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.

Will You Accept This Rant? January 13

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Welcome welcome welcome to week 2 of Will You Accept This Rant!

We started this week in our WYATR studio, so head over to our Facebook (Click This Link!) to check out our live video and share your thoughts!  You can also hit up our Twitter (@Safe_PassageDV) to follow along with our live tweets.

I started to type out a recap of this episode and 12-hours later I realized, you didn’t need to read EVERY DETAIL that happened last night.  Check out our FB video and save your reading time for a good novel or a newspaper article (#SupportLocalNews). Here’s a few highlights that we noticed, loved, or hated:

  • Hannah B and Peter’s conversation: Bless her heart; Hannah is a girl who is embarrassed about all the weirdos she dated for way too long and doesn’t know what she wants anymore. I’ve never felt so seen. Despite all the efforts of the producers to convince us that it was a real possibility, we all had to know there was no way Hannah and Peter were walking away from this as a couple.
  • Sydney and Peter actually have a real conversation about what it is like for her as a biracial woman growing up in the South.  Good try, Mike Fleiss, but I’m not letting you off the hook until you stop casting all these white-bread bachelors.
  • Champagnegate: Kelsey brings a bottle of champagne that she’s been saving for a year and she wants to drink it with Peter. Girl.  I’m from Iowa, just like you. There is no champagne in Iowa that is worth saving. Drink it yourself and MOVE ON. 
  • Champagnegate, Part 2: Hannah Ann comes on strong to prove that gaslighting is not just a move for the fellas! A fake apology (“I acknowledge your feelings.” aka, I’m sorry you feel that way.  I’m sorry if YOU were offended.) is not a real apology. Also, a classic shift of responsibility by making herself the victim! Now, Kelsey was obviously over-the-top. She was WAY too upset with Hannah Ann for something that clearly was not really Hannah Ann’s fault.  However, Hannah Ann using that moment to faux-pologize then cry to Peter that she’d been bullied?  That is a classic tactic for avoiding accountability.  Nothing would have smoothed that situation over quicker than a genuine apology and show of empathy.
  • The Revolve date revolved [badumsshh] around the idea that all girls love fashion and shopping.  We’re ready for this stereotype to die. Peter is doing a great job of showing his emotional journey and I think that is so important for people of all genders to see! Let’s all commit to moving beyond this gender binary stereotype in 2020.
  • Victoria F is either playing a VERY successful game to get ahead in Peter’s heart or is suffering from some SEVERE self-confidence issues. The world (and Bachelor Nation) are built to tear women and femmes down and that environment can be VERY difficult, so you’ve got to have a strong hold on who you are and what you’re about. Invest in yourself, not just in your relationships with others.  It is hard to have a healthy, successful relationship with someone else until you build up your partnership with YOU.
  • Blink and you’ll miss it moment: Peter gave Madi a framed photo of her with his family from their first one-on-one date. These super sweet moments are calculated to make you fall in love. Maybe pretty innocuous in Bachelor Nation but a HUGE SHINY RED FLAG in a real-world relationship. Love-bombing is the first stage in the cycle of violence, getting you hooked before you have a chance to realize what a dangerous relationship this really is.
  • Physical touch: Peter is CLEARLY a physical-touch kind of guy.  If this is your love language, get it! More power to you! Just don’t forget to get consent. Totally okay to kiss, make-out, hook-up on a first date or whatever date you want, as long as you both feel comfortable with that timeline. Peter is kissing A LOT OF LADIES, and that is a-okay but we hope he is getting explicit consent and if he is, we’re wishing that TPTB would value it enough to include that instead of leaving it on the editing room floor.

We could talk for hours about this episode, but we’ll hold back for now. Check in later and we might expand on some of these thoughts in future blogs, don’t forget to check out our Facebook video, and follow us on Twitter! As always, we’ll end with giving out our roses:

  • Tonight’s Rose goes to: Ashley P.  Okay, we just still can’t get over an emotional support cow.  Let Ashley P inspire you to invest in your mental and emotional health today!  Call Safe Passage to connect with a counselor, play with your pet cow, write in your journal, take your medication.  Whatever you do to stay healthy, do it and be proud!
  • Tonight’s Dead Rose goes to: Victoria F.  Girl needs to spend some time watering her own garden, investing in her sense of self-worth, and figuring out who she really is before she can blossom.

 

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.