1 in 6, Part 1 – Basic facts

Over several installments, this blog will explore how sexual trauma affects cisgender men. As the men’s counselor and 1 in 6 project coordinator for Our Voice, I have compiled information gathered from websites, journals, news articles, and most importantly, my clients – people who have experienced sexual trauma and identify or present as male. Most of the research (as well as the grant funding my position) focuses on cisgender men, and the blog’s focus will be limited in that way. I will be speaking plainly and directly about sexual trauma, so: trigger warning.

The best statistics, compiled from studies spanning a few decades, tell us that about 1 in 6 men experience “unwanted or abusive” sexual experiences before the age of 18. About 1 in 10 rape victims are male. These statistics are also based on reported experiences – to doctors, on national health surveys, at college campuses – and so we can safely assume that the actual incidence is much higher. (1in6.org)

Men don’t tend to talk openly about sexual trauma. Many of my clients who were abused in childhood have never told anyone – and most of them don’t enter counseling until their 30s or 40s. Some have only told their trusted partners. Almost all of them kept it a secret, only asking for help now, when they recognize how it has impacted their lives, through addiction, anxiety, depression, or difficulties with steady employment.

“Only 16% of men with documented histories of sexual abuse (by social service agencies, which means it was very serious) considered themselves to have been sexually abused – compared to 64% of women with documented histories in the same study.” (1in6.org)

Survivors of sexual assault are:
 3 times more likely to have depression
 4 times more likely to contemplate suicide
 6 times more likely to suffer from PTSD
 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol
 26 times more likely to abuse drugs (rainn.org)

Men keep it a secret, or don’t recognize it as abuse, for a number of reasons. The main one is shame. They ask themselves “how could I have let this happen” or “what would people think of me?” And when some of them have shared, they were shamed for “not fighting” or being “weak.” Another reason men don’t disclose is that they fear they will be looked at as potential perpetrators. Research shows that most survivors of sexual trauma do not become perpetrators. But some male survivors, upon disclosing, have been shunned and told they are not welcome around the listener’s children.

Another reason men often don’t identify as survivors is because the experience may have felt pleasurable physically, even if not emotionally. Some feel guilty because their bodies responded while the rest of them stayed frozen in shock. This can all be confusing for men, who question their sexual identity, or what healthy relationships look like. Most experiences like that, especially with someone years older than the men were at that time, tend to be harmful. Physical arousal is not consent. These experiences sexualize children earlier than they are developmentally ready to integrate. The men I work with who have questions around this often see how it has affected their sexual or romantic relationships in harmful and destructive ways.

Research shows us that sexual orientation has nothing to do with sexual abuse. Perpetrators are pedophiles, and sexual abuse is not gay or straight. Most men who perpetrate sexually on boys identify as heterosexual. Survivors’ sexual orientations are not changed by the gender identity of the perpetrator. (1in6.org)

Most of my male clients suffer from shame, anxiety, depression, addiction, and confusion. Once they decide to disclose their experiences, I’m able to work with them to understand their experiences, and begin to heal from them. Often just telling someone confidentially for the first time is a relief.

Our Voice offers free and confidential therapeutic services to anyone who has had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences, as a child or adult. Services are also available for the loved ones of the survivors – friends, families, parents and partners – to help them understand and support their loved one. Please call our crisis line at 828 255 7576.

How you can respond to a disclosure:
• Empathize: “I’m so sorry that happened to you.”
• Validate: “It makes sense you feel that way.”
• Normalize: “It happens to at least 1 in 6 men”
• Support: “It wasn’t your fault.”
• Listen more than you talk

Other resources:
www.1in6.org
www.malesurvivor.org
www.rainn.org
“Evicting the Perpetrator” by Ken Singer
“Victims No Longer” by Mike Lew

–Papillon DeBoer, LPCA is the 1 in 6 Program Counselor and Coordinator

Promoting the Positive: Prevention Education

I often think about how to promote the positive in my life—eating healthy, getting outside and being active, and building healthy relationships with my family and friends. When you work at a Rape Crisis and Prevention Center you have to be very intentional about making more space for the good things than the bad things. Now don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean ignoring the reality that people I love, people in my community are experiencing sexual violence at alarming rates and that violence has a huge effect on their health.

As a prevention educator and someone who is known for working at Our VOICE, people often ask me: “How can I have (or continue) these conversations with people who are important to me, who are uncomfortable with or don’t want to have these conversations, without alienating them?”

I believe the best answer to that question is to promote the positive. Some of my friends and family may not be interested in or comfortable with talking about sexual and intimate partner violence or rape culture. But if I can engage the people in my life by talking about consent and the other elements of healthy relationships, I believe I am still doing my part.

If we want to get folks involved and committed to ending violence in our community and beyond we have to give folks the tools, language, and skills to create the community they desire. We cannot only say NO to what we do not want (i.e., sexual violence, rape culture, racism, transphobia, homophobia) but we have to actively decide upon and seek out what we do want in our lives and communities. Experiences of privilege and oppression play a huge role in how much ability a given person has to set boundaries and have those boundaries respected. However, as individuals we can do our personal best to communicate our own boundaries and respect others’. Modeling that kind of behavior will only help the people around us to feel safe and to reflect on their own boundaries, desires, and relationships.

For example, when I watch television shows with folks like this, I try to point out moments between characters that are consensual or demonstrate healthy communication. To be clear, conflict is a normal part of relationships. And conflict can be both healthy and unhealthy. So when I see healthy communication and conflict on TV or in movies I point it out! I say: “Wow they did such a great job working through such a difficult issue.” Or: “That was sexy/awesome/impressive… the way he just asked what they wanted and if they were comfortable!”

When I listen to songs on the radio I try do the same thing. One beautiful example of consent in a song is in Primetime by Janelle Monáe featuring Miguel, who sings, “Bang bang, I’m calling your name. You’re like a fire the world can’t tame. I wanna riot ‘til the stars come out and play. Is that okay?” Is that okay? What a beautiful example of making consent sexy and approachable. Consent and healthy communication are not easy. They both require constant learning and practice (and mistakes! Lots of awkward mistakes).

Although it can be more difficult, pointing out these moments IRL is just as important. (Apologies, I work with middle schoolers. IRL=In Real Life.) If you have a friend struggling to communicate their needs with an intimate partner, offer healthy suggestions, encourage them to feel empowered to set their boundaries. And if they try it out, give them constructive feedback. Say: “You are so brave for communicating your needs. Maybe next time you could be a little clearer about this one part. I’m so glad you feel safe to talk to your partner about this issue.”

Preventing sexual violence doesn’t have to always sound like “DON’T RAPE.” Although, duh. It can also sound like supporting the difficult processes that make up healthy sexual encounters and relationships. And as I’ve pointed out, media plays a HUGE role in modeling appropriate and acceptable (or unacceptable) behavior. Absolutely, call out sexual violence and rape culture when you see it. But let’s also celebrate the moments when our culture doesn’t fail us. When the teen show Beauty and The Beast shows a young woman communicating that her and her boyfriend will only have a healthy relationship if she is able to have alone time and time with her friends separate from him. (Not so guilty pleasure, I love YA media.)

And, if you’re into sports, celebrate the moments when athletes do the right thing. When they stand up for a cause that you believe in. When UFC Fighter Ronda Rousey tells young women and girls that they can be whatever they want outside of traditional (and often harmful) gender norms. Whatever they dream of being. Empowering individuals to live healthy, whole, authentic lives is just as much a part of dismantling the systems of privilege and oppression as holding perpetrators accountable. And this kind of empowering can feel so much less alienating (if at all) to folks who don’t think they are ready to hear about sexual violence and the necessary eradication of it.

–Erin is the Rape Prevention Educator at Our VOICE.

Sexual Assault and Homelessness: A Vulnerable Population

Over half a million people are experiencing homelessness on any given night here in the United States, according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  People experience homelessness due to a variety of different factors such as a lack of affordable housing, poverty, a lack of employment opportunities, the decline in available public assistance, serious mental illness, and a lack of affordable health care if themselves or a family member becomes ill.

Once a person is experiencing homelessness, he or she is now living in a dangerous environment where their basic needs such as shelter, food, and clothing are no longer being met.  They also struggle with where to shower, brush their teeth, use the bathroom, and other hygiene processes that those of us who are housed often do not think about.  To attend to all of these basic needs while also looking for the limited affordable housing and employment that is available makes all of these decisions and tasks all the more stressful and overwhelming, which only makes getting out of homelessness even more difficult for the individual or family.

Not only do women experiencing homelessness have all of this to deal with, but the condition of homelessness itself also dramatically increases women’s risk of being sexually assaulted.  Women on the streets do not have the same level of safety provided to them as women who are housed under a roof.  Ninety-two percent of women experiencing homelessness report having experienced severe physical and/or sexual assault at some point in their lives.  Over 66 percent of these women experienced severe physical violence from a caretaker, and 42 percent had been sexually assaulted during childhood.  Sixty percent of women experiencing homelessness report having been abused by the age of 12.  This type of childhood trauma can be a factor in how someone began experiencing homelessness, and can potentially contribute to mental health conditions such as PTSD or the risk of substance abuse, which only makes it more difficult to escape homelessness with limited social services.

At Our VOICE we recognize that women experiencing homelessness are particularly vulnerable to violence, and we hope to better serve this community.  Zac has recently joined the Our VOICE team as our new Outreach Counselor, which means that he goes out and tells underserved populations about our services and he provides counseling services to those that are interested.  We also realize that it could be very difficult to process these issues in counseling if you are worried about where you are going to sleep that night, or when you will eat your next meal.  For that reason, our Client Services Coordinator, Jerry, is expanding case management services here at Our VOICE.  He helps connect clients to outside resources such as food, housing, and transportation to assist people with all of the other complicated issues that they may be dealing with when they come here for counseling.  There is still a great deal to do to end both homelessness and sexual violence, but we will continue to strive to better serve this vulnerable population.

-Jerry is the Client Services Coordinator at Our VOICE

    References:

1. National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. Housing and homelessness in the United States of America: 2014.
2. National Resource Center on Domestic Violence. No safe place: Sexual assault in the lives of homeless women: 2011.
3. Browne, Angela, and Shari S. Bassuk. “Intimate violence in the lives of homeless and poor housed women: Prevalence and patterns in an ethnically diverse sample.” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 67.2 (1997): 261-278.

Only YES means YES: Navigating the waters of consent education

I teach a lot of students about the root causes of sexual violence and consent. The other day I was in a high school classroom and I said something to the effect of “the absence of NO does not mean YES. Consent must be a verbal agreement between both people.”

Immediately I saw a student’s hand go up. The simple question they asked has been on my mind since then. “What if the person cannot verbally say YES?” Now, I know that those that are deaf or unable to audibly express themselves can certainly give enthusiastic consent in other ways besides verbally. However, this question got me thinking about the ways we teach about sexual violence and consent and how we can begin to make this type of education more culturally specific, contextual and sensitive.

Each time I go into a classroom I learn something new from students and while I know we can always improve as prevention educators, here are a few things I think are important to address:

Power dynamics
Sexual violence does not exist in a vacuum. It exists within a complex social structure that benefits some social groups more than others. All forms of violence, sexual violence included, are buttressed by a foundation of sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia and many other types of power over that drive, normalize and make perpetration socially acceptable.

While conversations about power dynamics can be challenging to bring up in the classroom, they are extremely necessary. Power, control and entitlement are the main motivators of all forms of sexual violence. These conversations should be the foundation for dismantling systems of oppression, transforming social norms and creating a culture of consent.

Intersectionality
Intersectionality has become such a buzzword of late. It has become a buzzword, however, precisely because of its importance to social justice and social change. Statistics prove that people with more intersecting oppressed identities are more likely to experience sexual assault and violence. Starting at a perspective that allows us to understand that each individual has been shaped by society in unique ways based on their complex identities, allows us to:

  1. 1. Acknowledge each persons’ experiences as true and valid for them, and to
  2. 2. Recognize the need to describe oppressions as interconnected phenomena that cannot be examined separately

Our prevention programming should aim to engage students in conversations about intersectionality, because it translates directly to students’ lived experiences.

Language
As Prevention Educator, the language I use in the classroom when talking about sexual violence and consent is extremely important. For example, I cannot say, “verbal agreement,” and end the conversation there, when I know not everyone who is capable of consenting to sex is able to make a verbal agreement. I can engage and challenge the students with language by saying, “consent needs to be an enthusiastic, verbal agreement between two people. But what are some ways those who cannot verbally express themselves might express consent?”

Language and the ways we use it is one of the main ways we become blinded by our privileges. As educators, we will inevitably make mistakes with language over and over and over again. But it is okay; breathe. By acknowledging, learning from, and integrating those language considerations we can include and empower more students each time we teach.

Involving youth
This one may seem like a no brainer; of course we want to involve youth in consent education. But what I mean, is for sexual violence and consent education to be truly transformative, we must engage young people in what is important to them. This of course is easier said than done, but it all starts with listening.

Listening is the first thing we teach advocates working with survivors of sexual assault. It should also be the first thing we learn as educators. Listening to the lived experiences of young people and validating those experiences without judgment can be a powerful stepping stone to preventing violence and shifting social norms.

Focus on the perpetrators
Finally, the bottom line for prevention education is to shift attitudes and behaviors and this involves a lot of undoing conditioning around victim blaming. Our focus on prevention needs to be understanding predatory behavior and stopping perpetration of violence. Our culture’s focus on victim behavior, language, dress and actions creates shame and guilt for survivors of sexual violence. Through education we can empower students and community members to recognize perpetrator behavior and stand up and speak out against it.

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Much more could be said about education for the prevention of sexual violence and the creation of a culture of consent. We still need a lot of research around consent education, bystander intervention, perpetrator psychology and other topics related to the field. There are still some big, complex questions that require deep reflection and analysis. How is consent truly negotiated between two people willing to engage in sexual activity? Can those in marginalized positions truly give their consent? While sitting with these huge questions, it is comforting to know and be able to teach young people that no one deserves to be raped, that everyone has the right to decide when, how and with whom to have sex, and that anyone who has experienced sexual assault has options for healing available to them.

–Matt is the Prevention Education Coordinator at Our VOICE.

V-Day Black Mountain

Vday vagina monologue banner

V-Day Black Mountain:

The Vagina Monologues
A Celebration of
Women, Sensuality, and
The Performing Arts

A Full Evening of Unique Entertainment and Fine Dining For This Valentine’s Day Weekend!

This Valentine’s Day weekend join us for a special evening at The White Horse in Black Mountain. There will be dinner, live music, and a Vagina Monologues performance. Proceeds will benefit Our VOICE!

The Vagina Monologues is an award-winning play is based on V-Day founder/playwright Eve Ensler’s interviews with more than 200 women. With humor and grace, the piece celebrates women’s sexuality and strength. Through this play and the liberation of this one word, countless women throughout the world have taken control of their bodies and their lives. For more than a decade, “The Vagina Monologues” has given voice to some of the experiences and feelings not previously exposed in public and brought a deeper consciousness to the conversation around ending violence and domestic abuse. Featuring Golden Globe and BAFTA nominated actress Kelly McGillis.

For more information or to purchase tickets, click here.

Benefits of Blind Reporting

68% of sexual assaults are never reported to law enforcement, making it one of the most under reported violent crimes in the United States.1 While Our VOICE strongly believes that the choice to report to law enforcement is the survivor’s and the survivor’s alone, some victims who are hesitant to report to law enforcement may not be aware that another reporting option exists.

Here in Buncombe County, survivors have the option to file what is called a “blind report”. A blind report is an anonymous report, where a victim can chose to not include any identifying information in the report. They can, however, include details of the assailant and details of the crime. This report does not initiate a formal investigation and the suspect will not be questioned or contacted. Law enforcement uses the report as purely informational means.

Blind reporting can be of great value to survivors of sexual assault. A survivor may not be ready to commit to a full investigation and formal police report. A blind report provides a way for a survivor to document important details should they choose to file a formal report later on. The process of reporting to law enforcement may also empower survivors by allowing them to regain a sense of control and personal autonomy. Victims who are initially hesitant to file a formal report at the time of the assault may change their minds when given the option of supporting or being supported by other victims of the same assailant. The testimony of a prior victim can help with the prosecution of another victim’s case by aiding the district attorney in illustrating a pattern of behavior of the perpetrator.2

Providing a blind report option benefits not only the survivor, but law enforcement and the community as a whole as well. Information given in the blind report can be used to track perpetrator’s MOs, suspect descriptions, and victim demographics. Law enforcement can take note if a similar crimes have been reported against the same person. Blind reporting benefits the community as we can capture a more accurate and comprehensive picture of how many sexual assaults are being committed.

It is important to note that not all law enforcement agencies have an anonymous reporting option. Our VOICE can help you figure out if a particular law enforcement agency outside of Buncombe County allows victims to file blind reports. If you or someone you know is interested in filing a blind report, please contact Our VOICE for more information.

–Stefanie is the Court Advocate at Our VOICE. For more information on court advocacy services, click here.

References
1. Justice Department, National Crime Victimization Survey: 2008-2012
2. Garcia, S. & Henderson, M. Blind Reporting of Sexual Violence. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin Volume:68 Issue:6 Dated:June 1999.

Sexual Violence and Mothering: How Sexual Violence Can Affect a Woman During Pregnancy and Childbirth

Sexual violence affects people differently at different times in their lives. I remember when I found out I was expecting my first child, one of the first questions my midwife asked me was “Have you ever experienced sexual abuse?” and all I could think was “huh…that’s interesting.” I was just a few months away from getting licensed as a counselor, and all I could think was “huh…that’s interesting.” I wasn’t sure why she’d asked me the question!

10 years later, I work with moms, many of whom have experienced sexual violence in their past and I find that question fascinating. As we move through our lives, our experiences, both positive and negative, increase our risks or resiliencies in so many different ways. When I sit with moms as they talk about how sexual violence has impacted their lives, I think back to that question my midwife asked me. Why did she ask? And what does she do when an expecting mom says “yes”? It turns out that sexual violence can impact expecting and new moms in very specific ways. There are several eerie similarities between childhood sexual abuse and pregnancy that can trigger old memories, emotions, interpersonal patterns, and gut responses.

Let’s start with the cognitive. Growing a baby, considering new life, and shifting into the new role of parenthood often brings up memories of one’s own childhood. If one’s childhood included sexual abuse, feelings of guilt and shame, and family conflict, then the plan to bring a child into the world often retriggers these memories. Some moms begin to worry that their child might go through similar traumas. Some fear they won’t be able to protect their child. Some even worry that they themselves, for unknown reasons, attract predators. On the other hand, if the mom experienced family support, healthy boundaries, and a nurturing, validating environment in childhood, the prospect of becoming a parent could be exciting and hopeful.

Prenatal care can share some dynamics with childhood sexual abuse that can re-traumatize an expectant mom. An unequal power dynamic between provider and patient, in which the provider expects unquestioning compliance, and the mom experiences loss of voice and choice, can remind a mom of the relationship dynamic between her childhood self and her adult abuser. On the other hand, a respectful sharing of power between provider and patient can assist in a mom’s healing. Care providers who involve moms in decisions about their care, ask consent before invasive exams, and respond sensitively to anxiety or fear, can help diminish that power imbalance.

Often times, childbirth itself can involve a certain loss of control for moms. And pain. And intrusive interventions. And putting someone else’s needs above their own. Even commands to “relax so it won’t hurt so much.” Imagine what this might be like for someone who was sexually abused as a child! Sensitive preparation before the birth, both for the mom and for her birth attendants, can go a long way toward decreasing triggers at this time.

Once moms get through all that, and go home with their little bundles of joy, they’re home-free, right? Maybe. Maybe not. Postpartum depression strikes after about 20% of births in general, and past depression puts a mom at higher risk. (Note: childhood sexual abuse also increases risk for depression). Not only does postpartum depression feel HORRIBLE, but many moms who get it feel very ashamed and try to hide it. Sound familiar? The secrecy and shame around postpartum depression can mimic the secrecy and shame around childhood sexual abuse, especially if the abuser was a respected member of the family or community, and the child was “not supposed” to be feeling the way they did! Breaking the silence and providing support go a long way to helping the survivor of sexual assault, and a long way to helping the survivor of postpartum depression.

Although there are many ways in which the pain of childhood sexual abuse can resurface during pregnancy, childbirth, and early parenting, there are also ways in which healthy recovery can strengthen a parent’s abilities and confidence. Most of the moms I work with are determined not to ever let this happen to their children. They eagerly soak up information about teaching healthy communication and relationship skills. They ask how they can recognize predators and protect their children. They recognize coercive interpersonal patterns, are willing to entertain suspicions, and encourage their children to talk openly with them. They are ready believe their kids. They tell them “It’s not your fault and I’m here for you.”

Some moms find unexpected healing in strengthening their own children against the risks of sexual abuse. They raise and support their own children in ways they needed when they were small, and for some, this is like healing a little part of themselves. Parents who decide to break intergenerational cycles of abuse have a tough road ahead, but so many of them embrace the task with passion, motivation, and love. They are trailblazers, changing the world one child at a time.

—Rebecca is the bilingual counselor at Our VOICE.

Our VOICE in 2016

Starting over, letting go, setting goals, resolutions and/or intentions… all very common themes for the month of January. Besides big milestones and life changes or events, January is a great time to create positive change and set measurable goals.

Here at Our VOICE, we certainly acknowledge January 1st. How each staff member recognizes the new year may look different: taking vacation/self-care, starting of a new fiscal year, approaching due dates, ending of school break, creating new Fitbit challenges, etc.; however, among all of our different personal goals and thoughts going into the new year, we all unite and share at least one intention: Ending sexual violence.

If you have ever set a goal before, then you know the importance of setting attainable goals. Nobody wants to set themselves up for failure. Right now you might be thinking: “Ending sexual violence? That’s impossible!” I will be honest, there was a time in my life when I too thought ending sexual assault and rape culture was an unreachable dream, but I am here to tell you it is not.

Wearing seatbelts felt like an impossible cultural shift. How can you change a cultural habit? Is it realistic to mandate whether people are going to wear their seatbelts or not? Well, mandates and laws are only a small step towards real change. Our language around car safety and the value we put on human lives is how our culture has shifted in relation to wearing seatbelts. Individuals decided their personal boundaries and values around wearing seatbelts, which mirrored positive behavior for young children. Those children grow up not even seeing another option; the consequences are not worth the risky behavior.

The consequences of not wearing your seatbelt can have traumatic impact on you and others, a trauma that can be prevented. Sexual violence is no different. It is 100% preventable.

Our new year’s intention is something that makes our office culture unique. We have so many dedicated and unique staff, volunteer advocates, and board members but we all share one passion. Ending rape culture and sexual violence is our common motivator, making Our VOICE driven, focused, and unstoppable.

This new space on our website is going to be a place where our staff, volunteers, board members, survivors, and community allies can share specific short-term goals, thoughts, actions, and feelings. We recognize we cannot achieve our long term goal without our community. Our blog will another forum to create thought and dialog, further connecting you to our cause and to the process of shifting our culture. Together we can end sexual violence!

—Caitlin is the Lead Counselor at Our VOICE. To learn more about our counseling services click here.

Writers Workshop

In anticipation for our upcoming Survivor’s Art Show, we will be hosting a Writing Workshop, consisting of 4 workshop meetings and culminating with performance of finished products at our Survivors Art Show on November 12th. The first meeting will be held on October 13th at the Our VOICE office.

For more information please email anniefahy@gmail.com or to register please call us at 828-252-0562.

Athens Writing Flyer Our Voice 2 (2)-page-001