Who matters?

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Who matters when we think about domestic violence and sexual assault? Who are we protecting and who do we silence?

Over the course of the last few months, our country has been forced into a reckoning of whose pain is important and whose lives matter in a visible and vocal way. From the start of the pandemic, we’ve seen how the disease has allowed prejudice and racism, especially against Asian Americans, thrive. We’ve seen our communities argue about whether wearing masks to protect our neighbors is “worth it” or whether our vulnerable community members should be thrown under the bus in the name of economic recovery. Finally, and most recently, we’ve seen such egregious (and heartbreakingly common) examples of violent, murderous racism and police brutality against Black Americans and people of color.

We have to answer these questions every day in our work. Whose lives are important? Who do we care about? Who are we willing to protect? Who will we speak up for?

As we’ve worked from home, listening to new podcasts, shows, and webinars, one theme has been constant: people with power almost always ignore abuse as long as they can until it becomes inconvenient or impossible to ignore the victims any longer.

In “The Catch and Kill Podcast with Ronan Farrow” and “Chasing Cosby”, we see the countless women who were ignored in favor of protecting powerful men. Countless media, court officials, law enforcement, and even friends and family ignored, dismissed, or discouraged the hundreds of victims who came forward. Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby (like so many others) were only held accountable when there was no other option.

We see this decision to ignore the needs of some in favor of a bigger “agenda” when listening to the second season of “Slow Burn” which focuses on the sexual abuse scandals faced by Bill Clinton during his years in office as President. Monica Lewinsky has maintained that she does not feel like she was sexually assaulted by President Clinton, but there is no arguing that she was treated as a political football, rather than a victim of violence or power inequity. Both sides (regardless of party) seemed to view Clinton’s inappropriate pursuit of Lewinsky as an opportunity to bring down their opponent or support their candidate. We have to answer this with Clinton, with Kavanaugh, with Trump, with Franken, and yes, with Joe Biden. How do we respond to allegations of sexual abuse and violence? Is our response different when it is “our guy”? Are we concerned with supporting victims and survivors? Or are we looking to score cheap political points? Are we ignoring survivors and victims because we’re afraid to lose the election, the seat, or the moral high ground?

And let’s take that even farther…are we afraid to support victims because we don’t know what it will mean for our community? Our family? Our workplace? Ending violence requires courage and consistency. We MUST be willing to be brave. We must be willing to hold EVERYONE accountable, no matter the cost. We must take the risk to create a world where everyone is safe, everyone is free, and everyone is loved.

Got Consent?

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Content Warning:  Discussion of sexual abuse, sexual predators, and consent.

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As Harvey Weinstein’s case continues in New York, the main argument from his legal team is that every encounter brought up in the trial was actually consensual. He says that he can’t be charged with rape because in each and every case, the other party agreed to have sex or wanted to. How was HE to know that she didn’t actually want to have sex? This is the argument you hear in most rape cases that make it to trial.

As this trial was beginning, I was also finishing up the novel Horns by Joe Hill. This fictional story surrounds the case of a young woman who was sexually assaulted and murdered. Throughout the novel, you get to hear the exact thoughts of the abuser leading up to the moment of the young woman’s murder. Very dark stuff. As I read the story, however, I couldn’t help but notice a similarity between the thoughts of the murderer and the excuses we’ve heard throughout the investigation and prosecution of Harvey Weinstein and countless others.

As I thought about this fictional account and this very real criminal case, I started to wonder, do these abusers actually believe it? Do they genuinely think that they had consent in those encounters? It doesn’t excuse their behavior, but it does help us understand where we need to put more effort in our prevention work with young people. Too often we hear excuses from abusers like “it seemed like they were enjoying it,” “they didn’t say no,” or “they didn’t try to stop me.” If we aren’t teaching young people (and old people too) that consent MUST be a verbal, enthusiastic, and informed “yes”, then we’re opening the door for abusers to use these excuses in their lives and in court.

Again, this is no excuse for their behavior, but it does open a window into our culture and what we need to do better. Part of overcoming our current rape culture is making it crystal clear to abusers, to communities, and to juries and judges that any sexual activity without explicit, informed, and enthusiastic consent is sexual abuse.

A look is not consent.
“…she turned and gave Lee a frowning look, one eyebrow raised in a way that seemed to ask a question–or offer an invitation. Follow me.” (Horns, p 349)

How someone is dressed is not consent.
“She had thought about what to put on before she came here, had thought about how she wanted to be seen.” (Lee’s perspective, Horns, p 296)

Your interpretation of what someone means when things are unclear is not consent.
“Lee…wondered for a moment if she could mean what he thought she meant by that. But of course she did, of course she knew exactly how he’d take it. A lot of what Merrin said had double meanings, one for public consumption and the other just for him. She’d been sending him messages for years.” (Horns, p 301)

Your imagination is not consent.
“She had lured him down to Boston, led him to imagine they would be alone together, and then answered the door in her sweatpants, looking like warmed-over shit, her roommate wandering around…He was sick of being jerked around…” (Horns, p 314)

Nothing is consent aside from a clear, sober yes, free from manipulation, coercion, or force. The sooner we make that clear, the sooner we’ll live in a world where abusers are held accountable for their actions instead of a world where we make excuses for the violence done to others.

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

 

National Avocado Day

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Avocado…the trickiest food to prepare, the key ingredient in guacamole, and the reason millennials aren’t able to afford to buy houses.

I love avocados.  I didn’t when I was younger, but something changed in me.  I grew older.  I grew wiser.  I grew avocado-ier.  Now, I want avocados on everything.  Avocados in my smoothies.  Avocados on my toast.  Avocado on my omelettes.  Avocado everywhere.

I know avocados are pretty expensive. They are a hassle to cut and difficult to store.  They have to be shipped to Illinois from thousands of miles away, meaning they may be a green choice but they aren’t a GREEN choice.  I know older generations often look down on my generation for our avocado love.

But the thing is, I still love them.  I feel good when I eat avocados.  They make me happy.  And isn’t that what self-care is all about?  Doing things that you love that make you feel healthy?  Doing things that remind you of the good in the world?  It may seem silly, but when I’m having a bad day, I remember that I live in a world where I can eat avocados and suddenly life feels just a little bit more okay.  And that’s no small thing.

What do you love?  What brings you joy and health and peace?  What are the small things that you can do to care for your precious self?  Don’t worry if other people don’t understand.  Find your avocado and love it with all the fierceness of your powerful heart.

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.

Bridges out of Poverty

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I recently attended the Bridges out of Poverty training and it was a great learning experience. The exciting thing was that many of the tools they gave us, we have already implemented in our Residential Program. It is my goal as the Director of Residential Services to identify the unique barriers our clients may face and create a program that best meets the needs of the clients we work with. Domestic violence impacts all socio-economic groups and this includes individuals who come from generational poverty. In addition to the trauma a person experiences due to abuse, a person who is also living in poverty will face even more challenges.

In the training, we discussed the hidden rules of poverty, the differences between situational and generational poverty, and how vital it is as providers to recognize the reality our clients face. If a client does not have access to reliable transportation, healthcare, childcare, or a livable wage job, it is extremely overwhelming to not only leave an unsafe situation, but also then to be able to put all the pieces together in order to start again. Working with clients who come from generational poverty has given me and the Residential staff insight into the strength it takes to face all of these challenges, yet still rise above them. Building honest and caring relationships with our clients, taking the time to really listen to stories and experiences is the foundation for case-management and advocacy in our program.  We know that we cannot see things through our own lens, but through theirs, in order to support our clients fully. The Bridges out of Poverty training teaches so many skills on how to not only understand clients better but how to understand ourselves so that we may be better helpers.

Oppression in all its forms affects each one of us.  Classism and poverty frequently overlap domestic and sexual violence.  It is important to consider all the forms of oppression that may be affecting our clients and work to ensure we are providing intersectional services and intersectional advocacy.  If you’d like more information about our services our how our case management could help you, give us a call at 815.756.5228.