Acquitted

Standard

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.

The Mistakes Dress

Standard

***Guest Post***

Like many people in college, my friends and I were young, broke, and sometimes stupid.  We made dumb decisions about how much to spend on sushi, how long that political econ homework actually take, and what kind of shoes are appropriate for walking around campus in a snowstorm.  For what it’s worth, Midwest sushi shouldn’t be a priority when you’re cash-strapped, political econ will take you days to complete and YEARS to understand, and boots would have been a better choice.

We also made dumb decisions about who was safe to drink with.  We made dumb decisions about what we should drink.  We made dumb decisions about how much we should drink.  In fact, we were so good at making these dumb decisions that my friends and I shared a cocktail dress we called “the mistakes dress”.  If one of us was wearing it that weekend, it was guaranteed she’d throw up in it, make out with a gross frat boy in it, or fall down the stairs in it.  It was guaranteed.  You could win millions betting on this dress.  And yes…despite it’s nickname, we still kept wearing it.  Was it really that cute?  I’m afraid to look back at pictures.

The thing is, despite our dumb decisions, despite the nights where I drank cups of god-knows-what at god-knows-whose houses, despite choosing to wear a dress we literally called THE MISTAKES DRESS, we still deserved to be safe.  We deserved every bit of the hangovers and embarrassment the next morning, but we never deserved sexual assault or harassment.  Being in a cute clubbing dress did not mean that we were looking to hook-up.  It did not mean that you had any right to touch us without asking.  Being in that dress did not mean that we were “asking for it.”  All it meant was that we had a dress with a silly name that we all liked to wear.

So often when women and femmes are sexually assaulted, the first question asked is “what were they wearing?” If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m here to tell you that this question doesn’t matter.  Whether you’re in your pajamas, workout clothes, a snowsuit, or the mistakes dress, you haven’t consented to anything.  My dress is not consent.  That is as true today as it was all those years ago in college.  Unless I’m verbally consenting, I’m not “asking for it.”

We need to be a culture that values and expects consent.  We need to respect everyone, even the young women in college who are just figuring things out.  Be the person who speaks out against this harmful rhetoric.  Be the person that speaks up for a friend in a vulnerable position.  Respect consent and expect others to do the same.

Sorry Not Sorry

Standard

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.

#MeToo, Madigan

Standard

Timothy Mapes Harassment Scandal (LINK)

Does the #MeToo movement still matter?  Haven’t we talked about this enough?  Surely everyone knows and understands how unacceptable sexual harassment in the workplace is by now!

If you’re like many Americans, you’ve heard these questions.  Maybe you’ve even asked them yourselves!  Harvey Weinstein is facing charges for sexual harassment and assault.  Al Franken was forced to resign!  There’s only one, not two, US presidents facing allegations of sexual assault (Bye Kevin Spacey!).  Surely this means we’ve made progress!

Well, if you’re wondering if the #MeToo movement is still relevant, just look at the news coming out of Illinois.  Timothy Mapes, ex-chief of staff to IL political powerhouse Mike Madigan, is out of a job after a sexual harassment scandal and all he has left to his name is a $130,000 buy-out and a $134,000 lifetime pension.  Hard luck for him but you’ve got to pay the piper, friend-o. In fact, if the charges are proven in court (and when has a case of sexual harassment against a powerful politician ever failed?!), he could face a hefty $5,000 maximum fine. Talk about consequences!

No one could look at this case and think that they could get away with similar behavior.  It’s nice to know we are finally starting to hold these powerful abusers accountable.

Oh wait…

 

 

Bachelorette Background

Standard

Our American obsession with reality TV says a lot about us as a culture.  Some people love reality TV.  Some people love to judge those people.  But with a reality TV star sitting in the Oval Office, we can’t deny the fact that this is a deeply ingrained part of our ethos.

I would argue, as [an embarrassed] reality-TV lover, that we can learn a lot about our selves and our society by looking at the plot lines, characters, and attitudes created by the producers of these TV shows.  In fact, if you want to learn about how Americans feel about gender, sex and sexuality, and relationships, you couldn’t find a better education than you’d get by watching a few episodes of the Bachelor or Bachelorette on ABC.

For those of you who are unfamiliar (have you been living under a rock or do you just have more exciting lives than me?), the Bachelor franchise on ABC is a series of reality shows about a chosen Bachelor or Bachelorette (cis-gendered, almost always white, heterosexual man or woman) who dates anywhere from 25-30 people, slowly eliminating these potential suitors until they arrive at week 10 and propose to their one true love in what is always “the most dramatic season finale yet.”

This show has given us some gems as far as Gender and Sexuality 101 material.  Bachelors sleep with multiple women and no one bats an eye.  Bachelorettes have sexual relationships with multiple contestants and you hear the usual: slut, whore, skank, easy.  Put 25 fitness trainers in a house together in a competitive environment and you quickly see how our society fails to promote deep emotional intelligence in our boys and men. Homophobia (“no homo”), toxic masculinity, racism, and problematic gender norms run rampant.

This season, however, the Bachelorette production team has outdone themselves.  A cast member, currently on the show though clearly not a final contender, was convicted of indecent assault just prior to the show airing. (LINK TO STORY). Had the producers done any sort of due diligence with their contestant background checks, they could not have failed to uncover two-year-old allegations of sexual assault and harassment.  In a #MeToo world where we’re finally discussing sexual harassment and assault, would producers really not be thinking of this?

It’s unfortunately likely that these charges were uncovered and dismissed as “allegations” that don’t need to be taken seriously or valued as a potential source of drama.  Even if they were unaware, that shows a willful ignorance to not be protecting the contestant from suitors with aggressive or violent histories.

Our reality TV reflects us.  It reflects our culture and it reflects our values. Whether we want to admit it or not, TV shows what we want to see and what we see in ourselves.  If these producers can ignore a convicted sexual aggressor, what are we tolerating or ignoring in our every day lives?  How do we go through our daily lives ignoring the abusers around us?  Who do we tolerate because “it happened so long ago” or “it really wasn’t that bad” or “she just couldn’t take a joke”?  Who escapes the consequences of their actions because their a beloved entertainer or a leader in the community? Who will go unpunished because the victims are not important enough to our society?

It’s just a TV show. I know that. But it’s also a reflection of us.  It is a mirror held up to our culture and we can’t turn away any longer.  #MeToo

 

 

It’s not your fault. Ever.

Standard

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

.

.

.

.

.

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.

 

I’m not throwing away my shot

Standard

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.