Singing out to stop the silence & end the violence

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.

Stop telling me to smile

Over my shoulder, I call towards the back of the car, “Why do you think men yell out at women on the street?” “Because they can,” came the lightning quick response from one of my twin 16-year-old daughters. We were talking about Stop Telling Women to Smile, the public art project by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh who interviews women about their experience of street harassment, draws their portrait, and uses their words to create posters for buildings and outdoor walls. Both of my daughters said they liked Fazlalizadeh’s posters because they had short, clear messages that anyone could understand.

Last year I blogged about my daughters initiation with street harassment. They were scared and tentative about taking public transportation for a while. Now, only ten months later, I feel like I am talking to experienced and disgusted young women who still don’t understand why men feel like they are entitled to their time and attention, and why they face anger and ugliness if they ignore the catcalls. They wonder how to respond and when is it the right time to say “leave me alone.” All of this feels exhausting for them, and for me knowing that so much can happen out of my sight.

Our conversation transitions to talking about how street harassment is connected to dating relationships. Do guys just turn off this behavior with a girlfriend? Do all guys do it and just not talk about it? I explain that not every guy engages in street harassment, but the fact that it goes on undermines the things you need for a loving and equitable relationship. Street harassment is not just about individual behavior. It is a part of our culture that uses fear, intimidation, or violence to give women and girls the message that they are not in control of their lives. These public art posters are so powerful because they are making women’s experiences of street harassment visible and public rather than a fleeting remark that is too often dismissed and trivialized.

Start talking

Our friends at the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence  are doing some incredible work on promoting healthy teen relationships and are featured in an article in THE New York Times!!! I’m thrilled for them and moreover I’m thrilled for the teens (and all of us!) who are benefitting from their work.

Start Strong and other programs dedicated to promoting respectful and loving relationships are all doing something great. And surprisingly easy. They’re starting conversations with young people. We can all do this! And you know what? We all should.

It’s as easy as checking in with the young people you know. Start by asking if they or any of their friends are dating. (Now, I know kids don’t say dating anymore, and dating isn’t the same as when you and I were young…but here’s the scoop – brace yourselves – we’re old. And most likely anything we say that isn’t a word we would typically use to talk about dating will make us sound, well, old. So just go for it. They’ll know what we mean.) Go from there. Ask them what kind of person they’d like to go out with. Or if they are dating, “How’s it going?” “Do you have fun/feel good about yourself when you’re with this person?”

Ultimately just keep the conversation open. Keep checking in. If we all do this, just think of all the opportunities we’ll be opening up for when the first “uh-oh” happens, or even better when the first “OMG, I’m so in love” happens. Either way, let’s start talking.