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.

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.

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.

 

 

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.

Survivor 1

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4 years ago today, I was roofied by a bartender [at a bar]. I don’t think I’ve spoken publicly about it since regaining full consciousness a few days later, when I posted a Facebook status alerting my friends to be cautious in our relatively safe town.

I think a reason that I’ve been mum about it for years is because of the way I was treated and perceived in the aftermath: when I finally made it to the hospital the next morning, the doctor asked me 3 different times if I was SURE I didn’t just have “too much to drink”, told me he didn’t need to inspect the wound on my head because it “wasn’t anything serious”(it was), finally tested my blood and urine multiple hours later, and told me that he was “surprised” when my results came back positive. While talking with an old co-worker and friend from a Bible camp, he told me I should remove my Facebook status because it would give me a “bad image” to the campers I’d worked with. When I was finally talked into filing a police report, the officer asked if I really wanted to “waste my time”, and that he would try to “make time to look into it” and “get back to me” (I never heard from him again)

I can remember verbatim what was said to me, because each interaction left me feeling ashamed, burdensome, and like what happened was my fault. At the age of 23, I went out with my friends on the weekend and had one drink that I kept with me the entire time, but somehow this reflected poorly on me. A friend literally saved my life that night. A day later, I began slurring my speech and not being able to focus my eyesight. I learned that I had bruised my occipital lobes, damaged parts of my brain that control speech and memory, had gravel imbedded into my skull, and suffered a severe concussion. I was in speech therapy for over 6 months, went to OT everyday to correct my vision, and didn’t gain back my short term memory for over a year.

But the time to keep mum is not now. Our world is so broken that even “safe” places aren’t immune: a church, a school, a marathon, walking down the street in broad daylight, a movie theater, a friend’s apartment, a regular weekend at a regular gathering place to enjoy a gin and tonic with friends. Importantly, be SAFE. Be aware of your surroundings, where your drink is, drink responsibly, and ALWAYS have at least one friend with you who can pinpoint if something is not right, and get you help. But maybe even more importantly: DO NOT FEEL SHAME. Don’t feel guilt. Advocate; for yourself, and for others. Take action when needed, and don’t be afraid to seek help. And do not believe anyone who looks at you negatively because of the disgusting actions of someone else. You have had your privacy invaded, and you have been assaulted. Your trust has been broken and it’ll take a long time for you to not live in fear and be cautious of everyone. But you are not at fault, and you deserve access to the best, quickest treatment without any form of judgement. If you’d like to talk about this specific topic or assault in general, or need a safe space to process, please don’t be afraid to reach out, and I am always here. No woman or man should have to journey through that alone. Take care of yourselves, and take care of each other.

A message from Safe Passage:  We are so grateful to each survivor who shares their stories and reminds us all that we are not alone, that we don’t need to be ashamed, and that we have the power to build a better and safer world each day.  If you have been the victim of domestic and sexual violence, help is available 24/7 at 815.756.5228.