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.

What is Justice?

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If you’re like us, you’ve had a lot more time (or at least more excuses) to watch Netflix, read books, and listen to podcasts. We’ll be sharing some thoughts from our favorite shows and podcasts over the next few weeks and we’d love to hear what you are watching or listening to as you shelter-in-place!

Content warning: Discussion of sexual assault.  If you may be triggered, use caution in reading ahead or call us at 815-756-5228.

We’ve mentioned before that we were listening to Chasing Cosby.  It is a difficult podcast to listen to. You come face to face with survivors who bravely share their experiences with sexual assault, fear, and betrayal.  Not only did they experience a violation of their bodies and their choices, but their trust was violated.  Cosby had built an image of himself as a paragon of virtue, a family man, someone they could trust to help them. And he used that image, that mirage to hurt them.

It took decades for him to be found guilty of his crimes.

In the last episode of the podcast, several of the survivors meet for a live-recorded episode.  They (and the podcast host) answer a series of audience questions. One of the most poignant is the question, what does justice look like for you?

Many of us might assume we know what their answer would be.  Many of us would assume justice was served.  Bill Cosby was found guilty.  Bill Cosby is in prison. Is this justice? For some of the women, the answer is yes.  For others, no.  There is no justice. There can be no justice.

There is no undoing what Bill Cosby did.  There is no way to un-assault someone, no way to erase that crime or all of the trauma that followed. A harm-doer ending up in prison may send the message to others that this behavior will not be tolerated, but it doesn’t fix or change what they did.

Survivors deserve more.

Many survivors feel the deep lack of justice from harm-doers who can’t admit they have done something wrong. Many of Cosby’s survivors noted that what they wanted most was an apology.  They wanted Cosby to acknowledge that he had hurt them, to show that he knew he had done something wrong, and wouldn’t do it again.  They’ve been denied that justice.

Survivors aren’t asking for justice because they want to punish someone or perpetuate a cycle of pain.  They are asking for justice because they believe in a better world, because they want to make the world a safer place.  They want true justice because they are strong.

Many survivors have found comfort in seeing other survivors come forward, in supporting other survivors. The courage and strength in finding justice in fighting for other survivors is the heart of this movement. I believe in a future without sexual assault or violence because I have seen the courage of survivors who life one another up. I believe in a future without violence, because I know survivors are fighting not only for their own justice, but for others.  They fight for other survivors, but also for no one else to ever be put in a position to become a survivor.

The survivors of Bill Cosby not only fought for him to be held accountable, but also fought to change statute of limitations for sexual assault in states around the nation. They have made it possible for victims to report abuse when they feel safe and able to do so.  They not only held Cosby accountable, they changed the world for other survivors.

You have no responsibility to anything but your own healing, but survivor, we hope you know just how powerful you are.

You will change lives, just by healing.  You will encourage other survivors. You have the ability to change the world for the better. Organizations like Safe Passage only exist because of the strength of survivors who came together to create these services and because of survivors who work in this field each and every day.

Justice does not look like a courtroom, a judge, or a sentence.  Justice isn’t found in jail cells or handcuffs.  Justice is a world without violence.  Justice is a world where we are ALL safe.  Justice is what we are fighting for.  And we will never give up.

Update

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As with many social-service agencies and businesses, we find ourselves operating under a new normal due to the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

While we are all practicing social distancing, finding new ways to spend our time, and doing our best to keep ourselves, our families, and our communities safe, the need for services and support for survivors of domestic and sexual violence continues. Everything feels different right now and we don’t know when things will go back to normal. So in the meantime, we want you to know that we are here.

If you are feeling alone or unsafe, you can call us 24/7 at 815-756-5228.

We can’t meet together, which is an incredible disappointment, especially as Sexual Assault Awareness Month (April) approaches, but we can still all stand together against sexual violence and stand together for survivors. We’ll be posting more on this blog with reviews of books, shows, and podcasts.  We’ll be sharing lots of information, quizzes, and live videos on our social media channels (Facebook: @safepassagedvsa; Instagram: @safe_passage_dekalb; Twitter: @Safe_PassageDV).  We’ll have contests, story time, and so much more. Keep up to date with us and please interact with us!  We’d love to see your comments, discussion, and recommendations!

We want survivors everywhere to feel blanketed in love and support during this crisis.  This is a difficult time for everyone and the best thing we can all do is help one another.  Be a voice of support for survivors.  Reach out for help, if you need it.  If you don’t, reach out to those who do! We may be apart but we are not alone!

Politics

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Our Director of Prevention and Communication shared her perspective on WNIJ this morning (LINK).

She shares about the importance of voting, but also the importance of what we do AFTER we cast our ballots.  How do we hold our elected leaders accountable?  How do we ensure our representatives, from governors and Congress representatives to city councils and county board members, keep their promises and work for the needs of the most vulnerable in our communities? Our vote is just the first step.

We have to stay active and we have to stay vigilant.  Laws that hurt survivors of violence often pass in the background of our political landscape. Laws that protect survivors are on the verge of lapsing or being rolled back. Laws that create a safer society for all of us, laws that promote prevention education and encourage accountability need strong advocates.

Stay aware. Stay involved. Call your representatives and share your opinion.  Make your voice heard!  Follow Safe Passage on Facebook and we’ll do our best to keep you on the forefront of the battle to keep our community safe.

Issues we’re following:

-Delays in testing rape kits
-VAWA reauthorization
-Title IX rollback

 

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.

 

Bridges out of Poverty

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I recently attended the Bridges out of Poverty training and it was a great learning experience. The exciting thing was that many of the tools they gave us, we have already implemented in our Residential Program. It is my goal as the Director of Residential Services to identify the unique barriers our clients may face and create a program that best meets the needs of the clients we work with. Domestic violence impacts all socio-economic groups and this includes individuals who come from generational poverty. In addition to the trauma a person experiences due to abuse, a person who is also living in poverty will face even more challenges.

In the training, we discussed the hidden rules of poverty, the differences between situational and generational poverty, and how vital it is as providers to recognize the reality our clients face. If a client does not have access to reliable transportation, healthcare, childcare, or a livable wage job, it is extremely overwhelming to not only leave an unsafe situation, but also then to be able to put all the pieces together in order to start again. Working with clients who come from generational poverty has given me and the Residential staff insight into the strength it takes to face all of these challenges, yet still rise above them. Building honest and caring relationships with our clients, taking the time to really listen to stories and experiences is the foundation for case-management and advocacy in our program.  We know that we cannot see things through our own lens, but through theirs, in order to support our clients fully. The Bridges out of Poverty training teaches so many skills on how to not only understand clients better but how to understand ourselves so that we may be better helpers.

Oppression in all its forms affects each one of us.  Classism and poverty frequently overlap domestic and sexual violence.  It is important to consider all the forms of oppression that may be affecting our clients and work to ensure we are providing intersectional services and intersectional advocacy.  If you’d like more information about our services our how our case management could help you, give us a call at 815.756.5228.

What is Legal Advocacy?

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At Safe Passage we realize that the criminal justice system can be hard to understand and overwhelming for survivors of abuse. Our Legal Advocates can help make this process easier and a lot less scary. If you’re interested in learning more about our Legal Advocacy Program, read on. This description is meant to explain what we can do for a client as their legal advocate.

In the state of Illinois, we have three types of protective orders that a client may be interested in obtaining: an Order of Protection, a Civil No Contact Order, and a Stalking No Contact Order. Legal Advocates help a client understand what each order entails and guides that client when selecting an order. For example, when applying for an Order of Protection, a legal advocate explains each section to the client, helps the client complete paperwork and assist the client in applying for an emergency order which is in place 14 – 21 days. After that, the client will have a court date to extend the original Order of Protection and the Advocate can help the client request a two-year Plenary Order.

Legal Advocates can provide court support, too. These individuals can attend criminal or family court cases with clients. Often times, a client’s offender is required to attend the same court date as a client. We understand it may be triggering for a client to see their abuser, so a legal advocate can also attend court on a client’s behalf, meaning the client does not have to be in attendance.  

If needed, a legal advocate is able to attend meetings with a State Attorney or police departments alongside their client. When going to police departments, Legal Advocates cannot be in the room when an investigation or questioning is going on, but are happy to answer any questions before or after that session.

At Safe Passage, our advocates also provide medical support. When an individual arrives at a police station, Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital, or Valley West Hospital with domestic violence or sexual assault related injuries, a Safe Passage Advocate will also arrive. Our advocates are there to help these individuals understand the process of an Evidence Collection Kit, options for reporting the crime, and the rights the individual has as a victim. Safe Passage Advocates respond to medical calls 24/7.

Furthermore, Legal Advocates assist in training local officers, nurses, and other personnel on victim-centered approaches. Our legal advocates also act as Confidential Advisors for students of Kishwaukee Community College every Wednesday from 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM. Their role as Confidential Advisors is to lay out options, listen, and support the individual. The Legal Advocates can explain reporting criminally to the police, or through Title IX with the school. If interested in learning more, please call 815.756.5228 or stop by their office located on the second floor of Kishwaukee College. 

At the end of the day, Legal Advocates are here to assist a client, guide them through the justice system, and support their decisions. If you need to get in contact with a Legal Advocate at Safe Passage, or have any questions, please give us a call: 815.756.5228. We are here to help. All services at Safe Passage are free and confidential.

Beyond Policy

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Even someone who lived under a rock for the majority of the 2016 presidential campaign is likely to be aware what a big issue immigration became.  For Republicans, the party platform pushed for increases in border security, reductions in immigration and travel visas, and increased immigration enforcement.  When Donald Trump became the elected president, that party platform began to become policy.

Jezebel-the Justice Department and Immigration

The above-linked article discusses the new move by the Justice Department (headed by former Senator Jeff Sessions) to reward police departments that participate in stepped up immigration enforcement, allowing ICE officers into jails and turning over undocumented immigrants to federal authorities.

Regardless of your political affiliation, it is important to be aware of some of the potential drawbacks to this new plan.  Aside from its potential un-Constitutionality, this policy change could result in increased danger for immigrant populations and for communities throughout the United States.

Imagine if you are being abused by a partner who you care about.  You want the abuse to stop, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you want the person to be hurt or punished.  You may share children with the partner who is hurting you or the partner hurting you might be your family’s main source of income.  Would you call the police, knowing that your partner could end up being deported or would you stay silent?

Many undocumented immigrants face this dilemma every day.  Some are even afraid to press charges against an abuser, fearing that if they came to court, they themselves would be arrested for being undocumented.  This fear is, unfortunately, not unfounded.  We MUST do better.

If we are ever to stem the tide of intimate partner violence in our nation, victims must feel comfortable reporting that violence, knowing that the result of their report is just, fair, and increases safety for themselves and their families.

This new move by the DOJ does anything but that.

Violence is Violence is Violence

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Gun violence is becoming an American tradition.  The mass shooting in Las Vegas is being quickly driven to the back of our minds as our nation mourns churchgoers, gunned down as they worshiped in Sutherland Springs, TX.  Time and again we wonder how this could happen, what we could have done to prevent it, and how we can be better prepared in the future.

Violence does not occur in a vacuum.  These shooters, overwhelmingly men, have grown up in a culture that teaches them that violence is a source of power.  We teach young men and boys that toughness is a virtue.  We teach them not to cry, not to show any emotion other than anger.  We teach them that they prove their masculinity with their fists.  We teach them this and then wonder how they grow up to be men who live their lives by these principles.

When compassion, empathy, and respect aren’t nurtured, we grow our children into broken adults.  Our children, full of hope and life and opportunity, grow up to be adults who gain control with the force of a fist or down the barrel of a gun.  Our children grow up to abuse their spouses and their children.  Many end up turning that anger and need for control on an already-hurting world.

From the day our sons and daughters and our children are born, we indoctrinate them into a culture of fear, power, and control.  It is no surprise that the traits that create domestic abusers allow them to go on to become mass shooters.  Upwards of fifty per cent of mass shooters have a history of violence against their families.  We MUST address this fact if we are ever to address the true roots of gun violence in our country.

We have a gun problem in a country, but we also have a problem with domestic violence.  We need to be aware of the dangers that abusers pose, both to their victims and to society at large.  We need to work harder to keep guns out of the hands of abusers and teach law enforcement and the justice system to recognize the signs of escalating violence.  If we are ever to make progress in ending mass shootings, we must begin by taking domestic violence seriously.

Domestic violence shelters are key advocates in this fight and keenly aware of the dangers of abusers.  We know the struggles our victims face.  We know the keys to preventing violence in the first place.  We advocate for the needs of survivors and the right to a safer future.  We stand with all those calling for an end to gun violence and we ask them to stand with us for survivors of domestic violence.  We honor all those who have been killed by those who were supposed to love them and we will not give up on the journey to end both domestic and gun violence in our community, in our country, and in our world.

 

Recommended Resources:
Tough Guise 2–Jackson Katz
A Call to Men–Tony Porter

If you are worried about domestic violence and want to speak with a trained advocate, call our 24-hour hotline at 815-756-5228.

 

 

 

Safe Passage, Inc.

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Safe Passage is DeKalb County’s only Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Center.  We work with survivors of all ages and genders, focusing on processing trauma and rebuilding lives.  Our unique agency offers services that surround survivors with a continuum of care designed to support and encourage healing and growth in every area of their lives.

Providing emergency shelter, counseling, advocacy, and support are critical services for anyone following domestic or sexual abuse, but we know that is not the only need. We must also work to galvanize our community, our nation, and our world to end domestic and sexual violence.  We are aiming not only to support survivors, but to create a world where no one is ever abused in the first place.

We know we must break the stigma around domestic and sexual violence.  We must speak boldly and bravely about the issues that cause and perpetuate violence in our homes and our communities.  We must amplify survivor voices and provide a space to speak and to listen.  This is our space.

Welcome to our blog.  Welcome to a space to be heard, a space to listen, a space to learn, and a space to heal.  We’re so glad you’re here!

Mary Ellen Schaid, Executive Director