Thursday, July 31, 2014

Ray Rice Called It By Name- Domestic Violence

If nothing else the Ray Rice incident has gotten Americans talking about domestic violence. Today, as Rice held a press conference to talk about what her called the "worst mistake of his life", what he reports was a one time incident "that was inexcusable". He states that after he works on his own response, he'd like to become involved in helping others to end violence of all kinds.

ESPN's Jane McManus has been outspoken about this incident and the NFL's response. When asked to comment  on Rice's press conference, her responses were cautious but hopeful, first citing that just by using the words domestic violence Rice "understands what he did in a bigger context." While she noted that the words are promising, waiting to see that Rice's actions in future months and years will show how sincere he is.

McManus noted that the incident might even be a catalyst for greater change as, "the NFL and Ray Rice have tried to understand this issue and the dynamics of domestic violence."  She envisioned that the incident and public reaction might even result in changes to the Code of Conduct as well as disciplinary standards for acts of domestic violence.

Let's hope and let's keep talking about how we can recognize relationship abuse and work together to end it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

It's not all bad news

Tuesday is Good News Day

When writing about current events related to relationship and sexual violence it's easy to  become disheartened; campus rapes, domestic homicides... it can all seem endless. Literally each day new clients walk through our door, telling their stories of abuse. With funding from the Violence Against Women  Act intimate partner violence has decreased 67%  from 1993-2010 and there are more services to assist victims. More victims are reporting domestic and sexual violence to police, and reports to police are resulting in more arrests. There's also a change in society's tolerance about relationship and sexual abuse; news articles about sexual assault in the military, campus response to rape and social commentary when a celebrity commits a domestic assault  capture these changing attitudes.

Statistics indicate global violence attributed to war are also declining.There's no question that there's injustice, suffering, and violence...and that we need to work hard to address these issues locally and globally. But it's equally important to stop now and again to look at the progress we've made.

And if you're looking to carry on with these positive thoughts tomorrow too, here's a chance to join others in a Moment of Peace

Friday, July 25, 2014

Knocked Out By a Pro Football Player

I've been reading the recent press about  the NFL's response to a brutal domestic violence incident  Ray Rice committed against his then fiancĂ©e, now wife. Surveillance video shows him dragging her, seemingly unconscious, out of an elevator. There's  a positive note (miniscule but not insignificant); his violent and criminal conduct in his personal life was deemed a violation of the NFL's personal conduct policy (decades ago this would have been brushed aside as a private matter.)

I usually am reticent to read comments after articles, but this time I think the observations really key into some core issues related to domestic violence. Jane McManus commented, "Last month I interviewed NFL head of HR. He  told me we simply don't tolerate instances of domestic violence."  Sounds like a solid organization values right? But numerous people observed that their actions don't seem to uphold that value.

 Josh Gordon facing a year long suspension for smoking pot.
Ray Rice gets 2 games for beating up his wife. Unreal.
Michael David Smith
Apparently you get suspended longer in the NFL
 for beating a dog than beating a woman.
Jane McManus
Knock a woman unconscious; 2 game suspension.
Smoke marihjuana: 4 game suspension.
Alicia Jessop

Even though we longer tacitly condone domestic violence with the words, 'that's a private matter', I do think when we hear the words 'domestic violence' we still unconsciously reclassify these assaults as less criminal. Punching someone in the face and knocking them unconscious is a brutal act of violence; the brutality is in no way diminished by the fact that this is someone you love.

I wonder if NFL Commish would have been so lenient
 if it had been his daughter or sister
laying unconscious outside that elevator.
Jim Trotter

While many, echo Paul Kuharsky 's sentiments that the  NFL's response as appallingly inadequate,
"Rice suspension is insufficient
 and sends a terrible message about violence against women
 and where it stands in the NFL pecking order of trouble," 

but the NFL is not alone in this messaging.  In fact an  insightful comment by ESPN's Mike Sando, has been haunting me since I read it,
"The NFL's 2 game suspension of Ray Rice
is harsher than the penalty society leveled against him
in the domestic violence case."

Our justice system enabled him to avoid standing trail if he agreed to a diversion program. Perhaps that's  the real crime.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Is this what you picture when you think about someone who is homeless?

My dad worked for the railroad, so as a kid we'd go  to New York City once a month (mom loved bargain shopping, but that's a whole other story). I can still picture the rows of homeless people on the grates outside the train station, in the heat of summer and just as many shivering on the concrete in the winter. Adults often just walk by homeless persons without paying much notice. Maybe it's because we're busy and we've learned to not notice; but  I wonder if kids take more notice  because they're shorter and homelessness is literally more in their face.

Homelessness in upstate New York looks very different from street  homelessness in a major city. It's more invisible. Folks without housing often: couch surf (stay with friends for night  or so then find someone else who can put them up for a few nights), sleep in their car, or sleep in out of the way places. In more suburban areas, homelessness may not be as apparent.

But we do have homelessness... even if we don't see it every day. And it's not the only stereotype single male;  we have homeless families and teens who are living on the street or getting  by somehow day-to-day ... they may even be folks we interact with every day and don't realize they're homeless. Back in June, Diane Davis, the homelessness liaison for the Saratoga Springs School District said,
"Saratoga Springs City School District
had 157 homeless  students this year.
At graduation, 6 students will walk across the stage
and get their diplomas.
They will  blend in with the senior class, but at the end of the day they will return to a campground, a motel, or  a friend or relative's house not knowing how long they will be able to stay."

How can there be such an incidence of homeless families and teens, and we don't see it? Here's a video of a teen that help us us understand.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Aspiring Techology

In the victim assistance world, technology can be a challenge. New technologies can bring new vehicles for control and exploitation... and these days technologies change so quickly it's hard to keep up. Back in June at the Ballston Area Community Allies' Bullying Awareness March, several community leaders were talking with the kids about experiencing bullying when they were young. The kids then asked questions about cyberbullying. Our nascence was solidly established as sometime in the cretaceous period when we expalined that there wasn't  cyberbullying when we were young simply because we didn't have personal computers or cell phones.

Technology can be used to stalk, harass, or keep tabs on a victim.   But I'm not advocating we all unplug. Technology's flip side is its accessibility; for many victims a cell phone is a reassuring lifeline. That's why DVRC gives hundreds of 911 phones each year to survivors we work with...even if they have a cell phone. Knowing they could get help in a crisis, even if the abuser has damaged their cellphone, is reassuring (so if you've gotten a new phone recently consider donating your old cell phone to DVRC so we can provide that lifeline.)

Recently I posted about Kitestring, an app that can alert friends if you don't make it home safely. Today I read about another potentially life-saving app.  Robin McGraw, television personality, NY Times bestselling author and  founder of When Georgia Smiled, a charitable foundation to help women and girls, has launched an app that domestic violence victims can use to alert friends that they are in danger and need help. The Aspire News App functions like a regular app providing news stories... but has a special feature that allows domestic violence victims to alert friends if they are in danger.

Relationship abuse often happens in private; technology can help victims stay connected and safe.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Healing From the Ground Up

Tuesday is Good News Day

From the day he was born, there was one thing that soothed and restored my eldest son. Even when he was crying inconsolably, all it took to calm him was to pop him on my hip and go stand outside in nature for a few minutes. He didn't just like warm days with clear blue skies. He loved everything about nature. So sometimes we'd stand and bask in the sunshine, or maybe in February's biting winds and icy snowflakes. At times the rain would kiss us like a gentle mist... and other times we'd  look like soggy pooches after just a couple of minutes outside. Just being outdoors restored his peace and soothed his soul.

It was foreshadowing. As a teen he yearned for wilderness treks , week-long kayak trips, and hikes in the high peaks out west. Adolescent surliness would soften to gentle calm after a week in the wild. For nine years he has chosen to labor outdoors each day, felling trees,  digging all day in  summer's heat,  and occasionally battling poison ivy. It can be backbreaking work, usually figuratively (but a misstep a few years ago while digging an irrigation trench led to an excruciating ambulance ride and a more literal definition of 'backbreaking work'.) Even so, I understand why he chooses this work. He sees the sunrise every morning, notes the first blush of green as buds emerge on trees, and the crystalline constellations of frost in the grass as nature begins preparing for winter's rest. By contrast I've worked for over a decade in a windowless basement, doing a job I love... but without a daily conscious effort to seek green,  I'd only  know it's summer when the Saratogian's pink sheets  appear

This morning I read a blog post about how nature feeds our soul. It resonated. But #6 on the list also reminded me of a conversation I had several years ago with Margie Ingram of the Humor Project. At the  time the Humor Project's offices were in the same building as my office. In some ways our work could not be more different. The Humor Project focuses on the power of laughter and joy to transform the world. Our agency helps victims of relationship and sexual abuse  become survivors and transcend and heal for those experiences. Over a cup of coffee at Uncommon Grounds, Margie made a very sage observation, that showed that there was more commonality in our work than just sharing a building  "Sometimes our greatest suffering comes form the belief that everyone else has it so much better than we do. We often only see the positive  things in people's lives and have  no clue about their struggles, and what they have to overcome." 

So while the grass may look greener across the fence, if you're standing in grass appreciate how green it is and how the blades tickle your toes. It's a lovely summer day today; go outside and let nature work its wonders on  your  soul.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Guns, domestic violence, and mass homicides

A recent study off mass shootings revealed that there's a strong correlation with domestic violence; in fact, 57% of the mass shootings were related to intimate partner or family violence. Women in domestic violence relationships are eight times more likely to be killed if their partner has access to a gun. The greatest risk is when she attempts to leave the abusive relationship. That's why it's so important to work with domestic violence professionals to develop a safety plan

The Huffington Post reports that Kim Gandy of the National Network to End Domestic Violence says the report serves as sobering evidence of the need to improve gun laws. I agree, but I also think it validates the need to give serious attention to domestic violence-- before it escalates to this tragic level. Domestic violence prevention is homicide prevention.
Warning trigger alert- violence

Sarah Engle is working with Americans for responsible Solutions to enact legislation to bar convicted stalkers and all domestic abusers from owning guns. Her reason? Because she knows too well the tragic consequences of guns and domestic violence "I left my ex-boyfriend. In response, he broke into my mother’s house, and shot and killed her. Then he held me hostage, raped me, and shot me in the head, leaving me for dead. I believe that I survived in order to tell my story and help save other women’s lives.

My ex-boyfriend didn’t have trouble getting a gun, even though I had a domestic abuse restraining order against him. Thousands of women across the country live in fear of their abusive partners or stalkers who also have guns, or who can get guns easily. That’s not acceptable. There’s a bill in Congress that would help fix this broken system. It’s important that we show how many people support this common sense idea to save women’s lives."

If you or someone you know
is experiencing domestic violence,
contact DVRC 24/7 at 518-584-8188.
We can help with safety planning,
and crisis and support services.
All services are free and confidential.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Child Molester's Playbook

Oprah's interview with Matthew Sandusky about his adoptive father's repeated sexual victimization and oppressive control, exposes many of the typical red flags of abuse. That such a public figure, who was honored and revered for his work with at risk youth, could be a serial child molester over a 15 year period with multiple boys before his abuse came to light is tragic. Like many sexual predators, Jerry Sandusky cultivated a persona that afforded him respect and access to children. His power and protection came from this cultivated public image. In Matthew Sandusky's words,
"It is hard to for people to believe
that he could do these things."

That's all part of the process of grooming. It's a calculated pattern of building  trust, gaining access, establishing power, controlling secrecy, and eroding the child's credibility. 85% of child molesters are known and trusted by the family and have regular access to the child. How do they get away with it? How is it that 1 in 6 boys  is sexually abused during childhood? As Matthew Sandusky says,
"It comes down to children and victims
 not being believed."

Here's what you need to know about how predators groom their victims, so you can keep your child safe. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

One Blue String

When we think about sexual victimization we most often think about women. Imagine how difficult it is to be a man who struggles with the trauma of having been sexually violated. The sexual violation alone is devastating, but the isolation and stigma linger even years after the victimization ends . In fact one is 6 boys is a victim of sexual abuse before age 18. While there certainly have been many high profile cases in recent years that have brought this issue more attention (scores of allegations of clergy sexual abuse, and Jerry Sandusky as notable examples) the public remains basically unaware of this issue.

The next time you're watching  a group of boys on the playground or a Little League team, count how many kids you see. Then think about that statistic- 1 in 6. The juxtaposition of watching innocent kids play and thinking that 1 in 6 will have his innocence and trust in the world shattered is chilling.

But musicians are doing something to increase awareness and reduce stigma. One Blue String hopes to build a community of encouragement and hope for men and their loved ones...and they're inviting you join them. Here's how to get the kit so you and your guitar can spread the word.

If you're concerned for a child who may have experienced sexual abuse, the Saratoga Center for the Family specializes in helping children and families recover from the effects of abuse, neglect and trauma. Their highly trained and compassionate staff can help.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Consent... Say It or Sing It... but Get It

Consent...we need to give the word more attention. Aretha took a word and gave it some great lyrics and an unforgettable melody... and made it memorable R-E-S-P-E-C-T. I wish someone would do the same for 'CONSENT'.

Some rapists quite knowingly sexually attack a victim against their will. Consent isn't even a consideration. But many sexual assaults aren't such blatant attacks. Instead they center on the issue of consent. Was one individual too incapacitated to give consent? Did she (or he) consent to certain acts, but not give consent to proceed further?  Was one individual not of an age to consent to sex?

You'd be surprised how often there's miscommunications... or no communications... about consent. Colleges have policies and trainings for students on obtaining consent as part of orientation... some even require partners to obtain written consent before sex. How is something that seems so basic so problematic?

 Today I watched a parenting video that talks about how even good parents can unwittingly teach their kids that consent isn't important. From simple things like tickling your kid even as they say no to expecting kids to hug relatives at family gatherings, in small ways we undermine their understanding of consent. Darcy Conway gives parents tips to encourage their children to be comfortable with saying no or yes... because practicing those skills when they're little will make giving consent more familiar when they're teens.

If you didn't get this message when you were 5 it's not too late. Here's a video of a young lad, with some entertaining and wise words about sex and consent. I love some of his words of wisdom, but what's even more fun is his honest engaging manner (so I wonder if he can sing?):

"Ask for consent.It kinda ruins the flow 
but it's the right thing to do"

"Just because someone says yes the first time 
doesn't automatically make it yes every time"

"Everybody always has a choice" 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Tuesday is Good News Day

I named this blog Shine a Light for 2 reasons: 1) to bring more awareness of the issues of relationship and sexual abuse, bringing them out of the shadows and into the light, and 2) to have a forum for the  positive things being done to create social change.

This weekend I was pondering what to post about this coming week, and said to my family, "I can't think of anything current to write about next week. My son said. "Seeing that you write about rape and domestic violence, it's a good thing  when you run out of things to write about, right?" A sage observation, that reminded me of the second goal of the blog-- shining a light  on the positive. I've often wished that the news was 50% of what we typically see on the news (the bad stuff)  and 50% about the good works being done. Why? Because I think when we're inundated with negative messages we become desensitized. Conversely, I also feel that if we were exposed more to all  the wonderful caring acts that are being doe very day we'd be  inspired to do good.

So in that light, I'm declaring Tuesday as Good News Day. So this week,  here's  a fun video of a Chicago  college student  who gives strangers' days a lift with 'drive by compliments'. And if you're thinking about how you might use compliments or praise to inspire, here's some info from  research  studies on how to use praise effectively with your kids (as well as what doesn't work  so well.) I found the cultural differences in valuing praise very interesting.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Your kid does this 3,339 times a month...

Nancy Lubin believes "it might be the only way to communicate with a kid."

Technology can change the way we interact with the world. I remember having a pen pal as a kid. I'd send her a letter and wait  weeks for a reply. At first, each day after school I'd  go to the mailbox expectantly, later I'd think about her once in a while, then just when I'd lost interest I'd get a letter out of the blue that started out, "Sorry it's taken me so long to write."  and went on telling me about her 3 weeks at horseback riding camp, the boring family vacation, and a new puppy (she'd send pictures of him after they finished the 36 exposure roll of film in the camera and had it developed. About 6 weeks later,  I'd start a letter back with the words "Sorry it's taken so long..."

Today my kid would send a friend a pic from her phone as she was jumping hurdles on her horse and a video of her puppy trying to climb the stairs to her bedroom that first night in his new home- heck they might even Skype and let the pups have an adorable bark fest.

Technology has opened up new ways of  finding information and communicating. Sometimes we complain about it, "Everyone in the house is plugged into some device.", but  the reason we use these devices is they work  for us. Here's one way that texting has opened up new opportunities for youth to get help with serious issues affecting them. It also can give us real  time data  on these issues so we  can more effectively respond. That phone in your back pocket is a really powerful tool.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Another Everyday Hero... by Way of Potato Skins

Tuesday is a great day for a feel good story.  

I loved this story about how one restaurant owner reacted to a customer's comment that his waitresses should show more skin. He was offended, but he didn't just gripe about it or berate the person who posted the comment. 

He did something to make a strong and memorable statement about such flippant sexism... that it's not anonymous-- it affects the women in our lives, our sisters, wives, daughters and mothers.  And through his creative response to the comment he drew the connection between sexism and sexual violence. What I most love about the story is his response was done with such humor that it got its message across in a way that builds bridges rather than creating divides.

Pete Seeger said "I think the world will be saved by millions of small things." I agree with him. Hats off to one more everyday hero.

And if reading this post has your tummy growling, here's a link to some creative potato skin recipes.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Why Would Someone Feel Guilty if it Wasn't Their Fault?

Sexual assault survivors often blame themselves ,at least in part, for the rape. That blame can keep them from reporting the crime to police, can prevent them from telling anyone, and can make them question all their relationships. They continue to question themselves no matter how much a friend or an advocate tells them, "It doesn't matter that you were _______  (drinking, out late, wearing a short skirt, flirting... you fill in the relevant words), you are not to blame for the rape." 

From the outside people may question why a victim would feel guilty if (s)he wasn't at least partially responsible. To them self-blame is may indicate that this wasn't  a sexual assault at all, or even that the victim is making up the story. Yet self-blame, guilt, and doubt are all totally normal and expected responses to sexual victimization.

For a new perspective on  why these responses are actually adaptive (*at least in the short-term) check out this Upworthy doodle by psychologist Nina Burrowes. She draws cartoons that help people to understand sexual abuse and recover. Yes, there are good reasons why  victims blame themselves... it helps them recover. 

If  you or someone you care about
has experienced relationship or sexual abuse, there is help.
You Are Not Alone.

DVRC can help; call us at 518-583-0280 for an appointment
or call the 24/7 hotline at 518-584-8188

Friday, July 4, 2014

What do you wish was NO MORE?

Blaming...ignorance... excuses... bystanding?

Millions of people have joined the NO MORE movement  to end relationship and sexual abuse. Watch this video  to see the world they envision. It can happen if we work together.

Why should I care?

The next time you’re in a room with 6 people, think about this:
  • 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men experience violence from their partners in their lifetimes.
  • 1 in 3 teens experience sexual or physical abuse or threats from a boyfriend or girlfriend in one year.
  • 1 in 5 women are survivors of rape.
  • 1 in 2 women and 1 in 5 men have experienced some form of sexual victimization in their lives.
  • 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men were sexually abused before the age of 18.
These are not numbers. They’re our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, children, co-workers and friends. They’re the person you confide in most at work, the guy you play basketball with, the people in your book club, your poker buddy, your teenager’s best friend – or your teen, herself. The silence and shame must end for good.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

There's still so much to be done...by everyday heroes

As we're approaching Independence Day, I find myself  reflecting on how this country began. People who wanted a better world with freedom and equality took a risk and came to a strange land. Those leaders shared their vision with others and took a very public stand against oppression.

In every era in history there are examples of misuse of power, inhumanity, and greed... but there are also always individuals who envision a better tomorrow and work to make the world better. Sometimes they are famous leaders... far more often they're ordinary people making a difference in their community, influencing those they connect with in their day-to-day lives.

I just watched a video of high school boys who took a class on feminism. They talk  about how  feminism isn't just about women's rights and how because of the class they now view the world through a different lens and are committed to making a difference. I love what one 12th grader said at 3:26, "I'm not afraid to change my silence into action." Could any inspirational leader have been a more eloquent role model? So as you're  looking to the skies dazzled by the brilliant explosions of color, think  about the everyday heroes you know who also inspire us with their passion, vision and example.


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

College Rape... What to Do?

Lately, the media has been abuzz about the issue of sexual assault on college campuses. And the opinions run the gamut, from:
  •  George Will's article lamenting that college campuses have created a culture where by educating  students to the subtle nuances of 'micro-aggressions',  they've created a culture "where victimhood [is]a coveted status that confers privileges, [and]victims proliferate." , to
  • Lisa Sendrow, whose rape experience Will belittled in his article, who claims that it's 'grotesque' opinions like those expressed by Will  that prevent victims from disclosing, to
  • Ross Douthat's NY Times article suggesting that our focus on after the assault judgments is faulty; why not try to change the college culture that contributes to binge drinking and sexual licentiousness...even though, he asserts, "we're not ready for that", to
  • James Marsh who sidesteps the emotional rollercoaster of other opinion  articles and provides  a legal interpretation about consent that , "Why College Drunk Sex = Rape"
While the opinions are dizzying, one thing is clear. Sexual violence is a significant issue on college campuses across the country. Some  folks think that false reporting of sexual assault is rampant, but studies show that the rate of false reports to police is about 2%... consistent with false reports of other crimes.  

Campus sexual violence affects freshmen and sophomores disproportionately,  84% of women experiencing sexually coercive experiences had these incidents during their first four semesters on campus. There's even a name for the period between freshman orientation and Thanksgiivng  break- the Red Zone- because of the heightened risk of sexual assault in the first months of college life. At freshman orientation colleges address the issue (some schools even recommend that each party signs a mutual consent agreement prior to sex.) Yet one in four college women are sexually assaulted. The vast majority, 84%, of college rape victims know their assailant. We need to do more. Not just to provide services for victims or to educate students about rape... but to address the cultural and environmental factors that contribute to sexual violence on campuses... so we can focus on learning.