Monthly Archives: April 2013

Responsibility of the community to keep children safe

Every Sunday throughout April, Sexual Assault Prevention & Response Services will have a guest column in the SunJournal. Each column will discuss a different aspect of sexual violence, as well as prevention & education efforts.

Here is the 4th and final article from one of our our Education Coordinators!

I walk into a first-grade classroom with an armload of 30 makeshift hula hoops shaped like a raindrop rather than a circle. They are blue and have a mass of silver duct tape at the point of the raindrop shape.

The students in the class are smiling and quietly say to each other and to me “Space Ships!”

These “space ships” are one of the tools that we have been using since 2007 to teach the self-empowerment and personal space to children in elementary school. In some schools, by the spring of first grade, a child will have “played” with these space ships three times.

Teaching children about personal body safety and sexual abuse prevention is a careful endeavor. At Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services, we approach the issue by teaching different concepts that build on one another and create a firm foundation before we even start talking specifically about sexual harassment or sexual assault.

The first concept we teach is that of personal body space.

By using the “spaceships,” we take a theoretical concept and make it visual, so all the children can “see” it and understand it.

They can see that we move through our day and our need for personal body space might change depending on circumstance, or on which person we are interacting with.

The space ships allow the children to experience the concept of their own personal body space and respect the right of each other to maintain that space. This activity also helps children to understand and learn about healthy boundaries and consent — key concepts in sexual assault prevention.

By third grade, we focus our presentations on team work and interdependence. Using games designed to encourage the students to maintain their own individual personal space while being part of a group, we explore concepts of leadership, group dynamics and how to problem-solve in a fair and positive way so that all members of a team feel included and are safe.

We also talk about their responsibility to one another, which lays the groundwork for conversations about how to be a proactive bystander and help other students when it looks like they are being hurt.

Our presentations in fourth grade explicitly focus on gossip, rumors and bystander behaviors.

Again, using games to explore these concepts, the students are able to meet and address these potentially scary concepts in a developmentally appropriate and fun fashion.

We give the students a tube of toothpaste and ask them to squeeze it out onto a paper plate. We can then talk about what a mess it made. Then we ask them to put the toothpaste back in the tube. Of course they cannot get more than a dab back in the tube.

We can then begin the discussion about how words can make a mess and that, once said, they cannot be taken back. This helps us to talk with the students about bullying and what a mess it can create and how it cannot be undone.That lays a solid foundation for later presentations about appropriate Internet/social media use.

In fifth and sixth grades, we actively engage the students in conversations about Internet safety and harassment issues.

Because they have had all of the concept and skill-building presentations in prior years, they have the ability to apply those lessons to these very important topics and understand them in a more fundamental way.

Throughout these presentations, we talk with the students about the importance of getting help from a grownup when they or someone else is being hurt or in danger of being hurt. We help them to identify who those grownups might be, and what they should expect in the way of help from those adults.

All of our presentations can be presented as stand-alone material, but we find that they work best all together. Our presentations build upon each other, creating a framework of understanding, built year after year.

We believe it is the responsibility of the community to help keep our children safe from harm.

While it is the adults who should be responsible for sexual abuse prevention, our programs provide our children with the concepts and skills necessary to help keep themselves safe. And, they teach children lifelong skills that will help them each to understand and seek out safe, healthy relationships.

Bridget McAlonan is the SACC Education Coordinator for the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services.

The impact of child abuse and neglect

Every Sunday throughout April, Sexual Assault Prevention & Response Services will have a guest column in the SunJournal. Each column will discuss a different aspect of sexual violence, as well as prevention & education efforts.

Here is the 3rd article from the Coordinator & Forensic Interviewer of our Children’s Advocacy Center!

 

While physical injuries may or may not be immediately visible, abuse and neglect can have consequences for children, families and society that last lifetimes, if not generations. The impact of child abuse and neglect is often discussed in terms of physical, psychological, behavioral and so…

While physical injuries may or may not be immediately visible, abuse and neglect can have consequences for children, families and society that last lifetimes, if not

The impact of child abuse and neglect is often discussed in terms of physical, psychological, behavioral and societal consequences. In reality, however, it is impossible to separate them completely.

Physical consequences, such as damage to a child’s growing brain, can have psychological implications, such as cognitive delays or emotional difficulties. Psychological problems often manifest as high-risk behaviors. Depression and anxiety, for example, may make a person more likely to smoke, abuse alcohol or illicit drugs, or overeat. High-risk behaviors, in turn, can lead to long-term physical health problems such as sexually transmitted diseases, cancer and obesity.

Not all children who are abused or neglected will experience long term consequences. Outcomes of individual cases vary widely and are affected by a combination of factors, including:

—  The child’s age and developmental status when the abuse or neglect occurred;

—  The type of abuse (physical, neglect, sexual abuse, etc.);

—  The frequency, duration and severity of abuse; and

—  The relationship between the victim and his or her abuser.

Some children experience long-term consequences of abuse and neglect while others emerge relatively unscathed. The ability to cope, and even thrive, following a negative experience, is sometimes referred to as “resilience.”

There are a number of factors that can contribute to a child’s resilience. These factors can include a child’s individual characteristics, such as optimism, self-esteem, intelligence, creativity, humor and independence.

The acceptance of peers and positive individual influences, such as non-offending parents or caregivers, teachers, mentors and role models also contribute to resilience.

Other factors may include the child’s social environment and the family’s ability to nurture and provide a stable family relationship. Access to health care and social services significantly impacts a child’s resilience.

The immediate physical effects of abuse or neglect can be relatively minor (bruises or cuts) or severe (broken bones, hemorrhage, burns or even death). In some cases the physical effects are temporary; however, the pain and suffering they cause a child may live on far after the abuse is over.

The relationship between childhood trauma and later health concerns has been the subject of many studies. Research has found that childhood experiences of abuse contribute to the likelihood of depression, anxiety, suicidal behaviors, personality disorders, eating disorders and sexual disorders (Draper et al., 2007).

When thinking about the long-term effects of child abuse, here are a few statistics to keep in mind:

—  22 percent of maltreated children have learning disorders requiring special education.

—  27 percent of children who are abused or neglected become delinquents, compared to 17 percent of children in the general population.

In a study of 17,000 adults, those who were abused as children were more likely to become suicidal; more likely to have heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease; twice as likely to be smokers; twice as likely to be severely obese; twice as likely to become alcoholics; and three times as likely to develop a drug addiction.

Studies conducted have shown an increase of sexually transmitted diseases in childhood abuse or neglect survivors tracked over time.

Although this article has focused on the effects of child abuse, it ends with the question: How do we ameliorate those long-term impact of child abuse?

The answer is simple — stop child abuse and neglect. There must be a resurgence of community education and intervention, and a commitment to help end this horrific childhood experience.

Child abuse continues to be an epidemic — for which there is a cure. Every person, whether they are a parent, educator, professional or a customer shopping at Walmart must advocate and protect the most vulnerable members of our community.

If a child discloses abuse to you, believe them, then take the appropriate steps to report the disclosure — The Department of Health and Human Services will take a report 24 hours a day, as will all law enforcement entities.

The impact of child abuse does not end when the abuse stops. A person abused as a child may experience long-term effects that can interfere with their day-to-day functioning. With help and support, however, it is possible for that person to live a full and constructive life, and even thrive — to enjoy a feeling of wholeness, satisfaction in life and work, as well as genuine love and trust in their relationships.

Keri Myrick is the coordinator and forensic interviewer for the Androscoggin Children’s Advocacy Center.

 

Victim blaming leads to tolerance. And that is not okay.

(A guest blog, written by Maggie P., a Practicum student at SAVES, the Franklin County office of Sexual Assault Prevention & Response Services.  Thank you, Maggie!)

 

Have you ever heard of a SlutWalk?  They are outdoor events that protest rape culture and victim blaming, and they occur worldwide.  A few weeks ago, while browsing the Internet, I stumbled upon a picture of a young woman holding a sign from the 2011 SlutWalk in Washington, D.C., and what caught my eye the most was the comment underneath the picture.  The comment read, “maybe if she hadn’t drank so much she wouldn’t have been raped.”  My mouth literally fell open in disgust and astonishment…because the comment was left by someone that I know.  I went to high school with this particular individual, so I know for a fact that he was educated at a highly qualified institution.  However, his ignorant comment would lead me to believe differently.  Disturbingly, several other people also commented on the photo with praises for making “such a good point,” and for “speaking up.”  Once again…disgust and astonishment.  My immediate thought was to leave a comment in response, but I hesitated in fear of getting worked up (or getting even more worked up, I should say).  For my second thought, I wondered:  what makes these individuals think that being intoxicated is a reason to be sexually assaulted?  Newsflash – it is not.  Newsflash again – there are no “reasons” to be sexually assaulted, ever.

Recently, there have been several public cases involving teenagers and young adults who have been sexually assaulted by their peers while intoxicated at social gatherings.  One of these cases included a 15-year-old girl from California who committed suicide after being raped by three of her male peers at a party 8 months ago.  What makes this situation even more disturbing is that the young men allegedly took pictures documenting the assault (one of which became viral), and the victim was relentlessly bullied.  It has been reported that the three perpetrators were arrested in connection to the rape, and are currently being held in a California detention center.  Some people may argue that the girl should not have been drinking, and that by doing so, she put herself in a vulnerable position.  However, the act of consuming alcohol is not the problem…rape is the problem.

Another problem lies within the too-often-used excuse of, “Well he or she was drunk, so it’s fine.”  By saying this or similar statements, we are making sexual violence acceptable.  In a society where sexual violence is highly prevalent, it is difficult to believe that some people would make excuses for it, and that some would even condone it…but they do.  In order to prevent narrow mindsets and false concepts, education and prevention programs must be implemented in schools. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and it’s the perfect time to start educating yourself and the ones you love about sexual violence. The information is out there, all you have to do is look for it.  Without exposing people to the reality rape and sexual assault, we run the risk of further enforcing the idea that sexual violence is acceptable, and that it should be tolerated, and that is not okay.

Be cautious, informed when using social media

Every Sunday throughout April, Sexual Assault Prevention & Response Services will have a guest column in the SunJournal. Each column will discuss a different aspect of sexual violence, as well as prevention & education efforts.

Here is the 2nd article from one of our Outreach Coordinators!

 

The popularity of social media is massive and, for many of us, it has become an integral part of our everyday lives. Social media is a way for people to connect by sharing thoughts, photos, upcoming events, etc., via the Internet and mobile phone applications.However, the world of social media is ever-changing; sites come and sites go, and just when we get used to the newest trend, there will be another one just around the corner.

Some of the most popular sites and apps at the moment include Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram and Snapchat. Snapchat is one of the newest photo sharing apps for mobile phones; it has only been around for a year and a half. According to Snapchat’s blog, “Over 1 billion snaps [have been shared] — with over 20 million unique moments shared every day.” Despite its popularity, there is a problem with Snapchat — it creates an illusion of “now you see it, now you don’t,” which is not 100 percent accurate.

The concept behind Snapchat is clever, and fun: once the picture is sent, the receiver can only view the picture for 1 to 10 seconds before it “disappears forever.” That is where the problem lies — nothing on social media actually “disappears forever.” Once something goes viral (becomes popular on the Internet quickly), there is no control over who will see it. Yes, that is a scary thought, but it is also an important one to be aware of, and not just for kids and teens, but for all of us.

Snapchat is one of the latest tools, especially by teens and young adults, being utilized for sexting (the act of sending sexually explicit messages and/or photos via mobile phones), because of the belief that there will be no remaining evidence. If someone sends an explicit photo as a regular picture text message, the receiver of that photo will have it on their phone forever. The allure (and danger) of Snapchat’s built-in self destruct timer allows the sender to think, “It’s OK to send this picture, because they will never see it again.” However, cell phones have the ability to take screenshots (a picture of what is displayed on the phone’s screen), and if it is done within that 10 second span, a Snapchat photo can also be saved forever.

Snapchat’s website does state that the sender will be notified if a screenshot has been taken; however, even if notification is made and read, the photo could already have been distributed or posted to the Web for all to see. Alarmingly, there are YouTube videos that demonstrate how to take a screenshot of a Snapchat picture, and there are even Google links that explain how to take extra steps so the sender of the Snapchat photo does not get notified of a screenshot. That is scary.

Other than sexting, Snapchat has been used in bullying situations, i.e. taking a picture of someone in an embarrassing or compromising position. Perhaps the sender thinks it may not cause too much harm, because the picture “disappears,” but again, that is not the case. To see proof of Snapchats that have gone viral, go to Twitter or Instagram, and type “Snapchat” in the search bar, and there will be countless photos that belonged to people who thought they would “disappear” after 10 seconds, but instead, are there for the whole world to see, forever.

Snapchat, when used properly, is endearing because, like life itself, moments come and moments go, and this app gives people the opportunity to share those fleeting moments with those we care about.

One final thought on the Internet and social media in general: What you see is not always what you get, so be careful about the information (and photos) that you share. Online sexual predators tend to hide behind fake accounts, pretending to be somebody they are not to get the personal information (and photos) they want. It is important to know who you are talking to, and sharing things with, and please, never forget — things do not just “disappear” from social media; nothing is private.

Putting the negatives aside, social media can be productive, important, educational and, of course, fun. We just all need to be cautious and understand the risks when it comes to sharing.

And because we understand the importance of social media, you can find Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Tumblr — just search for the username/URL: SAPARSmaine.

Mandy Damon is the SAVES Outreach Coordinator for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services.

Nefarious: Merchant of Souls & Human Trafficking

Yesterday, the University of Maine at Farmington held a panel discussion on sex trafficking, followed by a free viewing of the documentary Nefarious:  Merchant of Souls.  The panel consisted of one of our SART (Sexual Assault Response Team) Coordinators, a police officer who is active in ending sex trafficking in Maine, and the Program Coordinator from the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

The documentary was very powerful, and produced some tearful emotions from the audience.

 

Here is some information about human trafficking from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families:

“Human trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery.  Victims of human trafficking are subjected to force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labor.  Victims are young children, teenagers, men, and women.

Approximately 600,000 to 800,000 victims annually are trafficked across the international borders worldwide according to U.S. government estimates.  More than half of these victims are children, according to the U.S. Department of State.

Child victims of trafficking are often exploited for sexual purposes, including prostitution, pornography and sex tourism.  They are also exploited for forced labor, including domestic servitude, sweatshop factory work, and migrant farming.”

 

If you, or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, please call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888.

Be aware: It is never OK to rape someone

Every Sunday throughout April, Sexual Assault Prevention & Response Services will have a guest column in the SunJournal. Each column will discuss a different aspect of sexual violence, as well as prevention & education efforts.

Here is the first one from our Executive Director!

 

I don’t know where to start.

A 16-year-old girl is raped by two high school boys at a “drunken” party in Steubenville, Ohio. Other students stood by recording the rape on their cell phones. That video was then widely distributed via the Internet, with resulting text message “chatter” about the assault.

The victim, who witnesses testified appeared too drunk to know what was happening, learned the details of the assault from those text messages and videos, along with everyone else who saw them.

The head coach of the football team and parents of other students may have known about the assault, but did not report it.

Following the trial, the victim has received death threats from people who say she ruined the lives of those young men who raped her. Media attention has focused on the distribution of the videos and raises the alarm about the dangers of posting such things on the Internet.

Really? Is that what that case is about?

There is so much to learn from that crime in Steubenville. The most important lesson is that parents, coaches, teachers, other community members, you and I, need to teach our children that IT IS NOT OK TO RAPE SOMEONE. It is never OK to engage in sexual acts with a person unless that person has given their free and informed consent, and is clearly, rationally, able to do so.

We need to teach children they can intervene when someone is in trouble. For so many reasons, they should intervene when another young person is drinking, or certainly when that person is obviously drunk.

They can intervene when they see a person being treated badly by another person. If a person is drunk and passed out, they can get help for that person, get them to a safe location and make sure they remain safe from harm.

And, if they see a person or persons sexually assaulting another person, the proper response is not to take out their cell phones and record the assault; the proper response is to stop the assault.

The right thing to do is to get between the assailants and the victim, and keep that victim safe from further harm. Then, the assault needs to be reported to an adult or to the police directly. The victim will need help, and the assailants could use some help as well.

Clearly, the students’ sharing of the video and the text messages about the assault should not have happened. That was a gross violation of privacy for the victim, who now goes to school every day wondering who has seen the naked pictures of her. Imagine the horror of that reality.

We must teach our children about the responsible use of text messages, video sharing and social media, and that they must not spread that kind of harmful material.

And then there is the victim blaming.

This victim has been threatened for bringing forward this assault and seeking justice. Other students are blaming her for “ruining the lives” of the defendants.

We must teach our children that people are accountable for their behavior and it is the person who does the hurting who should suffer the consequence, not the person who was hurt or the person who does the telling.

And we should not let our children shift responsibility for a rape to the victim of that rape. It was the choices and the actions of the defendants in this case that caused the harm and will affect their lives. And it is their choices and actions that will affect the life of the victim.

It is alarming that many adults, including those in positions of authority or influence at the school, knew about the rape and did not report it. A child was raped, and those mandated reporters should have done their jobs and reported the crime to the police. It is unconscionable that they did not.

I cannot sidestep the issue of “drunken” parties attended by teenagers. That should not have happened.

And although liquor does not cause sexual assault, it certainly can impair judgment and increase the perceived and actual vulnerability of people who are under the influence.

Parents need to be more vigilant about the activities of their teenagers and ensure that liquor is not part of their social interactions.

The only good that can come from this tragic incident is that we learn these lessons. Unfortunately, rape will continue to happen until we do.

Marty McIntyre is executive director of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services.

Talking to a Survivor.

Please, do NOT say:
  1. “Are you sure it was rape?” 
  2. “What were you wearing?”
  3. “Were you drunk?”
  4. “Everything happens for a reason.”
  5. “Tell me the details of what happened.”
  6. “It could have been so much worse.”
  7. “You need to/have to report it.”
  8. “You need to get over it.”
What else can you think of to add to this list?  
 
If you find yourself interacting with someone who is a survivor of sexual violence, PLEASE remember the following:
1.  It was not their fault.  No matter what.  Also, it is crucial to remind them of this fact.
2.  Active listening is the most important thing you can do.  In other words…do no interrupt, and do not give advice.  Just listen, and then listen some more.  
What else can you think of that might be helpful?

Sexual Assault Awareness Month!

Every year, the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault holds their annual Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) Tea at the Blaine House (the Governor’s mansion), for Maine’s SAAM kickoff.  Today, two of our staff members received awards! Susan from SACC (Androscoggin County), and Jeb from SAVES (Franklin County) were both given “Advancing The Mission” awards. Congratulations!!!