Friday, December 20, 2013

The Real Face of Homelessness

This season resonates with what is perhaps the most well known story of homelessness...that of a child born in a manger who was to be the salvation for all our sins. In some ways this story glamorizes what it means to be on the streets. While Joseph and Mary were only temporarily without shelter as they traveled, I think we forget the pain, frustration and panic they must have felt. A pregnant woman traveling days upon  a donkey only to have nowhere safe indoors to give birth. Finally the only protection from the elements they could find was in a feeding stall amid animals. In desperation this is where their baby was born.

When we envision the manger scene we see a clean stall with gentle docile animals watching over the infant Jesus...with a guiding star illuminating the beatific parents and their small swaddled child...and three royal kings bringing precious gifts. In my mind I see a frightened young couple, shunned time and again by the community, trying to protect their baby and stay safe.

Thankfully for most of us homelessness is an abstract;. Trying to understand, we ask ourselves,  "What choices or misfortunes lead to homelessness. Why do some people actually choose homelessness when other option are available?  Seeking Solace in Homeless Shelters gives us a glimpse into this descent into homelessness and how for some people a shelter or even   living on the streets is actually a choice for safety.

Friday, December 6, 2013

A Second Grader and already a Hero

I often write about everyday folks who are heroes, simply because they step up, speak out or take action to help others. I truly believe that it's this daily awareness and small acts of kindness done regularly that hold the key to ending bullying and  relationship abuse. Sometimes all it takes is someone pointing out an injustice for us to realize that we've been part of the problem.

I think most of us feel powerless to tackle really big social issues... where would we start? But every one of us can make a difference by taking action right where we are when we see a problem. It's really so simple a 2nd grader could do it... and one has.

The Huffington Past reports that Christian Bucks of York, Pennsylvania saw that some kids in his school were lonely during recess and took action. Check out his Buddy Bench. It's a great example of compassion and action.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Real Talk from a Real Man

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil
is for good men to do nothing.
                                                              Edmund Burke
Here's one man doing what he can to end relationship and sexual violence. I think the strongest part of Jeremy Loveday's video
is that these acts aren't committed by monsters, but by ordinary men. But ordinary men also have the power to change our social norms... just by speaking out.
"because by Choosing Silence ...we're Allowing for Violence."
Big change comes from small acts of courage- acts as simple as not laughing when a colleague tells a sexist joke.
Take three minutes to watch the video. Let's hear more voices of everyday heroes, like Jeremy Loveday 
Let's work together to end relationship and sexual violence.

Related posts:

 Here's a Guy who Deserves Respect

 Patrick Stewart Speaking Out

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Celebrating our Unstung Heroes

UnSTUNG Heroes... was that a typo? Was it supposed to be Unsung Heroes? Nope.  UnSTUNG heroes are our local stores  who 'pass the test' when law enforcement operates a sting to identify if businesses are selling alcohol to minors. Caitlin Morris of the Saratogian summed it up nicely,
"New York State Police sent underage and undercover operatives to 32 establishments to try and purchase alcohol Saturday and not one drop of alcohol was sold to them."

That's not unusual. Throughout Saratoga County most establishments regularly fare well on these sting operations. So where are underage drinkers getting their alcohol. The answer may surprise you. Surveys of teens indicate that most underage drinkers access alcohol at home, either with parents knowledge (i.e., providing alcohol for their kids and friends) or by just taking it from their parents' supply.  What can you do to reduce underage drinking?
  • Talk to your kids about it. Let them know that you don't condone drinking and why. Believe it or not, parents are the most significant influence in  preventing underage drinking... they really do listen.
  • Don't provide alcohol for your teen's friends.
  • Educate yourself about how alcohol use impacts the adolescent brain.
Related posts:

Monday, December 2, 2013

Be a Cyber Shopping Philanthropist

I love doing my holiday shopping snuggled up on the couch near the woodstove...yup, it 's holiday magic. I press a button and 2 days later Santa's cyber-patrol  elves deliver the packages right to my porch. And I've found something that makes on-line shopping even better- Goodshop.

Use Goodshop.com when you shop online and they donate a percentage of every purchase and offer over 100,000 coupons to help you save money too! It's really easy; it's free and turns simple everyday actions into a way to make the world a better place.

I also use Goosdsearch.com to search the Internet and they donate a penny every time I search the Web.  And if you like to eat out sign up for their Gooddining program and they'll donate a percentage of your restaurant bill when you eat at any one of thousands of participating restaurants.

Go to www.goodsearch.com to get started. Please sign up today to help me support Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services of Saratoga County or choose your own favorite charity to support. It's an easy way to make your holiday giving keep on giving.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Have a Prestuffed Workout then Say , "Pass the Stuffing, Please"

Saratoga Core Fitness at 68 West Avenue in Saratoga Springs is holding their annual Thanksgiving Prestuffed Morning workout at 10a.m. Cost is $10 with all proceeds benefiting Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services. Sign up in the studio or call 518-583-FITT (3488) or email Vicki@saratogacorefitness.com

Kids Coming Home from College for Thanksgiving?

More traffic crashes and alcohol-related highway deaths occur during holiday periods than other times during the year. We often associate New Year's Eve of St. Patrick's Day with alcohol use, but don't overlook Thanksgiving. It's a time when friends who have been separated as they attend college get back together and celebrate (often for the first time in months.) Some of these friends may regularly drink alcohol as they're enjoying the freedoms of college life. They may be underage drinkers or even if they are of age, their friends at home may be underage.  So talk with your kids about drinking and driving, before they head out on the road to see old friends this holiday season.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

This Thanksgiving pass the pumpkin pie, but not ...

This Thanksgiving pass the pumpkin pie... but not alcohol to underage drinkers
Did you know that 28% of adults think it's okay for high schoolers to drink alcohol? 
With Thanksgiving around the corner, we want to bring up a very dangerous topic - allowing teens to drink under your watch. It's not cool, it's not safe, and as a reminder, underage drinking is illegal. 
Believe it or not, teens yearn for the special time they spend with their families around the holidays, so don't neglect it - cherish it and keep it sober. 
For more sobering facts about underage drinking and tips on how to curb this trend, visit TimeToFaceTheFacts.com.
Funding was made possible (in part) by Grant Number 5U79SP01556 from SAMHSA. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Monday, November 25, 2013

What's Important About November 25th?

Up to 70 per cent of women experience violence in their lifetime. Globally, violence against women is a pandemic problem that encompasses domestic violence, rape, trafficking, female genital mutilation, and other forms of oppression. Barriers to healthcare and education perpetuate the oppression of women in many third world countries.

The United Nations had declared today, and every November 25th, International Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women. Want to know more? Visit their website to learn more and to find out what you can do to help.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Talking Amid the Landmines

I've been following the heated discussions generated by Emily Yoffe's article in Slate about college binge drinking and sexual assault. She reignited some familiar debates about victim blaming and ignoring the actions of the rapist. Some writers such as Washington Post columnist, Ruth Marcus,  came to Yoffe's defense, others question the validity of our focus on alcohol as a factor. There's truth in both sides and this isn't a new discussion. I'm sometimes asked why we don't do more work to prevent people from raping rather than to educate victims about how to be safe. It's a good question. We do talk to youth about how having sex with someone who says no or is too intoxicates to consent is rape. We talk a lot about validating consent before proceeding. We also talk about being an ally and intervening if you see something happening that's not right (like taking a drunk girl up to your dorm room.) But frankly, other than educating it's difficult to create prevention programs that keep someone from choosing to assault someone.

Talking about sexual assault prevention is full of landmines (denial, resistance, flippancy)... but one of the most potent landmines comes from an unexpected source-women. Why? Because when we talk to groups about sexual assault prevention, we'd be remiss if we didn't talk abut the association between drinking and sexual victimization. Yet some women feel that talking about that association sounds like victim blaming.

Over half of all sexual assault involve alcohol (some studies place the percentages even higher.) And the risk is especially high when there is excessive alcohol consumption.in which the victim is so incapacitated that she(he) is unable to consent. Often these situations happen at parties and the assailant has also been drinking to excess, undoubtedly resulting in reduced inhibitions and poor judgment.  So when we talk with youth about sexual violence prevention we do talk about the risks of intoxication... knowing we'll detonate some landmines. Women often become very upset that by we're blaming the victim... not at all. We're reminding them that if they drink to a level that they can't look out for themselves, they're at risk of becoming a target for sexual violence. They aren't to blame for the assault in any way. The consequence for a night of overindulgence should be a hangover ... not being raped. But we do mention the connection between alcohol and sexual violence because it's important to know what you can do to increase your safety. It's also important to know that if you were drunk and raped... it's not your fault... you shouldn't feel ashamed... and you are entitled to our legal system holding the assailant accountable for the rape. It's equally important that we tell young men that not only is it not cool to take advantage of a drunk girl... it's a crime. The roots of sexual violence re much deeper than a bottle of tequila or a keg, but sometimes alcohol brings those roots to the surface.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Keeping it simple

Domestic violence encompasses much more than physical abuse...in fact a relationship can be highly abusive without any physical violence. But people often have difficulty identifying abuse when it's not physical. Why is it important to recognize abusive behaviors? Because domestic violence is a pattern of power and control... and over time the abusive behaviors tend to escalate in frequency and intensity. 

The NYC Mayor's Office to Combat Domestic Violence has launched an awareness campaign The 5 Signs You're in an Abusive Relationship. It's a simple, concise and memorable. Take the time to read it... the information could help someone you know. It may even save a life.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Silent Shame-- We Can Break that Silence

It's Domestic Violence Awareness Month, so I'm speaking with a lot of people about the issue.Last week I spoke on the phone with Saratoga Today reporter Patricia Older. I had a week off work so I'm a bit backlogged on my reading. I just picked up last week's Saratoga Today and read Patricia's article, Domestic Violence-- The Silent Shame... and it took my breath away. She poignantly captures the fear, the shock, and the lingering sense of danger even after leaving the relationship.

After recounting Erica's horrific story of abuse, Patricia Older writes:
 Domestic violence is that dirty little secret
we don’t want anyone to know about when it happens to us.
The abused and abuser usually go through great lengths to hide
what is happening in their lives—
they hide the bruises, the loud, out-of-control arguments, the threats, the violence.
It knows no social, cultural or economic boundaries and comes in many forms—
social isolation, threats, financial control, physical abuse.

What you can do:
Domestic violence thrives in the shadows of secrecy. Help to bring it out of the shadows. Talk about this crime that affects 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men. Talk to your children about the red flags of abuse, talk with friends, and if you're concerned about someone in your life, talk with them about your concerns and let them know there is help. It's hard to start that conversation, but bringing the topic of relationship abuse into the light decreases the stigma an abuse victim feels. Each time you talk about domestic violence, you bring light to this issue... and each time you talk about it the words become easier to say. So today, have a conversation with someone...anyone.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Black and White... Turned Purple

It doesn't take a lot to let folks know you care about something...  the smallest gestures can have a big impact. Each year many of our law enforcement agencies recognize Domestic Violence Awareness Month by placing dv awareness magnets on their cars. These men and women witness the pain, fear and sometimes tragic consequences of domestic violence every single day. They understand the impact of domestic violence... and they're passionately committed to combatting relationship abuse.

When they place an awareness ribbon on a patrol car, it's not just a token gesture. It's a passionate statement about  how seriously they address domestic abuse, about their sensitivity toward victims of abuse, and their commitment in partnering to end abuse.

The Saratoga Springs Police Department partnering with DVRC staff to raise awareness.

What you can do:
  • If you see someone being assaulted, call for help
  • If you know someone who is in an abusive relationship, let them know help is available (DVRC's 24 hour hotline is a good place to start 518-584-8188)
  • If  you know someone in an abusive relationship but you're not sure how to help, call DVRC. We can help you determine how best to offer support.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Women Helping Women

Domestic violence is the leading cause of homelessness among families in Saratoga County. Often a woman remains in or returns to an abusive home because of simple economics—she cannot provide food, shelter and health care for herself and her children on just her income... so she remains in an abusive home.  A 2009 study by the Allstate Foundation concluded that there is “a greater chance that the amount of violence in households will increase during times of financial crisis… women need to be aware of economic abuse -- when the abuser uses someone's lack of financial independence to keep them trapped in an abusive relationship.” It's a big problem, so big that it's hard to know where to start to fix it.

But one local organization, Soroptimist  International of Saratoga County hasn't let that stop them. For 9 years they've worked with DVRC to offer a financial literacy program for women, Project Hope and Power. Want to know more? Just listen as Soroptimist Ieaders, Nancy Trimbur and Joan Gerhardt,  speak with Look TV's David Storey about Project Hope and Power. Can a life change in 8 weeks?  Well here's the feedback from two recent participants
“I enjoyed the class wholly and gained confidence to make it on my own.  I learned how to better prepare myself for life without an abuser present, how to find a job, and present myself better to potential employers.  The class was a wealth of useful information I will use in my life forever.“ 
“Because  of Hope and Power  I can hold my head up.  Not be afraid anymore.”
So how can you help domestic violence victims become more financially stable?
  • Consider joining Soroptimist of Saratoga County... they're making a difference locally and internationally.
  • Donate gas cards for DVRC to provide to clients. Even $10 makes a difference for a domestic violence survivor; it can fill the gas tank so she can get to work each day until receiving that first paycheck.
  • Display information in your workplace to increase awareness of domestic violence. DVRC will provide a free employer toolkit to you... just call us at 518-583-0280.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Making It Right

A bar in Texas was at the center of a controversy when an employee posted a sign outside making light of domestic violence. The sign read, "I like my beer like I like my beer like I like my violence... domestic." When a passerby, who happens to to volunteer at a domestic violence shelter, posted the image on facebook and Instagram, her posts garnered national attention. While I find the sign offensive and insensitive, there's a silver lining to this story. When the bar owner learned of the incident, he decided to donate $1 from the purchase of every domestic beer during October in recognition of domestic violence awareness month. He not only took a bad situation and made it right... he demonstrated integrity and leadership.

There are actually two heroes in this story: the bar owner and the woman who cared enough to speak out. Because of her courage, the people who walk past that bar every day stopped to think about the meaning of that sign instead of just passing by and ignoring it or laughing at it. Her simple action changed the social norms in her community.

So that's my tip for today. If you see something, say something. Sometimes the simplest actions are like a pebble tossed into a pond-- they create ripples that continue far beyond the initial impact. As Gandhi said, You must be the change you wish to see in the world."

Saturday, October 5, 2013

The recent  murder/suicide in Saratoga Springs is a tragic reminder that elder abuse is a serious concern. One in ten elders is abused, and 90% of abusers are family members. Elder abuse can take many forms: neglect, physical abuse, social isolation, financial exploitation, emotional or psychological abuse.

When a parent is abused by their adult child, they are often reticent to report the crime to authorities, or even to tell anyone. They may:
  •  be worried about their son or daughter
  •  want to protect him/her
  •  be dependent on the abusive family member for health care or transportation,or
  • feel guilty, "I must have done something wrong raising my child for him/her to treat me this way."  
Victims of elder abuse are our most vulnerable citizens (the median age of abused elders is 77.9 years), yet they're often not able to advocate for themselves. That's why it's important that we all know the signs of elder abuse and take action if we're concerned. Don't know what to look for? Click on this post to view an excellent video, so you can recognize the signs of elder abuse.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Not always domestic, not always violent

The term domestic violence can sometimes be misleading:
  • Violence conjures up images of a black eye or other physical abuse. Domestic violence covers a range of abusive behaviors, many which do not include physical violence: emotional, psychological abuse, financial control, social isolation to name a few. 

  • For me, just the word 'domestic' conjures up images  of home and family, married relationship. Domestic violence occurs in dating and unmarried couples, same sex couples, and adolescent and elder relationships. It can happen in the home, at school or work, or even via electronic media.
So 1 in four teens reports having experienced abusive behaviors in a dating relationship, but they're probably not thinking of this as domestic violence... and that means they're probably not getting the help they need to be safe. So here's 2 videos created for DVRC by Skidmore students that show what relationship abuse looks like in a dating relationship.


Related posts:
Red Flags of Dating Violence

Thursday, October 3, 2013

You're a Friend... Be Prepared

For Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I've offered a challenge. Do something, large or small, to raise awareness or help someone affected by relationship abuse.. and I'm offering ideas on what you can do. Today's suggestions revolve around preparing yourself so you know what to do if someone you care about is in need.

I'm often asked why women or men stay in abusive relationships. There are as many answers for that as there are relationships: fear, hoping that something will happen that just makes the abuse end,  concern for breaking a family apart, worry about what will happen to the kids, economics, and love (yes quite simply they love their partner and don't want the relationship to end... just the abuse.)

It's hard (frustrating, and sometimes terrifying) to know that someone you know is in an abusive relationship, but not be able to do anything about it. So what can you do when someone you know is in an abusive relationship?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Domestic Violence Awareness Month

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month
You guessed it; I'm wearing purple.  Does wearing purple end domestic violence? No. But when people see it, they remember  to talk about relationship abuse with their friends, employees, and children.
Sometimes it seems we have a dizzying array months, days, or weeks dedicated to causes.
Some are poignant or tragic:
          Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month (September)
          International Holocaust Remembrance Day (January 27)...
Some are important social issues:
           World AIDS Day (December 1)
           Adopt a Shelter Cat Month (June)  
Some are fun and frivolous:
           Bacon Day anyone ? (August 31)
But the reason for dedicating a distinct period of time to a cause is to provide us the opportunity to pause, think and take action to increase awareness. Often we care about an issue, but don't know what we can do to make a difference. Sometimes we're afraid that taking action would require too much commitment so we don't even try.
So here's my challenge. Throughout the month, my blog posts will include ideas on  actions you can take to increase awareness... and they'll be short-term and  achievable (you're busy... I get it).
So pick one or two  this month (or if you're an overachiever, pick one a day)... and take the time to do them.  YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE... even with your busy schedule.
  • Because 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men are abused within an intimate relationship.
  • Because domestic violence is the second most common crime in Saratoga County (and the second most common cause of homicide.)
  • Because together we can END relationship abuse.
You could:
Wear purple and tell people why.
Let friends and colleagues know that domestic violence is an issue you care about. Ask the to join you in increasing awareness so we can have a community where no one lives in fear at home.
Donate a gift card to DVRC  so we can provide emergency assistance to a domestic violence survivor. 
Gift cards in any denomination from $5-$50 are always appreciated (recommended stores are Stewart’s (can be used for gas), WalMart, Target, Hannaford, Price Chopper, CVS (for needed over the counter medications and diapers). This is an item we welcome throughout the year because we give these to adults as emergency assistance for such items as gas when they are newly employed so they can get to work until they receive their first paycheck and for food when a family first moves out to independent, safe housing. We give these to persons in need to purchase items they may not be able to access otherwise, but  are crucial to their health & safety or transition plan.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Happiness Highway

We've all been there. So much isn't wrong in your life, yet you're just not happy. Dale Carnegie said,
It isn't what you have, or who you are, or where you are, or what you are doing
that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about.”
Turns out he was right. Here's research on a very simple way to increase your happiness. It doesn't cost anything. Takes just a couple of minutes. Works best when you're already not happy. And has a ripple effect in making other people happy.
The folks in the video were so happy they were crying.
Like all things, what you get from it varies upon how much you put into it. So don't just watch the video. Watch it, think about it, do it... and tell someone. I know I've got some words I think but never say that I'm going to share tonight with a couple of people in my life... then give them a big hug.
 I'll do it for them,,, for me.. and because the world needs more happiness.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Have you got something in common with these wildly successful people?

An article in today's Huff Post touts words of wisdom from 8 mega-successes on what they wished they'd done differently. As I read through each one, I'm reminded of my New Year's resolutions each year to make time for what's really important. We've all heard it, but reading the same message over and over creates an eerie echo that makes me want to go home right when the office closes (not 2 hours later), bake focaccia bread and pasta with homemade pomodoro sauce, then spend the night playing Scattergories with my family. What about you? And if your regrets center on someone who has passed, take comfort in John Lennon's mother's words to, "Let it be."

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Thank Heaven for Little Girls

You've probably heard Maurice Chevalier singing Thank Heaven for Little Girls... it's a favorite for  the father/daughter dance at weddings. The French singer croons about how delightful little girls so quickly grow into beguiling women who will bat their eyes and break your heart. Yup they do grow up fast, but little girls aren't women... they're children and shouldn't be prematurely 'womanized'.

A few days ago, in my blog post Misleading Lolita, I discussed how we're closing the gap between childhood and womanhood by sexualizing little girls.  I'm not the only one concerned about this trend. Today I read that the French Senate has voted to ban beauty pageants for girls under 16... anyone violating this rule could face stiff fines and up to 2 years in prison. The legislation has not yet been adopted, but the proposal sends a clear message about exploitation of girls. The bills author, legislator Chantal Jouanno states this is a women's rights issue.

While entering children in beauty pageants, dressed in makeup, high heels, and pageant clothing, may not seem like a global concern, it speaks to the larger issue of child exploitation. Certainly worldwide, the sexualization of young girls results in abhorrent practices such as rape, trafficking, and  child brides.

I applaud the French for the courage to take a stand on this women's rights issue.  They're not demonizing beauty pageants; but they are sending a message that these events should be age appropriate and the participants should be old enough that they can  understand and consent to whether or not they wish to participate. It will be interesting to see what happens with the proposed legislation.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

All I want for Christmas

What might an 8 year old boy want  for Christmas? A toy helicopter? A remote control car? Sounds right.

But for one boy there was something he wanted even more... for schoolmates to stop bullying his sister. As often happens, the twins' mom wasn't aware of the extent of the bullying until reading her son's letter to Santa. Sometimes as adults it's hard to relate to how much bullying can devastate a child. Reading the boy's letter to Santa makes me realize how powerless a kid can feel when faced with bullying. 

How big a problem is bullying? The statistics are startling:

  • 56% of students have witnessed a bullying crime while in school.
  • 71% of kids report bullying is an ongoing problem.
  • 10% of students drop out of school because of bullying.
  • There's a strong correlation between bullying and suicide.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Your kids...what's in their text messages?

"She was absolutely terrorized on social media." That's what the NBC news report said of a 12 year old girl who committed suicide. Other girls in her class were texting continual messages like, "No one likes you.' and 'You should kill yourself.', and Go die.'

As an adult, I can't even imagine how tortuous it would be to be taunted and humiliated not only in person, but also everywhere I went via social media. But as an adult I would have the options to pick up and move away. Kids don't have that option.

If you think  bullying is just a typical part of growing up, watch the video. Technology has given bullies power and access never before seen.  This is a serious problem...and often we don't know about it until it's too late.  12 years old is too young to feel such pain that death is the only escape.

Parents- want to know more? The Center for Disease Control created a tip sheet to help parents recognize and talk to their kids about electronic aggression. It's worth a read.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Raped Again

"No wonder, considering what has happened since". those were the words Washington Post columnist, Ruth Marcus, used to describe why a US Naval Academy alleged rape victim was reluctant to cooperate in the investigation of the incident. The scene described is all too typical of so many sexual assaults...a party gone bad with alcohol-fueled decisions, pervasive sexual license, social media drama, morning-after realizations, and life-changing consequences for all involved persons. This incident involved military recruits, but the same scenario gets played out every week with college students, high school students, athletes and business associates.

We weren't present the night of the incident, so we don't know if the victim was forcibly raped, too incapacitated to consent, or a willing participant. Those decisions require more detailed facts than the news reports offer. Journalists protect the identity of this rape victim by not releasing her name but, without question. we've already formed our opinions of her. Consider:
  • the court process itself is invasive, publicly humiliating and re-traumatizing  for the victim. Many victims have said, "On the stand, I felt like l was being raped again." 
  • even before a verdict has been determined, there is often more judgment about the victim than the accused. 
From just the limited information in media coverage of the case, we're already forming opinions about the alleged victim. Consider:
  • all news stories indicate the victim was drinking excessively and the next morning had limited recollection the night before
  • during the hearing she was asked  whether she was wearing a bra or underwear, how wide she opens her mouth during oral sex, and if she had consensual sexual relations the next morning with another Academy football player in the same house where the alleged assault took place
  • new reports indicate she is being disciplined for underage drinking 
  • her credibility has been cast as questionable as she initially was reticent to cooperate  fully with the investigation, then later testified that a medical exam did not result in any diagnosis, and
  •  that she has been pressured and harassed in person and via social media since making the allegations.

Contrast this with what we know about the men accused of gang raping this woman:

  • their identities are not protected, thus we know their names. This is embarrassing, will follow them throughout life and is unquestionably career changing. But it also humanizes them. We've even seen their photos, clean shaven men in military dress uniform
  • they are football players
  • all 3 accused men are older than the victim, thus not guilty of underage drinking. The question of whether they provided alcohol to the inebriated underage victim, a criminal activity, has not been addressed
  • one of them had a previous 'casual sex' relationship with the alleged victim in the past and asked her to lie to his current girlfriend denying a sexual encounter on the night of the alleged rape.
  • all three men have denied any wrongdoing.
When I look at media coverage of sexual assaults, it disturbs me how the focus right from the start is often more on the victim and her character and decisions than on the accused. Even when a guilty verdict is rendered, so often it's the actions of victim that we recollect. It's no wonder victims are reluctant to report and cooperate in the prosecution. No wonder they feel "raped again."

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Welcome to college?

St. Mary's University in Nova Scotia achieved a moment of infamy when their students' Frosh Week bonding activities included a rally with a planned, scripted chant about rape.
SMU boys... we like them young
Y is for your sister
O is for 'Oh so tight'
U is for underage
N is for No consent
G is for grab that ass
What's the point of Frosh Week? To orient new students to school, create social connections, and set the tone for the year. 80 student leaders lead hundreds of incoming freshmen joined in the chant... but no one ever considered the message they were giving to new students... that forced sex is fun and part of the college experience. This wasn't a sudden 'What was I thinking?' slip;  one of the student leaders says he's been shouting this same chant since he was a freshman in 2009. Welcome to college life!
One in four college women is sexually assaulted; one-third of those are freshmen. The period between freshman orientation and Thanksgiving is the highest risk period for sexual assaults on college campuses. Much energy on campus goes into awareness and rape prevention activities...but how can they possibly be effective when, from the moment students set foot on campus, there are clear message from  that rape is just part of the college experience? St. Mary's isn't the only college with these traditions. After a student's blog brought the St. Mary's incident such international attention, students at other colleges in Canada and the US have talked about similar experiences.
There's a good side to this story. St. Mary's (and I'm sure many other universities) will be taking a hard look at freshmen orientation practices. That's good. But I continue to be perplexed. From the time they're in elementary school, students are showered with programs on character education, bullying, and being an ally... how is it that 800+ bright kids and youth leaders can shout joyously about rape- year after year!- and only one student  speaks out against it?
Related posts:
Talking to Teens about Sexual Assault

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Fear and Everyday Heroes

It's 9/11.

Forever that day will have a haunting meaning for Americans. We've healed, for the most part, since that September  11th, but we still carry scars that have changed us . Since then there have been many other tragedies, most recently the bombing in Boston. Everyone responds differently. For some  people the sense of loss, violation and fear permeates every aspect of their daily lives...  and others reach toward healing and understanding.

I just watched a video on Upworthy   that at times makes me cringe, makes me want to cry, helps me understand how difficult it is for people of certain ethnicities to carry on each day in the US, and leaves me absolutely inspired and in awe of how every day people stand up for what's right. They are our heroes.  Don't miss the inspiring words of the soldier at the end; his words echo with the principles upon which this country was built.

All that it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to stand by and do nothing.
Edmund Burke
Share the video. We need to see the struggles and the scars and how we can make a difference.

Monday, September 9, 2013

America Wants to Know

George Zimmerman is having more than his 5 minutes of fame lately. After the Trayvon Martin trial ended, we've heard he was pulled over for  speeding, and now the news reports that his wife called 911 because of a domestic incident in which he assaulted her father and threatened her while holding a gun. The news coverage of the domestic incident even has the recording of the 911 call for us all to hear her terrified call for help.  Why do we listen to the call?  Simply because we're curious.

I recently read a Dear Abby column that addressed a serious concern. Some victims may be reticent to call 911 because they don't want their call to  become public knowledge. Abby took a hard stand that safety is far more important than privacy. But I think the issue is much deeper. Why do we feel we need to know the details of crimes... even at the expense of the victim? I often notice that whenever a local paper covers a rape, the public clamors to know the details, Why was the victim in that location? Why was she out so late? Often the on-line chatter is focused almost entirely on the victim, instead of the assailant.

Sometimes victims of relationship and sexual abuse choose not to engage the criminal justice system, simply because by doing so their very private victimization will become public. A rape victim may feel that a trial will not guarantee justice and will instead keep the assault present in her life for the months, sometimes years, until the case is closed. For some victims healing means moving on, and the court process not only hampers this, but continually re-traumatizes  as the rape is repeatedly revisited.  These are hard choices victims need to make--- justice in time (maybe) or closure now. But they have the opportunity to  make this choice about their privacy.

Not so when the crisis is happening. When someone is in fear and calls the police, they don't have time to consider if that call will jeopardize their privacy. More and more, the news reports provide the details of these calls... or as happened with Sheila Zimmerman, we hear the victim's frightened voice as the actual 911 recording is released to the public. When a victim calls in crisis... in fear, she/he presumes communication with an emergency responder... not with every person who watches the news or reads the paper. Would the caller make that same choice knowing that their fear and the very private details of how they were violated might become tomorrow's headline story?

America wants to know... but do we need to... and should we? At the expense of the victim?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

This is Worth a Minute of Your Life

According to the A.C. Nielson Co. the average American watches more than 4 hours of TV daily  In a 65 year life that person will have spent 9 years glued to the tube.*

 By 65, the average person will also have seen 2 million TV commercials. With an average length of 30 seconds, that means we spend about 1 million minutes of our lives watching TV commercials... wow!  Would I actually choose to spend 1 million minutes of my life watching ads for fast food restaurants, the latest new med to bring you up, down or asleep, big powerful trucks, or beer? Unlikely.

What if watching a  commercial made you want to be a better person. The folks at Guinness have done just that. Watch this touching and unforgettable commercial. It's a beautiful way to spend a minute of your life. You can't often say that about a beer commercial. Sláinte!

*Norman Herr Ph.D, California State University, Northridge

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Misleading Lolita

I'm showing my age here, but it seems that our culture is robbing our young girls of their childhood and pushing maturity on them in their early teens. And they're not winning either way.

Fashion trends like Victoria's Secret's  Bright Young Things campaign encourage teens or even tweens to wear revealing or seductive clothes.   But as we've seen recently in the Montana  rape case, when a young girl is sexually victimized her appearance can be used to excuse the actions of the adult perpetrator.

Here's an interesting article, The Six Ways We Talk About a Girl's Age, that explores our often confused and contradictory social biases about being a girl.

Related posts:
Montana Rape case;

Friday, September 6, 2013

It Works the Other Way Too

A new study from Columbia  University links teen drinking to viewing pics of others drinking on facebook or other social media... a new digital take on peer pressure. About 40% of kids have seen pics on their social media sites of other kids drinking...and there's a  correlation between social media and risk behaviors. Deseret news summarizes the report with these startling statistics:

 "Teens who use social media are five times more likely to use tobacco,
three times more likely to drink alcohol and twice as likely to use marijuana." 

A survey of parents showed that parents weren't attuned to these influences;
  • 87% said social networking won't influence their child's drinking
  • 89% said it won't influence drug use, and
  • only 64% of parents monitored their child's social networking

But despite its bad rap, peer pressure can also be a good thing. Most kids are making good decisions... but they often hear so much about the other decisions that they think they're tin the minority. They're wrong. Through their Strength in Numbers campaign the Shenendehowa Community Coalition is working to change that. They've polled their students and are giving them the facts in a really memorable way. Here are just a few:
  • 71% of Shen students thinking drinking regularly is uncool
  • 86% did not get in a car with a drunk driver, and
  • 96% do not drink and drive.
We know kids are influenced by what they see on social media... let's give them the real facts.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Women Don't Do This as Well as Men

  • Nearly 14 million women do this to excess regularly every month. And who are they? Those with incomes over $75,000, women 18-34, and high school girls.
  • Our bodies don't adapt to this as well as men's bodies, and we're more likely to have serious, even deadly, problems.
  • This activity ups our breast cancer risk, and
  • I'd add this activity is a contributing factor in the majority of sexual assaults. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Sometimes Raising Your Voice is the Right Thing to Do

Sometimes public outrage makes us take a second look at things. A few days ago I wrote about a statutory rape case in which a teacher was sentenced to a mere 30 days for having sex with a 14 year old student, who later committed suicide. The judge imposed such a minimal sentence because he opined the child was "older than her chronological years" and "was as much in control of the situation" as the teacher who raped her.

Protesters brought the issue to national attention, calling for the judge's resignation. Well, according to the Huffington Post that sentence is being appealed as it does not meet the state's minimum mandatory sentencing for this crime.

This is not the first time that protesters have challenged  a judge's sentence that minimized the actions of a rapist by blaming the victim. In 1997, women in the Italian Parliament rallied in outrage when a judge blamed a teenager who was raped by her driving instructor for the assault because she was wearing tight jeans. That incident launched Denim Day, an international day of recognition about sexual violence and a call to action.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Molly... don't invite her to the party

New York City's mayor canceled the final day of the Electric Zoo concert as two concert goers died and four others ended up in intensive care...all due to overdoses of  MDMA, also known as, Ecstasy or Molly. This isn't a new drug; it was originally synthesized for medical purposes in the early 1900's but the 1970's drug culture launched the recreational use of MDMA  to achieve altered states of consciousness. The club scene in the 1980-90's resurrected the drug's  popularity under the name Ecstasy.   

And  where and how Molly is used  contribute to the drug's dangerousness. The signs of impending overdose include hyperthermia (excessive overheating), inability to sweat, and confusion; combined with the euphoria, loss of inhibition,  and altered state of consciousness the user loses the ability to monitor his/her level of functioning. The drug is often used in large crowded rooms such as dance clubs; these conditions exacerbate the overheating and dehydration that can lead to potentially fatal hyperthermia. Even after the drug has worn off, Molly still poses a risk. Days after using Molly, the individual may experience low moods or depression. 

With a new name, Molly use is once again rising ; popular music includes references to the drug. Throughout the decades, whenever MDMA resurfaces, there are reports of young people dying (sometimes the first and only time they've used the drug.) This is one dangerous fad... and it's risks should be taken seriously. Just ask NYC.