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