Wellspring - Ending relationship and sexual abuse in Saratoga County

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123 Sole Survivor

War Memorial 123

Saratoga… We Have a Problem

Saratoga County is admired as a perfect picture of Upstate New York.  Nestled between the Capitol District and the Adirondacks, it’s a scenic, historical area, with big city attractions embodying a small town feel that appeals to both locals and tourists from around the world.

However, just like any county, we have our challenges.  Some are apparent and dealt with publicly and swiftly, others are hidden and unresolved.  One of the many reasons why societal challenges persist is because they go undetected.  In order to fix a problem, we first must acknowledge it.

In 2012, Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services of Saratoga County (DVRC) served 123 sexual violence victims.  Over 25% were under the age of 20.  Eighty-three percent were victimized by someone they knew (such as a marital partner, ex-partner, co-worker, peer, or relative).

Not what you expected?  Imagine this:  According to the United States Department of Justice, only 20% of sexual assault victims ever seek help from an agency like DVRC.  What if 123 represented only 20% of the total number  of sexual assault incidents in Saratoga County in 2012?

National statistics indicate 1 in 5 women and 1 in 10 men experience sexual violence in their lifetime. By the math, 30,000 Saratoga County residents may be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Clearly, the prevalence of sexual assault in Saratoga County is a problem.

DVRC collected 123 pairs of shoes to represent each sexual assault victim served in 2012.  Throughout the months of April and May, DVRC displayed these shoes in various public places such as Saratoga Spring’s Congress Park, Saratoga County Municipal Plaza, and Saratoga Spa State Park.  One hundred and twenty-three shoes do not go unnoticed.  At each location, photos were taken to memorialize the visual extent of sexual assault in Saratoga County. You can see all of the photographs taken in the following link: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.536888746374174.1073741826.406790249384025&type=3


If we were to walk in these shoes, what would we learn?

Sexual assault is any sexual act done against someone’s will.  Sometimes physical force is used, but more often than not, there is coercion involved; i.e., the victim feels intimidated by his/her perpetrator.  It may be because of the perpetrator’s physical stature, some threat made towards the victim or their family, and/or fear of what the perpetrator is willing to do to get what they want.  The perpetrator takes control of the victim’s body, the ultimate violation. [Sex, one of the most intimate contacts one person can have with another person, is used to exert power.]

Sexual assault can happen to anyone of any race, class, culture, or gender.  It is never the victim’s fault, no matter the circumstances.  Sometimes, a victim may blame themselves for not handling the situation differently or missing red flags.  Of course, everyone makes mistakes and misjudgments; but does that justify rape?

Sexual violence, including rape, is a social problem, and social problems persist in the absence of social change. Social change starts with a shared awareness, and only then can it move into action. You can help end sexual violence in Saratoga County – call 518-583-0280 to get involved.

DVRC provides individual counseling, advocacy with medical services, law enforcement, and other agencies, and a 24-hour hotline for victims of sexual assault.  DVRC works with victims and family and friends to provide information, support and resources to help them move forward in their lives.  For more information, please call the DVRC office at 518-584-8188. Or call the hotline at 518-584-8188.

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day

Did you know?
  • 1 in 10 elders will be victims of elder abuse 
  • only 20% of elder abuse cases are ever reported to the authorities, or
  • that amounts to more than  a half a million reported cases of elder abuse in the US...each year!
Today, June 15th, is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.So what is elder abuse?

When we think of elder abuse, we may immediately think of a vulnerable senior who is physically assaulted. But elder abuse can take various forms:
  • Physical and Sexual Abuse- Unexplained cuts, bruises, fractures, or reports of unwanted sexual contact or unexplained sexually transmitted infections.
  • Neglect- Inadequate food, hygiene, clean or appropriate clothing. living in dangerous environment (e.g., lacking heat, utilities), withholding medications or medical aids (walker, hearing aids, dentures). Confinement to bed without care, or  left without necessary supervision.
  • Psychological or Emotional Abuse- verbal aggression, threats, intimidation, social isolation, or uncaring
  • Financial Exploitation- Controlling and 'living off' the elders resources without providing for their needs, excessive 'payments' or 'gifts'  for care or companionship, withholding goods or services the elder needs and can afford, coercing the elder into turning over property or financial resources when they cannot understand the transaction.
Elders may be abused by family, caregivers, or professionals providing care. The frail elderly are at increased risk for victimization. Social isolation, dependence on the abuser for basic needs and dementia or declining cognitive functioning can prevent a vulnerable elder from disclosing the abuse.

Most elder abuse goes undetected. If you are suspect abuse, report your concerns to  your county's 
Adult Protective Services. You do not need proof of abuse; they can investigate to determine if abuse is occurring. 

Those were the days…maybe not

If you grew up in the 70's , it's a pretty good bet that you used to watch All in the Family. I know every week my parents and I would gather around the black and white Magnavox TV and laugh at the antics of Archie, Edith, Gloria and 'the Meathead'. That was quality family time.

Jean Stapleton (Edith Bunker) recently passed away. In a nostalgic moment this weekend, my hubby, lounging in his well-loved recliner, was watching old episodes of All in the Family on his computer. Cooking dinner I watched over his shoulder an episode called Archie's Chair in which Michael accidentally breaks Archie's iconic recliner.

The family frantically tries to get the chair repaired before Archie returns home, only for the unthinkable to happen...the repair company mistakes his chair for junk and discards it. Archie has a fit, tyrannizing Edith by yelling and threatening to break furniture; it was the classic reactionary Archie Bunker rant we all laughed at back in my youth.

I suddenly had an Ah Ha moment; these are classic red flags. The family continually walking on eggshells. Sometimes he's loving and tender, but  sometimes uses anger or intimidation to maintain order in his house. Wow... that sounds a lot like the power and control that characterizes an abusive relationship. And that's what my family, and millions of others like us all over America, called family entertainment back in the 70's.

Archie's charm was his unabashed humanness... including stubbornness, vehement political conservatism and bigotry.But I don't recall anyone ever commenting on his behaviors as abusive.  Was Edith in danger from Archie's rages? Never. Did he love her? Clearly. Did his incessant disrespect, "Stifle it Edith" erode her self worth? Undoubtedly.Did the whole family tread carefully to avoid rousing his ire? Every single episode.Is my reaction excessive? Arguably.... but maybe it's also an indicator of how far we've come. Today it's simply not funny to see someone raging at their loved ones... it's uncomfortable. 

But the show also answers the age-old question, "Why people stay in an abusive relationship?". Often because they love the person, even with all his/her complex human flaws. Or because they've made a commitment to each other... for better or worse. Would we ever picture Edith leaving Archie? No. But why didn't we ever question why it was OK, even funny to treat a loved one that way? Maybe because it was all in the family. It's interestingly that I  see things so differently with 30 or 40 years to think about what makes a loving relationship. 

Katherine Seeber … how many victims?

Katherine Seeber was a perpetrator of domestic violence...and she was a victim of domestic violence, more than once. But she  wasn't the only victim...in fact I don't think we can even count how many people's lives have been tragically impacted by the multiple domestic violence events in her life alone.

Reading yesterday's  Saratogian news article about the murder  of Katherine Seeber, I am so struck by how much violence and how much suffering has orbited this family in the past decade. From her part in the brutal murder of her helpless 91 year-old grandmother (she states her co-conspirator in the murder was an abusive partner who "had a hold on her life") to several abusive relationships, some even after receiving domestic violence counseling in prison, to her own death at the hands of an abuser, there has been a roller coaster of violence and despair. The ups and downs, courtroom machinations and senselessness of all this violence  leaves me shaking my head. But I can't shake away how much this family and their friends has suffered...and continues to do so.

And they're not the only ones. The effects of relationship abuse aren't limited just to the partners in the abusive relationship .Recently I stumbled on a website that lists news stories about domestic violence homicides in the US.This isn't pleasant reading; I can't think of anything more horrific or voyeuristic  than reading the details of multiple murders. But take just five minutes and read it anyway.  Why? Because  it really makes an impact. We've all  seen these stories in our newspapers and after a while we become desensitized.

When I read about  one domestic homicide after another, it strikes me how pervasive and tragic this problem is.We have to... I have to... do whatever I can to end relationship abuse. Because I know that while most abusive relationships don't end in death, some do, and we can't predict which ones. When I read these news stories back to back I understand what the blog's author means, "When is society going to realize intimate violence makes victims of us all?"

Eat A Donut Today… For the USA

Today is National Donut Day. No kidding-... it's a real US holiday, recognized the first Friday of every June. 

Why? Because in WWI there were comfort stations to assist the soldiers. These stations provided physical and emotional nourishment for our soldiers. Female volunteers provided food, including donuts (leading to the moniker Donut Dollies).

These Donut Dollies aren't feeding the troops... they're having a snack.
Later, in 1938 the Salvation Army in Chicago implemented National Donut Day as a way to raise funds to support our troops. 

It’s a fun reason to stop and pick up a dozen donuts… but also a great reminder of all the men and women who have risked so much to support our country. So enjoy a donut today… and don’t forget to thank a veteran too!

Take a Closer Look

Take a Closer Look at Relationship Abuse
– at the Tang Museum

There are many myths surrounding Relationship Abuse – who it affects, how the abuse starts, and what forms it takes. Until we debunk these myths, relationship abuse will continue on its current course – to affect 1 in every 4 women, 1 in every 6 men, and 1 in every 3 teenagers. The first step in reducing the prevalence of abuse is increased understanding and awareness.

We invite everyone to help DVRC by helping each other. To do that every one needs to understand the many forms of abuse and their warning signs, and have the courage and skills to open a conversation with someone in need and even with someone who is abusive. Join us on June 9th at the event or visit the exhibit at the Tang Museum (runs until August 11th) to Take a Closer Look at relationship abuse.

transformer_event DVRC

Focusing on the Quick Fix… Not the Real Fix

Why do we put our focus on the victim in abusive situations rather than the abusers?

It happens in domestic violence cases. We ask, “Why does she (or he) stay?” instead of “Why does the partner keep abusing? It recently happened in an Albany middle school where a girl was so bullied that  she hid in a bathroom terrified she’d be beaten and called her parents on her cell phone to rescue her. The bullying was not a one-time incident. The Times Union’s , Scott Waldman, reports the biracial girl’s tormenters, fellow honors students, had donned KKK hoods and made comments about her skin color and family during classes.

The school officials viewed this as a “joke gone bad’ and solved the problem by promoting the girl to the 9th grade, with a transfer to the high school away from her abusers, three months before the end of the school year, and offering her the option of talking about how the incident made her feel in a ‘sensitivity circle’. The harassers were not disciplined. However, the US Department of Education had a different view of this. They felt the school officials should have recognized harassment and implemented corrective actions, including disciplining harassers or finding a viable alternative.

It’s a common problem. We think that if we can just remove the victim from a situation the problem will end. But that’s only a temporary remedy. Relationship violence of all kinds: bullying, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, are not one-time incidents. These behaviors are often a pattern of power and control; until we focus on the root case, working with the abuser to stop the behaviors, they’ll just find another victim.

The positive take-away from all this is that because of the Dept. of Education’s investigation, Hackett Middle School now will have racial discrimination training for all staff, a student led committee to address harassment, and counseling for students who previously complained of racial harassment.

The Wild West… Again?

Imagine being the 911 dispatcher who receives a call that an ex con who is wanted by the state police for parole violations is trying to beat down the door to attack his former girlfriend. It's not the first time; just 2 weeks ago she was hospitalized because of him. She's scared and calls 911 for help…. and is told,
I don't have anybody to send out there.” 

 A few minutes  later as he’s breaking down the door before beating and raping her, 
“Once again, it's unfortunate you guys don't have any law enforcement up there.” 

That’s what happened in Josephine County, Oregon. State budget cuts to public safety have left some Jefferson County citizens without adequate police protection. Things are bad when the Sheriff advises domestic violence victims to consider relocating to an area with adequate law enforcement services and says
“There isn't a day goes by that we don't have another victim… There are absolutely no consequences to committing a crime today given the fact that law enforcement is as weak as it is.”
You can hear the recording of the 911 call on NPR’s All Things Considered; when I hear it I think about two things:
1)      How difficult it must have been for that dispatcher to sit there listening helplessly as a brutal crime is being committed…and not be able to dispatch police to assist, and
2)      That a tragedy needs to happen to bring to light how budget cuts have devastated the most basic public safety responses. Clearly from the sheriff's comments, this is not the first time the Oregon criminal justice system victim has abandoned crime victims.
I'd believe a situation like this might happen back in the days of the wild west... but today? 

Talking to teens about sexual assault

So how do you even start that conversation? And what do you say?

Here's a few facts and a innovative way to have an candid talk about how commmon situations can lead to sexual assault. 

Did you know?
·         Most rape victims know their rapist.
·         Teens and young adults experience sexual assault at higher rates than the general population.
·         Alcohol is the most common ‘date rape drug’. 

Teens- parents... Here’s a movie you can watch together to start the discussion.  

Rape or Regret – YOU be the jury….

“Rape or Regret: A Jury’s Dilemma”, a locally produced film (“Law and Order”-style), will be featured at the Saratoga Film Forum on Tuesday, May 21st at 6:30 pm. All are invited to attend the film and mock-jury deliberation to determine the guilt of the fictional 18 year-old defendant, Ryan Kelly.

Over the past few months, the Saratoga Community has been repeatedly reminded that sexual assault does, in fact, happen here. In 2012 alone, Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services of Saratoga County (DVRC) served 123 victims of sexual assault. This 1 hour film shows, in understandable detail, how teenage sexual assault can happen. It promises to be an eye-opening lesson. Check out the film’s trailer on YouTube (“Rape or Regret? A Jury’ s Dilemma Trailer 2012).

“Rape or Regret” was produced by the Ballston Area Community Allies to be used as an educational tool to help students better understand sexual assault and learn some prevention strategies. Viewers hear testimony of Tonya (the complainant), Ryan (the defendant), their attorneys, and many witnesses as the case unfolds. Feedback from recent viewers: “it was very realistic” and “I liked how it took a situation that could very easily happen to kids our age and showed a very real consequence”.

Come to the Forum on Tuesday and bring your teens (or parents). This is your chance to open an important conversation with them and in your community.



Please pass this e-mail on to anyone who may be interested.