Sexual Violence Haunts Women With Vivid Memories Years Later

Women who are sexually assaulted experience more vivid memories than women coping with the aftermath of other traumatic, life-altering events not associated with sexual violence, according to a new Rutgers University–New Brunswick study.

The research, published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, found that women who had suffered from sexual violence, even those who were not diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), had more intense memories – even years after the violence occurred – that are difficult, if not impossible to forget.

“To some extent it is not surprising that these memories relate to more feelings of depression and anxiety because these women remember what happened and think about it a lot,” said Tracey Shors, professor in the Department of Psychology and W.M. Keck Center for Collaborative Neuroscience in the School of Arts and Sciences who coauthored the study.  “But these feelings and thoughts are usually associated with PTSD and most women in our study who experienced these vivid memories did not suffer from PTSD, which is generally associated with more intense mental and physical reactions.”

The study included 183 college-aged women between the ages of 18-39. Sixty-four women reported that they were victims of sexual violence while 119 did not have a history of sexual violence. Less than 10 percent were on anti-anxiety or antidepressant medication.

The women with a history of sexual violence reported stronger memories with specific details that included seeing the event clearly in their mind. They reported having a harder time forgetting the incident and believed it to be a significant part of their life story, according to the research.

“Each time you reflect on an old memory, you make a new one in your brain because it is retrieved in the present space and time,’’ said Shors. “What this study shows is that this process can make it even more difficult to forget what happened.”

Studies have shown that sexual aggression and violence is one of the most likely causes of PTSD in women, a condition that is associated with decreased brain functions related to learning and memory that can be both physically and mentally debilitating and difficult to overcome.

“Women in our study who ruminated more frequently also reported more trauma-related symptoms. One could imagine how rumination could exacerbate trauma symptoms and make recovery from the trauma more difficult,” said Emma Millon, a Rutgers graduate student and coauthor of the research.

According to the World Health Organization, 30 percent of women worldwide experience some kind of physical or sexual assault in their lifetime with adolescent girls much more likely to be the victims of rape, attempted rape or assault. Recent surveys indicate that as many as one in five college students experience sexual violence during their university years.

Shors has developed a new treatment to lessen these vivid memories and help women recover that is different from the traditional Prolonged Exposure Therapy, which includes recollecting the traumatic memory during interviews, story writing and even revisiting the traumatic location.

Mental and Physical Training (MAP Training) developed by Shors combines 30 minutes of mental training with silent meditation followed by 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, twice a week for six weeks. In previous studies, MAP Training diminished trauma symptoms in women who experienced violence, with those participating reporting significantly fewer trauma-related thoughts and ruminations about the past.

“This problem will not go away soon and we must keep our attention focused on prevention and justice for survivors – and their recovery,” Shors said.

How Millennials are Changing Rape Culture

It’s no secret that millennials aren’t afraid to share their voice. The emergence of social media has provided young minds with an outlet for conversation, expression, and rebellion. Their voices aren’t being overshadowed by outspoken politicians and news anchors – not to say that activism and enthusiasm for causes were absent in history.

However, millennials unique use of social media as a tool for change has had a positive influence on how our society views rape culture. Not only is there an influx of influence by millennials as a whole, trends demonstrate awareness in their use of media techniques to drive narratives. By diving into the main causes of sexual assault, we’re able to find a trend that positively impacts how future generations will view sexual assault and rape culture.

A Movement, not Social Media Campaign

The recent news headlines about sexual assault violations from movie producers, politicians and – ironically enough – news anchors, has sparked an entire #metoo movement. A movement that has been around for quite some time but only really came to headlines following thousands of “re-tweets” of a post made by Alyssa Milano using the #metoo hashtag. Both men and women have used social media as a platform to share stories of sexual harassment and sexual assault.

Millennials know the signs of sexual abuse very well because education on the subject has been enforced in public schools throughout the US. What makes this movement so empowering for millennials and older generations is that both younger and older individuals are able to share their stories and confide in each other. This juxtaposition of empowerment between ages is a correlation to how rape culture is likely to be viewed.

The #metoo movement is far from a glorification of rape culture. It is an outcry for openness that had so long been shunned by mainstream media. These victims realize their voices need and want to be heard. Many of these stores have been held back by woman and men for so many years because they were afraid they would be shamed. Social sharing is so important for millennials because it helps them share and receive valuable information. As a society, no previous generation has ever been more connected.

Objectified, Blamed and Shamed

So what was it that bred this fear to share and be outspoken sexual abuse victims? In previous generations, the primary source for information was the evening news. According to research conducted by Rainn.org, an organization dedicated to victims of sexual violence, %54 of sexual assault victims are between the ages of 18-34.

Currently, those who are between the ages 18-34 are classified as “millennials.” So how can it be those who are the largest victims are the biggest influencers on sexual abuse? Social media has given those victims a voice and as a result, this has made those who are most vulnerable, more valuable to ending sexual assault.

A United Message

The women’s march on Washington following Trump’s election in 2016 is an incredible example of how millennials are coming together in an effort to create awareness and advocate for the most vulnerable. For decades, Marches on Washington have been a progressive symbol for change.

Not only was the whole world watching, but the notion of involvement was what drew millions of people and inspired millions more to start their own marches. Today, the idea of being involved is stronger than anything. Not only are millennials the largest – they’re the loudest and proudest.

Millennials make up a quarter of the population, so naturally, their voices are overpowering. According to the Pew Research Center, millennials are the best educated group of young adults in American history. Additionally, %54 percent of millennials have started their own business or are planning to in the future. The influence is carried both socioeconomically and economically.

While population grows, so does its knowledge. It’s safe to say the impact millennials have had on sexual abuse is positive and promising for our future generations. They have shown they will not tolerate harassment in the workplace or on the internet. Nor will they tolerate not standing for something.

This “pact mentality” both in the virtual world and the real world will inspire future generations to make their own landmark changes which will include an ever-changing moral discussion on humanity.

Actor Terry Crews Comes Forward About Being Sexually Assaulted by Hollywood Exec

Actor Terry Crews takes to Twitter to discuss being sexually assaulted by a Hollywood Executive in the wake of the firing of Harvey Weinstein for sexual assault after years of accusations.

Actor Terry Crews

Did you hear the Expendables star say last year?

How is it the criminal justice system doesn’t seem to be able to touch these folks?

Power and privilege keep a lot of people silent.

He just validated a whole lot of women who deal with this on the regular. It’s not easy to come forward.

There is strength in numbers and knowing you are not alone.

Both men and women are affected by sexual assault and rape culture, and it will take more men becoming advocates as well as coming forward to tell their stories because they have stories too.

Reactions from Twitter

https://twitter.com/CeciATL/status/917866303020519427

What “Bachelor in Paradise” Can Teach Us About Working With Young Black Men

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We need to look to the history of Black men in the United States in order to understand the seriousness of what happened to DeMario Jackson.

This season, the “Bachelor” franchise has taken on the topic of race relations in a fairly head-on fashion for mainstream television. For years, the series has been (aptly) criticized for featuring primarily White contestants.

After a season in which a Black woman was cast for the first time as the “Bachelorette,” the franchise’s summer follow-up series, “Bachelor in Paradise,” included several Black men and women in search of love. But let’s hone in on the story one man in particular, Demario Jackson.

Mr. Jackson, a Black man, joined the Mexico-based “Bachelor in Paradise” cast in hopes of finding a partner. As the television show is known for its sexual antics and hookup culture, it was no surprise when Mr. Jackson quickly became involved with Corinne Olympios, a White woman. The two met, flirted and over the course of a day of drinking, became sexually intimate.

All of this took place in public, with cameras rolling and with cast-mates walking by from time to time. The day after this incident, producers stopped the show as a third party had filed a complaint about Mr. Jackson’s behavior with Ms. Olympios vis-à-vis alcohol consumption and consent to sexual activities.

Ms. Olympios claimed that she did not remember any of the night due to her heavy drinking, but later, for a time, claimed that she was a victim of sexual assault (and had to endure the pain of “slut shaming” as well). Of the event, Mr. Jackson has stated “It was 100-percent consensual. She hopped in my arms, she pulled me into the pool…I think people wanted it to be something different. They wanted the angry Black guy and this little, innocent White girl. But it wasn’t.”

In the end, an external investigation (paid for by Warner Brothers) determined that no wrongdoing took place, and Mr. Jackson’s name was cleared. Unfortunately, this did not occur before the press reported on the incident in some very racially charged and unfair ways – but ways that are not unfamiliar to the Black community. So egregious was the coverage, that at least two of the White female contestants from “Bachelor in Paradise” decided to step up and defend Mr. Jackson’s honor, a refreshing change.

One of the silver linings of Mr. Jackson’s suffering is that our society has the opportunity to revisit longstanding stereotypes about the aggressiveness and/or sexuality of young Black men, especially as it relates to White women.

Helping professionals need to know that our country has a long and shameful history of portraying young Black men as sexual predators and/or perpetrators. Starting in the late 1900s, our country saw a rise racial tension that correlated with the number of lynchings of Black men.

In fact, between 1882 and 1968, there were 4,743 reported lynchings, 72.7 percent of which involved Black men. It is widely understood that these race-based lynchings were instigated by White people who felt the need to protect White women from Black men. This presumption has followed us to the present day, where many people believe that Black men rape White women more than White men do, something that has been shown to be false.

We must remember that the young Black men that we work with as social workers live with the spectre of history, and are often warned about interacting with White women during “the talk” with their parents. That is, the talk about what it is to live as a young Black man in the United States in an age where racism is alive and well.

Perhaps a father would tell the tale of Florida’s Rosewood massacre, in which many Black men died as a result of a White woman claiming that a Black man had assaulted her. Or perhaps a Black father may tell his son the story of 14 year-old Emmett Till, a young Black man accused of whistling at and making physical advances to a White woman in a candy store. Mr. Till was murdered as a result of his alleged actions – even though decades later, his accuser has admitted to making up the most damning part of her court testimony. The media treatment of DeMario Jackson felt no different to me than what Emmett Till faced.

So, how can we act on this as helping professionals working with young Black men? We are tasked with seeking social justice, but in the case of young Black men, we must also look inside ourselves for ways to promote racial justice. We must challenge ourselves to be aware of damaging stereotypes that may be held about young Black clients.

As helping professionals, we must be committed to reflective practice and be on the lookout for these stereotypes within ourselves as well as among others involved with the clients we work with. We must work to prevent such stereotypes from impacting the lives of the young Black men in schools, universities, community organizations and both the juvenile and criminal justice systems.

We need to do this anti-racism work as the social work profession has been accused of failing Black men many times before. For example, Dr. Waldo Johnson, Jr. addresses this failure in his book Social work with African American males: Health, mental health and social policy. In this text,

Dr. Johnson talks about how Black men suffer from being stereotyped as reckless (at best) and characterized as having a lifelong disregard for or commitment to society in general. While most Black men do not fit into this stereotype, it persists nonetheless, often as a result of media images.

In the post-Charlottesville era, it is vital for social workers – especially White social workers – to take a stand against the stereotyping of young Black men. This is especially important work to engage in given what we know about how White social workers may hold negative racial biases as a result of living in a society defined by White supremacy. It is time to stand up for racial justice in all of the settings we work in, let’s let DeMario Jackson’s ordeal make a difference for young Black men in the United States.

LGBTQ+ Individuals at High Risk to Be Victims of Violence

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are at high risk for being victims of physical and sexual assault, harassment, bullying, and hate crimes, according to a new study by RTI International.

In a newly published report, funded by RTI, RTI researchers analyzed 20 years’ worth of published studies on violence and the LGBTQ+ community, which included 102 peer-reviewed papers as well as a few unpublished analyses and non-peer-reviewed papers. With The Henne Group, RTI also carried out a series of focus-group discussions with LGBTQ+ communities in San Francisco; New York City; Durham, North Carolina; and rural Wyoming.

“Our research indicates that LGBTQ+ people face significant danger in their daily lives – and that their victimization affects their education, safety, and health,” said Tasseli McKay, a social scientist at RTI and the study’s lead author.

The researchers found that in a range of studies with LGBTQ+ individuals, victimization experiences are clearly and consistently correlated with behavioral health conditions and suicidality, sexual risk-taking and HIV status, other long-term physical health issues, and decreased school involvement and achievement. Such effects are often sustained many years after a victimization event.

The focus groups touched on a variety of topics including bullying, hate crimes, harassment and violence.

A transgender participant in a focus group held in Durham, North Carolina said, “Once you’ve been read as being a trans person, you check out, they check out. For us it’s safety. For them, it’s discomfort. It’s a heightened stigmatization.”

Other key findings from the report include:

-Despite a public perception of greater acceptance of LGBTQ+ individuals in present-day society, disparities in victimization have remained the same or increased since the 1990s.

-Schools are a special concern. Many LGBTQ+ youth reported being afraid or feeling unsafe at school, and school-based victimization of LGBTQ+ youth was associated with decreased school attendance, poorer school performance, and steeply increased risk of suicide attempts.

-Contradicting the common perception of hate-related victimization as being committed by strangers or acquaintances, LGBTQ+ people are often victimized by close family members, particularly their own parents and, for bisexual women, their male partners.

“We need more research to better understand what policies will provide LGBTQ+ youth with safer school and home environments, what resources provide LGBTQ+ people who are victims of violence the best support and how we can ultimately create a larger societal climate that doesn’t tolerate persistent, pervasive, lifelong victimization,” McKay said.

Rape Culture — How Do We Address and End it?

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Trigger warning: this post contains challenging references to rape and sexual violence.

I was moved by Madeleine Holden’s piece in The Spinoff today, about Brock Turner, the 19- (now 20-) year-old Stanford student athlete sentenced to six months imprisonment after raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. It’s a passionate bit of writing, angry actually and, rightfully so, Holden asks the question, “What culture raised Turner to become a rapist?”

She concludes:

“… rapists are absorbing our cultural attitudes about rape, and then they are raping … women. It’s not an academic exercise, and we have enough evidence to show that our dialogue around rape isn’t harmless or separate from the real world in which rape takes place. Perpetuating rape myths contributes towards a culture in which rape happens often and is punished little; a culture that believes, on some level, that men are bound to rape and women invite rape by acting in certain ways.

“That is the real problem.”

I agree, partially. Here’s what I think the real, real problem is: We’re doing little, if anything, to address Holden’s real problem. Which, of course, is because we don’t think the real problem is a problem.

That’s far too many problems in one paragraph.

I’ve been watching the Turner story develop over the last week or so. I’ve felt angry, aghast, helpless, sad. I admit, I’m not altogether sure about how I feel or what I think about Turner not being sentenced to the maximum 14 years sentence. I’m conflicted. In the context of our current judicial system it doesn’t give justice to Turner’s 23-year-old victim. However, I don’t think sending a 19-year-old to prison for the same length of time as his life would do anything to solve the problem of rape culture.

I agree the system favours the likes of Turner (“young, white male athletes from prestigious universities … treated leniently by their schools and the legal system”). But the same system is also biased against people of non-white, poor and underprivileged backgrounds.

I also agree it treats rape victims abysmally. So we begin to add another element to rape culture: the judicial system.

What has shocked me the most has been the comments made by the two prominent adult white men involved: Judge Aaron Persky and Turner’s father. Persky: “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him… I think he will not be a danger to others.” Turner senior: “His life will never be the one that he dreamt about and worked so hard to achieve. That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.”

Here we see the effect of both system and culture manifesting themselves in beliefs that Turner’s upbringing will result in only one incidence of offending and that the incident’s consequence on Turner is more impacting than that of his victim.

Part of the real, real problem is not holding these adults to account because it is they who personify and perpetuate the culture of rape and the system that lets it continue. Admittedly, Persky has been called on his attitude (well, actually probably more his light sentence) by demands for him to be removed from his role, but Turner’s father seems to have escaped any ire apart from Holden’s (I won’t repeat her words, they stand for themselves). It seems the right to free speech translates into a father’s right to raise a rapist.

If we took a real stance against rape culture, Turner’s father’s attitude would be deemed a crime in itself. Is it any wonder a 19-year-old young man would see raping an unconscious woman as a legitimate way to get a bit of action with such fatherly advice?

Rape culture is a problem of society. It’s a problem of generations, history and patriarchy. Rape culture needs to be targeted by many more institutions than the judiciary. Boys, I believe, from as young as ten or 11, need age-appropriate education about consent, sexual violence and intimate respect throughout their schooling. Male teachers need similar professional development.

Rape rehabilitation programmes need to target all offenders, as well as parents, teachers and other significant adults in the lives of juvenile offenders. Judges need professional development until such time as, hopefully, rape is seen as a socially-caused aberrant behaviour deserving treatment rather than punishment.

Victims of rape need skilled and sustainable support and access to restorative processes that address the impact of the behaviour. Restorative processes need to acknowledge the role of individual, parental, educational and social failure to prevent the behaviour.

If you think I’m being soft, that those men just need to pay for it, so be it. I write this out of compassion and genuine concern for humanity, as we are all affected adversely by rape culture. If we continue to believe it’s enough to just blame the offender, we must consider how this is any more fair and effective than blaming victims and saying they ask for it.

This could be the beginning of a real solution.

New Technology Provides Support for Sexual Assault Victims

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Recent surveys have revealed that 85% of sexual assault victims do not report their assault promptly to appropriate authorities. When they later do report, their credibility is often questioned.  The authorities ask “Why now? Has your story changed?”

The I’ve-Been-Violated™ App is the first app of its kind to allow a victim of sexual assault to confidentially record contemporaneous evidence (with video and audio) of an incident. The evidence is double-encrypted and stored offline. The app also, utilizing geo-coding technology, stores information about where the user was when he or she recorded the video. As a legal safeguard, the video record that the user creates is only available through appropriate authorities (i.e. legal, health, school) or by court order and is never directly available to the user.

Should an unfortunate event occur, the I’ve-Been-Violated App is there to help. The I’ve-Been-Violated™ App eliminates most of these credibility questions and allows victims the peace of mind to know that reporting to authorities is fully within their control.

Instructions for a victim to run the I’ve-Been-Violated™ App:

  1. Get to a Safe Place: As soon as possible, get to a safe location before starting the app.
  2. Activate and Run the App: Turn on the app and begin to tell your story by following the on-screen instructions. The app will prompt you on what to say while recording video and
  3. Recording Encrypted & Stored: An encrypted record of your story is created and stored for future retrieval through the proper channels (not available directly to the user).
  4. Authorities Access Evidence: When you are ready to do so, contact the appropriate authorities and they can access the video recording. The fact that it was recorded contemporaneously with the violation helps a victim’s credibility be

The I’ve-Been-Violated™ App is part of a suite of apps provided by the Affirmative Consent Division of the Institute for the Study of Coherence and Emergence (ISCE.edu) to help change the context and conversations around sexual consent on college campuses. (See for more information). The suite is available for individual download and on a group basis for schools or school based organizations. The app suite is designed to assist schools to improve their Title IX compliance efforts.

Because it is incumbent on all of us to do what we can to help the victims of sexual assaults, ISCE.edu is making the I’ve-Been-Violated™ App available for free, and it is available for download on iTunes.

ISCE.edu is presently running no-cost pilot programs at selected institutions across the United States to demonstrate and potentially improve the efficacy of the entire app suite. These pilots include educational outreach and student uptake efforts designed help schools improve their Title IX compliance programs. ISCE.edu has a few slots remaining for schools who wish to run a similar no cost pilot program.

Reclaiming the Word Victim

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Words shape the direction of our lives. The words spoken to us, around us and over us create pathways upon which our lives play out. Words can build up or tear down, set limits or promote freedom, encourage or discourage, bless or curse.

Understanding the importance of words and how they affect the victim of sex abuse is key to restoration. The words the perpetrator uses during the crime, the words the victim tells themselves and uses to describe their trauma or the words the justice system uses to the words the mental health profession depends on each set of words carries its own challenges. Each word spoken around the abuse carries an implication and an internalized meaning for the victim. Exploring and understanding the impact of the words the victim hears and uses is an important part of opening the pathway to freedom.

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visit d2l.org for more information

Victim is not a demeaning, nor a bad word. It is a more representative word of the reality experienced in sex abuse. When we restore the definition of victim to its true definition, someone or something killed, destroyed, sacrificed, and/or one who suffers a loss especially by being swindled, we see there is no weakness in it and that it correctly identifies the person battered by sex abuse.

Something does get destroyed. No, more than something, someone gets destroyed! Value, personhood, beliefs, self-respect, deep core reservoirs of a person’s strength and possibility are destroyed. Parts of the person, i.e., the capability to trust, to be intimate, or feel safe are sacrificed by the uncontrolled urges and needs of another. That is being a victim!

One of the reasons our culture has moved away from using the word victim is because we don’t like the feeling the word gives us. Our society tends to hold a victim more responsible than a perpetrator. If your house is robbed, people ask if you locked the doors. If your purse is snatched, people question how you were holding it. If you are sexually abused, people ask why you went into that room. We first question the victim as if she did something wrong to create the scenario in which she was hurt. Seldom does the first response contain an outraged indictment that someone felt free to violate another’s personal rights. The victim is blamed and made to feel “less than”, so we don’t want to be called a victim.

In the moment of victimization you are rendered powerless by someone else’s actions. Power is highly esteemed in our culture, and we look less favorably on those without power. In the eyes of our culture being a victim means you did something wrong; you lost your power. The fact that as a victim you were powerless becomes unacceptable because power is so highly valued.

maxresdefault (1)There is no inherent weakness in being a victim – things happen to us that are out of our control. Being a victim has become a derogatory mark upon one’s personhood rather than the damaging event that it is. This indictment is wrong.

There is no shame in being a victim. Shame says I need to feel bad because I did something wrong. A victim of sex abuse is not the one who did something wrong. The victim is never the one at fault!

When we fail to identify the person as a victim, we nullify their reality, congratulating them that they made it through, as we expect them to ignore the impact of the crime. On the outside they adopt the identity of survivor, meaning “I’m OK”, while on the inside all they know is fear, uncertainty, intense pain, and loss of personal identity.

It is no wonder the victim of sex abuse hears, “put it behind you”, “why are you still thinking about that”, for as a culture we have told them by denying that they were a victim, that it IS over. We have told them in the use of our language that it IS all better – you survived! It is as if we hand them a badge we expect them to wear – a badge that says, “denial.” This is wrong and destructive and perpetuates and prolongs the damage of abuse.

Saying, “I’m a survivor” is not more empowering than saying, “I’m a victim”. Victims have more power to get freedom than survivors do because victims remain in touch with the reality of the trauma impact. When the victim quickly becomes a survivor and jumps from the point of impact directly to claim the status of being a survivor, they jump over a whole set of emotions, needs, thought processes, and confusion. When not connected to the reality of the emotions and belief systems, one cannot heal them. One can’t fix what they don’t know is broken. One can’t become a survivor without knowing what they survived. Just because the event is over and that person is alive does not mean they know what they have overcome.

More Common Than Not: Sexual Violence Among LGBTQ Persons

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Photo Credit: Buzzfeed

In a first-of-its-kind national report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a comprehensive set of data on intimate partner violence, titled “The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey.” This data provides insight into the prevalence of sexual violence, categorized by factors such as gender, sexual orientation, frequency and age at first victimization. The intent of such a report is to serve as a benchmark for prevention, education, and social service efforts at reducing sexual violence.

While reviewing the data, I was struck by the astronomical rates of sexual violence against individuals identifying as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. According to the report, 46.4% of lesbian women, 74.9% of bisexual women, 40.2% of gay men and 47.4% of bisexual men report being victims of sexual violence, respectively. These numbers highlight the frightening reality of sexual violence facing individuals identifying as LGBT.

To help shine some light on what factors may be driving this data, I sat down with Alicia Allen, of Spectrum Recovery Solutions. Allen, a relationship counselor and sex researcher, answered some of the questions I had and offered her unique perspective on this staggering problem.

1. According to the study, the rates of sexual violence among individuals within the LGBT community are significantly higher than in the heterosexual community. What are your thoughts when you see these statistics?

I find it incredibly tragic when I hear about sexual violence against any individual, but especially against those who are marginalized by society because they don’t fit the mold. For me, these statistics show how we, as a society, have not done our part to protect all our members. While the Violence Against Women Act of 2013 was extended to include the LGBTQ community in helping those affected by domestic and sexual violence access resources, this is not enough. We have failed to create a safe space for those who have been assaulted and to provide adequate outreach and education to those who are at risk. We need to have these programs starting in the schools and going into the communities. Bottom line is that we are not providing protective factors or practicing harm reduction.

2. It is interesting to note that the rates of sexual violence among bisexual men and women are much higher than in gay men and lesbian women. What might be a reason for this?

This is a very important question that needs to be addressed. As for why this is, I have to say that we need further research before we can start speculating on causation. As the study shows, almost half of the bisexual women who responded experienced their first rape between 11 and 17 years old, as opposed to only 17.4% of the heterosexual women surveyed. Not only that, but both bisexual and heterosexual women reported that their perpetrators were exclusively male. So, people are taking those two statistics to try to say that women become bisexual because they were raped by a man. This simply is not true. Unfortunately, we as a society do not accept the natural fluidity of female sexuality over the lifespan. Regardless, we have no concrete answers as to why bisexuals are at the greatest risk for abuse. However, we do know what is needed is prevention and education. We need to be proactive to help combat intimate partner violence and sexual assault.

3. What role, if any, do factors such as discrimination, social norms, and policy play on the rates of violence against members of the LGBT community?

This is a really good question. As I stated before, society plays a large role. It’s a dialectical role. The LBGTQ community has gained momentous rights in the past couple of years through advocacy, education, and rallying of the public. However, there are still big pockets of our society that hold onto antiquated and inaccurate notions about sex, sexuality, and gender. We are still struggling with the “blame the victim” mentality. “She was dressed like a slut.” “What was he doing out that late at night in that guy’s apartment?” Things like that. Then there’s policy. In the same year where the US Supreme Court upheld marriage equality, they also shot down The Student Non-Discrimination Act that was created to protect LBGTQ children from bullies. The wonderful organization dedicated to advocating for the LGTBQ, Give A Damn Campaign, has reported that almost 90% of LGBTQ youth have experienced verbal and physical abuse AT SCHOOL. What message are we sending when we do not protect the most vulnerable among us, our children?

4. How can social workers and mental health professionals be more sensitive to the needs of LGBT clients who may have a history of sexual or physical violence?

With this study, we as clinicians know that the possibility of a trauma history is increased when working with our LGBTQ clients. The first thing we have to do as clinicians is understand our own value system. Do we hold even the most benign of prejudices? Then we need to use a systems perspective to look at how well informed we are of the environment of our clients. Do we know what our clients face on a day-to-day basis in their homes, workplaces, school, etc… And finally, and I cannot stress this enough, we need to have a trauma-informed practice. When we use the trauma informed approach to therapy, we appreciate how intrusive the trauma is on our clients’ lives and how it can be an obstacle to both physical and mental wellbeing. Having a trauma informed practice means integrating this knowledge into our policies and procedures. With this approach, we are saying that from first contact we will create a safe place for growth and healing for our clients.

5. Is there anything social workers and mental health professionals could be doing better to help reduce the rates of sexual violence among members of the LGBT community?

There are three things that we can start with:First, know the community. That means be aware of what the LGBTQ community experiences from both a macro and a micro level. Keep yourself educated on laws, practices, and policies that are discriminatory in nature. Know what resources are out there to help combat this. If there aren’t any or they are not enough…then get involved.

Second, educate the community on what bulling, intimate partner violence, and the bystander effect looks like in our everyday lives and strategies to combat these.

Finally, advocate. Advocate for equal protection. Advocate for effective and accessible resources. Advocate for change.

Domestic Violence Survivor Pushes Against the Dark

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Shavonia West – Survivor and Domestic Violence Advocate

Driving home at night, she can identify the make of a car from nothing more than the shape of its headlights in her rearview mirror. Walking up the driveway to her house, she can pick out the distinctive silhouette and shadow of each familiar object in her yard.

It’s a skill she’s learned out of necessity, because in that darkness West can see back to the morning nearly two decades ago when she opened her front door and stepped into a world of fear, a world she would come to know intimately in the minutes, hours, and years to come.

“I try to be strong, but it’s not always easy. A lot of memories get stirred up,” admits West, speaking from her office at Sarah’s Refuge Crisis Center, where she works as a domestic violence community educator.

In 1995, West, then 19, broke off a relationship with 26-year-old Joseph Muller. Shortly afterwards, Muller began turning up unexpectedly at locations West frequented, first at ballgames, then at the homes of her friends and her aunt.

“He was not taking ‘No’ for an answer,” remembers West, who at the time was working at her mother’s beauty salon while finishing her senior year in highschool.

Though annoyed by Muller’s actions, West said she never related her concerns to friends or family members. “I was stalked without letting anyone know for at least a couple of months. I just kept a lot of that stuff quiet because I felt like I could handle it.”

03142013-TW-Joseph Muller
Joseph Muller

After a time, Muller broke off all contact with West, leading her to believe he had finally accepted that their relationship was over.

In the months since their breakup, West had graduated from highschool and was living in a recently purchased home. West says she thought little more about her former boyfriend until she stepped through her front door one morning on her way to work.

“When I came out of the house he came from under the steps,” she recalls. “I could smell alcohol on him. He told me the reason I hadn’t heard from him was because he had been plotting how to kill me for a month. He kept calling me a bitch and saying ‘Today is your last day.’”

After telling West that he was carrying a gun, Muller methodically related his plan to kill her and dump her body down a dirt road in Fayetteville, after which he would drive to California. “He told me he had been saving checks from his job and he had enough money to get out of town,” says West.

Muller told her he had already written letters to his family members apologizing for her murder.

As she turned and attempted to flee, Muller dragged West back inside her house, where he proceeded to rape and beat her.

It was the Monday after Thanksgiving, November 27. West’s ordeal was just beginning.

Muller dragged West to her car and made her drive towards Fayetteville where he forced her to stop at a gas station.

“I was looking around to see if I could find anything to blow the car up with,” remembers West. Fearful that Muller would hurt others, she made the decision not to reach out for help.

Once they were on the road again, West says she suddenly remembered advice Oprah Winfrey had given during a broadcast concerning women who have been abducted. “Oprah said you should never allow your captor to take you to a second location. If you do, it makes it much easier for them to abuse you and do what they are going to do,” West recalls.

As she began to pray, West pleaded with Muller for any solution that would allow her to live. “I started to lie, saying I was sorry for leaving him. He said the only way I could live was to be with him, to get back in a relationship with him.”

Having convinced Muller that she would take him back, West says he told her to make a right turn at an intersection. A left turn would have taken them to Fayetteville and the location Muller had chosen for her murder.

Instructed to head back towards her home, West was allowed to stop at her mother’s beauty salon to break the news of her and Muller’s reconciliation. Before they arrived Muller assured West he would kill her mother if she interfered with their plans.

Believing that he would be moving into West’s trailer that afternoon, Muller left the beauty salon to collect clothes from his home, located less than a mile from West’s trailer.

After he was gone, West related the desperate nature of her situation to her mother, who immediately called the police.

“We had to go to the local Sheriff’s Office and then I had to do a rape kit,” remembers West.

Muller was arrested at his home and held for trial. Though it was discovered he had prior charges in New York, he was allowed to plea bargain his sentence down to less than two years. “My lawyer at the time advised me to accept the lesser charge so I wouldn’t have to testify in front of him,” says West.

After serving his sentence Muller was released, with the stipulation that he does not enter the state of North Carolina for five years.

Fear

Looking back, West says she never recognized any signs of violence in Muller during the time they were together. “He was always very nice to me, he was always buying me gifts,” she says.

Only once during their relationship did Muller show his true face. “We were just talking with some of my family and someone joked around about us breaking up,” remarks West. “He just came out and said ‘She’ll never leave me. If she tries to leave, I’ll kill her.”’

As she looks over a newly constructed poster covered in statistics on teen dating violence, West appears relaxed as she talks about the events that changed her life so profoundly. Waiting patiently for a school group that she’s scheduled to address, the youthful, small statured 36-year-old betrays little of the anxiety one would expect as she describes the details of her abduction.

But appearances, says West, can be deceiving. For years after her attack, she explains, her self-control teetered on the edge of collapse, as day after day she put on a brave face designed to hide her increasing sense of panic.

It was during this time that West realized she had begun focusing on cars driving behind her on the roads at night, had begun peering into the trees around her home, watching and waiting for what she believed was inevitable.

“I lived in fear. I kept waiting for him to come back,” she says.

While West stayed busy working at the beauty salon, the memories were there waiting every night when she returned home, to the same trailer where Muller attacked and violated her.

“I had to relive that over and over,” she states.

Though Muller never attempted to contact her after he was released from prison, West says she had no doubt that, given the chance, he would hurt others. “I knew that if he didn’t get some help eventually there would be another victim.”

Fourteen years after her attack, West’s sad prophecy proved correct.

In 2009, she received a call from a friend who told her to turn her television to WRAL News. According to the newscast, Joseph Muller, age 40, was wanted on a charge of first-degree murder in the death of his former girlfriend, Jessica Ellis of Durham, who had been found shot in her home on June 13.

03142013-TW-Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

The report said Muller was armed and dangerous.

“On the news, they said they had no idea where he was,” West recalls.

West would later discover that Muller went to the Sears store where Ellis worked, lured her into his car, and took her to her home, where he shot Ellis in front of a family member.

West says she immediately contacted the detective handling the investigation. “When I told him what had happened to me he said it sounded exactly like the story her family was telling, how he was so nice and loving to her until they broke up, and then he couldn’t handle being rejected.”

West, who by then was a mother of two young children, moved out of her home and lived with her mother for a time. She had received word from law enforcement that Muller’s abandoned car had been found off of Interstate 40, between Warsaw and Rose Hill.

After a month of staying at her mother’s home, West decided to go back home with her the children. Friends and family members kept watch. “I couldn’t live like that anymore, always afraid,” says West.

Three days after returning home, a month and a half after the murder West was notified that Muller was dead, his body found hanging in a Miami hotel room. His remains were identified using information—a panther tattoo and other distinguishing marks—provided by West.

Transformation

In the days following Muller’s death, West’s life began to change.

“The way I lived before was fearful but functional. After he killed himself, I felt like I could breath,” she reflects.

Through her work in the hair salon, she began to entertain the idea that she could help others who had been through similar traumas.

“I feel like I’ve always been a semi-counselor,” she states. “All my life I’ve been dealing with women who come into the salon who have issues, with verbal abuse, physical abuse, sexual assault with their spouses or mate.”

Last June, after speaking with a client who worked in abuse counseling, West made the decision to volunteer at Sarah’s Refuge.

“There’s a lot of people who don’t understand why you don’t go to the authorities and a lot of that is driven by fear and uncertainty,” explains West. “I knew what these women were feeling, so I thought who better to help someone like that than someone who’s been through it.”

In October, West was hired on full-time at Sarah’s. In her role as a community educator, she travels to local schools, telling her story and pointing out the warning signs that she missed so many years ago.

Though West has learned to manage the fear, to breathe, she knows that fall morning in 1995 is still with her, acting on her life in ways not always easily understood.

Several years after Muller was convicted, West married a man she describes as verbally and emotionally abusive. “Some of the things he said stick with me a lot more than what happened with the guy who kidnapped me with the intention of killing me,” she comments.

Trusting people, simply letting her two teenagers go off with friends, will never be easy.

But her story, says West, and the lives she can touch and possibly alter through its telling, have offered her a new freedom, a new way of seeing past the darkness into an undimmed future.

“People die all the time. I was one of the blessed ones,” she says, leaning forward, her large dark eyes solemn yet intent. “If I can save one person, it’s worth it.”

Sexual Assault is not a Misconduct Issue, It is a Criminal Issue

Every April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). During these thirty days, survivors, students, professionals, and activists’ march throughout the streets and institutions, campaign on social media, and appear on television to bring awareness to the issue of sexual assault.

There are posters, displays, and drives created to spread the word about the prevalence of this issue—that one in three women will be sexually assaulted during her lifetime.  There has already been much discussion about sexual assault, as the media has reported many incidents this year.

From celebrities, NFL players, executives, fraternity members, college students, to the next-door neighbor, it seems we have seen it all. As month of April and SAAM campaigns come to a close, it is important to note that awareness is not nearly enough. Instead, policies must change in order to truly make a social change in the prevalence of sexual assault.

SAAM-definition1The surge of media coverage surrounding sexual assault has focused largely on college campus sexual assaults, and a report from the White House asserts that one in five college women are the victims of sexual assault. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Education placed higher education institutions under investigation for “possible violations of federal law over the handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints”.

This investigation spurred from complaints filed against colleges by students who were victims of sexual assault and rape, as well as federal audits alleges college campuses actions resulted in the underreporting and mishandling of Campus Sexual Assault complaints. As of March 2015, 104 colleges and universities have been added to the list of institutions under federal investigation.

Many university administrations that are under federal investigation have created a “Sexual Misconduct Task Force” that meets to address the issue of sexual assault on campus. The language within these task forces, orientations for new students, and regular correspondence is noteworthy. It seems that the term “sexual misconduct” is used in times when sexual assault shall be used. This is not merely semantics; it is a matter of legality.

The term “misconduct” refers to when someone behaves in an improper or unprofessional manner. It is logical for universities to use this term in the code of ethics when discussing issues such as cheating or plagiarism. On the contrary, the term “sexual assault” is defined as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Falling under the definition of sexual assault are sexual activities as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape” according to the Department of Justice. It is logical to use this term for a criminal offense.

This dichotomy in semantics seems to be an issue throughout the vast majority of colleges and universities. That is, administrators place sexual assault and rape under campus “misconduct” in official documentation. The question is why?

These are some of the most prestigious educational institutions and the administrators are cognizant of how language greatly impacts one’s view of the institution. By demoting the language of sexual violence to sexual misconduct, universities are placing the issue of sexual assault in the same category as plagiarism. Consequently, reducing the seriousness of such incidences.

By addressing sexual assaults as a campus misconduct issue, the faculty and staff may view such incidents as violations of the student code of conduct. This may lead to the failure to treat these incidents as criminal cases, as they are ruled in federal law. That is, sexual assault and rape are criminal offenses that must be investigated by police departments and tried in a criminal court; if found guilty, perpetrators are charged with a felony.

In the 2015 Inside Higher Ed Survey of College and University Presidents, Gallop found that about one-third (32 percent) of responding presidents agree or strongly agree that sexual assault is prevalent at American colleges and universities. However, few presidents (6 percent) agree or strongly agree that sexual assault is prevalent at their institution. While three-quarters of presidents (77 percent) agree or strongly agree that their campus is doing a good job protecting women from sexual assault on campus.

Notice the contradictions? College and university presidents agree that sexual assault is a problem in America, however very few feel that it is a problem on their specific campus. Could it be that the language used by administrators is affecting how the institutions view the issue of sexual assault?

Maybe if colleges and universities began to address sexual assault for what it is—a crime—there may be less confusion if it is an issue on their campus. Though, the hesitation may stem from administrators disclosing that such crimes exist on their campuses. Yes, if accurate numbers were reported, students would be more timid to attend these colleges and universities. Yet, if administrators treated sexual assault as a crime, then trained law enforcement professionals would investigate these case and take rape cases out of the hands of the Department of Student Affairs which will make campuses safer.

College and university policies must change so that sexual assaults are depicted and treated as criminal cases. By doing so, proper trainings, resources, and judicial processes could take place, lead to prevention and proper handling of sexual assaults on college campuses—nationwide.

Why Aren’t We Talking About Sexual Assault On Campus?

By Leah Greenidge, Rosedad Francois, Valerie Jean-louis, Farah Robles

As children, we embark on various journeys in life from attending our 8th grade dance, making the cheer-leading team or making the varsity sports team in high school. Then, if fortunate enough, its surviving the hectic and often stressful 4 years of college in hopes of obtaining your degree. With this journey comes many obstacles and sadly sexual assault on campus can be one of the harsher obstacles in life someone may experience with many long-term and devastating effects.

Students found guilty of sexual assault on campuses have a high probability of receiving no consequences for their actions. It is usually the victim that has to endure the shame, feelings of embarrassment and anger which may change their outlook on life. Victims are either too scared to report or feel as if they some how caused the events to happen. Most survivors suffer high rates of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, and co-occurring drug/alcohol abuse. Due to under-reporting, it is believed that 1 in every 5 women will be sexually assaulted while in college.

According to an article in Mother Jones,

The NIJ-funded study also examined the circumstances and risk factors surrounding sexual assault on campus, including the role of alcohol and fraternities. Nearly 60 percent of campus sexual-assault victims were under the influence of booze or drugs when they were attacked; one-fourth said their assailant was a frat member. Read Full Article

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To make our campuses safer, change needs to happen with school policies and practices to prevent these assaults from happening. Across all demographics, rapists and sex offenders are too often escape paying for their crimes and are free to assault again. Sexual assault in general is a subject that people keep on “the hush hush”, but we need to start talking about sexual assault on campus in order to create a safe environment for students to excel.

We are students passionate about empowering people, and we’ve started this campaign to give a voice to those who don’t have one #‎outofyourshadow

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