It’s not your fault. Ever.

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Content note:  discussion of violent sexual assault and victim-blaming.

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A student was violently sexually assaulted by an acquaintance this weekend at NIU (LINK to article).  The student was working on a final project for school when the attacker stopped by, physically attacked and sexually assaulted her, finally dropping her off at the local hospital.

To their credit, the university police connected the victim immediately with services from Safe Passage and took immediate steps to ban the attacker both from campus and online courses.  We are so grateful for their thoughtful, victim-centered statement and actions following the attack.

The survivor was back at school on Monday, finishing her art project.  Some online took this as an opportunity to question her credibility, wondering how someone could go through a traumatic and violent experience and return immediately to work.

If there is one lesson we should learn from survivors and from the outpouring of survivor stories in the #MeToo movement, it is that each person’s experience is different.  One survivor may need weeks, months, even years to be able to return to “normal life”.  Some may experience triggers and trauma for the rest of their lives.  Some may be ready to pick up where they left off the next day.  One survivor may break down in tears, one may experience anxiety.  Another may laugh, brush off the attack, or be in a hurry to return to life as usual.  No one response is the “right” response.  No response makes a survivor’s story any less credible.

If you’ve been assaulted, know that you are allowed to respond however feels right to you.  You are the expert on yourself.  You are the architect of your healing journey.  No one response is more or less valid and no response means you are more or less a survivor.  You are equally entitled to belief, support, and help no matter how you respond to trauma.

Survivors should not have to prove that they “deserve” our support.  If you’ve never been a victim of sexual violence, we would invite you into journey of learning how important it is to support survivors.  Victim-blaming is a second form of trauma that survivors often have to face but when you start by believing, you tell survivors that they are not alone.

At Safe Passage, we have a commitment to Start By Believing.  This means if you tell us you’ve been a victim of violence, we will always believe you, support you, and help you in whatever ways you need.  We are available 24/7 at 815.756.5228.  You are not alone.

 

CASA

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As we’ve posted previously on our blog, April is Child Abuse Prevention Month.  We are so grateful for our amazing children’s counselors, our prevention specialists who do education in the schools, and our caseworkers who work tirelessly for parents and children in our care.   We are also incredibly grateful for our community partners who do incredibly important work ensuring the safety and support of at-risk children.  One of those partners, CASA DeKalb County, is guest-blogging today, sharing a personal story about the critical work they do:

My name is Anna*. I am 8 years old. When I was 6, I was living in a motel room with one bed in DeKalb with my mom, her boyfriend and my half-brothers. I slept on the floor. It was cold. My mom and her boyfriend used drugs. They argued a lot.

My CASA advocate came to our motel room. She reported our living conditions to the judge.

I live with a foster family now. I have my own room. I have my first bed. I have my own blanket. I am warm at night.

*Name changed for confidentiality

Anna’s story is one of many that are involved in the juvenile abuse and neglect court every week in DeKalb County. In fact, every 13 hours in DeKalb County there is a new case of child abuse or neglect reported. On average, there are about 200 children who, through no fault of their own, are involved in the juvenile court system each year. Anna and these other children in DeKalb County are victims of child abuse or neglect. CASA works with these children as their voice in court, speaking on behalf of their best interests and making recommendations for the children.

CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) DeKalb County’s mission is to advocate for and serve as the voice for abused and neglected children. CASA is appointed as the guardian ad litem (GAL) in 100% of cases in the DeKalb County juvenile abuse and neglect court. In the role of GAL, CASA volunteer advocates gather information about the child’s situation and provides that information to the judge so he/she can make informed decisions on behalf of the child. The goal for each case is for the child to be placed in a safe, permanent home as soon as possible, preferably back in their own home when that is safe.

CASA plays a unique role in child abuse prevention, which is especially remembered during the month of April, as it is Child Abuse Prevention Month. Through advocacy in the courtroom, CASA helps ensure that a child is placed in a safe, permanent home where there is less chance of any recurrence of abuse or neglect. CASA advocates monitor a child’s case to verify that parents attend the services they need, such as counseling or parenting classes, to correct the conditions that led to the case to come into court. For children like Anna in the story above, CASA advocates draw attention to unsafe or unhealthy conditions in which a child is living so the judge can place the child in a better home environment. CASA also works in the community to draw attention to child abuse and neglect through speaking engagements with local service clubs and the use of social media and online marketing to spread awareness. This April, CASA is posting “Myth vs. Fact” on their Facebook page to help dismantle some of the common myths regarding child abuse or neglect.

While child abuse prevention is something talked about in the community during the month of April, the children CASA serves live these experiences each and every day. These children need to have their voices and their stories heard. Together as a community we can work to continue speaking up for these children, bringing us closer to a time when all children have the opportunity to thrive in a safe and loving home.

To find out more about CASA and their work with abused and neglected children, visit http://www.casadekalb.org.

Give DeKalb County

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When I was in college, I had a roommate who would wake up at 3 am to watch tennis.  No watching replays for her.  Who cared if I had a test the next morning?  The match was on in Australia!  The only thing worse in a teeny room than a tennis-obsessed roommate was a teeny room with a tennis-obsessed roommate who also played trumpet.

Now I’m far from perfect and I’m sure she could tell you some horror stories from the days of living with me, but the point is we were both two privileged, nontraumatized strangers who managed to drive each other crazy in communal living.  We had the best opportunities for being able to peacefully coexist and it was a rough year.

Imagine now, that my roommate and I were both fleeing abusive relationships.  She has two children under the age of 5.  She and I have been living with abusive partners and I grew up in an abusive household.  I’ve learned to lie to get what I need to survive and I’ve learned to yell if I want my voice to be heard.  She struggles with a substance use disorder.  Now imagine that we had to share a room in our emergency shelter.  She and I and her two children in a room not much bigger than our freshman dorm.  There’s two bathrooms in the entire building for all 25 of us to share and one communal kitchen.

Imagine trying to heal under those circumstances.  Imagine trying to move on from an abusive past and face your trauma.  Imagine how much easier it might seem to just give up and go back home.  Imagine how difficult it would be to take the time to invest in your own mental health and healing.

For many of our clients, they don’t have to imagine.  This is our reality.  Our shelter, while it provides incredibly important and necessary emergency care, is still set up for just that: an emergency.  It isn’t designed to be a place of healing and wholeness.  Our staff have done so much with the limited budget we have, but we know there is so much more to do.

This year on May 3, Give DeKalb County is hosting the 5th annual community fundraiser for DeKalb nonprofits.  Please consider visiting www.givedekalbcounty.org on May 3 and make a life-saving donation.  Your donations ensure survivors continue to have access to emergency shelter, counseling, and advocacy, but also give us the flexibility to invest in projects to improve the emergency care we provide and ensure every survivor is given every chance to not only survive, but thrive.

Remembering

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The massacre at Columbine High School was 19 years ago today and listening to the voices of students, it feels like not much has changed.  School shootings are still common and mass violence has become all too familiar.  From students at Parkland to music fans in Las Vegas to churchgoers in Sutherland Springs, questions are being asked about what can be done.

In the 19 years since Columbine, debates have raged about what or who is to blame for gun violence.  We’ve heard it blamed on Marilyn Manson.  We’ve heard it blamed on easy access to guns.   We’ve heard it blamed on violent video games.

We want to remind everyone about a factor in mass violence that is too often forgotten: domestic violence.  In seven out of the eight largest mass homicide events in recent American history, the domestic terrorist had a history of domestic violence or misogyny.

The shooter in Las Vegas was verbally abusive to his partner in public.  The shooter at Pulse in Orlando had a history of domestic battery and strangulation.  The shooter at Sandy Hook believed women were inherently selfish.

If we are ever going to solve our country’s undeniable issue with mass violence and gun violence, we will have to face the fact that we live under the threat of a cult of toxic masculinity.  When men feel entitled to women’s affection and attention, they learn to respond violently when they don’t get it.  Boys are taught that they are owed sex, relationships, and obedience from women.  Boys are taught that they must never, under any circumstances, show or feel any emotion other than anger.  Boys are taught that the best way to respond to any sort of disrespect or rejection is violence. This is a dangerous combination.

Domestic violence must be taken seriously.  Abusers with a history of nonfatal strangulation must be taken seriously.  We need to work, as a society, to build a safer world where our children are allowed to be whole and healthy individuals.  Until then, however, we need to work harder to keep guns out of the hands of abusers and take misogynistic and abusive threats by people with a history of violence seriously.

If you’ve been a victim of violence, help is available.  Give us a call 24/7 at 815.756.5228.

 

Child Abuse Prevention Month

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We’ve been spending a lot of time preparing for April’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month, but did you know it is also Child Abuse Prevention Month?  Read our article in DeKalb’s Daily Chronicle to learn how we are working with our community partners to prevent child abuse and support child survivors. (LINK TO ARTICLE)

Our Erin’s Law education is a critical component of child abuse prevention.  We are in the schools in our county helping kids learn about body safety, body autonomy, and their rights to safe and healthy relationships.

If you’d like to learn more about our services for children and teens, visit our website (www.safepassagedv.org) or call us at 815.756.5228.

I’m not throwing away my shot

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My partner and I went to see Hamilton last night.  For those of you who aren’t familiar, Hamilton the Musical is the story of Alexander Hamilton, the Founding Father who came to America as an immigrant, fought in the Revolutionary War, and paved the way for the financial success of the new country.  He was also pretty famous for dying in a duel after being shot by Aaron Burr.

I’ve been in love with this show since I first heard the music and seeing it live was an incredible experience. As I listened to the songs I’ve heard a million times before, seeing them coming to life for the first time, some of the lyrics struck me in a whole new way.

In one of the most famous songs, My Shot (link), Hamilton sings about making the most of every opportunity that comes his way, no matter the challenges he faces.  Several moments in the song stuck out to me.  The first, in light of #MeToo, is when Hamilton sings that “This is not a moment, it’s the movement.”  We’ve written about it before, but #MeToo and #TimesUp are not just a glitch or an aberration.  People have been being abused, harassed, and assaulted for thousands of years and brave survivors have been talking about it.  We just haven’t been listening.  This is the moment when we started to seriously listen but it has to be more than that.  It has to be more than the moment when we started paying attention.  It has to be the movement for lasting change.

The next moment that stood out to me was when John Laurens (historically, a close friend of Hamilton) sings that “we’ll never be truly free until those in bondage have the same rights as you and me.” On its own, this is something we as a nation have to learn to face.  We need to reckon and struggle with that issue that our country was founded on ideals that we didn’t extend to people of color.  We have to reckon and face the fact that our country was built on slavery.  Our struggles as a nation to this day are connected with the racist history that pervades every element of our modern institutions.  We can’t ignore that.  And on a more personal level, for the movement to end sexual assault and for the women’s right’s movements, we have to address the fact that our struggle for equality and action was often promoted at the expense of people of color.  White women, particularly, led early action but left their sisters of color behind.  People of color cannot be collateral damage on the path to equality.  We are not free until we are all free.  John Laurens knew this and we have to learn it.

Finally, the villain in the story, Aaron Burr sings that Hamilton and his friends should “lower your voices.  Keep out of trouble and you double your choices.”  He tells them to keep quiet, don’t rock the boat, and go along to get along.  This kind of moderating influence is popular in social change organizations.  We tell people not to upset the status quo.  We encourage changemakers to work within the system as it exists.  We try to reform from within.  That can work.  That can be the right option.  But sometimes it isn’t.  Sometimes we have to be bold.  Sometimes we have to be like Hamilton and be willing to wade into the mess and get dirty fighting for what we know is right.  We can’t patiently wait for men and women to be treated equally.  We can’t just hope that society will stop victim-blaming and shaming survivors of sexual assault.  We can’t ask politely for the gun control reform that will save the lives of thousands of abuse victims who are at higher risk of death due to easy gun access for abusers.  We have to speak out and stand up, even if we speak out and stand up alone.

Hamilton had a difficult life.  He faced overwhelming childhood trauma.  He faced bias and prejudice as an immigrant.  His boldness angered many people in power.  But his strength changed a nation.  My hope is that our agency will have a similar courage and power in speaking out for survivors of domestic and sexual violence and we hope you’ll stand with us until everyone feels truly safe and truly free.

If you need help or support, you can reach us 24/7 at 815.756.5228.

Walk a Mile 2018

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If you’ve noticed that our blog has been quiet for a few weeks, it’s because we’ve been hard at work getting ready for our third annual Walk a Mile event!

We are SO excited for this event.  Not only is it a great way to participate in Sexual Assault Awareness Month, but it’s a fun way to come together as a community that believes we can all do and be better.

If you’ve never heard of Walk a Mile, it’s a mile walk in high heels, helping men especially put themselves in the shoes of sexual assault survivors who are often judged and dismissed for what they were wearing, where they were, and who they were with. Walk a Mile is our chance to say “Yes means Yes and No means No, whatever we wear, wherever we go.”

At our Walk a Mile, we’ll have the walk, but we’ll also have an after party with drinks, awards, prizes, and fun!  Don’t miss out.  April 14, registration begins at 11 am.  Get yourself a commemorative tee and race bag by pre-registering online by March 31!

To register or get more details, visit www.safepassagedv.org/events!   See you there!