Guest blogger: Mike C. This post originally appeared on CauseCords.com.

Black and purple survival paracord bracelet from CauseCords. Featured in May 2015, $10 from each sale that month will go to the WSCADV

Black and purple survival paracord bracelet from CauseCords. Featured in May 2015, $10 from each sale that month will go to the WSCADV

Ever since I could remember, fundraising to support local charities was always something I was motivated to do. Whether it was racing up a building to support cancer research, selling cookies and pies to benefit people with Multiple Sclerosis, or walking amongst thousands to support children with autism; I enjoyed knowing that I could play a small part in changing someone’s life for the better. It wasn’t until I started collecting donations for victims of domestic violence that I realized how big of an impact I was making.

Being a survivor of domestic abuse is not something that is commonly advertised, such as beating cancer. Most victims work to move away from the painful memories of their past, even though that means leaving behind many beloved aspects of their lives. Domestic abuse does more than just inflict physical damage; it tears apart families, causes emotional distress, shatters trust in others, and leaves scars that can have an lasting effect for generations. Unless you or someone you love has experienced it, most people aren’t aware of other victims of domestic violence, and yet they are all around us.

I am lucky. I am not a victim or survivor of DV, but in my efforts to support the WSCADV I’ve received testimony from those who have survived. People that I have known for years, but was unaware of their suffering, confusion, and pain. For the first time, I could see how my charitable efforts changed lives for the better. I could see how the power of advocacy and awareness could help those around me and truly change my community.

The resources are in place, the network for relief and rescue is in order, and there are people who want to help. All we need is the funding. That is why I support the WSCADV and victims of DV.

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

These middle school girls are fired up about a dress code that makes them go so far as to cover their shoulders but doesn’t mention boys at all.

Michelle Obama gave a very candid speech on the realities of being black in America at Tuskegee University’s commencement.

The US is one of only two countries in the entire world that doesn’t offer paid time off for new mothers. John Oliver tries his best to wrap his head around this dispiriting fact.

“Is having no option to leave the same as making a decision to stay?” Jill Davies posed this question at a training this week. She offered this analogy: “If all the tickets to a Stevie Wonder concert were sold out, does that mean you made a decision not to go?” Heck no! I missed Stevie’s concert when I was 19 and I’ve been sad about it ever since!sold-out-ticket

We have to change our assumptions about survivors who can’t or don’t leave their abusive partner. Most of our solutions for survivors of abuse are based on ending the relationship, but that ignores their reality. Survivors often have ongoing contact with their abusive partner for many reasons—a big one is children. As Jill reiterates, “Leaving is not the answer to domestic violence, reducing violent behavior is.” Leaving might be a part of the strategy to reduce violent behavior but it is a strategy not the strategy.

At that training, I promised to never again say a survivor is in denial or minimizing (code for “she’s not doing what I think she should be doing or she doesn’t get how bad things are”). Any strategy that’s going to help a survivor of abuse must respect her decisions about what works for her and her family.

And I’m happy to report that I got to catch Stevie in concert last year.

 

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

One of the journalists who uncovered Jian Ghomeshi’s rampant sexual abuse is now writing a ‘tell-all’ book that threatens to identify the women who told their stories with the promise of anonymity. It’s just another example of why victims of abuse choose not to speak up.

Isiah Thomas was convicted of sexual harassment the last time he was president of a basketball team. So how in the world did he just land a job as president of WNBA’s New York Liberty?

Check out Amy Schumer’s hilarious birth control sketch.

ruthshirtLast week I was eagerly anticipating the gay marriage arguments in the U.S. Supreme Court. I even bought this shirt because I’m a big nerd who could listen to Nina Totenberg on NPR recount Supreme Court arguments all day long and I’m a big fan of justice. But when I went to check my news feed, I saw the news of the domestic violence arrests of engaged WNBA stars Brittney Griner and Glory Johnson instead.

I know that abuse happens at the same rate in same-sex relationships as it does in opposite-sex ones, but some folks are thrown off by this. The media had a hard time figuring out how to talk about it. ESPN reporters published their email chain debating how to cover it: How could they report on this in a way that holds the abusive partner accountable and calls for the WNBA to treat this as seriously as other sports leagues have recently promised to do, without feeding into the myth that women are just as abusive as men? Yeah, they didn’t come up with an answer either.

Here’s the thing—power and domination over others is a part of our culture and it rears its ugly head in a lot of different places. We are seeing it in the police brutality in Baltimore and around the country, in the wage gap between races and genders, and in the anti-LGBT backlash to marriage equality. With all this institutional violence it’s no wonder we see abuse in personal relationships as well. Straight or gay, it happens. Not exactly the kind of equality I was hoping for, but one we must recognize and address.

Striving to improve personal behavior is not the only work to be done to end violence in relationships. We have to work on institutional violence as well.

It’s some kind of sin in fundraising to say that asking for money is a pain in the ass. But, let’s face it, it is. As much as I adore PBS and NPR, whenever they have their fundraising weeks, I stop watching and listening.

But one year, I thought to myself there must be some way to make this fun. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. I organized a party to make the NPR fund drive fun. I invited a bunch of friends to my house for a poker party. People “gambled” (in quotes because we all required a cheat sheet of what beats what). At the end of the night every dime that people brought went into the pot to send to KPLU. I can’t remember exactly how much we raised, but it was a couple hundred dollars.

I know I must support smart TV and smart radio—so I do.

I hope that you feel the same way about smart blogs.

We’re asking you, right now, GiveBIG to support Can You Relate.

Give-Big-champion-graphic

 

Don’t be jealous.

I got an invitation to go to a Moth storytelling workshop the other day. If a blog could squeal, you’d hear it right about now.

If you don’t know what the Moth is, and you love storytelling, you are in for a treat. I almost never listen to the Moth without choking up or laughing out loud.themoth

The pre-workshop instructions from the Moth organizers said to not overthink a story before the workshop. They assured us they’d teach us the techniques of creating a Moth-worthy story.

I have so many stories. If you know me, you know this. All the time. But don’t you know, when I got the email about the workshop, my mind went completely blank. Story? Do I know any stories?

In truth, I’ve had a long dramatic life with many story-worthy moments. My problem? Most of them are not things I would be wild about telling in front of an audience of strangers.

I finally picked a nice safe story about something that happened to me in high school. When I told the story to my partner (step one in story development) I put both of us to sleep. No good. I had to pick one of the risky stories, or flunk out of storytelling school.

So I took the plunge. I told the story of my childhood friend—and the deep relationship I had with his entire family. And something bad that happened.

I loved them all. They were my second family and I wished they were my first. Every night, they ate dinner together around a big table with a white tablecloth, real silver, nice plates and cloth napkins. They had an electric warming gadget to put the main dish on in case someone wanted seconds. And the conversation—oh, they read New Yorker magazine and newspapers and discussed important stuff in a civilized way. I was in heaven. They also had a summer “camp” in Maine—a creaky old house with a large screened-in porch—where the big dining table lived. The house was on a lake with the purest water where we swam and sailed. I loved all these people so much.

Time passed and all the kids grew up. I went away to college—3000 miles away. This was in the olden days, when people wrote letters—so I had a booming correspondence with several members of my adopted family. We all stayed tightly connected.

One year, when I was home for Thanksgiving, my friend and I got together and, as always, we talked and talked. I told him about my recent volunteer work at a Rape Relief in my new town, and about my particular interest in child victims. He asked me, bemused, if I didn’t think that the real problem with adults having sex with kids was the social taboo—that barring that, it really would be no big deal. Right? I remember thinking he was just yanking my chain, putting a theoretical thing out there to argue about. But the more we talked, the clearer it became that he was serious.

I knew he was close with a teenager whose mother was a tenant in an apartment he owned. So I remember insisting that he assure me that he was not having sex with this kid. The conversation went nowhere and I returned to college deeply troubled.

I wrote my friend a letter asking him once again to assure me that he would not have sex with kids, and he wrote back a 3 page, double-sided reiteration of what he already had told me about his rationale for why it’s okay for adults to have sex with kids.

I used to think that life was right and wrong, black and white. There was no time when I wouldn’t be dead sure about the right thing to do. But having my beloved friend wander down this terrible road left me stunned. And flat footed. Should I report? Or maintain my relationship so I could keep tabs and try to persuade or deter him?

It killed me to do it, but I turned him in. He was investigated and I guess the child he was in contact with didn’t disclose any abuse because my friend wasn’t arrested and I wasn’t called upon at that time to do anything more.

He and his entire family stopped talking to me. I felt phantom pains from that loss for years.

Fast forward a decade plus, and my phone rings one morning. I enter into a surreal conversation with a state patrol officer who is asking questions about my friend and what I know about him. Victims finally had come forward and the police were looking into prosecution. She knew something about a letter, and they’d tried to get this letter from the child protection agency, but they’d shredded their old files. Could I help?

Yes, I kept a copy from all those years ago because I knew this was not going to go away. The letter was entered into evidence and I was subpoenaed to testify at a trial. No trial took place because my friend came to a plea agreement. He went to prison.

People are always surprised by this, but I went to visit him there. Yes, I did. A couple of times. For those of you with friends or family in prison, you know about this. How you visit people even though they are not overjoyed to see you, and even though you are not overjoyed to see them. But because you are connected, and staying in touch is the only thing you can do.

My friend served his time. But when the date arrived for his release, it didn’t happen. He was civilly committed—the fate of many pedophiles. Civil commitment lives outside of most of our view and happens to people we are afraid of—and honestly, afraid for good reason. I completely understand why we want to lock up the bad guys. Forever. Period.

But I know this bad guy. For a whole bunch of reasons I don’t think he’s someone who should be in civil commitment. My friend was losing his freedom. All my hard edges defining right and wrong continued to crumble.

Years passed and my friend won a trial to secure his release. Every strand of my being, all my decades of work on behalf of victims strained as I went to testify on his behalf, for his release. There are many reasons I believed he was safe to be at large, and to the best of my knowledge he has not reoffended since he won that release.

I know this is hard for most people to understand but this is my world, where love and justice collide.

And this is the story I told at the Moth workshop.

The miracle of story-telling brought me others after the workshop who told me their own stories.

There are so many victims, which means there are so many perpetrators. And these rapists and batterers are people we know and in some cases people we love—in all the messy ways that happens. Even when we try to lock them up or throw them away, our loved ones return.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,344 other followers