One in Four…

Raising awareness about issues related to domestic & dating violence

Lucky February 20, 2012

I was directed to a blog* recently, to read a post about unwanted/undesired touching. The writer of the blog, Molly, was reflecting on a question asked on a health history form at her doctor’s office. On the form amid a list of items which you were expected to check if you had experienced, was this item: “ANY unwanted/undesired physical or sexual touching.” Molly almost skipped over the item not checking it, moving on. But she stopped to dwell on the statement and realized she had experienced plenty of unwanted/undesired physical or sexual touching in her life. She recalled moments such as:

  • being forcefully kissed in a club
  • having a person stand too close to her
  • feeling the pressure of hard penises against her as she maneuvered a club
  • people physically moving her rather than asking her to move
  • partners touching her sexually in ways they knew she didn’t like

All of these acts are things which you, just like Molly originally did, might be inclined to gloss over. Words like unwanted, undesired, and sexual when put together have come to mean rape, molestation, or sexual abuse.  If what a person has experienced does not fall into their idea of what rape, molestation or sexual abuse is, than as Molly says, you think “nothing has happened to me, really, right? I’m supposed to feel lucky, right, given that I’m a woman in a culture where horrible things very often happen to girls and women?” Where horrible things happen to boys and men too. You are inclined to write it off.  You have perhaps had bad experiences, but really you should be grateful because you did not have anything truly traumatic happen. You do not have a reason to check the box.

False.

Rape, molestation and sexual abuse are terrible things and no one should ever have to experience them. Perhaps you feel grateful that you have never experienced one of those events (if you haven’t) and I am not going to say that feeling is not natural or unjustified but I want us to consider where this feeling of gratefulness or relief or “luck” comes from.

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines luck as “a force that brings good fortune or adversity,” “the events or circumstances that operate for or against an individual,” and “favoring chance.” In these three definitions there is a complete lack of autonomy. Luck is driven by something a person has no control over. It’s a “force” or a “circumstance” or “chance.”  Which means you are just as likely to have good luck as you are to have bad luck. And that’s what people mean when they say lucky, right? You have good luck, as opposed to that person over there, who has bad luck. What Molly hints at, and what I believe, is that it is not okay that my personal safety, my body and my well-being are apparently left up to luck. And this social tendency to rank our experiences as “lucky” and “unlucky” have made us ignore our natural rights: the right to feel safe and to be a whole person.

A few years ago, I read Alice Sebold’s memoir about being raped. It is called Lucky.  Sebold was raped when she was a first year in college. Throughout her experience reporting the rape to pursuing charges to going through the trial for her rapist, she was told she was lucky many times. One reason she was deemed lucky is that the site where she was raped is the same site where another girl was murdered. Alice is therefore “lucky” because she was alive. I think this logic is problematic. There will always be a situation in which some point of experience will have been “worse” for someone else than it was for you. That does not make you “lucky.” Sebold did not feel lucky just because she was alive because she was living with the aftermath of being raped. Life shouldn’t be a competition where one person’s experience invalidates our own. Any moment in which you feel unsafe or uncomfortable is unacceptable. And our need to rank these invasions to our safety hierarchically only serves to silence, stigmatize, and prohibit change.

This need to rank experiences is an epidemic pervasive in our society. It is not just sexual assaults which are ranked, but everything. These rankings are accompanied by an unspoken meaning. Whose partner is cuter translates to who is a more worthy partner because the worthiest of course gets the most attractive. Whose class schedule is harder matters because the hardest schedule gets more of a right to complain when thing are bad, brag when grades are good, and make excuses when they do not meet other obligations. And then there are bigger problems the ones that go beyond person to person into individual to social. Such as I was touched inappropriately but it wasn’t rape so I shouldn’t say anything. My partner slapped me but there wasn’t a mark so it’s not really that bad. All of these justifications people make are unfair and invalidating. Society has built a hierarchy in which rape trumps a forced kiss and physical violence trumps intentional and repeated humiliation. It has been ingrained within us that if our experience is trumped than it is not worth mentioning. We are being whiny or over-reacting because in reality we are lucky, because nothing worse has happened.

I don’t want to live in that world. I don’t want to have to feel lucky when a bad thing happens just because something worse didn’t happen. That world stunts emotional growth. It causes individuals to minimize or deny their own feelings and to feel that they must accept the actions done to him/her. It causes us to overlook the basic, obvious truth: these bad things don’t have to happen. Committing violence is not innate behavior.  It is a learned behavior, which means it is something that people pick up in various ways through the socialization process. If we continue this “lucky” rhetoric, it implies that we, as a society cannot do anything to stop sexual violence. And we can.

One way we can start down that road is to stop buying into the hierarchies of experience. If a friend is telling you about a bad day, don’t cut them off to tell them how much worse yours was. If someone’s partner screamed at them and made them feel belittled, don’t brush it off and say “well, it could have been worse.” And conversely, remember that your feelings are valid. If whoever you share an experience with minimizes what to you was a significant event, go tell someone else. Find someone who will give you the support you deserve. Because you don’t need to feel “lucky.” If luck is the absence of assaults on our person, than why are we accepting anything less than everyone being lucky? Let’s stop accepting less. Remember: Your experiences are valid. Your emotions are important. And your safety matters. Don’t skip over the box just because the worst thing hasn’t happened to you.

What do you think?  Share your thoughts in the comment area below.

*The writer of the blog has asked that her blog not be linked.

 

Possible Improvement in Judicial Process for Domestic Violence Cases on Indian Reservations September 28, 2011

The 19th annual Four Corners Indian Country Conference on September 13-15, 2011 represented an open dialogue and hope for progress related to victims’ assistance on Native American Indian reservations in Colorado, Arizona, Utah and New Mexico.

Interpersonal violence is experienced at more elevated levels on reservations than in the general population, and the Department of Justice has reported that Native American women in particular experience violence at an extremely elevated rate – three and a half times more than any other population in the United States. And when we consider the number of sexual assaults and incidences of domestic violence that are unreported [60% according to the DOJ] this number could be much higher. Prosecution is a problem on reservations, as tribes are sovereign nations and determining the jurisdiction for intimate partner violence and sexual assault cases can be complex.

US Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli spoke at the conference on some recent Department of Justice efforts to improve the legal challenges of addressing violence, and in particular domestic violence, on reservations. The pending legislation would do three things:

  1. It would give trial law enforcement more ability to prosecute crimes that happen on reservations regardless of the perpetrator’s membership in the tribe.  Currently, tribal law enforcement officers have difficulty prosecuting non-Native American offenders, even in cases of domestic violence. The legislation would also ensure that tribal law enforcement has the right to enforce protective orders on both members and non-members of Native American tribes.
  2. The new DOJ laws would provide harsher federal punishments to perpetrators of violent crime within reservations. Since the 1968 Indian Civil Rights Act, the most severe punishment that can be imposed by native courts is one year in jail or a $5,000 fine, which is a far less significant penalty than most perpetrators receive for convictions outside of the tribal judicial system.
  3. $100 million has also been earmarked by the DOJ for more attorneys, investigators and victim advocates on reservations. Indian Country reported that a DOJ grant that provided more domestic violence personnel resources to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Montana led to the first domestic violence convictions on the reservation – in only 6 months, 169 domestic assault complaints were filed, and 147 of them have pending court action.

These possible progressive changes to the prosecution of domestic violence and sexual assault on reservations would also hit close to home as North Carolina is home to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

You can contact the Department of Justice to express your support for the pending legislation and budget increases by emailing AskDOJ@usdoj.gov or by calling the Attorney General’s public comment line at (202) 353-1555.

 

Rates of DV Increase After Natural Disasters – How Can We Help? September 1, 2011

Despite a hefty $71 million price tag for damages to more than 1,100 homes and businesses, North Carolina was fortunately spared from the brunt of Hurricane Irene’s destruction. In comparison to other natural disasters, Irene was less harmful, although there were a reported 42 tragically related deaths in affected areas.

Advance warning may have contributed to the relatively low level of destruction from Irene. Americans all along the East Coast prepared for the storm, taping windows, stacking sandbags and boarding up storefronts. But strongly recognized precautionary measures, like filling a bathtub with water before a hurricane, aren’t the only concern for government agencies and community service providers in planning for disaster relief. Evidence has suggested that the prevalence of intimate partner violence, child abuse and sexual assault increases in the aftermath of a natural disaster.

The State Department reported that after the earthquake in Haiti, “Women’s rights groups and human rights organizations reported that domestic violence against women remained commonplace and under-reported. Police rarely arrested the perpetrators or investigated the incidents, and the victims sometimes suffered further harassment and reprisals from perpetrators, sometimes prompting secondary displacement of victims within IDP camps.”

In New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, high rates of domestic violence and sexual assault were widely observed by disaster relief staff, although reporting rates were dramatically low because of survivors’ physical displacement from their jurisdictions.

Several aspects of the circumstances of the aftermath of a natural disaster contribute to increased risk for domestic violence and sexual assault. First, the collapse of a community’s infrastructure leaves some individuals, most often women and children, more vulnerable to assault. Separation from friends, family members and familiar resources increases this vulnerability, especially as most facilities require refugees to sleep among strangers, often in close quarters. Finally, the lack of organization and limited presence of law enforcement in some disaster relief shelters can create a sense of lawlessness among inhabitants.

While the United States was spared from massive destruction this week, preparation efforts for Hurricane Irene brought unique concerns to the forefront of public discussion. The provision of adequate resources for women and other vulnerable populations at risk for domestic violence and sexual assault must be prioritized by government relief agencies and local service providers. We can learn an important lesson from the unforgivable crimes observed during relief efforts for the natural disasters mentioned above – and we can use it to better develop our emergency response plans in the face of future storms.

Safety planning is important, whether for a natural disaster or leaving an abusive relationship.  Do you have your essentials ready if you needed to leave home suddenly?  What would you bring?  Leave us your thoughts.

 

IPV Resources: Back to School Edition August 26, 2011

With students back at the Hill and starting fall semester classes this week, our sleepy summer town is now buzzing with activity. Unfortunately, the beginning of the school year can mean an influx of incidences of interpersonal violence. College students are particularly affected by violence – the National Institute of Justice found that rape or attempted rape could affect as many as 25% of college women by the time they graduate. And around 13% of college women have been affected by stalking, although only 17% of these have reported it to the police.

There are many resources available on campus for survivors of abusive relationships, sexual assault and stalking. Some of these are described below, but for more details about UNC and community resources, check out the brand-new SAFE@UNC website, which combines all of the available information in one place. All resources listed below are available to all survivors, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation, but if you are concerned about seeking help because of your identity, contact UNC’s LGBTQ Center for guidance.

If you are involved in an abusive relationship:

  • If you have been physically assaulted, consider seeking medical attention at UNC Campus Health or UNC Hospitals, which houses Beacon, a program specifically for relationship violence survivors.
  • Consider reporting any assault to the University through the Dean of Students office or to law enforcement. There are several types of reports available, depending on your comfort level and whether you want to press charges through Honor Court and/or the criminal justice system.
  • If you have questions about your rights under the law, give us a call: 929-7122.  FVPC offers court accompaniment and advocacy for folks in an abusive relationship who are trying to negotiate the legal system or obtain a 50B- a Domestic Violence Protective Order.
  • Seek counseling at UNC Counseling and Wellness Services. CWS accepts walk-ins Monday-Friday from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. and 1 p.m.-4 p.m.

If you have been sexually assaulted:

  • If you have been sexually assaulted, consider seeking medical attention at UNC Campus Health or UNC Hospitals, which has a care program specifically for sexual assault survivors. You will be given the opportunity to undergo forensic testing for evidence, as well as STI testing and a course of preventive medication, the costs of which are covered for UNC students through the Victims’ Assistance Fund.
  • Consider reporting any assault to the University through the Dean of Students office or to law enforcement. There are several types of reports available, depending on your comfort level and whether you want to press charges through Honor Court and/or the criminal justice system. If you have questions about the legal process, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE.
  • Seek trauma counseling at UNC Counseling and Wellness Services. Also available is an open support group, Courage to Heal, for survivors to share their experiences on the journey to recovery.

If you are experiencing stalking:

  • If you feel unsafe in your living environment, safe rooms are available for short-term stay through the Residential Housing and Education office. Talk to your RA or community director, or call the Dean of Students office at 919-966-4042 during business hours for more information.
  • File a no-contact order through the University via the Dean of Students office.
  • Seek counseling at UNC Counseling and Wellness Services.

If you are struggling with academics because of any of the previous circumstances, discuss your options with the Dean of Students office.

If you’re interested in becoming a more effective supporter for loved ones who are survivors of sexual assault, relationship violence and stalking, become a UNC HAVEN ally this fall! New training dates have just been announced, and you can register online. And becoming trained by the One Act program will empower you to prevent interpersonal violence in the first place.

Thanks for your efforts to help make the campus community a safer place for students, faculty and staff!

 

It’s Everyone’s “Business”: Alaska Gov. pitches anti-violence initiative to business sector March 3, 2011

In early February, Gov. Sean Parnell (R-Alaska) appealed to Alaskan business leaders to do more to assist victims of domestic violence, as part his ongoing campaign to help eliminate DV and sexual assault in Alaska.

On February 15th, the Alaska Dispatch reported that Gov. Sean Parnell unveiled his latest proposal in his “Choose Respect” campaign to combat domestic violence and sexual assault in his state.

During a meeting with the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, Gov. Parnell asked leading business members to take an active role at combating DV and sexual assault in their workplaces.

“Domestic violence and sexual assault are invisible marauders in the workplace,” Parnell told business leaders, adding that employers have a role to play in recognizing and stopping Alaska’s epidemic of abuse against women and children.  According to Parnell, businesses are uniquely placed to offer protection and aid to victims of domestic violence, and encouraged them to do so not only out of moral compassion, but enlightened self interest.

While the true cost of domestic violence is “impossible to quantify” in real dollars, Gov. Parnell did offer some estimates to outline the economic impact of domestic abuse.  Nationally, he says, sexual violence against adults costs an average of $127 billion per year; intimate partner violence, an average of $19 billion per year, and the indirect costs of all child abuse nationally roughly $90 billion per year. “Think unexplained absences or inability to concentrate. Think lost productivity. Sick leave. Medical care, mental health services, chronic health problems,” he said, in addition to the staggering amount of taxpayer dollars that go to deal with the consequences of abuse.

But rather than punishing victims, or causing them to lose their job for performance issues that may be abuse-related, Gov. Parnell urged business leaders to support victims, and provide them with access to resources that can help them to stay safe. He asked them to link his “Choose Respect” website (see link above) from their homepage, and to also include resources and links to agencies involved in helping women and children in crisis.

Realistically, the governor admits these measures are only treating the “symptoms” of a phenomenon, not the cause.  In order to truly protect victims of domestic violence, the governor said, Alaska needs to change its tolerance level for abuse against women and children, and he likened the need to transform people’s thinking to the social shifts that have in the past taken place with respect to people’s opinions about littering, smoking in public and drunk driving.  Still, Gov. Parnell remains hopeful that by enacting simple, workplace-based measures to help assist victims and raise awareness of domestic violence, such radical social changes can eventually be achieved.

From a domestic violence perspective, Gov. Parnell’s proposals are significant because they not only include proactive, actionable steps to help support victims of domestic violence (e.g. increasing access to DV resources, and helping victims keep their jobs), but also outline the importance of raising awareness of DV, and helping change the culture and conversation on the subjects of DV and sexual assault. Even among people who know that violence and abuse are wrong, many who witness (or experience) abuse are reluctant to speak out; sometimes out of fear of reprisals, but often out of fear that they simply will not be believed–or that even if they are believed, that nothing will be done about it. As Gov. Parnell explains, domestic violence is tolerated in part because  social conventions permit it.

While bystander indifference does not, by any means, cause relationships to become violent, it does send the message (both to victim and perpetrator alike) that people who batter their partners can do so at a whim, with no fear of reprisal or social intervention:

  • Every time a passerby pretends not to see a “lovers spate” that’s come to blows, we send a message that violence (maybe just “some”)  is “to be expected” in some relationships.
  • Anytime a neighbor decides that the noises from next door are “none of their business,” we send a message that DV is “a private matter,” that should not be discussed or confronted openly.

Every time we ignore an opportunity to reject violence, and speak out against abuse, we unwittingly succumb to–and perpetuate–a culture that is permissive and tolerant of relationship abuse.

FVPC sponsors community education programs that not only promote healthy relationship behaviors among teens and young adults, but also help bystanders to understand their role in creating a culture of understanding and action.  The hope is that by teaching young people appropriate relationship skills, we can prevent young men and women from becoming victims, or abusive partners, themselves.  And by teaching the general public to speak out in defense of victims who are being abused, we can create a society where abusers begin to understand their behavior is unacceptable and has real consequences, and where victims feel safe enough to speak out, knowing they will be heard, protected, and believed.

To learn more about domestic violence, and how you can become involved in creating a culture of belief and mutual respect, call our hotline at (919) 929-7122, or visit our website at www.fvpcoc.org.

 

 
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