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 fiancée 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.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

"Sometimes as a Guy You Have to Hide Your Pain"

We've all seen the articles like this in the  news, "Female teacher accused of having sex with male student."   Statutory rape? Absolutely. Sexual victimization? That's where our social attitudes weigh in casting doubts, shedding bias, and making  it difficult for boys and young men to not only disclose the abuse... but even to acknowledge that this 'special attention' isn't welcome and is in fact a violation.

Today I watched a video by a comedian,, Andrew Bailey. It starts with the words, "Why I think rape is sincerely hilarious when it happens to dudes. It's horrible when it happens to women, but men getting raped is hilarious." Frankly, if the video hadn't come with the recommendation to watch the whole video before passing judgment, I wouldn't have watched to the end. I  did and I'm glad. Bailey, -who was a victim of statutory rape, reflected back  our social prejudices  in a way that felt so uncomfortable... as it should. Rape as a comedy routine? Disconcerting, but as Bailey quips, "Sometimes as a guy you've got to hide your pain."

One in six men has survived  unwanted or abusive sex in childhood. That's right, 1 in 6-- but how often do you hear about it? Have you ever heard anyone talking about how unwanted sexual contact or sexual violation can insinuate itself into a man's life, self-esteem, values and relationships.... even years after the contact has ended? We just don't talk about it. With online resources, 24/7 support line and awareness resources, One in Six  strives to help men who have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood live healthier, happier lives. They've got resources for survivors, family members, and professionals...and if you're wondering about  the1 in 6 statistic they've got info on that too.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

This Should Be All Year Long

WOW....it took just 15 minutes for me to be inspired, energized, and  and raring to speed back to my desk and get to work.That's what happened yesterday in Stillwater. Was there a nationally recognized motivational speaker there? NO, but there were 5 professionals I know  well talking about domestic violence. I've heard them all speaking for years, but their words and their vision, mine too, have changed. We weren't talking solely about helping survivors; we were talking about what we need to do to END it.

Since 2003 Sergeant Ray Cordani of the Stillwater Police Department has organized a cell phone drive
during Domestic Violence Awareness Month to provide 911 phones to victims of abuse. With the help of local businesses they've collected more than 4,000 phones that advocates have given to those in need.

With decades of experience in law enforcement, Sergeant Cordani knows the prevalence and effects of domestic violence, "There's rarely a shift we don't respond to a domestic incident." He set the tone for the rest of the speakers with a call to action that was echoed again and again" We need to change the culture to change the behavior." Shifting our thinking,  away from focusing on the individual (either the person who stays or the person who abuses) to looking at why abuse endures in our society-- that's the key to solving it.

With 2 full time attorneys assigned to prosecuting these cases, domestic violence is ever-present in our office" explained Acting District Attorney Karen Heggen, "Domestic violence is not a private issue; it is a community issue." Sheriff Mike Zurlo affirmed his department's commitment to battling domestic violence and protecting victims.

Senator Kathy Marchione, who has championed victim assistance and prevention programs, sounded a poignant call to action,
"We need to speak out with one voice and say No More to domestic violence...
No More...
Never again!"

Ten years ago when I began speaking about setting our sights on ending abuse, over and over again I heard this wasn't a realistic goal. Today affirmed for me that not only do so many others share that vision, but that we're committed to achieving it.

So we collected hundreds of cellphones to help in a crisis, but even more importantly we pledged a commitment to an even bigger goal...ending abuse.

Stillwater Supervisot Ed Kinowski lamented, "When I hear the stories and the statistics, I can't believe it still exists. Domestic violence awareness can't be just one month; it should be all year long." That's a great place to start.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

One is One Too Many

Mayor Yepsen presents Wellspring with resolution proclaiming October DV Awareness Month
Last night I attended the Saratoga Springs City Council meeting. I was invited to speak  for a few minutes about Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  Mayor Yepsen gave some statistics about the frequency of abuse that she deemed shocking:
  •  in the US we average 20 acts of violence per minute
  •  10 million victims each year; and
  • domestic violence accounts for 15% of violent crime.

I provided some local data from Saratoga County:
  • Domestic violence is the #2 violent crime in our county
  • Depending on the year it is either the #1 or #2 cause of homicide, and
  • It is also the primary reason for family homelessness in our county.
The statistics are sobering; the stories behind those statistics are even more concerning, but what I'd like to take away from the conversation is a  statement by Mayor Yepsen that sums up the vision and work of Wellspring, "Even one domestic violence victim is one too many."

We're working to increase awareness, help people in need get services before a crisis, and engaging our community to create social change so that no man, woman, or child lives in fear at home.  You can be part of that change by:
  • Ask Wellspring staff to come and speak at your workplace or community group about our services and how you can be involved
  • Volunteering- We have new volunteer opportunities assisting the agency with outreach and prevention activities
  • Helping us to spread the word- Share interesting articles or talk with friends about why you care about domestic violence.  Silence Hides Violence- let's break the silence.
"Even one domestic violence victim is one too many."
                                    Mayor Joanne Yepsen

Friday, October 3, 2014

Moving Beyond Ray Rice

Domestic violence isn’t going to disappear tomorrow or the next day. But the more that we choose not to talk about it, the more we shy away from the issue, the more we lose.
                                                                                                                       Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks quarterback

I've been wondering how it must feel to be an NFL player these days as public perception of the league is so focused on the actions of a few players. Players, coaches, and owners who do not commit or condone acts of  violence must feel scrutinized and sometimes judged as guilty by association. Today I happened across an article by Russell Wilson; his candor in speaking about his own history and reactions to the recent events gave me some insights into how players are affected by, "To be honest, many NFL players are reluctant to address such a sensitive issue. How do you fix a problem so big and complex? How do you speak about something so damaging and painful to families?"

Some of those sentiments and frustrations echo how advocates have felt for years. At Wellspring, our goal is to end relationship and sexual abuse, but that's a really big goal. How do we even begin? Like all journeys we begin with a plan and taking that first step.

Wilson did the same. He started the Why Not You Foundation and is asking for your support in Passing the Peace by making a $2 contribution to the National Domestic Violence hotline. As Wilson says, "All I can do is my small part. And I invite you to help me."

Thursday, October 2, 2014

I'm Not Wearing Purple Today

Yesterday I was wearing a red blouse and today I'm wearing green & brown. I'm not a celebrity and generally no one pays any attention to my fashion (I'm not even sure that looking in my closet the word 'fashion' come to mind). But my wardrobe has been a topic of conversation. "Maggie you're not wearing purple? It's October. It's Domestic Violence Awareness Month!" In the past I wore purple every day in October  and encouraged others to do so also to bring attention to DV Awareness Month... and I guess it worked as people remember. But this year I've decided wearing purple to bring about awareness isn't enough so I'm changing the game (and the wardrobe choices.)

I'd  like to ask people to take action against relationship and sexual abuse: start a conversation, educate yourself or ask Wellspring to bring a program to your workplace or community group, forward an article or a blog post that you find interesting.

Need some ideas? Here's a few:
... and if wearing purple helps start conversations, go ahead and take the purple clothes off the hangers.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Does 'Yes means Yes' Fix the Problem?

California is the first state to sign into legislation a bill that requires colleges to assess for affirmative consent when reviewing allegations of sexual assault. The bill has been hotly contested as gender biased. Opponents feel the bill targets men and that instances of regretted sex may end up as rape convictions. The bill's language is actually gender neutral. False reporting of rape is relatively rare and is consistent with  false reporting for other crimes (and may result in charges against the person who knowingly and willfully falsely reported.)

Too often we have seen campus judiciary committees insufficiently trained to handle sexual assault allegations; in these cases the complainant feels the judicial process itself re-traumatizes and victimizes them.  The highly publicized mishandling of a sexual assault case at Hobart and William Smith Colleges all too poignantly illustrates that our campus judiciary process is ill equipped to effectively decide these cases. Rape cases are notoriously difficult to adjudicate in the criminal justice system, where professionals, both prosecutors and defense attorneys are presenting the evidence; campuses simply don't have the experience to confidently and sensitively handle these unique cases... and too much is on the line for both the alleged assailant and the alleged victim to leave this to chance. 

While this bill attempts to provide a higher standard of consent by which colleges can adjudicate these cases (and hopefully also sparks even more education about consent to prevent such situations from occurring), perhaps the real question is, "Do  colleges have the knowledge and experience to review and adjudicate sexual assault cases?" And if the answer is not a resounding yes, then how should we address that?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Paws for Peace

Assemblyman Tedisco and his pooch Gracie with Dr. Joy Lucas
When I talk about Wellspring's victim-assistance programs people are always surprised when I mention the Safe Pet Partnership... "Whoa, pets? How does that fit with domestic violence?" Sadly, there's a big correlation. Abusers will use our love for our family pets as a tool of coercion. According  to the American Humane Society, 71% of domestic violence victims entering shelters reported their abuser had maimed, killed or threatened family pets for revenge or to psychologically control them. Some victims stay trapped in abuse because they fear their pet would be harmed if they left. Conversely the Humane Society states, "Investigation of animal abuse is often the first point of social services intervention for a family in trouble."

At Wellspring we 're committed to helping all victims of domestic violence. That's why we have a Safe Pet Partnership that provides temporary foster placement in loving homes for pets while their families find safe housing...after which they're all reunited So join us on October 11th us raising awareness  keep our furry, feathered, and finned   family members safe from abuse.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Wellspring. Why? What's Next?

I've spent al lot of time recently speaking with local TV news, radio and print reporters about DVRC changing its name to Wellspring. These are the folks who cover the news stories so they're well aware of the prevalence of domestic violence and have seen the most tragic consequences. That's why our conversations turned from simply reporting about the name change to more in-depth discussions of the issue and what we can do to stop the violence.

You can see the clip here. with Mark Mulholland.

You can see the clip from  here with Look TV with Jesse Jackson.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

What's New?...Wellspring

It's Good Newsday Tuesday

In my mind's eye, I see the future... our future. I know that the future I envision isn't far away because the buildings, the people and the places all look familiar. But there's one big difference. No one lives in fear at home because of abuse. Fear of being raped doesn't linger as a haunting spectre when walking home after work or on a date.  Why not? Because we've eliminated relationship and sexual violence in Saratoga County.

We're not there now. Domestic violence is the #2 violent crime in the county and one of the top 2 causes of homicide. The number of sexual assault victims seeking assistance increases each year. But that's today. If I look really hard I see a different picture.

More than 30 years ago the agency I work for began as a small group of community members helping women who were abused. As they volunteered their services it quickly became clear the problem of domestic violence was bigger than anyone realized. Until they took action, no one knew the magnitude.

We know the number now... and we've met tens of thousands of survivors,  heard their stories and helped them through and beyond the crisis. Now it's time to take our work to the next level. We've got to turn our efforts to getting ahead of the problem...  holding offenders accountable...preventing abuse  before it happens... until it simply doesn't happen any more.

We'll always be there  to provide crisis and support services to help victims be safe, heal and seek justice. But we've got to ask the bigger question, "How do we keep abuse from happening." The question isn't," .Why does (s)he stay?"...it's "Why does a person choose to abuse.... and what can we do to stop this?"

At DVRC we're committed to the vision of achieving a
Saratoga County free of relationship and sexual abuse.
At a press conference today we invited key community leaders to join us in working toward that vision, through:
  • increased awareness and prevention efforts
  • earlier intervention
  • working for social change.
We're serious about this vision. We're serious about supporting healthy relationships and creating safe communities. In fact we're so serious, we've changed our agency name. So as of today , DVRC is now Wellspring. The name resonates with hope with potential and a vision for the future. Help us achieve this vision; there's a role for you in it. Look ahead... do you see the future I see?... it's just up the road.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Stay Blessed

Between Labor Day and Columbus day there's a holiday that doesn't get enough recognition, World Gratitude Day. It's September 21st and it's been recognized worldwide since 1965. So take a minute today to give thanks for what you've got. Just last week my coworkers were all talking about gratitude. One of them starts each day counting all her blessings on her fingers before she even gets our of bed (and the two pups snuggled beside her in the bed are always in the count). What a great way to start the day. Another said that she started consciously practicing gratitude during a particularly difficult period in her life as she was caring for a loved one... gratitude helped her through her grief. Clearly, I work with some very wise folks. They don't reserve just one day a year for gratitude, but practice it every day.

If you need more inspiration, watch this experiment about how gratitude affects happiness. You'll see them laugh, cry, fidget and squirm...  and you'll find it's never too late to express gratitude.

And to all the regular readers of this blog, thanks for joining with me to think about what we can do to shine our lights a little brighter in this world.


Saturday, September 20, 2014

It's On Us... All of Us

Domestic violence and sexual assault have long been hidden epidemics. Not so much anymore. In recent months both issues have come out of the shadows, and are getting major attention on campuses, in boardrooms, and by our government. They're talked about around the dinner table, at the water cooler, and during the pregame commentary.

And all that talk is making a difference. Today the White House launched It's On Us, an awareness campaign to end campus sexual assaults. In Denver Vice President Biden also held a roundtable discussion about domestic violence.   "It’s on all of us to change the culture that asks the wrong questions, and our culture still asks the wrong questions." That's right, we've got to stop asking questions like , "Why do they stay?" and "What did she do to lead him on?" or "Why didn't  (s)he report it to the police?" Instead let's ask why they choose to abuse. But we can't stop with asking questions.

The It's On Us video states "It's on us to stand up, to step in to take responsibility...to stop sexual assault" and they provide tools to get you started.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Shatter the Silence

I'm always amazed by the power of one. One person speaking up. One person telling their story and making us think. One person choosing to do something. It can make such a difference.

I'll admit I'm not always the one. I've sometimes left a situation wishing I'd said something or had offered help. Why don't I? Sometimes I couldn't think quickly enough of what to say or do. Sometimes I questioned whether my actions would be helpful. And sometimes I just lacked the courage. And after I felt disappointed in myself and thought about what I could so better next time.

Taking action takes forethought and practice... and a really compelling reason that motivates us  to action. Ready to make the change? The Shatter the Silence PSA will  inspire you. And if you want the backstory on how this all got started, Sharon Love tells about how she turned tragedy into a vision to recognize domestic violence and stop it.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

What's Worse than a Black Eye

The whole country is talking about it: football fans and feminists, sportscasters and sponsors, politicians and parents. It's domestic violence. A 3½ minute video has brought domestic violence out of the shadows and made it a topic of conversation for weeks.

Not since another famous athlete, OJ Simpson, was linked to a tragic domestic violence incident has the issue received so much attention. Those conversations are increasing awareness and are the catalyst for much needed social change. Citizens from all walks of life are denouncing abuse, calling for more responsive laws and practices, raising questions and searching for answers. National hotlines are reporting more calls from people who need help.

What we saw in that video has changed us, made us notice, made us care, and in some ways helped us to understand. But there’s one thing that really troubles me. We took notice because he punched her in the face; we were shocked at the brutality of the physical assault. That video reinforces the belief that domestic violence involves physical abuse. Sometimes it does, but not always. We’ve seen that physical abuse can be brutal. But when we speak with survivors of domestic violence they often tell us that the most damaging abuse wasn’t physical, it was the psychological control, the isolation, the threats and intimidation. It was continually feeling like they were walking on eggshells. That's abuse too... but much harder to see. 

It’s not uncommon for someone to call our hotline and apologetically say, “I’m not sure if I should be calling you; I’ve never been hit.” And then they describe why they called and clearly they are experiencing abuse. It may be emotional or psychological abuse, or financial/economic control. Their partner may be isolating them from friends or family. Or sexually violating them.

But in the absence of physical abuse, they question if it’s domestic violence…. and they’re not sure if it’s OK to call for help. That’s a concern. While we’re having those conversations about domestic violence, let’s also talk about abusive behaviors above and beyond physical violence. The message is coming through loud and clear that physically assaulting a partner is unacceptable. Let’s not stop the discussion there. Let’s talk about other forms of power and control too.  

If you or someone you know may be experiencing abuse,
call our 24 hour hotline at 518-584-8188.
We can help.

All services are free and confidential.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Someone Like You

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better.  It's not.
 ~Dr. Seuss
  On Wednesday night I attended a meeting with business leaders from all over Saratoga County. Because I was flanked by two of Saratoga’s the most energetic, articulate and caring women Mayor Yepsen and Gayle LaSalle, the conversation  bounced from heart wrenching issues to daily challenges (opportunities) to uproariously humorous  stories about our daily lives. When Mayor Yepsen mentioned the 9/11 memorial scheduled for the following morning, we all were brought back to that morning and told our stories of 9/11. Two people had been just blocks away and immediately began volunteering; they selflessly put their own emotions on the shelf so they could help others. One woman recounted how she was at a hospital helping right afterwards and it wasn't until she was safely home and collapsed shaking in her husband's arms that she allowed herself to grieve. We all remarked on how whenever tragedy or evil strike, people rally to help.

That conversation quickly led to a discussion of Code Blue. After the tragic death last December of a 52 year old homeless woman who froze to death on a loading dock one night, the people of our community rallied together to find a solution to help our most vulnerable citizens in one of the coldest winters on record. Mayor Yepsen, community agencies, faith groups and concerned Saratogians created Code Blue.  With unplanned echoes of an equally symbolic winter’s night the doors to Code Blue opened on Christmas Eve so homeless men and women could escape the cold, share a meal and sleep safely in peace. With a week’s planning, no funding, no paid staff, people who cared launched Code Blue providing 928 restful slumbers in a safe bed rather than a frigid sidewalk.

And that brings me to where every conversation I have lately seems to go… the Ray Rice incident. Father Paul from St. Clements Church is a passionate Ravens fan. I’ve heard there are sermons interwoven with commentary about yesterday’s game. He’s not in the pulpit today, but his most recent facebook post teaches us so much about Christian values, human values and how we all can show we care.

As a diehard Ravens fan I will not be watching or following in any way tonight’s Steelers/Ravens game, but will be making a donation to Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services of Saratoga County. There is no room in our world for violence in any way, shape or form.
Father Paul
Thank you Father Paul for reminding us how to transcend. And blessings to all the people who see what’s wrong in the world and take action to help others.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

We're Asking the Wrong Question

It had to happen. The focus changed from Ray Rice's assault to questions about why Janay stays (and even married him soon thereafter). This morning NPR News hosted a thoughtful discussion about why victims stay.

It's the most asked question in our industry, "Why do they stay?" It's as if we think that we can end relationship violence if victims would only leave. That premise ignores the reality that abusers will just move on to another partner and abuse... or  will continue to abuse their current partner even after they've left the abuse. We think that walking away frees the victim. Not necessarily. Sometimes staying in the relationship makes them feel safer because they can see when the abuse is escalating and take action to reduce risk. Out of the relationship they'd be continually on alert as the abuser has made it clear that leaving and living are not options. Sometimes the abuse victim doesn't have the option of walking away from the relationship and closing the door on the abuse. If there are children in common, there may be court ordered visitation agreements. The person they are leaving may be an abuser, but also answers to 'Daddy'  or 'Mommy'. Every child swap is a chance to replay the abusive power and control dynamic. Will the abuser even show up for the kids on time. Will (s)he stage a huge fight? Say vile things about me in front of the kids? Not return the kids and leave me terrified that some terrible feared fate has befallen them to punish me for leaving?

And let's talk about love. This is the person you've chosen to spend you life  with...maybe have a family with. Often abuse survivors don't want the relationship to end... they just want the abuse to end. And after an incident, the next morning there's often remorse, apologies and promises to make things different. Weeks ago Ray Rice stood before all of us and talked about making the biggest mistake of his life. He apologized, professed a sincere desire to  change...promised to be a better man. How many of us listened to him and cautiously entertained, if not forgiveness, a willingness to see what he did next and earn back our trust? We looked into his eyes and saw an imperfect human...and did not turn our backs. You might say- we stayed- tentatively, cautiously, hopefully. And we don't love Ray Rice. We haven't committed our heart and life to this man... raised a child with him.

Who are we to question why someone stays? The social media world is full of  people telling their reasons, trying to help us understand. 
Domestic violence is complicated. There's no perfect map or flow chart to navigate these difficult decisions. Daily DVRC's advocates hear so many reasons why someone chooses to stay.  These are often thoughtful, heart wrenching  choices to ponder. I could write volumes on the complexity of this decision, but  I believe social media may have provided some insight in just 68 characters:

#Why I stayed  So my children could have a father
#Why I left       So my children could have a mother

There were probably many incidents and many changes of heart between those two tweets. Does focusing on why they stay solve the problem? I think  our energies are better spent on preventing abuse from happening.

Related posts:

My Team Pick-Olbermann

The Ray Rice incident has exploded far beyond criticism for the actions of one man who committed an act of brutality. The public release of the video has cast a light on how we turn a blind eye to this criminal act because looking more closely might upset our fantasy football picks. We knew weeks ago that Rice had punched his girlfriend knocking her unconscious. Only when we (the public)actually saw the brutality of that assault did the NFL take swift and decisive action. Until we couldn't look away there was a certain tolerance for abuse.  

If there's any doubt that the locker room accepts and even lightheartedly excuses violence, Daryl Srawberry's account of the 'Kevin Mitchell cat incident' squashes those doubts. Accompanied by chuckles all around, Strawberry explains Mitchell was in a dispute with his girlfriend, a couple of the guys were there, and he decapitated the girlfriend's cat. While Strawberry looks a bit uncomfortable and notes Mitchell was affiliated with gangs, there's  a clear brotherhood that seeks to excuse the behavior and diminish it.  Laughing, Strawberry says, "That's a pretty good story. [Kevin] was a different type of guy... great guy... super teammate... great person...he figured the girlfriend was acting a little crazy, so "I'll kill her cat.

Hey fun times then we had some beers...  boy those were the days...really? This incident happened decades ago, but today we still see this tendency to look the other way and make excuses instead of noting when someone we know,  man or  woman, is abusive.

Comparing Strawberry's telling of this 'zany incident' to ESPN's Keith Olbermann's outrage about the Rice response. While the cat incident describes an act of intimidation, coercion and brutality there's no sense of outrage. I can't help imagining what it feels like to have several athletes watch your boyfriend murder your cat to 'keep you in line'...and not one of them steps in and says :"Whoa buddy... what the heck!" Instead it's laughed about for years..."what  a great guy... a super person!" I'll take Olbermann on my team any day.

In our school prevention classes we teach kids, boys and girls, about standing up and speaking out when they see someone bullied. These kids learn that character, strength and leadership aren't just about not doing bad things, they're about having the courage to not turn your back or laugh it off when you see someone intimidating another person. Third graders get it... but we don't ?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Harvard prof's class for you right now-- no tuition required

Tuesday is Good News Day

Got  just 2 minutes during the next 21 days?

In just 2 minutes a day, this technique can elicit improved performance on all key business outcomes.
  • The same brain-- your brain-- is 31% more positive when it's in this state.
  • Doctors are 18% faster an more accurate with diagnoses.
  • Salespeople are 37% more effective at sales.
This state can turn on all the learning centers in your brain.

While  this may sound like the lead-in to a late night infomercial, don't panic, no need to run and lock up the credit cards.

It's about rewiring your brain to scan for positive rather than negative... scanning for success and happiness. Sound too touchy feely? Maybe, but it's based on science. In fact this Ted Talk Shawn Anchor, who teaches the most sought after class at Harvard University, explains how to improve  your life . And if that Harvard gig ever flops, within seconds of viewing the video you'll see right away that Anchor's got a fall back career option option doing stand-up.

He details the action plan at 12:17. So if you want to study along with all those Harvard students  the quick notes version is below, but the real learning comes from hearing Shawn speak. And a passing test score means a better, more successful, happy life.

Create positive lasting change:
3 Gratitudes
Journal about something positive

Positive Acts of Kindness

(Need more inspiration to actually put the concepts into practice? Here's the story of what happened when 3 college-aged men watch Anchor's Ted talk and decided to do one sweet random act of kindness.)

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Video Replay That Changed Everything

Probably the most talked about opening season play didn't happen on the gridiron.
My family has been buzzing about the Giant's game tonight, but across the country football fans aren't taking about an opening kick off, but about an ending-- namely the Ravens terminating Ray Rice after video of his brutal attack of his then fiancée became public. Sports commentators (who aren't generally a fragile or easily rattled types) saw the video today and are using words like: brutal, horrendous, disturbing and gruesome. Kyle Flood, football coach at Rice's alma mater, Rutgers University, said, ""There is nothing that can justify what I saw on that video."

While the NFL was late to the game in taking this incident seriously, they're stepping up. They're also accurately sighting down the field to the true cause of the attack as well as  the solution.:
  •  The cause? It's not about couples counseling, or mediation, or consideration of whatever actions by Rice's fiancée may have preceded the attack; it's about Rice's conscious decision, the choice he made,  to hammer his fist into her face. 
  • The solution? Firm policies connecting off field behaviors to the Code of Conduct and the League's image and credibility. And clear consequences for violating the ethical code.
I'm still left with questions:
  • Before making the original 2 game suspension video, the NFL said it had seen footage from inside the elevator, but today said this was new video. It's a big jump from a 'one time incident' to a 'brutal attack'. I know the NFL has met with advocates and seriously listened and learned about relationship and sexual abuse. But could they have viewed a brutal assault just weeks ago and had such a different reaction... or was this new video footage so different from what they'd watched before?
  • Players and coaches are stepping up as role models- talking about character on and off the field. How can we utilize their words and examples to  inspire and create change?  Let's make this a priority.
  • I wonder how many domestic violence victims are watching as a  complicated relationship plays out in the public? How many think about Janay, about how her life and her love have become  water cooler conversation across the country. How many are wondering what it's like  for her tonight as Rice's career and success, probably something he's dreamed about since he was a kid, have changed irreversibly. How many don't want to watch that video, because they know too well the feelings of fear, anger, confusion as the fist of someone you love barrels toward your face. How many keep their own suffering private, don't tell anyone, and would do anything to avoid the exposure Janay is enduring now. I've chosen not to view the video.  I truly believe that the NFL's decision (albeit belated) to take a serious stance against relationship and sexual violence will have a ripple effect that will be a catalyst for change, not just in sports,  but cutting across all aspects of our society. Yet as a victim advocate, I'm also acutely aware, that we've had to peer into one woman's darkest hour, without her permission, to find this catalyst.


Thursday, September 4, 2014

"Rape is a crime without consequence — except for the victim,”

Six out of 10 rape victims don't report rape. 
The vast majority of rapists never sped a single night in jail.

Scott Berkowitz, president of RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) spoke before the  Senate Judiciary Committee about how to fix a system that stigmatizes and re-traumatizes victims, yet rarely holds offenders accountable. Without consequences sexual predators are  commit more assaults. 

More and more, from college campuses, to courtrooms to  military judicial proceedings, we're wrestling with the biases, misconceptions, and inadequacies of our society's ability to effectively prosecute sexual violence. At least the public is increasingly aware of how much we're falling short in providing even a measure of justice for victims, but we've got a long way to go to fix our justice system.

Berkowitz pointed to just how ineffective our court system is at responding to rape, "In America today, rape is a crime without consequences--except for the victim."

Today I read a news article that highlighted a baffling example of unexpected consequences for a statutory rape victim. Almost a decade after the sexual violation, the rape has insinuated itself into his life again... and drained his bank account.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Why is that Girl Carrying a Mattress?

Emma Sulkowicz carrying her mattress around campusOn her first day of her sophomore year Emma was raped...in her dorm ... in her own bed.  She didn't report it, but later found that the same person had also raped two other women. The victims tell us they feel the university discourages them from reporting. One study of college campuses indicates that men on campus who are perpetrators are most often repeat offenders, averaging  6 sexual assaults.

But back to Emma- She tells us that when she goes to sleep in her bed at night, she doesn't sleep peacefully because she's lying in the same place she was raped. When she gets up and goes to classes she doesn't feel safe either because he assailant is still on campus. He'll be sitting in the bleachers with her when she graduates.The campus judicial board (like many) wasn't trained in investigating sexual assault, the person taking notes on Emma's report missed facts, and the judiciary committee did not have information about the other women who reported that he had also raped them. That rape changed Emma's whole college experience:

"Every day I'm afraid of leaving my room."
"As long as he's on campus with me he can continue to harass me."

Emma carries what happened to her that night with her everywhere, everyday on campus...For her senior thesis she's developed a project to show everyone what it's like to carry this with her.

We have to do more to prevent campus rape, to support victims, and to hold offenders accountable.

"As many as 1 in 4 women
are sexually assaulted in college.
Most people think
 zero sexual assaults reported
 on campus is a good thing...
actually that should be a red flag." 
Julie Zelinger

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Better Solutions than Nail Polish

Tuesday is Good News Day

In response to my August 26th post about date rape drug detecting nail polish, a reader sent me an article  she's read recently that offered   11 Ways to Solve Rape Better than Nail Polish. It's well worth the read. Elizabeth Plank hits the nail on the head with all her suggestions, and love it we're going beyond these news articles to have serious, deep conversations about these important issues.. I agree that by focusing our efforts on conversations with women about how to be safe we've been talking the wrong approach in rape prevention; to prevent rape let's educate boys and men about consent, let's hold offenders accountable, and reduce victim blaming. If a pretty manicure gives women helps women feel safer as we're working on the bigger issues, that's OK too.

So probably at this point you're thinking , "Where's the good news in all this?"

I predict we're approaching a tipping point where in social change. The NFL recently sent a strong statement about  relationship and sexual abuse. Every day I read articles questioning how assault victims are treated on  campuses and in courts. From the local papers, to the NY Times, to ESPN, there's serious coverage about domestic violence and sexual assault... and the focus is on the actions of the perpetrators. After 35+ years of advocates assisting (and often defending) victims, our society now seems ready tackle the social norms that 'excuse' sexual violence and redefining the problem. Instead of asking 'How to we prevent victims?' let's ask but 'How do we prevent assaults?'  As John Dewey said, "A problem well put is half solved."

Taking a critical step toward a solution... that's good news.

Related posts: http://maggiefronk.blogspot.com/2014/08/we-need-more-red-pens.html

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Owning My Own Double Standard

I've been blogging a lot about sexual assault during the past month. It's a topic I think about often this time of year, as I know that college is starting and the risk of sexual assault is at its highest during the first 6 weeks of school, especially for freshmen and sophomore women. 

My previous post explored our social norms that contribute to victim blaming. We all contribute to these social norms. I remember many years ago, two events that happened the same night that really opened my eyes about my own biases; a tragic stranger rape and my husband's car breaking down. Here are the stories, that have since been intertwined in my memory.

I had to work late so my hubby was given the task of attending the school open house and also dropping my boys off for Scouts and picking them up. The parent open house went fine, right on schedule, which gave him about 2 minutes to dash over and pick the boys up from Scouts (and being on time for pick up was emphasized regularly to parents). Looked like a Dad win for making things happen... until he put the key in the ignition and the instead of the motor vrooming, there was a fatalistic 'click' and then silence. A couple more tries and it was clear that dashing wasn't an option. He left a message on my cell to pick them all up at the church, then plodded off on foot to Scouts. Did I mention it was dark and raining and about a 10 minute walk an, by now,  he was already late? A couple of minutes into his soggy journey, a nice man pulled over and asked if he needed a lift He explained the situation and this Good Samaritan got him there relatively dry and not too late. When he told me about it in my car on the ride home  I commented on how lucky he was that this nice man came along.

The following morning my staff read in the paper about a stranger rape; the woman's car had broken down on the road and a man offered her a ride into town. He had other plans though. He pulled off the road, raped her then dumped her into a ditch in the rain. We were horrified reading the article. Then one of us said, "This is so awful, why would she get into a car with a man she didn't know?" We all nodded. We weren't blaming her, but in our collective unconscious I think we all heard echoes of our mothers' voices warning us of the dangers that all women subconsciously factor into our daily decisions. 

Why was my response to my husband accepting a ride from a stranger on a dark, rainy road different than that of the woman making the same choice? I never would have thought I subscribed to a double standard, but the juxtaposition of two very similar incidents made me keenly aware of my own biases...and since then I've tried to consider 
how these social norms color (or cloud) our views about sexual assault. 

"The change has to come from her" to prevent rape

Middle East reporter  Sophia Jones' had a strong response to her alma mater's president for his assertion that college women's excessive drinking feeds the culture of rape. She's right in that the blame for rape needs to be focused on the perpetrator. For too many decades, victims of sexual assault have been questioned, challenged and judged for what they wore, where the were or how they acted, as these actions may have cast a siren song whereby the male's only recourse was forcing himself on her. While that defense has unquestionably kept many from life behind bars (and has kept far more women from reporting) it's a pathetic representation of male character. 

I cringe when after Jones' college roommate was the target of a sexual assault in her own bed in her dorm, she later said, "I didn't ask for this." But she wasn't referring to the attempted rape, she was referring to the way she was treated by the justice system after she reported the assault (makes me seriously question the term 'justice").

Dr. Trachtenberg's response to Jones' letter was equally thoughtful, explaining that his words are meant to prevent rape. Women who are highly intoxicated are vulnerable to predators. This is accurate, there's a high correlation between intoxication and sexual assault....but we need to draw clearer lines:


  • Judging when an assailant chooses to rape means determining if (s)he does not or cannot give consent. This is a choice. Whether the victim is intoxicated, was flirting earlier or is wearing revealing clothes in no way is responsible for the choice to commit rape.
  • Yes, it's important to teach our daughters that intoxication can make them vulnerable... so they can be safe. Just as we teach them to drive defensively so that when someone runs a red light they can avoid being hit. But not heeding that warning shouldn't be a reason to blame her for the assault or excuse the assailant.When someone runs a red light and smashes into my car, I'm not asked , "Why weren't you prepared that he might run into your car. What did yo do  to deter him from hitting you? Did you want to be hit?" My lack of a defensive strategy, doesn't keep the driver from being ticketed for running the light, nor does it exonerate blame  make the accident 'no fault'. We should all do everything we can to be safe this world, but lack of prevention isn't an invitation to be assaulted.
  • Let's refocus our prevention strategies which have traditionally been directed at the potential victims.  So when Sophia Jones quoted a  'helpful' Egyptian police officer whose suggestion for preventing rape is, "If a woman is wearing provocative clothing, the change has to come from her",  I say let's rethink our strategy to let's focus on preventing rapes...  by preventing people from choosing to rape.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Shop, Save and Support DVRC this Saturday

Summer is ending and there's amazing sales. Fall is coming and Chico's has a  great new lineup. Come to Chico's at 329 Broadway in Saratoga Springs Saturday, August 30 to shop, save and support DVRC's programs.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Gamechanger-- Today the NFL Scored

Today the NFL introduced a new component to their personal conduct policy to address acts of domestic violence committed by a player. It's a very different response than the 2 game suspension Ray Rice received for punching his, then fiancée, in the face and knocking her out cold. The new conduct policy calls for a 6 game suspension for the first offense and a lifetime ban from the league for the second offense. The policy is not limited to only domestic violence; it covers all acts of physical violence.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell stated,
"At times, however, and despite our best efforts, 
we fall short of our goals. 
We clearly did so in response to a recent incident of domestic violence ... 
My disciplinary decision led the public to question 
our sincerity, our commitment, and whether we understood
 the toll that domestic violence inflicts on so many families.
 I take responsibility both for the decision 
and for ensuring that our actions in the future properly reflect our values."

While the circumstances that brought this issue to light, a violent assault and the NFL's limp response to the violence, both tarnished the NFL's reputation, the league has achieved a come from behind win with the new code of conduct. They've raised the bar on their expectations for conduct on and off the field, but they've also implemented prevention and early intervention strategies. They'll be talking with recruits and are supporting programs in high schools and colleges to address the issue. They're providing counseling for players if needed. And in case the message isn't clear, they're issuing a memo to all players that states,
Domestic violence and sexual assault are wrong.
They are illegal.
They are never acceptable in the NFL 
under any circumstances.

The NFL just scored the winning point with their game changing decision!

Athletes know kids look up to them,
and it's important for athletes to be responsible.
        Deion Sanders

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Let's Take Down the Black Eye Poster

You've all seen the poster of a woman with a black eye; in fact, it's how most of us initially learned about domestic violence. The photo shaped our beliefs (and some persistent myths) about domestic violence:

  • the victim is always a woman
  • abuse is physical violence
  • domestic violence is as easy to spot as just looking at someone's face.
While that poster brought about awareness, I'm not a fan of that poster because it limits our understanding of this complex issue. If DVRC had a dollar for every time someone has said, "I'm not sure if I should even be calling, I've never been hit", well we'd have a boatload more money to support prevention and outreach services. Often the people who say that line, will then go on to tell us about a very controlling and abusive relationship... but they're not sure it's domestic violence... because it doesn't meet our image of violence. 

What they describe is emotional abuse that permeates every waking moment, every decision, every action, even their very thoughts. They often feel they're living their life as if walking on eggshells, but they've never come for help because that poster wasn't about this  type of abuse. It's emotional abuse... it's very common... and it's equally (if not more) damaging than that stereotypical black eye.

So how do we recognize emotional abuse? Dr Kristen Davin outlines 12 Unmistakable Signs You're Dating an Emotional Abuser:

Here are some common signs of emotional abuse (though not exhaustive):
  1. 1.Putting you down — in private, but often in public. This is their attempt to shame you. Projecting their feelings of low self-worth on to you.
  2. 2.Embarrassing you in public.
  3. 3. Blaming you for their abusive and unhealthy behaviors. Using the "if, then" trick. "If" you don't do this, "then" I won't do that.
  4. 4. Threatening to harm you or your family often.
  5. 5. Calling you derogatory names many times.
  6. 6. Making you feel bad or guilty when you don't consent to sexual activity. Laying guilt on you that you "should" be doing this, and if you really loved me, you would be having sex with me. Or "I will have to find it elsewhere."
  7. 7. Gaslighting. A form of psychological abuse where false information is presented to their victim to make them doubt their decisions, perceptions and judgements in their attempt to make you seem "crazy."
  8. 8. Making you feel like you are always doing something wrong.
  9. 9.. Isolating you from your family and friends. Playing victim when you want to spend time with family and friends. Saying "we" never spend time together. "If you loved me, you would want to spend time with me."
  10. 11. If you do go out, making multiple demands on you through numerous texts and phone calls.
  11. 11. Stalking you.
  12. 12. Threatening suicide when you attempt to break up with them: "I can't live without you; I will kill myself if you break up with me."
If you or someone you know
 is experiencing any form of relationship abuse, 
you are not alone, call for help now. 
Call 518-583-0280 for an appointment with an advocate...
or call DVRC's 24 hour hotline at 518-584-8188