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.