Having “the talk”

by Brittany Lafirara, Youth Advocate, H.O.P.E Works

I am not a parent, but as a young twentysomething, I can remember sitting down and having my mom have “the talk” with me. She talked to me about changing bodies and what growing into a young woman involves. She even checked out books from the library. I remember being embarrassed and basically listening enough to get the information and leaving as quick as possible. As far as I know this was a onetime event (or I blocked the others out)!  We talked about it in a very scientific and developmental way. I often wonder what it would be like to have been more comfortable talking about human development and sexuality with an adult figure.  These conversations are so hard for adults and youth, but they can actually help prevent sexual abuse and also teach children and youth the language, tools and foundation to reach out for help if they need to.

When working with youth I try to find a way to connect hard conversations with the world around us. With Bill Cosby and the Duggar Family being in the news recently, Continue reading

Developing D.i.i.v.a.s. – Guiding Youth to Grow in Dignity, Integrity, Independence, Virtue and Self Esteem

by Saudia LaMont, creator and director of Developing D.i.i.v.a.s, guest youth writer Asia Domasin, and Allyson Scanlon, Coordinator of Family & Child Advocacy, Claina Howard Nichols Center

D.i.i.v.a.s. was created for several reasons; firstly personal experience knowing what it is like to struggle through transitional years as an adolescent. Secondly, realizing the problematic gap which exists in services for ages 6-16 geared towards developing useful life skills. The following words from Saudia LaMont, creator and director of Developing D.i.i.v.a.s. may explain best the purpose behind our group.

diivas flower

 As someone who grew up with low self-esteem and lack of support I have spent the past several years of my life researching, studying and learning about Self Love, Self Esteem, Mind body Awareness, overcoming obstacles and how to endure. I have attended classes, training programs and support groups. I have self-educated by reading books, pamphlets, looking things up online, doing workbooks, watching documentaries, interviewing people and assessing my own personal life experiences.
Continue reading

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” ~ Helen Keller

by Judy Szeg, Educator/Office & Volunteer Coordinator, Safeline

Did you know that the many member programs of the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence have a wide variety of youth volunteer and service learning opportunities?  Volunteering is for people of all ages and that certainly includes youth!

Safeline has been very, very fortunate to have had amazing young people supporting our work in many ways.  Volunteer/service learning opportunities include doing research on various topics, distributing posters and brochures around our service area, tabling at events, hands on clerical or technical support, cleaning and maintaining our facility (Shout out to The Sharon Academy students for the recent work days!), answering the hotline, collecting petition signatures for town appropriation requests (Civics in action!), co-presenting with staff at school or community trainings, fundraising and more.

Lifelong activism can begin at a very young age.  One such high school student was Jeanelle Achee.  She was willing to the interviewed about her childhood experiences of being exposed to a batterer in a YATF newsletter issue focusing on resiliency.  While still in high school, she completed Safeline’s advocacy training and covered hotline shifts.  When she went to college, her pager went with her and she continued to cover hotline for us, eventually making the transition to covering the hotline at the local Network Program serving that area.  As an adult, and during her tenure as Miss Vermont, she has continued doing extensive domestic and sexual violence outreach, education and direct service.

More and more schools encourage or require community service of their students, so please keep the youth volunteer opportunities at your local Network Program on mind.  Volunteer opportunities may vary from program to program.

Eye of the Beholder

by guest youth writer Kyrsta Patnoe, intern/volunteer, Clarina Howard Nichols Center

Picture this; the cool summers wind blowing through your hair, your hands wrapped around their neck, and in that moment, everything is perfect. The moon shining down onto your bodies, the stars twinkling in the night, and the only sound to be heard is the soft music the two of you dance to. If you were to see two shadows dancing in the night, you wouldn’t think anything of it. Just two people madly in love, making some beautiful memories. You’d think the guy was being a romantic, but what if the porch light shined out, and you saw the two girls swaying to the beat of the music. Everything you felt before, gone?

It shouldn’t matter who you date, no matter the gender. Love is love, and when you feel Continue reading

Sexuality Education is a Life-Long Process

by Sarah Elliott, Sexual Violence Specialist, The Advocacy Program at Umbrella (Newport Office)

Having just completed my first WholeSomeBodies workshop, I believe that this is the key to getting sex education into schools. After seeing participants’ realize how much the world impacts us as adults, and even more so as children, it’s evident that this is a workshop anyone working with children should attend.

As an undergrad, in order to graduate I had to take “Seminar in Educational Inquiry” and complete a final research project. I did mine on why sex education needed to be taught beginning at an early age and continued as a set program throughout the school years. At that point in my life I had never done advocacy and the only sex education I got was the “puberty video” in sixth grade and family health and wellness my junior year of high school. I had taken Intro to Psychology and Human Growth and Development as college courses but other than that, I had no idea what the world of sexuality education meant. I recently read over the paper I wrote, dated December 3, 2008, and from what I have learned since working here and attending many trainings, I was actually on the right track. Some of my information is not quite accurate and could use updating, but for the most part, even at that point in my life seven years ago, I knew something needed to change. I also knew that it wasn’t going to be an easy thing to do. In my 2008 paper I said,

“Sex ed is difficult to teach because controversy surrounds the subject from religious, parental and societal perspectives. If a parent does not want his child to learn about sex, can the school override him? Students are sent to school to learn what is right, so is it all right for a parent to deny his child the right to learn, when sex ed is only a subject Continue reading

The Link Between Animal Abuse and Domestic Violence

by Matt Renaud, Youth Advocate at AWARE, and trusty four-legged sidekick Marley

Many of you who are reading this are well aware that domestic violence has a significant impact on the physical and psychological well-being and healthy development of children, even if the children are not the direct victims of that violence.  In this post, I’d like to turn your attention to another resident of the home who experiences the same negative impacts of domestic violence, but may not always be viewed as a victim of domestic violence.

The Connection

From hermit crabs to horses, domestic violence can have a profound impact on our pets.  Many people consider their pets to be a part of the family and that makes violence directed or threatened at our pets all the more serious.  The National LINK Coalition works to educate people on the connection between human and animal violence.   They see animal abuse and neglect as the tip of the iceberg in domestic violence, child abuse, and elder abuse situations.  In other words, animal abuse is generally a warning sign that the perpetrator is capable of other forms of violence if he Continue reading

Great video on how kids’ brains are built!

Hi Friends – taking a minute to connect you to Let’s Grow Kids!

Let’s Grow Kids, a Vermont statewide public education campaign, aims to raise understanding of the importance of the earliest years in the lives of Vermont’s children. Funded by a collaboration of private foundations, Let’s Grow Kids is working with Vermont communities, organizations, businesses and individuals to create positive lasting change that will allow all of our children to succeed in life.

Did you know that our children’s earliest experiences literally shape how their brains are built? Science tells us that during the earliest years, when the brain is developing most rapidly, children need nurturing relationships with adults and stimulating learning opportunities, like reading, singing, talking and playing, for healthy development.

Watch this excellent 4-minute video by The Alberta Family Wellness Initiative explaining the brain science of early development—and the factors that contribute to preparing our children for success:

How Brains are Built: The Core Story of Brain 

To learn more about early childhood development, check out Let’s Grow Kids, a statewide public education campaign about the first years, at letsgrowkids.org.

Let’s Talk About College: A Look at Sexual Violence in Campus Culture

by Ally Manousos, Prevention Program Coordinator, Sexual Assault Crisis Team

It’s the time of year when high school seniors are cramming for tests, applying to colleges, and anxiously awaiting acceptance letters in the mail. They’re getting ready to embark on a new phase of their life, full of independence, growth, and learning. For anyone who has a loved one on this journey, they know there are plenty of mixed feelings; there’s excitement, nostalgia for their little one becoming an adult, and at the back of their mind (if not on the forefront of their thoughts) there is a small aching fear about everything that could possibly go wrong. Recent statistics show that 1 in 5 women will experience sexual violence while attending college. Considering the fact that sexual violence is a historically under-reported crime (so the stats may be higher than we realize), and that around 24 million people are enrolled in college in the United States, this is not a statistic we can take lightly.Featured image

Ending campus sexual violence has been at the forefront of many discussions in the media lately. With the establishment of the recent White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, this issue has gained national attention signaling positive change and action to improve the lives of many thousands of students. The Task Force is responsible for the new Campus SAVE Act, which holds colleges and universities more accountable than ever before when it comes to responding to sexual violence. This is great news because it is forcing colleges and universities to review their policies and ensure they are meeting the needs of victims who want to report. However, although stricter requirements from the administration may slowly help with reporting and adjudication, this is not solving the root of the problem- rape culture is rampant on college campuses nationwide. Rape culture is “a complex set of beliefs that encourage male sexual aggression and supports violence against women. It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent. In a rape culture, women perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself. A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm. In a rape culture,both men and women assume that sexual violence Continue reading

5 Things About Sexting that Aren’t Legalese

by Amanda Rohdenburg, Director of Advocacy, Outright Vermont

1. First things first:  Sexting is a slang word created by pushing ‘sex’ and ‘texting’ together.  So then ‘sexting’ is a sexual text exchange, sometimes including nude pictures.  It can happen through a whole range of social media (Facebook, Twitter), electronic devices (computers, camera phones, tablets), and applications (i.e. SnapChat).

2. All ages of people send these types of messages, not just teens.  Members of Congress, celebrities.  It’s endorsed openly in popular magazines; in 2013 Cosmo published an article listing partial nude pics among activities on so-called first base. The roots of the abuse of this media aren’t in the technology or the kids; they’re embedded in the same sexist, violent bedrock that supports all kinds of sexual violence.

3. Consent is a huge concern when it comes to sexting. Consent can only exist when there is a balance of power including: awareness of consequences both positive and negative–AND what it means for the relationship; Continue reading

I’m Not So Sure How to Say This: Is Preventing Rape Different from Promoting Equality?

by Kerry Holden, Violence Prevention Specialist, Umbrella

 The Green Dot Bystander Intervention Strategy was touted to be bold, fun, effective, and interesting. What people forgot to tell me was it is blatantly not feminist and, in fact, purposefully left the educational path of gender socialization, historical and persistent sexism, and healthy relationships. In just the first hours of the training, I heard something along the lines of:

“If we continue to follow the expectations that the majority have of feminists, of people who come into classrooms, community centers, and onto campuses to discuss gender inequality and socialization, we will continue to be ineffective and the sexual assault numbers will continue to rise. We need not to turn every single citizen into a social justice-blaring, femi-nazi, though that would be pretty awesome, but what we do need to do is stop rape. And we need to stop it now.”

The training continued to put words and research to a phenomenon I had not yet described but know all too well: individuals tend to tune out and opt out of participation in my presentations. Violence prevention, rape statistics, media literacy, gender socialization- I could not imagine how the topics could be more interesting. Fortunately for me, there are always a solid handful of individuals who endeared themselves to my social-justice framework and had done some research and thinking of their own. But males, popular students, jocks, drama nerds, red necks, loners all remained elusive to really diving into the material. You name the clique and I promise you, I have tried to get them on board.

Admittedly, I was relieved to hear my experience was not unique. Though, as stated and restated throughout the training, it was my responsibility to change my experience and that of the individuals with whom I work.

If someone has tuned out of your presentation, it’s not because they’re a real jerk or basking in their male privilege or because they hate women. It’s because your presentation is boring and, likely, they’ve heard it all before.

The Green Dot Bystander Intervention Strategy operates on one basic premise: most people fundamentally disagree with violence of any kind. If you can agree with the one premise, you too can prevent sexual assault and interpersonal violence. Do you think violence is terrible? Don’t think rape is okay? Happen to greatly enjoy your male privilege and refuse to own up to it? Great. Let’s end rape.

Here’s a scenario that nudged a shift in my thinking:      Continue reading