It’s not your fault. Ever.

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

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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

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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.

le consentement

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France has recently proposed a new sexual assault law which includes a provision for the country’s first ever minimum age of consent.  Set to go into effect next year, President Macron and other leading French politicians hope to see the law establish the minimum age of sexual consent at 15 years old.  This would mean that any adult caught having sexual contact with a child younger than 15 would be charged with rape, regardless of if the courts were able to prove that violence or threats were involved.

A number of recent court cases involving adult men preying on young girls have prompted the recommended changes.  Adult men have been been acquitted of sexual crimes against children or convicted on lower charges due to the ambiguity in current laws.  Many sexual predators have had their relationships deemed consensual, even with children as young as 11 and 13.  When the courts can’t prove that physical violence or threats were involved, they cannot currently convict an adult of rape.  This planned legal change is obviously long overdue.

We know in cases of child sexual abuse that many abusers do not use threats of violence or physical violence to facilitate abuse.  Many abusers trick their victims.  Many abusers groom their victims into believing that they have a special relationship that allows that abuse.  Many abusers use bribes or gifts.  Some children may not know that what happened to them was abuse.  Some children may believe they are too blame for the abuse because they allowed it to happen or because they didn’t fight back.  Some children will crave that attention and affection, no matter how unhealthy.  None of these things make it a child’s fault when they have been abuse and none of these things make that relationship consensual.

It is important to educate children on their rights, especially their rights to safety and bodily autonomy.  It is also important to have a legal system that can adequately protect and provide justice for these children.  We applaud France in these initial steps and look forward to seeing new laws that protect and promote child safety in every country.

If you’ve been a victim of child sexual abuse or if your child has been affected, there is help and support available.  Call our 24-hour crisis hotline at 815.756.5228 for more information.

If you’d like information about our educational programming for children, contact our Prevention Department at 815.756.5228, x106.

If you’d like to know more about this story, consider listening to the NPR interview from December 18th’s Morning Edition (LINK) or reading the recent article on the BBC (LINK).

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.

2018 Nonprofit Organization Award

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Last night the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual awards banquet.  For the first year ever, an award was given honoring an exceptional nonprofit organization operating in DeKalb County.  The honorees included many outstanding organizations including the DeKalb County Community Gardens, Adventure Works, the DeKalb Area Agricultural Heritage Association, and the Egyptian Theatre.

Safe Passage was honored to be recognized alongside organizations doing such important work to provide critically needed services and services that make DeKalb such a wonderful place to live and work.  We were beyond honored to be recognized as the winner of the 2018 DeKalb Chamber of Commerce Nonprofit Organization Award!

It is an honor to serve survivors of domestic and sexual violence and it is an honor to partner with our community to end domestic and sexual violence.  So much of our work goes on outside the public eye, but this year, more than any other, we are thrilled to see our community and the country beginning to pay attention.  We must all stand together, united in saying that we will not tolerate violence and abuse.  We are proud to be recognized by our community and even more proud to be given the opportunity to support and stand beside survivors each and every day!

Thank you to our staff who work so hard and with so much passion; thank you to our board who give so much to guide and support this organization; thank you to our community who stand behind our critical work; and thank you to our clients who are the reason we work with such passion for the hope of a brighter, safer future!

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.

We Will Not Be Silent

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Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. – Martin Luther King Jr.

Growing up, MLK day was one of my favorite holidays. In school, we spent the days surrounding the holiday learning about King’s sacrifices and together we were able to reflect on the world then compared to now. It was always hard for me to comprehend how much hate there was – it almost seemed unbelievable.

As I’ve grown up, I’ve unfortunately learned that in many ways, we still live in the world that sought to silence Martin Luther King, Jr.  We live in a world too often filled with violence and hatred and injustice. But like Dr. King, we can’t give up.  We cannot stay silent in the face of injustice.

As we celebrate Martin Luther King Day, think about the injustices in our world.  As King did, let’s speak up. Let’s talk about the things that matter to us and educate our friends, family and neighbors. For us, we will speak up and will never stop speaking up about domestic and sexual violence. Stand with us and stand for justice everywhere by speaking up about the violence you see and even the violence you don’t see all around you.

One day, I hope our children live in a world free from domestic and sexual violence. One day, I hope their minds can’t comprehend the abuse, hate, and injustice we’re all too conscious of. Until that day, learn how you can help or get help. Give love, get love, live the love like Martin Luther King, Jr.

Give us a call: 815.756.5228.