Fear Poem

By Joy Harjo (emphasis mine)

I release you, my beautiful and terrible fear. I release you. You were my beloved and hated twin, but now, I don’t know you
as myself. I release you with all the
pain I would know at the death of
my children.

You are not my blood anymore.

I give you back to the white soldiers
who burned down my home, beheaded my children,
raped and sodomized my brothers and sisters.
I give you back to those who stole the
food from our plates when we were starving.

I release you, fear, because you hold
these scenes in front of me and I was born
with eyes that can never close.

I release you
I release you
I release you
I release you

I am not afraid to be angry.
I am not afraid to rejoice.
I am not afraid to be black.
I am not afraid to be white.
I am not afraid to be hungry.
I am not afraid to be full.
I am not afraid to be hated.
I am not afraid to be loved,

to be loved, to be loved, fear.

Oh, you have choked me, but I gave you the leash.
You have gutted me but I gave you the knife.
You have devoured me, but I laid myself across the fire.

I take myself back, fear.
You are not my shadow any longer.
I won’t take you in my hands.
You can’t live in my eye, my ears, my voice
my belly, or in my heart my heart
my heart my heart
But come here, fear
I am alive and you are so afraid
of dying.

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How to be an Ally: Part Two

As a follow-up to my previous post, “How to be an Ally” I wanted to share another great article.

It really can be hard to know what to do or say when someone comes to you with their pain.  The following article is written by another woman who has worked at a rape crisis center.  Her main point is that it is not your job to become the counselor.  You don’t have to have all the right words.  You don’t need to have any words.  Just be present with the other person and be a witness to their story.

Be a Human: Helping People Through Trauma When You Don’t Know What To Say

“At some moment, perhaps several moments, in your life, you will be in a room with someone who is disclosing to you about their trauma, rape, domestic violence, human trafficking, suicide, etc. You may freeze up or panic. “What should I do?” You may not know this person, or you may not want to know this person. You may want to leave the room and not come back. Or maybe they’re your dad, or your girlfriend. Maybe you will leave, maybe you won’t. For argument’s sake, and because I have nowhere to go with this if you don’t stay, let’s say you stay. What now…?”

Read the rest here

Tomorrow is Halloween.  Have fun and be safe!  See you in November.

“Piñata”

I love poetry.  I always have.  In the last couple of years I was introduced to slam poetry.  Poetry where words are spoken against injustices with passion?  I’m in.  My love of poetry has deepened.  The one in the video below was performed during the semi-finals at the 2013 National Poetry Slam.  It moved me to tears.  This guy gets it.

The following poem was written after he heard a man on the bus say to a woman, “You are too ugly to be raped.”

(It is kind of hard to hear, you may need to turn your speakers up)

Survivors Reclaim Body Parts

People in abusive relationships are taught (and shown) that their body is not their own, it does not belong to them.  It becomes another thing that their partner uses against them.  It can be vulnerability they weren’t prepared for.  The body can also carry memories of the abuse long after the relationship ends.

Attention: People With Body Parts is a body positivity movement started by Lexie Bean.  She started out collecting letters that friends and family members wrote to their body parts.  She’s about to publish an anthology* filled with letters survivors have written to their body parts.  Body parts that hold secrets, visible scars, and invisible memories.  Letters that focus on reclaiming those body parts and denouncing their partners control over their body.  I love this idea.

An abusive partner often takes control of the other persons body.  This can look like forced physical contact or sex, hitting, pushing, choking, and other forms of physical abuse.  It could be forcing a woman to become pregnant or to have an abortion.  It could be restraining their partner or blocking them from leaving.  Hiding birth control.  Telling their partner how to look or what to wear.

Boundaries are healthy.  Everybody has some sort of boundaries when they start a relationship.  They can change and evolve overtime as a couple gets to know each other and becomes more invested in the relationship.  In an abusive relationship those boundaries are often eroded over time or stripped away at the whims and desire of one person.  There isn’t conversation about how this will happen.  There isn’t consent.  It can be sudden and violating or it may happen slowly over time with manipulation and increasing pressure.

These letters recognize a part of the healing process that I don’t think is talked about enough.  They also recognize that people heal at different rates and that there are many layers to these relationships.  I thought I would give it a try for myself.  If anyone else would like to write a letter to a body part I would love to publish them.  Please use the contact page to send me an email.

Dear Hands,

You have become strong these past few years though I know their was a time when you felt neglected; often reaching out for comfort only to find empty space.  You protected me when you could and soothed injuries when you couldn’t.  You worked tirelessly to pacify his mood swings and write letters declaring love and loyalty.

I remember that day when he stopped noticing you.  He treated you like a nuisance instead of a comfort.  His hand reached to you, but only in secret while the other reached for another woman.  But you are strong now.  You work not only to protect me but to protect others.  You reach now not for him but to be an anchor for others.  Through you I know that they understand.  We are of the same breed.  We are survivors; you, me, and the others.  Through you I can give them comfort and show them they are not alone.  Through you we will change the world.

You survived.

Thank you.

Much love.

____________________________

*The anthology is called Portable Homes and is due to be published on December 10th of this year.

Read the original article where I heard about these letters here.

The Wrong Question

Why didn’t you leave?  I would have left a long time ago.  Don’t you want what’s best for you and your children?  Why did you stay?

Almost anyone who chooses to stay in an abusive relationship hears some form of these words in their lifetime.  What might not be understood by those outside of the relationship are that there are so many complicated factors that play into this.  A better way to ask the question, why do women stay in abusive relationships, might be what keeps women in abusive relationships?  The first question sounds accusatory and produces feelings of guilt and shame.  It makes women feel defensive, embarrassed, stupid, and wrong.  The last thing we want to do as someone outside the relationship is push her further into isolation.  The second question can be answered more readily by women in the relationship.  It acknowledges the fact that there are things beyond their control that play in the decision to stay.

When asked this question here are some of the responses we hear.  There is a fear of the abusive partner and his ability to retaliate.  Staying with him provides security.  He may be the only source of income for the family.  If she leaves she will have no money, nowhere to go.  So she has to ask herself is it better to stay or to be homeless?  “Better the devil you know…”  He may have threatened her, her children, or her friends and family.  The most dangerous time is when she’s leaving and she is more likely to be killed.  There may be pressure from her community, culture and/or family to stay.  Sometimes women who leave are blamed, shunned, or disowned.  She may want to keep the family together.  He may not be a bad father to the children.

No one is all bad all the time.  Many abusers are quite charming and friendly at first.  What we know about abuse is that it happens in cycles.  There is a period of “making up” where he promises to change.  And she loves him so she wants to believe him.  Most of the time she doesn’t want the relationship to end, she wants the abuse to end.

It is never just one of these reasons.  It is 2 or 3 combined, and it is more likely all of them.  There are infinite more factors that keep women in abusive relationships, because while we can see general trends in these relationships each situation is different.  Each women and each man has a different story.  The most common reasons that keep women in abusive relationships are low self-esteem/poor self-concept, economic deprivation, witnessing violence as a child, and wanting to keep the family together for the sake of the children.

So the questions why didn’t you leave, or why did you stay, are not questions that encompass the complexity of the relationship and abuse she’s experienced.  Instead we should be asking why is he abusive?  Why doesn’t he stop?

Why do men abuse women?

As an anti domestic violence movement we pushed hard for a woman’s right to leave the relationship.  What we are discovering now is that the pendulum has swung too far.  She has the right to stay in the relationship as well.  I know that sounds a little weird but this is a movement about empowering women.  It is not empowering to fail.  It is not empowering to leave before she is ready because everyone else is telling her it’s the right thing to do.  Sometimes it really is safer to stay.  She knows how to keep herself safe and was been doing so long before she reached out to anyone.  So again, the question should not be about her, but him.

What is he doing to keep her in that relationship?  Why is he abusing her?  How is the larger culture teaching him that it is okay to be violent toward women?

_________________________

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is a free, confidential, and safe hotline staffed 24/7.  Advocates are there not only for those in abusive relationsips but for friends, family, and allies as well.  Please call if you are looking for support or answers.

1-800-799-7233

How to be an Ally

It can be hard to know what to do or say if someone comes to you and shares their story of abuse, especially if it is not part of your trauma narrative.  And even if it is, even if you’ve experienced something similar it can be hard to hear another person’s story.  You may not have dealt with your own trauma and listening to someone else can be triggering.  It can bring out not so great feeling feelings like jealousy, fear, and even realization.  Jealousy that they were able to come forward and you still don’t feel ready.  Fear that they came to you because they know what you went through, or are going through.  The possible realization that you may be going through something similar.  Any of these feelings can also produce guilt.  Guilt that you are thinking about yourself while someone else is opening up to you.

It doesn’t matter if the abuse is currently happening or if it happened in the past, it can make you feel helpless.  You may want to fix it and bust into their life guns blazing, ready to save them.  You may want to move faster than they do.  Imagine if you are the very first person to believe their story.  On average women (and girls) have to tell 6-8 people before they are believed.  They may still be getting over the shock of your belief while you are gearing up for battle.  It’s natural to want to protect those we love.  But it is important to let the person sharing with you set the pace.  It is important to let them name what is happening or has happened.

There are several things I want to share in this post about how to be a good ally to a survivor.  The first is an article by The Healing Center.  This is a great website and a great resource to both survivors and their friends and family.  The article is called “How to be an Ally” and if offers 12 suggestions of ways to be supportive of the survivors in your life including, listen, believe, and educate yourself.  Read the full article here.  I originally saw this posted on another woman’s blog, Purposefully Scarred.  On her “About” page she shares her own story and states that the purpose of her blog is to “[raise] awareness for survivors of abuse and [help] one another find purpose in our scars.”  I encourage your to click around her site, she’s got a lot of great articles and stories.

The second thing I wanted to share is a YouTube video I found posted on One Woman, another blog written by an amazing and brave woman who has been sharing her story.  I encourage you to check out her blog as well.  The video is a young man sharing words that are important for every survivor to hear, whether it is from him or from you.

As we continue to move through October and domestic violence awareness month I encourage you to be sensitive to the people around you.  1 in 3 women worldwide will experience violence in her lifetime.  So the chances are high that  either you or several women in your life have been affected by violence.  Love each other well.

________________

Update:  Read another article and part two of “How to be an Ally” here.

Cartoon Controversy

Doaa Eladl is an Egyptian cartoonist. She started publishing her drawings in 2007 and is currently she works for a high circulation newspaper in Egypt.  She is also facing charges of blasphemy for publishing the following cartoon on female genital mutilation.

Doaa Eladl Cartoon on FGM

She did an interview with Clitoraid, a project that is working to “restoring a sense of pleasure and dignity. New Hope for victims of genital mutilation.”

See more of her cartoons here, and on her Facebook page.  You can also read a previous interview here.

What do you think about this cartoon?

When Stalking Wasn’t a Crime…

The vote in the Senate for the Violence Against Women Act is expected to pass by a wide margin.  Then it will move to the House where advocates are a little more unsure of the outcome.  This is fundamentally wrong.  In the 18 years since the inception of this piece of legislation it has never not passed.  There has never been a question of its importance.

I’ve posted a couple of times on my feelings on this act and the failure to pass it.  I will continue to do so until Congress stops acting a fool and passes it.  As an advocate for women who have experienced violence this is very important to me.  I am also very disappointed in the lack of news coverage this has received in major media outlets.  25% of women experience domestic violence in their life time.  That means that more than likely you and/or several women you know have been the victim of intimate partner violence.  This is a huge part of our population.  It should be something that is important to us as a nation.  People should intimately care about the outcomes of this vote and the fate of this act.

That being said I’d like to share with you a story that was posted on Being Feminist’s Facebook Page in January.  One of their readers shared the following story and I share it with you now with their permission:

This is a letter from one of our members who chooses to remain anonymous.

*trigger warning*

I suffered terrible abuse from a boyfriend I broke up with. He seemed nice but something was always nagging at me in the back of my head and when I finally broke up with him my nightmare began.
I broke up with him as he never respected my boundaries. I was a single full time working Mother and i tried to keep my dating him separate from my home life. I was afraid to allow any man too close to my daughter. However he started showing up at my home anyway. I did not allow him in most times but he became more and more insistent. When I broke up with him he physically assaulted me. He started stalking me everywhere. He broke my window to my apartment. I had police at my house all the time to report all the threatening calls. He even threatened to abduct my daughter from her daycare. This went on for months and despite the police going to talk to him over and over it just got worse. He had a drinking problem which was another reason he was out of control. I begged the police to press charges but they never did. Finally I found out about a law under the child protection act in Toronto Ontario where I lived. They MUST act if I child is in any physical or mental danger. I went down to the police station and had to be very forceful. I told them if anything happenend to my child I would not only sue them I would contact every media outlet that would listen! Finally they pressed charges and he was in jail for 5 days. As soon as he got out it was worse than ever. I was poor I could not just MOVE. In the end after three months of terror one night I just thought maybe if I just sleep with him one more time and blame myself for being unworthy of him etc he would be satisfied and go away. So I drank a huge bottle of wine called him up went to his house and did the DEED.

Unfortuantely I ended up pregnant and had to get an abortion. All I got from the doctor was that was a stupid thing I did! I KNOW IT WAS STUPID BUT I WAS SCARED TO DEATH! He only backed off when he found out I got pregnant. I not only had to stop paying rent so I could afford to move I ended up in court for non payment or rent, had to leave the city and it messed up my job and my career in that field.

BUT I have been blamed. I was willing…maybe but maybe not. I was desperate! I felt raped. I felt I had to give him what he wanted to keep myself and my child safe! What happened to me? Date rape?

You can share this but not my name because I wonder if I am the only woman who ever went through a stalker situation and did what I did?

PS: This took place about 18 years ago so I hope they are more vigilant regarding stalking now. I still feel like “I asked for it” in some ways but after months of being terrorized I could not think straight anymore. It did not help that I am disabled. I am legally blind so trying to avoid him was impossible. I could not see well enough to see him until he was within yards of me!”

Stalking was not always considered a crime.  That seems crazy, right?  Police had to wait for the perpetrator to commit another “real” crime before he or she could be arrested.  As stalking can escalate over time the next crime may be murder.

It was not until 1990 that the first anti-stalking law was passed in California [source].  This was a reaction to the death of Rebecca Schaeffer.  It took an actress being stalked and then murdered before “we the people” decided to do anything about it and this was only in one state.  In 1994, under the Violence Against Women Act, stalking was made a federal crime.  In 1996 this was expanded to include any type of stalking, regardless of the presence of a previous relationship or not.

1 in 6 women and 1 in 19 men have experienced being stalked.  Stalkers may do anything from follow a person, or send them “gifts,” to threatening to harm a pet, friend, or family member.  Stalking is a very serious crime.  For more information please check out the Stalking Resource Center.  It is important for victims to have the knowledge to understand what is happening to them and the resources to get help.  The Violence Against Women Act made this possible.  It made people take this crime seriously.  This is only one of the many reasons it must be reauthorized.

When Sharing Becomes Exploitive

Lately I have begun to notice what I find to be a disturbing trend. I know it is not a new one but I find it objectionable nonetheless. People are sharing stories that are not their own; horrible, graphic, and terrifying stories of sexual assault and violence. Sometimes there are pictures or videos involved where the survivor’s identity is not being protected and his or her story is not being honored. I have seen several posts and articles where a video is posted and the author of the piece says something like “I could barely make it through ___ minutes.” My question is why are you watching at all? Videos and photos do not need to be shared in order to point out that something terrible happened.

This feels exploitive to me. It feels wrong.

I was in an abusive relationship for many, many years. After it ended I saw him about a year later. He assaulted me. If someone had caught it on tape and shared it with the world, without my knowledge, or permission, before I was ready to share my story I would feel violated. Once it is out there you cannot take it back. You may think that you are helping by sharing their story and attempting to shine a light onto a terrible injustice, but you’re not. By sharing another person’s story, especially one of violence, you could be just another person taking away their voice. You are disempowering them by telling them how they should be feeling, what they should be thinking, and how they should be reacting. It was a long time before I could name what happened to me and the process of sharing has barely started. Healing is a process. Part of that process is recognizing what happened to you and giving it a name on your own.

A survivor is the sole owner of his or her story. They should be the ones to tell it, in their own time, and with whomever they want. If they want to share it with a broader audience then so be it. But it needs to be their choice. A story of violence is a terrible thing but once someone has experienced it, it is a part of their life. It is sacred. If someone is not ready to identify as a survivor outing them will do so much damage. You may be rallying people for a cause but in the process you’ve destroyed the person you are supposedly fighting for. To me this is not worth it.

So be careful when you tell someone else’s story. Ask yourself why you are sharing it. Is it for the benefit of the survivor, or for you? Are you protecting this person? If not please think twice about posting or sharing. Think about the way you are doing so. Is it to honor them and bring light to injustice or for sensationalism and a boost in your ratings? Using the words “trigger warning” at the beginning of your post does not give you the right to exploit another person.

If this post makes you feel defensive or chastised please take a good look at what you’ve been posting. Ask yourself if you too have been exploiting the survivor for a story. If you have, then stop. Fighting against rape culture and the oppression of women is important. But we cannot do so by stepping on the souls of each other. We need to be careful, especially with blogging where the only people to hold us accountable for what we post are each other.

For a website that does a great job of honoring survivors and giving them a space to share their stories check out And It Was Wrong.

More Concise Thoughts on VAWA

**Trigger Warning – this is not a sugar-coated post**

Earlier this month I posted that the Violence Against Women Act had failed to be reauthorized.  I know that this is “old news” in the internet world but I have been taking the time to come up with more concise thoughts on the matter.  My first post was a gut reaction coming off of a grave shift.  Considering the circumstances I did a fairly good job at expressing my feelings.

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was first enacted in 1994.  The then Senator, now Vice President Joe Biden was one of the main players.  Since 1994 it has been reauthorized with support from both parties.  It really is a ground breaking piece of legislation that not only provides services for survivors but has tough consequences for perpetrators as well.  The combination makes this an incredibly holistic piece of legislation.  Each time it has been reauthorized new provisions and protections have been added.  Here are some things that VAWA has done:

  1. Created a federal “rape shield law” – this means that a survivors past sexual history and behaviors cannot be used against her in a rape case.  To some this may not seem necessary but considering the amount of victims blaming that goes on when a woman is raped it is absolutely necessary.  I’ve said it before and I will continue to say it.  Rape is not about sex.  It is about power.  The only person responsible for rape is the rapist.  Period.  It does not matter what the woman is wearing or what she behaves like, whether it is the day that she is raped, three weeks before, or three years ago.  It does not matter how many people she has had sex with, if she flirts at parties, or drinks alcohol.
  2. Strengthened federal penalties for repeat offenders.
  3. Survivors do not have to pay for the expense of an exam, after care, or getting a protection order.  Any survivor, no matter her income level or class, can go to the hospital and does not have to pay for a rape kit to be done.  This is so important.  Can you imagine if after a woman is raped she also has the additional financial burden of being able to take care of her body?  This includes wellness exams also.  A rape kit is looking for evidence should the case go to trial where as a wellness exam is just taking care of the woman’s body.  This often includes some sort of morning after pill.
  4. Training law enforcement and people who work within the legal system with the realities of domestic violence and sexual assault.  When the police are called to a home for domestic violence it can often times be the woman, the survivor, who is arrested.  Sometimes this is because she chose to fight back and therefore left visible marks, like scratches, on her abuser.  Bruises that she may have will not show up right away.  Another reason for this is that when the police show up often times the survivor is the distraught one and the abuser is calm.  He gains trust by calmly explaining his version of what happened; he is clear, concise, and in control.  This is why a survivor can have domestic violence charges on her record.  Trainings are specifically designed to help law enforcement identify who is the abuser and who is the survivor.
  5. Training for advocates to understand the complexities of domestic violence and sexual assault.
  6. Expanded access to services for survivors and establishing the National Domestic Violence Hotline which receives over 22,000 calls per month.  For many callers it is their first time reaching out for help.
  7. Bringing together different types of groups and organizations to provide holistic support to survivors whether it is medical, legal, mental health (counseling/therapy), victim advocacy, etc.
  8. Focusing attention on underserved communities such as immigrants, and supporting tribal governments in their work to support survivors by strengthening their capacity to protect Native Americans and Alaska Native Women.
  9. Encouraging women to report abuse.  Since its enactment more women than ever have reported domestic violence and sexual assault.
  10. States are taking violence against women more seriously.  Marital rape is not a myth or seen as lesser than stranger rape.  Stalking is a crime.  States have authorized warrantless arrests were the officer determines there is probable cause.  Criminal sanctions for violation of a civic order.  Many states have started addressing violence in the workplace.  For example to protect survivors against discrimination due to the violence they experience and unemployment insurance if they have to leave their job due to it.

These are just some of the provisions and changes that have come about because of VAWA.  The newest version included protections for women in the LGBTQ community, Native Americans, and Immigrants.  This once again was going to be ground breaking.

Abuse in the LGBTQ community is just starting to be widely recognized.  This partly stems from age-old gender stereotypes.  Man equals strong, big, proud, able to take care of himself.  Woman equals weak, emotional, caring, and in need of protection.  When a man is being abused by another man it can often be a difficult thing to admit.  He not only has to fight against his own sense of pride and shame but the shaming and disbelief of others.  When a woman is being abused by another woman it is not taken seriously.  Outsiders generally assume that women are not abusive and if they are it is not physical.  Physical abuse is thought of as the worst type of abuse, especially by people who have never experienced it.  I have talked to several women who have a hard time taking their abuse seriously because their abuser did not hit them.  Instead he hurt her in ways that were less visible.  Financial, sexual, emotional, mental, and spiritual abuse are very real, and in my opinion can be worse than physical.  When someone hits you, you have a provable mark on your body.  There is evidence that can be shown to another person.  Other types of abuse are not visible and therefore hard to prove.  I am not trying to say that women are not physically abusive.  Abuse, like rape, like sexual assault is about power.  It is about controlling another human being, not matter their age, gender, or sex.

Protection for immigrants is another very important piece.  Abusers will use a survivors legal status as way to prevent them from seeking services.  This added protection says that it does not matter if a person is here illegally.  Abuse is abuse.  Rape is rape.  Abusers will tell the person being abused that if they go to the police they will be arrested and/or deported.  This prevents that.  It takes away a part of the abusers power.  Can you imagine coming to this county only to be stuck in an abusive relationship or to be raped with no way to come forward, no way to seek protection or resources, and no way to seek legal recourse?

Protections for Native Americans is also important.  At this point in time if a non-native commits an act of violence, such as rape on native land he gets away with it.  The US government cannot prosecute because it was on native land and the tribal government cannot do anything as the person is not a member of the tribe.  1 in 3 Native women will be raped in their life time.  1 in 3.  Most will be raped by a non-native person.  The most recent version of VAWA would have given tribal governments the ability to prosecute these men.  As it stand there is nothing, nothing that can be done.  Pardon me for being crass but a non-native man could walk onto tribal land and repeatedly rape every woman there and walk away scott free.  How is this okay?  How is this something that we are okay with?

These last three points are the ones that House Republicans have a problem with.  They decided that illegal immigrants, lesbians, and Native Americans (that’s the kicker) are not people.  At least not people deserving of  the rights and protections provided other women in this county.  I firmly believe that it is our job as people of this country to protect each other, and especially to protect the most vulnerable amongst us.  I do not care who you sleep with, or where you are from, violence against women is wrong.  It is unacceptable that this was not reauthorized.  Not only did they not want to authorize it with the additional protections they wanted to take away provisions already in place.  I cannot even fully express to you how angry this makes me.  Seriously Congress get your act together.