Wellspring - Ending relationship and sexual abuse in Saratoga County

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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!

Teen drinking… Harmless Fun? Ask Steubenville.

As the Steubenville, Ohio rape trial proceeds and the lives of several teenagers are changed irreparably, the question arises, “How did an innocent teenage party end so tragically?”
The answer. It can happen anywhere… and it does more often than we know. This one became public.
It was a victory celebration after a high school football game-- fueled with underage drinking, out of control behavior, peer pressure. What started as a night of fun, ended with tragic consequences for all the youth involved.  I wasn’t present that night, so I’ll leave the deliberations and the decisions to the jury. But two contributing factors are all too familiar to rape crisis advocates
Age:  Teens and young adults are at increased risk of sexual violence. According to studies, 75- 83% female rape victims are under the age of 25.
Alcohol: Intoxication impairs judgment and the ability to protect oneself.
Alcohol is the most common ‘date rape

 But let’s be clear…  even if a victim was intoxicated,
the victim did not commit the crime and
the victim is not to blame for the rape!            
Especially among teens and young adults, alcohol use is frequently a factor in sexual assaults… both for victims and perpetrators. With teens, assaults often occur after partying with friends, either when an intoxicated victim is isolated from the group or when the victim is too drunk to consent to sex.

Yes, having sex with someone who is incapable of consent constitutes rape.

Sexual assaults in such circumstances often go unreported. Victims may have difficulty remembering the details of the assault or may feel shame and blame themselves. Thus the perpetrator is unpunished and may commit similar assaults in the future. Rape is one of the most underreported crimes, with the majority of assaults going unreported!
The Ohio incident is a tragedy… so many teenaged lives shattered.  But think that couldn’t happen here in Saratoga County? Think again.
A 2011 survey by the Shenendehowa Community Coalition reports that 31% of Shen's high school seniors engage in binge drinking (well above the national average of 22%) and 48% of juniors and seniors reported having gotten alcohol at a party.  The good news is overall underage consumption rates declined from the 2008 survey. But almost a third of h.s. seniors binge drinking… that’s still too many opportunities for an incident just like that in Steubenville to happen.

Mom warned you about strangers. Was that enough?

Last week the Bureau of Justice Statistics released the report Female Victims of Sexual Violence 1994-2000.The most salient point is a decline in sexual assault rates reported. Over that 15 year period, the rate of females age 12 and over who are sexually assaulted decreased 58%, from 5 victims per 1,000 to 2.1 victims per 1,000 annually. We’re heading in the right direction, but we shouldn’t rest until there are NO MORE.

Another very important point is that 78% of sexual violence involved an offender who was known to the victim—a family members, partner, friend or acquaintance.  For many of us, the visual image of a rapist is the masked man jumping out of the bushes. Women typically (and  wisely!) take extra precautions when walking alone or in unfamiliar surroundings.  However, they often feel safe from harm when in the company of people they know even casually.

That stereotyped image of the dangerous stranger, engenders a false sense of security. We feel safe on our home turf, with people we know. In fact, according to RAINN, half of all reportedsexual assaults occurred within 1 mile of their home or at their home-- 4 in 10 take place in their home and 2 in 10 at the home of a friend, neighbor, or relative.

So does that mean women should live in a constant state of high alert? No. But having the information that sexual predators are most frequently someone you know, is an important reminder to practice basic safety routinely. Be aware of your surroundings. Know that excessive alcohol or drug use could impair your judgment and make you more vulnerable to predators. And most importantly, if a situation feels uncomfortable, trust your gut.

Be a Friend… Break the Silence

Silence Hides Violence
Thank You for Caring and Having the Courage to Start a Conversation!
Be a Friend... Break the Silence
Starting a conversation is difficult, but if you think someone is in trouble, being controlled, abused, or dominated; speaking out is the right thing to do.

What is Domestic Violence?
Domestic Violence is a pattern of behavior used by one person to control another person in an intimate relationship through one or more tactics:

·         emotional abuse/controlling behavior
·         verbal abuse
·         psychological abuse
·         sexual control or abuse
·         threatening behaviors
·         economic abuse
·         physical violence

What are the Signs of Domestic Violence?
·         Is he/she nervous, jumpy, and walking on eggshells?
·         Does he/she seem afraid of their partner or is always anxious to please the partner?
·         Has he/she stopped seeing friends or family, doing the things they enjoy?
·         Has he/she stopped making decisions – leavings them all up to their partner?
·         Does he/she stay in constant contact with their partner throughout the day?
·         Has he/she become anxious or depressed, lost their confidence and/or is unusually quiet?
·         At work, is he/she often tardy, or miss work, get contacted all day by their partner, have poor concentration?
·         Does he/she have any visible signs – bruises, broken bones, scratches, cuts, bite marks, other injuries (and might give unlikely explanations)?

Why People Stay in Abusive Relationships:
Some of these reasons include: 
  • Belief that the abuser will change, that the abuse is their fault or that it is normal
  •  Fear of loneliness, economic hardship, losing custody of children or fear for safety.
  •  Isolation from family, friends, community may leave the victim with no self-esteem and feeling that she/he has nowhere to go.
  •  Love and the desire to keep family together.

How you can start the conversation:
·         Educate yourself about domestic violence – review DVRC’s website; call DVRC and talk with an advocate
·         Tell them you care about them and are concerned about them
·         Ask if they are safe
·         Refer them to DVRC
·         Do NOT judge their situation and their choices, blame them, give them advice or tell them what to do – it’s their choice.


March 13th. NO MORE Starts Today

Certain symbols have been instrumental in raising awareness about social issues. Think of the red ribbon for  awareness of HIV/AIDs, pink ribbons for breast cancer, yellow ribbons for returning military personnel, red dresses for women’s heart disease, puzzles for autism awareness. 

We’re running out of colors in the rainbow for awareness ribbons. Those of you who know me , know that purple has long been the color associated with domestic violence, but that’s getting confusing. According to Wikipedia, purple awareness ribbons represent 26 different social issues ranging from Alzheimer’s Disease  and Suicide Prevention to Pagan Pride and Protecting Orcas .  

Don’t get me wrong, these symbols are important. When I crack open eggs in October and see a pink ribbon on them, I think about breast cancer and the women I know who have been affected… and I remember how important it is to fund research and support services. But if you’re not sure what social issue the symbol refers to, that’s a problem. Purple seems to be a popular color;  it had more causes associated with it than any other ribbon color. 

So here’s a new symbol associated with domestic violence and sexual abuse. It’s being launched today. And even more important it’s about getting the incidence of domestic violence and sexual assault down to ZERO…  now that’s a symbol with impact. 

So have you seen the NO MORE symbol yet? What are your thoughts?
 Related posts:
Join Me in Saying NO MORE  March 5, 2013
NO MORE Working Together to Get to Zero  March 4, 2013

Got Three Minutes? Take Action to END Relationship Violence

In this week’s blog posts you’ve repeatedly heard a call to action—we all need to work to END domestic and sexual violence.  The burning question is, “So what can I do?”

Let’s start with the basics. Learn more about relationship abuse and start a conversation. We’ve got tools to help you.
Can you spare just 77 seconds? Watch Does This Count. It’s a video developed by Skidmore students describing common power and control tactics used by an abusive partner.
Ready to start a conversation? The most common question I’m asked is how people end up in abusive relationships…why don’t they get out sooner?  In Catch Domestic Violence Early another video produced by Skidmore students, the viewer sees an abusive relationship in rewind. The early red flags of abuse are much easier to spot in hindsight.
These powerful videos leave a lasting impression. To END relationship abuse, we first have to be able to recognize it.