More than just a photograph

Chris and myself are doing a 30-day challenge that focuses on letting go of material items in effort to free ourselves from clutter, whether it be physical or emotional. Today brought up some emotions for me that I felt were worth expanding on.

One of my items today is very personal. Years ago, I was at a trauma conference and came across a photographer whose work affected me greatly. She took photographs of the female form and cross-processed them with other images. One in particular was of a woman’s naked body covered in flames. I was immediately drawn to it, and purchased it from her. Through conversation, I learned that the woman in the picture was the photographer herself.  Her self-portraits were a way of reclaiming her body after years spent in an abusive relationship. When she was finally able to leave her abuser, she burned the mattress that he’d raped her on and photographed it. The two photos together were a way to express her pain and release it; to literally burn it away. It’s a compelling image with an even more powerful message.

When I met this woman I was very early in my own recovery, traveling around the country and in the thick of trauma work. I would surround myself with visual reminders that I was not alone, that my pain could not be silenced. I felt like I needed people to see it, to talk about it, to acknowledge it’s existence, my existence.

Today, while I was searching for my items to purge, I came across the photograph in a pile of old pictures and commemorative plaques of the past. It made me both sad and grateful. It’s still a beautiful picture, it stills has meaning. I realize now that I no longer need it in my life as a reminder of how far I have come, or my experience passed. I don’t relate to it in the same way, and I feel that by letting it go, I’m taking one more step towards healing.

Maybe by letting it go, someone else will find it and walk a similar path. Which to me, makes gifting it….invaluable.

photo(90)

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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?

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.

Turn The Car Around

A couple of years ago, I remember driving home from a camping trip.  There was something in the middle of the road.  As we came closer I could see that it was a deer.  It didn’t move an inch as our car came closer.  We circled around it and kept driving up the road.  As the road curved I took one last look in the rearview mirror at the body and right as the deer came out of view, it lifted it’s head up from the ground.  It sent chills down my spine.

We didn’t go back.  We had all kinds of reasons not to.  We had a long drive to get home.  The area was too remote.  Someone else will stop and help it.  We didn’t have a gun or a knife to put the deer to rest.

As the miles accumulated between our car and that poor dying deer I felt tremendous guilt well up in me.  It’s just an animal.  It’s probably already dead.  Right?

When I first heard about the allegations of abuse against Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky the first thing I thought about was the deer.  A graduate student saw him sodomizing a 10 year old child in the showers.  He told Joe Paterno, the winningest football coach in college football history.  The longest tenured and most influential figure on the campus and in the community.

Joe reported the story to a Penn State official.  Then he moved on.  Jerry Sandusky continued doing what he had been doing for years.  Grooming little boys and sexually abusing them.  Joe wouldn’t have known of course, because he did the bare minimum to keep himself out of trouble.  Maybe that was enough to assuage any guilt he would have had.

I understand Joe.  After driving 100 miles, I had my friend pull to the side of the road.  I got animal control on the phone.  Reported to them that I saw a deer on the road which seemed to be alive.  I told myself that I did my best.  It is now in their hands.  What more could I do right?  I did my part.

For some reason, I have never been able to forget that split second.  Seeing that scared and vulnerable creature lift it’s furry head off of the bloody concrete.  In that moment we made a choice.  Keep driving.

It was a choice.  Much like Joe.  If there was anybody on that campus who could have put a stop to Sandusky’s horrific exploitation it would have been Joe.  You don’t say no to the biggest man on campus.

He never followed up.  He never made sure the police knew what was going on.

He didn’t turn the car around.

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

Corey Haim, Lost Boy, Dead at 38

I never liked Corey Haim.  Growing up I used to see him and his buddy Corey Feldman in movies and on TV, usually acting obnoxious in some way or other.  Smug.  Brash.  Cocky.  Just a few words to describe this duo.  They were The Corey’s.  Teenagers given too much money and fame too fast.  As a teenager myself growing up in the 80’s they had everything that I wanted.  Money.  Girls.  Fame.  But like them or not, they were  a product of the 80’s, and I own the Coreys every bit as much as I own the 80’s as my teenage formative years.  So Corey Haim was a part of my generation.

You often wonder what makes these young stars so wild and crazy.  I used to wonder if Corey Haim was always like that.  In a manic state, floating from party to party, girl to girl, gig to gig.  Somewhere it all stopped, and we didn’t hear much about Corey Haim anymore.  It was almost like he just got swept under the rug of Hollywood, like so many child actors are.  He hit the peak of his life before the age of 18 years old.  How does one go on living knowing that the best has already past them at such a young age?

I thought that this was probably Corey’s struggle.  You hit it big, then you are yesterdays news.  What do you do with the rest of your life now?  I didn’t know that there was much more to this story.

A few years ago A&E aired a reality show called The Two Corey’s.  It reunited Corey Haim with his old pal Corey Feldman after all these years.  Cameras followed them around as they were making what was supposed to be their triumphant comeback filiming the sequel to the classic vampire flick The Lost Boys.

From the opening episode it was apparent that time hadn’t been very kind to Corey Haim.  He was unemployed, slovenly, and an addict.  His behavior was erratic.  He couldn’t keep himself together.  Corey Feldman struggled to find a way to keep his friend afloat.  In the end, his drug-induced anxiety led to Corey being almost completely written out of his last comeback movie.

Now Corey Haim is dead.  Probably because of a drug overdose, but probably from so much more.

I scoured the internet to see what people were saying about Corey.  One media source cited Corey’s 2007 Nightline interview where he admitted drugs hurt his career.  Or his 2004 Sun interview where he admitted that he smoked his first joint on the set of The Lost Boys.  Another outlet offered how his cocaine use led to crack.  In his Larry King interview in 2007 he explained how he was “a chronic relapser for the rest of (his) life.”

All of these reports coming out covering his prescription medication and drug abuse, as if this was the explanation for why Corey is no longer here.  I couldn’t believe how we all missed it completely.

The answer to the question of why took me back to the The Two Coreys.  In one episode, they decided to see a therapist together.  Corey Haim and Corey Feldman shared a terrible secret.  An adult friend of Feldman’s raped Corey Haim.  A friend Feldman kept around after knowing what he did.  During the therapy session you could see the pain that this had caused Haim.

Just for a brief moment I understood what underlied this cocky and obnoxious persona I resented back in the 80’s.   The drugs only masked the deeper pain that none of us male survivors ever want to deal with.

But Haim did deal with his trauma in the only way that men know how.  In 2008 he explained, “It’s something that will be addressed in my inner soul for the rest of my life, and it’s something that truly affects me . . . It’s just like, it happened, it’s over, and move on. Let’s move on to the next subject.”

But he never could.

Corey Haim, the Lost Boy, passed on March 10,2010.  A drug overdose is suspected as the cause of death.