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The Behaviors We Fail to Define as Domestic Violence

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Remember that the primary strategy of domestic violence is to control; to establish control; to maintain control; to exert control over another human being, in this case a partner.  This is the fundamental premise of domestic abuse: to control a domestic partner in order to preserve and perpetuate one’s identity, agenda & existence.

Theorists debate the reasons for domestic violence.  Why do people domestically abuse?  Feminists believe that it is due to the overarching patriarchal constructs in society that value the male experience over that of female experience.  In patriarchal societies male dominance, which lead to abuse is viewed as acceptable aspects of masculinity.  Family system therapists have questioned if it is an issue of learned behavior.  Do abusers learn to abuse by what is modeled in their home?  Ecological psychologists consider environmental systems.  Are those who are exposed to the stressors of poverty more likely to exhibit aggressive behaviors under the pressure of extreme stress?

I get it– in identifying root causes perhaps we can predict and prevent (this is especially important for legislative and policy making purposes).  What we’re finding in the domestic violence literature is these root causes are complex and there can be overlapping contributing factors to abusive behaviors.  From an individual perspective, we can’t always identify someone as an abuser based on these variables alone.  In fact, sometimes reviewing these variables alone can be problematic, as some will utilize justifications for someone’s abusive behaviors when they can’t simply place the person or his/her abusive behaviors into a categorical box.

Whatever the cause/reason for domestic abuse the outcome remain: a domestically violent individual uses abusive behaviors and strategies to produce fear, submission and oppression of their partner in order to control.

Let’s talk behaviors.  For the majority of us physical aggression and violence in a relationship is recognized as domestic abuse.  Although, you will find people creating justifications for physical abuse, especially when they are having difficulty believing that a family member or friend could act abusively.  Research shows that only half of those who are exposed to domestic violence report it.  Statistically speaking between 25-34% of women are domestically abused (1 in 3 or 4 women; 1 in 7 men) and only half of these survivors will report.  The reasons for this include: 1) they fear retaliation from their abuser, 2) they believe they will not be able to access help (i.e. police won’t help, will not be able to access resources needed like housing, financial assistance, etc.), 3) they have had family and friends tell them that the partner’s behaviors are not abuse and that perhaps they are making a big deal out of nothing.  This is why advocacy and education is tremendously important because those that justify are complicit to the harm that domestic violence produces for the survivor.

Now imagine– if it is easy to justify or ignore an individual’s experience with physical violence– when there are physical representations of domestic abuse on the individual’s person– how easy is it deny a person’s disclosure and experience with psychological and emotional abuse?

Yes, domestic violence occurs in many different forms.  One form of domestic violence that researchers are documenting have to do with abusers using a partner’s credit and ruining their credit to make it difficult for the survivor to leave or to obtain housing on their own.  Some abusers use contraception as a form of control by poking holes in their condoms to increase the chances of the survivor getting pregnant.  The belief for the abuser is if she gets pregnant then 1) they will be linked permanently and 2) having a child makes it more difficult to leave and to live independently.  These are strategies of control and more often than not there are multiple strategies that are being used to control another person.  In times of domestic violence where the abuse is more subtle or difficult to quantify survivors are less understood or believed.

Psychological and emotional forms of domestic violence occur.  At times, these forms are difficult to identify for the survivor and that is why it’s important we talk about it.  These forms of abuse are often ignored by family and friends, which further isolates and makes confusing the process of identifying emotional abuse for the survivor.  We all need more education around this so that we can support survivors’ agency and human right to do what is in her best overall health and interest.

Survivors need this information to alleviate the isolation one feels when being emotionally abused.  Survivors need to hear that you are not alone and that you are not crazy.  The abuse is meant to make you feel crazy and to make you doubt your own inner voice, but you are not crazy.  Survivors need to hear that the pain you feel is legitimate and real and although you don’t carry visible physical signs of your wounds the pain is excruciating and can lead to many complex feelings of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

Psychological/Emotional abuse:

Character Assassination: When an abuser picks apart the character or personality of their partner by stating that their character/personality differences are wrong or weird or unacceptable.  We all are different.  We all have different ways of navigating the world.  We all think and process things differently.  An abuser who uses this tactic views the difference of their partner as less than.  The abuser will see their way of being or character as superior to the other person and will make comments or emotionally sabotage the other person by planting seeds of doubt about what the other person does or thinks.  Abusers who sabotage their partner’s character do this in private, as well as by demeaning them in public or putting them down in front of family or friends.

Name Call: Emotional abusers verbally put down their partner.  They may yell at them and call them names and make them feel less valued or dumb or insignificant in the world.

Emotional Manipulation: Abusers typically know triggers and areas that are sensitive to their partners.  They know what kind of emotional dynamic or language to use to get a certain kind of outcome from their partner.  The survivor may have even said, “no” or “I’m not comfortable with this or that” and the abuser may use previous information or knowledge about the survivor to derive guilt or shame in order to get the outcome that they wanted in the situation.

Gaslight: Emotional gas lighting is a recent term that refers to the absolute denial and displacement of emotional abuse/manipulation by the abuser.  In other words, the survivor at some point may call out these behaviors and how it creates feelings of hurt and pain and the abuser will deny the behavior.  Additionally, they will use this opportunity to question the survivor’s emotional stability and acuity.  “Are you okay”?  “Why don’t you see that I just love you”?  “You know you’ve always had trust issues”.  “Why can’t you assume the best of me”?

Insistence that they are the Experts in your life/experience: Psychological abusers believe that they know the survivor’s experience better than the survivor.   They believe that they know what the survivor needs and what they need to be doing.  A survivor may try to explain that this or that doesn’t work the same in their experience and the abuser is convinced that they know the situation better.  They undermine the survivor’s experience by saying things like, “you know you have this habit of…” They will insist that the survivor submit to their perspective and opinion on the situation.

Emotionally Withholding and Angry: When the survivor is unable or unwilling to go along with (fill in the blank) the abuser will be emotionally withholding, cold, distant and pout.  The cold stance may shift to anger over time and will manifest in putting pressure on the survivor to do what it is the abuser wants.

What happens to the Survivor?

The emotional and psychological consequences of this sort of abuse is extensive.  Survivors describe everything from depression to anxiety to feelings of inadequacy.  Survivors talk about how they have difficulty trusting their judgement.  They struggle to identify their own needs or desires because they hear the voice of their abuser overriding their own.  I’ve had survivors describe to me a sort of brain fog where they had difficulty thinking or focusing on anything.  When they did feel that they had an idea or opinion on a matter they weren’t sure if they could trust the new information.  Survivors describe feelings of doubt and self-blame about their situation.  I’ve heard women describe a somatic pressure on their chest or abdomen that are associated with exposure to emotional oppression and suppression.  For some the pain is indescribable– it is difficult to find language to describe the invisible pain.  Still others describe feeling completely isolated– left to navigate this emotional landscape on their own while in incredible pain and confusion.

I think one thing this blog can provide is a place to affirm that this suffering is real.

The suffering is real and survivors must not endure this suffering alone.  As one sojourner, I know the benefits of community and advocacy support.  There are no easy or quick solutions but I can’t leave this entry without giving some information to those who may need to reach out for assistance.  You can find that information below and know that I believe you and I hope for you– safety & relief from this pain.

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE

Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence: https://wscadv.org

LifeWire: http://www.lifewire.org // 800-827-8840

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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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What I wish I would have told the church (where I pastored for 10 years) to help other women

The life that I had known for all of my existence came to a screeching halt in the same year.  It was the year that I resigned from my position as a pastor at a local church, while simultaneously ending my marriage of fifteen years.  I didn’t tell anyone about my marriage (with the exception of a few close friends and my family).  I feared that sharing the demise of my marriage would just lead to more pain and scrutiny so I focused on what I could– the good that came out of serving the church.  But more pointedly, I chose not to share about my marriage because it was in keeping with what I had been shown and told while growing up in the church and then even more so while I was a minister—to keep the broken to myself.  There is a model of ‘keeping secrets’ that the church has become effective in teaching through strategies of shaming and an over reliance on church leadership.

I wish I’d had the courage and the vehicle to have told people about my marriage.  If I could go back I would— if for no other reason than for the sake of other women who hold their own shame & secrets of domestic violence to themselves.

In the second year of serving the church, the lead pastor learned of the circumstances of my marriage.  He sat us down for a talk to confront us on the matter.  I was choked with fear and then with shame.  I remember feeling the need to not only preserve my marriage but also to preserve my job at the church and so I swallowed my shame and I promised that my marriage would not come before my role at the church.

After that conversation, the relationship with the lead pastor never was the same.  We (my family) were never regarded in the same manner.  The relationship between myself and the lead pastor became more and more distant over time.  I learned from these cues to not bother him with my worries or concerns and maintained this status quo.

Shame became such a familiar cloud.  I learned how to be available for others while also hiding my own pain and my own face.  I became incredibly adept at this skill.  My availability was completely sincere, but my insides were melting.

One night things got out of hand at home.  I remember so little of the circumstances other than the fear and shock.  What I do remember is that I grabbed my two and half year-old daughter and with no shoes ran out of our apartment to a friend’s apartment.  My friend took my daughter and I to a hotel for the night.  The next day we returned to her studio apartment and I took refuge in her bed for a week while she helped look after my child.  When Sunday rolled around I emotionally, mentally, & physically dusted myself off—returned home to the huge hole in the wall and showed up to my pastoral duties at church that morning.

 

No one ever knew about that week with the exception of that one friend.

 

The roller coasters of instability would continue throughout my marriage and I would do what I learned to do keep it to myself, show up for others and never complain.  I was wracked not only with incredible waves of shame, but isolation.

My story is not really all that special or unique.  It is an unfortunate thing to realize that between 25-33% of women (in the U.S.) are dealing with domestic abuse in all forms of physical aggression, financial deprivation, emotional battering and psychological warfare.  Think about it church and church leaders—that means that every 3rd or 4th female and every 10th male is dealing with some form of domestic violence while showing up to church every Sunday and maybe never telling a soul of the pain that they are in.

There are certain aspects of pain that the church is willing to do deal with that involve: biological illness and disease or a loss of a loved one through death, but the more sticky areas of pain having to do with mental illness or domestic abuse are overlooked—never to be spoken of.  In part, I believe it’s because the church doesn’t know how to respond.  They get so mired in the awkwardness and discomfort that it becomes easier to distant oneself from it then learn about appropriate ways to respond to not only the survivor, but the entire family system.  And so whether they mean to or not their distance communicates to the survivor and the entire family that something is fundamentally wrong with them and that they are not worthy of engagement.

For many survivors, who already have frail and shattered identities, they take that message to mean this is the best that they are gonna get—so they take it.  Community is incredibly important to survivors—a sense of being connected—even if it is not authentic is important and meaningful and gives even the smallest sliver of hope.

But you know what?  This-is-not-okay.  It is not okay for the church to slough off the awkwardness of domestic pain—maybe with the hope that someone else (a social worker, family member or government program) will intervene.  It’s not acceptable for the church not to learn culturally sensitive ways to interact, support and engage survivors who are experiencing DV.  It is not okay for the church to think that there is a ‘one size fits all’ approach that will be adequate for how it supports partnerships and families.

And so church leaders, you have some work cut out for you and one place you can start is by telling people that you believe them and that the circumstances do not change how you love them, embrace them or continue connection with them.

And then go get some training on domestic violence as well as a multi-cultural/inclusive approach to family systems.

New Beginnings is offering community-wide trainings and something they call courageous conversations: http://www.newbegin.org/courageous

The Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WSCDV) offers trainings and online courses: http://wscadv.org

Most importantly, Dear Survivor: you are not alone.  Your story, your experience… well it is real and valid and true.  You may question whether or not there is anyone that could understand or accept your experience.  You may even blame yourself.  You may be in a community or in a family where the norm is to keep secrets and you don’t think anyone would believe you if you came out and shared.  You may feel all kinds of love and confusion about the relationship and unsure of what the choices or options are.  You may be hearing all kinds of voices of judgement about why you stay or why you don’t leave or that it is immoral for you to end a marriage.  You may be feeling scared for your children and their futures.  You may be fearful about where you would live or how you could financially sustain.  You may be struggling with the belief that this is the norm in relationships.  You may be scared to your very core.  You are right there are no easy answers.  One blog entry and a few words are not going to be a balm for all you’re feeling and experiencing.  But I want you to know that I believe you.  I believe all of it and I know that there are others out there that do, too.  You are worth working through the hesitation to reach out.  Here are some safe places where you can do that:

New Beginnings: http://www.newbegin.org // 24-hour helpline 206.522.9472

DAWN: http://dawnrising.org // 24-hour helpline 425.656.7867

Lifewire: https://www.lifewire.org // 24-hour helpline 800.827.8840

 

 

 

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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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V-Day for Women

I’ve never been a big one for Valentines day or all the mumbo jumbo around this consumeristic celebration of love.  Like I tell my girls, love is about everyday.  It matters how you love the people in your life every day.  And that love takes all shapes and sizes– as much as love is about romance it is also about the love we share together as ma ma and daughter, brother and sister, friends and so on…  I have always been a big supporter of Eve Ensler and all the activist work she does to bring awareness to violence against women.  I believe wholeheartedly in female empowerment.  So today I celebrate V day in recognition of women all over the world.  I hope for a safer– more compassionate and inclusive world for all women.  I am just one woman, who desires to raise my girls to know their capacity, strength and passion in the world so that they may follow their heart courageously and unapologetically.  This is hope for my daughters and all the daughters of our earth.

photo-10(In all you do be brave, be honest, love, love, love and follow your heart.

Your heart won’t steer you wrong.)

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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.

Uncategorized

A new adventure ahead

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A few weeks I learned that I was accepted into a doctoral program in an International Psychology program.  The concentration of my research will be on women & trauma.  The Chicago School’s program is one of kind– I’ve seen nothing else out there like it.  Depending on the direction & concentration of my research on women & trauma I will be traveling to our international partner sites to conduct field study.  This opens up a plethora of pathways for partnerships, learning and expansion on the research I’ve been dreaming about for years.  

All that to say, I will still be blogging & writing.  I imagine that my posts will include many of my thoughts on the research, stories, statistics– blah-blah-blah.  I hope to keep it relevant and interesting.  I want to use this space to keep expanding dialogue.  

Lately I’ve been asked why I do this work.  At some point I think I’ll be able to share more of my own personal story– as it is connected to the dialogue and the work, but for now I can share this–  I am passionate.

I am passionate about women.

I am passionate about the voices of women.

And I am unapologetic.

I have seen churches and schools and businesses and institutions and families, most established on systems of patriarchy, dismantle and undermine the development and freedom of the feminine voice.

I have been with women who have been literally beaten and smashed told that their only worth is that of serving the men in their lives.

I have sat across from women bruised and scarred from years of sexual abuse told that no place within themselves or their bodies is sacred or private or intimate or wholly their own.  

I have heard stories from women who have been told that real sacrifice has to do with compromising their own hopes, dreams, desires in service of others.  When feelings of confusion or disillusionment arise they are told that to dream or hold desire is to be selfish and self-serving.  Thus, leading them to believe that to be ‘good’ is to let go of any personal hope or dream.

And so you see, I am passionate about joining women in finding and freeing their beautiful voice– a voice full of wisdom, insight, purpose, laughter, sorrow, joy, vision and hope.  

And so I hope to continue to expand my understanding and my awareness through this research to create spaces of safety and healing that will ultimately lead to liberation and realization of the feminine voice.  

This is not an easy or quick work.  I am reminded of this through Caroline Knapp’s writings.  In her book Appetites, Knapp says:

“Defining desire in new ways is achingly complicated, painstaking work; it requires developing a vision that runs counter to consumerism, counter to a corporate an political culture that’s still tightly structured to meet male needs, perhaps even counter one’s own deeply-ingrained assumptions…Anything that connects you–to the body, to the self, to other women–can free.  Anything that frees may also feed”.

It’s a three-year program, but really this is my life’s work and I’m thrilled to embark on this next leg of the journey!

Uncategorized

The courage to live

From the very start I had a desire to create a private practice which would engage and intersect my passions for justice & compassion and therapy.  This past year has been an additional step in that direction, as I have freed up X amount of hours toward pro-bono work with women who are homeless due to domestic violence.  As much as I’d like to think that I’ve had some profound impact or influence on these women’s lives– the reality is that being in relationship has found me profoundly moved, changed and influenced by their stories and their courage.  The fact that they look at each day as a new opportunity to begin again despite the burden of their traumas and the present reality of not having a home to call their own astounds me every time.

When a woman leaves her last tier of material security in order to escape the physical and mental violence she endures each day it takes courage that is unknown to most of us.  It seems like a crapshoot of a deal– stay in your home and continue to get the crap beat out of you day-in & day-out or leave the violence and go– where? It’s not an easy decision when the supports seem no where in sight.  I have had women share stories in which they lived with guns to their heads, bodies thrown through doors, threats of death & estrangement,  ridicule and a barrage of insults on a daily basis.  Despite the ability to hold high esteem for self or see their own value due to the abuse– they muster up the strength that resides within and leave.  But it doesn’t mean that today is still not difficult– all kinds of self doubt comes up when sometimes it feels like the alternative to staying offers very little.

All this to say, there is so much need.  I want to do more, but I recognize I am one person.  What would it look like to create a network where we pool our professional resources and offer the skills we’ve been trained with to provide a level of support to those who do not have the means to access those resources?  Do you have any ideas on this subject?  I find myself muttering under my breath (often) that we have to do more.  We do have to do more, don’t we?