Open Letter to Pete DeGraaf

An open letter sent today to Kansas State Representative Pete DeGraaf.  Why are we sending it?

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Representative DeGraaf,

It’s disappointing to hear of an official representative of the people, which includes a large constituency of women, likening rape to the spare tire you carry in your car. It’s your contention that women should ‘plan ahead’ for rape. Did you know that 1 in 4 women have been at least sexually assaulted by the age of 16? So I wonder how teenage girls ‘plan ahead’ for rape. You represent the people of Kansas. To initiate an argument on a horrific issue which you clearly know so little about is a slap in the face of every victim and every citizen in your district. Even your fellow Republicans took exception to your ridiculous comparison, as do the millions who now know your true feelings on this issue.

Rape is not inevitable. Rape is an involuntary violation. You could be a champion to protect women. Yet you marginalize and dismiss the circumstances of the victims and indirectly all of the women in your district. As a husband of a survivor of rape I have to say I am disgusted to know a U.S. Representative carries such disregard in his heart for the precious women in our country.

Our organization exists to protect the victims. Our supporters in Kansas won’t easily forget what you said. You’ve given them a reason to fight for your opponent in your next election cycle. The right thing to do is to apologize and abandon this utterly abominable attack on pregnant survivors of rape.

You owe us an apology. Judging from the viral nature of your comments we suggest you act now. Remember your greater responsibility to the people. Remember that betrayal is never forgotten. In this age of representatives who speak first and educate themselves later I implore you to speak about issues in which you are knowledgeable. The harm you’ve done is now broadcast across the United States of America for a reason. It is disgusting and unacceptable for the common citizen, much less someone in your priviledged position. There are teenage girls in Kansas who are pregnant with the baby of their perpetrator hearing that they should have ‘planned ahead.’ By default what you are saying is it’s their fault. They didn’t cover their bases. This is your statement on the issue.

Our statement to you is simply that we have an overriding aversion to every day you now stay in office. You have marginalized the vulnerable and you should be ashamed of your actions. I urge you to ‘plan ahead’ for the next election term. It just may be your last.

Chris de Serres

(Wo)Men Speak Out

*Kansas Representative Pete DeGraaf can be reached at petedegraaf@att.net and pete.degraaf@house.ks.gov

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Holidays and Suicide

I just wanted to mention something because I know if I think of it during the holidays then many other survivors probably do.  When Thanksgiving would come around, for too many years, I would think of suicide.  This stretch of time, from Thanksgiving all the way up to New Years, has always seemed so hard for me to get through. 

My life has changed quite a bit now.  I have more reasons to be living than at any time in my life.  My beautiful wife and daughter.  My friends, including all of you here who know personally why we think of suicide.  Even with all of that, my heart still pulls toward that feeling.

About ten years ago, I used to scramble alone to the top of mountains and, if there was a cliff, I would stand on the edge and think how little I had to live for.  I wondered who would really care if I fell here.  Sometimes I would climb down cliff faces to ledges.  I told myself that if I fell then I was just meant to.

So I scrambled to the top of Mt. Higgins.  It was known for having a high precipice at the summit.  When I got to the top, I was alone.  So I stood at the edge of the precipice and did the thing I always do.  Wonder if I mattered.  I think that was the closest I ever came to just choosing to fall.  I heard some low yelping behind me.  It was a dog.  My dog Scout.  It may sound weird but I think he sensed what was going on.  I had forgotten he was even there.  But I didn’t have the heart to leave him alone.  So we hiked back down together. 

Before we left, I took a picture of old Scout, at the edge of the precipice.  Ironically it’s one of my mothers favorite pictures.  She blew it up and put it prominently on the mantle of her fireplace.  Scout has long since passed away.  But every holiday, when I come home I look right at it.  It reminds me that no matter what there is always someone who loves me and will miss me if I leave.  It’s something all of us should remember.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Chris

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

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