Sunday, June 29, 2014

Run, Don't Walk, From This Relationship

Today on Upworthy I saw a quick video called 'If You're Dating Someone and Get this Phone Call- Run- Don't Walk Away'.  It shows typical dynamics of power and control and how many can play out in just a 47 second conversation. People are often perplexed by how folks end up in abusive relationships... and why they stay. The relationships don't start out abusive. Often the abuser initially seems caring and thoughtful. I'm struck by how similar some of the early red flags of abuse are to the early characteristics of love; the often-hard-to distinguish differences are degree, choice and intent:

  • social isolation- It's natural at the start of a relationship to want to spend as much time together as possible. Sometimes that means less time with friends and family. But when your partner is constantly checking up on where you go and who you're with, or preventing you from spending time with others, "Your sister is just jealous of what we've got, stay away from her"-  that's control.
  • possessiveness- This can start out as something that feels wonderful. "You're so beautiful/handsome that you turn heads when you walk into the  room." But in time this compliment can turn to control. "Why were you looking at that guy (or girl)? Were you flirting with them?"... and then to "I know you're cheating on me."
  • constantly checking up on their partner- At first this seems sweet. He (she) calls frequently throughout the day, "I was just thinking of you and wanted to say hi" to "so what are you doing?"... but in time progresses to, "Where are you, why are you there, who are you with?"
These changes can be so subtle and insidious that it's hard recognize them at first. For a neat look at an abusive relationship played  in reverse, check out this video 'Catch Domestic Violence Early', made for DVRC by Skidmore students. By showing us the abuse first and then rewinding the relationship back we can more easily identify see seemingly harmless moments in the courtship that were early red flags of a pattern of power and control.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

DWI... It's Not What You'd Expect

Today I read an  NBC report that surprised me. A recent study indicates that drinking may cause 1 in 10 deaths among working age people. One in ten. Of course alcohol-related auto accidents come to mind as a cause of death. And the damage to the bodies of chronic alcoholics who just can't overcome the addiction. But the study suggests that even folks who aren't addicted, but who binge drink, may be at higher risk... that 5 or more drinks for men and 4  for women. The researchers indicate alcohol related deaths are the 3rd leading cause of preventable death. And click here to find out what folks living in the western mountain states should know.

On a more positive note, teen drinking and driving is down 54% since 1991 Today's kids have been raised with strong messages about the dangers of drinking and driving.  But there's a new danger, and we haven't succeeded yet in getting this message across to teens...or adults. It's texting while driving and it was a factor in almost 1 in four accidents in 2011. Worse yet, 15% of kids have watched their parents texting and driving. Check out this great infographic to learn more about texting and driving...and a new definition of DWI.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Homeless Kids in Saratoga County

Saratoga County's reputation is a bit like Lake Wobegon, an idyllic setting where there's no crime, no want, the problems are minor and all the children are above average. It's not a place you expect to see homelessness...and definitely not homeless families. In some ways this couldn't be more true- we don't see it. This isn't a community with  highly visible street homelessness. We don't have tent cities or folks sleeping on subway grates. But we do have homelessness.

In today's Times Union I was reading an article about local homeless families. Of course the highest concentration of homeless tends to be in urban areas like Albany, but *surprise* Ballston Spa also had 184 homeless children in 2012-3 according to the article. Many homeless families in local communities are living 'doubled up, or are 'couch surfing' ,i.e., moving from one temporary place to the next without a permanent home. Other families may have exhausted all their options and are staying in motels with assistance from the Department of Social Services. Often a whole family  is living for weeks or even months at a time in a single motel room without kitchen  facilities. Think about that. Imagine your  whole family spending months in a cramped motel, eating convenience food because you lack cooking facilities. It's a less than ideal. Individuals staying in these DSS-sponsored motels outnumber families, but on a single recent day in Saratoga County 2 families (as well as 26 individuals) were housed in these motels.

We may not be perfect, but we can do better than this. Local groups like the Saratoga County Housing Committee are working to bring programs and services to help homeless persons...and to address gaps in services that can help prevent homelessness. In fact this group has brought $4.1 million in housing and support services to address homelessness in Saratoga County. Want to know more? Want to get involved? For more information call the Saratoga Springs Office of Community
Development at 518-587-3550 x 575

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Be Street-Safe... There's an App for That, Kitestring

Nothing beats the summer vibe in Saratoga. People lunching in outdoor cafes, waving to friends on the street. Shoppers strolling leisurely. Within a 5 minute walk, we've got designer fashions, unique cooking gadgets, handcrafted fudge and artisanal breads, custom designed jewelry, a renowned bookstore,  gourmet olive oils, a fantasy-worthy toy store, souvenirs and Saratoga memorabilia, gourmet doggie treats, and of course, fantastical hats bedecked with feathers and flowers. There's a joyous pedestrian feel to the town.

At night the town really rocks with drink specials and live music on the outdoor patios of every bar. Heck, sometimes Gaffneys has a different band playing in every room. And locals can imbibe without worry as they can just hoof it back home, whether home is a dorm room at Skidmore or a high rise condo on Railroad Place. It's a safe town, but every city has crime...especially at night. Common sense and a bit of street smarts can prevent that great night out from ending with a mugging or a sexual assault. So even in a great place like Saratoga, be aware of your surroundings, cross the street or change your route if someone is following you...and don't walk alone at night.  Buddy up and get each other home safely. What to do if your friend walked you home, but now she/he's got a couple of blocks to walk alone?  Want to make sure everyone gets home safe? 

There's an app for that. With  Kitestring, you set your phone for how long it should take to get home. At the appointed time Kitestring checks up on you. If you're home safe you just reply. But if the unthinkable happens, Kitestring notifies your emergency contacts so they can follow up. It's free and you don't even need a smart phone. So enjoy the summer...but be street-safe.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Ryan Place- A Guilty Verdict

Dickens would have said, "It was the most uncommon of stories. It was the most common story." 

Following up on last Wednesday's post about a fantastical, but horrifyingly real, domestic violence incident being tried in court, the assailant, Ryan  Place, was found guilty. Reading the account of haunting abuse, e.g., forcing the victim to dig her own grave, juxtaposed against seeming acts  of kindness, wrapping her legs to protect them from scratches as they walk through the wooded area, confounds our logical sensibilities. But District Attorney James Murphy III pegged it when he said,
"This is a classic case of domestic violence. He  slowly exerted control over until his grip on her became so tight that he literally controlled every aspect of her life."  

That's the course of relationship abuse,. The abuser vacillates between caring and control, gradually tightening the bonds of  power and control. The process is insidious. And that's what makes it hard for a victim to recognize  how much the abuse is affecting his/her life. Just when they notice that feeling in the gut that something is wrong, the abuser apologizes acts or kindly, and the victim begins to second guess those red flags. In time they are trapped not just by the abuser's control tactics, but by their own inability to identify  what a healthy relationship looks like.

That's where a friend, a family member  or an employer saying, "I'm concerned for you" can be helpful. And where an agency like DVRC can help someone to talk about what is happening in the relationship. If you or someone you know may be in an abusive relationship, you can access our services just to talk about the situation, your options, and your safety. Many people think we're only here when abuse escalates to a crisis. Yes we're there when a crisis happens, but for your sake we'd much rather you talk to us before the abuse rises to that level. So call now even if it's just to talk  (we're here to help 24/7) .
 DVRC office- 518-583-0280
24-hour hotline- 518-584-8188


Monday, June 16, 2014

Seeing is Understanding

This year Leadership Saratoga did a great service for DVRC. They gave us a tool so we can help teens and young adults understand sexual assault, not as an abstract social issue, but as it affects their lives. It's important they understand...so they aren't a victim of sexual assault...and so they don't  inadvertently cross a line where they're accused of sexual assault.

It's a bigger problem than we think:
  • 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually assaulted before they turn 18.
  • Teens account for about 50% of all sexual assault, most occurring in a home.
So why don't we know aware of the extent of this problem? Because fewer than 1/3 of teen sexual assaults are ever reported. Why? fear, shame, stigma, self-blame, uncertainty if they'll be believed, concern they'll be judged for drinking or using drugs before the assault occurred...disbelief that "this could happen to me."

Two years ago DVRC and the Ballston Area Community Allies created Rape or Regret. a movie of a mock rape trial, that we use to educate local youth about sexual assault. It follows a couple Ryan and Tonya at a party with underage drinking; they meet, flirt, kiss, and the night ends with a sexual encounter. She feels the sex was nonconsensual; he states she was drunk but interested and consenting. One night at a party and months later they're in court;  the audience plays the role of the jury deciding if this was rape.  When they see the movie unfolding, teens get the message about sexual assault. My goal is for every teen in our county and every parent of a teen to participate in Rape or Regret. Our challenge, we don't have enough staff to bring this movie to every teen in our county,. And that's where Leadership Saratoga stepped in. They created  a facilitator guide so DVRC could train volunteers to bring this movie to schools, youth groups, parent groups... they didn't just write a guide, they field tested it and saw the impact of Rape or Regret.  We're not teaching teens; we're not talking at them... we're letting them see the issue and talk about it themselves. It's powerful.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Sex and Consent... It's Sexy

A recent Leadership Saratoga grad sent me this link to NPR's All Things Considered about college students, consent, and sex. Why? Because he was on the team that recently completed a project for DVRC to help teens and young adults be aware of issues involving sex, alcohol, consent and sexual assault (more about the great project they just completed in tomorrow's post). That Leadership team spent months learning about the issue of sexual assault and strategizing ways to increase awareness and reduce sexual assaults.

Consent sounds easy, but it's easy to trip  up. Here's  how colleges are addressing the issue and promoting  the Consent is Sexy campaign.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

It's domestic violence. It's here.

We live in a wonderful county. I loved visiting Ballston Spa last week for First Friday; the weather couldn’t have been better. I’ve been rowing in the early morning out on the lake by Fish Creek with the mist hovering just above the water as the sun rises. On the way home from work today I’ll be stopping at Allerdice to pick up 5 bags of  Miracle Gro Garden Soil  (with this week’s special pricing it’s like the 5th bag is free), then dropping by Hannaford to have a mango fest  (mangoes are 69 cents this week). If you’re a local too, I bet you cross many of these same paths in your week.  This doesn’t sound like a place where a convicted sex offender kidnaps and tortures his former girlfriend both physically and psychologically for more than 24 hours. But Caitlin Morris’ report of a case in court this week details just such a harrowing tale. Reading the account my thoughts and emotions change continually: horror… shock… disbelief that such a drama could be unfolding in the very places I’ll be parking my car later today… and then recognition.

Recognition? Yes at each turn of this horrendous tale of terror and trauma, I heard echoes of statements said in our office many times each week. In our office? Yes, there were two words that weren’t used in this story- domestic violence. This story starts out as a love story with a couple who met while she was buying sunglasses and quickly became a romance with dinners, movies and runs together,  then ended only weeks later as the girlfriend notices red flags of relationship abuse and ends the relationship. That’s what to do when something doesn’t feel right isn’t it? Move on and put that experience in the past. People ask me so often why domestic violence victims don’t just leave; sometimes they do and the abuser has other plans.

The tactics described in Saratogian reporter Caitlin Morris'  headline story are all too familiar:

First while they were dating:

Angry outbursts “he flew into a fit  of rage”

Physical abuse “slammed her onto the bed”

Imprisonment “wouldn’t let her leave the bedroom”


After she ended the relationship:

Harassment -“became obsessed with her…increasing stream of telephone and text messages”

Threats and intimidation -“communications became threatening”

Threats against family members- “started harassing her mother as well”

Stalking- “showed up at her temporary residence…she hadn’t shared the address with him”

Eliciting protective sympathy- “talking about suicide and severe depression”

Using threats of self-harm to manipulate/control the victim- “telling her he was going to drive off the bridge at 120 mph"

Pathological jealousy- “suspicion about her being with another man”

Unpredictable emotional lability  that leaves the victim perpetually ‘walking on eggshells’- “immediately he turned into another person”

Threats to harm or kill the victim-“(this turquoise pond) will be where they find (your) floating body

Threatens to harm family or loved ones if the victim seeks help-  "if she called the police…he would kill her 5 year old niece.”

Apologies…followed by more abuse- “he fell to the floor crying…expressing disbelief over his actions…(as he sat in a the chair with a kitchen knife) “it was clear the monster wasn’t going anywhere”


It’s unusual that a domestic violence incident ends up as the front page story describing 24 hours of torture. It’s not unusual that a victim tries to end the relationship and the abuse follows her (or him). While this incident has the drama, the plot twists, and the terror one might expect in a movie about relationship  abuse on the big screen, the behaviors the abuser uses to exert power and control are really common… the advocates at DVRC hear stories like this  every day. I’m certain this victim never expected anything like this could happen to her.  She ended the relationship and thought she was safe. In an instant that changed. We don’t expect crimes like this (Kidnapping Assault. Strangulation) in Saratoga County. But they happen; domestic violence is the second most frequent violence crime in our county. Just weeks ago we had two deaths related to domestic incidents.  First we have to recognize what these abusive behaviors are; they’re a pattern of power and control that’s called domestic violence. And they can escalate unpredictably.


If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these indicators of relationship abuse, don’t wait to seek help. Call now… to talk about what is happening… to find out your options… to develop a safety plan. We can help.


Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services
of Saratoga County

All services are free and confidential

 24-hour hotline 518-584-8188

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

You Have to be Actively Involved

Bullying…, it’s not just kids’ stuff.  According to nobully.com,

“America is suffering from a bullying epidemic. Bullies appear everywhere, from the playground to workplaces, elder care facilities and even online.
According to careerbuilder.com. 35 percent of more than 3,800 workers surveyed claimed that they had been bullied at their workplaces. 16 percent said they suffered from health problems caused by this bullying. 17 percent said that, despite the terrible economy, they were forced to quit because of bullying.”

So unchecked, the bullying behaviors that first exhibit on the playground, can persist. As the individual grows up and their relationships mature, those same behaviors may manifest in new ways such as cyberbullying, sexual harassment, dating violence, relationship abuse, even sexual violence. Our investment in educating kids about bullying prevention and intervention pays off, not just today, but throughout their lives. The Ballston Spa School District isn’t content to just to educate students about not engaging in bullying behaviors; Superintendent, Dr. Dragone inspires youth to be part of the solution.

“Being a bystander won’t solve the problem.
You have to be actively involved in stopping bullying… stopping bad behaviors wherever they are.”

Monday, June 9, 2014

Don't Stand By

"Don't stand by...       be an ally."
That's the message 90 youth wanted to convey at last Friday's Bullying Awareness March. This is the 3rd consecutive year the kids have organized this march to bring awareness to the issue of bullying and to bring about change. The youth ranged in age from kindergarteners to youth leaders such as Ballston Spa High School's NCBI students and CAPTAIN's Teen Talk volunteers.

These kids have witnessed bullying, many indicated they've been bullied... but they've also learned about why bulling happens and how they can prevent it or intervene. They talked with community leaders: District Attorney James Murphy III, Ballston Spa School Superintendent Dr. Joseph Dragone, Ballston Spa Mayor  John Romano, and Milton  Supervisor Dan Lewza.  The kids asked pointed questions of our community leaders... on occasion rendering them momentarily speechless as they contemplated the question. The leaders very quickly built a bridge showing the kids they understood the impact of bullying-- sometimes telling their own stories of being bullied when they were young and talking candidly about how that affected them. 
NCBI students work to promote respect at school.

Clearly, Allies can be any age, any size. We're all united by an understanding of how much bullying affects all our youth and a the desire and motivation to end bullying now.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Bullying ... redefined

"Bullies are bad people who hurt other kids intentionally."

Does this sound like how a kid might talk about bullying? Actually these are the words I’ve recently heard two very concerned and thoughtful adults use when talking about the problem of bullying. And both times I’ve challenged them to look at the problem differently. Bullying isn’t about bad people…it’s about bad behaviors. Here’s a heartwarming story about a kid that really brings this message home.

Why is it important to make this distinction? It gives us the power to make change. If we recognize that even good people make mistakes we start focusing on being more aware of our words, our deeds, and our intention. I hear a lot of talk about the problem of bullying with kids. And I have to ask myself, “where did they learn these behaviors?’ I turn on the TV and see shows where people’s earnest efforts at cooking, singing and dancing aren’t met with just constructive criticism, but with derisive and intentionally humiliating comments… and that’s part of the “fun” of the show. I read the on-line comments at the end of a web article, or sometimes below a photo; they’re often not spirited debate about the issue but personal attacks. It easy to act like a badass on line… no one knows your identity. Would these people think of themselves as bad people? I doubt it. When we recognize that we all have crossed that line on occasion, we redefine the problem and take a big step toward fixing it.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Leaving Is Not Easy

The question I’m most often asked about domestic violence is, “Why don’t they leave?” There are lots of reasons: money, fear, the belief that you’re safer if you know what the abuser is doing/thinking, staying together for the benefit of the kids, and love.

Sometimes there’s social pressure to stay together-- from family, friends, and well intentioned acquaintances. From the outside looking in a relationship may look very happy. An abuser may be known as a nice guy...or gal. Those helpful friends and family just may not see or understand the daily torment of living with fear, intimidation and control. Sometimes the pressure can even come from people in the home.  Kids don’t necessarily see the “Abuser”, they see a person they love deeply-- a person they hug and call “Dad”...  or “Mom.”  When the parent who is abused leaves to protect themselves and their family, they aren’t’ necessarily hailed as a hero;  in fact, may get backlash, resistance and  resentment for a long time. Here's the story of a mom who said, "No More." "No More." You'd think some would  have pinned  a medal on her for her courage when she left. That didn't happen back then; in fact she's still apologizing for all the little things she couldn't provide.

But years later there's something she can be really proud of. She raised a daughter with strength, smarts, and gratitude for a mother who , "...healed my wounds, and  made me an independent, hard-working mother who knows what real love feels like." That's way better than a medal.

If you or someone you know is experiencing relationship abuse, you're not alone. 
Call, even if you just want to talk and discuss options.
The choices are yours. We can help.
All  services are free and confidential. 518-584-8188

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

It's Getting Hard Not to Notice

As we talk with people about the work DVRC does to help victims of domestic violence one of the most frequent comments we hear is, "but that kind of thing doesn't happen that much in Saratoga County, does it?" Unfortunately it does. Our hotline averages 1,700 each year and we assist close to 1,000 victims of abuse. We see men, women and children, all ages, ethnicities and from every area of the county. In fact, domestic violence is the second most frequent violent crime in our county, second only to drunk/drugged driving. It affects families, workplaces, how kids function in school. So why don't we notice it? Is it because it happens inside the walls of a home where we don't see? Is it because victims don't tell anyone until they reach the breaking point? Or is it because we love the vibrant, safe community we call home and don't want to notice anything that tarnishes that image.

In recent news stories we've had three tragic deaths associated with domestic violence. Just a couple of weeks ago a young son who intervened as his mother was assaulted , killed the abuser, and is now in jail pending grand jury because of that tragedy. Just days ago a woman died at home; it's alleged that her husband of 46 years, a former police officer, killed her. Three weeks ago a 22 year old man died after months in a coma from injuries sustained in an accident as he was fleeing police after he was observed assaulting his girlfriend. Most of the time we can manage not to notice the prevalence of domestic violence here in Saratoga County. Lately, that's getting harder. Maybe it's   time to really look... and to work together to END relationship abuse.

If the numbers we see in domestic violence were applied to terrorism or gang violence, the entire country would be up in arms, and it would be the lead story on the news every night.
Rep. Mark Green