Monthly Archives: December 2013

Happy New Year’s Eve!

Are you looking for a way to end 2013 on a positive note? Please consider making a donation to Sexual Assault Prevention & Response Services! Your gift makes a difference. A donation to our agency will help and support survivors of sexual violence, and help us reach more people through outreach and education efforts.

We rely on community support, so that we can serve our communities. Donations to Sexual Assault Prevention & Response Services are tax deductible.

Thank you so much!

“For it is in giving that we receive.”

Redefining masculinity

#BeThatGuy: 7+ Everyday Ways Men Can Transform Masculinity, via Everyday Feminism

I recently wrote a piece on my personal blog that highlighted seven men who are transforming masculinity, and I was blown away by how well it resonated.

It shattered all of my daily hit totals and is still bringing in a strong number of people to the blog on a daily basis.

In reflecting on the post, I realized that it was so popular because it touched on an unfilled need.

We need more resources that teach men how to transform masculinity to make it more responsive, less violent, and more inclusive of the tremendous diversity of masculinities that can exist.

And though I detest most everything I see coming out of the Men’s Rights Movement for the ways it is dripping with misogyny, this is one area where I agree with many of its activists: We need a new masculinity!

We need to talk about what a more inclusive masculinity could actually look like beyond “Real men cry, too.”

Now, I rarely agree with those MRM activists about what that masculinity should look like, but in my experience in social justice work, sometimes you have to look for growth points wherever they exist. At least we agree on something!

So let’s start there.

If masculinity needs to be transformed, in what ways can we change it so that men can more fully realize themselves without hurting others?

Here are a few of my suggestions.

Listen More

This one is really hard for me.

I preach listening all the time, but I often struggle to practice what I preach.

If other male-identified people received the same conditioning I did, they were told to make sure that their voices are heard and that they have the last word.Don’t worry about talking over people (especially women). Just assert yourself and your voice!

So a simple way that men can begin to transform masculinity is to listen more.

Obviously it makes sense to start by listening more to women and trans* or genderqueer people, but really, we must do a better job of listening to allpeople.

Hell, we could use to do a better job of listening to all beings: the earth, animals, plants, as well as people.

The point here is that when we are constantly asserting ourselves into space and conversation, we have no capacity to learn.

When we are constantly asserting ourselves into space, we are constantly in a state of vulnerable power, one where we exert power over others to hide the fact that silence and listening can be terrifying.

After all, listening might mean that we have to actually hear people and thereby change ourselves and our practices.

God forbid that we open ourselves up to learning from the experiences of the world around us through listening.

That might mean that we don’t, in fact, have all the answers, as we were taught from the earliest of ages!

Show More Loving Affection

I remember writing an essay about myself in seventh or eighth grade, and in that essay, I boldly proclaimed, “I still cuddle with my mother!!!”

Then something changed.

I got the message.

You do not cuddle, especially not with your mother.

Now, obviously the messages we receive in middle school and early high school are some of the most extreme, boiled down messages about our identity that we can possibly receive, but the message has stayed with me.

There aren’t many spaces in my life where I share loving affection with people outside of my partner.

Men, particularly in the United States, tend to have a complicated and fraughtrelationship with touch.

We don’t really show affection to women who we are not in a relationship with or who are not immediate family members, and we almost never show loving affection for other men.

Thus, men have a responsibility to change this. And doing so will be tricky.

After all, we have to consider all of the people who may not want our touch at any given time because of legitimate (fear or triggering of sexual violence) or less legitimate (homophobia) reasons.

So we must start with our most inner circles and move out.

We must tell the men who we love that we do, in fact, love them.

Whether through hugs or pats on the back or even a simple hand on the arm of a friend, we must find a way to show those we love that we care about the healing power of touch.

We must find ways to extend loving affection beyond our partners or immediate family members.

Make Enthusiastic Consent a Daily Value

As I came of age in my sexuality, I was taught that consent was something very specific: If she (because it was never taught in a gender-neutral way) says no or stop, that (probably) means you don’t have consent and (probably) should stop.

Needless to say, my consent education was—well—lacking.

What I’ve come to learn since, though, is that consent is not simply a “yes or no”game in sex. Consent isn’t even something that is restricted to sex or sexuality.

Consent is a daily value that I must practice in all areas of my life.

If I want to give my wonderful nieces or nephew a kiss or tickle themI need to ask!

If I want to hug someone (particularly someone I don’t know very well), I need to ask!

If I want others to respect my space in any way, I have a right to ask them to do so.

Obviously this tactic in transforming masculinity must go hand-in-hand with showing more loving affection, but it reaches into every aspect of transforming masculinity.

Consent is listening. Consent is nonviolence. Consent is fun and playful and engaging with respect.

Consent is asserting what I need and figuring out how that intersects with, aligns with, and butts up against what those around me need.

Simply put, consent is a value of respect that all of us of all genders could do better in practicing, and it’s vital to any transformation of masculinity.

Cultivate Nonviolence

One of the most common refrains I hear from the Men’s Rights Movement is that there’s not enough attention paid to violence committed against men.

And they’re right.

However, the analysis that says this is part of some large-scale oppression of men isn’t.

But men are indeed the most likely to be violently attacked most anywhere in the world.

Though violent crime has been steadily declining in the United States and Canada, men are more likely to be victims of every form of violent crime except sexual assault, and men are three times as likely to be murdered than women.

(Notably none of the federal government statistics mention that, in fact, those most likely to be victims of violent crime are transgender and gender non-conforming people).

But who is committing those crimes?

Men.

Though it’s not often framed this way, violence is a men’s issue.

And sure, we can use basest, simple language appealing to our hormones and how they make us more violent or aggressive.

Or we can have a conversation about how we’ve been taught to deal with conflict, about how we’ve learned to exercise our frustrations, about how we’ve learned to express our anger.

And then we must cultivate nonviolence in all areas of our lives.

We must abandon violent language about how we “raped that test” or will “kick someone’s ass” for pissing us off.

We must cultivate nonviolence when we’re angry, when we’re frustrated, when we’re lost, afraid, upset.

I use the word cultivate because this is not something we can simply just choose to do one day.

Violence is intricately tied to masculinity in far too many cultures and in far too many men, and extricating the two will take a lifetime or more.

But men, there is a softness in your throat waiting to be freed.”

Free it. 

Be More Inclusive

I’m not sure why, but it seems that somewhere around seven or eight years old and lasting well into adulthood, men make friends by being as exclusive of anyone outside their friend group as possible.

Though it might look a bit different from iteration to iteration, the politics of male social order been built upon exclusion.

Racism, homophobia, misogyny, transphobia, the policing of other men’s gender expression – for far too long these tools of division have been used to create“fraternity.”

Stop it.

Also, let’s stop pretending that the be all, end all of life is “scoring” (read: with women).

I love sex! I love it a lot! I love it so much that I spend a bunch of my time talking to people about how to make their sex lives better.

But I am not more or less of a man because of the nature of my sexual exploits.

Healthy, positive sexuality must be one that divorces masculinity from virility.

And while we’re at it, let’s quit the “real men” language.

Saying “Real men _______,” even when well intentioned and trying to send a positive message, only serves to reinforce the restrictive foundation of masculinity.

Instead, let’s work to build a more inclusive masculinity, one that values people of all genders in their identities, in their expressions.

If a man loves hunting, great! If a man loves knitting, fantastic! Want to watch the Broncos while baking a delicious frittata? Go for it!

So long as your expression of masculinity isn’t hurting anyone else or serving to restrict other men in their masculinity, it’s the perfect the way it is.

Giggle More

I feel like we’ve made tremendous progress in debunking the “masculinity = stoicism” messaging that many men have gotten for a long, long time.

But when’s the last time you saw a man that you admire and respect fall to the floor in a fit of giggles (especially that wasn’t induced by someone else’s pain, getting hit in the nuts, or because of some humor that excludes other people)?

I know I don’t see it often enough!

Men, we need to giggle more.

We need to do more than laugh more. We need to fall into one of those deep, belly laughs that bring endless health benefits. And we need to try to giggle more in ways that don’t come at others’ expense.

Not sure how?  Start with this video.  Seriously.  I just busted a gut in a coffee shop.

Essentially, laughter is good self care, and men tend not to do a lot of good self care (does anyone any more?).

So before we go creating a bunch of super awesome self-care plans, let’s start with a few good belly laughs.

Teach Our Youth

One of the things that brings me most joy in this world is remembering that I am afairy god mother to a little person named Jett.

When I first heard that my good friends would name their son Jett (short for Jettison), I was a little skeptical.  But then I heard the explanation.

You see, Jett’s dad Brandon recognizes that the men in his family have struggled with addressing anger and healthy and nonviolent ways. And from the moment he was born, Brandon wanted Jett to know that he could go another way.

So he named him Jettison after an old biblical teaching that says we must learn to“jettison our anger like cargo from a heavily laden ship.”

Brandon is a wise man.

He knows that if we want to transform masculinity and if we want to offer men agency in how they express their full selves, we have to start with our young people.

Young people of every gender need to hear from us that they can express their gender in whatever way makes them happy and fulfilled so long as it doesn’t hurt or restrict any else!

There are countless ways to do this, but it’s simple: We empower our youth to realize a different masculinity, and it will happen.

What Would You Add?

Obviously there are countless ways that we could transform masculinity for the better, plenty of ways to be that guy. Thus, I would love to hear from you!

What do you think needs to be added to the list?

I would particularly love to hear from male-identified folks about what you are doing or can do to transform masculinity.

After all, masculinity cannot be transformed if one or ten or one hundred men are the ones acting for a new masculinity. It must be a movement.

And the movement is afoot. How are you a part of it?

Local students raise awareness

Students demonstrate against abuse on Main Street, via Daily Bulldog:

Students took to Main Street with signs, literature and a petition Thursday, speaking out against sexual violence.

FARMINGTON – A high school English class took to Main Street Thursday morning, holding handmade signs to bring awareness to the plight of those suffering from sexual and domestic abuse.

The students, all freshmen in teacher John Schoen’s English class at Mt. Blue, stood in front of the post office in sub-freezing temperatures with their signs, to the occasional honks from passing traffic. The students had been reading ‘Speak,’ a common book in high school reading courses. Written in a diary format, the novel by  Laurie Halse Anderson tells the story of a student trying to work past the trauma of being raped.

Schoen offered his students the opportunity to conduct the project as a real-life counterpoint to writing another essay on the subject. Seven out of 10 of his students took him up on the offer, creating their own signs and spending three hours in front of the post office. Others circulated a petition and information about domestic violence [Safe Voices] and sexual assault provided by [SAPARS].

“I asked them if they wanted to use the book as a symbol, or be a symbol,” Schoen said. “It was about getting out there, maybe being a little bit uncomfortable.”

Students said reading the book was “emotional” and they wanted to make a difference.

“I think it’s important for people to know that there are people out there that need support,” student Tashia Berkey said.

Talking to kids about sexual assault

Why We Need To Talk To Our Sons About Rape, via Role Reboot:

We teach our daughters about rape, but men can be victims too, as the author learned the hard way. So why are men so often left out of the conversation?

Several weeks ago, my college-aged son was raped by a male acquaintance. With the immediate crisis stage behind us, my whole family has started to heal and we are all trying to return to some semblance of normalcy. Our son has returned to his regular routine, and his dad and I have stopped calling him twice a day and texting him constantly asking if he is OK.

When our son does call, the conversations are short. I am ashamed to admit that I am relieved he doesn’t want to talk because I am not feeling very chatty myself. We are barely talking to each other, and talking to people outside the family even less.

One of the reasons we are isolating ourselves is that each of us is feeling a deep weight of guilt. Our son has tried various ways to blame himself. His newest is saying that he should have known better than to hang around certain people after he had been drinking.

I try to find ways to tell my son that his attempt to blame himself is ridiculous. But I am not sure that “Son, you are being an idiot” is a recommended strategy for comforting your son in this situation. And saying, “It is no one’s fault but the rapist’s” rings false when I say it because I am convinced—right down to my marrow—that I am to blame.

Let me be absolutely clear about one thing: It is not a victim’s responsibility to avoid rape, and our emphasis in sexual education should not be teaching our children how to not get raped. Instead, we should teach our children that full consent is the most important sexual ethic of all.

Still, I am filled with regret for what I believe is the biggest mistake of my life: I never once talked with my son about the risks of sexual assault, defending himself against it, or what to do if he ever was assaulted.

I understand why, given the statistics, so many women fear being sexually assaulted. That’s why I drilled our daughter on everything I believed could help her feel safe or protected if she ever found herself in that position. Everything I told her was just a suggestion. As I said to her, only she would know the right thing to do if she found herself in that situation. I reminded her that her goal was to minimize the damage done by her attacker, not the preservation of some kind of purity.

I gave her suggestions like these:

  • If you can turn your fear into anger, it can keep you from freezing and allow you to strategize.
  • Feel free to be rude and make a scene.
  • Be noisy and fierce. Use the loudest, clearest, most authoritative voice that you can muster to say something along the lines of, “I said NO!”
  • Name the crime that the person is about to commit if you believe it will help—say clearly, “This is rape.”
  • Feel free to lie if you think that it might work. Try everything from saying you have your period to an STD.
  • There is no obligation to fight fairly in this situation. You can sucker-punch, go for the nuts, scratch, pull hair, and even use potentially lethal force. Your goal is to incapacitate so that you can run for help.
  • If you are sexually assaulted, I will not pressure you or allow anyone else to pressure you into pressing charges or not pressing charges. The person who survives gets to decide what happens next. However, you should get medical attention to preserve your health and your choices in the future. This means that even if you think that you will not want to press charges, you should not shower, change your clothes, brush your teeth, or anything else before visiting the emergency room.

In part, I taught my daughter these things because I know that we, as women, are trained to behave in socially acceptable ways. So even when we are being attacked, we sometimes have a tendency to want to be polite. When it comes to lying or tricking an attacker, it helps to have done the moral arithmetic ahead of time. It helps to know that when faced with rape, you can forget that the situation makes it perfectly permissive to be rude, deceptive, or combative if you believe that those things will help you achieve any degree of safety.

But I never gave my son the same talk.

Yes, I had conversations about consent, but they were based on the assumption that he would be the one seeking it, and that he would be the person responsible for being absolutely certain that it was meaningful and given without reservation. It simply never occurred to me that he might find himself in a situation where he would need to worry about sexual acts being performed on him without his consent.

The result is that when my son was attacked, he had none of the advice I’d given my daughter. He did not have a list of options for self-defense. He had no idea what to do afterward. When he called me, he had trouble articulating what had happened, because I had never talked to him about the sexual limits he could set for himself, only those that he should be observing.

While I feel responsible for not educating my son, I also acknowledge that I am not alone in my culpability. Men aren’t the primary victims of sexual assault, and there just isn’t a lot of information out there for men about defending themselves.

Yes, we teach boys how to protect themselves from being sexually abused, but many of us, myself included, assume that when they become men the threat of sexual assault just vanishes (outside of prison, of course).But it doesn’t. In the weeks since my son was raped I have been appalled to discover how prevalent it is.

There is so little information out there on this subject that I am not even sure what advice I should have given my son if I had the talk with him. What advice would I give him about the pros and cons of reporting? I haven’t seen a single article about what a male rape victim should expect when a rape kit is collected. What little I have read on the subject leads me to believe that police are woefully unprepared for such reports. If he had physically fought his attacker, I wonder if our justice system would have seen it as two guys brawling or recognized it for what it was.

You can argue with me about the efficacy or ethics of teaching sexual assault self-defense. That is fair. You can tell me that nothing I could have done would have prevented this, even though I admittedly don’t believe that. But one thing is clear: My beloved son deserved—and needed from me—the same knowledge and skills to defend himself against a rapist that I gave my daughter.

I urge you to avoid making the same mistake I made. Please, talk to your son about rape.

The author of this piece has chosen to remain anonymous to protect her family’s privacy.

Talking is healing

One of the first steps towards healing and recovery is talking.

When you’re ready, we’ll be here. You are not alone: 1-800-871-7741.

(Please note, the number listed above is for the state of Maine only. If you need to talk to an advocate, and you live outside of Maine, you can reach the national sexual assault helpline number at: 1-800-656-HOPE[4673])

 

Parents Magazine discusses child sexual abuse

4 Things People Don’t Understand About Sexual Abuse, via Parents Magazine:

In October, I received a random Facebook request from Jonathan, an old high school friend I’d lost touch with. It was an invitation to Like a page for something called The Julie Valentine Center. Googling it, I saw that it’s a sexual assault and child abuse recovery center in South Carolina. My first thought was that Jonathan knew I work atParents and wanted me to be aware of the center. (He didn’t know where I work.) When I went on their home page, I saw they were promoting a blog series about life after sexual abuse written by Jonathan. I winced, understanding that he must have been sexually abused as a child. My mind flashed back to Jonathan in school, one of the smartest kids in our class, who went on to Pepperdine. You just never know what people are going through, I thought. Then I looked more closely at the blog post and my stomach dropped. Jonathan hadn’t been sexually abused. His 3-year-old son had.

As Jonathan now very openly explains–in an effort to make some kind of sense out of the horror he, his wife Michelle, and three older sons are still enduring–his youngest son, now 4, was sexually abused more than 20 times by Jonathan’s then-15-year-old nephew.

Jonathan has told me that they are all suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and feeling the effects of not only the abuse, but the way it has fractured their extended family. He is determined to speak out, though, if it means it will positively affect anyone else living through the aftermath of abuse.

He’s about halfway through a 12-week blog series and I hope all of you read what he’s written so far. His words are poignant and full of every emotion imaginable, including sadness, rage, empathy, guilt, hope, and most of all love. I showed them to Linda E. Johnson, executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Vermont, who was instrumental last year when we ran this story in Parents about protecting your child from a sexual predator. She said of Jonathan’s writing: “I was very, very moved and very impressed… and very saddened by what happened to his little boy. But what was so important to me is that they just did everything right.” She praised their son, too. “Only one or two in every 10 victims tell while they’re children. The fact that he could is a testament to the healthy and loving relationship his parents have built with him. And he was right! He was right to tell, because they immediately believed him and acted upon what they learned.”

I asked Linda whether it’s common for parents to respond as thoroughly and publicly as Jonathan and Michelle have, especially considering they’re still feeling the immediate impact of the abuse. She said, “I want to believe what they’re doing is part of a movement toward the positive. But many parents succumb to the guilt trips put upon by other family members, or fear, or shame,” and don’t speak up.

She had kind words for The Julie Valentine Center as well. “The advocacy center deserves to be in the spotlight, too. They do yeoman’s work in supporting and guiding families and helping them with expectations during the legal process–expectations that may not be met.”

Of all of Jonathan’s posts so far, the one that feels most illuminating follows. Knowing that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused by the time they’re 18, and how likely it is that someone you know–child or parent, friend or family member–has been affected by sexual abuse, I urge you to read the rest.

Putting the Genie Back in the Bottle: Myths and Misconceptions
By Jonathan Mitten
I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support in response to my first post. Many friends have come forward to share their stories of being molested as children and wish their parents had stood up for them. I write in an effort to find some greater meaning in my family’s pain that they and those who have suffered the same, might find some sense of comfort or belonging. In both my and my wife’s eyes there lies sorrow reaching deep into our souls. It is a look I now recognize in the eyes of others who have been through the same. It is not a look of resignation, for underneath burns a fire that ignites whenever we encounter one of these myths, or as I now call them “lies.”

These excuses to which I refer are born of a deep denial, a desire to “put the genie back in the bottle” so that life can return to the way it was without acknowledging the horror of what has been done. It is a desire to minimize the pain inflicted so the charade of a happy family can continue unabated. The following myths and misconceptions were ones that we encountered over the last seven months. —Jonathan Mitten 

Myth #1 
It’s a family matter that doesn’t need to be reported

Unfortunately most child sex abuse is committed by family members, family friends, or others in a trusted position, not by strangers. When our 3-year-old first spilled the beans to my wife, she immediately confronted the offender who admitted his crime. My wife’s family expected that we would treat this as a family matter and not report the incident to the police. The reality is that all sex abuse must be reported. We cried for a day and I made calls trying to find some other way to minimize the impact to this young man’s life. It took two calls to the police and two visits before we finally filed a report. I had to have an EKG in the middle of this because my doctor feared I was having a heart attack. Ultimately, we immediately sought treatment for my son and were told that we had to file a police report and see a forensic counselor before he could be treated.  A parent that fails to notify the police may be classified as a non-protecting parent.

Myth #2 
A 3-year-old won’t remember

Unfortunately this is false and I truly wish it was true. We have not brought the topic up with our three year old. He on the other hand, now that the secret is out, has shared with us, with neighborhood children, and random folks at our house. He has shared everything in much greater detail than we necessarily want to know. It is a good sign that he doesn’t feel shame but he breaks our heart each time he brings it up. We have had several adults speak to us privately about their own experiences and unfortunately those who were his age when it happened still remember vividly what was done to them. It was stated at the sentencing hearing that the offender believes that our child wasn’t hurt and that he would “forget about it if people would quit bringing it up.” How I wish that were true….

Myth # 3 
It didn’t hurt (he didn’t say no/he enjoyed it)

My stomach turns every time this lie is repeated, and I seethe with a thinly veiled rage. Forced sexual acts are humiliating, hurt physically and leave deep psychological scars. Anyone who says otherwise is in in deep denial eschewing all common sense and reasoning, not to mention volumes of documentation. Both the offender and his family have used this as a way of implying that there was no crime and that what happened is no big deal.

Myth #4 
It’s just a teenage boy thing (hormones or just a phase he’s going through)

We all know that teenage boys are full of raging hormones that get the best of them and that they fantasize about a lot. I remember talking to the police officer by his cruiser as he was getting ready to leave and he made this point: It has not and has never been normal to fantasize about prepubescent boys and girls. He is correct. Those who fantasize about little kids are pedophiles and those that act on their fantasies are molesters.

It was suggested that Thanksgiving and Christmas could still be the same, as long as the molester had adult supervision at all times and was not left alone with the other kids. The biggest myth of all? That we can put the genie back in the bottle… really, we can.