Chasing Cosby

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In January, the LA Times premiered a new podcast which followed the career, and dark personal history, of comedian and convicted sex criminal, Bill Cosby.  The six-episode podcast, Chasing Cosby, is available wherever you get your podcasts.

The podcast is an important reminder that we can’t assume someone is safe just because they are famous, powerful, or well-liked in our communities. The podcast sends the message loud and clear that we must Start By Believing and trust survivors when they come forward.  Only by believing survivors, supporting survivors, and holding perpetrators accountable, can we truly end sexual violence in our world.

The podcast is powerful, moving, and haunting and please please please be cautious in listening if you are a survivor or may be triggered by stories of abuse. This is not an easy podcast to hear. But it is important for many of us.

We’ll be sharing more of our thoughts on different episodes and themes through the podcast, but first and foremost, the lesson we can learn from this podcast is how incredibly strong survivors are. Anyone working in this field or industry will tell you, the ones who are making a difference and the ones who are changing the world are survivors. We are in the background, offering support and guidance, but the real power behind the movement to end violence is and always has been survivors.

The women who reported Bill Cosby’s abuse not only had the courage to share their stories, to press charges, or to testify in court, but many of them ALSO advocated for changes in the laws of their home states.  State after state changed or discarded restricted statute of limitation laws for reporting sexual abuse and they did so because of the advocacy of survivors of Bill Cosby.  These women not only sought justice for themselves, but they sought to make the world a more just place for future survivors.

They had no responsibility to anything but their own healing, but they still took this stand. Because of them, Colorado DOUBLED the length of time a survivor has to report assault and abuse. Nevada and California removed any statute of limitations on reporting these crimes.  Women and all survivors are safer, our world is safer, because of their courage.

Remember each day as we work together to end sexual violence to listen to survivors.  Ask survivors in your life what they need and how you can support them.  Look to survivors in the news, buy and read books by survivors, watch Ted Talks from survivors (may we recommend any and everything by Tarana Burke?), and learn from them. We don’t do this work FOR survivors of violence, we do this work WITH them.

Thank you, to each and every person, who has survived sexual violence and is fighting for yourself and for the world.  We are honored to fight with you.

Ally

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A message from our Volunteer Coordinator, Pam Rosales:

Ally by Jaz Sufi

The movement to end sexual violence is filled with activists that are passionate in ending other forms of social injustice. In a culture where People of Color experience higher rates of sexual violence, racial equality is deeply interwoven in the movement. As the Volunteer Coordinator of Safe Passage, I meet passionate individuals who are dedicated in both fights. Being a Filipina Muslim American, I’m aware of just how pervasive racism lurks within this space.

This space, where survivors of color seek sanctuary and healing, is often times permeated with well-intended individuals claiming to be allies. Whose ‘wokeness’ is as performative as the ethnic artifacts hanging on the walls from their last mission trip. Jaz Sufi illustrates this performance in her poem:

“When I say ‘woke’, I mean she keeps the city up at night listen to how loud her allyship is, like it’s only worth the effort if everyone can hear its echo. She says ‘fireworks’ I say ‘gunshots’ she says I’m wrong, but you’ll never catch her in the kind of neighborhood where you learn to tell the difference…When I say ‘woke’, I mean she knows all the right words. Says ‘microaggression’ and tries to shrink me smaller. Says ‘white fragility’ and shatters into shrapnel. Blames the brown girl for all of her bruises as she carves the meat from my bones. But of course, the only damage here is what was done to her, by me, the terrorist.”

People of color who survive trauma from sexual assault are not free from the trauma of racism. They have to carry the heavy weight of both. If racial violence continues, sexual violence persists, and vice versa. People of color experience victim blaming with the added baggage of racism. When a person of color seeks support for their sexual assault, not only do they worry about whether or not they will be believed, but they have to worry about how their race affects their journey. Will the color of their skin affect whether or not they will receive proper medical care when they get a rape-kit done? If they share their story, will people blame their culture for being ‘oppressive’ and ‘backwards’? Will their citizenship be the focus of the conversation instead? This is the trauma that People of Color endure, often by the hands of “allies.”

Do impactful, genuine allies exist? Yes. This post is not about them. This post is about those who exploit the oppression of People of Color to wear as evidence for their activism. This post is about the “allies” who grab the microphone from us to speak for us, and then receive the accolades that should have been given to us. The thing about these allies, is that even though they might not see themselves as problematic, the people of color around them can spot them out easily. We see you, and we are not fooled.

While reading books like White Fragility is a start, it is not enough. There’s no simple answer to this complexity. I wish I can say that the answer is to travel, to have more People of Color in your inner-circle, to educate yourself on issues of racism, to learn more about our peoples’ history and culture – but I have seen “allies” partake in all of those things and still get it wrong. Instead, their knowledge of our culture and experience is weaponized against us through the form of tokenization, gaslighting and white saviorism. We do not need you to free us. We do not need you to speak for us. We do not need you coming into our ancestral lands, wearing our traditional clothing, speaking our mother tongue, and then stealing our identities to make yourself look “worldly.” We need you to listen. We need you to start by believing when you are held accountable on your racial abuse. We need you to be silent when we speak.

So I ask this: if I asked the people of color in your life what type of ally you are, what would they say?

T[M]I

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I’ve never seen the word “hymen” posted so frequently on my Twitter timeline.

In case you missed the news, rapper T.I. recently mentioned in a podcast that he goes with his daughter to the gynecologist each year to check that her hymen is intact.

Yep.  You read that correctly. (LINK here, if you don’t believe me.)

It is hard to know where to start with this one because there are so many things wrong with this. I suppose the best place to start is a reminder that this isn’t just a T.I. problem.  “Virginity Tests” and purity culture are as old as the patriarchy. As long as people have had sexual agency, other people have been trying to police their sexuality. Virginity tests, chastity belts, purity balls (not to be confused with Truck Nutz), genital mutilation and just straight-up shame have all been used (and are still being used) to keep people from having the independence and information to practice safe, healthy sexuality.

So just to clear a few things up:

  • Hymens are irrelevant.  Some people have them, some people don’t.  Some hymens break when you have sex for the first time.  Some break long before that due to activity. Some don’t break at all. You can’t tell someone’s sexual history from the structure of their genitalia.
  • Virginity is a cultural construct. It is not a thing you can lose or give away. It is a cultural frame of reference and it doesn’t matter (or even exist) if you don’t want it to! Having sex or not having sex does not change who you are as a person.
  • Your sexual history does not change your value.  If you’ve had one partner, zero partners, ten partners, or 10,000 partners, you are just as valuable as anyone else. If you choose to be abstinent at any point in your life, that is just fine.  If you choose to be abstinent until you get married, more power to you.  You do you!  That choice, however, does not make you any more moral or any better than someone who is making a different choice.
  • Sex does not change who you are as a person, no matter what.  You are not chewed-up gum, unsticky tape, unwrapped candy, or any other horrible analogy.  You are a person who deserves respect.

Aside from the lack of science and the unwarranted policing of people’s bodies, hypervigilance around virginity sends the message that your body doesn’t belong to you.  It sends the message that your body belongs to your father until it belongs to your husband. Too many young girls have been brought up with this message and have been taught that they aren’t in charge of their own bodies and their own sexuality. This leads to a culture that expects and tolerates sexual abuse.

And penetration by a doctor with a medical instrument for any non-medical reason IS ASSAULT.  And let me tell you, there is no valid medical reason to “check for a hymen”, so virginity tests are also abuse.

We may not all be taking our daughters for yearly hymen checks or locking up a metal chastity belt, but we all live in a culture that defines a woman’s value by her lack of sexual partners and sexual agency. We all live in a culture that values [female] virginity over enthusiastic consent. We all live in a culture that that tolerates and excuses sexual abuse and assault. The question is, what will be do to change that culture?

Counselor’s Column–June 2019

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Melissa McGraw, Director of Counseling Services at Safe Passage

What is Human Trafficking?

In June several domestic violence staff attended a training on human trafficking in Springfield.  Domestic violence and rape crisis centers are seeing more and more victims of human trafficking entering shelters or seeking counseling services.  And, yes, trafficking is occurring in DeKalb County.

Human trafficking may involve either sex trafficking or labor trafficking.  It includes recruiting, harboring, or obtaining a person by force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of involuntary servitude or the sex trade.  There is an intersection between domestic violence and trafficking in that survivors of trafficking may be trafficked by an intimate partner or family member.  Contrary to popular belief, victims of trafficking are not always immigrants from other countries.  Victims of trafficking may not immediately identify that they are being trafficked.  Advocates and counselors are learning to ask specific questions to help identify if their clients are not only victims of domestic violence or sexual assault but also may be victims of trafficking.

Trafficking survivors often present with significant trauma histories and symptoms as a result of their traumas.  The counseling staff have worked to help these clients identify and process their feelings of shame and betrayal related to being trafficked by someone they thought they trusted and loved.  This may be a long-term process that also involves connection to case management and legal services.

As a result of this training, Safe Passage has staff who are more equipped to identify and meet the unique needs of trafficking survivors.

If you’d like to learn more about trafficking and how to recognize and support survivors OR if you think you may be a victim of trafficking, call us 24/7 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!

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.

The Mistakes Dress

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***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.