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)

What About the Boys?

So much of the anti-violence movement focuses on violence against women. That is often what we hear more about and statistically speaking women are more likely to have experienced violence. That doesn’t mean that we can forget about the boys and the men who have also experienced violence. This post raises some great questions and issues. I highly encourage you to check it out. It is written by a professor from my alma mater and a brilliant one at that. Also check out her blog: http://mamaunabridged.com/.

Mama Unabridged

In Quaker-speak, we have something called a “concern,” which is basically a deep-felt divine prompting to attend to a particular need. Although I’ve long felt a general sense of “concern” about injustices related to gender and sexuality, when I wrote that article about Don Draper being raped, I thought it would be a small foray for me into the issue of sexual violence against males. My main goal was to raise awareness and perhaps motivate others to speak out on their behalf.

But I can’t seem to look away. This issue of boys being sexually assaulted and shamed into silence is increasingly feeling like a “concern.” Writing that article opened a Pandora’s box for me, a box full of horrifying statistics and heartbreaking accounts of abuse. Most of the people who responded to me personally after the article came out were male survivors. Many of expressed variations of the same…

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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.

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*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?

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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.

There is Power in Storytelling

I facilitate a weekly support group for the women I serve who have experienced intimate partner violence.  Often times all I do is pose a question or topic and it takes off from there.  I am constantly being surprised and touched by the women in this group and what sticks with me the most is the power in their storytelling.  First of all it allows each woman to see and hear the similarities in each others stories.  They know and connect with other women who have been in violent, unhealthy, and abusive relationships.  An abusive person often keeps his or her partner isolated from their friends and family.  Sharing what they went through helps to break this isolation.  They learn that the relationship they were in was not normal or healthy.  They hear their experiences being spoken in another woman’s voice and they feel connected to something bigger than themselves.  Through sharing they help to break the silence surrounding intimate partner violence.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM) and this week is the Week Without Violence at my work.  For this we decided to participate in something called The Clothesline Project.  This is a project that was started in Massachusetts in 1990 to address violence against women.  It is a way for *women who have been or know someone who has been affected by violence to share their stories by decorating a t-shirt.  After the t-shirts are finished they are hung up on display as a testimony to these women and their stories.  Originally different colored t-shirts meant different things.  For example, a white t-shirt symbolized a woman killed by an intimate partner, blue for sexual abuse and incest, purple for women who were attacked based on their sexual orientation, etc.  But it has grown from there mostly based on availability and economics (white shirts come in larger packs…).  The project has also grown to a world-wide one.

Last week during support group I explained this project and we painted t-shirts.  The experience was an incredibly moving one.  Mostly we painted in silence; each woman lost in her own memory.  But as they began to finish they began to share about their t-shirts.  There were a lot of tears, hugs, and nods of understanding.  This project served to connect this group of women in such a powerful way, more so than the rest of the groups we had done in the weeks prior.

One woman had painted a scene with flowers under a sky that was half sun and half clouds.  She explained that the flowers were for her and each of her children, and that they were growing through what they had gone through.  The smaller flowers were for the children because they were still growing and had so much potential still.  There were both clouds and the sun because tomorrow is always another day.  They had the chance to run and start over, and they took it.  Another woman put what she called her “freedom date” on the shirt; the date she left.  Another women wrote, “I have rights.”  And still another wrote that “love shouldn’t hurt” surrounded by the initials of women she knew who had survived.  Another woman painted a heart with wings in a cage.  On the back was the same picture but with the cage door open.  Still others wrote things like, “Stop the Silence,” “Never Again,” and simply “I survived.”  Others painted a purple ribbon with the names of those they knew who had been killed.

As they explained and held up the t-shirts they shared their experiences.  They named their abusers.  It was powerful for everyone involved.  This week the t-shirts will be put on display with others.  I am excited to share these t-shirts and vicariously be a voice for the women I work with.  For me DVAM is about more than making those in the community aware about domestic violence, it’s about sharing stories and breaking the silence for those who may be in abusive relationships themselves.  It is about connecting survivors with other survivors and letting them know they are not alone.

Clothesline Project

If you ever get the chance to view a Clothesline Project in your community I would highly suggest that you do it.

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*Please note that the language I am using is reflected by the project itself.  Domestic violence can affect anyone and does not discriminate based on gender, sex, religion, economic status, or education level.