New Stuff in the Media

Today I have time to post some articles and things that are relevant to the topics we discuss here. I collect links to data, articles, and resources that would be good to use on this blog, so you may see some of these materials explored more in 2012 posts. Survivors, please note that there may possibly be triggers in these pieces, especially in the comments sections.

Thanks for checking in today. The next installment of the series on what to do if you suspect your SO of sexually assaulting a child is in progress and should be up by the end of the evening today. (I go late into the evening.)

What To Do If You Suspect Your Significant Other/Family Member of Sexually Abusing a Child: Part II

How Can I Work to Help Prevent Sexual Abuse of My Child?

We can’t absolutely guarantee our children’s safety unless we’re personally with our children 24/7, and maybe not even then. So these suggestions are not ironclad — but they’ll help us keep our children safe in general.

Please note: This information, while general, applies to your significant other/family member as well. Whatever screening and teaching you would normally do goes double for any family members who come in contact with your child, since — unfortunately — most sexual abuse happens within families.

Home Life: Foundation for Safety

  • Be a safe person for your child to confide scary secrets to. Maintain self-control, especially when disciplining. Discipline will teach a child how the real world works, but anger will teach a child that the angry person is not a safe person. Children aren’t stupid and will close out an angry or out-of-control adult. This includes anger, screaming, crying, exaggerated shock/disbelief, or doubt of the child’s word when the child is being serious.
  • Treat your child’s concerns with respect. If we laugh at a child’s fears, minimize a child’s experience (“Oh, that’s no big deal”), or discredit a child’s feelings (“You’re not really angry” or “You shouldn’t be scared”), the child probably won’t confide more serious things to us for fear of being dismissed or embarrassed.
  • Proactively talk to your child about dangers and how to be careful. Be certain to add that anything bad that someone does is not your child’s fault in any way, and that he/she can tell you anything that happens and count on your support, your love, and your protection. Safety measures will help, but a child simply can’t go up against an adult.
  • Make sure your child can’t be picked up at school by anyone you don’t personally authorize, and teach your child not to go with anyone else.
  • Teach your child how to call 911, what questions they are likely to ask, and how to answer. Children should memorize their parents’ names, their home phone number, and their address and be able to tell it to a 911 operator. Choose the age wisely since some small children will dial 911 for fun, and some emergency services levy fines for non-emergency calls.
  • Teach your child to say “No” firmly. Children simply can’t match wits or wills with an adult — certainly not with a wily, experienced child abuser — but children can learn to set a firm, unmistakable verbal boundary, and that may help save them one day. (Just so it’s understood, nothing that children do or say makes them responsible for child sexual abuse. They can’t protect themselves from adults, so if someone overcomes them verbally or physically, there must never be even a thought in my mind as a parent that my child “should have done more” or “should have done differently.” If a child abuser can fool me and everyone else — and chances are it’s someone I know — what chance did my child have? It is never, ever, ever the child’s fault.)
  • Teach your child to be more and more autonomous as well as interdependent with family. Help him/her to learn to make a decision and act on it. Help your child practice saying “No” and speaking up in uncomfortable situations. Have your child practice telling you if something bad has happened, so your child can see you responding positively and learn that you are trustworthy to tell big, ugly secrets to.

Child Care Screening

  • Visit any care location you’re considering. Tour it, ask about the routine, and observe caregivers in action.
  • Research the care location on the Internet. Has anyone reported this center to police, social services, or business licensing organizations?
  • Check the sex-offender registry for your state (list of state registries here). Other countries may also have sex-offender registries online.
  • Can you come by the center without calling first, and do you have access to the whole facility without off-limits areas? You should be able to have this access.
  • Ask about discipline.
  • Ask about staff members’ education and about the center’s requirements for staff hiring.
  • Teach your child some tips:
    • What “private parts” are, and that no one at the center is allowed to touch them.
    • How to say “No” if anyone wants your child to do anything that makes them feel embarrassed or hurts them.
    • Never to stay alone with an adult, but to go where the other children and caregivers are.
    • Not to let adults get your child to do things by giving him/her candy or gifts.
    • Not to let anyone take his/her picture if your child feels scared or uncomfortable about it. How to speak up if this happens.
    • To know that if he/she says “No” you will support your child, love your child, and protect your child. They need to know they have this backing from you.
    • To know that people will say mean things just to scare them into cooperating — it doesn’t mean those things are true. “If you tell, you’ll never see your mommy again,” “”Your parents won’t love you anymore,” or “If you tell, your family will get hurt” are the types of threats children may hear.
    • How to tell an adult they trust at the center, if another adult causes them to feel scared or uncomfortable.
  • If your child confides in you that he/she has experienced any type of sexual or physical assault, call the police and take your child away from the care center. Don’t discuss anything with the center at this time; law enforcement can give you some guidance there. Report the information to social services and take your child to the pediatrician for an exam and checkup. Try not to let all this activity scare your child, and don’t blame your child. Thank the child for telling you, and take action. Explain as much as you can that’s appropriate of what you’re doing, telling your child that you’re protecting him/her and other little children. For a child to confide scary information like this to any adult is a brave and courageous act, particularly if the child was threatened in some way.

There are no guarantees in life. But these steps should help. Stay tuned for more on intervening if it happens to your child.

New for January 2012

I’ve joined the Ultimate Blog Challenge and will be posting every day in the month of January. This means you’ll see shorter posts way more frequently. Follow me here or on Twitter to be notified of new posts.

This also means I’ll post a lot of resources I’ve gathered over the past year or so, but that I haven’t had time to write up yet. A challenge like this pushes me to prioritize getting the information to you, rather than creating a flawless, lengthy post. You probably like shorter posts better anyway — I do too.

There’ll be several more quick posts in this series on “What To Do If You Suspect Your Significant Other/Family Member is Sexually Abusing a Child,” then we’ll move on to new resources.

If I could say any one thing to you as a child sexual abuse survivor, it would be this: You are never alone. At any given time there are thousands, or millions (depending on your country’s size) of people who would help you if they knew you were in trouble.

So please find someone you trust. Tell someone today, will you? A parent, a teacher or school counselor, a police officer, a teen hotline or rape crisis hotline… I promise you that there is someone, at least one person, around you who will listen and help you. And this will end. I know that right now it feels as though it’s going to last forever and that no one will save you. But someone will. Please talk to someone good today.

Street Harassment on Public Transport: India, Brazil, Japan, and even Mexico Top the U.S.

Man accosting woman who is trying to ignore himRead “Mexico City Introduces Women-Only Buses to Deter Groping.” I don’t know what it’s like in your country, but here in the U.S. it seems that taking real steps against street harassment is faintly gauche. There’s a subtle attitude that “hey, the occasional jerk is unfortunate, but nice women toughen up and put up with it.” There’s a subtle implication that a woman who speaks up is oversensitive or immature, and that classy, strong women just stride through the barrage of harassment and ignore it. There’s so much wrong with that line of thinking that it’s hard to know where to start.

I’d love to see optional separate public transportation here in the U.S. A comment I hear from women who commute on public transportation is that “the best you can hope for is to be ignored because the men won’t call each other on that kind of stuff.” In this reality, separate transportation is a superior alternative.

Someone on another blog referenced a street harassment movie about 90 minutes long called “War Zone,” by Maggie Hadleigh West. Here’s the intro on YouTube. (The article that originally referenced this movie is here and also in the blogroll.) Here’s the intro on MySpaceTV Videos.

I found it extremely uncomfortable to watch this movie even though it’s mostly just people talking to each other, and even though I’m a woman myself. We have such an enculturated resistance to the idea of women verbally confronting men over street harassment that even I as a woman have a hard time watching it being done (although it’s empowering–I can’t remember ever seeing it done in real life). So I can imagine how uncomfortable a man might feel while viewing this film. Male or female, I admire you if you watch it. It just is not easy to watch.

According to articles, the film has generated heat, debate, and attention wherever it is shown. This is the type of movie in which it doesn’t matter how exactly the footage captures reality–some people are going to dismiss it out of hand. That, too, is reality.

Given that reality, what can both sexes do to combat street harassment? It includes staring, leering, the elevator stare (a leisurely stare up and down a woman’s body), groping, deliberately brushing or bumping a woman, cursing, whistling, propositioning, rating a woman’s body (“Hey baby, you’re gorgeous”) as if she’s public property to judge, etc.

What can we do about this? What ideas do you have as readers? What experiences have you had with street harassment–whether you’ve done it yourself or had it done to you? Share the wealth of your experience here. Keep in mind the commenting guidelines.

[2012 update: I saw one of our commenters had started a street harassment website back in 2008, Stop Street Harassment. It seems good to post the link here. It is still up and active.]

Blog Plans for 2008

graphic of a calendar for 2012Coming Posts:

“Getting safe and getting help: Stalking” [the second in a series of two “get safe” posts–the first one was “Getting safe and getting help: Sexual Assault” posted on 12/7/07]
“Profile of a Male Perpetrator”
“Profile of a Female Perpetrator”
“Profile of a Child Molester”

Write in with ideas of other related topics you’d like to see covered in this blog. In 2008, I’ll probably start filling out the domestic violence end of this subject area–like rape, something anyone of either sex can experience. We’ll talk more about that.

I also plan to do more to research and provide resources on protecting children from predators. The first post title in this subject area is listed above and should be up as soon as I finish a reasonable amount of research on the topic and on resources. I also added a new category, “For Parents,” to accommodate this subject area.

What else do you want to see here in 2008?

[Update in 2012: It’s good to know, in hindsight, that I did get those topics posted in 2008. For 2012, I have plans for more information on online safety, cyber bullying, stalking, and domestic violence. So I’ll repeat my question from four years ago: What would you like to have covered in this blog this year? What are your concerns? Questions?]

Getting safe and getting help: Sexual Assault

Stop Rape Now graphicWhen you’ve just been sexually assaulted there are only three basic things that absolutely have to be done, and it applies to both male and female survivors:

  • Get away from your attacker
  • Go to a safe place
  • Call 911 for help (it’s extremely helpful to also call a supportive friend or family member at this point)

But here’s a more complete list of steps that will make this miserable experience easier on you. It’s a long list–very few people are going to come up with everything they need right after being raped.

That’s why it’s such a good thing to call a friend or family member who can be your supporter and who will remember things for you. Or perhaps, after reading this, you’ll find yourself being called to help someone else, and you’ll be able to make sure your friend gets everything she or he needs.

  • Get away from your attacker.
  • Go to a safe place.
  • Call 911 for help.
  • To save evidence for the police, don’t change your clothes, shower, wash your hands, or brush your teeth. Don’t eat or drink anything until the mouth swab has been done at the emergency room. You may not want to report the attack at this moment, but why not leave yourself the option?
  • Call your local rape hotline and ask them to send a rape advocate to meet you at the hospital. Not all cities will have this available, but it’s so valuable that you should always call and ask — immediately after you get safe. The advocate will know your legal and medical rights and will give you support. She/he will also refer you to support services and probably give you some brochures.
  • Call a supportive friend or family member. Don‘t call anyone who’s likely to blame you or second-guess your actions.
  • When you get to the ER, ASK FOR
    • a full rape kit,
    • to be tested for STDs (gonorrhea, HIV, chlamydia, etc.),
    • a pregnancy test,
    • and a prophylactic (like the morning-after pill).

    Of course, male rape survivors will only need the first two. In today’s legal climate, you may find yourself at a hospital where the staff can refuse you some of these necessary items and tests on religious grounds. But they are obligated to refer you to a place that will give you service if they refuse you service.
    This is another reason to call the rape hotline immediately after the attack — they will send someone who is trained to be your care advocate to the hospital and knows your rights.

  • Not all ER personnel may know your rights or their obligations. You may need to persist. Again, the victim advocate is very helpful here.
  • If you haven’t called for a rape advocate by this point, ask someone at the ER to call a rape victim advocate or someone from the local rape hotline to come and help you through it. (In my area, they make this call automatically when a rape victim is brought in.) If such a program exists in your area, you have the right to have the advocate with you throughout the rape exam and police interview. The police cannot kick the advocate out if you want her with you. She is not with law enforcement and is there solely for you, to support you, help you, and give you information about resources.
    • I speak from personal experience here, having trained and served as a sexual assault and violent crime victim advocate here in my local city. Rape advocates are trained volunteers.
      Be aware that some rape advocates are men. They too are volunteers–they’re the really, really good guys in this world. If you request a woman, they understand that. But you may find it helps your recovery to have a supportive, good man there with you after you’ve been attacked. It’s your call, no matter whether you’re a female or male rape survivor. You’re equally entitled to services, in case there’s any question.
  • After the rape kit is complete, a nurse will give you new clothes–usually a sweatsuit or a set of scrubs. Your clothes go with the police as part of the evidence. Ask the nurse, your friend/family member, or your rape advocate for help if you don’t have a way home.
  • After the police finish interviewing you, ask them what security measures you should take until they catch your attacker.
  • You do not have to press charges, even if you saved evidence for the police. The police sincerely want to do their job on your behalf, and they really don’t like rapists, so help them all you can. But you don’t have to go to court if you don’t choose to. You must weigh your personal needs and sense of responsibility to decide what’s right for you.
  • You are entitled to money from the Crime Victims Compensation fund (CVC) if you lost money due to the crime (for lost wages, counseling, lost child support, medical bills, etc.). This fund automatically pays for sexual assault exams, but beyond that–be aware that you can only receive money from the CVC if you report the crime promptly to the police. Many areas have a 72-hour reporting deadline.
  • The CVC is administered state by state. Visit the program directory to find the program and website for your state (or the state where the crime occurred, which is generally where you file for compensation).
  • Be aware that officers who come to the ER to interview sexual assault victims may be¬† members of a special sexual assault taskforce, which is a smaller group within the police department–it’s generally a volunteer specialty. Give them all the help you feel able to give.
    They have to ask questions that are sometimes very personal, and those questions (probably) aren’t intended to doubt your truthfulness or to humiliate you–it’s to pin down the details of the attack so that it stands up in court, and also to get details that may help them catch your attacker.

    • Having said that, let’s be honest: There are people out there, including police officers, who will treat you badly and won’t believe you unless the rape happens in front of them. Even then, these people will find a way to blame you for it. You wore the wrong clothes, you smiled at someone, you shouldn’t have been there, you shouldn’t have been out so late, you had a drink, and so on into the infinitely stupid.
    • Since it’s not constructive to flip these people off, especially if it’s your interviewing officer, just know that you have the right to be treated with respect. If your interviewing officer of either sex is being rude, blaming you, or behaving inappropriately, speak up right away. Remind the officer that it’s not his/her job to judge you, but to do a careful and professional interview.
      If the officer is simply unwilling to do the job without badgering you or emotionally assaulting you all over again, you can request a different officer. This will lead to a wait on your part, but it’ll be worth it if the new officer will actually do the job. You also have your advocate/friend/family member as a witness.
    • Personally, if my first interviewing officer was such a wash as a professional that I had to request another officer, I’d consider lodging a complaint with the department regarding that one officer. There may be other complaints against the officer, and your action may help empower the department to straighten out a Neanderthal (and they come in both sexes).
      You also have to consider that this is the department that’ll be working on your rape case. So if you do file a complaint against an officer, don’t go in screaming obscenities. Be courteous, calm, and cooperative, and if there are questions or pressure, don’t back down from your decision to (calmly!) file.
      We can hope this would never happen in your local police department. There are many outstanding police departments across the country where this would simply never happen. So when your officer arrives and begins to interview you, proceed on the assumption that this officer is one of the good ones unless the officer proves otherwise.
  • If you live alone, have someone stay with you at least that first night, perhaps for several nights. Whatever safety tips the police gave you, follow them if you’re able. For your own feelings of security, you may want to stay with friends or move to a hotel temporarily. Do what you need to do to feel safe, and to be as safe as you can.

Having said all of this, here’s the single best book I’ve ever read about personal safety. You’ll feel safer after reading it even though you haven’t done anything concrete yet–because you’ll know what’s going on around you and you’ll have confidence in yourself. You won’t live in fear after reading this book. It’s called The Gift of Fear, by Gavin de Becker. Purchase it today.

One of the golden things about this book is that the author understands how totally different women’s and men’s worldviews are where safety is concerned. He gets the greater danger in being female, smaller, trained to be nice, etc., and he addresses it effectively, without leaving out basic safety that applies to everyone.

Likewise, if you have children, purchase the companion book, Protecting the Gift, on keeping your children and teens safe in today’s world. He addresses everything from choosing babysitters to Internet safety. I was stunned at how much of the usual wisdom is wrong and how simple it is to do safety right for children.

Define Street Harassment

Nametag: Hello, my name is NOT HEY BABYDefinition of Street Harassment

Street harassment: The experience of women from all walks of life of being heckled, whistled at, rated, propositioned, leered at, fondled and in other ways assaulted and humiliated by men as they go about their daily lives in public spaces.

Surprisingly, there are several terrific resources just for street harassment. There wasn’t even a name for this until recent years. It was an experience women had when they went out in public. (And still have routinely today.) Books listed below can be located and ordered through sites such as Amazon.com, Bookfinder, Ashworth Books, and Alibris.

Interestingly, while Wikipedia lists 10 types of sexual harassment, street harassment is not listed. Even under the strict “sexual harassment” item in the list, it says sexual harassment is most common in the workplace and in schools. No reference to the constant and pervasive stress women can experience whenever they walk out of a building into a public space. Its “See also” section even mentions cyber-bullying, historically a very recent development…but not street harassment, which has been around for all of recorded history. We now have resources, but we still don’t talk about it much.

[Update in January 2012: If you type “street harassment” into Wikipedia it directs you to the sexual harassment page. No change there. It no longer has a list of 10 different types of harassment; the whole page has been reworked and added to. It’s a lot longer now. While I’m happy for more information, there is still absolutely no mention of street harassment — the most common, everyday experience of it that women have.]

Having said that–here’s some of what’s now available.

  • Back Off: How to Confront and Stop Sexual Harassment and Harassers, by Martha J. Langelan.
  • Her Wits About Her, by Denise Caignon and Gail Groves. Out of print–you can search for used copies at the sites listed above.
  • Tolerance.org, especially this article on street harassment. There are so many links to other resources and other information here that you’ll be here awhile.
  • The Street Harassment Project located in New York. Particularly check out their Links page.
  • Anti-street harassment organization in the U.K.
  • One of my all-time favorites on this topic, Hollaback New York City. Here women share their icky experiences and what they did to fight back. Even better, they snap cell phone photos of their harassers and post them with a narrative of what they did. The women often ask for permission to take the photo and many of these guys are flattered and think it’s a favorable reaction to their behavior. Hard to believe, but true. You can submit your own photo here (they welcome stories and submissions from anywhere in the country).
  • Read this article on activists turning the tables on street harassers.
  • Cool new interactive blog (it has stories, photos, video, you can submit your own) called Don’t Be Silent.
  • One woman’s blog entry about street harassment. Read the responses too. Her thinking on the issue is so clear–she articulately encapsulates the entire issue for women.
  • Article: “Just Looking: A View of Street Harassment.”