Prevention


We bring you this guest post from Emily McAllister, a senior at Auburn Mountainview High School. The following is an excerpt of the speech she gave at a benefit show she organized to support our work and promote healthy relationships.  benefitshow

Good evening, welcome, and thank you for coming! This promises to be an amazing night!

For those of you who don’t know who I am, I am Emily McAllister. I have taken on the challenge of raising $10,000 for the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. … We are here to raise awareness about an issue that is hard to talk about. I have realized that not a whole lot of people really know HOW to talk about it. My goal tonight is to give some ideas that will help you recognize if it’s happening to you, also, to help you be aware if you are treating someone this way, and lastly to help you know what to say if it’s impacting someone you know. This issue is called domestic violence.

My Aunt Kate died almost 19 months ago. She was only 29 years old. Kate died because someone beat her. That someone was her boyfriend. That someone was with her for 5 years. That someone took her away from us. That someone will get his day in court and have to answer to the charge of Murder. The bottom line is, it’s not ok to hit anyone—ever. Kate was in a relationship with someone who did not treat her with kindness or respect. We all deserve to be treated with kindness and respect.

Kate leaves behind a large family, her mom and dad, brother and sisters, nieces, nephew, and many many cousins. She also leaves behind friends and a very special daughter. We are here to celebrate Kate. We are here to listen to some great music. We are here to raise money for the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, we are here to share a message about encouraging healthy relationships. Kate would want us to enjoy tonight and be happy! Kate loved music! She will be with us tonight, looking over us. Let’s have a great night!

As we transition between singers, I would like to share some facts to help define healthy relationships.

Fact#1: Relationships are supposed to be enjoyable and fun. This means that both people are having a good time. Dating should be fun! If it’s not, that is a sign that it may not be a healthy relationship.

Fact #2: Family and friends are affected by our relationships.  At this time, can I have all the Southwards, Sullivans, Stephens, or any other family member stand up. Now any friends. And now anyone who had met Kate. Please look around and see how many people were impacted by this one act. This goes to show you how many people are impacted by our relationships.

Fact #3: Relationships are built on respect, where both people share in decision making and are free to choose what is right for them. If someone is not feeling respected, it may not be a healthy relationship.

Fact #4: Domestic violence can happen to anyone: male or female, popular or unpopular, rich or poor, famous or not famous, black or white, beautiful or not. Your neighbor, your friend, your family member, or you. It’s important to know the signs. If there is a lot of drama, possessiveness, grabbing, slapping, or shoving, those are all warning signs that you may be an unhealthy relationship. Reach out and talk to someone about it.

Fact #5: Domestic violence if often a silent battle for many. It’s like the invisible elephant in the room. That’s why we have come up with the slogan “Stop the silence & end the violence.” It starts with each of us. You can be a part of promoting healthy relationships by getting the conversation started. Opening the lines of communication is the first step. Even if you don’t have the answer, you can simply say, “Honestly, I don’t know. Let me do some research and then we can talk more tomorrow.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence there is help available.

Recently, we celebrated the Bat Mitzvah of a cherished daughter of dear friends. While reminiscing with my twin daughters about their Bat Mitzvah, it dawned on me that this process actually prepares young people for entering into loving and respectful relationships. To prepare for a Bat or Bar Mitzvah, young women and men have to learn to speak publicly, think critically about ideas, and express their beliefs with each other and trusted adults.

The Bat Mitzvah process centers you in an environment that is bigger than your individual needs and wants. At age 13, you are seen as ethically responsible for your decisions and actions, and you are joining the Jewish community as an adult. Years of Hebrew school culminate in leading a Shabbat service, singing an ancient trope from the Torah (Hebrew Bible), and reflecting on your Torah portion  (Dvar) and connecting it to contemporary life. The parents have a role in publicly acknowledging their child’s commitment. It is a moment to share a bit about who you think your child is and what you hope for them. I love this part of the service, and never get tired of hearing all the ways adults love their children.

My daughters had to interpret ancient teachings through their own experiences while adults asked their opinions and offered respect for their thinking. Pretty heady stuff at 13. The process immersed them in a community that amplified their voice and lifted their authority and confidence. And it gave me new ways of talking about respect, supportive love, and what a healthy relationship feels like.

Photo by Valley2City

Photo by Valley2City

We bring you this post from Sarah LaGrange, our Policy and Prevention intern.

collageLately I have been thinking about adultism. It is one of the most common forms of oppression and I would venture to say that every single person who is reading this has experienced it. And yet it is the least talked about “ism” that I know of. You probably haven’t ever heard the term.

At our Teen Leadership Council (TLC), they had never heard of it either. But once I started giving examples, every teen there knew what I was talking about. At the end of the day we asked: What do you want adults to know about teens? Almost every single answer was about wanting adults to treat them with kindness and respect. One youth wrote “I only talk back when you talk back to me.” Is that actually what we want kids to learn, not to talk back? Would we ever say this to an adult? What we really want is for kids to take some responsibility for their actions.

Another TLC member said “You don’t have to yell to get our attention.” Who actually responds well to being yelled at? No one. So why do we yell so much at kids? Because we are allowed to, perhaps even expected to. This starts sounding eerily like why men so often treat women with violence and control, because they have historically been allowed to and even expected to control the women in their lives.

Jody Wright points out, “When we talk of kids being ‘disciplined,’ we mean that they follow what others say or want. When we talk of an adult being disciplined, we mean that they are following inner motivation to do something.” How do we expect children to learn self-discipline and internal motivation when we raise them to do what they are told and not talk back? The problem is, we are teaching them to perpetuate oppression and inequality. If we want kids to resist oppression we have to teach them how to talk back and that they deserve the same respect we give other adults.

MLKpinI am not talking about exercise or turning off the electronics—both good ideas—but about social justice work. Last week, the speaker at our Shabbat service to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dr. Alexes Harris, grabbed my daughters’ attention. Instead of leaving them feeling like the world’s problems are too big to fix, she inspired them to be actors in their own lives and community. WOW! Anyone who gets my kids as excited about justice as the latest beauty blog is someone I need to pay attention to.

One of my daughters said, “This speech was not just about Dr. King’s legacy, but what I can do today, with attainable ideas, small things that are acts of social justice.” Yes, she really said that. Here is a shortened version of the speech that got her there:

I am a mother, wife, daughter, friend, professor and social activist…. I am a person, who was raised in a community that stressed the importance of caring for my family members, my neighbors, and people around me. I am a sociologist who conducts research on social stratification and inequality in the United States…. I was asked to speak about Dr. King’s legacy, what this might mean to us today and how we can become more engaged in social justice work. I would like for you first to picture Dr. King in your mind. Visualize his picture in a frame on the wall in your living room. Then picture a portrait of yourself on the same wall right next to his picture. And envision a square frame around your face. There are four sides. Think of each theme I raise as one part of this frame. With each part of my discussion, I hope I help you think of your role as a social activist—your part to play in Dr. King’s legacy. How do you fit in as an individual in the broader discourse about Dr. King and social justice? My aim is for you not to be passive in the celebration of Dr. King’s life, but someone who celebrates his legacy by taking action all year round.

FRAME #1

For the first part of our frame, the right part, I will begin by discussing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy…. Dr. King spoke and wrote about poverty, inequality, and racial injustice in the United States, he fought for the right for all people to vote, he eloquently spoke about the insidious effects of poverty, state oppression, and violence. He spoke out against the Vietnam War; he fought for workers’ rights, equality in living wages, and the right for unions to organize.

“I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.… I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land (Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance speech).”

He was arrested over 20 times, had his home bombed, and gave over 2,500 speeches. His legacy is that everyone who says his name respects him and that we have the right to vote and we have a social justice vision to strive for: three meals a day, education, culture, dignity, equality, and freedom. For everyone regardless of our race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, pay grade, nationality, immigration status, and age. This is Dr. King’s legacy and this is social justice.

FRAME #2

The second piece to our frame, the top part, is the connection to current issues today—pressing down on us…. Many people note that we have a president of African American decent and suggest that we are “post-racial” that racism is no longer a problem. Unfortunately, many of the same issues that Dr. King spoke about we still struggle with today…. We see in every arena from education, to poverty, to homelessness, to incarceration rates, to HIV transmission, people of color and poor people continue to suffer in this country. Whether it is from direct racism, color blind racism, or inattention to or lack of caring and love, we have several problems in our society that need attention.

We need to continue to make changes in our criminal justice system—we need to tackle the racial and ethnic disproportionality. We need to tackle the criminalization of our mentally ill, of our poor, and of our children. Washington’s incarceration rate has roughly tripled since the 1970s, and is estimated to increase by 23% in 2019. Partly due to the war on drugs we have over 16 million people with felonies (7.5% of the U.S. population), and over 2 million living behind bars. Nationally, 1 in 3 adult Black men have a felony conviction. In Washington, studies show that among felony drug offenders, Black defendants have higher odds of being sentenced to prison than similarly situated White defendants. Criminal conviction leads to limited housing and employment opportunities, legal debt, political disenfranchisement, and a host of problems experienced by families and communities….

FRAME #3

Third side of our frame, the left side, what is social justice and what does it mean to you personally?… Dr. King said, “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.” What does your conscience tell you? I can’t write this frame for you. But, in Dr. King’s words we can find encouragement. Dr. King outlined common goals for social justice—beliefs that are common across all faiths and societies. Speaking on poverty and inequality he said, “In the final analysis, the rich must not ignore the poor because both rich and poor are tied in a single garment of destiny … We are inevitably our brothers’ keeper because of the interrelated structure of reality.”

Dr. King told us that we must care about each other, we must care about those less fortunate than ourselves…. This is our common bond across faiths, cultures, and age groups. I encourage you to reflect on what social justice means to you personally. What does your faith, your education, and your experiences tell you are unjust and that you must change? Even if we are afraid, or feel overwhelmed? What can we do to make a difference?

FRAME #4

Finally, for the fourth part of our frame, the bottom, I ask you how can you become engaged and take action?… I suggest that we start within our families and among our loved ones. How can we make their lives better?… We can talk about our values, what our Rabbis, Priests, Imams, and teachers say. We can reinforce to our children that what they read in the Torah or learn in school is not just about words or ideas but about action and interaction. It only means so much if we don’t live by example.

We can make sure our children look out for other children who may be different from them, who may be new to their school, or may not have as many friends…. We can acknowledge our own mistakes, that we are not perfect, we have limitations, but tomorrow is a new day to try again.

We can call others into question when they make racist or homophobic statements in our presence. We can simply say, “Your words are inappropriate and hurtful.” We need to be mindful, as Dr. King said, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” When we are at work we can say that that joke is not funny, in fact it is offensive. We can stand up in little, but immense ways for ourselves and others.

In sum, if you think about our four frames for social justice:

  • To our right, we have Dr. King’s legacy—and Mandela’s—and so many others who have come before us who have given their lives for social justice: freedom, equality, and improved quality of life for others;
  • Above our heads we have—pressing on us—contemporary social problems: poverty, homelessness, unemployment, incarceration, inequality in terms of living wages, health care, access to quality education. Problems that can weigh us down but we are reminded that our fear, our sadness, is our fuel to push on…. Let whatever you are afraid of be your courage to fight for change. Only you can figure this out;
  • To our left we have our personal definition of social justice—issues we personally care about and want to make a difference in; and
  • Below us, guiding us, we have our action steps: every day actions, short-term and long-term actions we can take to make bigger strides towards social justice.

You have your personal frame for social justice. Now, you can no longer wake up and ignore social justice. You can no longer only remember Dr. King on his birthday or our national holiday. You have a personal reminder of his legacy—a personal frame—that should remind you of the work you have ahead of you…. I leave you with Dr. King’s words, “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

Want to hear more from Dr. Harris? She has a book coming out, A Pound of Flesh:  Monetary Sanctions as a Permanent Punishment for the Poor where she talks about how the system extracts money from criminals as further punishment, even after they completed their incarceration, and how this stops them from ever returning to society as contributing individuals.

womanatsunrisePosadas, Noche Buena, Navidad, Año Nuevo…¡cuánta celebración en tan poco tiempo! Tiempo para disfrutar en familia y con amigos queridos. Tiempo de reflexión y entrega. Tiempo de dar y recibir amor. ¡Me encanta ésta época!

Sí, ya sé que estas pensando, que las fiestas no fueron tan relajantes y que la familia a veces no es tan fácil, y que no descansaste como pensaste…pero podrías imaginar que éste ambiente de amor, de reflexión, de entrega, fuera possible y durara todo el año y no solo se intentara en una “época”. Imagina que tuvieramos el hábito de deternos y reflexionar más seguido, tomarnos el tiempo de conocernos, de saber que nos hace felices. Que aprendiermaos a escuchar nuestro yo interno y estar dispuesto a sanar todo lo que nos permiten vivir en paz. Porque el chiste de todo esto es vivir en paz, no crees?

Se que no es algo “sencillo” de realizar pero estoy segura que no es imposible. Es algo que require acción, no únicamente desearlo. Te invito a que este año que inicia comiences el hábito el tomarte el tiempo necesario para reflexionar, para descansar, para evaluar donde estas y a donde vas. No podemos mágicamente crear paz en nuestro corazón y a nuestro alrededor sin hacer algo al respecto día a día, no podemos mágicamente erradicar la violencia y vivir en un mundo de paz sólo con un abrir y cerrar de ojos. Todo lo que vale la pena tiene un precio, require una acción y un verdadero compromiso de nuestra parte. Iniciar con hacer las paces con uno mismo y amarnos tal cual somos. Este es mi propósito de Año Nuevo y probablemente requerirá acción constante y atención diaria a mi persona.

Felíz inicio de Año y mis mejores deseos para una vida mejor, empezando por uno mismo. Ahora sí, a trabajar en mí para ser ese cambio en el mundo que tanto quiero.

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Posadas, Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year…so much to celebrate in so little time! A time to enjoy with family and dear friends. A time for reflection. A time to give and receive love. I love this season!

I know what you are thinking—that the season was not exactly relaxing, family are sometimes not so easy, and you are not as rested as you wanted to be. But could you imagine if this atmosphere of love and reflection was possible all year long and not just for one season? Imagine that we had the habit of stopping more often to reflect, taking the time to know ourselves and what makes us happy. That we could learn to listen to our inner self and be willing to heal all that does not allow us to live in peace. Because the point is to live in peace, isn’t it?

I know this is not as simple to do as it sounds, but I’m sure it’s not impossible. It is something that requires action, not just wishing for it. I invite you this New Year to make a habit of taking time to reflect, rest, and evaluate where you are and where you’re going. We cannot magically create peace in our hearts and around us without doing something about it every day. We cannot magically eradicate violence and live in a world of peace with just a blink of an eye. Everything worthwhile has a price; it requires an action and a real commitment on our part. It starts with making peace with ourselves and loving ourselves as we are, unconditionally. This is my New Year’s resolution and it will probably require constant action and daily attention.

Happy New Year and best wishes for a better life, starting with yourself. And now I’m off to start working on myself to be that living change that I want to see in our world.

1. Resolve to be generous with your time and money, but never ever give to charity.

You can practically hear the sinews of humanity ripping apart when we think of people as charity cases. We scroll or stroll by and throw money at them.

If it weren’t for the most microscopic twist of genetics or timing, you might be the one paralyzed from the neck down, or the person sleeping in the doorway.

I know it’s terrifying, but always give to others knowing we’re all in the same lifeboat.

2. Whether you can give time and money or not, be generous with your spirit. For New Year’s, give up pity.

I do not mean sympathy or empathy. I mean pity.

I have only been pitied a few times, but ouch did it sting. I’ve written about having breast cancer, and I’ve had people pity me. There is just nothing worse than having another person not see your whole feisty strong self and only see your disease.

That woman at the shelter? No pity allowed! She deserves justice and respect—not pity. Remember that.

3. Do not leave healthy relationships to chance. Talk to your kids.

Talk to them. Don’t think about talking to them. Don’t plan to talk to them. Don’t hope that someone else will talk to them. Infant to teen. Maybe especially teens—as hard as they are to approach sometimes. Right? Start (or continue) today.

4. Promote love.

Surprise! I got married. On New Year’s Day. To my sweetie of 27+ years. We could partake of marriage and the multitude of rights it brings because we live in the great state of Washington. Thank you citizenry.

Check out this cool map and see how the face of our nation is being transformed by debate and political action around who can love whom. And listen to this cool podcast with two guys who have been engaged in a multi-year conversation about the merits of love and marriage (skip to minute 27 for the part that convinced me to take the plunge).

And lastly,

5. Help end violence in relationships by ending violence against yourself.

Bring all the negative and cynical self-talk into sharp focus and then kindly and gently let go. Over and over again. Stop beating yourself up about beating yourself up. Stop beating yourself up about beating yourself up about beating yourself up. And so on, until you start to find it funny. Know that you are not alone. Feeling bad about ourselves seems to be one of our national pastimes. It is hard to be a generous, sympathetic, creative activist if you feel like crap. Take care of yourself for the sheer joy of doing so and enjoy this glorious year of 2014 on this glorious planet earth.

To review: earth

1. Give up charity—seek connection

2. Give up pity—seek connection

3. Do not leave healthy relationships to chance—seek connection

4. Promote equality in love everywhere you can—seek connection

5. Stop beating yourself up—seek connection

Esta blog fue escrito con Leah Holland de la Coalición de Programas de Asalto Sexual de Washington.

Where-We-Live_web-1Casi un año atrás estuve presente en una reunión de amigos en donde se encontraba este hombre, muy querido por el grupo, jugando un juego  con las hijas del vecino. Me informaron que el juego sucedía cada vez que el veía a estas niñas. Este hombre ya en sus avanzados veintes corría detrás de las niñas y las colgabas de cabeza para abajo. La niña de seis años  parecía estar divirtiéndose al principio del juego pero la niña de diez lo empujaba y le decía que se mantuviera alejado. El hombre ignoraba el mensaje directo de la niña (como si no significara si) y continuaba el juego. Yo le pedí a la pareja del hombre que le comunicara a él que la niña estaba tratando de hacer respetar su cuerpo. Ella no disfrutaba del juego y parecía que la niña de seis años estaba irritándose también. La pareja de este hombre me respondió que ella ha estado tratando de explicarle que el juego no les parecía divertido a las niñas, pero también agrego que “todo los niños/as lo amaban y lo consideraban el mejor tío del mundo.” Eso fue lo último de nuestra conversación.

¿Que podría haber hecho y dicho yo acerca de esta situación con el objetivo de comunicar un concepto muy complejo a todos los/as tíos, tías, padres y hermanos con buenas intenciones que se encontraban allí? Yo no intervine directamente y sabía que el grupo con el que estaba, consideraba ese comportamiento culturalmente aceptable. Tampoco quise decir algo  en frente de la pareja de este hombre que podría haber sido tomado como un intento de sexualizar lo que estaba pasando, pero tuve influencia sobre ella para que convenciera a su pareja de que parará el juego con las niñas (aunque le llevo muchos intentos). Esta situación me puso a pensar seriamente acerca de la importancia de intervenir cuando vemos que hay niños/as pasando por situaciones como ésta.

Como adultos es fácil de olvidarnos de que la manera que los adultos respectaron o no nuestros límites personales  cuando éramos niños/as tiene un impacto durante toda nuestra vida. Las conversaciones con los niño/as acerca de los límites personales parecen ser mas populares cuando los padres dicen a sus hijos que no se dejen tocar por extraños “allá abajo.” ¿Pero que hay acerca de decirles a los niños que no toquen a otros niños cuando éstos no quieren ser tocados? ¿Decirle a los niños que está bien el no besar, abrazar o apretar las manos de alguien si ellos no lo desean? ¿Decirles a los niños de que cuando ellos sean adultos tienen que respetar los límites personales de los niños/as que no quieren jugar juegos donde los cuelgan de cabeza hacia abajo? Complicando las cosas un poco más, es difícil de pensar que los adultos que conocemos estén, sin intención alguna, haciendo  a  un niño/a más vulnerable a la coerción sexual en el futuro con el hecho de ignorar sus voces ahora. Este mensaje es comunicado con más fuerza a las niñas. Las niñas son frecuentemente criadas para ser calladas, sumisas y complacientes.

¿Parecería que las niñas presente en esta reunión están siendo criadas con la confianza para decir cuándo algo no les agrada, pero cuanto tiempo continuaran pensando que tienen este derecho si sus voces son constantemente ignoradas por los adultos? ¿Cuánto tiempo tomara hasta que sus voces de NO se transformen en silencio? ¿Si ellas están viendo que si alguien con más poder quiere acceso a sus cuerpos, lo obtiene, cómo podrán ellas hablar de consentimiento con sus parejas en el futuro? ¿Cómo podrán ellas reconocer coerción?

¿Entonces qué podemos hacer? Podemos enseñar a nuestros niños a que pregunten antes de abrazar a alguien y pedir que otros adultos no insistan que un niño/a les den un beso, pero no podemos ser los únicos adultos trabajando en contra de la cultura normativa que devalúa las voces y los derechos de los niños/as. Ya sea que ocurra en el grupo de iglesia, grupo de chicas y chicos scouts, o pequeñas ligas organizadas, nosotros podemos acercarnos a otros adultos para hablar acerca de que podemos hacer para empoderar a los niño/as a que usen sus voces, pero también hacer responsables a los adultos cuando vemos comportamientos potencialmente problemáticos. Así, ayudamos a los niño/as desarrollar buenos  límites personales y también  cambiar las normas culturales que facilitan que el abuso sexual de niños/as continúe.

La Coalición de Programas de Asalto Sexual de Washington, está apoyando un plan de enseñanza de prevención de asalto sexual de niño/as, Donde Vivimos (Where We Live), que está diseñado a enseñar a los adultos a reconocer comportamiento preocupante y a intervenir de manera efectiva para mantener seguro a los niño/as. Donde Vivimos específicamente se enfoca en comportamientos “luz amarilla” que no son explícitamente abusivos pero que pueden ser señales de comportamiento predatorio o falta de respeto por los derechos y límites personales de los niño/as. Donde Vivimos es gratis y descargable a través de la Coalición en contra de la Violación de Pennsylvania. ¡Revíselo y díganos su opinión!

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This post was co-authored with Leah Holland with the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs.

About a year ago I was attending a gathering where this man, well-liked by the group I was with, was playing a game with the neighbor’s children. I came to find out this happens every time he saw these girls. The man, who is well into his late twenties, would run after the two girls, catch them, and lift them upside down. The six year old was finding it amusing at first, but the ten year old would push him away and tell him to stay away. He would disregard her strong message (taking her no as a playful yes) and continue the game. I asked the man’s partner to communicate to him that the girl was trying to tell him to respect her boundaries. She did not enjoy the play and it seemed that the six year old was becoming increasingly annoyed as well. His partner replied that she has been trying to get him to understand that what he was doing to these two girls was not funny to them, but she also added that “all the children love him and consider him the best uncle in the world.” The conversation was left at that.

What could I have done and said about the situation to communicate a very complex concept to the many well-intentioned uncles, aunts, parents, and siblings who were there? I did not intervene directly and I knew the group found this behavior culturally acceptable. I did not want to say something that could be construed as me sexualizing the situation. I enlisted his partner to get him to stop the game (though it took her many attempts). This situation really got me to think seriously about why it is important that we do intervene when we see things like this happening to children.

As adults it is easy to forget that the way people respected (or didn’t) our boundaries as children, directly impacts us throughout life. Conversations with children about boundaries seem to be popular when it is parents telling children not to let strangers touch them “down there.” But what about telling children not to touch other children when they don’t want to be touched? Telling children that it is ok not to want to kiss, hug, or shake someone’s hand if they don’t want to? What about telling children that when they grow up to be adults they need to respect the boundaries of children who don’t want to play upside down games? To further complicate things it is hard to think that adults we know may be unintentionally making a child more vulnerable to sexual coercion in the future by ignoring their voices now. This message is conveyed even stronger to girls. Girls are often raised to be quiet, obedient, and accommodating.

It seems like the girls at this gathering are being raised to feel confident in saying no when they do not like what is happening, but how long will they feel that  they have this right if their voices are constantly ignored by adults? How long will it take for them to quit saying NO and just stay silent? If they are being shown that when someone with more power wants access to their bodies they get it, how will they be able to talk about consent with their partners in the future? How will they be able to recognize coercion?

So where does this leave us? We can teach our children to ask before they hug someone, and ask adults not to insist a child give them a kiss, but we can’t be the only adults working against the cultural norm of devaluing the voices and rights of children. Whether it’s a church group, Girl or Boy Scouts, or Little League, we can bring adults together to talk about what we can do to empower kids to use their voices, but also hold adults accountable when we see potentially problematic behavior. Not only will this help children develop good boundaries, but it can also change the cultural norms that allow child sexual abuse to continue.

The Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs  is piloting a child sexual assault prevention curriculum, Where We Live that is designed to teach adults to recognize concerning behavior and intervene effectively to keep kids safe. Where We Live specifically focuses on “yellow light” behaviors that are not explicitly abusive but may be signs of grooming or a lack of respect for children’s rights and boundaries. Where We Live is free, and downloadable from the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape. Check it out and tell us what you think!

The other day, my mom asked me in a super slow and emphatic way “Are you a practicing Buddhist?

photo by Luca Galuzzi - www.galuzzi.it  "Don't try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist;  use it to be a better whatever-you-already-are."  His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

photo by Luca Galuzzi – http://www.galuzzi.it
“Don’t try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist;
use it to be a better whatever-you-already-are.”
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

Whoa. She didn’t even sound this shocked when I came out to her.

I did a little grimace, suddenly self-conscious. “Well, mom, I wouldn’t say that exactly.” I stammered on “I mean I’m not sure the Buddha would have called himself a Buddhist. He was this guy who just kind of woke up to experience his own life, and went around teaching about it. But I don’t think of it really as, like a religion that I could belong to or anything.”

Though I’ve been studying, and (yes mom) practicing, Buddhist philosophy for four years now, I’ve been loath to talk or write about it.

Until now.

I’m coming out of the closet. Truth is, I think about it all the time. Especially in relation to my work to end violence against women and children.

I think about it in relation to our satirical rape prevention tips post which begins “1) Don’t put drugs into women’s drinks. 2) When you see a woman walking by herself, leave her alone. 3) If you pull over to help a woman whose car has broken down, remember not to rape her.” and goes on from there. I find it amazing that this post has been viewed 180,001 times.

I can’t help but think, that of all those people, it is statistically likely that at least a few readers were men who have raped someone. Or who have done other terrible things to women and children.

Back to the Buddha and what his enlightenment might have to do with rapists reading this post. The Buddha was just an ordinary man, who woke up. That’s all. He wasn’t visited by angels. He wasn’t struck by lightning. So I wonder, can these other men wake up?

Could reading a blog post that posits that rapists are responsible for not raping—instead of making women responsible for not getting raped—help these guys realize what they’ve done? Could they wake up to the oh-so-human experience of doing terrible things to others? Could they wake up to the oh-so-human capacity to stop doing those terrible things? Could they make amends by helping other men wake up and stop raping women?

It’s summertime. Bye-bye, I’m heading to the beach.

It is inconceivable to me to go without a book. On my list this year: Zippy by Haven Kimmel, which I borrowed from my library and devoured in a few laugh-out-loud sessions. Truly a funny, poignant tale.

A particularly explosive guffaw of relief flew out of me as Kimmel recalled a violent episode in her childhood home when things could have gone terribly wrong, but didn’t. Her dad did not beat up her mother. She writes:

Mom told me, when I was old enough to ask, that she had learned the lesson from Mom Mary, Dad’s mother, who took her future daughter-in-law aside and told her that a woman has got to make herself absolutely clear, and early on. In Mom Mary’s own case, she waited until she and my grandfather Anthel were just home from their honeymoon, and then sat him down and told him this: “Honey, I know you like to take a drink, and that’s all right, but be forewarned that I ain’t your maid and I ain’t your punching-bag, and if you ever raise your hand to me you’d best kill me. Because otherwise, I’ll wait till you’re asleep; sew you into the bed; and beat you to death with a frying pan.” Until he died, I am told, my grandfather was a gentle man.

It reminded me of Mette’s mom’s theory about ending domestic violence—that women just need to get scarier than men. I asked Mette to ask her mother if it would be okay to share her theory. Her mom replied “Hell, yes. And I might add, I would be happy to teach classes on how to be scarier than anyone!”

In reality, there is nobody less scary than Mette’s mom Cindy. Though I have never given her cause to be fierce with me, I do believe she has that capacity.

And hence to the point. Fierce is different from scary.frying-pan

I mean, I really do not want to be reduced to simply scary—to beating my chest louder and harder than the primate squatting next to me.

But to warn someone off with a metaphorical frying pan—with a “Don’t you dare disrespect or threaten me or our children”—is the essence of the fierceness Cindy could give lessons about.

Historically, we have turned to the police, courts, and prisons—institutions designed to simply scare people—to deal with domestic and sexual violence. It hasn’t worked.

A smattering of people are coming up with different approaches. Ideas for engaging men coming out of prison, using technology so abusive dads can have safe contact with their kids, and creating alternatives for batterers to seek help themselves, before police and courts get involved.

I am feeling very optimistic that we are on the cusp of making an evolutionary leap—from scary to fierce. From having only fear-based approaches that at best impose an unstable peace, to becoming resolutely fierce in defending the foundational worth and dignity of women and children. It’s time.

Recently, my friend’s 9-year-old son came home sad and confused. He had gone to the park with some boys he did not know well.tough-boys

After tearing a wooden fence apart, throwing rocks at a squirrel, and announcing to one of the younger boys that his mother was a slut, the older boys turned on M. They asked him if he “had a slut.” When he asked what this meant, they told him a slut was a “girl to f**k.” He wasn’t totally sure what that meant, and he got scared. As he told his mother later “I got the feeling if I didn’t answer right, they would hurt me.”

Being one of the boys in that moment meant being destructive, suppressing any signs of empathy, selling out women you care about, and characterizing females by their sexual availability. The price for not participating in that masculinity is the threat of violence. Like M, boys every day must ask themselves, “What if all that negative, destructive energy pivots from the small animal, the mom, or girls in general to ME?” Better to agree and keep it directed outward, right? Even if it means meekly agreeing that yes, your mom is a slut, before you even really know what that means or how you feel about it.

Too often, boys learn to mask their fear of one another with a camaraderie solidified by expressions of homophobia, sexism, and—for white boys—racism. Too often, boys learn that they must be dominating, unfeeling, tough, and defined in opposition to girls to be accepted. This results in a form of masculinity that pretends to be secure and strong, but is in reality tenuous and fragile. Fragile things have to be protected, shored up, and reinforced. And that results in a great deal of pain, since it requires targets (girls, sluts, sissies, fags) to define oneself against and put down in order to be “one of the boys.”

The stakes are high: participate or risk humiliation, intimidation, or becoming one of those targets. It is a bit of a house of cards, when you think about it: being worried about being judged not “man enough” by other boys and men who are also worried about being judged not “man enough” with the consequence of coming up short being bullied or violence.

So what happened to M? He told the boys he had to get home. He had the presence of mind to know that what was happening wasn’t okay, and he didn’t like it. He had the security to realize these boys’ friendship was not worth the compromises to his own integrity that would be required to seal it. And he knew that at home, he would be accepted, listened to, and protected.

I wish we could all feel that safe and protected in our homes, and in our bodies, however they are gendered. I would like M and all those boys to feel that they are wonderful, and that they are enough, just as they are. That they do not need to “man up.”* When we can support boys to be true to themselves instead of conforming to this rigid idea of what it means to be a man, then boys won’t just be boys. They will be compassionate, safe, secure people—like my friend’s son.

*explicit language

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