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

SAAM Day Two – Somebody

It’s Saturday, and I’m a working pastor who has to lead worship twice tomorrow, so today’s notes shall be a bit brief…

Often, when we talk about rape & sexual violence there’s this strange thing that happens. People tell you to think about what would you would feel like if it happened to someone you love – your mother, your sister, your wife, your daughter.

I know they mean well by trying to personalize the issue, but it means that we, as survivors, are defined by our relationships to other people (very often as women who are somehow attached/connected to men).

It irritates me. Yes, I am someone’s daughter, and sister, and mother, and aunt, but I am somebody without all those categories. I am me, a human being, deserving of respect, and decency, and kindness, and compassion even if I weren’t someone’s daughter, sister, mother, or whatever.

That I am human should be reason enough to not hurt me. That someone, anyone, is human should be reason for them to not have to fear the violence of rape and sexual assault.

So the next time you see one of those signs or memes that invites you to think about how it would affect your sister, or brother, or some other relation, remember that we are all sisters and brothers and when any one of us suffers, we all suffer together; when any one of us is not free from violence and fear, none of us are free; when one of us is raped, all of us are raped.

 

A strange (good?) thing is happening

The materials for Break The Silence Sunday (BTSS) have been out in the world for a little more than two months. They’ve been emailed to all the U.C.C. churches in Wisconsin, and have found some listening hearts in other communities from St. Louis to Phoenix, among the U.C.C., but also among Baptist, and Methodist, and ELCA Lutheran congregations. I have had some wonderful feedback, and appreciation for the idea, the materials, and the courage to open up space for this conversation.

There has also been, not entirely surprisingly, some negative feedback – people who say we don’t need yet another designated day for yet another designated topic for the church to address; people who think that this shouldn’t be discussed in church at all because it’s too personal, and too sensitive; and the folks who have said that we are, collectively, already overwhelmed with issues that matter and don’t have time for one more. I’ve handled most of that quite well, with only one major rant to my nearest and dearest friends, and only a handful of excess cookies.

But the strange, and perhaps good, thing that’s been happening is that since the materials were released an increasing number of people (clergy) have reached out to me because they need to help someone in particular in their parish with the aftermath of rape or sexual violence. These clergy come to me and tell me that they are completely unprepared, uneducated, unaware of how to help, what might be unhelpful, and they don’t know anywhere to look for resources. So they turn to me, and for that I am truly grateful, but it got me to thinking that something is lacking in how we are educating our clergy (well probably more than one thing, but I digress).

When I was in seminary we were taught to refer, refer, refer, to be careful about how much pastoral care we offered because we aren’t trained as psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, counselors, social workers, or the like. And I understand that, BUT much of what my colleagues have been calling me to talk about isn’t the stuff of that kind of care.

In every instance the person they’re working with also has a counselor of some sort. What they need is their pastor to be present with them, to wrestle with the G-d questions, the tough stuff of faith about where is G-d when these awful things happen, and why does a G-d of love allow such stuff. They need their pastor to be part of their team, to maybe drive them to an appointment, to help them figure out how to be as safe and comfortable in worship as possible, to know that they have panic attacks at times, and be sensitive to their concerns about how we do this thing called church.

I am grateful to the colleagues who have reached out for help, who have admitted their ignorance about how rape and sexual assault affect people, and who have looked for ways to educate themselves. It has reminded me just how important the work of BTSS is, and will continue to be.

On Friday, Sexual Assault Awareness Month will begin, and we will be just 24 short days from the suggested date for the first observation of Break The Silence Sunday. I’m hoping to write often during the month (daily would be a dream, but let’s be a bit realistic here) with information, statistics, stories, quotes, and other things that might be helpful to those preparing to lead worship, attend worship, and those who aren’t ready just yet to do either.

The Logo & More

We have a logo. It’s surely not as nice as it could be if someone gifted
in the ways of graphic design would lend their talents, but I’m happy with it. It’s a circle which is important to me, and says the things I need it to say:

Say the words – don’t shy away from difficult words, recognizing that they’re important to some survivors, and triggering to others

BTSS Logo 2Work for change – commit yourself, and your faith community, to the work of creating a world where rape, sexual violence, and abuse are things of the past

Support the survivors – this is what it’s really all about, making a place for survivors to share their stories without guilt, shame, or bad theology

In addition, I received in my email this morning our first piece of liturgy (thanks Don N.), a prayer for hesitant clergy.

I would love to open my email every morning to your contributions to the work of Break The Silence Sunday.

The plan

Several people have asked how The Revolution is going to work. Here’s some information about how you and your congregation/community of faith can participate.


How can my congregation/faith community participate?
United Church of Christ congregations in the Wisconsin Conference will receive information about, and be invited to participate in Break The Silence Sunday automatically. Congregations outside either of that group are asked to email us at breakthesilencesunday@gmail.com with the following information:

Name & location of faith community (include denomination please)
Name & email/phone of pastoral leader
Name & email/phone of contact person (if different than pastoral leader)
How you heard about us
Anything else you think we need to know


What will we get to help us plan this event?
Preparation is key to making Break The Silence Sunday a success – people need to know what they can expect so they can prepare their hearts to be receptive, so survivors can decide if they are ready to open themselves up to this, and so parents can decide if it is age-appropriate for their children and youth to attend. You will receive advance preparation materials including bulletin inserts, and sample newsletter/website articles.

Then you will receive complete liturgies that congregations can adapt for their particular settings and context. That means you’ll receive prayers, hymn and song suggestions (for different kinds of musical needs), sermon suggestions, at least one complete sermon, ideas for communion, and more. There will be a ready to use bulletin, or you can copy and paste information into your own format.

There will also be suggestions for alternative or additional worship opportunities including a healing service.

Finally, there will be a place (on the web, perhaps hosted through the WI Conference UCC, perhaps on this blog) where congregations can find contact information for resources and support agencies in their communities.


How can I help? What else can I do?
We need all the help we can get. We need creativity, imagination, suggestions, ideas, comments, and whatever else (constructive) that you’ve got.

  • Do you like to write liturgy? We need all kinds of prayers – call to worship, gathering prayers and invocations, confessions, litanies of healing and hope, communion liturgies, offering prayers, collects, prayers of the people, petitions, pastoral prayers. You get the idea.
  • What about hymns? Think you could write a new hymn to a familiar tune?
  • Want to take a try at writing a brand new song – for the congregation to sing, for a choir or a soloist?
  • Have a passion for the scriptures – give us your best suggestions about healing (the communal/spiritual as opposed to the physical), wholeness, community, listening, honouring stories, and the like.
  • Dance? Draw? Paint? We’d love to have your ideas for gentle movements everyone could be invited to do, or dances trained groups could perform. We need art works to convey the importance of telling our stories, and the need for a community to hear us. (We’ll have a logo very soon.)

Keep in mind this will be a yearly event so we’re going to need lots, and lots of resources to keep things fresh and interesting. So start working now, and if you can’t make the deadlines (see the timeline below) that’s OK. We’re happy to collect resources and use them on an ongoing basis. E-mail us at breakthesilencesunday@gmail.com to let us know you’re interested in helping out, and to share your resources and please know that full credit, and deep gratitude, will be given to you for whatever you help create.


Timeline for Break The Silence Sunday

October 2015
Initial publicity starts to appear in places like the Wisconsin Conference UCC newsletter, Facebook, additional blog posts, and so forth.

November 2015
Additional publicity including an all church e-mail to save the date (4th Sunday in April ~ April 24, 2016).

December 2015
Liturgical resources due to us by December 20th

January 2016
Liturgy and other materials are distributed to congregations (our goal is January 10th, but it might well be the 17th).

There will also be a Steps On The Journey retreat in Phoenix, AZ held January 22-24, 2016. Registration is now open. Please visit our website for more information: http://www.azstepsonthejourney.org

February 2016
Breathing & processing – seriously, Lent starts before Valentine’s Day this year.

March 2016
Reminder time ~ emails and other communication with congregations to get them ready for the event next month.

April 2016
The event ~ April 24th

May 2016
Follow-up with communities that participated asking what they used, what helped, what they found they needed, etc. Gathering this information together so we know how to proceed for 2017, and how we might widen our audience.

June 2016
Begin planning 2017 event (this may start to take place during the WI Conference UCC annual meeting.

October 2016
Clergy retreat at Moon Beach for all UCC clergy in Wisconsin. We will be talking about shining light into the shadows, and how to address difficult subjects in the church. Our particular focus will be on suicide and sexual assault. More information after the beginning of the year.