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.

 

 

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!

Sorry Not Sorry

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Public apologies: the quickest way to say you’re sorry without having to actually show any remorse. We’ve seen a slew of public apologies since the #MeToo movement began, but if we think back, we can see they’re really nothing new.  It seems a right of passage for those in the public eye to commit some sort of faux pas and almost, but not quite, apologize for it.

In a BBC comedy video (LINK), Rachel Parris gives some tongue-in-cheek advice about how to craft a good “I’m sorry.”  She highlights some of the common “missteps” we hear these fauxpologies for: racism, calls for police brutality, and sexual assault. What could, in fact, be considered hate crimes, calls for state-sponsored terrorism, and criminal activity, are instead swept under the rug in a gentle “sorry, not sorry” apology.

Ms. Parris discusses the three main types of public “apologies”: 1. “It was taken out of context;” 2.”I’m sorry I used upsetting language;” and 3. “If I did that, I’d be sorry.” It’s easy to see why these aren’t real apologies at all.  There’s no context that justifies abusive language or jokes.  The language isn’t usually the problem; the actions are. Finally, if you’re offering a conditional apology, it’s no apology at all. Apologies without accountability are just empty words.

Our willingness to forgive and forget, particularly for powerful abusers, allows abuse to continue to thrive and for victims to feel silenced and re-traumatized.  Look at any interview with Ray Rice after video surfaced of him knocking his then-fiance unconscious to see what an apology looks like from an abuser who is only sorry he got caught.  Listen to Ms. Parris talk about Kevin Spacey to hear what a serial sexual abuser sounds like when forced to face his past.  Listen to the countless non-apologies we’ve heard over the years and wonder how we, as a society, haven’t gotten any better.

It’s time we starting expecting better apologies.  And it’s time we started demanding accountability.  It’s time we started seeing changed behavior not just nice words.

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.

Own Your Mistakes

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We all have reasons why we are the way we are:  bad habits we picked up from a roommate, a passive-aggressive attitude we learned from a parent; a coping mechanism we learned from a character on TV.  Maybe we were picked on in school.  Maybe someone said something hurtful to you that just keeps rolling around in your head.  Maybe you had a bad breakup.

There are all sorts of explanations for who we are.  There are reasons behind the good and the bad.  I always say “drive careful” and I can’t let my partner leave the house without saying “I love you” because that’s what my family did growing up.  I like that about me.  I also have a tendency to give up when things don’t come easily to me because I spent a lot of my formative years being afraid of being adequate.  That’s something I don’t like so much.

Speaking with a therapist is a great way to start processing some of these explanations, both the good and the bad.  It can help you come to a deeper understanding of yourself.  It can help you root out the bad and cultivate the good in you.  It is good to reflect on and understand what makes you tick.

The problem comes when we either don’t take the time to reflect on why we act the way we do or when we reflect but let that deeper understanding turn from explanations to excuses.  I may feel empathy for someone who has been hurt, but that doesn’t mean their pain gives them a pass to hurt someone else.  If I’ve experienced pain, I don’t get to lash out at you without consequences.

Too often in our society, when someone (especially a white, male someone) hurts someone, we immediately start to hear excuses for their behavior.  A recently published story about Harvey Weinstein is a great example (LINK).  While I empathize with those who have been bullied, with those who have been afraid they’ll never experience romantic love, with those who had a rough family life, plenty of people experience those issues without going on to exploit and abuse those over whom they have power.  There is a term we have for people who do those things and it is not “tragic victim,” it is “abuser.”

Do I hope we build a world without bullying, a world filled with love and hope and a world where every child is treasured and protected from their earliest childhood?  Absolutely.  But will I excuse the behavior of abusive individuals?  No.  The first step to overcoming abusive behavior is learning to take accountability for your own choices.  I hope Mr. Weinstein is able to do that.

If you’re concerned about your own behavior and choices, we have a Partner Abuse Intervention Program that can help you move from excuses to accountability.  Give us a call at 815.756.5054.