It’s OK if You Don’t Know What to Say

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Guest post by: Cara Lynch, LMSW, Therapist, HAVEN
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently published an enormous study called the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey[1], which found that about 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men in the United States have been raped at some point in their lives[2]. When the researchers looked at sexual victimization other than rape, those numbers jumped to 1 in 2 women and 1 in 5 men[3]. What these numbers mean to me is that not only is sexual trauma still tragically commonplace in our society, but that even if it hasn’t happened to you, the chances of you knowing a survivor are great. It is with that reality in mind that I want to address ways you can support the sexual assault survivors in your life.

  • Believe them. Full stop. It is not your job to investigate or to play devil’s advocate. “Innocent until proven guilty” applies (in theory) to our justice system, not us as friends, family members, and loved ones.
  • Do not judge. There is no wrong or right way to respond to sexual assault and that is just as important for you as a loved one to know as it is for the survivor to know. However she or he reacted at the time and afterwards is OK. This includes common responses such as freezing during the assault, not fighting back or saying “No”, interacting with the assailant afterwards, keeping quiet about the assault, and not wanting to report it to police.
  • Listen more than talk and avoid asking questions about what happened – they are often more about our own curiosity than about supporting survivors. Remember that the conversation, the experience, is not about you.
  • Communicate empathy, not pity. Survivors are often very worried that people will treat them differently if they knew about what happened. Reassure the survivor that knowing about the assault does not change how you see or feel about her or him. For an excellent primer on empathy, take two and a half minutes of your day to watch this cartoon.
  • It is ok if you don’t know what to say. In fact, saying that you don’t know what to say is OK. Some other good suggestions are “I’m sorry this happened to you” and “It’s not your fault” and “I’m so glad you told me.” Remember that you do not need to fix anything and you cannot make this better. Simply being there, listening without judgment is often more than enough.
  • One question that is great to ask is this – “Is there anything I can do right now to help?” A variation on that could be, “Is there anything you need right now?” Questions like these help us avoid making assumptions about what survivors need or want from us. It also keeps us from inadvertently telling them what to do, which is almost never helpful.
  • Be patient. I wrote in an earlier post about healing from sexual assault that there is no deadline, no timetable for healing. Try not to pressure them into “getting back to normal” and definitely avoid statements such as “It’s time to move on” and “It’s in the past, you should be over it already.” Along the way, survivors will have good days and bad days; just give them time.
  • Take care of yourself. I said earlier to remember that this is not about you. However, it is perfectly normal to have your own feelings about what has happened to this person that you care about and love, particularly feelings of anger, hurt, and helplessness. Do not task the survivor with helping you through those feelings, but also try not to ignore or avoid them. Just as you are trying to support your loved one through this, seek support for yourself, too. HAVEN offers free counseling for both survivors AND their partners or family members.

[1] The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey 
[2] The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey Executive Summary
[3] NISVS Infographic

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Back and Ready to GO!

Refreshed and Ready!

Spending time with my son Colin, exploring New Mexico.

What better time of year to return from a sabbatical but Spring! A time for renewal, growth, and new beginnings. For the past three months, I have been fortunate to enjoy time away from the office thanks to the McGregor Fund, the HAVEN Board of Directors, and the fabulous team at HAVEN.

In 2013 I was awarded the Eugene A Miller Fellowship from the McGregor Fund. The fellowship is an opportunity, over an approximate 15 months, to learn and grow both professionally and personally. As a part of the fellowship, I had the opportunity to take two sabbaticals, two months in the summer of 2014, and three months this past winter. The time away allowed me to pursue some educational opportunities on leadership, social enterprise, writing, social media, business planning, entrepreneurship, and more. I can now proudly proclaim that I am an alumni (well sort of) from both Stanford University and Northwestern University!

I also had the opportunity to visit a number of best practice social enterprise sites in Chicago, California, Nashville, New Mexico, as well as here in Michigan. I also visited a number of other domestic and sexual violence programs, sharing both best practice ideas and our common struggles.

Thankfully it was not all work as I had many wonderful moments to play as well, including a bucket list trip to Costa Rica, hiking in New Mexico with family, antiquing in Tennessee with my husband, taking in the sights with my son (pictured above) visiting with friends in San Jose and Chicago, and helping my parents in northern Michigan. Keeping my calendar rather open allowed moments of spontaneity including presenting to a group of emerging non-profit leaders in New Mexico, discovering a hidden talent of lip syncing, and taking the leap of starting a personal blog site! Whew!

So I return to HAVEN refreshed and rejuvenated, excited for what lies ahead – our upcoming Gala on May 1st, continuing to raise funds for our programming and new facility, watching our new facility come to life (we have walls!), and leading our team in preparation for our big move at the end of 2015. As always, I hope that you will join us as we continue to serve the community and prepare for change. Great things lie before us.

In the months to come, I will be sure to share lessons learned from my time away. In the meantime, I look forward to reconnecting with you in the weeks to come. Give me a call, shoot me an email, lets grab a cup of tea!

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You Don’t Have to Do This Alone

HelpingHandsHeal

Guest post by: Cara Lynch, LMSW, Therapist, HAVEN

Although April is recognized as National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the reality for many survivors is that every month, or maybe even every day, is a time they are affected by sexual assault. As one of HAVEN’s counselors, I talk to women and men every week who often ask me, “Will I ever not think about it?” Really what they want to know is “Will I ever be OK again? Will I ever heal from this?” And the answer I give is always the same, “Yes, healing is entirely possible and survivors are healing every day.” So if someone out there is reading this and asking herself/himself the same question, here are some things I want you to know about healing:

  • You are not alone. Statistics tells us that unfortunately, sexual trauma is still exceedingly common in our society, so you are most likely not the only person in your community dealing with this, even if no one else is talking about it.
  • You are not the blame. I don’t care what you were wearing, what you were doing (or what you didn’t do), how you much you drank, whether you had sex with the person before, I don’t care about any of that. No one has a claim to your body, your sexuality, or your personhood. The only person to blame here is the person or persons who chose to completely disrespect and disregard your universal human rights.
  • Whatever feelings you have afterwards are OK. There is no wrong or right way to feel following an assault and while there are some very common reactions among survivors, the truth remains that every survivor thinks and feelings differently about what has happened.
  • Give yourself time. You may think, “It’s been x amount of days/months/years since it happened. I should be over it by now.” There are no shoulds when it comes to healing and there is no deadline. It is incredibly normal to want to speed up the process – healing can be hard and it can be no fun sometimes – and yet judging yourself for where you are in that process is a sure-fire way to make yourself feel worse.
  • Take care of yourself, even in simple ways, as best you can. Sometimes that just means basic things like sleeping, eating, and staying hydrated. It can also mean taking time, even if it is just a few minutes, to do something that makes you feel good – reading, going for a walk, enjoying a cup of tea, watching a funny cat video on YouTube, or listening to music. Focus on things that soothe you.
  • Find support. Avoidance and isolation are very common and normal for someone working through trauma and unfortunately, giving in to it all of the time can also makes things worse. Reach out to friends and family if that is a safe option for you, look for online support groups or communities, or contact us. You can call our 24-hour Crisis and Support Line any time of day at 877-922-1274 and you can even chat with a crisis counselor online by going to our website, haven-oakland.org, and clicking the live chat button. The crisis counselors can also make referrals to the counseling program for additional support, including options for both individual counseling and support groups.

We are here for you, we believe you, and you don’t have to do this alone.

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We Are Just a Phone Call Away

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Guest post by: Jocelyn Clarke, Crisis Line Supervisor and Counselor, HAVEN 

We always tell new staff and volunteers who are training to answer our 24-hour Crisis and Support Line (CSL) is that you never know what scenario you will encounter when you answer the phone. Working on the CSL can be frustrating, scary, and rewarding all at once. Our calls are as different as the individual people who call—survivors of intimate partner violence, mothers, best friends, dads, social workers, therapists, nurses, and more—all in one day!

The majority of calls we take are focused on domestic violence. We talk with women who are in relationships with an abusive partner and help them understand that what they are dealing with is not normal and that they are not doing anything to cause his behavior. We talk with survivors who want counseling or an advocate to go to court with them as a support person. We receive requests for information about obtaining a personal protection order or shelter.

If a caller needs shelter we discuss what HAVEN’s Residential Program is like, what to expect while staying there and other safety options. We talk with people about anything they’d like to discuss including:

The CSL staff can also help callers find other community resources if we can’t help them directly (e.g. hiring an attorney, help with rent payments, new housing, utility payments, eviction notices, etc.). Sometimes callers just want to talk to us about what triggered them and that’s okay too.

An example call we might receive could include a woman calling because she thinks her boyfriend might be abusive, but she isn’t sure. We ask her to share more about what’s going on that makes her think or feel this way. She tells us that she has been with him for about 5-years. Everything was okay in the beginning, he was really sweet, but now it seems like she can’t do anything right. He has started to push her around, always wants to know where she is, who she is with and when she will be home. He is always texting her. After she shares her concerns, we may talk to her about how she feels about his behavior, some safety options, and/or any of our services that she might find helpful.

Another type of call we may receive could be from the mother of a woman who is being abused by her husband. Mom wants to know how she can help her daughter and her grandchildren. We would talk with her about some of the ways she can support her daughter during this time. We might talk about what it’s like for her daughter to be with an abusive man, and some of the barriers that she might be facing when she tries to leave the situation.

Whatever the questions or concerns HAVEN is here to help. If you decide to contact our 24-hour Crisis and Support Line, at 877-922-1274, for yourself, for a friend, for a loved one or anyone who needs help, you can speak with a trained specialist. Our staff completes more than 40 hours of training before they respond to calls and 24 hours of continuing education per year. Our volunteer staff completes a minimum of 48 hours of training before they answer phone calls.

Our staff and volunteers bring a variety of life experiences; we have graduate students, stay-at-home moms, retired IT professionals, and nursing students, among others who answer the lines. What they all have in common is that they believe that everyone deserves to live without fear. For more information please visit www.haven-oakland.org.

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Digital Boundaries and Teen Dating Violence: Part 2

Guest post by: Emily Eisele, Prevention Education Specialist, HAVEN

When Is It Abuse?
Teens are often texting or tweeting, but how do you know if it is crossing the boundaries of a healthy relationship? It’s important to address with teens using media the dynamics of power and control. Do you feel afraid to leave your phone unattended? Do you feel like there will be social or relationship consequences if you don’t tell your partner where you are at all times? Every teen has texted “where r u?” to a friend or partner, but if there is a threat carried with it, that is abuse. Finding out if a teen feels fear in their relationship is essential to identifying abuse.

Making it clear that abuse does not have to be physical is also a hurdle to clear when discussing teen dating violence: many young people feel that digital harassment is a normal social experience. Labelling this behavior as abuse takes away the power of the abuser, and may be a first step for the target of abuse to find it unacceptable and get help. It is also essential to understand that dating violence uses a pattern of tactics to take power and control away from the victim, and that it escalates over time.

The importance of intervention is clear, considering the impact of teen dating violence on future partnerships. Disturbingly, experiences of controlling behavior, harassment and intimidation often affect how teens’ future relationships are formed. The CDC recently published disturbing statistics that 22% of women and 15% of men experiencing violence as adults first experienced relationship violence between the ages of 11 and 17.

While increased secrecy and independence during teen years is normal, withdrawal and other behaviors may be red flags. Signs a teen may be experiencing abuse, digital or otherwise, include:

  • Extreme fear or emotion about constant access to phone or internet
  • Depression or anxiety
  • A dramatic change in clothing, weight or interests after beginning relationship
  • Seeing friends and doing things they used to care about less and less
  • Fear of partner’s reaction, or constant worry about what their partner thinks
  • Fear of not texting or calling back right away

Responding to Teen Dating Violence
Being open to listening, not judging is essential to supporting any person experiencing intimate partner violence—and teens are no exception. Never blame the target of abuse by asking why she made X decision, but remind her that the abuse is not her fault, and is the choice of the abuser. Focus on behaviors—“It seems scary that she constantly needs to know where you are” instead of, “She’s controlling, I don’t like it.” Offering options instead of commands, ultimatums or restrictions can help bolster a teen’s self-esteem and help them make the right choice. Make resources available, like HAVEN’s Crisis and Support Line, and sites like www.loveisrespect.org where a teen can research and determine for themselves whether they are experiencing abuse. And talk openly about healthy relationship skills, because positive alternatives are a formative part of strong personal boundaries and partnerships. If you can, plan next steps together for digital and physical safety.

As a community, it is crucial that we work together to educate ourselves about the root causes of intimate partner violence, and come to an understanding as a community of how the dynamics of power and control operate. Talk with your school about peer groups for media safety, and media literacy for faculty and parents. Contact the Prevention Education team at HAVEN to request educational workshops and our leadership programs that discuss healthy relationships, consent, and teen dating violence.

Keep in mind that social media can be a powerful tool for social change among teens as well—support peer led groups at your local high school or middle school that engage in and support online media campaigns about consent, healthy masculinity, and ending violence against women. All people deserve to live free of fear. Let’s support teens with the tools to create social change.

HAVEN operates an anonymous Crisis and Support Line for anyone who is experiencing abuse, or who thinks a friend may be experiencing abuse and has questions. It is available and anonymous 24/7 at 877-922-1274. Crisis and Support Chat, and more information about our Prevention Education Program, are both available at www.haven-oakland.org.

 

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A Sweet Gesture

Swing

Swinging—back and forth, back and forth. Sitting on a swing has always been, for me, a moment of bliss. It has been a way to relax, unwind, reflect, and sometimes to have incredibly intimate conversations with friends and family. I can recall great moments on the swing set in elementary school, laughing and spending time with friends, carefree and easy. I recall in the early months of building my relationship with my now husband, special conversations while spent on a swing set near a trail that we often hiked in the evenings. Experiencing my first Arizona harvest moon with him while slowly swinging is just one special memories of those years. As a new mom, I remember many moments on swing sets with Colin, having great conversations as well as a lot of laughs. Etched in my memory for what I hope is forever is spending time with my parents on the “singing swing” at our family cottage.

When we open our new HAVEN Community Center later this year, an important feature of the new playground will be a swing set. Sure it will be lots of fun for the children who stay at our emergency shelter but it will also have a significant therapeutic impact. Kids, and many adults, express their feelings often through play and art. Imagine the conversations about fear and anger of the past and future, the calming nature of swinging back and forth during a troubling time. Imagine a child talking about having to start a new school, of having to testify during court and sharing details of the abuse they witnessed. Then imagine a couple of kids laughing and just being kids. All on a simple swing set.

This Valentine’s Day, we collectively will spend millions on cards, candy, and flowers. Nice sentiments for those we love. Let’s consider a slightly smaller box of candy this year and make a contribution to HAVEN’s swing set, giving a child a moment of peace, a moment of bliss on a swing. Click here to give children in our community what they want and deserve most—a childhood that is safe and fun.

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Digital Boundaries and Teen Dating Violence: Part 1

Guest post by: Emily Eisele, Prevention Education Specialist, HAVEN

Gender-based violence is present in every demographic of race, income bracket, sexual orientation, community, and age. Teen dating relationships are no exception. Intimidation, harassment and stalking are happening in middle schools and high schools in our communities. An open discussion about intimate partner violence, digital tools of abuse and ways to help is badly needed. But first, let’s define teen dating violence: it is the use of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal force by one dating partner towards another dating partner to maintain power and control. Abuse can cause injury and even death but it doesn’t have to be physical.

Let’s stop there a moment and reiterate: Doesn’t. Have. To be physical.

While sexual and physical violence is certainly occurring in teen relationships—an American Medical Journal publication stated that 1 in 5 high school girls reported being assaulted at some point in their relationships—verbal abuse and digital harassment is more difficult to identify and address. Many tactics of abuse are well hidden by the abuser, and often are not technically illegal. Importantly, verbal and emotional abuse is just as devastating—if not more so—than physical. Survivors tell us at HAVEN that the scars of emotional abuse last for years, long after the relationship has ended. It is often minimized, and is certainly underreported.

This issue is further complicated by the digital world young people are now immersed in. A 2010 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that young people between the age of 8 to 18 are consuming media—social networking, phone surfing, texting, watching TV—7.5 hours per day on average. See how this compares to adult consumption here.  How is this technological immersion and the public sharing of social media changing dating relationships for teens? How can we recognize when teens close to us may be in an abusive relationship, and how can we help?

As we increasingly have our heads in the Cloud, there is a serious need to address digital safety and personal boundaries for young people growing up in this culture.

Digital Harassment

In a recent Associated Press poll, 56% percent of young respondents reported experiences of abuse online or through social media. While the level of public exposure of our lives rises, and becomes more acceptable, new platforms for verbal abuse or public humiliation—both abuse tactics for maintaining power and control—open up. Access to media on mobile devices and increasing anonymity also allows for concerted efforts to bully and abuse within dating relationships. Abusive teens may ask their friends to harass their partner on social media, or through constant texting or calling. Even more frightening, teens run the risk of being stalked or harassed constantly outside of school, or even after they move away. Other forms of digital abuse include, but are not limited to:

  • threatening texts
  • demeaning or embarrassing posts on facebook
  • pressure to send sexual photos
  • checking the victim’s email or social media accounts
  • punishing partner for not responding to texts quickly enough
  • creating a profile to harass or check up on partner
  • using media or phones to keep tabs on a partner.

The normalization of constant digital connection may obscure the reality that teens in our lives do not have strong boundaries in their relationships, and that they may be experiencing abuse. How do we recognize, and help teens recognize, when checking social media or connecting through a phone crosses the line into a controlling relationship? When someone is asking “where r u”, too often?

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. If you are being abused or think your teen is in an abusive relationship, HAVEN is here to help. Call our 24-hour Crisis and Support Line at 877-922-1274.

Stay tuned for Part 2, where we will address identifying teen dating violence, and what to do about it.

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