Wellspring - Ending relationship and sexual abuse in Saratoga County


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Were You in Dallas Last Saturday?


I wasn’t in Dallas last Saturday, but wish I had been. Nearly 5,000 people rallied to end domestic violence…5,000! Dallas has experienced an overall decline in crimes, except domestic violence. Dallas’ domestic homicides, men killing their partners, increased from 10 murders in 2011 to 26 in 2012. So Mayor Mike Rawlings and other leaders are waging a community-wide campaign to end intimate partner violence.

My thoughts?

§  Five thousand people showing up to support that ending domestic violence is a priority. Wow! I’m impressed.

§  The focus was on the actions of the abusers, not on judging the victims. It’s too easy to just say, “Why didn’t the victim leave?”  Clearly victims need services to gain safety, recover, heal and begin a new life as survivors, not victims. But focusing on victims isn’t the solution; eliminating abusive behaviors is. This rally was about straight talk to men about not committing acts of abuse. Mayor Rawlings addressed the crowd saying, “I want to talk to the men now. This violence is our fault.”

§  And that’s where the conversation makes me uncomfortable. As soon as we frame domestic violence as men abusing women, we’ve made it a women’s issue. Yes, it’s true that intimate partner violence disproportionality affects women (the National Coalition against Domestic Violence estimates 85% of victims are women). But there are women who abuse men, and men who abuse men, and women who abuse their female partners.  Let’s take that call to action one step further… let’s talk to everyone about ending abusive actions.

§  All-in-all, I give Mayor Rawlings high praise for his leadership in addressing domestic violence and in bringing so many people together to take action. Five thousand people is a good start to a movement… may it be just the first steps.

In the Public Interest

Saturday night I attended the Saratoga Film Forum's showing of the Ken Burns' documentary, The Central Park Five. The film chronicaled the conviction (overturned years later when the real assailant confessed) of 5 teenagers who were accused of brutally raping a young, white professional woman who was jogging in Central Park. The movie's primary premise was the racial injustice underlying the public outrage and pressure on police to close the case--- the 5 teens were black or Latino. The film illustrates how what they describe as forced confessions resulted in convictions and incarceration that robbed them of their teenaged years...even though the evidence in the case was contradictory and did not support their testimony.

Aftet the movie Dale Wilman of Saratoga Wire facilitated a panel discussion featuring Rochelle Calhoun, Skidmore's Dean of Students, and Assistant Chief Greg Veitch of the Saratoga Springs PD. While the crime chronicled in the documentary occurred more than 2 decades ago, Calhoun 's observations about our criminal justice system's  response to people of color still holds true's today. Veitch provided some insights on how media coverage and the public's desire to have the details of the crime and investigation can influence police investigation.

The Film Forum's In the Public Interest series offer us a unique opportunity to discuss key social issues with professionals who can provide enlightening insights. The interplay of cinema and discussion group provides an unforgettable impact.We're lucky to have such an opportunity...thanks Film Forum!

Related post:http://maggiefronk.blogspot.com/2012/10/bully-at-saratoga-film-forum.html

"I Need You to Step In"

I've written so many posts about the Steubenville rape this week... here's one to end with.

A mom wrote a letter to her sons, encouraging them to always show respect and to step up and intervene when they see someone in need... even if they don't like the person or even if it's a friend who is being abusive. And she showed that she walked the walk by giving examples of how she and their dad have helped others in need.

We all think our kids already know these values... and hope that they've seen us model them. But I give her credit for saying these words, for letting her kids know it's important to stand up for those in need, and then coaching them on how to do it.

I know I haven't always lived up to my words. There have been times I wish I'd stepped up in situations, but instead I held back and afterwards was left with my 'woulda, coulda shoulda' thoughts. Maybe that letter isn't just to her sons, but to me too. Maybe we all need to be reminded, "You are going to know people, and maybe even be friends with people, who think it's ok to hurt other people in a lot of ways... When you do, I need you to step in."

Thanks for the reminder... for next time.

City Hall Vandal Exposes a Bigger Issue- Homelessness

A concrete block flinging vandal has called attention to the needs for improved security systems in that gracious and venerable, but somewhat neglected, building Saratogians know as City Hall. Initial reports indicated the man who was "probably drunk" caused about $2,500 damage. That's a good case for improved security systems. 

Today the Saratogian’s front page article starts with the sentence, "Homeless people sometimes sleep in City Hall without anyone knowing it" and repeatedly mentions that homeless people are occasionally found in City Hall at night. While noting that the vandal left the bars on Caroline St. before his 4:40 a.m. destructive spree, much of the article focuses on homeless persons sleeping in City Hall. Reporter Lucian McCarty thoughtfully notes the homeless are not there with ill intent, referencing Skip Scirocco, "Every now and again a janitor will go up at night and find someone sleeping." But in articulating City Hall's security needs, drunken vandals and  homeless persons seeking refuge from the elements are intertwined. 

I'm sure the next city council meeting's agenda  will include improved security. It should. But I hope that when a decision is made to upgrade security measures, we don't forget that there are homeless people in our community... even if we don't see them. Did you know that sometimes people are sleeping in City Hall at night? I didn't.  

Each year, the Saratoga County Housing Alliance conducts a one-day count of known homeless persons. In 2012, on a frigid January day they counted 128 homeless persons, including 71 single persons and 20 families, with 32 children, who had no place to call home. About 30% of those people were literally living on the street. Even  sadder, many people who were homeless on that day are not counted, simply because we didn't see them. 

Clearly, drunken vandalism is dangerous and causes costly damage. And yes, Saratoga County's homeless sometimes seek shelter in places not meant for sleeping. But better security won't solve both issues. It will just push the homeless to another spot out of sight. While we consider upgrading security systems, let's not forget about men, women and children who don't have a place to lay their heads at night. My thanks to Lucian for McCarty for taking this opportunity to open our eyes about homelessness... let's not overlook his message.

If you are homeless or know someone who there are agencies that can help:
Saratoga County Department of Social Services 518-884-9140
Shelters of Saratoga 518-581-1097
Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services of Sartatoga County 518-584-8188
CAPTAIN's Youth Shelter 518-371-1185

A Global Code of Conduct on Violence against Women

 
The UN has issued a declaration in opposition of violence against women. Wow, it's surprising that in our modern world we need a multinational organization to debate if violence against half of the world's population should be considered wrong. The declaration, however, was hotly contested as nations lobbied to preserve their sovereign right to establish their own laws and customs. The UN's Commission on the Status of Women held firm in urging states, "to strongly condemn all forms of violence against women and girls and to refrain from invoking any custom, tradition and religious consideration to avoid their obligations with respect to its elimination."

Should we even need to say that violence against women is wrong? Clearly yes!   

According to a UN report, "Violence against women is a universal phenomenon. In many regions of the world longstanding customs put considerable pressure on women to accept abuse." Forms of abuse include beatings, rape, trafficking, and genital mutilation...appalling atrocities when viewed through the standards of Saratoga County. But worldwide the standards are different; even many women in these countries justify wife beatings for reasons such as: burning the food and arguing with or going out without telling the husband. 

So the UN’s formal opposition to all violence against women is indeed an historic step toward change.



Teen Drinking- Start the Conversation

My recent posts about the Ohio rape have really focused on teen alcohol use and its correlation with sexual assault. If nothing else, this tragedy is a clear call to action for all adults (not just parents) to take steps to reduce underage drinking. The hardest part of any journey is the first steps. If you're wondering what you can do, here's website with simple suggestions and even the words to start the conversation Time To Talk.
 

Stubenville. Turning Hindsight into Foresight


Hindsight. It's easier to see our mistakes when looking back, but the real value of hindsight is  in shaping the future. By looking at what went wrong and right, we can learn a lot about how to improve things.

The judge issued a guilty verdict in the Steubenville rape trial, and now the victim, the assailants, the other kids at the party and the community are all about to begin the very hard work of moving forward... and healing. Hopefully lessons learned, can be applied to the future. But that hard look in the rear view mirror shouldn't just be for the folks in Steubenville; every community has lessons to learn from this incident.

The first that comes to mind is underage drinking. Partying! It's not harmless fun...it's not a  rite of passage. Alcohol affects teenagers differently than adults; their bodies and brains are still developing and are more sensitive to its effects. Binge drinking is often followed by vomiting, stupor, passing out, blackouts and the inevitable hangover. While ‘worshiping at the porcelain altar' might make for campus chuckles, it's really not funny. Intoxication is a sign that the body is being overwhelmed ... and its most severe form, alcohol poisoning, can be fatal. And drunkenness escorts judgment right out the door. As Mike Nerney explained to the Shenendehowa Community Coalition in 2011,  in emotionally charged situations teens don't make decisions using the same rational processes as in normal circumstances. It’s no wonder the fallout from drunkenness often include fights, car accidents, regretted sex, sexual assault, and vandalism.  

Underage drinking…it’s a serious issue. Let’s fix it. While most teens don’t drink regularly and even fewer binge drink, the numbers are still staggering. Find out what youcan do  about underage drinking. Parents, talk with your kids about drinking… and even more importantly talk with their friends’ parents too so they know your values. Don’t buy alcohol for minors (You’re not keeping them safe. You're encouraging them to drink… and  youcan be arrested.) Talk to your kids about drinking; studies show your involvement is a crucial protective factor in promoting healthy decision making and avoiding underage drinking. Want to find out more, check out the Shenendehowa Community Coalition's blog, Face the Facts.

Bystander or Ally? What I find really haunting about the Steubenville incident is the number of youth who observed incapacitating inebriation and abusive behaviors that night, texted about them, took pictures, but didn't intervene. These kids know right from wrong; what happened? How do we teach our kids (and each other)  to intervene if we see something that's not right. Confronting a friend's actions takes courage. I wonder how many of the kids at that party, in hindsight, wish they'd done something that might have changed  the course of events. But let's be honest, as adults how many times have we seen something remiss, but didn't intervene? Why not? We know the excuses, "It wasn't my business. I didn't want to offend. Would I just make things worse?" If you were in trouble wouldn't you want someone to help? So how do we learn to be an ally rather than standing on the sidelines? Start small and practice.

 It is not only for what we do that we are held responsible, but also for what we do not do.
John Baptiste Moliere

Social Change… Sometimes You Don’t Even Realize it’s Happening

The judge issued the verdict, guilty. Two teens were convicted of raping a 16 year old girl. Several factors came into play. The girl was extremely intoxicated; she had no recollection of the night until she woke up naked the next day. She later saw a photo from that night and viewed a You Tube video in which a student joked about the rape. 

Certainly social media's glimpses into the events of that night, such as text messages and  photos of the girl being carried by her ankles and wrists, played a large role in determining the verdict.In the past, such cases were often characterized as "he said, she said" as testimony was colored by each party's own perspective. With today's omnipresent texting and digital photos, there was evidence to corroborate testimony. 

The biggest social change however is the guilty verdict. Yes alcohol was involved, yes this was an out-of-control party, yes bad decisions were made by all the youth at the party...but the court ruled that the two boys's actions were criminal behavior. This type of incident is nothing new, but in the past such cases almost seemed as if  the victim, not the assailant,  was on trial. Why was she dressed that way? Why was she intoxicated? Shouldn't she have anticipated this could happen given her state? Yes the news reports of the Steubenville case indicated the victim was intoxicated (and she suspects she may have been drugged), but these reports have focused not on the victim, but on the choices and the behaviors of the assailants...and they were held accountable for their actions. No excuses.

The two high school football players may also have been intoxicated, but they made choices. If they'd gotten into a car, drove drunk and killed someone, they would be held accountable. It seems we're applying the same standards to the crime of rape.  It's about time.


Happy St Patrick’s Day

In honor of St. Pat's Day, today's post isn't about what we need to work to change, but is a reminder to shine the light on the blessings in your life. 



May love and laughter light your days,
and warm your heart and home.
May good and faithful friends be yours,
wherever you may roam.
May peace and plenty bless your world
with joy that long endures.
May all life's passing seasons
bring the best to you and yours!

Happy St Patrick's Day!

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