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.

 

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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

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.

How Should A Survivor Behave? New Vid Blog!

Some recent discussions have brought to light about what it means to be a survivor.  How should survivors behave?  What is the role of the advocate in helping survivors heal?  What things should we take into account when speaking to other survivors?  Leave comments and questions when you have them.

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.