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!

Jun 16, 2016

Long-term effects of abuse and how to beat the odds

Q: What are the long term effects of abuse?

AskAnAdvocate: This article from ThinkProgress.org talks about many of the long-term effects abuse has on survivors and their children.  The most important things to note are that people who experience family violence are more likely to become depressed, develop PTSD and other anxiety disorders, and also 15x more likely than the average population to use alcohol or other substances to cope with what they have been/are going through.
Also it's worth pointing out that while some people do go on to be abusive themselves, more often people who experience family violence early go on to face violence/abuse again.

There is some good news, however.  Emerging research shows that young people who can find one stable, supportive adult in their lives - a person who acts as a sort of champion and mentor for the young person - can overcome many of these long-term effects.

Not all of us can have mentors that look like this:

But really, any stable adult that you feel safe with and whom you'd like to be more like is a good choice.  Some schools even have specific mentor programs set up to help Teens and young people have a better shot at success on their own terms.  You can check out Moscow High School's program right here to apply or to volunteer!  

May 24, 2016

Just how many people has ATVP helped?

Q: How many people has ATVP helped?

AskAnAdvocate: Since our founding in 1980, ATVP has stayed incredibly busy.  Thanks to the advent of affordable personal computing power (and grants for technology), we've kept pretty good records for the last decade or so.  From 2005 to 2015, ATVP was able to work with over 3,600 individuals and their families on an on-going basis, in addition to fielding over 30,000 calls on our hotlines.  

Once you factor in our prevention and presentation work - and we did over 560 presentations and outreaches last year alone - the straight forward answer is somewhere between "a lot" and "a whole lot."  

Despite all of our continued efforts, we always need more volunteers and more community allies to help hold the people causing harm accountable.  

For ideas of how to help out, click here.  We'd love to have you aboard!  
Take Back the Night 2013

Do Conflicts really occur in all relationships?

Q: Do Conflicts really occur in all relationships?

AskAnAdvocate: Every relationship does have some friction in it, because we all are individuals with our personal desires, dreams, and opinions.  The real key to any healthy relationship (not just a dating or romantic one) is not that it be conflict-free, but that you all can speak honestly and respectfully without fear of being punished for having some disagreements.  (Remember that respect has to be mutual).  

Some great tools for healthy communication can be found here.  Basically learn to listen actively and thoughtfully.  

If you feel fear of  the other person(s) in any relationship, that's a big warning sign.  Trust your instincts; they've kept you alive this long.  

For some tools to evaluate if your relationship is healthy or perhaps has some warning flags, check out these tools:

Warning Signs of Abuse

Interactive Power and Control Wheel

The Spectra of Relationships 

Image result for Maybe he doesn't hit you

Remember that abuse isn't just physical.  You can read more about other people's experiences with emotional and financial abuse through the #MaybeHeDoesn'tHitYou tag and other social media awareness programs.  

May 12, 2016

What does ATVP DO?

Q: What are the majority of problems that you deal with?

AskAnAdvocate: We work with many different issues around violence and personal safety, including victimization of general crimes like identity theft, stalking, and harassment.  However, by far the most common issues we work with are domestic violence and sexual assault.  

In an average year we work with around 360 unique individuals and their children, with about 340 of those being people who have experienced gender- and power-based violence (SA/DV).  

Our work gives us a broad set of skills, so we can perform legal advocacy for those who want to file for protection orders (aka "restraining orders"), divorce, custody, and other legal issues.  We can also be with a person when they meet with police or prosecutors to report a crime - in fact it's your right as a victim of crime to have an advocate with you.  

If you need to seek medical attention due to any crime-related situation, we can also meet you at the hospital to advocate for your rights as a patient and as a survivor of violence or abuse.

The realities of abuse and assault are complex and impact many facets of people's lives.  We're here to try and make survivors' lives easier.  
Think of us as the Samwise Gamgee to your Frodo
Image result for Sam Gamgee

or the Batgirl to your Batwoman

You get the idea.  We don't live someone else's life for them, but we do whatever we can to make life less complicated and the path to empowerment less dangerous.  

Thanks for your questions! 

Helping People who Abuse

Q: How can we help abusers?

AskanAdvocate: Excellent question! And a bit tricky as well.  The number one most important thing you can do for someone who uses abusive or controlling behaviors is to hold them accountable for them.  Here are a couple things that you can do - but make your own safety a priority!  Also keep in mind the safety of the person(s) being harmed - if the abusive person might punish the victims for you standing up to him (statistically it's usually a him), then consider some other options.  

  • Call out racist, sexist, and homophobic jokes or comments - ideas that one type of person is better than another forms the backbone of beliefs that abusive behavior is justified. 
  • Speaking of that, let people know that abusive behavior is NEVER justifiable.  Everybody has a bad day now and again - not everyone uses that as an excuse to abuse someone else.  
  • Remember that no one else "makes" us act in certain ways.  We are in control of ourselves and our own actions. Don't let the abusive person blame someone or something else for their bad behaviors. 
Therapy is also an excellent resource, but there is really only one type of therapy that works for people who use abusive or controlling tactics, and that's Batterer Treatment (also called "Domestic Violence Offender Intervention").  You can read about these sorts of programs here and here.
To find a local US program near you, google "Domestic Violence Offender Treatment near [your town]," and you should be well on your way.

For the Latah and Whitman County areas, the main provider is Loren Caudle's Phoenix House


Apr 19, 2016

Dating Relationships and Abuse

Q: How often do people get seriously hurt or killed in abusive dating situations?

Ask an Advocate: All of the stats here come from LoveIsRespect.org Roughly 1.5 million US high schoolers (boys and girls) have been intentionally hit or physically harmed in the past year by someone they are romantically involved with.  That's about 1 in 10 high school students!  
And these behaviors don't stop in teenage years, 43% of dating college women report experiencing abusive and violent dating behaviors.  In fact, the odds of severe violence increase if the abusive behaviors started in adolescence.  
So the answer to how often people get seriously injured or killed is simply this: too many.  And the harm doesn't always come directly from the person who abuses their partner.  Half of all youth who have been victims of dating violence and rape attempt suicide.  Survivors of dating violence are more likely to develop problems with substance abuse, eating behaviors, risky sexual behaviors, and - notably - further domestic violence.

That's why we talk about Safety Planning with all of our clients and at many of our presentations.  If you'd like to look into what a dating safety plan looks like, please check here.  Or you can always call us to ask.  (Please keep in mind that we're mandated reporters).  

Q: What is a "Mandated Reporter"? 
Ask an Advocate: Almost all service providers, medical professionals, teachers, and counselors are regarded as mandated reporters in most states.   What that means is that we at ATVP are a confidential resource, but we have to break confidentiality in a few extreme cases.

  1. Imminent harm to self or others -
  2. If you have means and a plan for how to commit suicide or homicide, we'll reach out to other agencies to help get you help.

  3. Child (<18 years old) or vulnerable adult Abuse -
  4. If you disclose child or vulnerable adult abuse, then we may have to reach out to other agencies. Exception: if the police or CPS are already involved in the case in question, then we don't have to break confidentiality.
If you do disclose something that pushes against those boundaries of our confidentiality, we'll try to let you know, but we can't always get that information out right away.  Here are some ways that you can work with mandated reporters to protect your confidentiality while still accessing services.   
  1. You can work with us anonymously. If we don't have your name and age, then we don't have to make a report, unless you want us to! 
  2. You can talk about things hypothetically.  
  3. You can ask us to help you make a report.  
While Mandated Reporting can seem a bit tricky, please remember that it exists to protect people.  For a brief history of mandated reporting, check out www.socialworker.com.  

Mar 22, 2016

Volunteering and Disclosure

Question: How old do I have to be to volunteer with ATVP?

Ask An Advocate: While hotline volunteers have to be 18 years old at the time of their first shift, ATVP does have several opportunities for younger people to collaborate with us.
Currently, Heydon is in charge of a program specifically aimed at getting Moscow youth (13-18yrs.) involved in the work of creating a social change to end power-based violence.  If that sounds like a worthwhile pursuit for you (and your college/job transcripts), please e-mail advocate2@atvp.org for more info.

Question: What can I do if I'm too scared to tell someone about what I've been through? 

Ask An Advocate: Talking about your experiences can be difficult.  However, the issues that we work with thrive on silence and showing them to the light of day takes some of the power away from those hurts.

To that end there are several options:

*You can always call our hotline (208)883-4357 or (509)332-4357.  We do accept anonymous calls, so you don't have to share your name or age with the hotline advocate, unless you want to.
We are mandated reporters, so there are a few limits on our confidentiality: 1) imminent danger to self or others (homicidal or suicidal intent with plans on how to carry it out), 2) On-going child or vulnerable adult abuse.  If you get close to our confidential bounds, our advocates will usually let you know.  Again, you can always call anonymously and/or speak in hypotheticals. At the end of the day, we're here to help everyone have safer and happier relationships.

*If you'd rather text someone, you can try the Crisis Text Line, just text START to 741-741.  Many of their users are teens, in fact.  Like ATVP, the Crisis Text Line is a mandated reporter agency.

* There's also Teen Life Line 602-248-8336 (TEEN)

* For LGBTerrific Youth, there's the Trevor Project 866-488-7386

*Trans Specific resources are available at Trans Lifeline 877-565-8860

Mar 15, 2016

Safe Calls, Boundaries, and Assertiveness

Q: Would it be a good idea to tell my friends about my date I’m going on and if I’m not back to call me to make sure I’m ok?

AskAnAdvocate: Yes, definitely! The term for this arrangement is a "Safe Call."  As described in the linked article, a Safe Call has a few specific details ahead of time:
  1. The physical address(es) of where you plan to go.
  2. The full legal name of the person/people you're meeting.
  3. A predetermined time that you will call them by. 
  4. A code word to text or say if you aren't freely making your call.  
The "Safe Call" person is understood to IMMEDIATELY call local law enforcement or some other agreed upon response system if you don't call at the predetermined time.  

Q: Angie* has a boyfriend she loves to hangout with. Angie suspects her housemate is in love with her and jealous of Angie's boyfriend. So what would you suggests to them?

AskAnAdvocate: Great question!  We all know that things can be complicated with our housemates, but the key to any healthy relationship is open communication, especially around boundaries and expectations.  
I would suggest to Angie to be brave and bring up her concerns to her housemate.  Schedule a time to talk when you and your housemate won't be distracted by other things.  Maybe try your favorite coffee shop or deli.  
Even though it might feel strange, bring a note card or piece of paper with what you want to go over - not only will this help you stay on-point should your conversation be uncomfortable, but it will also be a reminder to hit all points you want to cover.  
Practice assertiveness using x,y,z statements like "I feel [x], when you [behavior y], at [time z]". 
For more information on assertiveness and boundaries, check out this article from MentalHelp.net. 

*As with all of our posts, any names or identifying information has been changed to protect anonymity.

Mar 10, 2016

A New Project

This is a new project for us at Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse, and I can't promise we'll be the best blog on the web right out of the gate, BUT!  I can promise that we'll bring you no nonsense answers to the questions that courageous teens and community members have sent our way.

A big thank you to the students at Moscow High School for asking if this is a project we'd be willing to do.  You all give us hope for a brighter, more equitable, and informed future.