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.

GET A YES

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CN:  First linked article contains graphic description of sexual misconduct and lack of consent.

As the #MeToo movement continues to grow, we have to reckon with the fact that many public figures we’ve admired will come under the radar.  For me, that reckoning came with the news that Aziz Ansari was being accused of sexual harassment and assault.

I’ve always admired Ansari as an outspoken feminist and activist.  He’s spoken frankly about the wage gap, the plight of people of color in America, and the importance of representation in the media.  Not only that, he plays Tom Haverford in Parks and Rec, an [almost always] upbeat and encouraging show about the power of friendship, public service, and strong women.

So when I first saw the news break on Twitter and first saw the article on Babe.net, I wanted to come up with excuses for Ansari.  I’m not proud of it, but I did.  I wanted to talk about the fact that this didn’t seem to rise to “Weinstein” or “Trump pussy grabbing” levels.  I wanted to do anything but face the humanity of an entertainer I enjoyed.

But as I read the article, I couldn’t help but notice how familiar the woman’s experience seemed. The date who seems less interested in getting to know you as a person than in getting to know how to get your clothes off.  The date who assumes he has a yes, because he hasn’t yet heard a no.  The struggle to gently and kindly indicate that you’re uninterested without flat out refusing (because we all know how poorly a straight NO can be taken).  The date willfully ignoring or being too uneducated in consent to understand your nonverbal (and eventual verbal) cues that you are NOT into the sexual encounter.  You going home in tears while your date assumes it was a [fairly] successful evening.

Who hasn’t experienced this?  I saw a tweet after the story was published that said:

“I saw someone tweet something like, ‘If what Aziz Ansari did was sexual assault, then every woman I know has been sexually assaulted’ and like yeah actually.”

This is the problem.  Not every woman has experienced a Harvey Weinsten, but almost every woman has experienced an Aziz Ansari.  A probably well-meaning guy who has gotten the message from our culture that consent is just the lack of a no.  A probably well-meaning guy who has gotten the message that no just means convince me.  A probably well-meaning guy who just doesn’t get it and who needs to sit down and listen to women and femmes for a while.

This is why we need to talk about this.  Not because we need to crucify Aziz Ansari.  Not because we need to dissect whether or not this story deserves to be a part of the #MeToo movement (but a hint…it does).  We need to talk about this because this type of sexual assault is common.  Sexual assault centered around men and mascs willingly ignoring consent or being so uneducated that they don’t truly understand it.

We need to be teaching everyone that consent is active, enthusiastic, and ongoing.  We need to teach that it is okay to talk with your sexual partners about boundaries, likes, and dislikes.  We need to create a consent culture in which it is expected that you will ask, that it is sexy, romantic, and just plain mandatory to get verbal consent. We need to be teaching that No Means No is not enough.  We need to be teaching that you must Get a Yes.

Its common decency and I’d like to be able to expect that from everyone.

If you’d like to read more hot takes on this story, I’d recommend checking out the following:

Grace, babe, me too.

Intersectionality

If you’ve experience something like this, or sexual abuse of any kind, there is help available.  Contact us at 815.756.5228.  We believe you and we are here for you.

Traditions

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Christmas morning always found my siblings, parents, and I cuddled up in front of the wood-burning stove in our kitchen.  My mom would bake Christmas cookies for breakfast, a sort of oatmeal-based treat that was really more cookie than breakfast.  We’d open stockings and enjoy the warmth of the fire. We’d enjoy those few moments of quiet before heading out to see our larger family and play hours of BINGO.

You may not have played BINGO as much as my family did, but I would bet that most of you shared a tradition that we all dreaded as kids…having to give a hug or kiss to family members we hadn’t seen all year.  So much of our culture is built around physical affection:  kisses to grandma, thank you hugs to Uncle Kipling, goodnight snuggles with cousins.  Those things can be wonderful or can be terrifying for children.  Make sure your children understand that they can say “NO” to unwanted touches, hugs or kisses.  They can give Auntie Mary a wave or high five instead of a hug.  They can say “no thank you” if Cousin Jessie likes to give sloppy kisses.

Childhood is when I learned what I loved about the holidays.  So much of what we know as adults is what we learned as children.  This year as you settle in to enjoy the holidays with family, think about the traditions you are building.

Are you building traditions of kindness and generosity?  Are you building traditions that encourage your family to get consent before hugging, kissing, or touching your children?  Are you building traditions that empower your children and yourself?

This holiday season, give your family the gift of consent.  It is a free gift that keeps on giving as they keep on growing.