and sexualities.

“When Chrysalis underwent planning to build the current shelter, being able to accommodate male victims, with specific focus on male gay, bisexual, and transgender victims, was an organizational priority,” she said. “Although still a communal living facility, privacy was prioritized in the shelter’s construction.”

Just as significant, she said, were the ways in which the organization retooled its service delivery to signal that LGBTQ people are safe there. She noted that the organization received a grant from Phoenix Pride in 2010 to receive intensive training and technical assistance in providing culturally competent services to LGBTQ victims of domestic violence. Staff have also received additional training from Terros on serving transgender and other gender non-binary individuals.

Confronting DV from all Angles

“None of Chrysalis’ forms assume that the victim is female, or that an abusive partner is male – this is a hetero-normative practice still common in many domestic violence organizations,” she explained. “Chrysalis asks about an individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity and preferred pronouns during intake, in order to serve people appropriately and to indicate to all clients that Chrysalis serves and is responsive to victims of all genders and sexual orientations.”

Another way in which Chrysalis promotes inclusion is by taking what Ditlevson calls a “360-degree approach” to dealing with domestic violence. The organization, in addition to providing counseling, crisis and transitional housing and other services for abuse victims, also provides court-ordered counseling for abusers.

“Our offender treatment program holds people accountable and helps them understand the roots and causes of their behavior, and offers them tools for change,” Ditlevson said.

Putting an End to Family Violence

The rising awareness and visibility of domestic abuse, due to things like the #MeToo movement, is resulting in positive changes, according to Ditlevson.

“I think awareness of domestic violence, admitting it does happen, is the first step,” she said. “We are also seeing increased instances of holding the offender accountable. People are becoming more willing to just stand up.”

Cramton added, “Talking about domestic violence will always be emotional, but the conversation starts a dialog, which can spread a greater knowledge of the many resources available to victims who often feel alone and don’t know where to get the help they need.”

To learn more about Chrysalis services and programs, call 602-955-9059 or visit

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