When a friend turns creepy

We bring you this post from Summer Carrick, our Crossing Borders project coordinator.

Here is the scene…

Two of your friends start dating. They fall in love, but instead of coming back to the surface they stay immersed.

In a weird way.

In a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, but you can’t quite put your finger on why.

Then you notice that she grows more silent, and he does all the talking. You see less of them. She seems nervous. She makes excuses for him. Her face is stressed. The energy does not feel happily in love, rather, it’s just…tense.

So, what do you do when you are sitting at dinner and he starts to belittle her?

You would think after 12 years of doing this work, I would have the answer. Instead, I fight with what I was socialized to do (nothing, none of my business) and what I want to do (support my friends to have a happy relationship).

But, how?

Many research hours later, this is the best I could find:

– I talk about it when things are good and we are just talking naturally about his relationship.

– I am direct and clear about what I have seen and how it impacts ME as HIS friend.

– I’m not judging you, friend, but this is what happened and how I experienced it.

– So now that you know it’s not working for me, is it working for you?

– I don’t have all the answers, but I’m willing to be a friend and support you.

– Just know that I’m not willing to watch you be a bully.

If all of that is too much and I don’t know what to say, I default to the truth….I care and I am concerned.

And yes, I’ve seen my women friends using abusive behavior too. I’ve seen it in straight and queer relationships. And you know what?  I’m not scared to call those women out on it. And when I do, they have always gone straight to critical reflection and apologies. So why is it that when I have tried to have this kind of conversation with men, they have become defensive or downright scary? The best I can come up with is the way we socialize men. The scary reaction may be why we avoid talking to men about their abusive behavior. And the cost of that is much too great. So, as scary as it seems to care and be concerned, we can’t afford the alternative.

-Summer Carrick, the coordinator of our Crossing Borders Project

Make a wish

We are pleased to bring you this post from guest blogger Phil Jordan, Elder Abuse Project Coordinator at the King County Prosecutor’s Office.

Last year, my friend Rob, local actor extraordinaire, played the part of Lightning Lad, sidekick to superhero Electron Boy. It was part of a heartwarming story orchestrated by the Make-A-Wish Foundation to grant Erik Martin, a terminally ill 13-year-old, his heart’s desire.

I have to credit Erik and Rob with helping me understand my mixed feelings about the Make-A-Wish phenomenon. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing the kids’ eyes light up when their wish comes true and I honor the people who donate their time and effort to make it happen.

But I also feel a little bit grumpy about the whole thing. For the past 12 years, I have worked to connect domestic violence and sexual assault  advocates to people with disabilities and elders. So many people in this population are abused and no amount of wishing puts a stop to it. The advocates want to be helpful, but they sometimes resist altering how they work, and that can make it impossible for the people I work with to use their services.

For example, advocates often rely on the term “intimate partner violence.” Many elders and people with disabilities are abused by other family members or caregivers. The relationship may be “intimate,” but not in the way the advocates mean.

Also, people with dementia, mental illness, intellectual disabilities, or brain injuries need advocates to find new ways to help them explore options, plan for safety, and overcome the abuser’s power and control.

My wish is that elders and people with disabilities no longer experience abuse. But there is no organization that has the wherewithal to grant my wish, and I remain grumpy about that.

But I know that domestic violence and sexual assault programs are the best place to find services aimed directly at eliminating the power and control that abusers exert. That is true for women battered by their intimate partner, and it is true for elders and people with disabilities abused by people they trust. I am grateful for the advocates’ work and wish that all people being abused could benefit from it. And maybe they can grant me my other wish―to be less grumpy.

Dude, WTF?

Alright – can we all agree that domestic violence is not going away until abusers knock it off? So the bazillion dollar question is, how do we make that happen?

I think we could create a lot of change by simply challenging abusive behavior when we see it. But some people get nervous, hesitant about how to confront an abuser. And for good reason. I’m not saying you should put on a superhero suit and wrestle the knife out of his hand. I’m not even talking about physical violence. We need to call people out way before things escalate to that point. I’m saying notice and comment on the creepy, possessive, controlling stuff your friend says or does: convey a sense of alarm; describe the bad/worrisome behavior; and tell the person to stop. It’s that simple.

Give one of these a try:

Dude, WTF? She’s a person, not a piece of property. Knock it off and give her some space!

Dude, WTF? She’s not screwing someone else – she’s just stuck in traffic, like she said. Sheesh, you need to knock it off!

Dude, WTF? You’re totally Facebook stalking her. Knock it off.

Dude, WTF? Just enjoy your visits with your kids and don’t worry about what she’s doing. Knock it off and move on.

Dads

It’s ironic with Mother’s Day just around the corner, the topic of our blog for last week and this is dads.

Our fathers were the subject of lunch conversation yesterday as three of us regaled one another with tales of our bad dads.

To put it bluntly, they were all jerks. All three drug or alcohol addicts. All verbally or physically abusive to our mothers, and to us. Two of the three died young. Evidently stumbling through life inflicting and suffering pain is bad for your health.

Years after she was grown and gone from the house, one of my co-workers was arguing with her dad about how messed up he was when she was growing up. At one point he defended himself with “well, I never sexually abused you.”

The three of us erupted in shrieks of laughter. That’s setting the bar a little on the low side wouldn’t you say?

Still, as much as our dads were big jerks, they were also smart, funny, hard-working, resourceful. Each of our dads encouraged us, in ways no other man ever would, to try scary things and be successful. Yes, father/daughter land is a maze.

Back at my desk I was left wondering, have we gone down the wrong road to end violence against women and children by thinking we could somehow shove out or wall off all the bad dads? The truth is, even after they die, they still exert an influence. How do we help one another sort this out?

A Lot Like You

Needing a break after over a decade of working against rape and domestic violence, Eli Kimaro quit her job, took a filmmaking class, and set off to Mount Kilimanjaro to film a documentary about her father’s Chagga tribe. Raised in the U.S. by her Tanzanian father and Korean mother, Eli’s ambitious project was motivated by her struggle to integrate her own complex cultural identity.

After months of filming, the footage she envisioned – village rituals, folk dances – eluded her. Instead, when Eli asked her aunts to tell her about their marriage ceremonies, they told her stories filled with brutal violence. She had no idea this was part of her family’s history – yet it resonated deeply with her own experience as a survivor of violence and advocate for other survivors.

The film that has emerged, A Lot Like You, weaves together big themes – exile and return, multicultural identity, violence against women – all told from an intimate point of view. For me, the film is a powerful reminder that when you scratch the surface of any story – from the tale of an entire culture to your own family’s history – you find stories of women’s suffering and survival. Some are hidden; some are known but not spoken; some have been repackaged as tall tales or family jokes. My family has these stories. I doubt I know one who doesn’t.

A Lot Like You raises questions for all of us – How does violence shape our sense of who we are? When we tell stories that have been silenced does that strengthen or threaten our family bonds? And what stories will we leave as our legacy for the next generation?

Yikes, you did what?!

I live in a really social neighborhood where I chat with lots of people who live around me. Recently, I was talking to one of my neighbors about relationships. It was a normal conversation about the challenges of dating, and sorting through the choices that we make. Then he told me that he was once convicted of domestic violence assault.

To be honest, I had a moment of panic. What was I going to say? As he talked about going through batterer’s intervention, how much he learned, and how different he is in his current relationship, I was thinking: Has this man really changed? Is his current girlfriend safe? Is he manipulating the story to glorify himself?

According to the etiquette of conversation, I had to say something after he stopped talking even though I had doubts, questions, and yes, even a bit of fear. I thanked him for the disclosure, acknowledged his journey, and continued to openly talk to him about relationships.

By virtue of my work, I know how to respond to people who disclose that they have been abused. But what I learned from this conversation is that I am uncomfortable with someone telling me they’ve been abusive. My first instinct was to question this man’s intentions and his behavior, but then I realized that I want to be able to talk with anyone about how to be in a good, loving, happy relationship.

I have decided to believe that my neighbor understands what he did and is making an effort to be a better person. After all, won’t he need a community of people who can support him in his present while knowing his past?