Stalking Awareness Month

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January is National Stalking Awareness Month.  How many of us would recognize the signs of stalking or feel confident that we’d know what to do?  Do we think of stalking as a “James Bond-style” incident?  A stranger in an unmarked vehicle with secret spy technology watching our every move?  Someone hiding in the bushes?  Peeping Toms?

Stalking may be those things, but it is also, often, found in the context of intimate or former intimate relationships or acquaintanceship.  It’s often our ex partner, our former classmate, a co-worker. It is often someone we know who refuses to acknowledge or abide by our boundaries.  And it can be terrifying.

Below is a story shared with our staff that illustrates the side of stalking that isn’t often talked about but we see all too often (CN: description of stalking and abusive relationship):

I wonder if he ever wonders what happened, the boy who asked me out my freshman year. He was on the football team and lived on my floor in my freshman dorm.  We had calculus together (not quite Rocks for Jocks, but definitely math for people who’ll never use math again). We hung out a few times. We even went out to dinner once at the fancy restaurant in town (literally the only one. God bless small town colleges).

I wonder if he ever thought of me and wondered why he never heard from me again. I wonder if he felt snubbed or ghosted when we stopped hanging out, when I stopped responding to his texts.  I wonder if he noticed that I stopped spending so much time on campus and, in fact, eventually transferred to another school. I wonder if he ever wondered why.

He never saw the other side of what I was experiencing.  He never knew that after an evening of sitting on the quad with him talking about life and school, I’d pull out my phone to see missed call after missed call and too many texts to count asking where I was and why I wasn’t answering my phone. He didn’t know about the unwanted gifts, letters, and messages.  He didn’t know about the surprise visits and the constant pressure to be with someone I didn’t want to be with. He didn’t see the stalking.  For many years, I didn’t either.

I didn’t realize what was going on. A former colleague, a brief romantic partner, a person I tried to push back into friendship when I realized how uncomfortable I was in a dating relationship.  A person who wouldn’t take no for an answer.  There was the constant pressure to be available to him.  To tell him everything about my life and my emotions. The pressure to talk on the phone for hours, even when we had nothing to say to each other and my homework was piling up.  To answer my phone right away and to not be spending time with other guys. The demands to know where I was and what I was doing. There were the unwanted gifts which he made sure to tell me how expensive and difficult they were to find, how thoughtful he was being, as if this somehow meant I owed him something.  There was the time he tracked down my schedule and showed up at my dorm room unexpectedly on a Friday night, knowing I would feel too uncomfortable forcing him to drive the 6 hours back home and would have to let him stay.

As I grew more and more uncomfortable with the situation and more and more aware of how inappropriately he was acting, I tried to distance myself. I gave stronger and stronger signals that his interest was unwanted and would not be tolerated. I cut him out of my life in every way I could.  He continued to contact me through mutual friends and overstepped my boundaries when we worked on the same projects. Even today, when it has been over ten years since I last saw him, I still avoid certain friends, specific locations, and even scents that remind me of those two years in my life. I still worry that I’ll see him at a summer reunion or when I visit old haunts. I wonder if he realizes how much his behavior scared me, how threatening it felt and how much power it felt like he took from me. I wonder if he knows how it affects me to this day.

I never had a stranger parked outside my house.  I didn’t have a stalker following me in the alleys.  I had a colleague who wouldn’t take no for an answer and who wouldn’t respect my boundaries. I had a friend who felt entitled to a relationship and who was determined to build it over my objections. I had my life taken over by someone I thought I could trust. It wouldn’t have been an exciting movie plot, but it felt frightening and violating and it happens more often than we think.

Stalking takes many different forms and can be a sign of an incredibly dangerous situation. If you recognize any patterns of stalking or feel uncomfortable, be sure to reach out for help and support.  Work with a domestic violence agency to create a safety plan.  Make sure trusted friends or family are aware of what is happening. Keep a “stalking log” of everything that happens that makes you feel unsafe and keep screenshots of excessive contact or disturbing messages. Trust your gut.

You’re not alone. If you’ve experienced stalking in the past or you’re currently unsafe, Safe Passage is available 24/7.  Call us at 815-756-5228.

 

 

Give the Gift of Hope

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“For so long, I’ve been hurt by other people. For so long, I’ve felt stuck, like there’s no way out. For so long, I didn’t have a voice of my own. Dropping everything and coming to Safe Passage, I found my voice. I found safety. I’m not scared and I learned I’m not alone. I’m happy again!”

– Safe Passage Client 2018

For many of us, the holiday season is a time of warmth, love, and family. We enjoy a season of thankfulness and celebration while looking forward to the new year filled with new beginnings. For many, coming to Safe Passage can be the start of a new beginning. Safe Passage can be the place where they can learn or re-learn what it means to feel safe, whole, and respected. Safe Passage can be the place where they allow themselves to dream again. Safe Passage can be the place where they finally start to feel like survivors.

For over 900 adults and children in 2018, Safe Passage was the beginning of a new life, a life filled with healing, hope, and possibility. Thanks to your support and the support of our generous community, we have been able to provide shelter, counseling, and crisis support for so many brave survivors of violence. As we look toward the next year, our services, unfortunately are more needed that ever. We hope you will consider making a year-end gift to support the life-saving work at Safe Passage and stand together with all of us in our fight to end violence.

Thankful

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It is an important time of the year for reflection.  We know that this has been a difficult year for survivors. There have been high profile cases that have triggered and frustrated survivors.  There have been proposed rollbacks to protections for survivors on college campuses.  There have been murders, mass violence, and abusers who have walked free. We know the heartbreak and the challenges because we live in the midst of them every day.

But today, we want to talk about something else.  We want to focus on what we’re thankful for.  And what we are thankful for, more than anything else, is the fire of survivors.  This year has been difficult, but it has shown us, more than ever, the strength of each and every survivor of violence.

Strength looks different for each person and each circumstance, but we’re thankful this year for all the different types of power we’ve seen.

We’re thankful for the survivors of Dr. Nassar who have continued to speak out with strength and fire.  The sentencing of Larry Nassar was just the beginning and we’re grateful for each and every one of these women who continue to push for a change in our institutions and culture!

We’re thankful for voters in Alaska who voted against retention for Judge Michael Corey who oversaw the case of Justin Schneider and approved a plea deal that saw no jail time after a violent case of sexual assault. This decision by voters sent a strong message that judges must hold abusers accountable for their crimes.

We’re thankful for each survivor who spoke at our annual Domestic Violence Vigil in October and we’re grateful for all the community members who attended in support.  Together, we’re breaking the silence and the stigma around abuse.

We are thankful for survivors.  We’re thankful each time a survivor walks through our door seeking a safer future or even just a safer night.  We’re thankful for each survivor who sits down with one of our counselors and begins to process the trauma they’ve experienced.  We’re thankful for each survivor who raises their voice in anger or celebration.  You matter.  You are strong.  You deserve safety, healing, and hope.

We’re grateful for the chance to do the work we do.  We’re grateful that some day we won’t be needed.  We’re grateful that you are still surviving.

Thank you.

You are the Boss of your Body!

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My niece was getting ready for bed one night when I was home visiting my family.  She was just about to head upstairs and crawl into bed when my sister called her back to say goodnight to everyone.  As she made her way around the room, she hugged some of us, gave others high-fives, gave her grandparents goodnight kisses, and even gave one person a “goodnight wave.”  She knew (because my sister had taught her) that she didn’t have to hug someone if she didn’t want to.  She wasn’t being rude or unkind.  She was just doing what felt right to her in that moment.

The holidays are an important time for families to set safe boundaries with their kids.  We know that over 90% of the children who are sexually abused know and trusted the person who abused them.  It’s rarely the scary stranger in a white van, but rather is likely to be a member of the family, a babysitter, a family friend, or another person in a position of trust.  When a child is abused by someone they thought they could trust, disclosure becomes even more difficult, confusing, and frightening. When we teach our children that we’ll respect their boundaries, they learn that they are in charge of their bodies and they feel more empowered to speak up and tell an adult if someone hurts them.

This holiday season, we’d strongly encourage allowing your children to be in charge of their bodies, especially when it comes to greetings and goodbyes.  If Sally doesn’t want to hug Uncle Stu, let her know that it’s okay.  She can just wave instead!  If Peter doesn’t want to give Grandma a kiss on the cheek, a hug or high-five is just fine! When we give our children permission to make these types of choices, we let them know that we’re safe adults.  We let them know they could talk to us if they were ever being hurt.  We let them know that no one, no matter who they are, should touch them without getting permission.

If you’d like help in learning how to talk with your children about sexual abuse or learning more about how to keep kids safe, reach out to our Prevention Team at 815-756-7930, x106.

Runner

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I am not, nor have I ever been, much of a runner.  However, when my partner volunteered me for a Thanksgiving 5K Race, I realized I had better figure it out. I’ve been working through a Couch to 5K program and decided last night would be my first attempt at a full 5K.  I haven’t run this far since I moved several years ago (I know I know) so I don’t regularly run the trails near my house.  Needing to get some extra miles last night, I decided to take a path that ran through the woods a bit further than I usually go.

I immediately felt unsafe.  I immediately took out my headphones and started scanning my surroundings.  I even pushed myself to run a little bit faster until I got to a place where the woods thinned out and I could see houses and lights.  I felt so unsafe that I almost turned around.

Now, it could have been the podcast I was listening to (Believed, an NPR podcast about Dr. Larry Nassar’s years of abuse of young women–check it out). It could have been the area (our town had a murder on a running trail not far from there a couple of years before I moved out).  It could have been just my natural hypervigilance from years of working at a Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Crisis Center.

But whatever it was, the point is, I felt afraid to run by myself.  I felt afraid enough that I took out my headphones and scanned my surroundings as I ran.  I felt afraid enough that I almost gave up on my goal for that run.

And you know what?  My partner (a cis white male runner) runs those trails almost everyday, almost always after dark and he NEVER feels that fear.  He’s never had to wonder if they’ll find his body the next morning and blame him for what happened because he shouldn’t have been running alone at night.

I do.  Those fears for my safety AND the fears that I’d be blamed if something happened to me run through my head every time I step out the door. And that’s not just anxiety.  It’s part of the gig women and femme people seem to have been handed on the day we were born. And that’s not okay.

I should be able to run in peace, no matter my gender or race.  I shouldn’t be afraid of being murdered or assaulted just because I’m female.  I shouldn’t hold myself back from my goals because I wonder if it is safe enough to achieve them.

Whether it is running, receiving an education, landing that new job, taking up painting…whatever your goal might be, you deserve to achieve it without the fear of abuse and violence.  That’s why places like Safe Passage are so necessary.  We have to work to support survivors AND work to create a world where we can all live without fear.

We’re in for the long-haul.  We hope you’ll join us!

Politics

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Our Director of Prevention and Communication shared her perspective on WNIJ this morning (LINK).

She shares about the importance of voting, but also the importance of what we do AFTER we cast our ballots.  How do we hold our elected leaders accountable?  How do we ensure our representatives, from governors and Congress representatives to city councils and county board members, keep their promises and work for the needs of the most vulnerable in our communities? Our vote is just the first step.

We have to stay active and we have to stay vigilant.  Laws that hurt survivors of violence often pass in the background of our political landscape. Laws that protect survivors are on the verge of lapsing or being rolled back. Laws that create a safer society for all of us, laws that promote prevention education and encourage accountability need strong advocates.

Stay aware. Stay involved. Call your representatives and share your opinion.  Make your voice heard!  Follow Safe Passage on Facebook and we’ll do our best to keep you on the forefront of the battle to keep our community safe.

Issues we’re following:

-Delays in testing rape kits
-VAWA reauthorization
-Title IX rollback

 

Acquitted

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Daily Chronicle News Report:  Brenton Cleveland Acquitted in Rape Trial (LINK)

It has taken us a while to write about this case because it’s a very difficult and emotional topic.  We’d like to say we can always trust our court system.  We’d like to say that we believe in the verdicts that are handed down.  But the truth is, we know that the history of our society’s handling of sexual assault cases and there have been very few convictions.  If every case of guilt ended in a just verdict, we’d have seen a lot more powerful men in prison.

The truth is, just because you can’t prove assault under our current legal system, doesn’t mean an assault didn’t happen. Our system is more often stacked against victims from the very first moment they reach out for help.  In fact, our system is often stacked against victims from the moment they are born.  We raise our children in an environment that shames and blames women for what they wear, where they go, and who they talk to.  Our children grow up with very convoluted messages about respect and consent.  Our children see powerful people accused of assault and abuse who are welcomed back into society without facing any sort of real consequences (looking at you, Louis CK).

We all have to do more.  We all have to do better.  We have to start by teaching our children (and honestly, most of our adults) that CONSENT MATTERS.  If the other person is drunk, it’s not consent.  If you’re in Illinois and the other person is under 17, it’s not consent.  If they don’t seem sure, it’s not consent.  If they didn’t say yes, but they didn’t say no, it’s not consent.  If you had to convince them, threaten them, or even talk them into it, it’s not consent.  Anything less than a 100% freely given, enthusiastic YES is not enough.

And when that bar isn’t met, there have to be consequences.  No more slaps on the wrist.  No more stern words of admonition.  No more slinking off to hide for a few months.  Time is up and we are outraged.  Our children deserve better.  Victims deserve better.  We all deserve better.  And we’re demanding it.

If you’ve been a victim of sexual abuse or assault, Safe Passage is here for you 24/7.  We believe you.  We support you.  We’ll stand with you every step of the way.  Give us a call at 815-756-5228.  All services are completely free and confidential.