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?

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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

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.

Remembering The Montreal Massacre

Today marked the 21st anniversary of the Montreal Massacre. For those of you who aren’t familiar, a man named Marc Lepine walked onto the campus of École Polytechnique in Montreal. He wasn’t a student there, though not for a lack of trying. In fact, he was on a special mission that day. He was going to exact revenge on those who he felt were responsible for his rejection. So he walked into a classroom. He pulled out his loaded rifle. His formula was simple. Men were told to leave. Women were told to stay. Then he fired. This began his rampage on campus. At the end of the day he had murdered 15 feminists’, including one he stabbed to death in a classroom while other students watched in shock and horror.

When violent events spill out before our eyes the natural reaction is one of shock. When the shock wears off, we begin to ask questions. How could this happen? There’s always this sense that our community’ should be safe from this. So many assumptions come with our community’. The first assumption being that our community’ couldn’t be producing these individuals. The distancing we all generally do towards those who kill and rape.

The disservice we do to our community is in the search for who is to blame. In every tragedy the sequence of events plays out and in the end someone is fired or ruled negligent or incompetent. This process is highly political and inherently flawed because searching for individual blame is by nature deflective of the greater responsibility. Once the public is satisfied that something was done we move on and begin the process of putting the past behind us.

So let’s begin the discussion at the point where the media and most of society are entirely too content to end. The beginning of the responsibility, and blame, that includes us.

In my research of Lepine it was no surprise to learn that he had been subject to brutal physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his father. Nor was it shocking that his view of women as servile and second-class citizens had all been assimilations from his father as well. Lepine’s mother had her own job and pursued higher education, but the influence of his father was so pervasive that not even her positive model could derail his contempt.

Lepine, the adult, railed about the accumulated missed opportunities in his life, denied him by women he labeled the feminists.’ These were women who he felt didn’t know their rightful place in society. He couldn’t hold a steady job. He couldn’t pay his rent. He couldn’t be the man he was expected to be. So someone was to blame.

The Montreal Massacre shares some basic similarities to other school shootings, such as Columbine, and most recently in Virginia Tech. These men come from an ever growing group of alienated young men who live in a world that judges them in relation to their ability to control the forces around them. When faced with a world that is completely out of their control, they resort to the most extreme measures to regain control, to find some sense of maleness’.

We are taught, as men, that control is the issue. We need to control our anger, our pride, and our emotions. It is as if we are ticking bombs, with the true successes being those that never go off, or that go off in the most socially acceptable of ways.

This is the game we have been taught to play. There are no other alternatives presented. I think of my life, and my ability to retain control. To be perfectly honest, I feel like a failure in this sense. I emote, I have lost control many times, and it has cost me dearly in the past. I have taken action in exaggerated, seemingly unrelated ways in an attempt to reestablish it.

So what are our options? Are we put here on Earth to play out the game of control? If this is what our lives come to then some can say that there is very little room in society for the abuse survivor. You see, control was taken from us. We struggle to take it back in this subconscious battle. It plays out in all the seemingly benign interactions throughout our day. It finds a home in the failed relationship here, in the arrest there, or the hostile act of road rage elsewhere.

The natural role of women in society gives them a perspective we, as men, can learn from. You see, it is still our unspoken role to retain control, but we can change that role. Women exist in this world often from a position of vulnerability. They are not groomed from childhood that being the master of their domain is a necessity. It is an option, and one that they can quite comfortably not take. Their ability to access vulnerability, through the availability of a much wider range of socially acceptable emotions, provides an inherent power to master setbacks.

Our growing boys are regressing by virtue of that narrow tunnel of emotional expression they are expected to use to deal with their setbacks. One way or another, the boy will struggle to be master of his domain. Too often, it can lead to violence, rape, murder, or suicide.

So, here’s what all this means to me. First, men need more resources; especially outreach resources because we know that men are less likely to seek help. Second, we men need role models, badly. Where are the male survivors trailblazing a path to follow? I see many women revealing their abuse, and even female celebrities mustering their courage to come out. The field of support is there for women because they have fought to put their resources in place.

I can only think of a few atrocities that were so blatantly differentiating as the Montreal Massacre. Our society has failed many men, and maybe it failed Marc Lepine. He made the choice to murder women, in such a direct and twisted way. The one thing I am absolutely certain of is that we failed the women who died and their families who had to live on.

I don’t think I can, in good conscience, call this game of control’ a game after all. Control is simply an illusion we feel we need to exist. It creates a false sense of desperation whose consequences are all too real in the hands of men like Lepine. Our success in life is contingent upon our ability to be vulnerable and recognize it as our strength, our strength as boys and men. Only then can we truly call an event like the Montreal Massacre an aberration, as opposed to an inevitability.

Lest We Forget: Geneviève Bergeron, Hélène Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Maryse Laganière, Maryse Leclair, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Michèle Richard, Annie St-Arneault, Annie Turcotte, Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz.

Watch Me Burn: Domestic Violence Made Personal

Just gonna stand there and watch me burn
Well that’s all right because I like the way it hurts
Just gonna stand there and hear me cry
Well that’s all right because I love the way you lie
I love the way you lie

Videos have always been a very powerful medium for me. I have read hundreds of books on trauma.  I’ve attended countless conferences and worked in the field of abuse for almost 10 years. But nothing says “this is your life” like seeing an abusive relationship played out on camera. Eminem and Rihanna collaborated in a music video called “Love the Way You Lie.”  It is an amazingly accurate portrayal of the cycle of violence that exists in abusive relationships.  It mirrored so closely to my own past experiences that I needed to walk away from it the first time I watched it.

A paradox is a situation which defies intuition and presents a seeming contradiction. To me, love and domestic violence is one such paradox. I can count the intimate relationships I have been in that have been abusive. Relationships where I fell in love with partners who continually abused me. Growing up in a family that was emotionally, physically and sexually abusive, it’s not surprising that I would find myself living what I learned to be “normal”. Somehow though, contrary to my actions, I always knew that “normal” shouldn’t include suffering.

I fell fast for a man who, from the first day I met him, treated me like I was disposable. He had an extremely violent past with jail time to prove it. Everyone viewed him in his circle as unpredictable and dangerous. One day he was the most loving, funny, charismatic and romantic man I’d ever dated.  Like the flick of a switch he could be a womanizing, drug using, alcoholic, male chauvinist.

I can’t tell you what it really is, I can only tell you what it feels like
And right now it’s a steel knife in my windpipe
I can’t breathe but I still fight while I can fight
As long as the wrong feels right it’s like I’m in flight
High off her love, drunk from my hate, it’s like I’m huffin’ paint
And I love it the more I suffer, I suffocate
And right before I’m about to drown, she resuscitates me, she f**kin’ hates me
And I love it, “wait, where you goin’?”
“I’m leavin’ you,” “no you ain’t come back”
We’re runnin’ right back, here we go again
So insane, cause when it’s goin’ good it’s goin’ great
I’m superman with the wind in his back, she’s Lois Lane
But when it’s bad it’s awful, I feel so ashamed I snap
Whose that dude? I don’t even know his name
I laid hands on her
I never stoop so low again
I guess I don’t know my own strength

I was attracted to the “bad boy.” The guy who would both protect me but inadvertently would become more and more obsessive over me. The label of “abusive” and “obsessive” did not exist in my reality however, not until later. This is because on some level I believed all the things he said to me about who I was and how I affected the relationship negatively. Each violent outburst was a direct consequence of something that I had done to invoke it. That’s the cycle of domestic violence.  Ever escalating. Manipulative. Demoralizing.

You ever love somebody so much you can barely breathe
When you’re with ’em
You meet and neither one of you even knows what hit ’em
Got that warm fuzzy feeling
Yeah, them those chills you used to get ’em
Now you’re getting fucking sick of looking at ’em
You swore you’d never hit ’em; never do nothing to hurt ’em
Now you’re in each other’s face spewing venom in your words when you spit them
You push pull each other’s hair, scratch claw hit ’em
Throw ’em down pin ’em
So lost in the moments when you’re in them
It’s the rage that took over it controls you both
So they say you’re best to go your separate ways
Guess if they don’t know you ’cause today that was yesterday
Yesterday is over, it’s a different day
Sound like broken records playing over but you promised her
Next time you show restraint
You don’t get another chance
Life is no Nintendo game
But you lied again
Now you get to watch her leave out the window
I guess that’s why they call it window pane

There was a moment in the relationship that, to me, was the beginning of the end. We had gone out for a night of drinking and dancing with friends. At the end of the evening, I playfully threw a pretzel at him as he walked away from me. Before I knew what was happening, he turned and lunged at my face with his fist. I knew in that moment that if he would be that violent in front of others, there was no line he wouldn’t cross behind closed doors. The violence had in that moment become unmanageable and I knew I had to get out.

There are people who would ask why I didn’t leave at the first sign of violence. Why it took him becoming violent in public for me to decide I had enough. Pointing out that violence whether in private or public is unacceptable. It’s true.  It seems so black and white, but it’s not. For me, abusive behavior was intertwined with love. The first man in my life, my father, was a violent man. His behaviors laid for me an understanding that love and violence were normal. My mother herself was abused. I saw this day after day in my home. That all was forgiven and forgotten until the next time that it was forgiven and forgotten.

Now I know we said things, did things that we didn’t mean
And we fall back into the same patterns, same routine
But your temper’s just as bad as mine is
You’re the same as me
But when it comes to love you’re just as blinded
Baby, please come back
It wasn’t you, baby it was me
Maybe our relationship isn’t as crazy as it seems
Maybe that’s what happens when a tornado meets a volcano
All I know is I love you too much to walk away though
Come inside, pick up your bags off the sidewalk
Don’t you hear sincerity in my voice when I talk
I told you this is my fault
Look me in the eyeball
Next time I’m pissed, I’ll aim my fist at the drywall
Next time. There won’t be no next time

I apologize even though I know its lies

I had been in relationships that were non-violent but could never function properly in them. I didn’t love myself, didn’t believe I deserved to be loved and couldn’t receive that which I know now to be real love.  I did everything I could to get out of those relationships, to hurt before getting hurt myself. Though I didn’t know it at the time, it’s these relationships that reminded me that there was something better out there.

Abuse doesn’t just start the first day you meet someone.  It is a gradual, ever changing pattern of events that are rationalized and forgiven until the next time and the next and the next. Until one day, you find yourself so entrenched in the pattern, so emotionally dejected, that by the time you realize you are in a domestic violence situation, you feel powerless to leave. Hopeless.

I wish I could tell you that after that experience,  I never again found myself in another abusive relationship.  Years later, I would find myself in another pattern of emotional abuse. I recognized it, I excused it. It repeated itself. This time though I reached out to friends and when I did, I was able to get the help I needed to start a path to healing myself and open up to healthier relationships.

It saddens me to think that I wasn’t strong enough to see through the piles of teddy bears and chocolate the second time around. That I didn’t love myself enough to demand respect. That I rationalized again and again for behaviors that were completely unacceptable. Despite these feelings, I know now that I was not responsible for their behaviors and that none of what happened was my fault. Because I reached out for help I didn’t stay as long the last time, recognizing more readily what was happening to me. I left and made a promise to myself that I would never again be in a relationship with anyone who would treat me that way.

If you are in an abusive relationship it is important to know that you are not alone and that the abuse is not your fault. There is a better life waiting for you. One free of suffering.

No one deserves to be abused. Get the help you need and deserve. You are not alone.

National Domestic Violence Hotline 1−800−799−SAFE(7233) or TTY 1−800−787−3224

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