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.

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My Name Is Project Update

We’ve had great interest in the My Name Is Project and are waiting with much anticipation for you to submit your survivor video stories in support of this project.

Recently I had the priviledge of participating in the Oprah two-part event on male survivors of child abuse.  The first show aired last Friday and began with an emotional opening where the entire audience of 200 male survivors held up pictures of themselves at the age when they were first abused.

It was a powerful moment, standing amongst all those men, holding up a picture of who I was before my life changed so traumatically.

(Wo)Men Speak Out has an idea based on that powerful moment on Oprah.  We are working on a new video montage which will hopefully include pictures of all of you.  We all have our individual stories.  But we have a collective story of abuse that is worth telling to everyone who has felt trauma in their lives, and to those who haven’t.

So this is a call out to ALL SURVIVORS.  If you are interested in participating in this montage, send us a high resolution picture of you holding a picture of yourself at the age of your abuse under your chin.  Also, include the age of abuse and you can optionally include your name as well.  We will collect all of the submissions and create a video montage telling a shared story of abuse.

We need as many submissions as we can because we want this to show the magnitude of abuse and at the same time the human face of survivorship.

Also, keep your personal video submissions coming in.  We need to create our video community of survivor stories to inspire all of our brothers and sisters who are right now suffering in silence.  The only way we can do it is with your stories.

Thank you for participating in this project.  Break the silence.  To live.

Chris de Serres

christopher@womenspeakoutnow.com

WSO

My Name Is Project


It’s been a few years since I first posted the video My Name is Chris on Youtube.  I wanted to create a snapshot of my life.  I have been silent about my abuse for over 2 decades and this video is my admission that it has affected almost everything about me.  I wanted that happy childhood dream.  But I finally knew that there was nothing I could do to take my childhood back, to wipe away the abuse.  I couldn’t even pretend anymore that the abuse didn’t exist.

So I made My Name is Chris, and I cry just a little every time I watch it.  Recently I had the privilege of taking part in a two-part Oprah special on male survivors of child abuse.  Oprah wanted an audience of 200 male survivors to show a face to the millions of men who are abused and never talk about it.

Shortly after the filming I received an email from Jarrod Marcum Noftsger.  He was among the 200 men.  He wanted to let me know that My Name is Chris helped his recovery.  In fact, he made is own version of the video, called My Name is Jarrod, as a way of coming to terms with his own horrific abuse.

There are millions of survivors out there who want to tell their stories.  Yet, we feel isolated and unable to express the deepest pain in our lives.  The My Name Is Project is there to provide a survivor a way to express it.

So our project is simple:

1.  Create your own My Name is… video. There are many programs to make nice montages.  I made My Name is Chris with One True Media.  If you have any production questions feel free to email me at christopher@womenspeakoutnow.com.  I’m no video wizard but i’ll do my best to help.  I want your video to be as representative of your voice as much as possible.

2.  Post your video on Youtube as a “response” to My Name is Chris. Our video can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MYBkMzQrknk. This way, we stay connected and others can see all of the videos in the project stream. 

Click here for a quick tutorial for those who aren’t sure how to add a video in response to ours.

3.  Feel free to incorporate what elements you want from My Name is Chris, but your video should have the taste of your personal experience to it. We want to learn about your personal adversity and growth.  It can be happy, it can be sad.  As long as it is real we want it to be a part of this project.

4.  Email Chris along the way with your thoughts, experiences, and questions and to let us know that you have contributed to the “My Name is…” project.

Our goal is to create a community of “My Name is…” videos which tell the collective stories of abuse and trauma in our communities.  The short term goal is 50 before the end of 2010.  50 videos.  Men and Women. Together. Starting with My Name is Chris and My Name is Jarrod.  We need 48 more before January of 2011.  We can only do it with your voice.

Sharing your story is the greatest gift you can give to another survivor.  When I made My Name is Chris I was only trying to heal from my pain.  Imagine the impact our collective montage of stories will have on survivors who need to hear that they are not alone and that their pain matters.

We can only do this with your help.

Chris de Serres

WSO

 

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

Hit The Bitch?

Chris’ opinion:

I appreciate and understand the value of shocking an audience.  Our society thrives on keeping us ignorant, passive, and docile.  It doesn’t like change, and a lot of that attitude has rubbed off on many of us.  So every so often we need to be outraged into action.  But not all shock is beneficial, even if intentions are good.

Take for example this Danish campaign’s, Children Exposed To Violence At Home,  latest offering that seeks to educate us on the issue of gender violence.  They created a video game called Hit The Bitch. It depicts a young woman making several comments to the computer screen.  Your task is to use a floating hand to smack her in the face.  On the top of the screen are two meters.  One is for Pussy, which sits at 100%.  The other is Gangsta, which sits at 0%.  The more you smack the woman, the more your Pussy meter decreases and your Gangsta meter increases.  It works to men’s perceived insecurities because we all want to be gangsta’s right?

As the woman’s face becomes more visibly bloodied and bruised, and your Gangsta meter reaches 100%, it is then replaced by 100% Idiot.  Then we hear a short public service announcement of the dangers of violence.  This is the message of this game.

I don’t question the intent of the game.  I just wonder how helpful something like this really is.  As a man, I can’t help but be offended by the depiction of men.  You are only given the option to smack the woman.  There are no options to avoid confrontation, only to hit.

The only benefit to this game is for those who finish it.

If for some reason I begin the game and find it too offensive to continue, I am left with no public service message.  Just the idea that men can only deal with conflict by committing violence.  Or that refusing to hit a woman equates to being a complete pussy.  It’s an incredibly misguided and false depiction of men and how we behave when confronted.

So the men who need to learn a lesson finish the game presumably and are treated with the designation of 100% idiot (which is questionably constructive in it’s own right) and are treated to the violence awareness message.  The men who don’t finish the game come away feeling marginalized and alienated.  This is a great shame because it’s the men who would refuse to finish a game like this that would be most likely to want to help in a cause like this.

The end result simply leaves our greatest potential allies disempowered by reinforcing false stereotypes.  Shock value can be useful given care.  When applied haphazardly it can be potentially devastating.  The message itself being entirely lost in the process of shock.  Make no mistake.  It is lost, or at the least overshadowed and easily misinterpreted.  Just for the sake of delivery.

Hit The Bitch?

Sorry.   That’s just no game to me.


Ophelia’s opinion:

As a survivor of intimate partner violence, I am extremely sensitive to this particular issue. As an advocate, I come into contact every day with victims who are still in abusive relationships. I have seen many different campaigns to end domestic violence. There are different schools of thought in the trauma community surrounding campaigns that should and should not be used to promote awareness. A virtual line of sorts, that must be tread carefully to ensure that public awareness will not in contrast affect victims and survivors of violence more negatively. Oftentimes, people who have no personal experience with the issue are the same people creating these campaigns.

After learning of the game, Hit The Bitch, I became interested in seeing what kind of reception it received amongst the public. I’ve spent some time searching on the internet for blogs discussing the game and comments left by people familiar with it. The vast majority of comments endorsed abuse and violence against women. Obviously, the message meant to deter violence has potentially encouraged it.

As a female survivor, I can tell you that I felt the impact of those face-slaps. It is a very raw and triggering reminder that abuse is a very serious issue and one that, to this day, isn’t be adequately addressed. The woman in this video is not a pixilated computer character but rather video footage of an actual woman. Her bruises, facial expressions and responses are very real. Watching her being abused was a flashback into a very personal and demoralizing act of violence. It brought back the feelings of helplessness, isolation and fear that accompany domestic violence.

It sets a dangerous precedent when you put those experiences in a gaming format, which is designed for fun and enjoyment. The often subliminal, unspoken conflict here is that if something is put in a game then it must be okay and acceptable. It could equally be fine to laugh and make light of this virtual woman because it’s just a game right? So one wonders if this game educates our communities or simply reinforces negative stereotypes.

The lesson of this game is presented as almost an afterthought. An acceptable “in” for gamers to act out abusive behaviors some may already believe are acceptable. Violence in the gaming world can translate to the real world. It grooms young adults to what is an acceptable standard in our society. Lacking a strong and convincing conclusion makes it easy to disregard what can be learned from engaging in violent activity, whether real or on a computer.

If Hit the Bitch is viewed by the majority as acceptable, I wonder what is next in the gaming world. A virtual rape scene or child abuse scenario where the player actively molests the victims?

Those “advocating” against violence must be very cautious to pursue campaigns that eliminate confusing messages and pay careful attention to unintended consequences. Undoubtedly, supporters of this campaign may unknowingly cause more harm than good.

My Sister Maggie

I had a dream last night. It was about my sister, Maggie. It’s been almost 9 years since my sister passed away but every now and then she comes to me in my dreams. Last night, she met up with me in a room filled with people and asked me to sing with her. I am a singer, though sadly, my sister never heard me sing.

In my dream, we sang together, a beautiful melody. She smiled and laughed with me, her face filled with happiness. I could feel her arms embracing me; I could hear her angelic voice harmonizing with mine. A dream so real, I could almost taste it. I was aglow until I awoke and realized she was gone and there would be no more singing.
To awake to the reality left me feeling empty and filled with sadness.

I wrote a song about my sister called “Maggie’s song.” It was my way of coming to terms with the immense loss of losing my sister. A sister I loved so much and knew so little about. Ours was a complicated relationship. Maggie and I shared the same father but different mothers. It was our father who abused both Maggie and myself as children and into adulthood. Though she seldom ever spoke about her experience, she did share it with me before she died. Her disclosure affirmed to me that I was not alone.

She lived a complicated life, filled with complex relationships and a continued cycle of violence. In many ways, she and I were very much alike and in many ways, very different. Those who have seen Chris and myself speak will know Maggie’s story, as I speak about her often. She has become a constant in my advocacy and holds an important place in my message to other survivors of abuse.

For many survivors of abuse there are questions that remain unanswered. Many of us are unable to speak with our abusers because they are out of our lives by design or by circumstance. For those whose abusers are still alive, there is often no conversation to be had, due to a complicated list of reasons. That list can be endless and so we go through life making sense as best we can of what happened to us and why.

When it comes to my sister Maggie, there is no answer good enough. I was tasked with going through Maggie’s things after she died. What I saw was a life of addiction and isolation. The newspaper read that she went to sleep one night and never woke up. That’s what the autopsy says and so that is what people admit. Though, most of you know that the nature of abuse is not as black and white. Far too many victims of abuse, including myself, will find themselves searching for reprieve through addiction. After years of this, Maggie lost the fight and with it her voice.

Many people have asked me why I continue to talk about an experience that brings up such upsetting emotions. My answer is always the same. I tell Maggie’s story because her life had meaning, more than I think she even realized. Through her story, others will know that they are not alone and that there can be life after abuse.

We must fight for each other and ourselves and never stop believing that change is possible. We must do the work and break free of our addictions, tell our stories and allow healing to take place. I believe that this is what Maggie would have wanted. I believe that she is up there looking down on me, joyous in knowing that people will learn from her life and that she will never be forgotten.

Rape Victims Are To Blame For The Continuance Of Rape

When someone goes out of their way to make a public service announcement about rape and reporting, we would assume that they would have a basic understanding of the mentality of a rape victim. Sadly though, this is not always the case and information then becomes available that can further damage and silence victims.

Recently on youtube, a user posted a video called Rape Scot-Free depicting a short monologue by a young man, blaming rape victims for the continuance of rape in their communities. His argument being that victims who do not come forward and report their rape are selfish and in turn aiding the perpetrator, enabling him/her to continue their acts of violence.

As a survivor of rape, I have to say that I was extremely disturbed by the video. The lack of basic insight into the mind of a survivor is appalling and in my opinion, highly ineffective. What this video has done however is further strengthen victim blaming in a society that already holds such fascist opinions.

I am one of the survivors that he is addressing in his video. Like many, I was raped and did not report the incident to the police. If I were to believe this video, I would be the victim who should be ashamed of not doing anything to stop the acts of violence from continuing. I would believe that I am the “good girl who keeps her mouth shut” and helped the man that raped me. I would believe that it is my fault that society doubts my rape because someone who is really raped would report it. I would believe that speaking out about my rape is simply “complaining” and not preventing. I would believe that I have no voice, that I have no right to talk about a faulty system because I am the fault in the system. I would believe that I am to blame for any acts of rape after me, because I am the only one who can change anything.

Create a video in black and white; speak sarcastically and angrily towards me. Tell me what I have done wrong and question my rape. Make me doubt myself and introduce more shame to the act of violence; blame me, again. If the motive of this video was merely shock response, then congratulations because I am shocked. However, if the hope of this video was to get victims like me to report, you failed miserably. As shame and fear are the primary tools of rapists to keep their victims silenced, I would ask how someone using shame against me now is any better?

As a survivor of rape, I can say that this video did not make me want to report, but rather strengthened my belief that we still have so much work left to do in educating people about the act and aftermath of rape. What happened to me is not my fault. I am not to blame. It’s time to put the blame where it belongs; the rapist not the raped.