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.

Guns or Mental Health…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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’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

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

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.