Rep. Fay slanders her constituents

To the Editor:

In a June 25 article in the Caledonian-Record, St. Johnsbury Representative Michelle Fay was asked the reasons why there is a higher ratio of registered sex offenders in the Northeast Kingdom. Other elected officials had indicated that the reason was likely as a result of the services provided to furloughed and paroled offenders in the area because of the location of the correctional facilities in St. Johnsbury and Newport--thus attracting such offenders to the area for treatment.

Rep. Fay would have none of that explanation. In a remarkable slam against the people who voted her into office, she said that "violence against women and children is cultural" and the "NEK's [poverty and] isolation seem to nurture the underlying beliefs and attitudes of these crimes." Ms. Fay's sentiments spoken to the Caledonian-Record were not offhand remarks. They are precisely the views she has espoused since she became CEO of Umbrella, Inc., a domestic violence prevention organization, more than 10 years ago. Indeed she doubled down on those sentiments in an letter to the editor on July 3rd, exhorting us all to "get serious about making our communities safe."

There are two problems with the representative's statements. First, Rep. Fay's statement reflects her fixed belief that "violence against women and children" is an integral part of the culture of the district she represents. This is symptomatic of those who, like Ms. Fay, earn their living from government grants or government employment. Unlike the private sector, the people and organizations funded by taxpayers have a disincentive to eradicate or even reduce the problems they are paid to solve; otherwise if they did, they would be out of a job. Thirty years ago organizations helping abused women and children, like Umbrella, were volunteer groups with no public funding. Fast forward to 30 years later, and Umbrella's budget alone (as of 2010--there is no more recent public information) for domestic violence is nearly $600,000, almost all of it in government funding. If the problem of domestic violence were reduced or eradicated, that $600,000 would be decreased or disappear. Hence Ms. Fay and the thousands of others who work in the domestic violence field have no impetus to report any progress in the reduction in domestic violence. Not surprisingly, they have claimed no progress.

Nationwide domestic violence statistics show that for the year 2012, $4 billion--paid mostly by taxpayers-- was spent on prevention. Yet Department of Justice statistics also show that in 1994-1995, "about 25 percent of women and 7.6 percent of men are raped or physically assaulted by their spouse, partner, or dating partner in their lifetime." In 2012 a New York Times article on domestic violence reported exactly the same statistics. Nothing has apparently changed in nearly 20 years. Moreover, in 2008 Human Rights Watch claimed that the rates of domestic violence in the United States were "soaring." Despite the multiple billions spent over the last 30 years to reduce domestic violence, the problem has, to those in the field, remained intractable, and even increased. If a private company had that track record, it would have been out of business long ago.

However, not surprisingly, Ms. Fay does not blame herself or her organization for these dismal statistics. She blames the community. According to her, we all need to get serious about domestic violence.

The second problem is related, and even more troubling. Notice who Rep. Fay considers victims: Women and children. Men are not victims; ergo, they are the violent predators in Rep. Fay's worldview. In this chilling perception of her constituency where men are the perpetrators of violence and women are ignorant victims, Rep. Fay deprecates the male half of those whom she represents and belittles the female half. Fixed beliefs are often false, and Ms. Fay's beliefs about her NEK constituents are no exception.

I have been working with families in crisis in the NEK for almost 35 years--far longer than Rep. Fay-- and the Vermonters I have met and worked with over the last three and one half decades are far different than Rep. Fay's sour and patronizing portrait of her constituents. Here is what I have observed of the families I have had the privilege to meet and represent: Men and women who moved here not for its "isolation," but to raise their children in a quiet, small town environment close to nature--and many more men and women who grew up here and stayed because they love our beautiful state and the family and community values they want to impart to their children. Vermonters live here because it is a place to raise a family. Families who live here are not victims or violent predators, as Ms. Fay believes, but, in my experience, overwhelmingly extraordinary people. Men and women who struggle with a family member's mental illness, physical disease, emotional distress, or death of their loved ones with grace and courage. Men who raise children alone, and men who work with their children's mothers with decency and honor. Women who have been left with responsibilities at a too young an age with no one to help, who have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and gone on to successful careers. Countless men and women who have overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. People who have quietly performed innumerable acts of extraordinary kindness and charity towards family, friends and strangers. Men and women who work hard to support their families and make sure their children live a better life than they have experienced. Enterprising men and women who contribute countless benefits to their families, employees and communities. Grace, decency, courage, kindness and an independent spirit permeate the culture of the Northeast Kingdom.

Ms. Fay's beliefs reflect today's orthodox liberal ideology. Liberals view Americans as immature victims needing a nanny state to regulate how they live, raise and educate their children, take care of their health, protect their families, and plan for their retirement. Ms. Fay's blindness about the kindness, strength, courage, independence and resourcefulness of her constituents is no coincidence. If she and her liberal allies truly recognized Vermonters' strengths, they would be providing opportunities for them to prosper, not burdening them with countless regulations, mandates, requirements and obligations.

Rep. Fay should get serious about helping her constituents realize their hopes and dreams for themselves and their families instead of lecturing us on our alleged defects.

Deborah T. Bucknam

Walden, Vt.


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