Inside the Woke Meltdown at One Domestic Violence Organization

Women Against Abuse discouraged black domestic abuse victims from calling the police. Yes, you read that right.

(Getty Images)
July 22, 2022

It was just two months after the death of George Floyd that one of the largest domestic violence nonprofits in the United States, Women Against Abuse, brought in several diversity consultants to conduct a racial-equity audit. The goal of the audit, Women Against Abuse told staffers, was to become "a fully inclusive, multicultural, and antiracist institution."

By November 2020, the organization, which is ostensibly devoted to "serving all survivors," was offering to pay "BIPOC" employees more than their white counterparts and discouraging black abuse victims from calling the police. Its employees were also at war with each other, bickering over whether Jews are a persecuted minority group and whether there is such a thing as a non-racist white person.

Those events prompted Nicole Levitt, an attorney with the group’s legal center, to file a discrimination complaint against her employer with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging that it "berated, humiliated, and subjected" her to "mandatory thought reform efforts."

"Women Against Abuse used to be liberal," Levitt told the Washington Free Beacon. "Now it’s illiberal."

This story is based on Levitt’s discrimination complaint, Women Against Abuse’s response to it, and materials from the equity audit that Levitt shared with the Free Beacon. It reveals how the leading domestic violence nonprofit in Philadelphia descended into dogmatism and infighting, obsessing over identity as domestic homicides in the city reached an all-time high of 43 in 2021—more than double the previous year.

That obsession manifested in avant garde policies that led the group far astray from its core mission. The policies weren’t just the product of employee activism, but of outside consultants—including Ragina Arrington, now the chief executive officer of the Clinton Foundation’s Global Initiative University, who since July 2020 has been helping Women Against Abuse conduct its equity audit.

Arrington began this work as a senior officer at Philanthropy Unbound, one of two diversity consultancies retained by Women Against Abuse in the wake of George Floyd’s death. The consultants soon injected race into every crevice of the organization, transforming it from the inside out.

Leftwing nonprofits across the country have undergone similar transformations. From the Sierra Club to the Guttmacher Institute to the American Civil Liberties Union, the Intercept’s Ryan Grim reported last month, progressive advocacy groups have "effectively ceased to function," as their outward-facing missions fall prey to internal tumult.

Women Against Abuse is a case study in how that tumult is generated, as activist employees bring in well-heeled diversity consultants who in turn empower the activists.

The consultants doing this work are increasingly mainstream, as Arrington’s institutional ascent demonstrates: She left Philanthropy Unbound for the Clinton Foundation two years after beginning work with Women Against Abuse, and has continued consulting for the domestic violence nonprofit from her new perch, creating a direct line between the two groups.

The Clinton Foundation did not respond to a request for comment.

In addition to Arrington, Women Against Abuse hired Crossroads, a diversity consultancy that specializes in dismantling "white supremacy culture." Formerly known as Crossroads Ministry, the consulting group has worked with a wide range of organizations—including the Presbyterian Church—to "institutionalize accountability."

The stakes of this consultant-led metamorphosis are high. Women Against Abuse provides a panoply of services to abuse victims, from housing and legal representation to child care, case management, and crisis counseling. It is also the primary domestic violence shelter in Philadelphia, according to materials from the audit reviewed by the Free Beacon, and helps the city government coordinate efforts to address domestic violence, which surged across the country amid the pandemic.

After the consultants got involved, however, Women Against Abuse began hosting presentations on defunding the police, whom it discouraged non-white victims of domestic violence from calling.

"It is often unsafe for Black victims, victims of color and immigrant victims to reach out to police for help," the group posted on its website in the summer of 2020, given the "inherent racism" of law enforcement.

"The police have never been the solution to violence against women," asserted one PowerPoint presentation, which staffers were required to attend in May 2021. The presentation—"Defund the Police: Safety Planning"—counseled a "restorative justice" approach to domestic violence that used "community-based organizations."

Women Against Abuse did not respond to a request for comment about whom victims should call instead of police.

The group also jettisoned its membership in the Sanctuary Institute—effectively an accrediting body for domestic violence nonprofits—which outlines best practices for working with trauma victims. The audit found early on that those practices were a "safe harbor from confronting white supremacy," according to a July 2022 PowerPoint presentation summarizing the audit’s progress, because they focused on comforting people—not on holding them "accountable to things like micro-aggressions and white supremacy behaviors."

"I’m concerned about them getting rid of that model," said Levitt, a licensed therapist who counseled trauma victims before she became an attorney. "Who knows what they’ll replace it with?"

The relentless racialism didn’t just affect Women Against Abuse’s policies, but also its office culture. In February, Levitt filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging that her employer had created a "racially hostile work environment"—in part by asking white staffers to sign a statement affirming that "all white people are racist and that I am not the exception."

"In the name of ‘equity’ and ‘anti-racism,’" the complaint reads, Women Against Abuse "instituted race-focused programming under which employees are discriminated against, segregated, and barraged with negative racial stereotypes."

The group’s transformation began in July 2020, when the then-executive director of Women Against Abuse, Jeannine Lisitski, hired Arrington as a part-time diversity consultant.

"In a commitment to transparency (to counteract white dominant values like secrecy!) I’m reaching out to share an update about the work that we are doing as an agency to move closer to our goal to become an anti-racist organization," Lisitski emailed staff on July 15, 2020. As part of that work, Arrington would facilitate racial "affinity spaces for ongoing healing and conversation."

Lisitski also announced that the Women Against Abuse would be working with Crossroads to conduct a multiyear "equity audit," which Arrington would help to facilitate. The audit is ongoing to this day, according to the July 2022 PowerPoint, and Arrington has remained involved with it, serving as a liaison between Crossroads and Women Against Abuse.

The audit came as staffers were at each other’s throats over issues of race and identity—including the issue of whether Jews counted as an oppressed group. On July 23, 2020, a member of the legal center circulated an article about anti-Semitism in the Black Lives Matter movement. Levitt chimed in to endorse the article, writing that, with anti-Semitic violence on the rise, "I hope as an organization we would stand against this as well."

Her email elicited a torrent of vitriol from her colleagues, one of whom called it "a slap in the face of every brown and black person."

Anti-Semitism "is not woven into the fabric of American society," another staffer said. "White Supremacy is." Whatever fear Jews feel, the staffer added, is "nothing compared to what black Americans feel."

That was news to Levitt: She’d lived in Israel during the Second Intifada, she said in a follow-up email, where "I was personally shot at" and "some of my friends died."

Things went downhill from there. In November 2020, Women Against Abuse solicited applications for a "Racial Equity Audit Task Force" to help Arrington and Crossroads "eradicate" bias. True equality, the group made clear, would require white members of the task force to earn less than others.

"All task force members will receive a small stipend every pay period," Women Against Abuse told staffers in a November 10 email. "Due to the nature of this process and the additional emotional labor of unearthing many biases that negatively affect individuals with their shared identity, Black, Brown, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) staffers will receive a larger stipend."

"I was astounded they would do something so blatantly illegal," said Levitt, who included the incident in her discrimination complaint. Multiple civil rights laws, including Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, prohibit pay discrimination on the basis of race. Responding to the complaint, Women Against Abuse told the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that it would be ending the race-based stipend scheme.

The audit proceeded from the assumption that Women Against Abuse was steeped in racism—and that it was powerless to rectify that racism without the consultants’ help. "Your organization is caught up in a power arrangement that maintains racial inequality," a handout from Crossroads reads. "Your organization’s ‘solutions’ to racism are ultimately a part of the problem and do not affect change at a root level."

To come up with better solutions, Crossroads surveyed staffers in August 2020 on how Women Against Abuse "harmed," "exploited," and "disempowered" people of color. Several respondents singled out the Sanctuary Institute principles for criticism, according to the July 2022 PowerPoint from the audit. Others complained that the group’s legal center "centered around [a] criminal justice system that harms POC," and that Women Against Abuse expects staffers "to respond to upper management requests ASAP."

The audit also included a series of "skills-building sessions" moderated by Arrington, who spent each session dissecting a different aspect of "white supremacy culture." People of "all identities" could participate in the sessions, Arrington told staffers in an April 2021 email, because "white supremacy culture is a smog that we all ingest, digest, and push back out to the people around us." The constituent particles of that smog, her email continued, include a "sense of urgency" and "objectivity."

Though the skills-building sessions were optional, the racial affinity spaces were not, Levitt said. Arrington facilitated many of these spaces, including the legal center’s white affinity space, which in April 2021 drew up a "full value contract" it asked all white attorneys to sign.

The contract, a draft of which was reviewed by the Free Beacon, asked the attorneys to abide by 15 commandments. "Assume good intentions" was one. "Own that all white people are racist and that I am not the exception" was another.

Levitt refused to sign the contract—or attend any more of the segregated meetings.

"I found the idea of being separated into groups by skin color to be inherently racist and regressive, not to mention against the law," Levitt said. "I refused to take part in the scapegoating and demonizing of an entire race. Anyone with a sense of history will tell you that things didn't tend to go well when that happened."