About Chris de Serres

Chris is a father, husband, writer, and advocate for victims of abuse. He co-founded (Wo)Men Speak Out, a nonprofit organization dedicated to eradicating rape, domestic violence, and child abuse in our communities. He enjoys anything his 6-year-old daughter happens to be excited about at the moment. He reads, camps, and climbs in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. He is an alpine mentor. Find more information at http://alpineclass.wordpress.com.

Say Something

The most common question I get asked after our speaking events is “what can I do?” Or “how can I become an advocate?” There are many ways of answering a question like that.  But then it got me thinking while I was having lunch at the local pizza place.

I walked up to the server, took one look at the oil drenched offerings and told him I wanted two of the pepperoni.  Now it was clear that the slices had been sitting on the counter for a while.  Normally the server takes the slices, puts them in the heater, and passes it along.  This time he didn’t.  He put the pizza on a plate and passed it to the cashier.

Excuse me, can you heat those up for me?”

He knew he should have put them in the heater.  I knew he should have.  But he didn’t.  So I had to put my advocate hat on so that I would get what I was about to pay for.  That’s essentially what advocacy is.  It’s the difference between what is happening and what should be happening.  Depending on what the issue is it can be a monumental difference.  It could be the difference between life and death.

A survivor of abuse may have handled that scenario a little differently.  She may have taken those two slices as is.  I mean, if you don’t think that you amount to much or that you are deserving of respect, then why would that change at the pizza counter?  We don’t always get the slices we deserve.

You are the person behind her saying, “hey, don’t you think you ought to heat those up for her?  You want hot slices right ma’am?”

When it comes down to the fundamentals our job is the same, from the counter to the streets to the courtrooms and on.

When I first began speaking about my abuse I did it for a number of reasons.  I only realized after a man once told me that when I spoke he felt like I was speaking for him.  I was speaking the words that he had been meaning to say.  I felt grateful to hear that my story had this effect on him.  You never truly know until people tell you.

It made me think of the second part of the pizza story.

“Thanks, I really wanted them hot, but I didn’t think to say anything.”

Advocacy?  It’s a snap.  All you got to do is say something.

Male Survivor Conference Update!

The Male Survivor Conference in New York City is fast approaching and there are some new updates since we last announced our sponsorship of the event.

Mike Lew will be giving a workshop.  He’s been a great ally and supporter of our organization.  He wrote Victims No Longer, a great resource for male survivors, at a time when there weren’t many books on the market covering male survivorship.  Also Richard Gartner, the author of Beyond Betrayal, will be expected for a workshop of his own.  I can’t say enough about Betrayal.  Well written, practical, and presenting a mastery of the issue of male survivorship.

Check out the Male Survivor lineup for more details.  Better yet, save the date and go to the conference!  It’s a great opportunity to educate yourself and be inspired by these great advocates and experts in the field.  As well as expanding your community of peers to make change happen for survivors everywhere.

Male Survivor Conference 2010
March 18-21, 2010 at
John Jay College / NYC

The Day I Became An Advocate

A number of years ago I was asked by a college to speak about my personal experience with abuse. This was the first time I ever spoke about what had happened to me in a public forum. I remember the weeks leading up to the speech I felt a mixture of dread, anxiety, shame, and empowerment. It was then that I got a taste of what it really meant to be an advocate. I was preparing to advocate for the little boy that represented who I was, and am still today.

On the day, I had every intention of talking about myself. I took the podium and began to speak. But what came out wasn’t about me. It was about my best friend. You see, my life was filled with people who were looking to take advantage of me. As a child and survivor of abuse, I wasn’t very good at sticking up for myself. I was routinely pushed, prodded, and pummeled by the bigger kids in school. I think in my heart that they knew something was different about me. I was just another easy mark.

That all changed one day when a kid came by my house and introduced himself. His name was Eddie. He was only a year older than me, but he was a kid in a man’s body. We became fast friends. I soon realized that this kid, who I proudly called best friend, had a huge heart.

Eddie had a reputation as a a troublemaker, but he was simply misunderstood. I noticed the more I hung out with him the less I was bullied. Somehow my best friend Eddie also became my best advocate. From the day that I met him to the day that he took his own life he was always trying to protect me. Most of the time I didn’t even know he was.

I think he knew I was a survivor even though I never told him. I remember the day he came to my house and told me his dark secret. His mother had physically beaten him from as long as he could remember. It was then that I knew why he would go out of his way to help a little defenseless kid like me. I was the first person he told. I never knew if he told anyone else.

Chris speaking about male survivorship at a college keynote.

I realized that it was impossible to tell my story without first telling his. So I told the audience about Eddie. I wanted them to know that he deserved an advocate in his life. He didn’t have one. He had been my strongest advocate and I was grateful on that day to be his. He gave me something so simple yet so needed. The feeling that I wasn’t alone in this world. The more I told the story, the more stories I received from other men. They didn’t have the power so they wanted me to speak for them.

There isn’t much incentive for men to speak out about their abuse. They have to deal with the ignorance of other men and women. Men are often the subject of ridicule, having our manhood and sexual orientation called into question. There are even people who don’t believe boys or men CAN be abused against their own will. Certainly not by a woman. These are only some of the reasons why we don’t see men speaking out about abuse.

There are even female advocates who believe that men should be excluded from the resources that are provided to women. Men shouldn’t be in groups designated for women. So it’s no surprise that our men are continuing to suffer in silence. It’s no surprise that our communities are not confronting change as a united front. The abuse will continue as long as we decide to fight it apart.

It was in that spirit that I started a non-profit organization with my wife Ophelia, a survivor herself, to ensure that all survivors of abuse, rape, and gender violence have a voice when they need it. We decided that the best way to achieve a true end to abuse is by including women and men together in this fight. We are mutually supportive, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or color.

Abuse occurs everywhere. So it’s going to take everybody to fight it. Women have been fighting it for so long. They have won many battles. Now is the time to empower our men to come forward and share their experiences. I sometimes wonder if Eddie’s life would have turned out differently if he had a strong male advocate in his life. For now, I am resolved to speak his truths and stand by strong women and men when I do it. Advocates simply speak out for those who can’t. Men. Women. Together.

Note: This article appears in the Self Help Packet for Jersey Care Leavers Association. For the full packet of great articles and resources go to http://www.jerseycareleavers.com/ and download the packet today.

The Anti-Rape Amendment

I have thought long and hard about Al Franken’s Anti-Rape Amendment.  When 30 senators voted against the amendment I thought to myself that there had to be an acceptable reason why. I wanted to do my research before simply reacting to this seemingly incomprehensible choice on the part of these senators.  Was there something in the language of the amendment that may be objectionable or unfair?  Was there some detail we all may have missed?

Let’s look at the Anti-Rape Amendment:

None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used for any existing or new Federal contract if the contractor or a subcontractor at any tier requires that an employee or independent contractor, as a condition of employment, sign a contract that mandates that the employee or independent contractor performing work under the contract or subcontract resolve through arbitration any claim under title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or any tort related to or arising out of sexual assault or harassment, including assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, or negligent hiring, supervision, or retention.

Seems pretty fair right? It’s not a far stretch to hold any company accountable if they should expect to receive billions of our tax dollars. I heard one opposing Senator remark how this unfairly singles out Haliburton? Singles out yes. Unfairly no. Not in light of how they treated  the gang rape of one of their employees, Jamie Leigh Jones.  We don’t want to do business, much less protect any business that falsely imprisons and threatens termination to an employee that was just gang raped while working on their jobsite.  These Senators are condoning this behavior and providing no protection for us, the people they apparently don’t represent anymore.

Recently Senator David Vitter was confronted by one of his constituents, a survivor of rape, on why he chose to inexplicably oppose this piece of legislation.

First Vitter told the woman how supportive he was of rape cases getting prosecuted “to the fullest extent of the law.”  Then he assumed the woman was simply an Obama supporter as he tried to deflect her question into an attack on Obama.  But of course the woman told him simply, “But i’m not asking Obama.  I’m asking you.”  As she should have considering Senator Vitter is her representative in government.  Then towards the end, Vitter simply walks away. I personally have become a little bit burned out on Town Hall Meeting dramatics of late, but in this case I can see why the woman got upset by his behavior.

He didn’t have an explanation. He didn’t want to answer her question. So he did the most self-serving thing a politician can do. Walk away.

When you walk away from a constituent who was calmly asking you a question that pretty much indicates that you are more worried about looking bad politically in front of a video camera than any concern for your responsibility as an elected Senator.

We are still waiting for an real explanation for why these representatives of ours voted to continue to allow our government to do business with companies that force their employees to sign away their rights IF they are raped and/or assaulted as their employees. 

So imagine just for a second, that you were gang raped by your coworkers, then you are imprisoned in a shipping container.  Denied food, water, or medical treatment.  You are only released after slipping a message to your local Senator.  Then you are threatened with termination by your boss if you decide to receive medical treatment afterwards.  On top of all of this, your assailants are never taken to justice and you have no recourse whatsoever.  Oh, and when someone tries to change the law to make sure something like this doesn’t happen to anyone else, 30 Senators vote it down because it doesn’t give Haliburton a fair shake.

These representatives were playing politics when they should have done the right thing.  Now the next time an employee of a government contractor is raped and assaulted and is given no recourse, we’ll remember who walked away. 

Contact Senator David Vitter

Tyler Perry Breaks The Silence

You may know Tyler Perry from many of the films he’s produced, directed, and starred in over the years. It seemed like every year I would see a new Tyler Perry movie coming out of the box office. I can’t say that I have seen any of them, though he is a clear success story being one of the highest paid men in Hollywood.

Tyler Perry - Survivor

What I did see on 60 Minutes recently was the startling admission that, like myself, he is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. The reason why this is shocking isn’t that he IS a survivor of abuse. The statistics show indeed how common abuse is in our culture, with 1 in 4 women being victims of abuse before the age of 16 and 1 in 6 men.

What is of note is that Tyler Perry is a high profile black man admitting that he was abused as a child. It’s the coming out that has always been hardest for us men. One of the basic virtures of early manhood is being able to successfully defend yourself from harm. For male victims it is this perceived failure that is sometimes the hardest thing to come to terms with.

Tyler is coming to terms with this specter that has hovered over his life for so long. He spoke of a friends mother who molested him as a child. She locked him in their house and only provided the key to leave if he ‘had sex’ with her. Tyler later shared additional details about living with a physically abusive father. After his admission, his father passed along the message to Tyler that “…If I had beat your ass one more time you probably would have been Barack Obama.”

You may be horrified by that comment. Yet, its so telling of how parents so often confuse discipline with outright abuse. Or maybe it’s just his fathers way of rationalizing the abuse and suffering he inflicted on his defenseless children.

These admissions from public figures are inspiring and courageous but to people who want to make real change in our society we can’t leave it at that. We have to explore the questions raised by the personal accounts from survivors of abuse.

I was always a big fan of the comedian Richard Pryor growing up. He would often compare men with women, and how black culture differed from white culture. He once mentioned quite fondly about the time his father gave him an especially violent physical beating because he came home after his curfew. The audience laughed. Pryor’s genius was in being able to make his misery funny. I have all of Pryors tapes. I think he’s the most gifted comedian, yet I never laughed at those jokes.  Pryor joked on how it taught him character and professed his admiration to his father for making him hard.

It made me wonder. How can any physical beating ever be a point of pride in any culture, any society? What extremes and rationalizations are parents willing to employ to make sure they have well behaved children?  What should our response be when this is too often the message we are sending in our society?

I may have not known about Tyler Perry’s admission if I had not known about his work with a new movie coming out called Precious. It’s about the struggle of a 16-year-old survivor of abuse. You don’t see too many films about abuse streaming out of the Hollywood lot. This is one of them. Go see it on November 6th.

And remember, there is courage in breaking the silence, but change only comes when we decide to respond to the brave stories of those like Tyler Perry.  How do you plan on responding?

Polanski Raped Her

Each morning on my drive into work I would hear the latest radio report on the apprehension of Roman Polanski recently in Switzerland.  Each morning for the past week it was reported that “Polanski pleaded guilty for having sex with a minor…” I guess a part of me accepted what I was hearing reported even as I knew it wasn’t accurate.

Roman Polanski

This morning I heard the much needed correction.  A listener called in to express how disappointed she was in the reporting of what Polanski did.  She was under the impression that when you drug and liquor up a 13-year-old then have sex with her throughout the evening that what we may be talking about isn’t “sex with a minor”.

It may be rape.

The case of Roman Polanski is not one blurred by ambiguity.  We know what happened.  We know how the guilty ran.  We know his celebrated career for the ensuing three decades afterward.  Yet, we still don’t know if we should call it rape?

We are afraid of that word aren’t we?  It was just a year ago that Tory Bowen wasn’t allowed to use the word ‘rape’ by a judge in court when describing how she was raped by her perpetrator.

Even Whoopi Goldberg, this morning on The View had to inform us that what Polanski did wasn’t “rape-rape.” Going so far as to tell the rest of the panel that she wanted to talk about “what he did” and not to speak out of a sense of “passion…when we don’t have all the facts.”  That’s interesting Whoopi.  Here are the facts.

From a legal standpoint, we know that Mr. Polanski plead down to a lesser charge.  He raped the victim, but he got a break.  This happens all the time.  Regardless of what he did, our legal system watered down the charge to the puzzling and much more friendly ‘sex with a minor’.  You can certainly water down what is, but does that ever change what is?

It seems there is a bit of confusion among society at large as to what exactly rape is.  I guess the only way to clear this up is to take our case straight to the most agreed upon definition we can find, courtesy of Funk and Wagnalls.

Rape – any act of sexual intercourse that is forced upon a person.

If your one and only idea of what ‘force’ constitutes is violent, physical brutality than we really need to have a discussion about the nature of abuse.  Quaaludes and alcohol in a 13-year-old girl functions in quite the same way that Rohyphol, known commonly as the date-rape drug, works in adults.  It makes it easier for a perpetrator to rape their chosen victim.  The more altered she is, the less force that is needed to apply.  Sometimes it takes such little force that it can almost seem like it’s not rape.  But it is.

There is a greater awareness in our communities about the dangers of date-rape drugs.  Yet, we still fail to apply what we know to Mr. Polanski’s case.  I understand the delicate nature of rape.  It is a serious charge.  It is equally a serious offense.  If Roman Polanski ‘raped’ a 13-year-old would we be so worried about his well-being?  Would we be less likely to ‘cut him a break?’

If you want to make excuses for poor Mr. Polanski you are entitled.  If you think it’s been 30 years and he needs to be cut that break, then go ahead.  But there can be no question about what we are talking about in the first place.

In 1977, Polanski got what he wanted.  He raped and sodomized a girl and pleaded down to the lesser charge of ‘sex with a minor’.  Then he ran.

Now three decades later we are still struggling with what to call his offense.  Some call it sex with a minor.  I call it astonishing.

What Your Gut Tells You

In your minds eye, how does a perpetrator look?  Would they appear disheveled and transient?  Maybe have a evil snarl with lined faces and bloodshot eyes?  We’ve all seen the mugshots in the paper or on the television, from those perpetrators that LOOK like they are capable of violence.  The newsreel confirming their guilt, we imagine we could clearly see it in them.  It oozes out of them.

Then we read about Jon Pomeroy and his wife, Rebecca Long.  Mr. Pomeroy recently pleaded guilty to ‘mistreating’ his daughter.  He was accused of sitting passively by while his wife ‘disciplined’ his daughter.  At 4 ft 7 inches and weighing 48 lbs, this severely starved girl was taken from their Carnation home.  The trauma most probably stunting her growth permanently and the rotting of all her teeth, not to mention the irreparable emotional and physical harm she will have to come to terms with for the rest of her life.

When I first read the story I imagined Pomeroy and Long as the seedy character I always stereotyped abusers to be.  Recently the Seattle Times posted a picture of Jon and Rebecca walking to the courtroom and I was shocked.  They looked so… normal.  I couldn’t reconcile this outdated image of what an abuser is ‘supposed to look like’ with how they appeared in the

Jon Pomeroy and his wife, Rebecca Long, were arraigned last fall in King County Superior Court on charges of mistreating Pomeroys teen daughter.

Jon Pomeroy and his wife, Rebecca Long, were arraigned last fall in King County Superior Court on charges of mistreating Pomeroy's teen daughter.

photo.  Not visibly someone you would think capable of these atrocities.  They could easily be someone living next door in some residential area , saying hello and being neighborly.

But isn’t it so often how a perpetrator either fits or doesn’t fit our expectation of what an abuser should look like that determines whether we follow our gut instinct? Obviously there is no such thing as ‘should’ when it comes to abuse.

For Jon and Rebecca, we may completely ignore our instinct.

If we heard the cries of a child in that dirty mobile home at the end of the block we  just may make that call to Child Protective Services.  But would we do the same if it came from the 3-bedroom, 2.5 bath, well manicured, freshly painted home next door?  It certainly wouldn’t be very neighborly.

In this busy modern world, we have become good at dismissing, delaying, or debating our core instinct into submission.  It’s the reason why we stay up an extra hour when our body is telilng us to go to sleep.  Or when we have that extra donut as our stomach protests.

Looking at Jon and Rebecca, it didn’t surprise us to read the testimony of neighbors and people who knew them.  Friends and family were ‘shocked’.  Neighbors thought they were ‘always such a nice couple.’  Some even now indicating that they ‘aren’t capable of this.’  Ignoring our instinct when we need it least has caused us to second-guess it when we need it the most.

Pomeroy is looking at 2.5-3 years behind bars.  His daughter doesn’t get her life back in 3 years.  She also doesn’t have a parent anymore.  Mr. Pomeroy sat idly by as Rebecca Long starved his daughter nearly to death.  All too often we are content to sit idly by, ignoring the twisting of our gut,  while the people we know as ‘nice folks’ abuse and torture defenseless victims.

It’s interesting.  I look back at my life and when it comes to gut instinct I can look at the worst mistakes I have ever made and it almost always was a result of ignoring my own gut feeling.  Follow yours and speak up when you see something  that isn’t quite right.  We can always judge wrongly, but wouldn’t you rather be wrong than right and not say anything?

Our Beautiful Chihuahua

I turned the key and pushed the door open.  It’s usually about this time I see the little squirrel run to the babygate, tail wagging vigorously.  She emitted a high pitched noise that sounds like car tires squealing on the street. It was one of my favorite sounds ever.

But today, there was no little squirrel, no squealing, no Ms. Moneypenny.  It reminded me of when my wife is away on business and I get home from work and the entire apartment is this dead space.  You never know how much life they give it until they are no longer there.

Money Penny

I’d sit down on the couch.  Moneypenny would run around and scramble up furniture.  Her body was so erect it was like she was on the summit of some mountain.  She was a tiny Chihuauhua, but she always managed to climb high enough to look you in your eyes.

Her favorite thing was to be rubbed on the belly.  Even when my hand got tired I continued rubbing because I knew that she had been waiting all day for this moment.  With every sweep of the hand her eyes would slowly close.

Each night Ophelia and I would settle into bed, and after a few minutes Moneypenny would    prance up and find a nook to tuck her little body.  It was usually behind my knee or against Ophelia’s belly.  A couple of times I almost rolled over her in the night, but she never moved.

I never had a dog that trusted me so much.  I’m not sure I ever trusted anyone so much as she trusted me and Ophelia.

For three nights we watched and waited.  Penny didn’t eat.  She didn’t drink.  So we handfed her, and used a syringe to make sure she drank.  She was too tired to walk to her favorite pillow.  So we picked up her weakened body and placed her nice and comfy in her favorite spot.

I watched as Ophelia fed Penny saliva out of her mouth, at times the only water Penny would take.  From her mommy.

Penny would sometimes lift her body into a sitting position, fighting to get herself upright.  I imagined she must have trouble seeing with her weary eyes.  It was in those weary, sagging eyes that Ophelia knew that it wasn’t good.

We weren’t prepared to let her go.  We couldn’t afford the surgery needed to save her life, but the vet did it anyways because she ‘really liked that dog.’

Before the surgery, they brought Penny in to see us.  Her tail wagged vigorously, just like it always did.  If I had a tail, I would have wagged it too.

Her eyes were bright and clear, and she looked like she was going to make it through.  So I hugged and kissed her.  I swept my hand over her belly, and her eyes started to drift off.  We handed her back to the nurse.  She was so happy to see us.  I reached over one last time and kissed her on her little forehead.  Then she was gone.

The Man Code

Okay I got hooked on The Bachelorette this season.  Reality shows are sort of like Lays potato chips with me.  You can’t just watch one and be done with it.  Without contaminating you too much into the universe of this show let’s just say they had a ‘reunion show’ last night.  The Bachelorette, Jillian, and most of her male suitors were who had been previously eliminated in the show, were there.

As bad and scripted as they sometimes are, reality shows often reveal surprising realities of how badly men and women can behave and treat each other.

This year in The Bachelorette, more than any other, there was a bit of a controversy.  You see one of the male suitors, Wes,  had an agenda.  He was a country singer who already had a girlfriend.  He got on the show under false pretenses in order to further his career.  Not something exactly new in the land of the reality show, but it wasn’t exactly what he did that struck me as curious.  Apparently throughout the show he would brag to the other men that he already had a girlfriend and how he was going to hit it big with all the TV exposure.

All these guys knew, and kept quiet about it.  They all were vying for Jillian’s love and affection, yet never said a word about Wes.  Even as Wes made it through each ensuing round nearly to the end of the show.  Until finally one guy spoke, only after being eliminated by Jillian.

During the reunion show there was this weird energy among all the men about this one whistleblower, Jake.  They all spoke in a roundabout manner, but I got the impression that Jake had broken some sort of code among men by telling Jillian she was being played by another man. I call him a whistleblower sadly because in the culture of men, that’s what he did.  He went against the convention.

Then the other guys began speaking up, but not condemning Wes’s actions on the show.  They began making excuses for his behavior.  One man even professed doubt that Wes was playing Jillian at all.  Mind you, this is after we all watched video clip after video clip of Wes saying he was there to promote his music and how much sex he was going to have with his girlfriend after the show.

Wes, of course, didn’t attend the reunion show to answer for his actions.  But he almost didn’t have to.  Other men were piling on the defense for him.

So why is this important to us in the abuse community?

Well, it brings to light something that has been going on for quite some time among men.  Men don’t hold other men responsible for alot of bad behavior.  Most often this is out of fear of losing our own social standing in the process. There is this consistent scrutiny among men regarding how manly our behavior is in the eyes of others.  We hold each other to this standard.  We even have our own internal censor which comes as a result of all our younger years trying to live up to the male ideal that all of our early male role models instilled in us.

So we’ll see a male friend trick, manipulate, harass, and maybe even hit a woman and let it pass.  We hold our identity so closely to that of our manhood that we will watch others do atrocious things rather than risk stepping in and being considered less of a man.

One male suitor actually spelled it out for us on the show.  He called it the man code, that most bogus construct we wield to keep each other from speaking out and being our genuine selves.

You really want to know why there aren’t alot of men speaking out about abuse?  Or even the millions of male survivors who won’t speak out about their own trauma?  It’s the man code.

We would rather die broken and wounded than violate the unlivable set of rules which have been passed down from father (and mother) to son for generations.  It’s the reason why men are often reluctant to seek medical attention, much less a therapist.  I always think of the bullrider mystique, when a rider gets bucked off of a bull and, despite broken ribs, fends off medical attention and walks out of the ring of his own accord.  We all clap for that don’t we?  It’s harkens to the code.  When I read of the genocide in WW2 Germany and Rwanda I see the man code all over it.  Some say the man code helps keeps society running smoothly even as we destroy ourselves from within because of it.

I have my own man code.  It’s rooted in men like Ghandi and in the marches of Martin Luther King Jr.  In between all the status quo you can see it sometimes, if just for a second, in the Jakes of the world.  Don’t blink because you may miss it.  My man code is sometimes difficult to execute, as a man, so I try to execute it instead as a human being.

I have learned that physical courage is the easiest kind of courage to embrace.  Moral courage?  That is the most difficult.  It requires true sacrifice.  It requires us men to act, despite society, in order to save society from itself.  From letting boys be boys as they hit, abuse,  and harrass others, each other, and themselves.

Moral courage is the man code.

To my brothers out there, if you see it on display, don’t destroy it.  Don’t try to judge it or censor it into submission.  Get behind it.  Remember there are alot of young boys and men who are watching us and learning how to behave like men should.  Feed them the kind of courage that changes minds, rather than the one that reinforces old destructive habits.

Children Should Know

The overwhelming majority of children are abused by a family member or family friend.  More often than not the abuser is a parent, step-parent, or guardian.  I think that’s a reality we haven’t quite come to terms with.  I know we didn’t when I was growing up.

Probably the only education I ever received as a child about the danger of abuse was a  30 minute session in a 5th grade class once.   I remember that it was taught by my English teacher.  I could tell how uncomfortable and awkward she felt in front of the class, trying to talk about what to say if a stranger came up to us and asked us to follow ‘him’ down an alley.  I was taught to say no, but I wasn’t quite sure why I was saying no.  Just that it was important that I did say no.  There was no context, just that this fictitious ‘bad guy’ wasn’t to be followed.  I thought of some of the supervillains I read about in comic books.  On the off chance that Dr. Doom showed up on my afternoon walk home from school I knew what to say.

Education hasn’t improved much since that day in grade school.  We are still uncomfortably limping into inadequate conversations with our children about what to do, when, and who.  Except we are so leery about the ‘who’ part because the ‘who’ may be attending PTA meetings, may be more close to us than we would like to think.

Educating our children about how to speak up for themselves is not an always popular proposition to a parent.  Parents want obedient children, and it’s those same obedient children who are most vulnerable.  If there is anything that is most obvious in looking at the statistics it is that children aren’t using their voices.

There are arguments that children shouldn’t know about abuse.  They are too young to be exposed.  Yet we already know that millions of children are already being physically and sexually abused right now.  I guess the above philosophy has, in a sense, already written off those children as damaged goods.

Parents aren’t comfortable with the idea of their children telling them no, in any case.  That is precisely what education provides for them, the option to say no.  An option to defend themselves.  This rarely comes up consciously in my discussions with parents, but it always rears it’s ugly head in the periphery.  The argument against abuse education that never quite makes itself known.  This is why our parents should be educated as well.

Our expressed priority is to protect our children.  But there is a catch to this.  We don’t want to protect them from us.

So we still ask ourselves why our children are so vulnerable.  We wonder why there are millions of victims of abuse out there.  It’s because the children don’t know.  Organizations, like (Wo)Men Speak Out, exist to educate our men, women, boys, and girls about abuse.  Boys and girls are the most vulnerable demographic to the scourge of abuse.  Are they too young to know about abuse?  Millions learn one way or the other.  Sadly, it seems that, for most, the most harmful way is ruling out over the other.

This may make you wonder what your school is doing to educate their students.  You may even ask yourself what you are doing to educate your children.  It’s worth an inquiry.  Talk to your kids.  Check in with your school.  It’s worth a call.  It’s worth raising your hand at the PTA meeting and starting a discussion.

If you believe your children are ready to be given the tools that may save their life one day, then bring an organization in that knows how to talk to the kids.  Not the awkward English teacher I had way back when.

Abusers rarely look like Dr. Doom.  Yet, that may be all the protection we are providing our children.

DrDoom