Wellspring

Wellspring

Friday, February 27, 2015

Enough is Enough



Unless you've been totally unplugged for the last year, you've heard a lot about relationship and sexual abuse. Athletes and celebrities committing abuse, campus rapes, and poor handling of these crimes by our  institutions we turn to for justice. Collectively we're calling for more awareness and improved response. It's as if our whole society looked around and with one voice said, "Enough is Enough."





Well today Governor Cuomo used those very words.  Stating the shocking statistic that, "New York State now has more schools being investigated for sexual assault than any state in the nation", Cuomo called for new standards for colleges in responding  to sexual assault on campus. Watch the Enough is Enough video to learn more.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Nancy and Kenneth-- two reasons to find the solution

"Just having our doors open is saving lives", those were the words of Marla Price, Executive Director of the St. John Center, a drop in program to help the homeless. Yesterday I posted an article about Code Blue Saratoga that was launched last winter because after the tragic death of Nancy Pitts. Today I read an article about a homeless man in Kentucky who died recently on the streets. His name was Kenneth Winfield. He was 49 year sold. He struggled with mental illness and addiction, but had been working with the St. John Center for years. He had a girlfriend and plans to marry her.


According to the USA Today article, back in November he'd asked for assistance in finding an apartment, crying, 'Please help me find an apartment. I don't want to die out there."   He'd applied for supportive housing, but vouchers were limited and he didn't score as vulnerable enough to be prioritized.


Price offers her  solution to homelessness- having affordable housing and adequate case management services. It seems things aren't all that different in Kentucky than Saratoga County. Here the wait for Section 8 housing can be as long as 6-7 years. Right now two of Saratoga County's three Section 8 providers have closed their application lists, simply because their waiting lists are already overloaded. We need to look beyond just winter emergency shelters to the root causes of homelessness if we're to discover solutions that will take us beyond the spring thaw. As Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said, "We should be thinking of the homeless 365 days a year."



Sunday, February 22, 2015

What's the difference?


Today I saw this eye-opening short video that shows how something as simple as a haircut can break the barriers we have between homeless people and everyone else. As I was watching the video filmed in California one big difference our homeless local people contend with kept resonating with me.

Just about every casual conversation these days starts with a comment about being sick of winter- the cold, the snow, the mess. We had these conversations 5  years ago, and we'll have them again  next year and the next; winter here in the northeast feels like it lasts forever. But as I shiver rushing from my warm house into my heated car, I pause momentarily to imagine what it would be like to be outside 24/7. In winters past, we didn't have  Code Blue, a low demand shelter so people without homes could have refuge from the biting cold of winter. Code Blue Saratoga started last winter after one woman's tragic death from exposure to the elements. 
codebluelogo2

The number of people homeless in the winter in Saratoga County far exceeded our initial estimates, when we projected that perhaps 12-15 people would need  shelter. Code Blue regularly has 40-50 guests and offers dinner for about 10 more each night. The dedicated Code Blue volunteers haven't had much of a break; with the long cold spell and high snowfall, the shelter has had only a couple of nights they weren't open this year. I hate to break the news but winter isn't over yet...and those volunteers could use some help. For information about how  just a few hours and of your time to bring safety, warmth, dignity and companionship to our neighbors  we pass each day on the streets, visit the Code Blue website.




Thursday, February 19, 2015

Purple and Red


Valebntine's Day may have already passed, but our focus is still on hearts. Here are 2 great reasons to get your heart beating this Sunday. Join us for some exercise, laughter, music... and raise awareness and funds to support programs addressing domestic violence and heart disease.





Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Every Picture is a Story

Brandon began the Humans of New York project as a visual display of NYC's inhabitants. However, he relates that several months into the project the people's quotes and stories  began to emerge and joined with their pictures. The result is now a vibrant blog and a New York Times best selling book.


Survivors of relationship and sexual abuse often wear their scars inside; we see neither how they were  were damaged nor how they overcame the trauma  and healed. It's interesting to read just a few sentences next to a photo that tell us so much about that journey to freedom from abuse.


Every day at Wellspring  we  hear survivors struggling with decisions that are similar to this woman's story of confusion, self-blame and wanting to do what's best for her unborn child.

“He put me in the hospital when I was pregnant with her. The next day he started crying, begging for forgiveness. He said: ‘I’m so sorry, I was drunk, I need you so much.’ So I took him back. The next time it happened, he managed to convince me that it was my fault. He said that he wouldn’t have gotten so angry if I had paid more attention to him. So I started thinking that I could be better. Then it happened again. Honestly, I stayed with him so much longer than I should have because I was afraid of becoming the stereotype of a single black mother.”
    
This woman's 120 lbs of solid muscle represents her path to rebuilding her confidence and support system.

"My children’s father was physically and emotionally abusive, so by the time I left him I had very low self-confidence. I needed something to boost my ego. One day I saw some firefighters handing out recruitment material on the street so I decided to give it a try. All the female recruits trained together, because we had to work harder than the men to pass the test. We trained for six months, three hours a day. I’d go straight from my job to the training sessions. I’d bring my kids with me, and when it was my turn to do the drills, the other women would take turns passing them around. At the end of the six months, I was 120 pounds of solid mass, and I passed the test easily. I never became a firefighter, but those women are still my friends.”
    

Friday, February 6, 2015

Connecting Galas and Homelessness



Yesterday I met with Look TV's, Jesse Jackson.What started out as a conversation about the Bartenders' Ball, turned to more serious topics as we talked about how funds from charitable events like the Bartenders' Ball support vital services. Jesse was surprised to hear that on just one day last year- in Saratoga County alone- we had 90+ teens 'couch surfing' because they were homeless and another 119 kids in families that didn't have stable homes. Those stats really hit home, as recently Jesse had spoken with a teen who hitchhikes to school some mornings (sometimes almost 20 miles) because he's sleeping in a different place each night.



As we're all complaining about the cold  and snowy weather as we travel from our warm homes to our cars, it's a real wake up call that we've got people in our community without homes and without heat.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Game On

It's been a rough season for the NFL brand. While Deflategate is the latest dent in football's reputation, at least this controversy centers on the game. For most of the season press coverage of the NFL has been more about what's happening off the field than on-- Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson... oh and of course, Roger Goodell's handling of these incidents.


But there's a silver lining to this massive ominous thundercloud. People are talking about domestic violence and sexual assault. In fact, even on football's most sacred day, Superbowl Sunday, we'll be seeing awareness and prevention messages. Back in September, Fox News' Gregg Jarrett opined that, "A long and sustained “Campaign to Stop Abuse” or “Campaign Against Violence,” call it what you will, could reach tens of millions of Americans... The NFL has at its disposal the wealth, celebrity and power to change the way Americans treat women and children. Does it have the will?


Well that's happening. The NFL and No More teamed up to create an ad that will be aired during the game based on a real life 911 call. If you're planning to reheat the nachos during the commercials  you can catch the ad in advance right here.


Days before the big game, Sports Illustrated is making a big statement about the NFL's need to address domestic violence in the league with this startlingly powerful ad.


No question about it, concerning the NFL and the topic of relationship and sexual abuse, this is the year to say "Game On".

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Let's Tip It

The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior
 crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.
Malcolm Gladwell



Are we nearing a tipping point  regarding our tolerance for relationship and sexual abuse? I think so.


Advocates (mostly women) have been crusading against domestic violence and sexual assault since the 70's... but their voices have often been the only ones speaking out.  More and more I'm hearing other voices joining that chorus. About 10 years ago men started speaking out. Each day, I hear new voices emerging: sportscasters, college recruiters, business owners, President Obama.




In the many news stories about relationship abuse and sexual violence I'm hearing a different tone... intolerance of abuse.


Unlike changing an individual's behavior, community level change requires that the right combination of factors are present. In other social change initiatives  (like reducing smoking or drunk driving) we've observed three key strategies to creating change:
1) access (e.g. limiting minors ability to purchase tobacco or alcohol)
2) policy and procedure (e.g., laws and enforcement of  or organizations' rules and practices) , and
3) social norms.


In just the past year I've seen significant changes on the second two indicators.  More and more companies and institutions are cognizant of how abuse can leave the home and affect their business and brand. This became unmistakably clear as the Ray Rice incident unfolded. When the videotape of the elevator assault became public, the NFL's response to the incident was called into question. We quickly saw how the conduct of players reflects on the League. When the NFL revised their code of conduct to implement game suspensions for violent incidents, we immediately saw that players' careers and team performance could be affected by their conduct off the field. Similarly the  recent press coverage of an alleged culture of sexual violence at University of Virginia has some students and parents thinking twice about this as their college of choice. When relationship and sexual violence steps out of the shadows, and has an impact on organizations'' brands and bottom line, we start to notice. 


Our attitudes about abuse are changing. Why all of a sudden? Social media has a lot to do with increasing our awareness and  understanding. For many years the focus was on the victim... Why doesn't she (or he!) leave the abusive relationship?  or If you're drinking and flirting what can you expect? Those old attitudes haven't held sway as social media  has given us a more in-depth look at relationship and sexual violence. We've seen photos sent around to friends as young men sexually violate intoxicated teenage girls. Reporters cover the minute-to-minute details of how frightened victims call friends for help  and later feel re-traumatized as their college, inexperienced in adjudicating rape cases,  mishandles the  process.


We could easily downplay the impact of assaults when our information was a quick news segment, but with social media access we're exposed to the gritty brutality of victimization. When the first news story  reported that Ray Rice had knocked his then fiancĂ©e unconscious in an elevator there was no public outcry... but when we saw the brutality of the attack our reactions changed. Over the years there have been allegations against Bill Cosby that were but transient whispers in the news stories;  never investigated. never founded, never proven wrong. Yet recently one comedienne's reference to an alleged assault by Cosby a decade ago has uncorked so many similar accusations from years ago that  not only are networks suddenly pulling his shows, but institutions are distancing themselves from his benefaction. Nothing new has transpired, but because  the way we receive information has changed, the small solitary voices  of the past joined together very quickly into a chorus with enough similarity in their stories, that we're not comfortable with the ignoring the issue until we have more answers.


So how does this change in social consciousness affect us? We've shifted the responsibility. Traditionally we've placed the burden of ending abuse on the very people who are being victimized. That approach hasn't worked. Telling people not to abuse is about as effective as "Just say no" was in addressing drug abuse.


As we see and understand more we're realizing that to end relationship and sexual violence we all need to be part of the solution. It's  the  old adage, If you're not part of the solution you're part of the problem. 
So people tell me "I care about this issue but I don't know how to help...what can I do?" Great  question; here's some suggestions to get you started
1) Learn more- the NYS Office or the Prevention of Domestic Violence's new campaign, Don't Do Nothing has quick videos for the public to learn how to identify abuse and get involved.
2) Talk about the issue. Share articles. Generate a discussion.
3) Concerned about how domestic violence  affects your workplace safety, productivity, or employees' well being? Wellspring has resources for employers to promote awareness and assist managers in addressing employee concerns. Call us... the training and resources are free.
4) If you're concerned that someone you know may need help tell them you care and provide  them with resources, e.g. Wellspring's office number  (518.583.0280) or 24/hour hotline (518.584.8188)








 
   



Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What if doing nothing wasn't an option?


If you've ever talked to me for more than 4 minutes, the conversation has probably turned to the work of Wellspring ...specifically our vision of ending relationship and sexual abuse. For more than 30 years we've been helping people one-on-one to break free, heal, rebuild their lives and become survivors. Our legal advocates help them  to seek justice and hold the offender accountable. We do prevention programs to help people know how to stay safe and we also talk with youth about abusive behaviors to deter abuse. I wouldn't stop doing any of these essential activities, but they're not enough and I'm convinced they're not the solution.


Why? Because support services to survivors, court advocacy or prevention programs all focus on changing individual behavior. Assisting survivors doesn't stop relationship or sexual violence; it helps with healing and can reduce future victimization. Alternately many people say the answer is to focus on the person choosing to victimize, i.e., get to the root cause. That may reduce the incidence of abuse, but there will always be people who choose to do what's wrong. Does anyone actually believe stealing is right? Probably not... but people choose to steal every day.


I think the solution rests not with survivors or their abusers, but with people on the sidelines; their actions or inactions often determine whether the abuse is tacitly condoned and whether the victim feels powerless and trapped.


“The world is not dangerous because of those who do harm but because of those who look at it without doing anything”
                                            ~ Albert Einstein


Intimate partner and sexual violence have echoed throughout the news in recent months. As I look  at each of the stories, I'm repeatedly struck by how often WE allow the abuse to continue. After the news coverage, we debate what the involved individuals could have, should have, or failed to do, but what repeatedly strikes me is what other people didn't do. Think about these news stories:
  • Bill Cosby- Did he? Didn't he? We don't know. But in countless accounts, the alleged victims talk about how when they told someone they weren't believed, were dismissed or even threatened.  Barbara Bowman's  account of being sexually violated by Cosby 30 years ago, captures the frustration of a young woman challenging a man who was an icon in the entertainment business, "I first told my agent, who did nothing...A girlfriend took me to a lawyer, but he accused me of making the story up. Their dismissive responses crushed any hope I had of getting help; I was convinced no one would listen to me. That feeling of futility is what ultimately kept me from going to the police." What if she had not met this resistance. Would there have been an investigation and determination. Perhaps Cosby's name would have been cleared or future incidents prevented. What if someone had stood by Bowman when she said she'd been assaulted? That was 30 years ago, things are different now, right?


  • The NFL and  domestic violence- A shocking report by the Washington Post entitled "For battered NFL wives, a message from the cops and the league: Keep quiet" details not only how the NFL turns a blind eye to domestic violence, but actually covers up domestic incidents to protect the players' careers and the League's reputation. What if the League enforced their code of conduct and provided resources to players who  struggle with aggression?


  • A recent Rolling Stone article, "A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA", describes a culture on the University of Virginia campus that can be as misogynistic and aggressive as any inner city gang. But the prestige, honor and old money privilege of a campus founded by Thomas Jefferson, cloak the sexual assaults under the genteel southern euphemism of a  'bad experience'.  What if the university's culture valued the health and safety of students more than protecting the hallowed reputation of the  institution?


All that is needed for evil to triumph 
is for good men to do nothing.
                                      ~Edmund Burke

Silence hides violence... let's all choose to break that silence? The solution doesn't rest with individuals involved... they're too close to the issue; it rests with the rest of us.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Behind Closed Doors- Which Ones?

Several years ago I wrote a blog post Behind Closed Doors positing that the reason domestic violence endures is that it happens out of our view. This post was written after a tragic death as the community was shocked that a relationship could be so dangerous and yet no one knew.

As I read a Washington Post article about the wives of NFL players, I rethought my words. In my original blog post I explained that the desire to keep the abuse private was  an individual decision... made by the victim of the abuse. I rethought my assertion that the decision is entirely individual... each individual's decision is very influenced by our society's values and pressures. The Post article clearly illustrates that wives of NFL players are coached to keep abuse quiet to protect the player's reputation, the brand and our collective adoration of the heroes of the gridiron. The article describes the pressure to silently endure contending that the recent press has even made the NFL less safe for wives. The comment from the wife of a former player, You'll  hear of a wife murdered before you'll hear another one come forward", echoes like a haunting prophesy.

While it's really important to teach every man, woman and child that it's not OK to abuse others, that's strategy alone won't end abuse. There will always be people who choose to abuse or people who fail to judge their own actions. Our response has to be more broad, a societal shift in tolerance. We won't end abuse until we refuse to look away, excuse, or stay silent. Just choosing not to abuse isn't enough, we have to choose to end abuse...every time we see or suspect it. Abuse does hide behind closed doors... sometimes those doors are the ones we shut so that we don't see it.