Oct 27, 2016

Dear Somebody

Supporting Survivors of Abuse and Assault

Earlier this week, we had the great opportunity to work with the members of Lambda Theta Phi Latin Fraternity.  Their University of Idaho chapter president Alex Ortiz and the PR guru Eduardo "Eddie" Celis helped us put together a letter writing and artistic creation campaign for their brothers and their sister Sorority.  The goal was to create little things to help encourage the survivors in ATVP's support groups.  I'll include a couple of pictures and samples of letters later on in this post, but first I wanted to explain why this was such a great experience as an advocate with ATVP. 

In general, getting to do presentations and work with community partners to deepen our conversations around violence and trauma is my favorite thing.  Regardless of political views or religious affiliations, one thing that I've found everyone has in common is empathy.  We all empathize with people who are hurting, and we don't want anyone else to suffer.  What might differ is how we think we can get from where we are (a world where people do get hurt) to where we want to be (a world where people are not hurt).  The difference in methods is what makes talking about prevention difficult, but getting to discuss how we respond to people who have been hurt is much more straight forward.  

A year ago, when Alex first requested a letter writing campaign, I'll admit I felt out of my depth.  As an agency, we hadn't done anything like that before.  In fact, aside from a handful of short-lived tumblr feeds, it didn't seem like anyone was writing letters to survivors of domestic and sexual violence.  So we were treading fairly new ground.  But Alex had faith in his Brothers and Sisters, and so I leaned into that faith.  Together, we had about a dozen people show up and write letters for 45 minutes after a thirty minute presentation on how to support survivors.  That was last year.  

This year, Alex suggested we up our game and broaden our impact.  So we included an art station and a place for folks to write poetry for survivors.  Alex and Eddie managed to bring almost 20 people to our event, and together they created 25 unique pieces of artistic written and drawn/painted support for members of ATVP's support groups.  And these pieces weren't filled with clich├ęs or pallid advice.  The Lambdas dug deep, got out of their comfort zone, and were genuinely empathetic, vulnerable.  During our debrief at the end, several of the Brothers mentioned that it was hard - scary even - to engage on that level, to imagine what they would want/need to hear after surviving trauma.  And by leaning into that fear, the Lambdas created some heartwarming and deeply genuine pieces.  As an advocate, I rarely see groups get together like this and practice empathy - not just practice it, but channel empathy.  The Brothers and Sisters that came offered our survivors a glimpse into their hearts, and Lambda hearts are beautiful. 

Without further ado, here are some examples of what the Lambdas put together:
"A Ray of Hope:"
You are a ray of hope. 
One who shines upon us strength and courage.
Your strength is unmeasurable 
just like the stars in our sky. 
Your courage radiates
allows us to see the shining beacon that you are
Your light cannot be stopped or diminished
it burns brighter
than a million suns.

You are a ray of hope.

You deserve to be cherished, loved, and cared for
an eternal rose in bloom. 
Strength in beauty
Warm in courage
A spirit that cannot be captured
by words.  
You are truly amazing.
You are a Ray of Hope. 

"A Journey through Thorns"
(CW: domestic abuse)

"Mama! Mama!
Wake up, Mom. Please!
Mom, please wake up!
Mom, please talk to me!"

I'm three.
I spent two of those years
watching my mother flow in tears.
Every week is the same:
Father gone away.
He leaves the states
in search for work.
He comes back every Sunday,
with a bottle of Jack,
drinks the night away.

I remember them fighting —
well, I remember my mother take steps back.
He kept yelling and yelling.
I don't remember anything else. 
I wake up, when I hear the door the door shut. 

Mom woke up in the hospital.
I jumped and smiled
then I ran and cried
I hugged her and she hugged me
My mother saw what true happiness could
really be.

The love was gone.
My mother realized that man was bad.
So, although he was my father, he was never
my dad. 

We went to support groups.
I was still
a child, so I'd always be by the snacks.
But I could always see my mother.
She always sat quietly,
while the rest of the group would chat.  

One day comes where we arrive 5 minutes early.
Mom was shaking
but she seemed more lively than ever.
By the end of the meeting
Mom is wiping her tears,
and she hugs me and smiles
Again and Again.

Dear Somebody,

Life is tough. But so are we.  Keep trudging on and don't let the bumps on the road keep you away from the happiness that you're meant to see.  We all fall down every once in a while but what counts in that you try, and try. 
For the world was created for you, to see, to smell, to touch, and to enjoy.  You're not alone.  You don't need to face the world by yourself, because we can all face it together.  I can imagine the bumps you've come across, and for what you've faced you're my role model and I'm proud of you.  You embody what courage really means.  You inspire others to be just as courageous as you.  Stay hope-full, stay happy, stay strong, stay being you.

Your Friend

Dear Somebody,
I am writing this letter to let you know that even though you may feel like you're in a dark place, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.  I don't want you to feel like that you have to come out of the darkness right away. Take your time.  Once you feel like you're ready, reach out to someone.  Let someone else be the light you wish to see.  I want to encourage you to go out and seek help, but not telling you to do it immediately.  You'll know when the time is right for yourself, and when you do, we'll be waiting for you at the end of the tunnel.

a loving and caring friend. 
Dear Survivor,

Even if the scars are "only on the inside"
Even if it sometimes feels like "you should be over it"
Even if people don't understand,

Know that you survived.  You progress step by step - big or small - towards a wholeness of self that he thought he took from you.  A wholeness that he feared, a strength that he feared.  Your strength and wholeness is undeniable, inevitable as the tides of the ocean.  And like the tides, your strength bring life with it.  Teeming, impossible, magnificent life.  

Perhaps sometimes you are afraid of your wholeness, your strength.  And that's okay, because you are brave - brave and compassionate.  As you become more whole, so does the world.

And what an impressive world you are creating.


Oct 17, 2016

Kimberly on being an Advocate

Hey all! 
Who am I? 
My name is Kimberly. I am a WSU alumnus and currently work as a domestic violence advocate at Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse. I have been involved with this amazing organization since March 2015; at first as a volunteer, then as an intern, and since this past April, a staff member. I work in the Pullman office, at our emergency domestic violence shelter, and since not long ago, also at our office at DSHS in Colfax. 

What do I do?
I help take hotline crisis calls, meet with clients in our office, whether it is a planned meeting or a walk-in; I do my share of paperwork, and help our clients that reside at our shelter, amongst other things. 

What do I love about being an advocate?
I have the opportunity to listen to people’s stories, sometimes their deepest secrets. Asking for help is difficult for anyone and everyone, so to me, the people I do get to meet with and work with are brave human beings. I watch their strength shine through with every step and move they make, from making that first call to securing their own housing and finding that independence most have been scared to search for. I get to be a part of their journey of finding themselves, creating a new life for themselves and sometimes for their children as well. Victims and survivors of domestic abuse are some of the most inspirational people I’ve ever met! 

Jul 21, 2016

Prosecution and Sexual Assault

Q: What happens to the people being prosecuted for sexual assault other than it affecting their careers?

Ask an Advocate: So there's a big myth that somehow being accused of sexual assault "ruins" a person's life.  We can see for ourselves that is simply not true.  A cursory look at the statistics from RAINN shows us that for every 1000 rapes, only 63 perpetrators will ever be arrested and only 13 will even get referred to prosecution.  That's 1.3% of rapists who will have any mention of previous assaults in their legal file.
Graphic demonstrating that out of 1000 rapes, 994 perpetrators will walk free

That's a really, really small number.  Once you factor in that false reports are vanishingly rare - lower than false reports for grand theft auto - and you can see that being accused isn't likely to impact your day even if you're guilty.  

Now for those 13 people referred to prosecution, depending on the severity of the crime, how straightforward prosecution would be, and what state you live in, the long-term effects can vary wildly.  Some states require anyone convicted of any sex crime (including indecent exposure) to register as a sex offender.  If you have a powerful lawyer (and/or you're white) that's less likely to come into play.  

Seven of those 13 prosecuted cases will lead to felony convictions, which means you'll have to explain that in a lot of job interviews and some government work will be unavailable to you.  However there are several places that help people with felony convictions to get jobs.  

In the end, even with the seriousness of the consequences for those people who are reported, caught, and found guilty of sexual assault, the reality is that the consequences for survivors are much higher - both statistically and in emotional, physical, financial costs - than those for perpetrators.  

If you're interested in helping people who have experienced sexual violence, check out our volunteer page!