Monthly Archives: January 2015

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.

These 13-Year-Old Girls Want To Use Their Sex Ed Classes To Fight Rape Culture, via ThinkProgress

Two eighth graders in Toronto, Canada are pushing to overhaul their province’s sexual health curriculum to include more information about healthy relationships, saying that combating rape culture involves creating a “consent culture” among youth.

Tessa Hill and Lia Valente, both 13 years old, are asking the Ontario Ministry of Education to add consent education as a topic in the province’s health curriculum. In an attempt to accomplish that goal, they launched a petition on Change.org last week that’s garnered more than 2,000 signatures so far.

In a recent interview with Canada.com, the middle schoolers explained that they learned more about consent after being assigned to complete a school project on a social justice issue. They chose to explore “rape culture,” or the set of cultural assumptions that allows sexual assault to flourish by assuming that violence and forcible sex is a normal part of gender relations. That got them thinking about how more information about consensual sex could help address issues like cat-calling and slut-shaming, which they say they’ve witnessed in the hallways of their school.

“Our society is scared to teach teens and young people about safe sex, and most importantly, consent. Young people will have sex, despite teaching abstinence in the classroom, so the most important thing is to educate us and other young people about consent,” the petition reads. “When young people don’t learn about the importance of consent in a sexual relationship, it can lead to unhealthy relationships and ultimately perpetuates rape culture.”

Ontario’s current sex ed classes have been in place since the 1990s, and are widely considered to be the most outdated in the country. Education officials attempted to update them in 2010, but that project was shelved after pushback from social conservatives, who complained the proposed changes — like including information about masturbation and homosexuality — were too “explicit.”

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, the first openly gay head of government in Canada, has indicated that she wants to keep moving forward with the 2010 proposal. In December, she directed the Ministry of Education to rework the curriculum to include more information about healthy relationships. And last week, she tweeted that Hill and Valente are doing “important work” and she’d be happy to meet with them.

Similar efforts to update sex ed classes here in the United States are often met with resistance. In California, for instance, parents recently grew outraged after learning that their kids’ sex ed classes include information about gender identity and consent. Across the U.S., proponents of abstinence education have raised concerns about “X-rated” and “pornographic” sexual health classes that teach students about condoms and healthy relationships. Just as in Ontario, these objections often successfully prevent school districts from implementing the curriculum of their choice.

But young people are also increasingly fighting back and demanding medically accurate information in their health classes. Teens in Nevada recently held a rally to push back against their school district’s decision to drop comprehensive sex ed materials. A West Virginia high school student made national headlines for protesting against a “slut-shaming” abstinence education course. And last summer, a Canadian teen convinced her school to drop a course on sexual purity after she filed a human rights complaint against it.