Steubenville Night Lights

The town of Steubenville was portrayed as one that was hungry for football.  A town that adored and protected their young high school athletes.  Even covered up youthly transgressions.  All to keep their best on the field every Sunday.  Many times it was mentioned how Steubenville was the real Friday Night Lights. 

A funny thing happened along the way.  The media itself participated in the adoration.  More and more was mentioned of the tragic effect that the rape these rapists committed on a unconscious teenage girl would have on their poor lives.  We heard about the estranged father of one of the rapists, who reportedly told his son “I love you” for the first time in his life.  We got to watch one of the rapists break down in court.  Candy and Poppy provided us with all the context we needed for this horrible decision that had befallen the rapists.  They were only kids right?  They had their whole lives ahead of them.  The emphasis over and over again was how “alcohol-filled” the party was. 

More and more the rape and the poor victim receded from view, except in the insinuations of responsibility on her part.  For drinking too much.  For going to a party without any of her friends.  What did she expect would happen?

This is the hypocrisy of a media that would hold Steubenville guilty of football idolatry and commit the same crime in their very reporting of the event.

Amherst

Recently I blogged about the ‘safety report’ released by the University of Washington and it’s certainly inaccurate assessment of incidents of rape and domestic violence in the UW community.  Inaccurate was putting it lightly.  Not in the stratosphere of reality would be a better assessment of what really amounts to a public relations document.

My entire point is that students and parents just want to know what’s going on in the community that they live in.  Simple.  You and I know that colleges have a phobia towards anything that can adversely effect their vaunted reputations.  So we will never get an accurate assessment as long as administrators are involved in illegal crimes on campus. 

Then the Amherst story blows up.  One brave student tells her story in the school paper.  You may still ask why victims don’t report?  Why reported cases don’t get included in college safety reports?  This is a classic example.  It is so classic it inspired victims from other campuses to come forward because her story was just like theirs.

The prescription for rape on campuses is suck it up.  If you can’t then maybe you need to go elsewhere.  That is the approach of campus culture.  College administrators can’t have too many victims coming forward because then the truth comes out.  This truth is a system that discourages and silences it’s victims.  A culture that has institutionalized revictimization.

We don’t believe you.  If you want to continue down this road then it’s up to you to prove that you were violated here.  That’s the essence of revictimization. 

This takes me back to the UW safety report and the number of reported cases on campus for the 2011 school year. 

7.

Whose reality does that number represent?  It certainly doesn’t represent the students on campus.  In the end, it only protects the rapists, who will strike again.  We know what the administrators will do.  What will you do?

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.

What To Say

One day someone may approach you. A friend, spouse, child, parent, cousin, or coworker. You may not realize it, but they chose to tell you. They were abused and traumatized at their most vulnerable moments in life. It may have been last week or decades ago, but the trauma felt in the first disclosure is a form of reliving the abuse. That is why you must be ready to embrace them fully. Without judgment or bias. You have the power to heal or revictimize. If they come to you, here's what you should let them know:

  • I believe you.

Their greatest fear is that no one will. If you know and love the abuser then it may further complicate your own ability to 'be there' for the victim. What you must know now is that the victim chose you for a reason. It is one of the hardest choices to make, to reveal that, to you. So believe them.

  • It wasn't your fault.

This is most often what victims believe, especially if they were abused as children by a trusted adult. They believe it to survive because they often have to live and continue to rely on their abusers. For adults, women are often treated as if they invited violence by their choice in clothing. We still find it hard to believe an adult male could be forced sexually to do anything. Yet they are every day. They just are too ashamed to disclose it. They just couldn't stop it from happening. So they were to blame. Never.

  • I'm sorry this happened to you.

The gravity and effect of trauma is life altering. Honor the struggle of a friend. Not with pity. Just a simple and powerful acknowledgement that you care. You feel sad that this trauma has caused so much pain in their life, including all of the isolation, fear, and shame that came with it.

There are alot of other good resources on how to be there for survivors. Seek them out for futher guidance. In the end, keep it simple with the three simple tenets of first disclosure. Every survivor needs to hear those words from a friend like you.

 

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

Lies, Damn Lies, and Rape

“there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” 

– Mark Twain

Statistics matter to us.  We draw so much from them.  We often shape our truth around them.  Take rape for instance.  The FBI has drawn up statistics each year for this horrible crime.  The one problem is that they were absolutely inaccurate statistics based on an antiquatedly narrow definition.

Rape = “Carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.”

This is the absolute breadth that guides what to include and what not to.  This doesn’t include men.  This doesn’t include non-forcible coercion, which is so often the case with rape by family or close friends.

Decades ago, police departments across the nation had implemented accurate terms and definitions.  They had to in order to address crime properly.  But it took the FBI 82 years.  That’s how serious our government is about dealing with this all-too-common and atrocious violation.

As much as I want to give the FBI a pat on the back, I really just want to understand why it took so long.  It’s just unfortunate that we sometimes let the law and their definitions define our reality.  That’s why this really matters at all.  This will put the FBI statistics on rape just a tiny bit closer to  the reality of what is actually happening in our communities today.

However, we can never really put too much stock in rape statistics because we know only a tiny percentage of victims ever report it.  A tiny percentage of those reported get prosecuted and, thus, become a statistic.  That’s why Mark Twain may always have the last word on statistics.  82 years is a good argument for why we should never let the FBI have the last word on sex crimes.

My last word is it doesn’t matter what our government agencies report.  No one knows our communities better than you and I.  Rape and abuse will always be running way ahead of any poor attempt to calculate it.

It’s just like when we utter that so familiar quote of 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men have been violated by the age of 16.  Do we really believe the percentages are this small?  Considering the legal definition of rape and abuse are so narrowly chosen.  How can all those men and women self-identify as victims when our government has been so confused for so long themselves?

Never has something as vile as rape, domestic violence, and child abuse been so responsible for so many of the ills in society.  Yet it has been so neglected, disregarded, and still remains chronically unuttered from the lips of almost all government officials, past or present.

So what does the ‘expanded definition’ really offer in the way of safety for our communities?  Don’t expect much.  It’s the same as it ever was.  The lesson here may be that we need to take ownership over our own definitions and put statistics back into the hierarchy where good old Mark put it so long ago.

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.