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You’re the Good news

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Yesterday I had the distinct privilege of talking with domestic violence advocates about a cross-cultural approach to research.  It turned into this incredible brainstorm session complete with tons of energy and passion and grit.  I was blown away in the best of ways!  And when the session starting winding down an advocate looked at me and said, “Uggghhh this is so hard.  There are so many hurting.  Please tell me there is good news”.  I sat there for a moment I looked her straight in the eyes and I said, “Yes indeed there is good news—that good news is you—all of you and these women and the communities being built despite limited resources and broken systems—The good news is you”.  And then I said, “here’s the context”:

A few weeks prior I met with a survivor to interview her for a study.  This woman shared the barriers she faced with unwavering integrity.  Her husband had stolen her children and taken them to another country.  He left her destitute—not knowing the language or the housing system—she was evicted in a few weeks’ time.  Every-single-aspect of life was stacked against her but she persevered.  She, with the help of friends and advocates, got her children back, learned English and secured a three-bedroom permanent housing apartment.  When I looked at her I said, “if you hadn’t met your advocate where would you be or what do you think would have happened”?  And without hesitation she said, “I’d be dead”.

 

“I’d be dead”.

 

So you see, this is the good news—the good news is women showing up to do the gritty work; to stand in the gap with one another; to build cities out of dust; to shout at the top of their lungs that anything less than human rights will not be accepted; to demand justice and fairness and equitable communities for all; to sweat and toil on hands and knees; to cry, to laugh, to dance and to weep in all that life serves; to be alive for and in all of it.  On International Day of Women we celebrate the literal blood, sweat and tears of women who have been doing this throughout history to ensure a better future for our daughters and our sons.

 

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Hard Ball for Women

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I recently had a professional experience that can only be described as an adult “mean girls” situation and all because I had a professional disagreement and stood my ground.

A few days later I was called in by my colleagues and told that in a nutshell, “they felt tension” and wanted to resolve it… What they really meant was, “DeAnza, you need to be fixed, because you are not playing by our rules”.

After further reflection I realized that the real issue in my group wasn’t that I had a professional disagreement… The real issue was that I was not complying to some unspoken set of rules and expectations that the other group members had for me and I was vocal about my thoughts and feelings.

Standing firm and confident in one’s voice can be difficult. As women we are told all kinds of things when we use our voice…

“You’re too emotional”.

“You’re not a team player”.

 “You’re the cause of conflict”.

 We believe all this stuff, because we’ve been told this for a long time. It becomes so ingrained into our consciousness that sometimes we don’t even question it. Most women I talk to describe a set of “rules” that include:

Be polite and nice at all times.

Take care of those around you.

Do not be too direct. You don’t want to come off as opinionated or pushy.

Do not speak your mind— you are not the authority on anything.

Be soft and gentle.

Be the one that everyone can come to when they need to vent.

Take one for the team and when you get tired do not show it or you’ll look like you’re rebelling.

Be soft spoken.

Be careful as to not look stressed.

If you’re in physical or emotional pain suck it up or your competency, strength and capability will be questioned. More importantly, you can’t be a burden to others.

Make people feel good by smiling and laughing at their jokes even when they are offensive or inappropriate.

When you’re in a mixed gender situation be prepared to be the hostess—making sure that everyone present has refreshments and clean up after everyone.

Be pretty.

Never get angry.

Recently I read an article in the LA times called Angry While Women. It reviewed the negative response to celebrity women’s expression of anger. Everyone from Beyonce, Kelly Ripa and Jada Pinkett Smith—women who have been vocal in the media about their disgust and anger at mistreatment in the workplace and their personal lives. These women went on to not only express their anger, but also to demand change—they put up a clear boundary— They said:

We deserve better.

 We won’t accept anything less than respect.

 We matter.

 We are no longer willing to compromise ourselves.

And to say these things and express the fact that we are fed up with anything less gets us all kinds of labels:

Women who raise their voices are shrill.

 Women who are angry are controlling.

 Women who speak their mind are the b-word.

 Women who say enough is enough are crazy.

 Women who establish boundaries are selfish.

There was a time in my 20’s and even in my early 30’s I would compromise far too often. I’d compromise my feelings, ideas and convictions—believing that I didn’t know what I was thinking anyway. In a way it was a means of survival, but in the end I slowly began seeing myself fold into the shadows. It was not a thriving, healthy existence and led to all kinds of complications like depression and isolation.

It was easy to turn on myself, because the idea that my existence mattered less than everyone else was reinforced by nearly everyone. In fact, I didn’t even hear that there was an alternative until I was in my women’s studies class in undergrad.

The characteristics that were reinforced to me as a child was that I was very gentle, sweet, quiet and cute. I was rewarded for these characteristics by nearly everyone. And so for a time it worked until it didn’t—until I realized that to be that person was to not be me. These reinforcements had me believing that I didn’t need to use my brain or my capacity to critically think because what mattered more was “how I made everyone else feel” not what I thought or valued. I started feeling very used up. This greatly impacted many of my adult life choices—my relationships, where I worked, the friends I had, etc.

When I made the conscious choice to reject this construct that I had inherited from all the women before me… I was told I was rebellious and asked what had happened to that ‘nice’ girl. Some went as far as to question my faith… My values as a mother… Whatever it would take to help me see the error of my ways.

Recently I established a boundary in a relationship where I was taken for granted, mistreated and abused and I was told by other family members that my behavior was rebellious.

Setting limits goes against everything we’re taught about what it means to be a woman in this society.

A book I had in undergrad was called Hard Ball for Women. While reading it in undergrad I wasn’t able to process it thoroughly, as there was an inner conflict of maintaining the “nice, sweet, pretty, girl” role and these new ideas. The following take aways have stuck with me and I’ve adapted them over time.

HARDBALL:

Women need to refrain from taking on more responsibility then is ours to own.

Something I practice in my personal and professional life is transparency. This includes being able to say when I’ve made a mistake. When I voice that I’ve made a mistake I find that it frees me from having to be perfect. When someone brings something to me about where I’ve messed up I can be less defensive and more open to the process of learning. However, there is a fine line in accepting one’s personal flaws and imperfections and taking ownership of other people’s behaviors and actions.

A former boss had dropped the ball on funding deadlines. He proceeded to place the blame on me for his oversight. As his employee, I internalized his complaint and took on the responsibility and vowed to never let it happen again. Taking his responsibility on had me questioning and doubting every decision I made in my job. This affected my work and my self-perception for years to come. It took many a- therapy sessions later to realize, “Ohhhhhhh yah! That wasn’t on me—that was on him”. I learned from there that I wasn’t willing to take on more then what was mine to own, because of the consequences it had on me. I set this as a boundary.

Women need to stop fearing conflict and tension.

 True— conflict is not fun. Conflict doesn’t feel good. Conflict is stressful.

However, women describe to me that some of their greatest fears is ‘being the cause or instigator of conflict’. When women have shared mistreatment in their workplace and I’ve affirmed their feelings and interpretation of the mistreatment—I usually inquire further to find out what she may need to do to advocate for herself. The response to this usually has something to do with the fear that if she speaks up she’ll be viewed as the one ‘rocking the boat’. The overwhelming fear sometimes has women choosing to put up with the mistreatment.

Here’s the thing: conflict happens. We have been taught for so long that we are supposed to avoid conflict at all costs that we don’t even consider that maybe the conflict is present because of someone else’s choices and not our own. Standing up for ourselves and putting an end to mistreatment does not mean that we are the cause of conflict—it means that we are addressing the conflict and setting limitations for our own self-care and health. The conflict exists whether or not we say anything—the question is how long do you want to endure manipulative and bullying behavior? What’s the cost to you?

Women need to reject the notion that we exist to make everyone else happy.

 Women often confuse compassion and kindness for the idea of ‘making everyone else happy’. When you set limitations for your life it does not mean that you are being unkind or unfair. The thing is your boundaries will likely not make other people happy with you. People do not like boundaries because it means that you are not going to flex to their whims and ideas of what they think you should do and who they think you should be. This doesn’t make people happy, but it’s also not your responsibility to make sure that people are happy.

I remember the first time I told this to my mom. She disagreed with a life decision I had made and she was trying with all her might to ‘get me back in line’. After trying every tactic from guilting, shaming, punishing… I looked at her and said, “Ma, my life doesn’t exist to make you feel fulfilled or complete or happy. I love you, but I recognize my choices will not always make you happy and I think we can agree to disagree”. I didn’t mean anything unkind or disrespectful by it, but I needed to vocalize that I recognized that we wouldn’t see eye to eye on this subject—oh and by the way we- need- not- ever- have- this- conversation- again. In that present moment it wasn’t necessarily appreciated, but over time my mom and I experienced a greater respect of one another.

Women need to stop apologizing.

I hear women apologizing for all sorts of things that they are not responsible for.  All this apologizing has a deeper subtext– an apologetic posture for existing.

Women’s ideas and thoughts and values may not always fit the conventional mold and guess what– that’s okay– nothing to apologize for.

I catch myself apologizing and I realize that it has become an automatic response– a reflex to societal stimuli.  I’ve recently taken on a mindful practice where I consciously practice being unapologetic.

  • Whoops I forgot to sign my kid’s request form… Okay I’ll get that tomorrow.
  • Oh I’m pitching a proposal that doesn’t fit your expectation– okay.  Maybe we’ll get it next time.
  • Oh I just posted something on Facebook that doesn’t match your politics… Okay… well it wasn’t personal to you and hope that we can continue a dialogue.

It takes a great deal of work to shift these beliefs about ourselves.

In the end, what I learned about this professional scuffle was that I wasn’t willing to give my power over to anyone and I’m not going to apologize for that.

I’m not proposing that if you follow these simple steps everything will be magical and conflict will dissolve into the cosmos… Many of my life experiences where I used my voice took years to resolve in my relationships and some still haven’t resolved and I don’t know that they ever will resolve. The thing is I am more at peace being true to me… And these days peace is something that can’t be taken for granted.

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Call me Sam: Our Story of Gender Fluidity

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I am a gender non-conforming person.  Although, I am comfortable in my skin as a cis-gendered woman– my values, my work and my hopes reflect a non-gendered position, as I hope that all people can be who they are and live into their potential in full inclusivity and acceptance.  And alas, I know this is not the reality for many people in our society.

In terms of my work as a therapist and advocate this comes easy for me– it has been a completely different lesson where my personal life is concerned.  This is where my confession really begins.

About 7-8 months ago, my child who was born biologically female asked me to call her Sam.  This child of mine has always had a creative edge in constructing worlds and peering into realities that she was not necessarily born into.  So when my kid came asking for me to call her Sam– well, I guess on some level I thought Sam was another part of this profound imaginative world.

But then shortly thereafter, she asked me to call her he (*this is where I’ll begin using male pronouns in this post, as this reflects his identity).  He began expressing his desire to shop in the boy’s department.  He picked out a picture of the next haircut he wanted– a very short haircut that he found in a boy’s clothing catalogue.  He expressed the desire for his teacher and peers to call him Sam.  He made it a point of asking us to share with family members and close friends that he was a boy and wanted to be referred to as Sam and him.  The reality began to slowly sink in that: this went beyond a world of imagination and was a way of expressing how he sees himself.

I have truly witnessed him blossom right before my very eyes, but I didn’t want to always see it and I knew that it would require efforts and energies on my part to not succumb to the societal pressures, expectations and norms placed on him and on me as his parent.

The conversations with family and friends have been a mixture of responses.  I am grateful for those who shared struggles and yet, went on to learn more (picked up books and resources) and ultimately accepted Sam, because well they always loved Sam and loving him meant more to them than being comfortable and understanding all of his exploration.  Ultimately, they were willing to get uncomfortable and be challenged in their own notions of gender conformity.

Oh how I wish more responses were like those above.  The other conversations were one’s filled with anger, fear and confusion.  As a parent, the questions I’ve been met with range from, “is this happening because you’re allowing it to happen” to “why are you not creating stricter boundaries”? to “why are you not simply telling her– she can’t be a boy”?  Sometimes there were no questions just judgements and accusations that we as parents were leading him astray.  Scripture versus and religious rants were bashed over my head and claims were made that it would be better for me as a parent to be drown in an ocean than for my child to be led down this “dark path”.  These comments were on the (obviously) other end of the spectrum of responses, but my point is I’ve had a myriad of conversations that have been painful and have required me to think about how to keep my child safe.

As a parent, (although I believe it to be complete bullshit) it is to be expected.  I am the adult.  I can engage these conversations to an extent and create the boundaries for the conversations I wish to not be a part of, but when they are directed at my child– whelp that’s a whole other thang.

And the thing is those comments directed at me are indirect messages to him to, “Get this kid in line– we don’t know what to do with him.  He needs to be fixed”.  When there is nothing broken with his identity at all.

This year Sam returned to school completely out about his identity.  Friends, peers and teachers who had known him as ‘she’ sometimes didn’t know what to do with ‘him’.  He faced many questions from his peers about whether or not he was a ‘real boy’ or a ‘real girl’.  When Sam answered that he felt like he was both (a girl and a boy) kids laughed and said that wasn’t possible.  Honestly, although these conversations have been difficult for Sam and have hurt his feelings I understand why these kinds of questions exist.  The kids are trying to make sense of someone who doesn’t fit within the binary framework we’ve all been given at conception and birth.  No one tells us that it’s completely fine and natural for there to be variations, diversity and difference when it comes to gender– that for some gender is fluid and their identification of their gender is somewhere on a spectrum.

Our society gives us a structure for gender.  This binary gender structure gives us two choices, two boxes: boy or girl… this or that.  What is problematic about this binary construct is that it assigns characteristics, qualities and values to external representations of human beings.  In other words, if you have a penis then you are immediately assigned the qualities and characteristics that have been deemed to go with a penis.  If you have a penis then you are viewed as an individual who likes, values and expresses oneself with qualities and characteristics that are assigned to people with penis’.  We see this all the time.  Couples find out the sex of their baby and they immediately connect characteristics and values that go along with the sex of their child (i.e. boys= blue, girls= pink, boys= trucks, girls=dolls).  These qualities are assigned to you just based on the genitals you are born with.  This social gender structure doesn’t take into account the internal– it is purely constructed on the external and the internal is supposed to just follow suit.

But what if your internal experience varies or doesn’t match the external?  What if your personal qualities, values and characteristics do not match those that you are supposed to have because you have a penis or a vagina?  What if your personal values don’t fit the genitalia-specific assignment that you were given at birth?

This is just the tip of the iceberg, folks. The more I get involved in these conversations the more I see just how much more we love our boxes than actual people.  We love checking boxes and telling people, “you fit here and you belong there”.  We are committed to maintaining norms that make sense to us and allow us to place value on the existence of others.  We don’t even think twice about the boxes or the limitations the boxes present because these boxes afford us comfort and ease– a compass for how we are to navigate the world.

And then someone like Sam comes along and says, “the box is too tight– too restrictive– it’s not me”.  We respond with, “Oh shit, what do we do”?  Well typically we put pressure on the person to comply– conform.  We yell, “just be NORMAL”!!!!!  We may reject them… Displace them from family and community.  Sometimes we bully– we beat up and we even kill.

  • A staggering 41% of respondents reported attempting suicide compared to 1.6% of the general population with rates rising for those who lost a job due to bias (55%), were harassed/bullied in school (51%), had low household income, or were the victim of physical assault (61%) or sexual assault (64%). (National Center for Transgender Equality, 2011).

 

Sam feels this pressure daily.  He navigates this pressure daily.  He has an incredible read on people.  He knows who are safe harbors and who are uncomfortable, but trying to be polite and he veers clear of these people.  He feels the difference between acceptance and tolerance and he’s learned that tolerance seriously sucks.  He is learning to reject negativity and intolerance and he deflects with kindness and a sense of humor, but it still hurts.

This is just the tip of the iceberg– we’re just at the coming out phase with friends and family and it’s been hard.  We still have much more to consider: bathrooms, healthcare, community and safety (to name a few).

For now I want to say something on behalf of our family.  I hope other gender-non conforming families feel safe and will be able to share their experiences, too. For families and individuals out there needing support please feel free to contact me and reach out.  We have to find ways to support each other.

To non-believers and the rest of society:

  1.  It’s my child’s right to explore and figure out his gender identity.  You don’t have the right to tell my kid who he is and/or who he can be.  Any comments or confusion or fears you have regarding this– is your stuff– you get to deal with that on your own and not displace that on my kid.  If you are an ally there are books and resources to help you in your own personal process.  My kid has enough on his plate with just developing and growing and learning and he doesn’t need any additional pressure to conform to your comforts.
  2. It’s my right to parent, love, accept and support my kid.  You don’t get to shame me or pressure me to do things the way you would.  You see, I know my kid and I value him. I don’t have time to educate you and help you to see that gender diversity is healthy and natural. I don’t have time to answer questions about his/our process. This is not some freak show for you to gawk at and make judgements. This is our lives and my kid is someone of dignity and I won’t allow you to reduce him to anything less.
  3. We all have a lot to learn about gender.  Here are some helpful definitions:

Gender Identity: what you know and feel to be true about your gender (Meet Polkadot)

Biological sex is defined as the parts a person’s body has: chromosomes, hormones, and physical body parts. Both gender identity and biological sex are “normal and great” no matter what they are. Sometimes gender identity and biological sex do not match 100% and that is normal and okay (Meet Polkadot)

Cisgender: A person whose gender identity is aligned to what they were designated at birth, based on their physical sex; 2) A non-trans* person.

Designated Sex (Designated Sex at Birth): The sex one is labeled at birth, generally by a medical or birthing professional, based on a cursory examination of external and/or physical sex characteristics such as genitalia and cultural concepts of male and female sexed bodies. Sex designation is used to label one’s gender identity prior to self-identification.

Fluid: A gender identity where a person identifies as 1) neither or both female and male; 2) Experiences a range of femaleness and maleness, with a denoted movement or flow between genders; 3) Consistently experiences their gender identity outside of the gender binary.

Gender Expression: How one chooses to express one’s gender identity to others through behavior, clothing, hairstyle, voice, body characteristics, etc. Gender expression may change over time and from day to day, and may or may not conform to an individual’s gender identity.

Trans*: Umbrella term, originated from Transgender (see below). Used to denote the increasingly wide spectrum of identities within the gender variant spectrum. The asterisk is representative of the widest notation of possible trans* identities. Aimed at promoting unification among gender variant communities by placing focus on gender transgression over specific identity labels, genders, or bodies.

 

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Gender DiversityGender Diversity

Gender Definition & Terms 

Injustice At Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (2011)

Meet Polkadot by: Talcott Broadhead 

Trans Bodies, Trans Selves by Laura Erickson-Schroth 

 

 

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When all the signs are there… (reflections on Domestic Violence)

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It was almost exactly a month to our wedding day when my then fiancé was arrested for domestic violence.

During the same time, I was being trained to be an advocate at a local program called Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault.  This was the same program I was referred to (as a client) after this incident.

The initial feelings were shame, panic and fear.

How could this happen to me?

How could I keep others from ever finding out about this?

What do we do now?  We couldn’t possibly cancel a wedding– what would people think?

And so just as planned we married each other and the problems in our relationship persisted and escalated over the years.

The second wave of feelings were ones of resolve.

I convinced myself that because I knew about the cycle of escalation and violence then I could change the dynamics in the relationship.  

I also compared myself to other women’s situation and felt that my situation wasn’t that bad.  

The cycle in this relationship was normative for me.

I grew up in a home that was regularly violent– cups flying, parents cursing, slapping, punching, pushing, yelling…  This was normal.  Although, I didn’t want to replicate this example of relationship I believed I (on my own) could change it.

Yet, the cycle persisted complicated with mental illness…  Fast forward many more years and the shame was compounded…

Who would believe me now?

Yes, all the signs were there.  On top of it, I knew all the signs from an advocate’s perspective and I knew what one was ‘supposed’ to do– How could I be so stupid– so naive?

The stay-leave decisions for women in domestic violent relationships is incredibly complex.  There are no two stories exactly the same.  The process of making the decision to leave is mired with shame and fear.

The process is isolating and confusing.  Sometimes there are people out there to help– to offer compassion and understanding.  Most times, there is not.

Domestic violence takes on many forms and configurations– physical aggression, sexual assault, economic deprivation, verbal and psychological abuse.  The underlying characteristics in DV relationships are constant fear, terror and isolation.

There is not one typology of domestic violence.  There are many diverse stories of trauma and no one person or institution can tell anyone what constitutes abuse.

Because I couldn’t place my story nicely and neatly in the cycle of domestic violence wheel then I convinced myself that my fears, my isolation, my terror wasn’t real– just figments of my imagination– over exaggerations– dramatic at best.

My decision more complicated with feelings of love and children.

In the end, I decided that I would choose to break the familial cycle of violence by leaving and modeling for my daughters that violence in an intimate relationship is not normal– it is not okay.  I decided to own my shame… the consequences of staying and the consequences of leaving and model for my daughters what it looks like to be authentic, messy and real.  Shame had messed up our family for a really long time– I wasn’t going to give it or anyone/thing else the power.

Friends,

1) Domestic violence is real.  The impacts on the individual and family is complex.  Don’t try to put people’s situation in a box.  Believe.  Listen.  Educate yourself.

2) Stay-Leave decisions are hard and complicated and isolating.  Let’s not heap on more burden and complication by judging women for their process and choice.

We need more compassion (try to empathically understand someone from their vantage point).

We need to be truth tellers.  We need places where we can tell our stories free of judgement or oversimplified responses like, “why did you stay” or “why did you leave”?

We need community who will stand with courage (have some conviction, stand up for what is right and stop blaming the victim).

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Sexual Violence, Secrets & Shame

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One in four women have survived sexual assault and two out of three assaults are committed by someone known by the survivor.  These assaults leave deep wounds and harm on the individual’s psyche, body and personhood.  Women that experience sexual assault are:

3 times more likely to experience depression

6 times more likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder

4 times more likely to contemplate suicide

The pain is incredibly deep and burdensome to the survivor.  And as if it wasn’t enough to live through the assault, many women experience further trauma from the impact of shame and silence.

Statistics show that out of every 100 incidents of sexual violent acts only 40% are reported by women.  

This is obviously problematic.  Yet, it is so common for the survivor to be further victimized by society, the legal system and their own family and friends.

In the legal system and society it is not uncommon for women to be questioned about their clothing, their whereabouts, their state of mind, their involvement before the assault and the assaulter are even addressed.  In some cases the perpetrator is not addressed and completely overlooked.  Our culture and system fail survivors.

One woman I knew experienced a sexual assault when she was 5 years old by a family friend.  The experience was so traumatic that she didn’t remember the event for 20 years.  In an attempt, to protect her body, her integrity and personhood her mind literally locked away the experience.  Developmentally her body and mind were unable to process this information.  This lapse of memory is not uncommon.  Memory research shows that the brain in an effort to survive can block out traumatic events and once triggered the memory can resurface.  At twenty-five, when the memories began to reemerge she shared her experience with trusted family.  The family did not know how to respond so they didn’t.  They maintained relationship with the family friend.

This experience embedded the message that she could not trust herself, her memory or her need for healing.

Several years later when the assault was verified through the perpetrator’s confession she still did not experience support, but faced pressure in ‘reconciling relationship with this long time family friend’.

Unfortunately, this story is all too common.  Most survivors do not have safe places in community to share their stories.  The damage of holding these secrets within oneself lead to shame, hopelessness, isolation and sometimes self-hate and contempt.

So here’s the deal.  I want to be completely clear here:

It is never, ever, ever the survivors fault

and all forms of sexual assault and violence are unacceptable and wrong.

– She wasn’t asking for it because of how she was dressed

– Even though she may not have remembered the assault for some time doesn’t mean it did-not-happen

– It doesn’t matter if the perpetrator was a friend, a family member or intimate partner– sexual assault is sexual assault– stranger or not– it is a violation and injustice to the survivor

It is never the survivors fault.  Let that sink in.

Now as much as I would like to conduct a critical analysis on victim culture in the US I think that’ll need to be for another time.  There is something seriously wrong with how we place blame and shame on the survivors.

But what I feel is needed to be done is to talk to family and friends of survivors first, because I don’t see a lot of people addressing family and friends of survivors these days.

If you have a daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, female friend, cousin or congregant who comes to you to share that she has experienced a sexual assault the first thing you need to do is:

1) Listen.  As hard as it is to hear and as helpless as you may feel– set your discomforts aside and listen to her.  She is not lying to you or telling you a made up story.  Believe me, it is incredibly hard to share an assault story like this.  If she is sharing with you chances are she believes she’ll find a safe place in you.  She may have been holding on to the story for some time– debating whether or not she could really share her story with you.  She is placing a hell of a lot of trust in you– that you’ll honor her story and listen– so honor her.  Listen to her and really see her, because she is a courageous, brave woman to share one of the most intimate violations of her life with you.

2) Do not get stuck in helplessness or denial by blaming her.  It’ll go a long way for you to know now that it is not her fault.  It doesn’t matter what she was doing at the time of the assault– she wasn’t asking for it or inviting it.  One client reported being at a college party drinking when she was locked in a room and raped…  Before you start asking her if she should have been there in the first place I want to say, nope… Not helpful– wrong.  Veer away from those lines of questioning.  Doesn’t matter where she was or what she was doing…  She was sexually violated and the pain she is experiencing is real.

3) Here’s some words you should say: 

I am so sorry for your pain.

I am on your side.

I support you.

I believe you.

I will be with you to find help for your healing process.

Here are words you should NOT say:

Why were you at that party to begin with?

Were you drinking?

Are you sure?

Really?–  Bill?  But he’s been a family friend for years.

You do not need to process/talk about your shock or discomfort with the survivor.  In fact, plan to do that with a therapist or someone who is equipped to help you process that information.  Do not place that burden on the survivor to help walk you through your process and shock.

Take time to grieve and connect to the injustice that your loved one has endured.  

4) Be an ally and do the work.  More often than not people do not know what to do when a woman shares an assault story so they don’t do anything.  Maybe they are scared or maybe they are in denial or maybe they do not know where to seek help.  The thing is with all the resources available to us there really isn’t any excuse for burying one head in the sand and denying the survivor’s story.  Most have internet, a phone or a library that is accessible to them… there is really no excuse to just sit back and do nothing.

The thing is if you’re an ally– then you have to do the work to educate yourself.  There are many ways to do that you can see an experienced therapist.  Some therapists provide Skype therapy for those who have transportation challenges.  Check out your local listings for support groups for friends and family members of sexual assault victims.  Lastly, do the research.  Read stories and books about survivors and strategies to support survivors in their healing process.  Seek accurate information.  If you can’t do therapy you can even ask an experienced therapist about books and resources that will help you process information and give you ideas on how to be supportive.

Be an ally by choosing to believe the survivor and do the work to compassionately understand her painful experience.  

For Survivor Allys:

New York Times article on Sexual Assault 

Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)

Sexual Assault Statistics 

Crisis Clinic

King County Sexual Assault Resource Center

Video

We should all be taking this stand

We should all believe unequivocally what Patrick Stewart articulates so strongly and passionately in this video: Violence is never, ever a choice that a man should make.

The more I participate in trauma work and listen to women’s stories of abuse and violence I swing on this pendulum of anger– anger at the person who chooses to make violence an option and anger at the institutions and people groups who are passive in speaking out against this behavior.  I’ve heard from more women who have been told by their families, their doctors, their pastors, their friends that their victimization is somehow their own fault.  And if people aren’t dumb enough to say such ridiculous things– then they just sit by silently and idly and they don’t take a stand against those that harm through violence. More and more people do not want to be bothered with the complexity of human suffering.  So today I reflect on Patrick Stewarts stand– it’s a no brainer this should be all of our positions on the matter.