Guns or Mental Health…

This is really a time for our country to think.  When so many children and adults are murdered so easily, in such a sacred place, it can spark alot of emotion. 

There will be a conversation on gun control.  We don’t know who will lead it, but the sense is that we need reasonable assurances of safety, and we haven’t had it yet.  But I don’t want to focus on guns today because I don’t want to miss the mark.

The mark is mental health.  A tragedy like this has created an opportunity to put in place functional gun regulations.  It’s an opportunity that many of us have been waiting for for some time.  Yet, I had to ask myself which is more important here.  A national debate on guns or a national debate on mental health?  Which is a symptom and which is a root cause of massacres like this?  Which will have a lasting effect on violence in America?

Like it or not, we do have to choose where the energy from a tragedy like this goes.  As much as some don’t like it pointed out, the idea that stricter gun regulations won’t stop violence of this sort has some merit.  How could it if we don’t adequately address mental illness in America?  Mental health is an overwhelming issue and the solutions are not so easily identified.  The gun issue is relatively straightforward once you get past the rhetoric.  That’s why we don’t want to talk about mental health.  It’s not easy.

Restructuring how we deal with our mentally ill is going to be a huge undertaking.  Make no mistake, it’s going to take alot more resources than gun regulation.  Yet all of our energy is spent on the gun aspect. 

Soon the urgency of Connecticut will die down.  The will of the American people will wane.  We will turn our attention back to Kim Kardashian and Honey Boo Boo.  This is the nature of us.  Just think of Gabby Giffords and Auroro, Colorado.  They seem like a distant memory already. 

As impassioned as many of us are about guns on our streets, we have to tack into the wind.  We have to change this debate now, or we will have lost the key moment to change.  Take a moment and ask yourself what is most important here.  

We need a national debate on mental health in this country now.  For whenever a root cause has been dealt with it affects all of it’s branches in the process.

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Domestic Violence Awareness

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  This month is the time to remember all the victims who passed over because of acts of domestic violence.  They remind us why we are doing this.  It’s also time to remember all the women, men, and children currently living in fear that they will be physically violated at any moment.  How many are out there now experiencing this?

Think about how it feels to be in a scary place and not having the power to leave it.  Think of all those who escaped the violence, in our free democratic country and all the countries who are not so free.  When it comes to domestic violence, we know freedom is a relative term.  Know that countries protect and support abusers, both in public and in quiet.  Know that the silence of our representatives speaks volumes.

Moms and dads, look into the eyes of your children and remember that they are watching us always.  They see us when we speak out.  They see us when we choose to be quiet.  They also see acts of violence and are victimized every day, in every country.

The domestic violence awareness month is a time to remember.  It also is a time for action.  If you are capable of educating, supporting, and protecting victims of abuse then you must.  It’s a time to bear witness.  To seek out what is happening.  Not to shy away and pretend it doesn’t exist.  Statistically it is hard to be a person who has not been affected by abuse, either directly or indirectly.  So this month is for everyone.

Use this month.  Seek out local seminars and events.  Then use what you learn for the other 11 months of the year.  Honor the victims.  Embrace action.

Trust

One of the hardest things to cultivate once it’s been lost in a child is trust.  Most child abuse occurs from a parent or trusted adult.  Our frame of reference for how we deal with the world, and all those in it, is from mom and dad.  A profound betrayal for a child is in knowing that those that we trusted the most, on an implicit and instinctive level, turned their back on us.

For those who work with trying to recover that trust again in children the task is monumental.  It will be the hardest thing children and adults will ever have to do.  Yet, what predators look for are kids who have been abused.  They show tell-tell signs and are especially vulnerable to multiple abuse throughout their lives.  This difficulty in assessing safety and healthy personal boundaries can stay with a victim for the rest of her life.

This is what makes early intervention crucial.  But you can’t intervene unless you recognize the problem quickly and act on it.  So advocates have multiple layers to address to create meaningful change in our communities.

None of this can happen without adults.  Early intervention of adults means younger adults, who are ready and willing to embrace new ways of doing things.  This is what makes getting the message on college campuses crucial.  The energy and ability of young adults to make educated decisions and to act on a massive level is necessary.  Our college kids hold the potential tipping point  for dramatic reforms.

However, It all goes back to trust.  Can we rebuild a child’s trust?  Do we see and understand this issue?  Are we willing to provide the resources necessary to act early and emphatically?

There’s no real way to count the kids we save.  To create a nice, glossy bar graph showing how we turned a child’s life around.  The statistics always seem to come later on.  In the death count and the police reports.  That’s what we pay attention to.  It’s a lost opportunity not to pay more attention to the end that counts.  The end that predicts the result.

A child’s trust often remains broken.  It is severed from that parent or trusted friend.  It continues in all of the broken relationships and get’s passed down to that child’s children.  The cumulative effect of abuse on this world IS the story of our collective dysfunction in all other aspects of our existence.

Abuse is a problem we don’t deal with effectively on a massive scale.  The solution won’t come from your government.  Not from a politician.  It won’t come from one person helping 60,000 children.  It comes from 60,000 people helping just one child.  Maybe two.  Maybe three.

When are we going to trust that we are the solution?  It’s simple and cliche and so deadly accurate.  But there’s a difference in retweeting a quote and in trying to live up to the spirit of the quote.  We believe in what we see being done, not in what is said.  As do children.  They will never trust your words because they understand the consequences of the words that were broken.

If you care about our future then you will save the trust once so freely given from a young child’s heart.  There is no one else but you.

Turn The Car Around

A couple of years ago, I remember driving home from a camping trip.  There was something in the middle of the road.  As we came closer I could see that it was a deer.  It didn’t move an inch as our car came closer.  We circled around it and kept driving up the road.  As the road curved I took one last look in the rearview mirror at the body and right as the deer came out of view, it lifted it’s head up from the ground.  It sent chills down my spine.

We didn’t go back.  We had all kinds of reasons not to.  We had a long drive to get home.  The area was too remote.  Someone else will stop and help it.  We didn’t have a gun or a knife to put the deer to rest.

As the miles accumulated between our car and that poor dying deer I felt tremendous guilt well up in me.  It’s just an animal.  It’s probably already dead.  Right?

When I first heard about the allegations of abuse against Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky the first thing I thought about was the deer.  A graduate student saw him sodomizing a 10 year old child in the showers.  He told Joe Paterno, the winningest football coach in college football history.  The longest tenured and most influential figure on the campus and in the community.

Joe reported the story to a Penn State official.  Then he moved on.  Jerry Sandusky continued doing what he had been doing for years.  Grooming little boys and sexually abusing them.  Joe wouldn’t have known of course, because he did the bare minimum to keep himself out of trouble.  Maybe that was enough to assuage any guilt he would have had.

I understand Joe.  After driving 100 miles, I had my friend pull to the side of the road.  I got animal control on the phone.  Reported to them that I saw a deer on the road which seemed to be alive.  I told myself that I did my best.  It is now in their hands.  What more could I do right?  I did my part.

For some reason, I have never been able to forget that split second.  Seeing that scared and vulnerable creature lift it’s furry head off of the bloody concrete.  In that moment we made a choice.  Keep driving.

It was a choice.  Much like Joe.  If there was anybody on that campus who could have put a stop to Sandusky’s horrific exploitation it would have been Joe.  You don’t say no to the biggest man on campus.

He never followed up.  He never made sure the police knew what was going on.

He didn’t turn the car around.

My Name Is Project Update

We’ve had great interest in the My Name Is Project and are waiting with much anticipation for you to submit your survivor video stories in support of this project.

Recently I had the priviledge of participating in the Oprah two-part event on male survivors of child abuse.  The first show aired last Friday and began with an emotional opening where the entire audience of 200 male survivors held up pictures of themselves at the age when they were first abused.

It was a powerful moment, standing amongst all those men, holding up a picture of who I was before my life changed so traumatically.

(Wo)Men Speak Out has an idea based on that powerful moment on Oprah.  We are working on a new video montage which will hopefully include pictures of all of you.  We all have our individual stories.  But we have a collective story of abuse that is worth telling to everyone who has felt trauma in their lives, and to those who haven’t.

So this is a call out to ALL SURVIVORS.  If you are interested in participating in this montage, send us a high resolution picture of you holding a picture of yourself at the age of your abuse under your chin.  Also, include the age of abuse and you can optionally include your name as well.  We will collect all of the submissions and create a video montage telling a shared story of abuse.

We need as many submissions as we can because we want this to show the magnitude of abuse and at the same time the human face of survivorship.

Also, keep your personal video submissions coming in.  We need to create our video community of survivor stories to inspire all of our brothers and sisters who are right now suffering in silence.  The only way we can do it is with your stories.

Thank you for participating in this project.  Break the silence.  To live.

Chris de Serres

christopher@womenspeakoutnow.com

WSO

Not In Our Community

It’s always a measure of a real community when they hear about news of abuse.  How will they respond when they learn their community may not be as safe as they thought?  Will they react defensively then eventually begin the real discussion?  Or will they never have that real discussion?  Ideal communities consist of well-intentioned individuals who advocate their way of life and will address safety issues directly and productively.  But we know that not all communities are ideal, so we must work with what we have.

As a public speaker I am never truly surprised with the mixed reaction I sometimes receive in the communities I have spoken in throughout the years.  Whether it be at a church.  Or a college.  Or a corporation.  There are always some who wonder “why are you here, speaking to us about abuse?  This doesn’t happen in my backyard.”

Yet it does.

If abuse didn’t occur in your community I would be doing something else.  I would be rock climbing.  If I had my choice I could retire early and rock climb for the rest of my life.  But I work in abuse for two reasons:  I am a male survivor of childhood abuse and because IT’S HAPPENING in your community.  When abuse, and all attempts to hide it’s presence, in our communities ceases to exist, then I will happily retire and move on to a happier profession.  Until then, you can guess where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing.

The tendency of the ‘not in our community’ types is to attack the messenger.  To scrutinize their every word.  To attempt to break them down and discredit them and all they say.  WSO has been under scrutiny more than a few times.  We come to expect it.  This is the defensive reaction.  Yet, it’s our hope that the real discussion takes place at some point.  Maybe not when I come to your town to talk about abuse.  Maybe later that day.  Maybe a week later.  Maybe a year.

But at some point if we can get you talking about abuse in your community then we are happy.

Growing up as a boy, nobody talked about abuse in my community.  Actually that’s wrong.  No parents or adults talked about abuse in my community.  My childhood best friend was one of the few souls who told me that he was abused.  He was 16 years old at the time.  Oh, and my classmate and his little brother who lived next door told me of their sexual abuse.  They were 10 and 6 years old respectively at the time.  Also, my other friend who was beaten bloody when he was 5.  He was 15 years old when he told me.

Adults don’t want to talk about abuse.  Kids do.  But they are too scared.  They don’t have a safe person to tell.  They don’t have a safe place to go to tell it.  For those children who haven’t been touched by the scourge of abuse you, as an adult, are doing a grave disservice to them by pretending it doesn’t happen in all communities, all societies, all cultures, and among all religious faiths.

For all intents and purposes, my family was what one would consider a model family, with model parents, in a model community of people who cared for their children.  That model community was a complete illusion.

As an adult, I went back there, to that model community.  I spoke with many of my old friends from model families.  I told them that I survived abuse.  It was only then that I learned of their abuse.  At the hands of their fathers, mothers, uncles, neighbors, and teachers.  Admissions from the most shocking places and from so many who I never would have suspected.  We were all harboring that secret, and our community wasn’t talking.

As a speaker, I rarely set foot in a venue filled completely with ‘not in our community’ types.  Usually there is one survivor in the audience.  Often in our Q&A sessions we will get skeptics who don’t believe in our message, who don’t believe in our statistics, who can’t stand our presence because talking about abuse in their community is felt as an indictment on them.  Then a friend of there’s stands up and announces that they are a member of this community and they were abused.  All it takes is one to quiet a room.  One courageous soul.

So if you believe that abuse doesn’t happen or is too overblown or too minuscule to really matter in your community, invite me to come speak.  I have a feeling you may be in for a surprise.

Chris de Serres

christopher @ womenspeakoutnow.com

Hit The Bitch?

Chris’ opinion:

I appreciate and understand the value of shocking an audience.  Our society thrives on keeping us ignorant, passive, and docile.  It doesn’t like change, and a lot of that attitude has rubbed off on many of us.  So every so often we need to be outraged into action.  But not all shock is beneficial, even if intentions are good.

Take for example this Danish campaign’s, Children Exposed To Violence At Home,  latest offering that seeks to educate us on the issue of gender violence.  They created a video game called Hit The Bitch. It depicts a young woman making several comments to the computer screen.  Your task is to use a floating hand to smack her in the face.  On the top of the screen are two meters.  One is for Pussy, which sits at 100%.  The other is Gangsta, which sits at 0%.  The more you smack the woman, the more your Pussy meter decreases and your Gangsta meter increases.  It works to men’s perceived insecurities because we all want to be gangsta’s right?

As the woman’s face becomes more visibly bloodied and bruised, and your Gangsta meter reaches 100%, it is then replaced by 100% Idiot.  Then we hear a short public service announcement of the dangers of violence.  This is the message of this game.

I don’t question the intent of the game.  I just wonder how helpful something like this really is.  As a man, I can’t help but be offended by the depiction of men.  You are only given the option to smack the woman.  There are no options to avoid confrontation, only to hit.

The only benefit to this game is for those who finish it.

If for some reason I begin the game and find it too offensive to continue, I am left with no public service message.  Just the idea that men can only deal with conflict by committing violence.  Or that refusing to hit a woman equates to being a complete pussy.  It’s an incredibly misguided and false depiction of men and how we behave when confronted.

So the men who need to learn a lesson finish the game presumably and are treated with the designation of 100% idiot (which is questionably constructive in it’s own right) and are treated to the violence awareness message.  The men who don’t finish the game come away feeling marginalized and alienated.  This is a great shame because it’s the men who would refuse to finish a game like this that would be most likely to want to help in a cause like this.

The end result simply leaves our greatest potential allies disempowered by reinforcing false stereotypes.  Shock value can be useful given care.  When applied haphazardly it can be potentially devastating.  The message itself being entirely lost in the process of shock.  Make no mistake.  It is lost, or at the least overshadowed and easily misinterpreted.  Just for the sake of delivery.

Hit The Bitch?

Sorry.   That’s just no game to me.


Ophelia’s opinion:

As a survivor of intimate partner violence, I am extremely sensitive to this particular issue. As an advocate, I come into contact every day with victims who are still in abusive relationships. I have seen many different campaigns to end domestic violence. There are different schools of thought in the trauma community surrounding campaigns that should and should not be used to promote awareness. A virtual line of sorts, that must be tread carefully to ensure that public awareness will not in contrast affect victims and survivors of violence more negatively. Oftentimes, people who have no personal experience with the issue are the same people creating these campaigns.

After learning of the game, Hit The Bitch, I became interested in seeing what kind of reception it received amongst the public. I’ve spent some time searching on the internet for blogs discussing the game and comments left by people familiar with it. The vast majority of comments endorsed abuse and violence against women. Obviously, the message meant to deter violence has potentially encouraged it.

As a female survivor, I can tell you that I felt the impact of those face-slaps. It is a very raw and triggering reminder that abuse is a very serious issue and one that, to this day, isn’t be adequately addressed. The woman in this video is not a pixilated computer character but rather video footage of an actual woman. Her bruises, facial expressions and responses are very real. Watching her being abused was a flashback into a very personal and demoralizing act of violence. It brought back the feelings of helplessness, isolation and fear that accompany domestic violence.

It sets a dangerous precedent when you put those experiences in a gaming format, which is designed for fun and enjoyment. The often subliminal, unspoken conflict here is that if something is put in a game then it must be okay and acceptable. It could equally be fine to laugh and make light of this virtual woman because it’s just a game right? So one wonders if this game educates our communities or simply reinforces negative stereotypes.

The lesson of this game is presented as almost an afterthought. An acceptable “in” for gamers to act out abusive behaviors some may already believe are acceptable. Violence in the gaming world can translate to the real world. It grooms young adults to what is an acceptable standard in our society. Lacking a strong and convincing conclusion makes it easy to disregard what can be learned from engaging in violent activity, whether real or on a computer.

If Hit the Bitch is viewed by the majority as acceptable, I wonder what is next in the gaming world. A virtual rape scene or child abuse scenario where the player actively molests the victims?

Those “advocating” against violence must be very cautious to pursue campaigns that eliminate confusing messages and pay careful attention to unintended consequences. Undoubtedly, supporters of this campaign may unknowingly cause more harm than good.