What’s Going On

Does your local university publish a safety report?  Ours did this morning.  I took the time to review the statistics and was a bit shocked at some of the numbers. 

What we know is that the University of Washington has a rough student population of 42,000.  Over half consists of women.  Not to mention an additional 20,000 in staff and faculty.  The safety report releases campus crime statistics, such as incidents of “forcible sexual offenses”.  Their criteria for forcible sexual offenses includes “forcible rape.”  A now-familiar term which begs back to what is non-forcible rape exactly?  But I digress.

Other inclusions are sodomy, forcible fondling, and “sexual assault with an object.”  Does that mean “sexual assault without an object” is excluded?  This just so happens to be the most common form of sexual assault.  

So now for the numbers.  For the year 2011, there were 7 reported cases of “forcible sexual offense” on campus grounds and off campus residential housing areas. 

7.

For the previous year, 2010, there were also 7 reported cases.

A parent can look at a safety guide such as this and tell themselves, well this college is pretty safe.  I can send my child here and feel good that they are in good hands. 

Yet, for professionals in the field we know that this report is a huge problem.  Incidents of sexual assault and rape in a population of 42,000 are nowhere near 7. 

Perusing the document further you find programs like SafeCampus and Rape Aggression Defense, which all serve purposes.  Yet, they can’t make up for the primary weakness here.  Victims don’t come to the police, and if they do, what hurdles must be overcome for your assault to show up as a statistic on this report? 

A college campus should be an environment where a victim can feel safe enough to come forward.  If they don’t, on YOUR CAMPUS, then you’ve got to figure out why.  Don’t just present us with this number 7 and expect us to believe the problem is being addressed.  

If that 7 was 700 then I would think to myself, this is a place where victims feel safe and are able to report.  I would think that there is a real supportive community in place here.  That the campus police have been accepted and intergrated into the student consciousness.  That would be a SafeCampus. 

Yet, colleges administrators don’t want you to see the true numbers on abuse reflected in their safety reports because they NEED that student population of 42,000 to have only 7 reported cases.  The number has to stay small enough so that it’s not considered “newsworthy” to the media.  When you look at reports such as these, that is the ultimate intent.  Protect their reputation.  Protect the culture.  Assure future tuition-paying parents that this campus is worth their money, as-is. 

What we don’t need is the number of the tiny minority of victims who actually report abuse and surmount all of the red tape to be included in this report.  What we need is to know what’s going on.

If you want to know what’s going on, then continue looking.  The numbers just don’t add up here.

http://www.washington.edu/admin/police/campus_security_fire_guide.pdf

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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.

Breastfeeding In Public

It may sound funny but I never realized how controversial this topic is.  I understand that many decades ago breastfeeding was what every mother did.  At some point, doctors began advising mothers to bottle feed their children.  My mother, and her mother, grew up in that generation.  They fed me and all of my siblings by the bottle.  Because of that, they have some definite opinions about mothers today, specifically the one’s who want to breastfeed their children.  Especially those who feed their children past the ‘appropriate age’.

I never felt this controversy as a man growing up.  Only when I had my daughter,  and my wife decided to breastfeed, have I felt the heat. 

As a man, here’s what I grew up knowing about breasts.  Anytime I saw a naked breast I felt a sexual response.  How could I not?  I grew up knowing that a woman’s body, and any naked part of it, was for sexual purposes.  From the pornography that was available to me as a teenager to every magazine and every show I watched on TV and the movies. 

women + naked bodypart = sex

It didn’t take long for the equation to change profoundly.

women = sex

But I never bought into that equation entirely.  In the back of my mind I always knew I was being manipulated, as a man.  There was no clear culprit to blame because it’s hard to point a finger at society. 

So here we are.  We’ve all had a good swig of the Kool-Aid.  The physicality of woman is sex and should never be presented otherwise. 

When my wife began breastfeeding I faced my hard reality.  The boob was not for my sexual pleasure.  It was to feed our hungry daughter.  Over and over my wife would ‘whip it out’ for the purposes of motherhood.  At times I caught myself resenting this scourging of the sexuality of this thing.  This milk-producing breast.  This non-sexual breast.  The sexual breast was all I ever knew.

My evolution as a man was healthy.  I learned respect for mothers.  For all the other roles of women.  My own internal dissonance helped me understand the difficulty women have being accepted as anything else than a funnel for sex. 

Men don’t want to see breastfeeding in public because they don’t want to have to grow up and learn to see women as something else, outside of a tool for their devices.  Even women don’t want to see it because they fear their own bodies.  They worry how their husbands and teenage sons may react to a naked breast.  They may actually have to have a constructive conversation with their children about this public presentation.

The unhealthy part of this debate is that the breast should be presented as anything other than sexual.  That would be telling a lie.  Maybe men would start to look at breasts as serving other functions.  Maybe we would all respect our mothers a little more.  If it’s a question of you and that hungry baby, suck it up.  Be an adult and understand a feeding child wins out over your insecurities. Every time.  That is healthy.  That is part of the maturing process which leads to common sense.

Ladies, give your husbands and teenage sons a little credit.  The male reaction to a breastfeeding mother in public goes from sexual response to healthy respect in about half a second.  Seeing breastfeeding helps us evolve.  You don’t need to protect us from our own unhealthy delusions.

For all those who have conflict with public breastfeeding, you really do need to understand this conflict is within you.  Introspect a while.  Figure it out.  Don’t be manipulative and feed us this falsity that the ‘problem’ somehow lies with women feeding their children where you can see it. 

It all boils down to simple respect for mothering.  Breastfeeding IS mothering.  So shouldn’t we stop defending our own oversexualized social conditioning and start defending motherhood in all it’s beautiful aspects?

You may be wondering how this relates to abuse.  It couldn’t be more related.

Your Local Library And Porn

 

The Seattle Public Library System is great.  My local library in the Ballard neighborhood is one of the first truly green buildings in the city.  It is equipped with solar panels to conserve energy.  It’s ‘green roof’ has an overlay of vegetation to keep the building well insulated and reduce storm runoff.  The branch runs a full calendar of reading-oriented events for children.  Our daughter’s personal favorite is Pajama Story Time where the kids come to the branch in sleep clothes and get to enjoy some bedtime stories and songs.  In every way, you can say our Ballard branch, and the SPL system represents the values of it’s community.  Almost.

If you walk into the Ballard branch there is the centrally located hub of internet-use computers.  From which, adults can be found viewing pornography.  Yes pornography.  To deprive it’s public of pornography would amount to censorship according to the SPL.  As children walk back and forth in the periphery, graphic images and videos are on display and accessible to their eyes.  The library’s solution to this lack of good sense is that they DO fit privacy screens on each computer.  You know, the privacy screens that don’t block out graphic pornography to anyone standing behind or 30 degrees off to the side of any monitor.  Yes, those ‘privacy screens.’

I never thought I would encounter such horrendously bad judgment on the part of an organization that hosts Pajama Story Time for my daughter.  You see a library is where one goes to stimulate the mind and learn new things about the world.  Which is why libraries place such an emphasis on events for children.  Yet any organization that purports to educate the minds of children must show that they can be suitably trusted with the delicate nature of a young mind.  There can be porn on every computer screen, at any time.

One wonders that, while my local branch is keeping the storm runoff on the outside of the building to a minimum, if it can find a way to keep the storm at bay on the inside.  You see it’s the place that attracts the type of individual that would watch pornography in public for free, with children walking around.  Apparently it’s a staunch defender of censorship too.  Unfortunately the SPL won’t be able to account for the personal choice of parents who’d rather not mix children story time with graphic sex acts just a few feet away.

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

Home Schooling and Child Abuse. Is There A Link?

I was up late last night trolling the internet for abuse in the news. I noticed a disturbing number of articles in the last few days involving child abuse cases with home schooled children. It peaked my curiosity and so I started looking around for more information on the topic of home schooling and links made previously to reported cases of child trauma. What I came up with was both interesting and thought-provoking. Highlighted were arguments of parental entitlement to regulate their children’s learning as well as a noticeable lack of community concern for the hidden lives of some such children, until after the abuse has already occurred. It made me think about my own education growing up, abuse and parental entitlement of children.

According to Brian D. Ray, Ph.D., author of Facts on Home schooling, there were an estimated 1,700,000 to 2,100,000 children (grades K-12) home educated during 2002-2003 in the United States. Home schooling appears to still be the fastest-growing form of education in this country.

Like many statistics, these numbers are based on those children that are actually reported to the government, which got me thinking about all of those children that go unreported and possible abuse cases that are easily missed.  In reality, it’s hard to know how widespread abuse might be with children who are home schooled because the government doesn’t have a competent system in place to keep track of them.

A Dark Side to Home Schooling
Parents Kept Social Workers Out Until Police Called In

I am not a product of home schooling. Like many, I grew up in a system that was federally regulated. If I didn’t show up to school for the day, you can be sure that our house got a call from the principles office to see what was going on and why I was not there. I was accounted for. This is not the case for children who are home schooled. There are no attendance lists, no phone calls home and no uniform monitoring of their safety. A perfect environment for abuse to flourish undetected.

Now, I can hear the naysayers commenting already. They may argue that home schooling and child abuse are two separate issues. While there are children who are abused by home schooling parents, children are not abused because they are home schooled. Agreed. However, where there are no rules or regulations, there is a greater risk for abuse of children to go undetected.

NJ Dad Accused of Raping 5 Daughters

How do we as a nation protect parents’ rights to raise their own children while the safety of these same children in the home? In reality, home schooling will never be taken off the table and admittedly; there are countless children who are home schooled who flourish in such environments. However, I believe that we need stricter guidelines for home schooling practices.

Children who are schooled outside of the home have a better chance of someone, whether a friend, teacher or community member recognizing signs of abuse and reporting it to the authorities.  A child beaten and abused at home, does not have the same advantage.

Like it or not, child abusers who home school are less likely to be caught than parents who send their children to regular school. Home schooling can be an isolating environment, where violence can go unnoticed from the public eye. A bruise or fearful demeanor seen by a teacher, who are mandated to report, can easily be hidden when a child is kept at home. Access for children to resources that would educate them on abuse, it’s prevalence and assist them in finding help would remain out of reach. Day to day monitoring of children and their overall welfare is put in the sole hands of caregivers who if they so choose to abuse, have full access to children, without ever being questioned. One case I read established that a girl who was home schooled by her parents, was later found murdered a full year after her murder because authorities didn’t even know she’d been missing. If this same child had been missing a year from a regulated system, her disappearance and murder may have been  avoided by early detected. The system is not perfect by any means, but there are advantages to regulated schools that a home schooled environment lacks when it comes to keeping our children safer.

Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz Charged with Murder of Their Daughter

There is no lock tight panacea to this issue, however we as a community should have a greater voice in how our education is regulated. A proposal for regulation could be to mandate and include home schooled children’s physical exams for review and that children be visited by social service representatives throughout the year to evaluate their physical and mental wellness. I also think that parents who are homeschooling should have more stringent guidelines if they choose to be their children’s sole educator.

Home schooling is currently regulated by individual states and many of these have a limited mandate for parent credentials. This in itself is perplexing to me, as I cannot think of another such important profession that would allow students to be taught without the proper training to do so. The question as to why this is acceptable for our nation’s children remains unanswered.

Additionally, I believe that parents choosing to home school their children should have required training in the areas of  child behavior, discipline, safety and development and resources in their community that they may not otherwise know of. Perhaps, a step in the right direction in an effort to protect parental as well as children’s rights. What’s your take on the issue?

Addendum:

We have received quite a bit of feedback on this blog, much of which we couldn’t post because it involved inappropriate personal attacks and insults.  This blog was not intended to enter the debate of home schooling vs. standard schooling.  It seems this debate is very polarized and involves some extreme reactions that lead many commenters to ignore the issue of this blog entirely for their own agenda.  We are now aware that there is a big debate in the UK on this very subject, but please understand our blog has absolutely nothing to do with that debate.

We ask that you approach with an open mind and if you are too intimately attached to the issue of home schooling please address your comments to the appropriate forum.

So here’s the take home message.  We are not against home schooling.  It’s quite popular in this country and very successful on a number of counts.  However, with no regulations, no safeguards (however flawed) an abuser can, and will, take their children out of regular school and be under very little scrutiny doing it.  We know because our organization works with the victims every day.  So we applaud those home school parents who take their role seriously and make sure their kids are integrated into society.  But to say that there should be no regulation, no safeguards, no checks what so ever is an environment that those who choose to abuse can thrive in.  Like it or not, we parent our children, but we don’t own them.  A child has every right to be protected by their communities, from their communities, by their parents, and from their parents.

A number of comments questioned why we would want to change the existing system to ‘save a few kids’.  In our organization, every child counts, and we are committed to saving every one.  The statistics tell us that 1 out of every 4 girls, and 1 in every 10 boys,  are sexually abused before the age of 16.  So that’s more than just ‘a few kids’.

Thank you for all the productive comments and lively discussion.

Chris & Ophelia de Serres

WSO

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?