Tag Archives: Zonta_Pinellas

Stopping Child Marriage Around the World Including Florida

by ZontaDoris

Sometimes our club focuses so much on local needs of women that we don’t always appreciate that our club is chartered by an international women’s service and advocacy  organization.

Fortunately, a member suggested that we go to the movies at our November meeting to learn more about Zonta International’s work in developing countries.

ZI offers videos on its website to show how it provides “training, education, health, sanitation, agricultural and micro-credit assistance to women, primarily through projects implemented by the agencies of the United Nations and other recognized non-governmental organizations.”

One of the touching videos concerns Zonta’s efforts to delay marriage for young girls in Niger. A majority of girls are married before the age of 18 in that country. Child brides are also common in Yemen, Nepal, and Bangladesh. Girls forced into marrying so young are robbed of many things. 

For instance, their education usually stops when they marry; dropping out of school at age 12 or 14 forecloses economic opportunities and choices for themselves and their children. Their health suffers as they become pregnant much too young; their bodies are often not able to bear a child without complications or injury. The young brides may be isolated from their parents, siblings, and peers. Many become a ward of much older adult men who may abuse and torture them without consequence.

The <4 minute video below horrifies and saddens. Please watch it anyway to get informed. Then keep reading below for a look at child brides in this country.

Yes, you read the last statement correctly.

Child marriage happens across the United States because our state laws allow marriage under age 18. There is sometimes no minimum age specified in law. Parents may consent to a young daughter marrying the man who has impregnated her. If a girl is already pregnant or has borne a child, she can marry with a judge’s approval EVEN IF HER PARENTS SHOULD DISAGREE WITH THIS ACTION. More likely, the parents will approve of the marriage because they blame the girl (AS IF she is the responsible party!) and want someone else to take care of her and her child.

Unchained at Last, a national organization created to outlaw child marriage in the U.S., has analyzed the frequency and reasons for child brides here. Their data show that between 2000 and 2010, Tennessee allowed girls as young as 10 years of age to marry. Florida has let 13 year old girls marry. And these girls aren’t marrying 13 year old boys. They are often marrying men who are in their twenties.

Unchained at Last is leading a statewide coalition to change Florida laws to prohibit all marriages for girls and boys under 18 years of age. The coalition includes the Jewish Women’s Foundation of Greater Palm Beach, Human Rights Watch, AHA Foundation, FIU’s Initiative Against Gender Violence, NOW-FL, The Children’s Campaign and Surly Feminists for the Revolution. The Zonta Club of Pinellas County also joined. Other Zonta Clubs are being urged by the ZI District Advocacy Committee to get involved, too.

HB 335 (Nunez, White) and CS/SB 140 (Benacquisto) were approved easily in the first committees of reference. Now they await  discussion and votes in the Judiciary Committees in the House and Senate. House bills may be tracked here and Senate bills on this website.

The week of December 4th is the last committee meeting week before the Legislature convenes in January. These bills are not scheduled for committee review next week which means they won’t come up again in committee until early in 2018.

Nevertheless, keep checking back on this blog to get updates. As soon as we know committee agendas, we will urge you to contact state lawmakers to encourage them to approve the bills as is–to make 18 the minimum age for marriage in Florida.

Remember, girls should not be forced into marriage by their parents because the girls are pregnant. The girls were molested by predatory men. If any legal action needs to happen, the men who impregnated the girls should be charged with child molestation and sexual assault.   

Girls who are pregnant do not gain legal rights by marrying. They are still minors who happen to be married and are unable to divorce abusive spouses. 

Too many examples exist of girls who marry before age 18 being abused. Unchained at Last has documented that girls who marry are three times more likely to be beaten by their spouses than women who marry at age 21 or later.

This recent article in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune outlines why our elected state representatives should update our laws to protect our  girls from the legal barbwire and abusive practices of child marriage. We all need to help our blooming young women finish growing up before they marry. 

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The UNICEF picture of the child bride is located here.

Views expressed in this blog post are mine and may not reflect the stance of the Zonta Club of Pinellas County or Zonta International. — Doris Reeves-Lipscomb


Women and IPV in Pinellas County: What Can We Do?

by ZontaDoris

Do you know anyone with IPV? Many people do not know the acronym even though IPV is a serious, preventable public health problem in our community. IPV is short for Intimate Partner Violence, a reference term for aggressive behaviors that occur between partners in life such as husband/wife, boyfriend/girlfriend, or gay/lesbian couples. The two people have to reside together or have cohabited before but not necessarily be married to each other. Most of the time, it is a male (87%) who abuses his partner.

According to an abstract summarizing data from the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey published in 2011 by the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, slightly more than one out of five women (22.3%) reported severe physical violence by an intimate partner. Severe physical violence by an intimate partner might include “being hit with something hard, being kicked or beaten, or being burned on purpose.” This statistic does not include other IPV behaviors that may be physical, sexual, economic or psychological in nature.

In Florida Statutes Chapter 741, issues involving intimate partner violence are labeled Domestic Violence (DV). The terms seem interchangeable to laypeople like me but depending on the context in which they are used, one or the other is preferred or required. It’s domestic violence in the court systems. Victim advocates referring to the wide variation of DV often use Intimate Partner Violence.

This distinction is one that I learned since I started attending the Pinellas County Domestic Violence Task Force a year ago. Donna Lancaster and I committed to be the connectors for Zonta Pinellas with the PCDVTF. We attend their bi-monthly meetings as active listeners and learners, often thinking about how we in Zonta can ally with the Task Force to prevent violence in the home, support domestic violence survivors and their families, and educate others–including policy makers–about the nature of domestic violence challenges in our county. We can all help in some way!

from the 2017 St. Pete Pride guide found at  http://bit.ly/2spXmdr

from the 2017 St. Pete Pride guide at

For instance, we’ll help DV victim advocates from law enforcement agencies and the Family Resource Center staff the DV Prevention Tent on June 25, Sunday, at the St. Pete Pride Street Festival. We’ll interact with children and adults to encourage the development of peaceful behaviors.

I am tickled to see outstanding examples of community-led, trickle-up collaborations to help improve our quality of life in Florida. We don’t need state mandates as much as we need people to come together as advocates, caregivers, parents, educators, law enforcement, counselors, and DV survivors to find solutions that lead to coordinated community care for DV victims and their families and accountability for the batterers.

Look at the Coordinated Community Wheel below to get a sense of the intricacy and power of various systems working in unity to help DV victims and survivors.


Developed by: Domestic Violence Institute of Michigan PO BOX 130107, Ann Arbor, MI 48113-0107 (313)769-6334 Inspired and adapted from the “Power & Control Wheel” developed by the Domestic Violence Intervention Project, 202 East Superiour Street , Duluth, MN 55802 (218)722-4134

When we don’t know something, we tend to simplify it to what we do know. But as the above wheel attests, social service providers–such as CASA and the Haven in Pinellas County–are a valuable but singular entity working to reduce IPV and serve IPV victims. It takes many systems, independently constructed, led and managed, to coordinate their activities to identify and prevent IPV, as well as serve IPV-stricken victims and their families, and push for batterer accountability when home violence occurs.

I saw this wheel in the recently published Pinellas County Intimate Partner Fatality Review Report for 2016. The Task Force, comprised of representatives from the above systems to coordinate and regularly improve service delivery to help IPV victims thrive in life, has a Fatality Review Committee that studies IPV situations resulting in death in Pinellas County. They examine what happened in each situation, whether the victim or batterer had interacted previously with social services, health, or justice systems, and whether family members or friends were aware of the potential for violence. All these bits of knowledge and contact could show missed opportunities and, therefore, ways to prevent abuse from happening in other households in the future.

The Fatality Review Report for 2016 also gave me these important points.

IPV including the ultimate harm–death at the hands of another–can happen to anyone. Race, age, sexual orientation, religion, gender and socioeconomic status do not insulate women, or men, from IPV. The eight IPV victims who died in 2016 in our county ranged in age from 22 to 87 and represented all walks of life. One was a 58 year old man knifed to death by his girlfriend.

Three factors prevent women from leaving abusive situations: fear, finances, and children.

The breadth of what domestic violence centers do in Florida. Not only do they provide safe residence for a small percentage of IPV victims, they also offer “safety planning, relocation assistance, counseling resources, and assistance with filing injunctions for protections” to stop the harm from happening again.

When guns are in the house, IPV victims and their abusers are more likely to die. Guns were used 44% of the time in IPV situations involving victim death.  Guns were used  in 89% of the IPV homicides/suicides in Pinellas County in 2016.

Court-ordered anger management counseling for batterers is not the same as, nor is it as effective as court-ordered and monitored Batterers Intervention Program (BIP) participation for  abusers. 


from the 2016 Pinellas County Fatality Review Report

The sad news is that from 2000-2016, the courts did not require or refer batterers to BIP in 90% of the cases. BIP is the only treatment shown by research to lower recidivism by IPV abusers. So we are missing two opportunities to lower the frequency of IPV.

The Fatality Review Committee’s recommendations, on pages 7 & 8 in the report, for action by law enforcement, the State Attorney offices, and Clerk of the Court to improve services and accountability could be done fairly easily. The Domestic Violence Task Force endorsed the Fatality Review Committee’s recommendations for adoption. Some of these recommendations can be achieved locally while others require state-level policy or budgeting changes. One recommendation speaks to the media’s responsibility to change its coverage to include more methods for preventing IPV and promoting victim safety.

Take heart…and action. Advocates must work together to inform and encourage local and state policy makers to strengthen our systemic responses to Intimate Partner Violence.  We have the power as citizens to make things different.

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Picture of woman from Pixabay

Views expressed in this blog post are mine and may not reflect the stance of the Zonta Club of Pinellas County or Zonta International. — Doris Reeves-Lipscomb

Zonta 2017 Young Women Public Affairs Awards

by ZontaDoris

Malala Yousafzai has said: “I raise up my voice not so I can shout, but so those without a voice can be heard.” 

Do you know Malala’s story?

Found at http://bit.ly/2rgmsrM

Found at http://bit.ly/2rgmsrM

Malala was born in Pakistan.  When she was 15 in October 2012, the Taliban tried to silence her by shooting her in the head. They did this because she attended school, she urged young women to go to school, and she had begun to influence people to do more for girls and young women. Malala survived the assault with the expertise of medical professionals in Great Britain and her family who moved there to support her and escape the death threats against them.

Malala resumed her outspoken advocacy for young women’s rights around the world to become educated, make life choices that benefit themselves, and their families, and live in peace. She received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 and donated her $500,000 cash award to create a secondary school for girls in Pakistan. This picture of her new book co-authored with  Christina Lamb might inspire you.

To encourage young women everywhere to speak up to right injustice and inequality, Zonta International established the Young Women Public Affairs Award in 1995 to recognize “young women, ages 16-19, who demonstrate superior leadership skills and a commitment to public service and civic causes, and encourages them to continue their participation in public and political life.”

Our Club was delighted to honor two local young women who are using their voices as Malala does to make the world a better place.

Fairl Thomas has been a long-time volunteer for Wildlife Haven Rehab and the Mattie Williams Neighborhood Family Center as she completed Countryside high school this year. At the Wildlife Haven, she gave many hours to help care for injured and orphaned wildlife, including raccoons, birds, squirrels, and opossums. Marilyn Waldorf at the Wildlife Haven noted how Fairl quickly grasped the complex dietary requirements of wild animals and noticed when animals were suffering and needed specialized help. Waldorf called Fairl a “passionate volunteer who took on all responsibilities, even the deep cleaning of cages which most volunteers avoid.”

Fairl testified before the Safety Harbor City Commission to urge the members’ adoption of an anti-bear hunting resolution in 2016, part of a statewide push by citizen advocates to influence local and state policy making officials to forego a bear hunt in 2017. In 2015, a state sanctioned bear hunt resulted in the deaths of 307 bears, including 28 lactating mothers. The statewide pressure caused the State Fish and Wildlife Conservation(!) Commission to back down from approving a bear hunt in 2017.

Fairl_Thomas_PresentationJanet Hooper, Executive Director of the Mattie Williams Center, commended Fairl as a “young woman of excellent character with a strong sense of community service.” Fairl helped the Williams center set up and serve annual Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, stuff children’s backpacks with school supplies at back to school events, and carry out Toys and Joys fundraisers and Pet Food Donation Projects, among other community-building efforts.

Fairl heads with a scholarship to Eckerd College this summer to study environmental science and eventually work in government sponsored environmental research projects. Fairl was joined at our awards ceremony by her mother Terry and father Chip.

Our second honoree is Kiersten Maricle, also a graduate of Countryside high school, who will enter USF in the Fall. Kiersten received the Young Women Public Affairs award for her service as Senior Class Secretary, Editor-in-Chief for the school newspaper, and funding lead for the annual Relay for Life, a fundraiser for cancer victims. Kiersten also volunteers at local middle schools, helping them set up for the start of the new school year and host National History Day.

Kiersten, described by family friend Dawn Shireman, as a “natural born leader and motivator always bringing positive energy into the room,” plans to study anthropology at USF to better understand cultures and the evolution of our society. She will use her growing understanding to volunteer with a local police/crime lab to solve long-standing cases.

Kiersten brought her cheering section–grandparents Claudia and Bill, her mother Jennifer and sister Madison–to the awards dinner.


REMEMBER: EVERY VOICE MATTERS. Each voice can influence decision-makers to do what’s right for our communities. Zonta empowers women to represent their own interests and support families, elders, children and animals–both domestic and wild. Therefore, let your voice soar, as Malala, Fairl, and Kiersten are doing to make our world kinder, more respectful, inclusive, peaceful, and sustainable. Join Zonta to increase your impact!

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Views expressed in this blog post are mine and may not reflect the stance of the Zonta Club of Pinellas County or Zonta International. — Doris Reeves-Lipscomb