Thursday, March 31, 2016

Two Good Men Made a Difference

We've got a lot of work to do to end relationship and sexual abuse. But one thing that gives me hope is we're not doing this work alone. We've got many community partners. One such partner is Janine Stuchin, the executive director of the Prevention Council. Our agencies collaborate extensively because we understand how alcohol and substance misuse correlate with relationship and sexual abuse. Today Janine has graciously offered to be my guest blogger and share her thoughts on a recent news article:
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil 
is for good men to do nothing.
As I scan the headlines and read news articles of rape and assault, it seems too often the article concludes with perpetrators who seem to get away with the “perfect crime”.  An unconscious or alcohol/drug impaired victim who has been undeniably violated but largely unable to assist in identifying what actually happened.   And then I wonder … did no one, see or hear anything that lead to this crime being committed.  Could anyone have intervened?  Across college campuses Bystander Intervention programs have been brought in, students have been taught by peers to speak up, and challenged to create a new culture that keeps men and women safe in social settings. 

And so as I read The March 31, 2016 Huffington Post article “Ex-Stanford Swimmer Found Guilty of Sexually Assaulting Unconscious Woman on Campus”, I was struck that the turning point in this crime hinged on “two graduate students who rode their bikes by a night-time sexual assault outside a fraternity party”.  They stopped and got involved.  They shouted at the assailant, one cyclist pursued the rapist and one assisted the unconscious but breathing victim.  

And that is why the headline reads “Ex-Stanford Swimmer Found Guilty of Sexually Assaulting Unconscious Woman on Campus”, and not, “Woman Wakes Up With Pine Needles in Her Disheveled Hair [and] Dried Blood on her Hands and Elbows”.  That second quote was her testimony after waking up in the hospital after at least three hours of unconsciousness.    It may take good men doing nothing for evil to prevail, but on that winter night in late 2014, two good men made sure that didn’t happen. 

You can read more about this story here
Janine Stuchin
Executive Director, The Prevention Council of Saratoga County.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Pausing to Answer a Hard Question

I was talking to a friend last week who has done quite a bit of global travel, and much volunteer work helping in third world countries. It was International Women's Day so our conversation turned to topics of women's equality. As we discussed  some of the gender-based injustices she has seen that are commonplace in other parts of the world, we both agreed that we are blessed to live where we do. The she asked me a question that challenged me and made me pause to think before responding, "When you compare what we in the US refer to as gender-based violence, e.g., date and acquaintance rape, sexual harassment in the workplace, or being objectified in the media, to what women worldwide are subjected to, e.g., honor killings, forced child brides, sex trafficking, genital mutilation, does it ever feel to you like we've got 'first world problems' that don't deserve this much attention?"

Hmmm... how to respond? Yes, the life experience of women in war torn countries, in third world countries, in many parts of the world has a level of brutality and injustice that is unthinkable to us. But  does that mean that our efforts to expose discrimination, to address injustice and to work toward equality are frivolous or self-indulgent? They are not. As the old adage says, 'a rising tide raises all ships'. When we look for innovation, whether in technology, health care, or social justice, we often look to the best practices in countries that excel. 

So no, I  don't think it's a waste of resources to focus on issues of equality that affect our 'first world' lives. In fact, if you want to continue this discussion, check out the Women Not Objects website. They've got some great videos  that illustrate the harm caused by the objectification of women in the advertisements we see every day. Every parent should watch these videos with their daughters... and their sons... to open a dialogue about how media influences not only what we purchase, but what we think.

But our activism can't stop with what we see every day... it should extend across the globe to address those horrible injustices my friend has seen. Many of us don't have the ability to do global volunteerism, but that doesn't mean we can't make a difference.  For example,  a local women's service organization, Soroptimist International of Saratoga County has made lives  better for women and girls locally and also globally through their support of projects.
 Each year they contribute toward local projects like: Code Blue  Franklin Community Center, Helping Hands School, Junior Achievement NE,  Camp Abilities Saratoga, Rebuilding Together Saratoga, Saratoga Center for the Family, Saratoga EOC, and,Women’s Voices, Women’s Visions. 
But they also support transformational programs worldwide, like;
  • Cinterandes, providing mobile medical support to rural regions in Ecuador where women and girls would not have access to  surgical care without the mobile unit.
  • Building a birthing center in a poor area in Africa. Before this Soroptimist project women gave birth on dirt floors, resulting in heightened child and maternal fatality rates.
  • To Love A Child's work assisting women and children in war torn Haiti with basic needs, like potable water and toilets to improve sanitation, and
  • Drilling for Hope- by providing accessible clean water in third world countries they not only increase health, but also afford girls the opportunity to go to school.
So, my friend;
  •  Yes there is prejudice, discrimination, oppression and violence committed against women worldwide... and we should all consider this our problem and need to act to end it.
  • No, the magnitude of the need globally does not decrease my desire to address the inequities I see here in the US (in fact, it strengthens that resolve as every stride we take advances hope for women everywhere), and
  • Thank you, for giving me the opportunity to think about these issues and realize that:
    • the work that Wellspring does every day to end relationship and sexual abuse locally, is a small but important piece of a bigger picture, and 
    •  that the fundraisers Soroptimist does (remember to save the date for our Secret Gardens Tour on July 10th) gives people locally a way to help women and girls in our  community... but also to have a real impact across the globe, and 
    •  that efforts to decrease violence against women, to  reduce discrimination, and to promote equality don't only help women...they raise up whole communities and the men, women and children in them.
So whether you chose to watch one of the many brief videos at Women Not Objects and discuss it with your friends or kids, or whether you learn more about where our political candidates stand on issues of equality, or whether, like my friend, your altruism extends to using your vacation to provide humanitarian relief in far off places, know that you  can make a difference.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The World Has Changed... Welcome!

Social change.
It's interesting to watch  how a behavior that was socially accepted (or at least tacitly condoned) seemingly overnight is no longer acceptable... or vice versa. In my lifetime I've seen major shifts in thinking about racism, drunk driving, women's rights, smoking, and issues of sexuality and gender expression, just to mention a few.

So what are the factors that underlie these shifts? Is it increased knowledge and understanding? Policies and Laws? Repeated exposure to the problem and personal stories about how people are affected? Is it economic impact? It's all of these.

For several years now I've been commenting that we are reaching a tipping point regarding our society's tolerance regarding domestic and sexual violence. These issues have been around forever, but until recently were considered private and uncomfortably ignored. The graphic images of Ray Rice abusing his fiancée fast forwarded the tipping point. We went from talking about abuse to actually watching domestic violence. And when, cringing, we watched the brutality of a professional athlete punching his fiancée, the blames shifted from judging the victim for choosing to be in the relationship to holding the abuser accountable for committing the violence. And now, seemingly overnight, our policies, attitudes and judgments have changed.

ESPN's Jayson Stark, reporting about Aroldis Chapman's 30 game suspension  makes it clear that the world has changed. I encourage you to read the full article, as his words resonate like a triumphant chorus heralding that after a very long journey we've finally reached  the gates to civilization,

"There once was a time in baseball -- heck, in all sports -- when players abused their spouses and were playing games the next day, as if nothing of any significance had happened...
Well, guess what? Luckily, we don't live in that world anymore... Domestic violence wasn't taken seriously in this sport for way too long a time. So it's almost embarrassing to look back now and recognize how many cases were swept aside or ignored...
For years. For decades.
Until the world changed...
a precedent has been set. And a message has been sent."

Thanks for heralding that change, Mr. Stark. I'm happy to be standing at that gate welcoming everyone to join us.