February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month

What we can do about teen dating violence, via The Bangor Daily News: Maine Focus:

Hooking up. Hanging out. Facebook official. Regardless of what teens call their romantic and/or sexual relationships, teens deserve to be happy, healthy and safe. Teen dating violence is a significant problem in Maine communities, and everyone has a role to play in its prevention and intervention.

Approximately 9 percent of high school students have been hit, slapped or physically hurt on purpose by a boyfriend or a girlfriend within the last year. This number does not account for the verbal, sexual or emotional abuse teens also face in abusive relationships.So what do we do about it?

Like many victims of domestic and sexual violence, teens who experience dating violence may feel confused by what is going on in their relationship, and they may not know they are experiencing abuse.

The first step is helping young people understand how to tell a healthy relationship from an unhealthy one. Teens need to know the warning signs of abuse, but they also need to know what a healthy, safe relationship looks like. Most young people have seen models of unhealthy relationships at one time or another, so it is doubly important that we speak with them explicitly about what healthy relationships look like and how to treat a partner with respect and caring.

Students in schools across Maine are learning about healthy relationships, healthy sexuality and being an engaged bystander, which are key components to preventing teen dating violence. Thousands of students a year learn the skills and behaviors that help them to prevent, recognize and respond to relationship violence. Maine’s domestic and sexual violence prevention educators provide education to students across the state that is informed by national best practices and evidence-based curriculums.

The next step is to help peers and caring adults step up as engaged bystanders. More than half of America’s teens know someone who has experienced some form of relationship violence. So peers – friends, classmates and other students at school – have a role to play in helping identify unhealthy behaviors and getting their friends the help they need. Parents and other trusted adults – teachers, guidance counselors, friends’ parents – can be engaged bystanders, too. Having difficult conversations with the teenagers in your life is among the many powerful tools adults have to help make sure teens and communities are safe. It also models the importance of being an engaged bystander, which helps reinforce what teens are learning at school.

We are accountable to each other in our communities to educate one another, to have each other’s backs, and to stand up for others who may not be able to stand up for themselves. In many instances, we can help address problems that may have lifelong consequences for our teens. We owe it to the youth in our communities not only to be aware of teen dating violence, but to work to prevent it. Regardless of whether the teens in your life have made their relationship Facebook official, there is a way for them to be happy, healthy and safe.

Have you been an engaged bystander to the teen in your life today?

***

Regina Rooney is the public awareness coordinator for the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, and Cara Courchesne is the communications director for the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault

Victim blaming needs to stop

7 Things We Need to Stop Saying to Sexual Assault Survivors Immediately, via Everyday Feminism

(Trigger Warning: Sexual violence)

Editor’s Note: This piece focuses largely on the experiences of sexual violence perpetrated by men against women. However, Everyday Feminism recognizes that all people can be perpetrators and survivors of sexual violence.

Originally published on Mic and cross-posted here with their permission.

This just in: Rape is in no way, shape, or form a “learning experience.”

Yet that’s exactly how Susan Patton, aka “Princeton Mom,” described it on air during a CNN interview on Thursday.

Brought on to discuss campus sexual assault, she grossly mischaracterized being raped while drunk as “a learning experience” and “a clumsy hookup melodrama.”

Patton is but one recent example of “high-profile” commentary gone wrong.

Recently, highly publicized cases – such as the Rolling Stone-University of Virginia debacle, Lena Dunham’s revelations, and the mounting Bill Cosby allegations – have exposed the vast discrepancies between people’s perceptions and the reality of rape.

But for most survivors, it doesn’t take a media spotlight to beget insensitive, uninformed, and downright erroneous remarks about sexual assault.

It’s something they face every day. Here are some things we should stop saying to survivors – immediately:

1. ‘What Were You Wearing?’

This question is a classic, if not ubiquitous, victim-blaming approach.

Time and again, survivors are asked what they were wearing at the time of their assault, implying they were “asking for it.”

Newsflash: The cause of rape is 100% rapists, not clothing choices.

In March 2014, Twitter user @Steenfox addressed this issue when she asked followers what they were wearing at the time of their assaults. The responses clearly demonstrate the irrelevance of fashion when it comes to rape.

At its core, rape is about power and control, not sex or attraction; the common claim of a woman “luring” or “enticing” her rapist with an outfit is absurd.

Furthermore, the idea that a woman who is dressed a certain way is somehow responsible for her own assault isn’t just inaccurate, it creates a class system of women and girls who are more “rapeable.”

2. ‘You Shouldn’t Have Been Drinking’

Like its clothing counterpart above, this is another favorite catchphrase of victim-blamers, particularly in the context of college sexual assaults, where partying is often the pretext for rape.

But people are not raped or assaulted because they’re drinking or drunk. Rather, as one expert quoted in USA Today said, “People get raped because there is a perpetrator there — someone who wants to take advantage of them.”

In fact, a 2001 research report found that while alcohol consumption and sexual assault often co-occur, “the desire to commit a sexual assault may actually cause alcohol consumption (e.g., when a man drinks alcohol before committing a sexual assault in order to justify his behavior).”

Perhaps it’s time to start looking at alcohol as a date rape drug instead of an excuse to justify or shrug off sexual assault.

3. ‘But They’re Your Partner – That’s Not Rape, That’s Sex’

Despite the myth that “real” rape is only committed by strangers, statistics say otherwise.

According to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), 73% of rapists are non-strangers.

Specifically, 38% of rapists are the survivor’s friend or acquaintance, 28% are intimate partners, and 7% are family members.

The bottom line: Any unwanted sexual contact is assault, no matter who is perpetrating it.

4. ‘You Should Have Reported It’

Despite being ranked by the FBI as the second most violent crime, behind murder, rape is among the most underreported crimes nationally, with 60% of rapes going unreported.

According to RAINN, there are several reasons why survivors are reluctant to report their assaults. In their report, they state:

“The most common reason given by [survivors] (23%) is that the rape is a ‘personal matter.’ Another 16% of [survivors] say that they fear reprisal, while about 6% don’t report because they believe that the police are biased.”

Even when a rape is reported, only 3 out of 100 rapists will ever serve a day in prison, a bleak statistic that may also discourage survivors from reporting.

At the end of the day, it’s vital that we support survivors in their decisions whether or not to report their assaults. Only they can make that call.

5. ‘Why Didn’t You Fight Back Harder?’

Last month, the FBI finally updated its definition of rape, removing the word “forcible” to recognize that not all assault survivors are physically overcome by their rapists.

There are several instances in which survivors might be raped and either don’t or can’t fight off attackers.

For example, they may be drugged or otherwise mentally incapacitated, in fear for their lives, outnumbered, or experiencing tonic immobility – a response to trauma in which a person freezes.

6. ‘Are You Sure You Don’t Just Regret Having Sex with Him?’

If a women has sex with a man, regrets it, and cries rape, that constitutes a false allegation — which is extremely rare, despite men’s rights activists’ claims that this practice is endemic.

In fact, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), only 2% to 8% of rape reports are false.

However, as the NSVRC points out, false reports are not necessarily the same as false allegations: “Investigators, prosecutors, and others often decide that a sexual assault did not happen based simply on their own views of the [survivor], the suspect, and their credibility.”

A man has a greater chance (1 in 33) of becoming a rape survivor himself than being falsely accused of raping someone.

7. ‘But You’re a Guy — You Can’t Be Raped’

This simply is not true.

While the vast majority of rape survivors are women, approximately 3% of American men — 2.78 million — have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetimes.

Despite this, many men are reluctant to acknowledge, let alone report, their attacks.

According to research published in Psychology of Men & Masculinity in July 2014, “the majority of men who have experienced something that would qualify as child sexual abuse or adult rape based on research definitions do not label their experiences as sexual abuse or rape.”

Perhaps this is driven by a fear of being called gay, weak, or “less of a man,” but regardless, it is important that we believe and support male survivors.

Disclosing a sexual assault to your children

‘I need to tell you something’: How survivors of sexual assault tell their children, via The Washington Post:

They were sitting in a car outside a Home Goods store in Savannah, Ga., and the conversation was not going the way Jenny Lynn Anderson planned. And she had planned. Anderson is pragmatic that way. That’s how her mother – the lawyer, judge, trailblazer — raised her, and Anderson intended to bring up her daughters in the same mold: independent, self-assured, strong.

Once that foundation was set, Anderson decided, she would tell them.When I was in my 20s, I was sexually assaulted.  Calm, no-nonsense. An outline. Details if they asked. That she eventually would tell them was never a question in her mind. She could not protect them as they made their way through the world, but she could educate them. She could give them the tools she didn’t have. She could teach them something about another form of strength: resilience.

Sixteen might be a good age, Anderson thought. But when the youngest, Allison, turned 16, Anderson decided no, this one is not ready. I’ll wait. But there Anderson was one day, sitting in the car outside the store, fighting a panic attack brought on by the sight of a lone man standing in the parking lot. There she was, telling Allison, “Wait, don’t unlock the door.” To watch her puzzled daughter follow her gaze, turn to look at the man, a black man, and say, “Mama, you are such a racist.”

No, Anderson said, stunned, suddenly crying, which was definitely not part of the plan. That’s not why I am afraid of that man.

“Allison, I need to tell you something.”

****

In the leapfrog from headline to headline on sexual assault, from slogan to slogan — yes means yes, not alone, it’s on us — public awareness waxes and wanes. What endures are the inner battles among parents who have been sexually assaulted and who do not engage in the public discussion as an abstraction, but as a prompt. Should I tell my kids what happened to me? How and to what end?

These are the most private of conversations, the unseen backdrop of the public dialogue on sexual assault. A mother – or a father – telling a child: All this you are reading about it, all this you are hearing, it happened to me. Someone hurt me when I was young. Took from me what was not theirs to take. You need to know this about me. You need to know this about life.

“This happened to me, and it wasn’t my fault, and there are ways to prevent it from happening to you,” Cynthia Brown, 53, of Marietta, Ga., told her daughter. Her daughter was 17, nearly the same age at which Brown was raped in 1980. Brown’s attacker was convicted. “I grew up ‘Father Knows Best,’ ‘Brady Bunch,’ life is a bowl of cherries —  and it’s not.”

Dawn Helmrich, 42, of Milwaukee, was abducted and sexually assaulted at gunpoint by three teenagers when she was 21. The eldest of the three, a 17-year-old, pleaded guilty to rape, kidnapping and armed robbery. The younger two juveniles were sentenced to juvenile facilities.

“When I first had kids, I questioned why I would even want to tell them? I thought, ‘Are you doing this for you or for them?’” she said.

“I think, in the beginning, I thought of it almost like an absolution. I wanted to absolve myself of the guilt I felt. I thought, ‘If I tell them, and they think I’m stupid or I did something wrong, at least they will get it off their chest, and I will move on.’

“But as I got older and a little wiser, I changed my perspective. I thought, ‘How empowering it can be for them to know the kind of resiliency that is within them. Here I am. Their mom. I got married. I own a home. I got a Master’s degree. I teach at a college, and I have a full-time career. I did all these things. Despite what happened. It became more about finding them the message that is basically, ‘You know what? A lot of stuff happens in life . . . and sometimes you have to scoop yourself off the ground.’”

These are the moments of quiet revelation far from the headlines. The conversations that parents choose to have with their children are as different as the individuals recounting them, as different as the experiences with sexual assault. But parents who tell their children often say they do so from the understanding that all parents come to: They will not always be there to protect their children from those who would do them harm, and so their children must learn to protect themselves. And so, they seek to educate them, to prepare them to be vigilant in the most honest way they know how.

They teach them to listen to themselves. “You get a weird feeling, you trust it,” Laurie Stevens, from San Fernando Valley, Calif., who was drugged and raped by an acquaintance when she was a college student, told her daughter, a high school senior. “That intuition is your umbilical cord to God, and you honor it.”

They teach their children to listen to others.

“One of the things that is hardest for survivors is not to hate themselves, to not blame themselves,” said Patricia Miller of Portales, N.M. A survivor of childhood sexual abuse, she is a moderator for the 78,000 member Pandora’s Aquarium, an international online forum and chat room for survivors of sexual assault and abuse. “I wanted to prepare my children to have compassion and empathy. I would tell them, ‘Look around whatever room you are in and know that one in every five women will be sexually assaulted and one in six men. People you know will be hurt, and they will need to have folks around who will listen to them with open hearts.”

They teach them that in talking about the hurt, they rob it of its power.

***

They come to the conversations in different ways. Miller told her children over time, giving them just the information she thought they could understand and handle as they grew older. Did you ever think you were going to die and go to heaven, asks her son after his appendix burst. Yes, she said, and tells him a little of a father around whom she felt she could never be safe.

They circle around it for years with advice on never drinking from an open bottle, on being alert, on being active bystanders. For 30 years, Stevens carried around fragmented memories of an assault by a student in one of her classes. She wasn’t drunk, just one moment she was present doing homework and the next she was far away and watching him disrobe her. Oh, him, another former classmate would say many years later, he got in trouble for drugging and raping women. Stevens started researching date-rape drugs for a series of psychological suspense novels she was writing. It all came together.

Did you ever get him arrested? Did you report him? Her daughter asked when Stevens told her the details earlier this month. No, it was not rape as I understood rape then. It wasn’t violent, Stevens answered, and thinks: I hunkered down. I was ashamed.

What is his name, her son, now in college, demanded, shaken and angry. Where is he? She will not tell him.

Decades later, they have triggers. Loud noises. Don’t ever come up behind mom unannounced. I don’t care if it’s a squirt gun, no guns, no gun-like toys, in the house.

At a crowded Milwaukee street fair, Dawn Helmrich suffers a panic attack and her 10-year-old daughter takes her hand and leads her from the crowd, comforting her, and then asking, ‘Mom, when are you going to tell me what happened to you?”

“HOW EMPOWERING IT CAN BE FOR THEM TO KNOW THE KIND OF RESILIENCY THAT IS WITHIN THEM. HERE I AM. THEIR MOM. I GOT MARRIED. I OWN A HOME. I GOT A MASTER’S DEGREE. I TEACH AT A COLLEGE AND I HAVE A FULL-TIME CAREER. I DID ALL THESE THINGS. DESPITE WHAT HAPPENED.”

— Dawn Helmrich

She told her children the whole story this year when they were 11 and 13, younger than she might have planned. But by then, she had become involved in victim advocacy and had organized Milwaukee’s participation in  Denim Day USA, a sexual violence prevention and education campaign. When her advocacy was recognized with a community award, she and her husband decided their children should know why.

“They asked a lot of questions, and when I finished, they both got up and said, ‘Mom, you have so much courage, and you are so brave, and we are so proud of you,’” Helmrich said.

Both have since become young advocates in their own right.

***

In the car, outside the Home Goods store in Savannah, with a teenage daughter she thought still too sensitive to hear her story, Anderson regains her composure. A matter-of-fact tone enters her voice. She says: “When I was 27 years old, I was on business trip, staying in a downtown Atlanta hotel. I was walking out of my door, room 939, to go to the elevator. A man captured me in the hallway. He pulled a knife out and despite my fighting him and my screaming, he was more powerful, and he pushed me back into the room, and he robbed me first, and then he sexually assaulted me.”

She says she tricked him into thinking her marketing director was coming to the room, and when he cracked open the door, “my eyes locked on a housekeeper in the hallway, and I started screaming.” The man fled, and Anderson called hotel security. But her perpetrator escaped.

Like her older sister, Morgan, Allison listened to the story, wide-eyed and somber.  “I didn’t think she was ready, but she was,” Anderson said. “And once I told them, I was totally an open book with them and with their friends. I brought it up. I wanted them to understand there was no shame in what happened to me. It was not my fault.”

In the three years since, Anderson has gone on to speak publicly to more than 100 groups about her experience. In 2011, she published “Room 939, 15 minutes of horror, 20 years of healing,” on how she reclaimed her life after her assault.

That day in the car with Allison, Anderson said, “the greatest thing that I wanted to leave with her was that there was courage, courage like my mother had, and courage would win the day. In the end, good will win over evil. They have to believe good prevails, and I believe it does. But you have to have courage.”

That man in the parking lot scared me, Anderson told Allison, but we are going to get out of this car, and we are going to go into that store, and we are going to complete what we came here to do.

Which is exactly what mother and daughter did.

Dealing with rape on college campuses

Finally dealing with campus rape means that some men will have it tougher, via The Guardian, written by Jessica Valenti:

The epidemic levels of rape on university campuses has a lot of people really worried. Unfortunately, they’re worried that campuses are going “too far” in their effort to punish rapists; that young men will be wrongly accused; that campus sex policies will criminalize consensual sex; that the rape epidemic is more ideological rhetoric than actual lived experience.

They are worried, it seems, that stopping campus rape and helping the victims of it – most of whom are women – will hurt young men.

It seems odd that, at a moment when we’re finally making headway on campus assault – with White House-backed initiatives, rape victims sharing their stories, and students mobilizing to make their campuses safer and more responsive to sexual violence – the response from some quarters is to worry for men’s futures rather than celebrate women’s potential safety.

No one wants to see innocent people accused of horrible crimes, but there is a distinct lack of evidence that young men on college campuses – even the ones who have raped women – are suffering any harm due to the increased focus on ending rape.

Rape remains a chronically underreported crime, and only 2% of rapists ever spend a day in jail. On college campuses, only 10 to 25% of rapists are expelled, less than half are suspended and many are given university-mandated “punishments” like writing a research paper or an apology letter.

So why the ramped-up concerns for men?

Maybe it’s that we’re not used to seeing gender justice in action, so it feels strange and new … and therefore off. Alexandra Brodsky, a co-director of anti-rape organization Know Your IX, compared the situation to someone who has unwittingly been living in an apartment with a tilted floor their whole life.

“You become used to that, so if you wake up one day and your floor is level, it’s going to feel uneven,” she told me.

Others, like Tracey Vitchers of Students Active for Ending Rape (SAFER) believe the renewed focus on accused rapists’ rights is simple denial. “It comes from not wanting to believe that campus sexual assault is as prevalent as survivors, advocates and, frankly, research, demonstrate it to be”, Vitchers told me.

I also believe that the disproportionate worry for accused rapists over their victims boils down to a fundamental distrust of women. It is less worry that men will be wrongly accused, and more a lasting, ill-informed “certainty” that women lie about rape. After all, the most controversial news story of campus rape this year – an irresponsibly-reported assault alleged by a student at the University of Virginia – didn’t even involve a young man was brought up on campus or criminal charges. The public outrage stemmed from the belief that the woman lied about her attack.

The rape truthers’ belief that any increasing efforts to stop rape and hold more accusers accountable will hurt innocent men is, at best, magical thinking. While multiple female rape victims at 89 different colleges have filed suits citing Title IX violations and unfair treatment by school administrators, there has not been one recent public case of a wrongly-accused male student who suffered significant, permanent legal harm at the hands of a malicious accuser. That hasn’t stopped people from trying to identify one, though.

The man accused of sexually assaulting two students and then raping Emma Sulkowictz – the Columbia University student who started the “Carry that Weight” performance protest – has tried appealing to anti-feminist media to claim his life was ruined, though no mainstream media published or broadcast his name until he came forward. And Columbia found the man not responsible, allowing him to remain on campus. A Washington Post column late last year fretted about the dangers of campus sexual assault policies for young men, yet focused on the case of a young man who was also found not responsible. How did the system fail him, exactly?

The concerns over due process in campus adjudication procedures are also misplaced. In The New York Times, Judith Shulevitz bemoans the Department of Education guidelines that instruct schools to use a “preponderance of evidence” standard in rape cases, as if such a thing is unheard of. But this is the same standard of evidence that’s required when a rape victim sues her attacker in civil court. Shulevitz also warns that schools risk losing federal funds if they don’t adhere to the DOE’s rules, but no school has ever had their funding taken away because of a Title IX violation.

Too many of us are more comfortable taking on imaginary problems rather than real ones – but reflexive thought experiments don’t stop rape or address the real underlying problems. They only do a disservice to the victims.

Get Consent This Valentine’s Day

It’s almost Valentine’s Day, and that means that love, lust, romance, and sex are in the air. However, while one person may be hoping the evening ends in sex…the other person may not. So, let’s talk briefly about consent.

What is consent? According to the dictionary, it is “permission, approval, or agreement.” In regards to sexual activity, consent is an active, enthusiastic, ongoing “YES.”

The absence of a “no” is not consent; silence is not consent, the way a person dresses is not consent, and intoxication is not consent. Basically, we need to hear the word “yes” (willingly, not forced). Why? Because “yes” means “yes” (way to go, California, for passing that law!)

There will be a lot of dates this Valentine’s Day, and unfortunately, a lot of harmful myths about sex still linger. For example: “I bought you an expensive dinner, therefore, you owe me sex.” Nope, not true. Nobody owes another person sex for ANY reason. Whether you’re going on a first date, or you’re going on a date with somebody you’ve been with for a while, always remember to get consent before attempting to engage in any sexual activity. (Don’t worry, it won’t ruin the mood if both people are into it.)

PS: If you are single this Valentine’s Day, don’t forget to love yourself!

saparsvday

TV show Switched at Birth addresses campus sexual assault

ABC Family’s Campus Rape Story line Goes Where Scripted Television Hasn’t Gone Before, via BuzzFeed:

The anger directed at HBO’s The Newsroom in December in the wake of an episode that attempted to capitalize on the debate surrounding the scourge of college sexual assault crystallized the complexity of emotions surrounding the very complicated issue plaguing campuses nationwide. At the time, the Rolling Stone/UVA debacle was dominating headlines — a magazine story that was meant to serve as crusading journalism, peeling back the lid of insidious behavior at the Virginia university and bringing awareness of the situation to a larger audience, instead had the opposite effect as the story’s factual basis was attacked and the magazine backed away from supporting the writer. Any platform that the story could have provided rape victims — particularly those on college campuses — was undone, and the piece itself has become a watchword for reckless reporting and a lack of fact-checking. In the months that followed, the conversation continued, especially when two 2015 Sundance Film Festival projects dealt with campus rape: Kirby Dick’s The Hunting Ground and Morris May and Rose Troche’s interactive Perspective. There is something in the air at the moment — the discourse and epidemic are reaching a boiling point.

The latest entrée into the conversation is, on the surface, a surprising one: A teen television show waded into the murky waters of campus rape narratives in its Feb. 3 episode. But that teen series, ABC Family’s groundbreaking Switched at Birth, has never been one to shy away from potentially explosive issues of race, class, or the hearing/deaf divide (many of its main characters are deaf or hard-of-hearing and the show has embraced the use of American Sign Language and closed captioning). The teen drama, created by Lizzy Weiss, might have initially been about the ramifications of two families — one white and wealthy, the other Latina and struggling to get by — learning that their daughters had been switched at the hospital as babies. But in the four seasons since, it’s evolved into a canny exploration of communication, expression, and identity.

There’s a reason the particular issue of campus rape is one that is poignant forSwitched’s deaf and hard-of-hearing characters — and why it’s fitting now. Last year, the Washington Post ran a story about the climbing rates of campus rape and the belief among university administrators that “robust reporting” could contribute to preventing these crimes in the future. The university with the highest rates of reporting forcible sex offenses proved to be Gallaudet University, which saw “more than 11 per thousand students in 2012.” Gallaudet also happens to house the nation’s premier deaf education program, and the university’s dean of student affairs and academic support pointed toward the resources available — “direct access in terms of communication and language with on-campus personnel without requiring the need for an interpreter” — as the reason for the higher overall numbers and reporting rates.

Switched at Birth has long looked toward Gallaudet and deaf history and culture for inspiration for its storylines. Though it’s unclear whether the Post’s reporting played a role for Weiss and the writing staff in penning the Jan. 27 episode, the installment saw Bay Kennish (Vanessa Marano) waking up after a drunken night in the bed of her ex-boyfriend Tank (Max Adler), her clothes scattered on the floor. In the Feb. 3 episode, Bay struggles to recall the events of the night before, wondering whether she had cheated on her long-distance boyfriend, Emmett (Sean Berdy), by possibly drunkenly sleeping with her ex. But more troublingly, she is uncertain about whether she consented to having sex with Tank or not in the first place.

It’s Bay’s birth mother Regina (Constance Marie) who first utters the r-word — noting that if a woman is drunk, she cannot actually give consent, and that any consent given while impaired isn’t actually consent. It’s a shock to Bay, and to the viewer, really, to hear such an open discussion on such a controversial subject on a teen drama — but it’s important that this is a conversation happening on a show geared toward a younger demographic. All too often, rape gets swept under the rug or is used as a means to an end to look at victim culture or false accusations or something different altogether; on Switched, however, though it’s used for a narrative, it’s also instructive and educational. Regina’s lines are uttered with such certain sincerity that the moment, like many others on this series, isn’t saccharine or forced, but significant.

Typically, sexual assault storylines play out with strangers, their repercussions barely, if at all, glimpsed. A recent episode of The Good Wife looked at the epidemic through the lens of a college disciplinary board following a student accusing another of rape, taking its title (“The Red Zone”) from the most dangerous time of year for sexual assault against first-year female students. Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), representing the victim, flicks at the specter of Title IX, saying that the university could open itself up to a lawsuit under the U.S. Code for gender discrimination in education. But the rape didn’t happen to Alicia’s son Zach (Graham Phillips) or her daughter Grace (Makenzie Vega) — and while the episode was powerfully rendered and meticulously constructed, there was an inherent narrative distance between the topic and the framework of the show; it was a case to be won or lost by Alicia, and while it drew upon real-life inspiration, it ultimately doesn’t change the direction of the show or any of the central characters.

That’s not the case with Switched at Birth. As Bay goes back and forth about whether she consented to sleep with Tank, the show shifts between each of their perspectives — hers increasingly inebriated, his equally drunk — which differ in small but meaningful ways. Did she kiss him? Did he kiss her? Did she push him away? And if she didn’t, did it mean that she was actually able to give her consent?When Bay confronts Tank about her lack of clarity regarding the events of the previous night, he is horrified by what she is implying: that he took advantage of her, that he assaulted her, that he raped her. They were both drunk, he bellows, and he would never do anything like that. Tank is not a stranger to Bay or the audience: He’s been presented previously as a “good guy.” Which is precisely the point.

The plot doesn’t wrap up neatly after one episode; in fact, there’s a simmering level of anger, fear, and distress that threatens to boil over in next week’sSwitched, even as Bay says she doesn’t want to do anything about what happened, that she just wants it to go away. But Bay’s brother Toby (Lucas Grabeel) — who is also Tank’s roommate — tells his girlfriend Lily (Rachel Shenton) about what happened… and Lily is an administrator at the university, meaning she has a legal obligation to bring the situation to the disciplinary board. It looks like Bay’s hope that this just goes away will soon be evaporating completely.

But that’s because this storyline is realistically messy and fraught — it’s painful and profound, showing a night that Bay deeply regrets. Of course, regretting that something happened does not mean accepting responsibility for it — andSwitched carefully threads its narrative here, placing the blame for what may have happened on Tank for having sex with Bay when she was clearly too drunk to actually give her legal consent.

That this is all playing out in a show that so many teenagers (and adults) are watching is important for so many reasons. The ultimate irony is that this ABC Family teen drama is doing a far better job of tackling this difficult topic than its allegedly more hard-hitting and award-winning adult counterparts — and that, thankfully, means those in the audience who may soon be college-bound themselves are actually watching.

Switched at Birth airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on ABC Family.

Help stop human trafficking in Maine

Maine is responding to human trafficking – and you can help using this new tool, via The Bangor Daily News – Maine Focus:

In the last few years, I have had the opportunity to deliver training on human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation to nearly 700 direct service providers and law enforcement officers from every county in the state. In that time, two things in particular struck me: the number of times I’ve been approached by Mainers who believe they are currently working with or have worked with trafficked individuals, and the outpouring of interest to effectively respond to this issue.

In light of the first concern, the second issue is a good problem to have. But until recently, there hasn’t always been an effective way to help connect the interest with appropriate outlets for those efforts.

Due to the significant gaps in the state’s infrastructure with regard to responding to this issue, we can certainly use all the commitment from individuals we can get. However, there are virtually no trafficking-specific organizations in Maine, and interested citizens don’t always know how to be helpful locally.

For that reason, MECASA teamed up with the Maine Women’s Fund to create the first statewide trafficking-specific volunteer databank, as part of MECASA’s program called the Maine Sex Trafficking and Exploitation Network.

Anti-trafficking work can take many forms. It can look like prevention: mentoring at-risk youth, such as foster care and homeless youth, to build the resilience that prevents trafficking in the first place.

It can look like support for our social safety net: shelters, sexual and domestic violence response agencies, mental health providers and substance abuse providers are engaging with victims of trafficking and those at risk for trafficking daily, and they can desperately use donations of time, goods and financial support.

It may mean advocating for policies that support those vulnerable to trafficking. For instance, most victims of exploitation are childless adults, and as such are ineligible for Medicaid due to Maine’s decision to opt out of the health-care expansion.

Some of these services require extensive skill and training. Others might be as easy as a Saturday morning bake sale to benefit a local agency. Hopefully, with time all of these opportunities will be available through the databank.

The new statewide trafficking volunteer databank will be an opportunity to finally connect the needs of the community with those individuals who are seeking to bring their time and talent to this issue. Maine has the tools and resources that it needs to better understand trafficking and exploitation, and to develop a powerful response.

We hope that the volunteer databank is just one step toward connecting those resources with the places where they can do the most good. If you would like to volunteer for an organization responding to human trafficking, or if you would like to host a volunteer, visit the Maine Sex Trafficking and Exploitation Network’s volunteer databank to get connected.

Destie Hohman Sprague is the program director at the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault. She may be reached at destie@mecasa.org

Stalking myths

5 myths about stalking you need to know, written by Regina Rooney, via Bangor Daily News: Maine Focus:

January is National Stalking Awareness Month, and as it draws to a close, we here at the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence are thinking about stalking — about what it looks like, how we talk about it and respond to it, and how it impacts people’s lives.

The definition of stalking recommended by the National Stalking Resource Center is “a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.” But even with that definition, confusion and misinformation about this problem abounds. So this year, we are examining some of the key myths about stalking.

Myth 1: Stalkers only stalk strangers

While the popular image is of the stalker as a random stranger who catches a glimpse of someone through a store window and becomes fascinated by them on the spot, reality differs. In fact, the majority of of stalking victims are stalked by someone they know. And many of those (66 percent of female victims, and 44 percent of male victims) are stalked by a current or former intimate partner. So while it is true that stranger stalking happens, it makes up the minority of cases.

Stalking behaviors can include following a person, monitoring another person’s actions or repeatedly contacting them against their will. These are all also behaviors that can fall under the umbrella of domestic abuse. It is important that we realize that while stalking doesn’t always indicate a domestic violence relationship, abusive people frequently stalk their victims as a part of their plan to gain power and control. And it is a serious red flag: 76 percent of intimate partner femicide victims — women who were killed in domestic violence homicides — were stalked by their abusers prior to their murders.

Myth 2: It’s nothing serious

Despite that last statistic, stalking is rarely treated very seriously in our culture at large. Many of us glibly use “stalking” in our everyday conversation to indicate something as routine as running into a friend at the grocery store. Using the word in this way minimizes the reality of the act.

There are examples in pop culture, too. Consider the video for Sugarland’s “Stuck Like Glue,” which depicts Sugarland’s lead singer Jennifer Nettles stalking, kidnapping and drugging a man. Despite the lighthearted tone of the video — the boppy beat, the bright colors, the comical expressions on everyone’s faces — what the video depicts is actually an extremely serious situation. Unfortunately, it is all presented as a joke — even when the video ends with the singer’s fist punching the victim in the face.

In reality, stalking takes a serious toll on victims. Rates of anxiety, severe depression, insomnia and social dysfunction are much higher among people who have been stalked when compared with the general population. People who experience stalking report not knowing what is coming next, what to expect or how long it will go on. They lose time from work and have trouble functioning in everyday life. Treating stalking like a joke minimizes the experience of victims and contributes to the idea that what they are going through isn’t really that bad.

Myth 3: It’s romantic…or even sexy

This is another form of minimization. We may be encouraged to interpret someone’s repeated attentions as romantic or desirable. People experiencing abuse are often encouraged to interpret the abuser’s actions as something other than abusive. People may say, “He just really loves you,” or “I wish someone cared about me that much.” But repeated unwanted attentions are not flattering or positive; insisting that they are negates victims’ feelings and undermines their instincts about their own situations.

Attitudes like these are reinforced by popular culture, which often portrays unhealthy behaviors as romantic and/or sexy. While we have become somewhat more sensitive to portrayals of domestic abuse and rape, stalking still seems to lack critical attention as far as the entertainment industry is concerned. In Maroon 5’s recent video for “Animals,” lead singer Adam Levine plays a blood-soaked butcher trailing a woman through the city, planning to “eat her alive.”

Levine sings, “Yeah, you can start over, you can run free/You can find other fish in the sea/You can pretend it’s meant to be/ But you can’t stay away from me.”

The meaning here is constructed not only by the lyrics and the images — which are quite disturbing — but by the fact that Levine was People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive in 2013 and is seen as a major sex symbol. Although the video did garner criticism in advocacy circles, it was widely accepted. The fact that anyone thought it appropriate to portray these behaviors as desirable shows how much we have left to do to change perceptions of stalking and of sexualized violence in general.

Myth 4: Cyber stalkers are all tech geniuses

Sadly, it is extremely easy to use today’s technology to keep tabs on someone else. One does not need to be a super techie or even to have the latest and greatest in technology to be able to track another’s movements, hack into their accounts, film them without their knowledge or invade their privacy online. And the implications for victims are far-reaching, from anxiety and depression to loss of job prospects. Perhaps most troubling of all, the misuse of technology to stalk can leave victims with the impression that their abusers really do know everything, that there really is no way to find safety or get help without the abuser being able to follow.

Thankfully, there is good work being done to counteract the swift evolution of cyber abuse. The Stalking Resource Center and the National Network to End Domestic Violence’s Safety Net Project are both great resources. Maine’s domestic violence resource centersspecialize in safety planning, and can help those being stalked by an intimate partner to get help. For those experiencing stalking at the hands of someone other than an intimate partner, they can contact the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

Myth 5: It doesn’t happen in Maine

In fact, we know it does happen in Maine — frequently. Stalking isn’t something that only takes place “out there” in the world. It is happening to our neighbors and our friends. It may be happening to you. The state of Maine has recognized the scope and seriousness of the problem by making stalking a crime.

It is time to move past the myths of stalking, to see it for what it really is: a serious crime that happens to too many people, too much of the time, yet is too often minimized by our culture at large. We know that it takes a community to say no to abuse and violence. It is time that we as a community raise our voices and say no to stalking, too.

Meet our new Site Coordinator in Franklin County!

Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services (SAPARS) announces the appointment of Kayce Hunton as the Site Coordinator for their Franklin County office.

KayceHpicPrior to joining the SAPARS team in January, 2015, Kayce was the Client Services Manager and later the Director of Client Services at Sexual Assault Support Services of Midcoast Maine (SASSMM). In that capacity, she managed multiple programs, led school-based education presentations, conducted community and professional trainings and facilitated support groups. Kayce worked at SASSMM for over 14 years.

Kayce was a core committee member in writing, Help In Healing, A Training Guide for Advocates, which is used by sexual assault support centers across Maine. Since 2013, she has been a member of the Maine/New Hampshire Victim Assistance Academy & Tri-State Advanced Victim Assistance Academy Advisory Committee.

Kayce received her BS in Rehabilitation Services from the University of Maine at Farmington (UMF) and her MS in Organizational Leadership from Southern New Hampshire University. While a student at UMF, she worked at the LEAP Corporation and upon graduation accepted a position at Tri-County Mental Health Services (TCMHS) as a Case Manager. Kayce spent a couple of years at TCMHS before accepting a position at SASSMM and moving to the Midcoast area. In 2007, Kayce moved back to the Farmington area and commuted to her job at SASSMM.

“I am happy and excited to be working in Franklin County again. I feel honored to have been selected to join the team at Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services. This opportunity allows me to continue to be engaged in the important work of sexual violence prevention and response and also allows me to work much closer to where I live,” says Kayce.

In her role as the Site Coordinator, Kayce will oversee SAPARS’ programming in Franklin County. In addition, she will represent the agency in Franklin County collaborations, and will provide support and supervision for the staff.

Kayce replaces Nicholas Citriglia, who served as the Site Coordinator from 2012 to 2014.

SAPARS (historically known as SAVES in Franklin County) helps people recover from the trauma of sexual violence. Through school and community based programs, we work to raise awareness, educate, and prevent sexual violence. Please visit our website at www.sapars.org.  The statewide, toll free, 24-hour Helpline is 1-800-871-7741.

Kassie Edwards reported her rape. But that was before the attention on U-Va. or Cosby, via The Washington Post:

Kassie Edwards reported her rape. It wasn’t much of a decision, really.

She was attacked on Halloween 2008. Two months earlier, Edwards had transferred to Florida State University to be an African American studies major, with dreams of eventually working at one of the Smithsonian museums. Soon after arriving on campus, she was assigned a work-study job at the university library.

She had the 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift that day, and just before noon, she took the elevator to the third floor to restock shelves. It was dark until she walked out and triggered the motion-detector lights.

That was when she noticed a young man with bloodshot eyes standing very still in the lobby. No one else was around. She was pushing her cart down an aisle when he came up to her from behind, took her in a chokehold and wrestled her to the ground.

“Don’t say nothing,” he told her, indicating that there was a gun in the pouch of his hooded sweatshirt. She was afraid to scream but remained conscious throughout the attack. When the man was done, he pulled up his pants and instructed her to count to 100 before she got up — warning that if she didn’t, he would come back for her.

The backlash against women who have raised sexual-assault allegations against comedian Bill Cosby, including Victoria Valentino, left, and Barbara Bowman, could intimidate other women who have been sexually assaulted, Edwards says. (Left: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post/Rigjht: Erin O’Connor for The Washington Post)
Edwards counted to five, heard the sound of shuffling papers and ran to find a co-worker. Within minutes, Tallahassee police were at the library.

She didn’t cry until later. Until after the rape kit was administered at the hospital and a detective had taken her statement. Then her roommates took her home. “And I didn’t know what to do but just cry. I felt like my life had changed,” says Edwards, now 28.

Today, more than six years after the attack, Edwards is a victim advocate and speaker with the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. She sat down for an interview at an apartment in Laurel, Md., where she has lived for two months and which overlooks the woods. Tall and outgoing, she now speaks of the rape with a matter-of-fact calmness. She feels it’s especially important to be vocal about her experience, in light of the avalanche of media attention that high-profile sexual assault cases have received in recent months.

She stayed in her room for much of the week after the attack, she says, and when she did emerge, she shuddered at the sight of every man in a hooded sweatshirt, wondering whether each one was her attacker.

Edwards had never known anyone who said they had been raped, and she had never thought that it would happen to her. But something happened as she talked to her friends about the attack. They started talking back — about their own experiences with sexual assault.

“I learned about all my friends who had been raped before, which I would never have known about because they were afraid to come forward. And these were close friends,” she says. “There’s a veil of shame about being raped.”

Rape and doubt
Two months after the attack, Edwards’s rapist was caught. He had raped two other women and then murdered his girlfriend. Edwards wrote a letter to be read at his sentencing. “I’ve forgiven you,” she wrote. “I hope you will live the rest of your life making the right choices.”

Her assailant, who was not a Florida State student, is serving life in prison without the possibility of parole, and Edwards doesn’t think about him much anymore. She finished college — had a great deal of fun and had her heart broken. She healed her wounds through prayer and counseling and poetry.

And whenever the opportunity arose, she talked about what had happened — to the media, to her friends, to audiences at spoken-word open-mike nights. She talks because it’s helpful to her, but more than that, because she hopes it will be helpful to others. “To give them inspiration to be more inclined to report crimes that happened to them,” she says. “Especially rape.”

And at this moment, her advocacy work feels more urgent than ever. The past year has shone a bright light on the issues surrounding crimes against women — first there were the accusations against quarterback Jameis Winston at Edwards’s alma mater. Then came Ray Rice, and the University of Virginia story in Rolling Stone, and the multiplying number of women coming forward to say that Bill Cosby once drugged and assaulted them. And unfortunately, Edwards thinks, the sum result is that it may now be more difficult for women to come forward than ever before — especially if their attacker is someone previously known to them.

“Legislatively we’ve made it easier for rape victims, but culturally I think we’re taking a couple steps back,” says Edwards, who works at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Although it didn’t happen in her case, Edwards says she has learned that one of the biggest problems is that people “tend to doubt the rape victims’ stories. They tend to blame the victim or they don’t believe them, instead of saying, ‘Oh, how could somebody do this?’ ”

Edwards fears that the backlash against women who have come forward — especially the Cosby accusers, whose motives have been questioned — will dissuade others from taking the same step. “Because they’ve seen how the victims are being portrayed,” she says. “It’s good that we’re talking about it, but the conversation is not steered in a positive light.”

Her message to victims is this: “It’s not something you could’ve prevented. It’s not about you being a weak person. It’s about somebody who doesn’t have control over their greed and their desire for power.”

She encourages victims to tell someone about what happened, although she knows that’s often a much more complicated endeavor than it was for her. “It’s about what feels comfortable for them and exploring all the avenues before making the ultimate decision not to report. Whether it’s reporting it to an anonymous hotline or friend or advocate or going to counseling.” By reporting the crime, she says, they may be able to prevent it from happening to someone else.

Moving forward
Edwards says that her initial fear — that her life would be forever damaged because of the assault — has proved not to be true. “Going through that experience just made me a stronger person,” she says.

The advocacy work in particular has added new depth and meaning to her life. But mostly she has just stayed on track, knowing that nothing — and no one — has the power to knock her off course.

In the coming weeks, Edwards will start a new job — at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.