Courageous Words

Another powerful message from a courageous survivor. I am sharing the following message that was shared with a sexual assault message group. Because this is a more public forum, I have chosen to remove the author's name (because she is a survivor of sexual assault). She wrote the letter openly, but I don't know her, so am choosing to protect her privacy. Great words...

Good Morning, the Fort Wayne Sexual Assault Treatment Center is lucky to know a brave woman [survivor's name withheld]. Below is the letter that she wrote in response to Mr. Turner stating that his son should not have to be punished his whole life for "20 minutes of action." Please share with whoever you feel would benefit from her powerful words. In today's society, it seems that sometimes a blind eye is turned for our patients, and no one truly understands until it happens to them.

*So, apparently (as everyone has noticed) the story of Brock Turner has been weighing heavily on my heart. Today I sent his father an open letter. I wanted to share it for all of you who continue to live with the effects of sexual assault.

Dear Mr. Turner,
I have, as much of the nation, followed the story of your son’s trial as well as the circumstances surrounding the rape of his victim. I wanted to say first and foremost that as a parent and a Christian, I understand your desire to protect your son, to ensure that he has a life to return to and that he can be a functioning member of society. It is, what I believe, all parents wish for their children, even ones who have committed a heinous act. No parent should turn their back on their child, and I am sure that no one expected you to feel any differently regarding your son. 
I do, however, wish to offer you a very important prospective that may be vital to your point of view. 
You see, I am your son’s victim. 
Not the most recent, you understand. I am what a victim has become twenty years after sexual assault. 
While you speak passionately about how your son has been unable to eat, about how he will now be affected for the rest of his life because of his “twenty minutes of action”, I would like to give you some insight on what those actions, regardless of how brief, impact a victim for the rest of her life.
Like your son’s victim, I was young, I made mistakes, I was somewhere that I had used poor judgement before going to. Like your son, my attacker was an “elite athlete”, who had so much going for him beyond what he had done. 
Unlike your son's victim, I caved into pressure. I was told that there would most likely not be a conviction and, afraid of everyone knowing what had happened, calling me a liar, a whore, an attention seeker, I caved into pressure and buried my shame as far down as I could reach. I was not brave like your son’s victim. 
But here are some ways that your son’s victim will be like me:
She will have parts of her body, regardless of the showers, the therapy, the emotional cleansing that she goes through, that she will want to set on fire. She will remember touches from your son, from nurses collecting samples and will wince occasionally and unintentionally when she is touched lovingly by her husband.
She will be on stage accepting an award for the good works that she has performed, and she will catch a hint of cologne that instantly throws her back to that night. She will have to do everything in her power, unknown to a room full of clapping admirers, to keep the bile from rising up in her throat and vomiting all over that stage.
She will be cleaning a skinned knee after her son comes to her crying from a spill off his bike, and the peroxide will suddenly remind her of cleaning her wounds after her attack. There, kneeling in a gravel alley over her little boy’s band-aid, she will use every ounce of strength to command her body not to shake and convulse in front of him.
As a parent, I imagine it is hard for you to have any empathy past your own son, which may be an indicator into his upbringing and why it was possible for him to do what he did to this young woman. Good parents have kids that make mistakes, for sure. But your excuses for him are beyond protective and downright disturbing, Mr. Turner. The fact that you can completely disregard your son’s victim with the knowledge that this could have been your wife, your daughter, your mother...
No one is telling you to stop loving or abandon your son, Mr. Turner. What we are asking is that you stand up for your daughter. Your wife. Your mother. Your future grand-daughters. 
Men are also victims of sexual assault and rape, Mr. Turner. I ask that you take into thought that by your actions you may very well be paving the way for someone who victimizes your son or grandson. It doesn't end with women. 
For they are all your son’s victims. They are all us, and we are all them, and when you excuse and condone your son’s actions, you are not only violating your son’s victim, you are violating the people you love, you are destroying their place in the world, you are ensuring that there is nowhere safe, or just, or merciful for any of us. 
We hope you keep this in mind, Mr. Turner, as your son continues his life and throughout the next victims that he creates (and believe me, Mr. Turner, there will be more.) 
My hope is that you can find some way to repair the damage you have done from the role you played in all of this, and that one day you can understand that those “20 minutes of action” as you refer to have done more damage that you can possibly imagine to more people than you or your son could ever make amends to.
Sincerely,
[Survivor's Name Withheld]

‪#‎BrockTurner‬  #StanfordRapeCase 

Rape Jokes...Not so funny people!

Lately, it seems like just about every day you can skim through your facebook feed and see either a post showing a rape joke, or a post about a rape joke.  One of the more recent ones that has exploded on the facebook scene is the comedian Daniel Tosh and his use of rape jokes during his stand-up routine.  It seems like there has been a total explosion of these jokes, but in reality, I think rape jokes have always been far too common.  It may be that we are just seeing them more often because of the advent of facebook. Several years ago, before the facebook and myspace explosion, I was still hearing rape jokes.  Maybe I didn't see them as often as I do now on sites like facebook, but I heard them.  I don't think they were as vulgar as blatant as they are today, but there were still references to rape that were inappropriate at best.

The most common one I heard then, and by far the most common thing I hear even now today from the actual mouths of people  is the use of the term "rape" to refer to being charged too much for a product or treated unfairly.  An example of this would be the sentence "I got raped at the gas station today."  Ever since I was raped, hearing this type of statement is like nails on the chalkboard.  On top of the fact that for a period of time, the mere mention of "rape" sent chills down my spine, hearing it used in such a casual context, to describe something that didn't come even remotely close to what a rape victim really goes through just stung.  Of course, no one realized this would bother me, because most people didn't know that I had experienced rape.  The first problem with using the term rape in this context is that it takes away from the severity of what this crime really is.  It makes a crime where dignity and choice is ripped away from a victim, leaving them feeling guilt, shame and violated unlike any other crime seem no worse than having to pay extra money to put gas in the car.  Quite honestly, even though I don't like hearing the term rape be used in this way, I don't generally get that upset about it with the people using it in that way.  They are typically people who mean no harm and are using it in that way because they feel society is OK with it.  They don't realize how awful that sounds to a victim.

However, when comedians resort to using rape jokes in their stand-up routines, that is a whole different matter.  Although Daniel Tosh is the comdian currently in the news for doing this, he is by far not the first or only comedian to use rape jokes.  For one, the nature of these jokes is usually much more sinister than just misusing the term rape.  Often the jokes they make are victim-blaming in nature, alluding that victims are asking to be raped, that they deserve it, or that all claims of rape are false accusations.  Quite frankly, my thought about a comedian who uses rape jokes in their routine is that they aren't smart enough to come up with real material that is actually funny.  I wouldn't pay any money to see a comedian who is known for using rape jokes, and frankly, you couldn't even pay me enough money to see one either.

If you are a comedian - don't use rape jokes in your routine - if you are real comedian, you won't need to.

If you are an average joe person - don't make rape jokes.  1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men are victims of rape, chances are, there is a victim within hearing distance of your joke.  It won't be funny to them, and it shouldn't be funny to anyone else either.

Slutwalks - The real benefit of them...

I'm sure if you search for "Slutwalk" on any blog site, you'll get your share of blogs both in support of, and against, them.  It seems almost everyone has an opinion on them.  The day after participating in the Des Moines Slutwalk for the second year in a row, I've been reflecting on what occurred yesterday. There were fewer people there this year than last year and the media didn't cover the event this year.  At first, I was really annoyed that the local media didn't feel the need to cover the event this year.  But after thinking about it, I have some mixed feelings on it.

This year's slutwalk rally after the march was a little different from last year's.  Last year, there were two speakers who had agreed to speak.  They came up, gave amazingly wonderful speeches sharing their stories and providing inspiration for the rest of us listening.  Then the organizer said the mic was open for anyone else who wanted to speak to come up and share their story.  No one approached.  Heather (the organizer) gave some more very supportive an inspirational words, and the group started to break apart to head to the after parties, or home.

This year: again, there were two people who had agreed to speak.  Both of us got up there and said what we had prepared.  But then, Heather mentioned that another participant had just told her that she wanted to speak.  She went up to the mic and admitted that she hadn't really planned to speak until she got to the walk that day.  She told an amazingly heartbreaking and inspiring story of how sexual assault had affected her life.  Then she sat down.  Then another young woman tentatively approached the mic and asked if she could share.  When she was done, another approached.  I lost count, but for almost an hour, survivors stepped forward and shared heartbreaking stories of how sexual assault and victim blaming had affected their lives, many sharing for the first time.  They were met with hugs when they got done speaking, and often throughout the rest of the evening other survivors would walk up to them and offer them hugs for sharing their stories.  There were a lot of hugs, and a lot of tears... But most of all, there was a lot of healing.

We've all heard the negative comments about the name Slutwalk.  That the name should be changed because it is derogatory.  The name "Slutwalk" comes from a specific event.  And yes, that incident involved a completely inappropriate and derogatory use of the term Slut.  But if you had been at the Des Moines Slutwalk yesterday, you would have seen that the point of this event has moved far beyond the term slut.  It is about supporting victims, providing hope, providing inspiration, reminding us that it is not their fault.  That they did not deserve what happened to them.  Generally, that they are AWESOME just for being survivors.

I was amazed and inspired each time a woman (or man) came forward and said "I wasn't planning on sharing this.  It isn't like me to be this open, but all you girls before me have inspired me to share what happened to me."  For each of these survivors, I believe that they healed just a little bit more when they spoke out, and especially when they were met with support after doing so.

The other amazing thing was the VARIETY of assaults represented by the survivors who spoke:

Spousal rape, child rape/molestation, male survivors, rape in the military, alcohol/drug facilitated rape, pregnancy as a result of rape, dating violence/date rape - and those are just the ones I remember off the top of my head.

But, this leads me to the mixed feelings part about the media.  I would have liked to see the media be there because 1) this IS a cause worth covering.  Awareness needs to be raised about how prevalent sexual assault is.  2) If they had been there - they would have seen the true benefit of slutwalks - the support it provides to survivors.  BUT... If the media had been there, many of these survivors would not have spoken out.  It's one thing to come up to a mic when you know that a few fellow survivors/supporters may have cameras taping, it's another thing when there is a media camera facing you.  I know the media cameras were one reason I didn't share last year - the thought of ending up on TV terrified me - I just wasn't ready for that step in speaking out yet.  (I believe that both media stations present last year asked the survivors who spoke for permission to use the video on the air - but that camera is still intimidating).  So, as much as I would have liked to see the media cover the event, in a lot of ways, I'm glad they didn't.  Because I believe a lot more healing occurred because they were not there.  And after all, healing is the best benefit of any event like this.

So, the next time you hear about a Slutwalk event in your area, instead of focusing on the word "Slut" in the name, focus on the fact that it is an incredible opportunity to show up and show your support for sexual assault survivors.  Don't judge an event by its name.  The name has a purpose, but it may not be near as important as the event itself.

Forgiveness

If you have read the page titled "My Story", you already know a little about my thoughts on forgiveness.  It's hard, it's not fast, but it is also extremely healing and very much worth it.  As I described there, after a whole lot of prayer I was able to forgive the man who raped me.  I wanted to add some thoughts on Forgiveness here.  What forgiveness is, and what it is not. For many survivors of rape or other forms of abuse, forgiveness is almost a 4-letter word.  And no doubt, forgiveness is hard, there is no question about that.  It’s hard about even some pretty small stuff at times, and it is really hard about something like abuse or assault.  Forgiveness is also not just for the person being forgiven.  Often times, forgiveness has a much greater effect on the person doing the forgiving than on the person who is forgiven.  The person who is forgiven may not even seek out, or know, that forgiveness has taken place.  But it can be extremely healing.  I once heard it said that holding unforgiveness toward someone is like carrying that person who hurt you on your back and you constantly have to carry the weight of their actions around with you.  Forgiveness allows you to break that tie and get rid of that extra weight.  In the secular world, forgiveness sometimes takes on a different connotation or meaning than it does in the Christian realm.  I want to take just a moment to talk about what forgiveness means in a Christian sense, and more importantly, what forgiveness is not.

Forgiveness is a paramount of the Christian faith, but that doesn’t mean that it is easy, or that it should happen overnight.  If forgiveness is rushed, sometimes it can actually interfere or seemingly cut off other parts of the healing process.

Forgiveness is also a process, not necessarily a snap decision.  Not only can forgiveness take a long time to achieve, but once you are able to forgive someone, sometimes it is more of a process.  You may find that you have days where you feel like you have taken several steps backward.  If you have a day where you seem to be triggered every time you turn around, or if you have to face your attacker/abuser again, especially unexpectedly, suddenly you may find that you don’t feel so forgiving toward them at the moment.  That is OK.  The important thing is that you don’t stop asking God for help with forgiving.  I realized this just a few months after I decided to share my story at my church.  I was checking my email and saw that I had a notification saying that a friend had tagged me in a picture on Facebook (an account which I had hesitantly opened only about a year prior to this).  I clicked on the link in the email to see what picture a friend had tagged of me.  I wasn’t thinking much about it because I had recently “friended” some high school classmates and several of them had been tagging old high school pictures.  My computer opened up the link in the email and up popped a picture from when J. (the guy who eventually raped me) and I had dated and it was one of the school dances that we had attended together. This person of course had no idea what had happened with J., she had no idea how painful that picture was.  But seeing us standing there together with his arm around me, especially when it was totally unexpected, hit me like a punch to the gut.  I actually almost fell backwards in the desk chair that I was sitting in because I was so startled.  I had seen pictures of us together, but it had really been a few years, and for some reason, that picture just crumpled me.  I couldn’t “untag” myself fast enough from the picture, I didn’t want to be associated with this picture in any way.

After the moment passed, I reflected back on it and that is when I started to wonder why I was bothered by the picture if I had forgiven J.  This was when I realized that forgiveness truly is a process.   And like any process, you move forward at times, and you have set backs at times.

Another thing seeing the picture on Facebook taught me was that forgiveness does not take away the pain of what happened.  It doesn’t somehow magically make the pain caused by this other person go away.  But it does go a long way towards taking away the anger and bitterness that can eat at you from the inside out.  When I really analyzed my reactions to the picture, I realized that where there would have been hatred, bitterness and anger in years past, there was now a different set of emotions.  I was stunned by the picture for sure, but I also felt a real sense of loss and sadness over what J. had done to me.  There was a sadness because a high school dance photo should bring back happy memories.  Those happier memories had now been overshadowed by the pain of his actions on one fateful night.

Forgiveness does not take away the injustice of the act committed.  The secular world sometimes uses forgiveness in simple situations.  For example, someone bumps into you and knocks several items out of your hands and they scatter to the floor.  The person says “I’m sorry.”  You say, “It’s Ok.  Don’t worry about it.  I forgive you.”  And the incident passes away as if it never really happened.  In situations of abuse, this is not what happens with forgiveness.  It doesn’t change the fact that what this person did to you was absolutely wrong, nothing will change that.  But trying to hang onto the hatred and/or anger felt at what the person did, doesn’t hurt that person, it hurts the person who doesn’t forgive.

In addition, forgiveness does not mean that someone will not have to face consequences for their actions in this life.  Choosing to forgive someone for a crime they committed against you, does not mean that they can’t and or shouldn’t face consequences set up by our legal system.  Choosing to report and/or go forward with prosecution of the crime does not mean that you have not or cannot forgive the person.

Finally, if you don't feel like you are in a place where you can forgive someone for what they've done to you - that's OK!  There is no definite timeline on forgiveness as to how quickly you should forgive someone.  Forgive when God leads you to that.  It will be difficult, but it will be worth it.  And when you get to that point, remember, that you don't have to do it alone.  Accept the help that God freely gives to you in the area of forgiveness.

God Bless.

How Young is Too Young?

A few weeks ago, I shared my story and testimony at a church a few hours away.  Before I came up to speak, the Pastor gave a short disclaimer mentioning the topic I was going to share about (rape), saying that what I said would be done tastefully, but parents could choose to take their kids to the nursery or another part of the church if they wanted to.  I completely respect his decision to provide the congregation of his church a heads up on the topic for the day, but there was a part of me that wanted to stand up and add my own disclaimer before people had a chance to remove their kids.  Now, I am not a parent, and obviously every parent needs to decide when is the best time is to talk to their kids about sexual abuse, but personally I feel that many parents may wait too long to speak to their kids about the topic of sexual assault. So many parents feel that they can wait until their children are older to talk to them about sexual assault, but in reality, if your child can understand language, I think the topic of sexual assault should be discussed with them.  Often times, parents aren't sure how to bring this topic up so they tend to rely on the church or school to talk to their kids.  Often times, churches and schools don't talk to the children early enough.  A perfect example of this was talked about by Speaker and Author Nicole Bromley on a TV show called "Everlasting Love".  (You can see the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TptobshZ4Ps&feature=relmfu).  Nicole was sexually abused by her stepfather from the age of 5 until she was 14.  She mentions on this show that the youngest group of students she's been allowed to speak to is 5th grade.  In addition, she first heard about sexual assault at 5th grade, but at that point, she'd been being sexually abused for 5 years!  She needed that information in Kindergarten.  That's something pretty serious to think about with your own kids.  Of course, no one wants to think that their kids can be abused because a majority of children are abused by someone they know.  No one wants to imagine that someone they know could commit such a heinous act.

If you've read the "My Story" page of this blog, you know that I was raped as a 16 year old teenager.  I had heard of sexual assault before that time.  The problem for me was that it was always portrayed as happening to a certain "stereotype" of victim and by a specific "stereotype" of man - stereotypes that I and the guy who raped me did not meet.  However, as a forensic scientist, I know all too well that abuse happens younger than 5th grade.  I've had victims in my cases as young as 2 years old.  I've had numerous victims in cases that are between the ages of 6-10.  Many had been abused multiple times before they actually tell.  One victim came home to tell her mom she had been abused by her grandfather the day she saw a presentation at school (in 2nd grade) - she'd been being abused for 2 years at that point.  Clearly, this abuse is happening at ages earlier than when the schools and churches want to introduce the topic.

In my opinion, children need to hear about sexual abuse (in age appropriate ways) pretty much as soon as they are able to understand a conversation with them.  At the very least, as soon as they are able to speak more than just a few words.  I've often heard parents say that they want their children to be able to remain innocent as long as possible so they don't want to introduce this topic too soon.  I completely understand that concern.  However, wouldn't you rather have a little of that innocence chipped away by your child hearing about sexual abuse, what it is, that it's not OK, and that they need to tell you if someone ever tries anything remotely like it with them; than having the innocent completely shattered when someone sexually abuses your child numerous times before you have a chance to talk to them about it.  It's the sad but true reality of the world that we live in.

If you want resources on what child sexual abuse is, how prevalent it is, or tips on talking to your children - here are some links that you can check out.

http://www.nsvrc.org/publications/child-sexual-assault - A whole host of publications on the topic of child sexual assault.

http://childmolestationprevention.org/ - A great website resource devoted to child sexual abuse.

http://www.tellinitlikeitis.net/2008/05/why-don%E2%80%99t-kids-tell-talking-to-your-children-about-sexual-abuse.html - Another website with resources about talking to your kids about sexual abuse, and with information as to why kids don't talk about sexual assault.

http://www.rainn.org/get-information/types-of-sexual-assault/child-sexual-abuse/if-you-suspect - The Rape Abuse Incest National Network has some great resources on sexual assault, particularly this document with tips on talking to your kids.

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/overcoming-child-abuse/201006/how-and-when-talk-your-child-about-sexual-abuse - Another great article about talking to your kids.

As you can see from this sampling of sites, the resources are out there.  If you don't find the information you want, Google the topic "Talking to kids about sexual abuse" - you'll be taken to these and many other resources on the topic.

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." - Edmund Burke

God Bless!

A View From A Pew - Radio Show

This post isn't so much of a blog as just a short post.  I spoke out today on a radio show that is simulcast on the web as well.  The show is focused on sexual assault and how Christians can respond to victims of sexual assault.  We also touch on how Christians can respond to offenders as well.  Check it out. http://www.livestream.com/desmoineslocallive/video?clipId=pla_9faa361e-c6be-4603-9e5c-e2d970060895

God Bless!