BTSS 2016 ~ In The Books

Well, we did it. The first Break The Silence Sunday is done. It was an important day in the life of our parish, a hard day for many, but one where we opened up space for the holy to come in and renew us with grace and mercy.

Word is starting to trickle in from other congregations, and communities that observed Break The Silence Sunday. My deepest gratitude to everyone who helped plan, and lead worship in these places, and to everyone who even read the materials that they might be useful in the future.

If you, or your community, used the resources for 2016 in any way (or are planning to in the coming months), please help by filling out the survey at the end of the packet, or emailing your notes about what you did, creative ideas you employed, hymn changes you made, and all those things. You can send it by postal mail to the address in the packet, or just drop us an email.

I took a few days off after months (years really) of working on BTSS. I had some nice naps, and read a novel, and let someone else cook for me. Now, back at my desk, a kitten sleeping nearby, I’m reminded that it’s time to pick up the work again, to start thinking about BTSS 2017 and what kind of materials we might need to create, new prayers to write, new songs to sing, and so much more.

Save this date now – Sunday April 23, 2017

New materials will be available in mid to late January (if you’re interested in writing a prayer, suggesting a hymn, offering an idea for story telling, designing a banner, or contributing in any way, please drop us an email … it’s never too early to start).

In the meantime, several people have asked what I said as a sermon reflection during worship in our parish so I include it here for you.

Reflection for Break The Silence Sunday 2016The world suffers because of the silence
Rev Moira Finley
Tri-Jo Parish United Church of Christ

I desperately wish we were not gathered here today for Break The Silence Sunday. I wish it was something we didn’t need to do, to honor the stories of survivors of rape and sexual violence; to admit that the church has often failed to stand with those survivors, to help them through their pain, accompany them in their grief, and offer them the promise of G-d’s incredible grace. But we need to be here, gathered together as G-d’s people, facing our fears, letting the tears flow, and opening ourselves up to the work before us that someday a day like this will not be necessary.

The work of Break The Silence Sunday is something that I have been trying to get to happen for nearly fifteen years. My hope that the church, in every place, could be a place of healing and hope for survivors, a place of advocacy and social change has been met with resistance, and hostility. I am too stubborn to stop sometimes and so I kept pushing, even though it felt like the door to even have a conversation about rape in the church was firmly shut. That was, until our conference minister, the Rev Franz Rigert, offered to help me open the door. And so Break The Silence Sunday was born, and today with churches in Wisconsin and a few other places, we are experimenting with this idea of committing ourselves to listening to survivors; to facing the pain, and heartache without judgement or pity; and to working for a change in our society, and around the world, that rape might someday be a thing of the past.

I thought about telling my story of being a rape survivor this morning, but I have done that in this place, surrounded by your great love, before. I did, for those of you who may not have heard it, print a few copies of my story, or at least part of it, and you can take those home, and ask me questions about it later.

But what I realized I really wanted to say today is why this matters so much to me.

I have these buttons that say “This is what a rape survivor looks like”, and I wear them on most days. They are quite something, and they engage people in ways I would never have imagined.

There was the woman in front of me in the check-out line at the grocery store. I smiled and said hello, and then she paused for a rather long time and read my button. She looked at the button, and then at my face, and back to the button, and back to my face and then she said, “you should be ashamed of yourself.” I was confused, so I asked for some clarification. She said I should be ashamed of advertising that I was broken, damaged, and a loose woman. It took about every ounce of patience, and faith I had to not start screaming at her that I have nothing to be ashamed of, that the only ones who bear shame are the men who raped me.

But then there was the woman at the Fleet Farm. I was browsing in the candy and nuts aisle, and a woman was there stocking the shelves. I said hello, and she stopped to read my button. Then she started to cry. She sat down on the floor, her head in her hands, and managed to whisper, “I’ve never told anyone what happened to me.” So I sat down on the floor with her, and held her hand until she caught her breath, and there, in the candy aisle, for the first time in her life, a beautiful woman named Carol told me what happened to her nearly forty years before.

Those things, like what happened with Carol, are far more common than things like what happened with the woman at the grocery story. I have found that the button is a little bitty opening of the door for people who have lived for so long in silence, carrying within them the stories of pain, and heartache, and violence that the world thinks we should be ashamed of. And every time I encounter one of those angry, shaming, hateful people, I remember Carol and so many others who need today to happen even if they aren’t here with us this morning.

I have heard stories from people who were abused as young as three and four, from people who were raped in their sixties and seventies, and everything in between. I’ve heard from people who knew their assailants, because they were members of their family, or a trusted friend, or a member of their church, or a romantic partner, and people who were assaulted by strangers, and those who were somewhere in between, someone they kind knew was the one who raped them. I’ve heard from women, and men, from people of all races, and faith traditions, and economic status. I’ve heard from people who prosecuted, when through the struggle of the judicial system to try and find justice, and from people who never told anyone what happened.

And over, and over again what I have heard, and what I know from my own experience, is how hard the stories are to carry alone, in shame, and in silence. A story that we are afraid to speak, or ashamed to share, or one that we have told and it has been met with disbelief, doubt, and scorn – those stories, inside of us, given no voice, receiving no true compassionate listening, those stories have the power to destroy us.

But a story told, and heard, and listened to; a story met with gentleness, and love, and grace; a story that is honoured, and respected, and believed – those stories, even if they continue to haunt our dreams, even if they sometimes still overwhelm us nearly almost thirty hears later, they have still lost some of their power over us because now it is a burden shared.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said that there comes a time when silence is betrayal. The church around the world has, for far too long, betrayed survivors with their deafening silence. Survivors have been offered platitudes at best, and bad theology at worst, told that their suffering is making them stronger, or more faithful, or that they have to forgiven quickly and unconditionally, and that they should endure whatever has happened to them quietly, because this is a private issue, it’s personal, it makes people uncomfortable, it’s about sex and we can’t talk about that.

But none of that is true. Rape and sexual violence are not about sex, but about power and control, and yes, what happens to an individual survivor is private, and personal, but it’s also corporate, and happens to all of us. The body of Christ has been broken, and torn, and beaten, and raped, and abused. But it can be healed, made whole, renewed with G-d’s love, and the courage of congregations willing to do what we are doing here today, willing to Break The Silence. Amen.

SAAM Days 13 & 14 – Rape Culture

A few days ago I got into a discussion with someone about rape culture. That’s a phrase used to describe the ways in which society blames victims of rape and sexual violence, and normalizes that violence (particularly male violence against women). It comes through reporting and discussion on rape cases, through jokes that perpetuate the idea that women should learn to expect violence, and through anything that sexualizes women to the point where they don’t exist as human beings, and that which makes coercion seem acceptable.

The person I was talking with (online) about rape culture denies that it exists, or at least not in the United States and other, in her words, developed countries. It might be, she conceded, a reality in the third world, or in places where women aren’t valued, and don’t have equality. (Again, all this person’s words, not mine.)

Eventually, tired of beating my head against a wall, I gave up trying to persuade this person that rape culture is real. I had more efficient ways to spend my time, like trying to persuade my kitten that she doesn’t need to knock everything off the dresser at night.

Meanwhile I offer you these two amazing spoken word poets on the question of rape culture & consent.

First, “I’m Sorry Poem” by FreeQuency

 

And then, “Word Choice” by Imani Cezanne

 

And if you would like to read more about the reality of rape culture you can start here:
What Is Rape Culture – Women Against Violence Against Women

 

SAAM Days 10 to 12 – Weary

I’ve been feeling a little off these past few days. Some of it is a lingering cold, and now the fun of allergies since spring is really (maybe, hopefully) coming to northern Wisconsin.

But there’s also a feeling of vulnerability with having my story out there in the world, out of my hands where others can read it, and analyze it, and criticise it without consulting me. That’s something every survivor who tells their story faces – letting go of control of their story; and if there’s one thing all the survivors I know hate it’s not being in control because once, when we were raped, we had no control. It’s a scary thing, and at least to me, a necessary thing, but it does leave me feeling like a turtle without a shell sometimes.

And then there’s the sense that I’m not doing enough. If I don’t post here every day, I’m letting my survivor sisters and brothers down. If I don’t speak up about every case of rape and sexual assault that comes across my news feed, I’m not doing enough to advocate for change. If I let a joke go by, or don’t correct someone’s language, or … it goes on and on, the sense that there is never enough I can do.

So I’m going to go and do some painting, and watch “Iron Jawed Angels” about the women’s suffrage movement (most appropriate today because President Obama announced a national women’s equality monument at Belmont-Paul House … if you don’t know about it, please go look up Alice Paul, and Alva Belmont, and Inez Milholland, and Ida Wells, and so many more).

I’m going to leave you with two pictures that sum up my current mood. The first is an unknown man I found on the internet. I know this might be tiring to some of you who aren’t survivors, but this is my every day…

IMG_3559

And this is a reminder to myself, and to every other survivor out there…we matter, our stories, our lives, our fears, our hopes all matter, and we are worth the “trouble” we cause the world by speaking up.

IMG_1728

SAAM Days 7 to 9 – Math

Apologies for the lack of posts the last couple of days. I needed a bit of a break for my own heart, and soul, and then I managed to get the cold that’s going around and needed a break so I could stop coughing and snuffling.

Today I’d like us to think about numbers, and do some math. I know, it’s not the most exciting bit, and indeed some dread the math, but it’s important that we get a picture of the scope of the problem of rape & sexual violence. So take a breath…

In the U.S. there are an average of 296,066 victims (age 12 and older) of rape and sexual assault each year.

There are 31,536,000 seconds per year in a non leap year. Dividing that by the number of victims (296,066) we reach an average of one assault every 107 seconds.

Think about that … someone is assaulted every 107 seconds.
Set your timer for 107 seconds (1 minute 47 seconds) and think about it.

17.7 million women (1 out of every 6) in the U.S. have been victims of attempted or completed rapes in their lifetimes.

2.78 million men (1 out of every 33) in the U.S. have been victims of attempted or completed rapes in their lifetimes.

93% of juvenile sexual assault victims know their attacker.
Approximately 80% of adult victims know their attacker.

For every 100 rapes in the U.S.

  • 46 will be reported
  • 12 will result in an arrest
  • 9 will be prosecuted
  • 5 will result in conviction
  • 3 will serve more than one day in jail

Less than 2% of reported rapes are found to be false allegations.

I give you these statistics to help us understand that the problem is huge. It affects people we know, we work with, we go to school with, we sit in church with. And these are conservative statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Justice. More realistically, because rape is the most underreported crime, it’s probably 1 in 3 women in the U.S. and 1 in 2 women worldwide who have been raped or sexually assaulted.

So my friends, I beg you to do something about it. Stand up for survivors. Support them. Listen to them. Make them a cup of tea and speak those most important words, “I believe you”.

And then work to change the culture we live in – don’t let rape and sexualized jokes go unchallenged; don’t allow power, prestige, sports status, or other things absolve people from responsibility for their actions; work to lobby for better support of those who do report, and for education for police officers, and attorneys who work with survivors; teach everyone about affirmative consent (about actually saying yes, and that no never, ever means yes).

(Statistics compiled from U.S. Department of Justice National Crime Victimization Survey 2000-2013; National Institute of Justice & Centers for Disease Control Prevalence Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women Survey (1989); U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics 2000 Sexual Assault of Young Children As Reported to Law Enforcement)

 

SAAM Day Six – why bother?

The “On This Day” feature on Facebook tells you what you were posting on a given day in previous years. Today (April 6), I was reminded that last year someone I didn’t know (met through an online conversation) took offense at my speaking out about rape & sexual assault likened me to a Nazi, and said that the men who raped me should have killed me. I wish I could say that this was the only time this kind of thing has happened, but it’s not. I get far fewer actual threats than some folks I know, but I do often come up against a question that just baffles me … why do I bother sharing my story and speaking up?

Some of the people who ask are genuinely concerned for my safety, and my mental and physical health. Most of them, however, would just like me to be quiet, to keep things to myself, to not disturb their view of the universe. They’re afraid of what survivors face each day. They’re afraid that people they know, their friends and family, have been the victims of such horrible crimes. And they particularly afraid to admit that someone they know might well have been a perpetrator. They cloak their fears in kindness, asking if it wouldn’t be better for me if I just “put it all behind you” or “move on”.

They have a point, I suppose. It is hard work, all this speaking out and advocating. As many of those closest to me will attest, it requires a lot of crying, and praying, and worrying, a fair amount of chocolate (and coffee and wine), and sometimes hiding under a blanket until I can face it all again.

But, at least for me, what is worse is the silence, bearing the story inside of me, alone. At least spoken my story can be shared, carried together with those who love and care for me. And perhaps spoken my story can change something – one person’s view of the world, one  congregation’s ability to understand and support other survivors, one community’s efforts to end rape & sexual violence.

I leave you today with these words and images below from the amazing Audre Lorde (and if you don’t know who Audre is, please go forth immediately and learn about her here … Audre Lorde – Poetry Foundation … go now, seriously, she’s epic!).

audre-lordes-quotes-4

i-write-for-those-women

 

SAAM Day Five – Memories

When I was in high school there was an innovation in television technology called picture in picture TV. The idea was that there would be the usual picture taking up most of the screen, and then in the upper right corner you could have another smaller picture from a different channel playing. The marketing was mostly to people who wanted to be able to watch two different sporting events at the same time.

I’m not sure it ever really caught on, and then the internet came and changed how we watch TV, but the idea of picture in picture has always been a helpful way for me to describe what it’s like inside my head as a rape survivor.

Please understand that this is MY experience, and every survivor is different.

The present moment – me sitting at my computer surrounded by napping kittens, drinking coffee, thinking about worship things for Sunday, wondering if I should make oatmeal cookies, wishing I hadn’t forgotten to get tater tots at the grocery – that’s all the main picture, the big screen of the TV inside my head.

But there is always that smaller picture playing in the background. It plays on a constant loop, reliving and remembering – the events leading up to my rape, the events of the rape, and the aftermath as well.

On good days (which are most), it works with the memories quietly playing on the side while I go about my life, but there are days…

There are days, and moments, when the screens switch, when the memories are the bigger picture, and the present moment is shoved off to the side. All kinds of things can trigger the switch – stress, the weather, a particular smell or taste, having to go somewhere unfamiliar, certain days and times of the year, a song on the radio, not getting enough sleep or the right foods. And sometimes I’m not even aware of what the trigger is.

I’ve spent lots of time working with my psychiatrist at getting control of the switch, of learning how to navigate the triggers in an unpredictable world, and how to calm myself down and get my brain to bring the present back to the big picture.

IMG_0030It’s a daily practice. Some days it works, and some days it doesn’t. Some days the memories are overwhelming. Overall, I think I do it well, but I know what that kind of mental energy costs me.

Perhaps this will go a bit of the way towards helping people who aren’t survivors understand the kind of internal gymnastics that are required to go out into the world, to get the groceries, go to work, meet people, go out to eat, attend concerts and classes, and all kinds of things that a “normal” (neurotypical) brain takes for granted.

SAAM Days Three & Four – Support

There’s a lot in the news these days about survivors who didn’t report, or who waited to report, their assaults to the authorities (police). Much of what’s written comes with a heaping portion of judgement – if you didn’t report it wasn’t that bad, or you wanted it, or you’re trying to cover something else up (like underage drinking, or drug use, or the like).

I’ve heard survivors told that they HAVE to report in order to prevent someone else from being a victim, in order to end rape culture, in order to bring themselves some kind of closure. I’ve heard people say that anyone who doesn’t report their rape isn’t really a victim since they didn’t take it seriously enough to wade into the legal system.

NONE of that helps. I’m going to say that again in case you weren’t listening … NONE of that helps.

Survivors don’t need your judgement, your critique, your commentary on whether or not they’re really survivors. They don’t need your advice, from a place of relative safety, or your back seat “help” with what would be best for them. They surely don’t need anyone telling them about how much better they will feel when they report and prosecute (as someone who did report, and went through the nightmare that is our legal system’s prosecution of rapists, I understand why someone wouldn’t ever want to do that – it reopens all kinds of wounds, and the victim is often put on trial themselves … more about that in another post).

What survivors do need is your nonjudgemental support. They need to know that you’re there for them, walking with them whatever the darkness brings. They need to know that you aren’t going to run away when the going gets tough, when the memories are a living nightmare. They need to know they aren’t a burden to you, because they feel like they are, all the time, that their story is too much for you to bear, that you don’t want to know why they’re really struggling with.

What survivors need …

  • to be reminded that they are not alone;
  • that you believe them (say these words … “I believe you”, it matters more than you can possibly imagine);
  • that it isn’t their fault (say these words, “it’s not your fault”, say them more than once, trust me, the survivors won’t be able to believe you the first time);
  • that you support them whatever choices they make (about reporting, counseling, medical care, and well everything);
  • and for you to be there for them, to listen, to help with the laundry, to drive them to their appointments, to cry with them, and to listen (yes, I said it again, it’s the most important thing you can do).

For some other ideas, and ways you can support survivors, check out these resources:

Help Someone You Care About from RAIIN

A survivor’s advice for supporting someone who has been assaulted by Alison Safran

#saam

#breakthesilencesunday