Sunday, November 12, 2017

We Can Stop the Next Shooting

By Emily Rudenick Leblanc
Chief Program Officer, CASA of Travis County

Every time there is a mass shooting, I go through the same range of emotions. Helplessness as a mother who can’t protect her kids. Horror that each incident gets worse and we all seem shocked for a day or two and then go back to our daily lives like it’s normal for people to get shot at church. Then anger—the kind of rage that makes you scream at the sky and want to throw things at every politician that sends thoughts and prayers as they deposit their checks from the NRA. Then, finally, I settle on introverted detachment. I stop engaging with people because, as a bit of an empath, it’s too hard to absorb all of the feelings around me.

Then I wait. I wait for the revelation that the shooter had a history of domestic violence. This is, of course, something that I know and my advocate friends know long before the media figures it out. And then we rage some more at the fact that we have a canary in the coalmine that nobody wants to listen to. We post articles, we argue with friends on social media, and we recommit ourselves to lobbying hard for change. But nothing changes.

After the most recent incident (the one where 26 people, half of whom were children…children who were killed in church), there are fingers pointing every direction. Some are calling for laws banning abusers from having guns. We have those laws on the federal books, but they aren’t enforced. At least not in Texas. Texas gives guns back after 2 years. In fact, most counties never even take them away when a protective order is issued because, in Texas, we don’t take peoples’ guns. Our legislature even tried to pass a law 2 sessions ago to make it a criminal offense to try to enforce federal gun laws banning abusers from possessing firearms. But don’t worry, those same legislators are thinking and praying hard so we should all feel safer.

Here’s the thing about laws…they only work if they are enforced. Federal prosecutors aren’t going to spend time going after family violence offenders. They think that’s the work of local officials. And local prosecutors often negotiate plea deals that mean no family violence offenses will end up on the offender’s record. It is common practice to offer deferred prosecution agreements for family violence offenses—agreements that are secret even from the victim and that result in no official prosecution and no criminal record. Let that sink in for a minute. That means laws that make repeated family violence a felony cannot be invoked because there is no record of the first assault (or perhaps the second, or third, or fourth). That also means clear background checks the next time the perpetrator goes to buy a gun.

I’ve heard many blame the Air Force for failure to report the offender to the FBI database. That was a failure for sure, but a common one. The databases are only as good as the reporting jurisdictions and it’s quite common for offenses to never get reported or to not get reported in a timely manner. Protective orders are issued and never entered because there is disagreement over who should enter them, which means law enforcement has no record of the order in their database and even the victims who get the courage to call police aren’t protected because the order is sitting on someone’s desk who thinks it’s not their job to enter it.

I’ve heard leaders say it’s not a gun problem, it’s a mental health problem. I’m a licensed mental health professional and have worked in domestic violence for most of my career. It’s not a mental health problem. The belief that one can and should control another human being, that one should have the power to decide who lives and who dies--that’s not a result of depression or anxiety. That a result of toxic masculinity and a sense of entitlement that is regularly reinforced by a society that does nothing to stop it. It is the result of a culture that rewards men who brag about taking control of women’s bodies without consent by electing them to high office. It is the result of a legal system that discounts victims, says there are 2 sides to every story, and refuses to hold perpetrators accountable in any meaningful way.

Many friends have asked me what I think the solution is. I wish I could say there was an easy answer. I wish stricter gun laws or stronger prosecutors or better background checks or a DV registry could solve the problem. They can’t. I learned a lot about entitlement working at a drug treatment facility for adolescents. What I learned is that the only cure for entitlement is accountability. But here’s the other thing I learned: it’s not enough to hold the offender accountable. We must hold the entire community accountable.

We have to hold the abusers accountable by charging them with the crimes they commit and ensuring they see meaningful consequences. But we also have to hold prosecutors accountable for making sure that happens. We have to hold law enforcement accountable for believing victims. We have to hold the clerks accountable for entering orders in a timely manner and database technicians accountable for keeping things running smoothly. We have to hold gun sellers accountable for checking backgrounds. We have to hold family members accountable for not allowing abusers access to firearms. Ever. We have to hold elected official accountable for doing more than thinking and praying. We have to hold the NRA accountable for buying politicians and blocking common sense legislation that would make us all safer. We have to hold advocates accountable for believing victims, even when the perpetrators are donors or public figures that support our causes. We have to hold each other accountable for creating a culture in which violence in any form is unacceptable.

Domestic violence isn’t a private matter. It’s my problem, it’s your problem, it’s the problem of everyone who wants to be safe sitting in the pew next Sunday. Terrorists practice on their families first. That’s a proven fact. If we want to stop the church shootings and school shootings and movie theater and nightclub and concert shootings, we need to look at intimate terrorism first. And before we point the finger at all the folks who should have done something, let’s look inside ourselves and figure out what every single one of us can do to combat the culture that allows this to continue happening.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Supporting Survivors: "Me Too"... or not

This post was originally published by Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence on October 17, 2017
By Tyffani Monford Dent, Psy.D
President, Monford Dent Consulting & Psychological Services LLC
EVAWI Associate Board Member

In the last couple of days, there has been a “Me, too” campaign in response to the allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault leveled against Harvey Weinstein. Mr. Weinstein is known as a powerhouse movie producer and many women have recently come forth stating that he used such power to engage in a pattern of sexual harassment and sexual assault against many women over whom he knew he held authority over their careers.  Since that information has come out, there have been the typical responses that many survivors of sexual assault have come to fear and expect including those who engage in victim-blaming by stating that if women dress a certain way or look a certain way, they are “setting themselves up” to be sexually harassed. Such assertions (that in some cases have been put forth by women including Donna Karan and Mayim Bialik) are not surprising because they feed into society’s belief that women are responsible for their own victimization.
In response to such pro-sexual assault culture statements, a campaign was started that attempted to “put a face” to those who have been sexually harassed and/or sexually assaulted. Many have seen the “Me, too” campaign in which women were encouraged to post “Me, too” to their social media accounts acknowledging their own experiences being sexually assaulted or sexually harassed.
When I first saw this campaign, I was proud of women who had the courage to come forward and let the world know not only about their victimization, or to let the world know that there is no one “victim type," but also in their ability to take hold of their survivorship. In their powerful statements of “Me, too," I saw women who had come to a place in their survivorship where they were able to state to the world that they had been victimized and in doing so, demanded that the world did not dismiss the prevalence of sexual harassment and sexual assault.
Yet, I then turned to the social media pages of many of the women I know who have been victimized and saw that there were often no “Me, too” statements-and it reminded me that wanting to or being able to acknowledge one’s victimization is complex. Many survivors are not supported nor do they receive “likes," “retweets," or “love” emojis when they disclose their victimization. Instead, they are met with questions about whether or not they “misunderstood” such advances, or somehow “asked” for the sexual abuse by way of their body type, “flirtatious nature," “clothing," or previous sexual contact with the perpetrator. 
I wonder in the non-“Me, too” group how many were abused by those that they knew and were encouraged to keep silent because no one wanted a beloved family member/friend/coach/prominent community figure to have their lives “ruined” by discussing the sexual assault.
I question how many non-“Me too” women and girls did not dare tweet such a thing because they feared not being believed. I wonder how many of those non-“Me too” women were black women-as we know that only 1 in 16 of us ever tell about our victimization.
I believe that some of those non-“Me, too” women and girls have decided that when and to whom they disclose their sexual assaults is their decision-and rightfully so. That they have decided that such information-sharing is the only decision they had within the sexual assault and have determined that social media is not the place where they want to share it.
I think about how some have argued that instead of “Me, too” or even focusing on the non-"Me, toos” one should demand that males and other bystanders “own this” and post about their plans to support survivors but also intervene when they see sexual abuse occurring-even if they do not have their own daughters-because empathy and compassion should not be predicated on whether or not one has their own female offspring.
Yet, in all of this, I have come to the conclusion that, for those who choose to "Me, too"-I honor your courage and offer my support as you navigate your survivorship. For those who do not-I embrace you and understand your not feeling safe in, or simply choosing not to share your abuse with the world-it is your right.
 In the “Me toos," non-"Me toos," and bystanders, we should all have the goals of preventing sexual abuse and supporting survivors-those are two things we should all be able to agree on.
#SupportSurvivors #BelieveSurvivors #WeAreOAESV #BlackWomensBlueprint #TrustBlackWomen #startbybelieving