Susan and her Boots

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Guest post by Anne Sutton, MA, LPC, HAVEN 

The story of Susan, her children, and her boots demonstrate how HAVEN’S services can be woven intricately into the fabric of a family’s life. Susan’s story spans many years and between the many physical locations of HAVEN.

In the early 2000’s Susan was violently beaten and repeatedly kicked by her partner (who was wearing heavy work boots at the time).  The father of her young son attacked her at her place of work.  He jumped through a glass window to attack her. Susan and her children were taken to the old HAVEN Shelter once she was released from the hospital.   Susan’s perpetrator was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison for his crimes. Susan and her children stayed in the shelter and slowly began to rebuild their lives.

Susan herself writes of her time in the old shelter so poignantly:  “some people get college sorority sisters, I got sisters of surviving abuse. We got to tell our stories; we got to go to group therapy to listen to positive things we probably have never heard about ourselves. I received counseling from therapists who were not only kind but strong women who were role models.  We survived our abuse and lived to tell about it. Our souls may have been cracked, but we had a place to go where we were accepted.  If a family is a place where everyone’s feelings matter, then HAVEN is part of my family.”

Susan spent the next ten years away from HAVEN’S services. She and her children were safe, and her children grew into adulthood. Susan returned briefly to individual counseling as the perpetrator’s release date approached. HAVEN advocates helped her with legal safety issues, and she resumed individual counseling, this time at our Bingham Farms offices. In sessions, Susan reflected on her time at the shelter and the importance she placed, then and now, on wearing big heavy boots. Perhaps, donning the boots is a reflection of the assault she endured or a reflection of her personal strengths, or maybe a bit of both. She continued to wear her boots every day and to every session.

In late 2015, Susan returned to individual sessions with HAVEN, this time at our beautiful new location. Susan’s body had been significantly weakened by major health crises, but she was still wearing the old, heavy work boots that represented so much to her.  She now used a walker to move about in those boots. Susan was moved by the old shelter doors that are displayed in our lobby. Susan recognized them right away as the doors to the place of safety and caring she had stayed at so long ago.

 

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Susan proudly took a picture of herself and her boots in front of those beautiful doors.

As she expressed in her words: “I drifted my whole life not planting any roots because my boots were always ready to go, my bag always packed, looking for a safe spot from the latest trauma. My wish is that there is a small part of me that can stay there, as a survivor, in the old convent and a piece of me will be at HAVEN. Perhaps then my soul will have peace.”

If you or someone you know needs help, please call our 24-hour Crisis and Support Line at 877-922-1274. 

 

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Self-Care Isn’t Selfish

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Guest Post by Nkenge Burkhead, Prevention Education Specialist, HAVEN

People often ask, “How did you get involved in this work?” This is a question advocates working to end domestic and sexual violence have been asked countlessly. Their answers are often filled with personal experiences. Many advocates identify as both survivor and activist. This is often not work people fall into by happenstance. We are led here on a deeply personal mission that includes serving those impacted by violence, changing laws or improving legislation, increasing awareness, or to find continued growth and healing by helping. These actions require time, energy, and relentless passion. If we’re not mindful we may risk forgetting our mission and neglecting ourselves. This is why self-care is critical.

Self-care is commonly referred to as any intentional action taken to maintain physical, emotional, and/or mental health. Plans for self-care are uniquely individualized and personal. Actions taken to maintain mental, emotional, or physical health cannot be considered any better than another. They simply need to be beneficial to the person participating.

I was first introduced to self-care at a mindfulness conference. After the conference many attendees organized a camping retreat to get in touch with nature as a means of self-care. A month later I found myself at a campsite surrounded by trees and feeling terribly afraid. I spent the next three days unable to sleep for more than three hours, bathing in bug spray, and completely convinced I’d be eaten by a bear. A day or so after we returned to our respective jobs, a group text went out. Other campers texted about how the trip cleared their heads and the clean air finally allowed them to breathe. Meanwhile, I was writing a complaint to the bug spray company!

This experience taught me to be honest with myself. While a camping trip may be what some people need, others may want to cook a new meal, or play golf.  Taking time to be mindful of what reenergizes you is necessary in creating your personal plan. We also must be conscious of our limitations. Our personality or circumstances are major factors. For instance, I do not find camping relaxing because I find the sounds of the city to be more familiar, therefore safer for me individually. This is a personality limitation. My ideal self-care plan would include an annual three month stay at a tropical resort. Conversely, my financial means would not support that plan and is a circumstantial limitation.

Developing a Self-care Plan

Still, I am able to use my limitations to create a feasible plan. I am able to reject camping trip offers and be intentional about going to a local beach at least four days each summer. We discuss self-care so much because what happens in the absence of care is neglect.

I view advocates that offer survivor services and resources as bridges. Bridges don’t make decisions for you; however, they are always there if you choose to go across. Some days many people will cross and that bridge will have to withstand a lot of weight. Other days no one will cross the bridge and it will only withstand rain and wind. If we want the bridge to remain as a viable option, it must be maintained, reinforced, and tended. Self-care is by no means selfish! It is putting your mask on first so you’re able to assist others. Take some time to create your plan, explore your options, and most importantly enjoy the benefits.

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As a Mom, it’s my job…

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When my son was around the age of 12, he wanted to buy an Eminem CD. He had asked in the past and was always told no, as the lyrics contained hateful messages about women. But this time when he asked I had a rare moment of parenting brilliance. I asked him if he felt he was old enough to handle the lyrics and their meaning. He, of course, said that he was.  I told him he could purchase the CD but first he needed to print out the lyrics and read them out loud to me, if he was old enough to listen to the music than he was old enough to have an adult conversation about their content. He quickly decided he didn’t want the CD.

Circulating around social media is a video where men read hateful messages received by female journalists by other men. It is a painfully real and a sad fact of life that women face, often face alone, hateful, misogynistic, violent, and oppressive messages. One of the first things I thought of after viewing it, was my conversation with Colin more than a dozen years earlier.

Later, as I sat down to write this blog for Mother’s Day, I couldn’t get the image of this video out of my mind. These women, and unfortunately thousands of women like them, receive a barrage of negative messages each and every day, some more vile than others. The messages read in the video were received by these journalists from total strangers, men hiding under the veil of privacy afforded to them from social media. But women also receive these same type of messages from men they know – spouses, fathers, brothers, dates, bosses, and colleagues. Messages of worthlessness and hate.

As a mom, it has been my job (not to take away from my husband’s part of the responsibility) to teach my son about respecting women. In addition to making sure that he ate well, received proper medical care, learned to read, received an education; it was my job to help him learn his place in this world. It is not about opening up the car door but about the importance of equality and respect.  Talking to our daughters and sons as well as modeling appropriate behavior is so important. And in today’s world of mixed messages about manhood and the role of violence, it is probably more important than ever.

Mother’s Day is about celebrating moms but it is also a time for us mothers to reflect on our role as a mother and the impact we have on our children.  The men who sent the violent and misogynistic messages in the video, all have moms. Many probably also have wives, partners, sisters, daughters and sons.  Women, along with men, let’s send strong messages to those who spew such hate. Let us inform our sons, brothers, colleagues that we will not accept their behavior.

This Mother’s Day, as my son hopefully recognizes my role as his mother, I will also thank him for turning into a young man who views equality as the norm and not the exception. And for showing all the women in his life the respect we deserve.

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Beyond the Sequins

11174235_10155471793485262_1989883170141447443_oEvery year, as we approach our annual Gala event, I start thinking. Thinking about the irony of getting decked out in my finest cocktail wear to support those who have been victims of domestic or sexual violence.

One might assume that many of those attending our biggest fundraiser may not have had to experience fearing for their safety in their home or sexual violation. Yet, the statistics show that 1 in 3 Michigan families experience violence, and 1 in 5 women in the United States experience an attempted or completed rape. So odds are, someone in attendance has or may even currently be affected by one of these awful crimes.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible for us to go around and stop every rape, assault or act of abuse when it occurs. But by hosting events that help people become more aware of cultural influences that can contribute to domestic and sexual violence, we can help prevent it before it begins. And the information we share can also aid individuals in recognizing possible signs of abuse in their lives.

Every day we assist victims who may feel alone, scared or confused. Not knowing where to go or whom to ask for help can make a traumatic experience even scarier. At HAVEN, we work to ease some of those feelings and help those that need us start to focus on regaining control of their lives.

The theme for this year’s Gala, held at Detroit Troy Marriott on May 6, is Hopes & Dreams. I cannot think of a better way to describe what this event provides to the survivors we serve. Purchasing tickets or sponsoring the event literally pays for the services that help give survivors hope so that they can start to heal and continue pursuing their dreams that have been interrupted.

I hope you can join us for the 2016 Hopes & Dreams Gala and be part of the effort to move victims forward and bring an end to the crimes of domestic violence and sexual assault. After all, when you look past the sequins and centerpieces, what you have is a community coming together to support the worthy cause of helping ALL people live without fear. And we can always use a few more helping hands.

The 2016 Hope & Dreams Gala will be held on Friday, May 6 at the Detroit Troy Marriott and will feature a seated dinner, live entertainment by the Urban Violinist, live and silent auctions, and an afterglow party. Detroit Lions’ President Rod Wood will be in attendance to accept the Heart of HAVEN Award on behalf of the Detroit Lions organization and WXYZ Anchor, Glenda Lewis will serve as the event emcee. For more information, contact Stephanie Holland at 248-322-3705 or sholland@haven-oakland.org

 

 

 

 

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Would You Think Twice?

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If you were told you your daughter had a one in five chance of being sexually assaulted during her college years, what would you do? Would you think twice about letting her go away to earn her degree? Would you step up your own efforts to ensure she’s selecting a school that takes such a shocking and horrific matter as seriously as you do?

As a mother of two daughters, these were the questions running through my mind as I watched The Hunting Ground with nearly 40 others this past Sunday at Comcast’s new XFINITY store in Troy.

The Hunting Ground, a documentary that premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, chronicles the growing number of sexual assault incidences (of females and males) on college campuses in the United States and the failure of college administrations to adequately deal with this escalating epidemic.

After the viewing, the audience engaged in a panel discussion with three experts:  Beth Morrison, president and CEO of HAVEN; Kole Wyckhuys, prevention education program director at HAVEN; and Laura, a sexual assault survivor.

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Many participants asked thought-provoking, impactful questions of the panelists, particularly around what can be done to help reverse this pervasive issue. Here are five actionable recommendations from the panelists:

  1. If you’re a parent who will soon be visiting campuses with your child, educate yourself on the college’s or university’s track record with how sexual assault cases have been handled in the past. When touring campuses, ask university representatives direct, tough questions pertaining to sexual assault responses, incident rates and reporting. Don’t accept watered-down responses.
  2. Advocate for early education on sexual consent and respect with your local middle and high schools. HAVEN offers a wonderful educational program that aims to break the rape culture by teaching young people how to intervene and hold their peers accountable.
  3. Do your part to hold our universities accountable. Take action, and contact your legislators as well as university trustees.
  4. Many people are guilty of placing blame on victims, and they don’t even realize it. Questions like “was she drinking” or “what was she wearing” assume at least partial blame on the victim. Help bust these rape myths: Don’t stigmatize, and be aware of what you’re saying.
  5. Finally, start talking with your kids when they’re young – in an age-appropriate manner, of course. Constantly remind your children that you will always support them and believe them. Reinforce to little kids not to keep secrets – even if another adult tells them to. Continuously build their buckets of courage.

The promising news is that as a result of this documentary and the ongoing work of the two former University of North Carolina students, who became campus anti-rape activists after being assaulted themselves, change is starting to happen. In 2014, President Barack Obama launched the “It’s On Us” campaign to end sexual assault on campus. More than 100 colleges and universities across the country are being investigated for how they’ve handled sexual assault cases on campus.

For more information on how you can support survivors, help pass legislation and hold schools accountable, visit www.SeeActStop.org.

Michelle Gilbert is a HAVEN board member and vice president of public relations for Comcast in Michigan.

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Don’t Forget to Remember

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Guest Post by Nkenge Burkhead, Prevention Education Specialist, HAVEN

When you are a woman much of your day is dedicated to minimizing your risk of being sexually assaulted. Sometimes we do this wholly unaware of the lengths we go through to minimize risk. We don’t move about saying, “I’m going to go to the gas station while there’s daylight, to minimize my risk of being attacked by a rapist.” We simply run our errands while the sun is up; ask our partners to escort us to our cars; text our friends “made it home safe”; wear shoes we can run in, remember that anything in our hands (keys, ballpoint pen, fingernails), may need to transform itself into a weapon of defense. I think back to high school where the girls were taken to a safety assembly and instructed to yell “FIRE!” instead of rape if someone was attempting to assault us. Research shows that the general public is more likely to respond to fire than a sexual assault.

By the time a young woman begins middle school she has already started to practice her “stranger danger” rape avoidance rituals. Sadly, even if these rituals protect her from strangers lurking in dark alleys, we know that 4 of 5 sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows and often trusts.

While most men don’t practice any safety measures to prevent being sexually assaulted, in fact, many men don’t think about sexual assault at all. Women, on the contrary, began to carry out these protection practices unconsciously, as if it is our responsibility not to get assaulted, or believe that sexual assault is a natural consequence of an action or inaction. We’ve accepted that this is, just the way it is.

We can avoid a conversation altogether, or accept the ‘responsibility’ of protecting ourselves until we (personally), or someone we know and love, is victimized. We do not have to wait for a crisis to bring awareness or support survivors. We do not have to wait for the perfect moment, situation, or day!

If you are looking for a starting point, April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). The first step we must take in eliminating sexual assault is remaining aware and refusing to accept its existence quietly. Awareness is the ability to perceive, feel, or be conscious of events, objects, emotions, or sensory patterns. Awareness is being mindful. We must use this month to remind ourselves that our protection rituals are in response to the countless attacks survivors have endured. When we ask our husbands, sons, and friends, to walk us to our cars, we must engage in an honest conversation with them about why you feel this is necessary. Collectively we can practice mindfulness, acknowledge survivors, and help create a survivor supportive culture.

We can do this during SAAM by:

  • Reaching out to a loved one who is a survivor (remind them it is not their fault, or simply spend time with them)
  • Write your legislators concerning sexual assault laws
  • Write your legislators about mandating an affirmative consent standard
  • Volunteer at a rape crisis hotline or women’s shelter
  • Donate money or necessities to organizations that work with survivors (most have a wish list on their website or call the organization)
  • Attend one of the many local Take Back The Night (TBTN) rallies and marches

HAVEN’s annual TBTN will be on April 30th from 1 to 4:30 at Five15 in Royal Oak. For more information contact the Prevention Education Department.

If you or someone you know is a victim of intimate partner violence or experiencing power and control dynamic in their relationship that feels abusive or unsafe HAVEN is here to help. Our crisis and support line is always open for you 877-922-1274. 

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Together We Can ‘Take Back the Night’

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Guest post by: Averett Robey, Prevention Education Specialist, HAVEN

When having conversations about sexual violence and consent, in the community and with youth, it can be difficult to talk about the prevalence of sexual violence in our world. Often they will tell me that they know it is easy to secure a conviction, and a lot of times the survivor just does it to get money and sympathy. The unfortunate reality that I share with them is that 98% of rapists will never spend a day in jail, and the attention survivors receive is in no way supportive or caring. The statistics are astounding. According to the CDC, one in five women and one in seventy-one men experience rape or attempted rape in their lifetime. However, what we know about those statistics is that most sexual assaults go unreported. They go unreported because we create an environment that glorifies and portrays sexual violence as inevitable and a fact of life. Then we shame and blame people when they are assaulted, making it difficult for survivors to heal and go through the legal process.

One of the many avenues created to enact change around this reality are the global events known as Take Back the Night. It is unclear as to when the first official Take Back the Night took place, but some assert that it began with meetings of tribunal councils in Europe to discuss the safety of women as they walked down the street. The revolution eventually spread to San Francisco in 1973 as people took to the streets to protest pornography. In the US, the first “Take Back the Night” marches occurred as a response to the murder of Susan Alexander Speeth who was killed while walking home alone in Philadelphia in 1975 . Take Back the Night was born out of the need to address and prevent the violence women were experiencing traveling on the streets at night. Today, the enduring revolution stands as a movement to support survivors and eliminate all forms of sexual violence.

Take Back the Night is a way for communities to come together and speak out against sexual violence, support survivors, share their stories, and promote awareness. It is a way for us to create a culture that starts by believing survivors, one that does not tolerate sexual violence and holds perpetrators accountable for their actions.

Join the movement to eliminate sexual violence. Attend our annual Take Back the Night event Saturday, April 30th from 1-4:30 pm at Five15 in Royal Oak because together we can take back the night.

For more information, contact our Prevention Education Department at arobey@haven-oakland.org or visit our website here.

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