Saturday, July 27, 2013

Character: Make it Part of the Campaign Platform

What's a politician? A diplomat, leader,  statesman, representative for all the people- a dignitary,

Many, no most, of our public officials deserve such descriptors. There are a handful of men in office,  their names and scandals occupy the headlines daily, who've forgotten that they're elected not just to push through bills, but for their character. Whether through blatant sexual discrimination or sophomoric sexual exhibitionism, they're sullying the title of public servant and detracting from the work they should be doing for the benefit of the people they serve.

You've seen them at the podium, contrite,  acknowledging that they've made mistakes, promising that now that they've been caught they'll never do it again, or disclosing that they need help for a problem behavior. But what is that problem? May I suggest their problem is not simply an impulse disorder. I proffer that it's  a condition noted  in some men in positions of power  long before the DSM categorized psychiatric disorders. It's hubris.

Yup, the same character flaw that was the Achilles heel of Greek gods and heroes- hubris.
Wikipedia defines hubris as:
extreme pride or arrogance... a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one's own competence or capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power...In ancient Greek, hubris referred to actions that shamed and humiliated the victim for the pleasure or gratification of the abuser. The term had a strong sexual connotation, and the shame reflected on the perpetrator as well.

Sound familiar? Plain and simply it's believing that one's own power and greatness gives carte blanche for self-gratification. But unlike in ancient Greece where the hero fell from grace digraced, today's leaders pop up again faster than furry rodents in the Whack-A-Mole arcade game. 

So the state's chief legal officer and statesman consorted with high paid prostitutes, defying both the laws he was charged with upholding and the public's trust  in the character of our representative. After a 5 year hiatus, presumably for self-reflection, he's  asking us to trust in his character to oversee the financial welfare of the largest and most influential city in the US.

And we've got a representative who engaged in sexting with college students, mothers and prostitutes over a period of years, lied to his new bride and the public about it before resigning from Congress in 2011, presumably disgraced and seeking help for his compulsions. Just two years later he surprises the people with a bid for mayor of NYC... and even more digital crotch shots.

And then there's the highest official in the NYS Assembly who payed taxpayer-funded hush money to cover up illicit sexual actions in the workplace by a fellow assemblyman. This is a man who has publicly championed women's issues, but behind closed doors his actions suggest otherwise.

Sexual violence, whether rape, sexual harassment, domestic violence, or sexual discrimination, is a conscious choice to violate another person. The offender often has little concern for the rights or feelings of the victim. He frequently feels justified in the act.  It's often a repeat choice, starting with less egregious acts, but becoming bolder as the perpetrator gains confidence, experience, and doesn't experience negative consequences. The roots of sexual violence grow in our social norms that objectify women sexually and tacitly condone gender inequality. I'm not weighing in on whether the aforementioned men should hold office; each has great skills as a leader and each has the potential to change. I'm suggesting that as voters we should consider character, trustworthiness, and respect for women when we vote. If we do not hold our statesmen accountable for their actions with regard to gender equality, can we expect them to champion policy and practice to end sexual violence?

Every nine seconds in the US a woman is assaulted or beaten. Sexual violence is an important issue. It's not a private issue. It's a serious social issue that affects all of us. It costs businesses money, impacts public safety and costs lives. We need leaders whom we can trust as our champions in working for the safety and equality of all the people they represent. Media coverage of the political bad boys more resembles the Maury Povitch show (bad behavior, scandal and outrage, contrite confessions and cries for understanding) than a call for ethical and unbiased leadership by our statesmen. Character and ethics are important... hubris prevails when a leader has an unrealistic view of his own power and privilege. If we don't tell our candidates that we care about how they represent us when they're not on the podium, then hubris wins...and we lose. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

Marijuana and Schizophrenia - Is there a Connection?

Our social views on marijuana use have changed drastically in my lifetime. Since the tied-dyed, anti-establishment, pot smoking hippies of the 60’s who challenged social norms, pot has been inching its way slowly toward social acceptance. From politicians who candidly reveal that they’ve smoked pot (with or without inhaling) to medicinal marijuana to full legalization, pot clearly isn’t solely the symbol of counter-culture young rebels anymore. Many ask, “What’s the harm?” Many say, “There isn’t any.”

A recent study by the University of Maryland School of Medicine may cast some doubt on that statement. The study’s senior researcher, Asaf Keller, Ph.D., cites previous research linking marijuana use before the age of 16 to cognitive deficits and psychiatric disorders. Their study on mice indicated that the frontal areas of the brain associated with planning and impulse control are negatively impacted by drug use during adolescence, resulting in changes in brain development. The brain changes persist into adulthood and can potentiate schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders in susceptible individuals.  

“What’s the harm?” Maybe a better question is, “ Do we really understand the risks?” 
For more information about alcohol and drug prevention contact the Shenendehowa Community Coalition

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Being Raped was Just the Beginning

Imagine this:

You’re 24 years old, working in a foreign country. You’re raped by a colleague.

What’s a logical response for a woman who has been raped… to report the assault to the police. But that’s where her troubles began. Caught in the unfamiliar terrain of an Islamic legal system, Marte Dalelv found herself facing 16 months imprisonment for charges of having sex outside of marriage, drinking alcohol, and falsely reporting a rape.

The case received extensive international media attention and incited global activism about women’s rights, especially in conservative countries. Amid the furor, Ms. Dalelv was pardoned (as was her accused rapist) and allowed to leave the country.  

All’s well that ends well?  Far from!  She was incarcerated in a foreign country and faced long-term imprisonment. In seeking justice and freedom, the story of her sexual victimization became the focus of worldwide attention. She was terminated from her employment for improper behavior. And let’s not forget how this all started… she was raped.

Sometimes here in the US, we forget that women worldwide face obstacles and risks unheard of in our country, e.g.,  genital mutilation, honor killings, and widespread trafficking of young girls.  Soroptimist 
International (including our local chapter in Saratoga County) have long addressed the inequalities that affect girls and women locally and globally. Did you know?

·         One in three women have been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in their lifetime.

·         According to a recent report, 80 percent of the 600,000-800,000 people trafficked across international borders annually are female.

·         In some countries in sub-Saharan Africa, adolescent girls have HIV rates up to five times higher than adolescent boys.

Unlike many of the women whose culture  biases about their gender trap them as targets of poverty and victimization, Marte overcame the crisis and used her voice to rally not just for her own safety, but for that of women everywhere.

Related Posts;


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Ageless Wisdom from a 17 Year Old

My last post pondered how Barbie dolls may cause our young girls to focus on unrealistic standards of physical beauty.  And today’s post is in recognition of a local beauty pageant winner. Am I confused? Conflicted? Forgetful?

Maybe, but that’s a topic for another day. Ballston Spa’s Krysta Prehoda was recently crowned Miss New York Outstanding Teen. In an interview with the Ballston Journal she said she grew up watching the Miss America pageant and always dreamed of her chance in the spotlight just like the pageant contestants.  It’s no small accomplishment that she entered the competition and won the NYS title. But what I find impressive is that her motivation wasn’t the ‘beauty contest’, but achieving the exemplary academic performance, volunteerism and social concern, poise and comfort with public speaking and personal character to be considered for the contest. A contestant needs . Krysta chose the Outstanding Teen pageant because the focus is on who you are as a person, not just beauty.

In her moment in the limelight she's speaking out to end cyber-bullying.  While bullying has been around since Colonial children played roil the hoop with a stick and wagon wheel, cyber-bullying is a relatively new crime. Correction... it's  actually it’s the same old bullying, but it’s exponentially more dangerous given the anonymity and ability to reach large numbers with just a click of a mouse or send button on a phone. Technology creates a distance where the perpetrator doesn't need face-to-face contact with the victim. The harassment can follow the victim to every area of life through e-mails, texts and social media.

Every technology has its benefits and its dark side. Cyber-bullying is the dark side of our digital communications. Kudos to Krysta Prehoda for educating her peers and using her moment I the spotlight to speak out and help other teens.  

And her ageless words of wisdom?

“…stay true to who you are. That will take you farther than you think.”

Now that’s a reflection of true beauty… inside and out. Good luck to her!


Related posts:
Youth who make a difference:


Monday, July 22, 2013

If Barbie was the Girl Next Door

As a kid I wasn’t into dolls and later I had two sons, so I’m clearly not the expert on Barbie or how this  11 ½ inch doll influences girls’ body image and sense of what’s important. But I’ve heard enough mothers talking about their 3, 5, 7 and 8 year old daughters’ fascination with being just like Barbie, using lipstick, having pretty clothes and lots of stuff, that I do wonder if Barbie and all the other gender-specific modeling we provide our daughters with gives mixed messages when contrasted with parents' encouragement to study hard because you can be anything.

Sure Barbie has gotten more serious. Her accessories now include business suits, briefcases, a stethoscope and other accoutrements of a professional life. But, even for an adult,  it’s hard to look past the cascading blonde hair, sparkling blue eyes , and flawless cheekbones. And let’s not even mention the teeny waist, dainty feet and generous bust. After a day trying cases, Trial Lawyer Barbie would probably have a walloping backache (assuming she could actually stand upright to begin with.)

Is Barbie at the root of gender discrimination, girls’ eating disorders, or excessive materialism… probably not.  But is Barbie an early introduction to an unrealistic version of beauty and feminine appeal for many young girls… probably.

Nicolay Lamm has reimagined Barbie using what the CDC tells us is a typical 19 year olds’ body.  He’s proposing that Barbie gets a new look, based on normal body measurements. She’s still blonde with sparkling blue eyes, but this version looks less like a Vegas showgirl and more like the girl next door.  You can imagine her as a cheerleader, but also as the school’s soccer star, classical pianist, math whiz, valedictorian… or just the nice girl who sits in the next row in class.  And those sturdier ankles and feet will come in handy in a few years when she’s pleading a case to the jury.

Will changing Barbie’s look end eating disorders, materialism, sexual  victimization or help women break the glass ceiling… no… but maybe it’s a place to start.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Here's a Guy Who Deserves Respect

Here's a common scenario for a sexual assault:
It's a party. A young girl has too much to drink, She's totally out of it, barely able to function, and clearly unable to consent to sex.. A guy, or several guys, at the party who have also been drinking find her intoxication either funny or convenient and proceed to rape her.


Boys just having fun? Absolutely not!  

Was the girl to blame for the assault because she became so intoxicated that she couldn't defend herself?  Absolutely not!  


Recently there have been several court cases that have hammered home that this is rape. Teenaged lives (both those of the victim and perpetrator) have been irreparably changed due to poor judgment and willful sexual violation. A highly public case in Steubenville, Ohio, two 16 year old high school football players were found guilty of rape under circumstances just like those described. In Saratoga, California a similar incident was linked to the death of a 15 year old girl who committed suicide after pictures of the rape were posted on line and went viral. But these aren't isolated cases... this happens far more often that you'd imagine. 


Why? Do young men really think it's totally OK to rape a girl? If that's true then we need some clearer messages.


And that's what one young man did. Watch the video, How to Treat a Girl (or anyone).

What a message!
Share it... talk about it... live it.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Leslie Morgan Steiner Answers the Question, "Why Did She Stay?"

It's the question I'm asked most often when talk about my work, Why does any woman or man stay in an abusive relationship?" My answer varies depending on the discussion:
  •  Sometimes I talk about how insidious the process is; a person may not realize he/she is in an abusive relationship until they are truly trapped.
  • Sometimes I talk about how they feel this is the safer alternative; if they were to leave, they fear the abuse would escalate to murder (often the abuser has promised them this will happen.)
  • Sometimes I talk about how they truly love this person. They don't wish to leave their partner...just for the abuse to end.
  • Sometimes I talk about how they are protecting children, family or loved ones from becoming the targets of the abuse.
  • Sometimes I talk about shame and the victim's belief that they are the only one experiencing such horrors in a 'loving relationship', and
  • Sometimes I talk about how very difficult it is to totally break free, especially if there are children in common and the court will require visitation agreements that keep the victim in regular contact with the abuser.
It's an simple question, "Why doesn't she or he leave?" I don't have a simple answer. But today I
viewed one of the most articulate and compelling discussions about why it's so hard for a domestic violence victim to leave the abusive relationship. Leslie Morgan Steiner, a domestic violence survivor, told her story. If you've ever wondered how or why someone stays in an abusive relationship, take just 15 minutes and watch this video. It will forever answer that question for you.

At the end of the video Ms. Steiner challenges each of us, not just those personally affected,  to take action to end abuse... and tells us how to do it. It's worth watching!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Do Shelters Cause Homelessness?

Andy Kessler, former hedge fund manager, has caused quite a stir with his assertion that shelters and the people who volunteer in them (including his own teenaged son) are the root cause of homelessness. His comments have generated quite a discussion throughout the country (and undoubtedly at his own dinner table)… what do you think? Quite simply, he reasons it’s because shelters provide food, clothing and a ‘home’ that people living in shelters are disencented from working and contributing to the economic stability of our country. He’s not the first to make the argument that we have these problems in our community because we offer help.

Contrary to what you may think, people who work in human service agencies aren’t pushovers offering a tissue and free access to a shoulder to cry on. Yes, we tend to be compassionate and caring… but we’re also really pragmatic. We absolutely offer support and assistance when someone is in crisis, but we use that crisis as a beginning. What factors contributed to the crisis? And what actions does the person need to take to correct not just the immediate problem but the factors that contributed to it. Often this means getting a job (or a second one), reducing spending, and taking a hard look at the choices they were making (cell phone, cable TV, smaller apartment, owning a car vs. public transportation.) Many of the homeless persons we assist are working; they just couldn’t make ends meet. So the focus becomes finding out why…not to make excuses, but to create needed change.  Because human service non-profit agencies can’t offer generous salaries, folks who work in the field tend to be really good at these practical decisions; that’s how they get by.

So it’s true our nonprofits may provide a meal to someone who is hungry, a roof when they have nowhere to go, or a warm coat in the winter, but that’s just where our services start. Our true goal is to help people achieve safe, stable lives. That process isn’t easy and generally requires some candid conversations and personal change. ..along with understanding and compassion.

In the past few years as our economy became more challenging I’ve heard many people saying their understanding of homelessness has changed. It’s not just the chronically addicted person or someone with severe mental health issues unwilling to accept treatment who becomes homeless. More and more I hear people sign, “So many of us are just one tragedy or one paycheck away from a housing crisis.”

I ‘m glad that if that happens, we have agencies and people who care to help us get back on track.

Friday, July 5, 2013

What is Elder Abuse? NYS Bar Association Answers

You seek help from the elders. A society with elders is healthy.
Bernard Legat
"According to Under the Radar: New York State Elder Abuse Prevalence Study,  14% of older adults in NYS have experienced some form of elder abuse. Yet for every incident documented by NYS government agencies there are nearly 24 that go unreported."1   

Yesterday's post covered the need to educate professionals from all sectors about elder abuse. While a client or patient may not be accessing the professional because of elder abuse, doctors, attorneys, bankers and other professionals  may have opportunities to identify elder abuse and intervene. In recognition of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, the NYS Bar Association created  a FAQ document for distribution to attorneys. That's a great start. This info is helpful not just to attorneys, but to all of us: 

What is elder abuse?

Elder abuse is an action or lack of appropriate actions, which causes harm, risk of harm, or distress to an individual 60 years of age or older and occurs:

a) within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust; or

b) when the targeted act is directed towards an elder person by virtue of age or disabilities. 

Elder abuse can be intentional or unintentional, can take various forms, and includes but is not limited to emotional, physical, sexual, or financial abuse, neglect and abandonment.2

What are some general signs that might indicate elder abuse?

·         Unexplained physical injuries
·         Social or physical isolation (denying the older adult contact with others, or limiting his/her ability to speak to others unobserved)
·         Emotional distress, fearfulness or withdrawal
·         Self-destructive behavior
·         Unexplained loss of financial independence or confusion about financial transactions
·         Lack of basic care (e.g., adequate nutrition, clothing, medical care)

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Elders are Particularly Vulnerable to Financial Exploitation

Leadership Saratoga spearheaded a community outreach project for Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services  so we could to better understand elder abuse in Saratoga County. They found that financial abuse was one of the most frequent forms of elder abuse.Often the person exploiting the elder is a family member whom they rely on for support. On the positive side the Leadership Saratoga team also found that banking institutions routinely train their employees to be on the lookout for financial exploitation of elders.

The team  convened a forum of community leaders and professionals concerned with elder abuse to brainstorm what we can do to prevent, identify and reduce elder abuse. One suggestion was to train a variety of professionasl to be on the lookout for all forms of exploitation of elders. These creative professionals urged us to think outside the box and train professionals to look beyond the scope of their daily work to identify abuse. Their wise words rang true today when I read an article identifying doctors as key links in identifying elder abuse.  An elder may see his/her doctor more  often than any other professional. The doctor may also know more about  their stressors, support systems, and resources than anyone. In fact the survey cited in the article notes that more than 1 in 5 doctors are aware their elderly patients are victims of  financial exploitation.

The vast majority of these doctors reasoned that seniors are particularly vulnerable to abuse due to cognitive   impairments. We sometimes view elders as too trusting,,, even careless or gullible with regard to people. Actually changes in their brain can affect  their ability to accurately judge how trustworthy someone is. Studies show that even healthy seniors with no obvious cognitive difficulties may have difficulty making decisions...and this can increase their vulnerability to fraud and financial exploitation.

Gobankingrates.com gives the following tips for protecting loved ones from elder abuse: Visit their site to learn more about elder abuse.
If you are concerned about your elderly loved one, or think you may be the victim of elder abuse, there are a number of signs you can look for to make your confirmation:
  • Excessive withdrawals from a bank account
  • Items or cash missing from the senior’s household
  • Changes to power of attorney, wills, titles or insurance policies
  • Names added to signature cards
  • Unpaid bills despite a significant cash flow
  • Financial activity that couldn’t be completed by the senior citizen
  • Unnecessary services or goods

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

"Fulton Woman Found Dead... Son Questioned"

At DVRC we've been working with our community to increase awareness of elder abuse. As I read in today's Saratogian an article entitled, Woman found dead in Fulton County home; son questioned, it resonated with me how important it is that we all be conscious of the prevalence and how to identify  elder abuse. This is an investigation in process, so we don't know the circumstances surrounding this woman's death.

June 15th was World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. A team from Leadership Saratoga helped us to begin a conversation with  businesses in our community who assist elders and are active in identifying and intervening to aid at risk elders. Click here to hear what Charles Wait  has to say about why this project was so important to his team.

The folks at WNYT helped us to get the message out on World Elder Abuse Awareness day by talking with me about elder abuse. But we need to be aware of elder abuse not just one day a year, but every day. So here are some facts:

  • 1 in 10 elders in the US are abused.
  • In 90% of cases elders are abused by family members.
  • 65% of elder abuse victims are women.
  • For elders experiencing abuse, the risk of death increases by 300%.
Upcoming posts:
What is Elder Abuse?
What can YOU do?