Friday, June 14, 2019

Book Review: A False Report - A True Story of Rape in America by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong

In 2016 I listened to an episode of This American Life on NPR that stunned me.  I had known for years that police often failed to take allegations of sexual assault seriously, but it had never really hit home that persons could also be charged for making a false report if the investigating officer felt that the story did not add up and the person must be lying. 
The story that was told on This American Life was taken from an article authored by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong in ProPublica.  Miller and Armstrong had been working on the story separately and came together after finding that each had separate parts of the narrative.
The story begins in Lynnwood, Washington with a young woman being raped by an intruder shortly after she had moved into her new apartment.  She had spent years in the foster care system and was now on her own.  She had decisive plans for her future.  The rape was brutal and she would have certainly have experienced some long term trauma from the experience but the accusations by the police, friends, and foster families that she had made up the story to get attention laid the groundwork  for years of depression. 
Along with Marie’s story we also learn the details of the investigations into a string of rapes occurring in Colorado.  Fortunately, the police departments in Colorado used cooperation and the most-up-to-date forms of forensic investigation to eventually find the man who had broken into a number of homes and raped women.  The writers of A False Report were able to obtain interview materials to tell the story of Marc O’Leary and how he came to live a life that even he described as “depraved.” 
In weaving the three narratives together we learn how police departments can either believe victims no matter how they present and move forward an active investigation or disregard an allegation based on the internal biases and stigmas officers may have regarding how victims should behave.  These responses can lead to either validation and closure or ongoing pain and trauma for victims of sexual assault.
Even though we know that most rapes are committed by someone the victim knows, we can learn a lot from the rapist’s story.  He was not a trauma survivor.  He admitted to having a safe upbringing without any abuse.  He had a stellar military record.  However, he was also a methodical predator who honed his skills and threatened his victims with the possibility that he would post video and photos of them on his pornographic websites. 
As disturbing as all this was to read, and I knew the bones of the story, I was appalled at the history behind the ingrained cultural belief that allegations of sexual assault (particularly those made by women) are more often than not false.  In fact, the Lord Chief Justice of England in 1671, Sir Matthew Hale, laid the groundwork by denouncing women for their maliciousness and tendency to tell false stories.  Thomas Jefferson even wrote in a letter to James Madison of his opposition to harsh punishment for rape, “on account of the temptation women would be under to make it the instrument of vengeance against an inconstant lover, and of disappointment to a rival”. This insistence that women are prone to “contrive false charges” about “imaginary” sexual assaults continued in to the 20th century by Harvard Law Review founder John Henry Wigmore.  As seen by the 2018 Kavanaugh hearings, we know that there continues to be a deeply held cultural belief that men are to be protected against the false allegations of unhinged women rather than believing in the possibility that a woman could be telling the truth. 
In their book, Armstrong and Miller walk us through the damage that the ongoing belief in false reporting has on the criminal justice system and on the many victims of assault who are left alone and ostracized by friends and family.  Victims who are not believed are not only further traumatized but in their failure to investigate and eventually prosecute the rapist, the criminal justice system is leaving rapists with the opportunity to rape again… and again.   
This book should be required reading for all police departments and prosecutors.  

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Why Boundaries are Scary for Trauma Survivors


There is a lot to say about having healthy boundaries.  They keep us out of bad situations; help us navigate social situations; help maintain a lifestyle that isn’t overwhelming.  A lot of us struggle with boundaries.  Boundaries may be stronger or weaker depending on whether or not we are engaging with our children, parents, friends, colleagues, or the general public. Oftentimes, we tend to judge people based on how clear or strong their boundaries may be.
For trauma survivors, boundaries can be scary. Boundaries for someone who has experienced interpersonal trauma can feel like being faced with a high wall instead of a fence.  A fence can be seen through while a wall blocks all view of the world.
For many years children were not allowed to have boundaries and, in some families, they still aren’t allowed.  “Kiss your Aunt Sadie!  She is just being nice!”  “Give your Uncle Barry a big hug!”  “Don’t be so shy.  Stop it.  Just do it or else!”  “Sit on Grandpa’s lap and be a nice girl/boy!” 
Those situations may seem harmless but children have been taught early that they are not allowed to say “no” and there will be consequences if they do. 
Perpetrators look for children who haven’t been allowed to say “no.”  They also look for children who have learned that it is the child’s responsibility to manage the well-being of the family by keeping secrets and not making waves.  Children are sought after who are swimming in a vast sea of ambiguity rather than a clear defined personal space. 
The analogy for this experience is that of the Hardboiled Egg.  The Hardboiled Egg starts out with a smooth perfect shell but as time goes by the shell is cracked by the desires of the adults around it.  As it grows older it eventually has lost most or all of its shell and is now vulnerable.  Perpetrators look for vulnerabilities and it now faces the judgment of people who can’t understand why it continues to get bruised and dirty.
Trauma survivors are often judged for having poor boundaries.  “Why do you continue to date men who abuse you?”  “Why don’t you leave?”  “ Why do you continue to take that person’s calls?”  “Why didn’t you just tell them ‘no’?”  “You should’ve known better!” “You need better boundaries!”  Survivors feel that their lack of boundaries is the reason that they were hurt.  The blame ends up on them instead of on the person who hurt them. 
Boundaries are of no use to perpetrators and they work hard to make sure that a child or adult victim recognizes that they are safer without them.  “If you are nice to me, I will be nice to you and I won’t hurt you.”  “Don’t tell your mother.  This is our little secret”  “If you don’t take my calls, I will come find you.”  “If you really loved me, you wouldn’t do that.”
When I was a substance abuse counselor I was working with a woman who was trying to stay sober while staying away from her abusive boyfriend.  He lived a couple of hours away and threatened both her sobriety and her physical safety.  During a one hour session he called her cell phone at least twice and she told me that he called her at least twenty times a day.  I was frustrated because I saw this as a lack of good boundaries on her part.  I asked her why she didn’t block his calls.  I doubted her resolve to stay away from the relationship.  I was judging her.
She explained to me that if she blocked him he would start to physically look for her.  If he was able to talk to her a couple of times a day and was reassured that she was coming back (even if she wasn’t) he did not get anxious.  In addition, she informed me that she would feel more anxious and fearful if she was unable to talk to him.  She needed to know his mood and his intentions in order to feel safe staying away.  If she built the big boundary wall she would feel less safe.  It seems counter-intuitive, but to the survivor it makes perfect sense.
If a child is not is a safe and stable environment with a loving caregiver they may not be able to develop strong boundaries.  When the child becomes an adult and is confronted with the concept of boundaries they find the idea difficult to understand.  Why would you tell a person “no” if there is a possibility that they will get angry and hurt you?  Why would you stand up for yourself with a bully if there is a chance that the abuse could get worse?  Why would you leave if your partner has told you he will kill you or your children if you do so?  The world that a survivor lives in does not feel safer if they put up boundaries.
So why bother talking about boundaries?  There is a time and a place for boundaries.  However, as many trauma experts tell us, a person does not begin to heal from interpersonal abuse and violence until they feel safe and stable.  Safety and stability in mind and body are only created when there are systems in place in the community and family that provide accountability for the perpetrator and safety for the victims.  Until then, a survivor is going to do what they have learned to do in order to stay safe.  Those survival skills may include being nice to the abuser, calling the perpetrator after an assault to try and normalize the relationship, lying to family and friends about the abuse, refusing to call the police, and submitting to unwanted advances.
This feeling of safety and stability may take a long time.  It may not happen while a person is living in shelter or attending a support group or working with a counselor.  Instead of insisting that a person learn to have better boundaries (heard as “if you had better boundaries you wouldn’t have gotten into this situation in the first place”) it may be helpful to explore how these survivor skills contributed to resilience and safety.  As time goes on, when the person is ready, then other skills such as boundaries can be learned but a person should be able to celebrate how they survived the abuse without being judged.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Privileged Language and the Use of the Word "Entitled"

Let me talk about the word “entitled” for a bit.  It is a word that gets thrown around a lot when people talk about poor, oppressed, marginalized, and homeless persons who are attempting to get their needs met in a lot of ways.  I googled the word and here is what I found:

en·ti·tled
adjective
1.    believing oneself to be inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment.
"his pompous, entitled attitude"

After reading that definition I thought it would be helpful to also have the definition for the word “inherent.”

in·her·ent
adjective
1.    existing in something as a permanent, essential, or characteristic attribute.
"any form of mountaineering has its inherent dangers"
synonyms:
intrinsicinnateimmanentbuilt-in, indwelling, inborningraineddeep-rootedMore
o    LAW
vested in (someone) as a right or privilege.
"the president's inherent foreign affairs power"

In reading these  I am led to the conclusion that a person who feels entitled believes that there is something that has been granted to them either by birth or investment that makes them deserving of special privileges. 
Do people who are homeless, oppressed, or marginalized in other ways have special privileges that have been endowed on them by society?  Or are they just struggling to gain a place of equity when they appear to be demanding of the attention of service providers? 
I like this image that shows the difference between equality and equity –


If the person on our right asked the person on the left for their box would you refer to them as feeling “entitled?”  If the person demanded the box, would you call them “entitled?”  If you say yes, then I would ask you to consider what privileges you have that you hold on to so tightly that you can’t recognize that someone actually needs to be able to see over the fence and that your privilege is keeping them from doing so. 
When we refer to people as feeling “entitled” we are often stating that our status quo is more important than others feeling like they live in an equitable society.
As the holidays start to come around, you will see a number of marginalized people struggling to get as much as they can from the various non-profits, charitable organizations and churches that provide gifts and food throughout the season.  It may seem that they feel “entitled” to everything they can get.  Maybe, just maybe, though, they feel that this generous outpouring from the community is the best time to stock up because they are certain that they will be without the things they need in the coming year.  Maybe, just maybe, they are seeing the same advertisements and depictions of prosperous families that we do and are trying to create something that resembles what they think the rest of the world has. 
If you have a home to go to, a bed of your own to sleep in, a regular paycheck, the ability to purchase gifts for your own children instead of taking whatever has been picked out for you by others, the knowledge that your table will have not only enough food for everyone but enough for leftovers, and there are people in your life who support you, then you are seen as the lucky ones.  You are seen as someone who has been entitled with privileges of which others only dream.  When you refer to a marginalized person, someone who is living on the edges of society in a shelter or below the poverty line, as feeling “entitled” you are forgetting that they would love to have those things to which you feel entitled.  However, they have been led to believe that they are not deserving of those things because every time they reach for the box so they can see over the fence, the fence gets higher and their box gets lower.
Remember, language is a powerful thing and if you find yourself referring to marginalized and oppressed people in negative terms, you become a part of the problem, not the solution.    


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Traumatic Brain Injury - A Piece of the Puzzle Often Gets Overlooked

I came across an article in the New Yorker recently that stressed the importance of assessing for traumatic brain injury in victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.  This is also an advocacy issue.  With approximately 50 percent of victims being strangled in some point of their relationship it is imperative that we ask the questions about a possible history of strangulation and advocate for victims with the medical community to assess for possible brain injury.  We often become focused on the current issues or assume that a person's actions and behaviors are related to something else that we fail to ask simple questions that could rule out a possible brain injury or prevent further damage from failure to address an injury.  

"Such women would have been labelled 'difficult' in the recent past,  The police may dismiss them as being drunk, the state’s attorney may think they have mental illness.… Even the medical profession may dismiss them as being overdramatic. We have been able to intervene on their behalf to help other agencies understand that it is the T.B.I. that is causing some of these behaviors and symptoms.” NO VISIBLE BRUISES: DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY

by 

 , 

Domestic violence and sexual assault advocates can do a simple screening to determine if further assistance may be needed. 

A brief screening tool that was designed to be used by professionals who are not TBI experts is the HELPS.2
HELPS is an acronym for the most important questions to ask:
H = Were you hit in the head?
E = Did you seek emergency room treatment?
L = Did you lose consciousness? (Not everyone who suffers a TBI loses consciousness.)
P = Are you having problems with concentration and memory?
S = Did you experience sickness or other physical problems following the injury?
If you suspect a victim has a brain injury, or she answers “yes” to any of these questions, help her get an evaluation by a medical or neuropsychological professional – especially if she has suffered repeated brain injuries, which may decrease her ability to recover and increase her risk of death. If she wishes, reach out to the TBI service provider with information about DV, what support she needs, and what services are available to her. Look for ways to work together.


The National Brain Injury Association has links to the TBI associations in each state:  http://www.biausa.org/

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Insidious Traumatization – How Recent Events are a Call to Self Care

Over the past months we have been exposed to a large amount of hate speech.  We have also seen a number of reports of poor to dismal responses to sexual assault and domestic violence.  I won’t go into those in detail.  They fill our inboxes, Facebook feeds, newspapers, and news channels.  The images fill our brains or we create our own images based on the details we are given.  We become angry at the way people do not seem to take the allegations seriously and how systems and persons continue to find ways to re-victimize.  We lose hope in our ability to make and sustain change.  We are reminded of our own victimization(s) and we start to feel helpless and hopeless.
Our response to the ongoing exposure to the victimization of others is the result of insidious trauma, often called “micro-aggressions.”  According to Laura S. Brown in her book, Cultural Competence in Trauma Therapy, “in the lives of many individuals who are members of target groups, daily existence is replete with reminders of the potential for traumatization and the absence of safety.”  These micro-aggressions can often seem fairly benign such as when a group is ridiculed in a public way or when one’s group is betrayed in a stereotypical way.  However, when a person is targeted in a violent way through hate speech, threats, invalidation of or disbelief in their experience and this is made public the impact on other members of the group can be significant. 
Laura Brown goes on to quote Root (1992) as arguing that “when a person is subjected to insidious traumatization, that individual experiences a gradual and often imperceptible erosion of the psyche.  A useful metaphor is that of very small drops of acid falling on a stone.  Each drop by itself does little damage and may in fact etch the stone in such a way as to make it more beautiful.  Thus, in some ways the experience of daily micro-aggression may evoke resilient coping responses (as when we find positive strategies to address the ongoing violence against the groups of which we are members).  Yet each drop of emotional acid creates just enough damage to render the next drop more damaging.  Over time a fissure develops in the form of an emotional vulnerability that is invisible so long as certain aspects of the biopsychosocial and spiritual environment remain steady or supportive.” (italics mine)
This insidious trauma can create conditions in us similar to those to whom the significant aggressions are directly applied.  When it is combined with the effects of previous trauma that we have experienced and are now re-living it damages the psyche and makes us weary. 
Our only hope is to surround ourselves with others who understand what this type of trauma can do to a person and find ways to care and nurture each other as we continue to face the onslaught of further violence against groups to which we belong or have a strong affinity.  We may, at times, need to take a break in order to be able to come back in support of victims, but it is by filling our cup that we are able to have enough to help others. 


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Personal Essay by S.R. Cyr with Book Review of Nothing But My Voice by Donna Buiso

I wanted someone who had actually experienced what this book talks about to review this book.  Ms. Cyr was happy to do so and I thank her for taking the time.
S. R. Cyr has been a social justice as well as a child safety advocate since the birth of her first child in 1996.  
Ms. Cyr’s volunteer work as an advocate led her to obtain her BA in ‘Women and Gender Studies’ in 2013. Ms. Cyr’s ten-year plus experience – in and out of family court - has re-directed her advocacy toward promoting community education on the effects of childhood trauma and has inspired her to become an active proponent of ‘trauma sensitize’ learning environments as well as medial environments.
Are You Brave Enough To Listen? by S. R. Cyr
I belong to a tribe of warriors that no one from outside that tribe will ever talk about. I know their names – and they know mine - but we’ve never met face- to-face.
This tribe I speak of consists of female warriors. However, my tribe are not just female warriors, but, female warriors denied “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Our kinship validates our existence as we walk invisible amongst you.
You may wonder what brought us strangers together. Why would hundreds -possibly thousands of women - band together  and support each other?
Here is my answer: we are united in the fact that through no fault of our own, we have been left with nothing but our voice. We have been left childless, financially disabled, heart-broken, hopeless, shell-shocked, numb, disabled with PTSD, and alone. We speak but no one hears us. We cry but no one wipes out tears. We scream but our screams go unheard. We go through the motions of life but we feel as if we are in quicksand.
Some well-intentioned people attempt to comfort us with assurance that everything will be just fine, but, it never is.
Imagine being deprived of an active role in the nurturing, loving, and fostering of a young child into young adulthood? Assuring us all will be ‘fine’ is a cue that you are not truly listening.
How can one mourn the death of a relationship that people insist has opportunity to be?? If I could ask the well-meaning people one thing, it would be this: please, stop telling me that my children will “come back.” Because truth-be-told, there is a good chance they may not.
And, even if they did, they will not be the children I once knew: trauma has a way of changing people for life.
Let me introduce you to the newest member of my tribe; her name is Donna Buiso. She – like me-  through several years of family court procedures – was stripped of all parental rights.
I purchased Ms. Busio’s memoir hoping to find the answer to the question that every mother deprived of time spent with children wants to know: do the children ever come back? Do the children deprived of their biological mother ever come to really know their mother??
If you want to find out that answer, I highly recommend purchasing Donna’s book.
As so poignantly written within the forward of Donna Buiso’s book, Nothing But MyVoice, “This is a book that requires action. Action to change and rectify a system that allows the continued unconscionable abuse of mothers. These injustices must be corrected for the sake of all emotionally abused mothers, their emotionally abused children, and for the welfare of society at large {David P. Hayes, Ph.D.}.”
Donna Busio’s depiction of her life with an emotionally abusive ex-husband can be triggering for anyone who has lived this kind of hell.
Psychological warfare is the only way to describe what it is like to co-parent with an abusive ex-partner. Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public often forget that emotional, verbal, financial, and judicial abuse fall within the spectrum of domestic abuse.
Imagine being court ordered to stand back and watch your own child suffer at the hands of a person who uses verbal, emotional and psychological tactics to get their adults needs met? Adults who choose to file for sole custody and refuse to allow your child to be with you: imagine?
I bought Ms. Busio’s book because I was also stripped of parental rights, decision making power, and a visitation schedule. I was court ordered to sit back and watch as my teens were raised in a home environment that – in my opinion- lacked supervision, compassion, and authentic love.
I had to endure phone calls, emails, and text messages from my teenage daughter asking me, “where is dad taking me?”
I later found out that one of her father’s tactics for controlling her behavior was to threaten her with being “dropped off somewhere” because he could no longer “handle her.” When she begged and pleaded to live with me- her mother that raised her the first12 years of her life-  her dad would respond, “anywhere but with your mother.”
Even today, as I re-count these events, I go numb. Admittedly, as I read Donna Buiso’s depiction of her own children’s torture, I was triggered.
I cannot fathom how a human – especially an adult- could be so cruel toward a child.
How can any human – parent or probate judge- deny a child their biological mother?
Donna ends her book with the words, “My voice is my strength. It’s all I have left. I will continue to use it, not just for myself but for the children and for all of the mothers who find themselves fighting to protect their family in court.”   
Ms. Buiso has spoken. And so has hundreds and thousands of other mothers throughout the US as we warriors write incessantly to our local and national political leaders as well as to major network television studios.
We warriors have been left with nothing but our voices. For decades now, we have proven to be beyond brave for articulating our pain.

What remains to be seen is this: Are you brave enough to listen?


Monday, February 22, 2016

Reading Recommendations = February 22, 2016

I have an idea for a blog post running around in my brain but also dealing with heavy brain fog due to to a flu bug that took over my life for a week.  So here are some things to read while you wait.  AND take care of yourself.  Remember, if you get sick and go to work, you infect others and you end up being sick even longer.

Looking through the lens of trauma in a number of settings:  http://www.postcrescent.com/story/news/2016/02/20/looking-through-lens-trauma/79126968/

If you are looking for a response for those folks who feel that TANF recipients should be drug tested in order to received benefits, this does a great job of breaking it down:  http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2016/02/19/3747139/states-drug-testing-welfare-recipients/

A guide for talking to people about their experiences and the effects of trauma (includes video of advocate talking to survivor):  http://www.acesconnection.com/blog/grow-your-trauma-informed-mind-help-them-go-for-the-gold

A view of addiction as a response to childhood suffering:  https://www.thefix.com/gabor-mat%C3%A9-addiction-holocaust-disease-trauma-recovery?page=all

An interesting piece on how survivors use lying as a way to survive and some strategies to move on from this survival skill:  http://www.susankingsleysmith.com/telling-lies-as-a-way-to-survive/