Wellspring - Ending relationship and sexual abuse in Saratoga County

Shine a Light Blog

Shine a Light Blog

"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!

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.