Shattered community

We bring you this post from Sandi Scroggins, WSCADV’s Executive Assistant.

April 5, 1984. I was 14 and it was 18 days before my 15th birthday. I had transferred to Foothill High School six months prior. I was making some friends, was a member of the band, and was tinafaelzfinalstarting to fit in. Then it happened. The thing that you only read about in Stephen King novels. My classmate, Tina Faelz, was murdered. This terrible act of violence changed me but it would take years to figure out the full extent of its impact.

I did not know Tina personally, but I knew who she was. She was a normal girl with normal dreams and aspirations. She was also bullied. In fact, she started taking karate lessons to learn how to protect herself. This was back in the day before “Zero Tolerance.” Some of her classmates would actually throw rocks at her when she tried to get on the school bus. Thus the reason she wasn’t riding the school bus anymore. Thus the reason she was walking home, by herself, that day.

I became sick to my stomach when I found out about Tina’s murder. I was in shock. I cried—a lot. And I was afraid. I had nightmares. Although I have never seen the crime scene photos, my mind was able to concoct horrible images. Those images still haunt me. I was afraid to be alone. I was afraid of the dark. I just knew someone was waiting around a corner to hurt me, or worse, murder me. I was afraid of missing the bus. I became leery of people. I couldn’t understand why I felt this way. And I certainly did not know how to express these feelings. So, instead, I suppressed them and never discussed them with anyone. How could I, a person who was not even friends with Tina, be so affected?

What made the whole situation worse was that we all knew who did it. Another classmate of ours,  Steve Carlson. He had bragged about it. But he wasn’t arrested. In fact, no one was arrested. It became a cold case and our lives went on. But I thought of Tina often. I thought of her when I went to our senior ball. And when I graduated from our high school. And when I got married. All the things she never had the chance to experience because her life was stolen.

The total effects of Tina’s murder did not become fully apparent until my son was born. I became THAT mom. The one you would call paranoid. When Joshua was a baby, I was afraid someone would kidnap him. When he went to grade school, I was afraid he would be bullied. When he went to middle school, I was afraid something bad would happen to him. When he went to high school, I was afraid someone he knew would hurt him, or worse, murder him. I was told I was irrational. I was told that things like that don’t REALLY happen. Except they do.

Twenty-seven years later, Steve Carlson was arrested and charged with Tina’s murder. DNA evidence connected him. We were right. He did do it. On October 30, 2014, Steve Carlson was found guilty and he was sentenced to 26 years to life in prison. It had taken 30 years. I am grateful he is behind bars. I hope he is there for the rest of his life.tinatombstonefinal

I still think of Tina often. I still cry when I think of her. And now I know why her murder affected me so dramatically. She was part of my community. Steve Carlson was also part of my community. An act of violence affects the community as a whole. It doesn’t matter if you were best friends with the victim or the perpetrator or if you did not know them. Violence has that effect on people. And it ripples out. The impact of those ripples may never be fully realized. But they will be felt.

Fear not, think this


I am not typically drawn to sensationalist articles titled “What Are You Afraid Of?” Mostly, because I already know.

But when Parade Magazine fell out of the Sunday paper last week, there was a cool cartoon on the cover so I flipped to the article.

Here are a few of the things you should and should not fear in 2015:

Flu not Ebola

Domestic violence not serial killers, pedophiles

Heart disease not Mercury in fish

Not getting enough dietary fiber not gluten

The re-appearance of measles, whooping cough, and other preventable diseases not vaccine side effects

Texting while driving not air travel…”

Note that domestic violence is number two on what we should actually fear.

Long before we feared flying in airplanes, long before airplanes, it served us to be afraid—of other animals that might eat us, things that go bump in the night, impending hunger or thirst. All this surviving through the millennia has landed us here—as beings with hyper-reactive fear centers in our brains that override rational thought.

But we humans are fortunate to also have lots of brain architecture dedicated to rational thought. This gives us access to things like ideas about what is right and wrong. About the differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships. And about how to survive domestic violence or stop perpetrating it.

I’d like to suggest an alternative to the fear framework that recognizes the wide open spaces of the fully evolved human brain. How about…

Use your gigantic pre-frontal cortex to:

Outsmart sexism instead of fearing that violence against women is inevitable

Outthink racism instead of fearing that racial stereotypes are real and/or irreversible

Promote peace and prosperity instead of fearing that there simply is not enough to go around

Think, plan, and act instead of fearing that nothing can be done.

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.

If no isn’t an option, yes has no meaning

I am always amazed at what a difficult concept consent seems to be. She asked for it, she started the argument, she was into making out, what did she think was going to happen if she went there/did that …. are all variations on the theme of “she consented” and used to try to confuse our understanding of rape and intimate partner violence.

Most recently, I was shocked and repulsed at Ariel Castro’s gall in asserting that “there was harmony” in his home, and that much of the sex he had with the three women he had imprisoned was “consensual” and besides, the women weren’t virgins anyway. When I heard this on NPR, I began yelling “What the F?” in my car. Fortunately I was alone.

The good news is, it seems like most people reacted like I did, and that was heartening.

How is it that someone can be so confused about what constitutes “harmony” and consent that they can say with a straight face that it existed in that situation. Castro is an extreme case, but I suspect that one of the reasons he was able to convince himself of this is because it is generally consistent with the purposefully confusing and blurred picture men in particular get about female consent.

In other words, it’s not that far out of normal, and that is the scary part. Blurring the idea of consent plays out in all sorts of ways in our culture. And it is useful because it helps the dominant group pretend/ignore/claim that the subjugated group isn’t really being oppressed, but that they actually CHOSE or consented to their situation. This alleviates their responsibility to grapple with what relationships would look like if each person truly had equal value, dignity, and respect.

So in the interest of clarity, let me explain something about consent.

It is really quite simple: if a person can’t freely say no, then yes (or silence) has no meaning. Yes only means something if NO is a real—no negative consequences— possibility, something one can say free of the fear of violence, force, humiliation, murder, homelessness, loss of economic security, the safety of one’s children. If NO is dangerous, then YES is empty. It’s not consent.


Summer reading

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.

One of the things we have to fear is fear itself

sandy-hookPart of the experience of parenting these days is the constant background noise of worry. News and social media, endlessly fascinated with danger, feed a steady stream of warning about the perils waiting for our children.

After the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, that low hum of worry turned up to full-volume fear for parents across the country. I felt it too, the gut wrenching, full body chill that comes with imagining the worst. But honestly, I was not afraid for my kids’ safety. I know that violence in schools is very rare and that by most measures kids are safer now than ever.

What I did genuinely worry about is the impulse to react to our fear and vulnerability with ever-increasing “security measures.” Armed guards in schools, more locked doors, fingerprints and background checks for parents.

I’m not naive about violence, but my experience has shown me that we can’t keep danger on the other side of a locked door. I know my children live in a world with abusers and rapists. I know that some people do terrible things to children. I know that I can’t tell by looking which man in the park or on the bus would hurt one of them if he had the chance. Just like I don’t know which guy at the gym or which little league dad is beating his wife at home. I live in a neighborhood where it is not uncommon to hear gunshots. Yet I believe that most of the violence is committed inside locked doors by people who belong there.

When it comes to protecting kids from harm by the people they trust, increased “security” is worse than useless. It actually makes our kids—and all of us—less safe. Tight security undermines connection and community—the very things that are most important to kids’ safety, health, and happiness. This letter from a mom to her child’s preschool points out how. My kids’ school, like many, held a meeting for parents about students’ safety in the days after the Sandy Hook shooting. Some of the concern, of course, was about school security, sign-in procedures, etc. But I was grateful that most of the focus was on how to re-commit to strengthening our connection as a community. Resisting fear, breaking isolation, looking out for each other—safety from the inside out.

Bullets are not a safety plan

June 14, 2013: I can’t believe it’s the six-month anniversary of Newtown. I took a moment to read this blog I wrote a few days after the tragic event. It feels as relevant to me today as it did 6 months ago. The conversations are the same and I feel frustrated and stuck. We simply have to move forward.  

Like many of you, I’ve been sad for days, affected by the horrible events in Newtown. I haven’t been able to talk much about it. One because I have an almost 4-year-old who just doesn’t need to process this, and two, because I can’t be very articulate when I am a sobbing mess. But yesterday something happened that made me speak up. A college friend posted on Facebook that she refused to live in fear, and was planning to get her concealed weapons permit.

I was a bit shocked to hear this from this particular friend. Although I grew up in the South where we have lots of experience around guns, this friend didn’t seem like one to go for the firearms. I was clearly wrong. And I was immediately scared for her and her family. I begged her to do her research and let her know that statistics show that owning a gun does not make you safer. In fact, areas with more guns have more murders. Combine that with the fact that most gun-related homicides are not found justifiable in the eyes of the law (that self-defense plea you were banking on isn’t all that solid), and it seems clear that having guns around makes you less safe.

But what about the fear? How are we supposed to feel powerful and able to protect our families? After a tragedy like this, it’s hard to reconcile the senselessness and sit with the fear. We want to fix it. Be bigger and stronger than it.

I know that a lot of survivors of abuse feel this way every day. Firearms play a big part in the lethality of domestic violence situations. In Washington State, gun-man-cardthe majority of domestic violence homicides are committed with firearms. Domestic violence victims are five times as likely to be killed by their abuser if that abuser owns a gun.

Gun violence has something else in common with domestic violence: most of the perpetrators are men. Why? This ad pretty much sums that up. Assault rifles are glorified in the media and marketed to men. This is a real ad for a Bushmaster assault rifle that says “Consider your man card reissued.” Feel like you lost your man card? Going out and using this should make you feel better! That’s what this ad is essentially saying. We have to change the course of this gun toting ship we are on. Something has to give. For the sake of the people we love and the communities we live in.