Survivors as Caregivers

By Brittany Lafirira, Youth Advocate, H.O.P.E. Works

Being a survivor of sexual violence is hard. You go through times where your assault or abuse doesn’t cross your mind and then, suddenly something happens and it’s all you think about. Becoming a parent or caregiver is sometimes the thing that triggers past thoughts or feelings. While we often hear that being pregnant and starting a family is the best thing that can happen to someone, there isn’t a lot of talk about how scary and harmful that process can be.

A lot of research has been done on how becoming pregnant can impact survivors. It changes your hormone levels and can be a painful feeling like you have less control over your body. Once the baby is born the risk of post-partum depression increases with being a survivor. If you are a survivor and are thinking about starting a family there are many resources available. Often times Midwives will be more trauma informed and can help make check-ups and the birthing process as comfortable as possible for you. Talking to them about your past trauma will help you get the care you need. For some reading and other resources check out:

For resources on pregnancy and surviving trauma see here and here.

Something that isn’t often talked about is what happens once the baby is born. How trauma can manifest in different ways. Adoptive and Step-Parents are also often left out Continue reading

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Exposed and Uncovered – Child Sexual Abuse in Your Community: How it Happens, How to Respond Part II

 

By Laura Young, Youth Advocate, Umbrella

On Friday, June 9th a local St. Johnsbury counselor was arrested for sexual assault of a child (a 14 year old young man) and recording a sex act of a minor. Many of our community members have been left reeling and angry. In my role as the Youth Advocate at Umbrella in St. Johnsbury, I would like to continue to share my thoughts on how this happens and what to do if your community has been affected by child sexual abuse.

  1.  Child sexual abuse is common and a person who sexually abuses a child could have multiple if not many children that they are abusing.

According to the organization Child Lures Prevention: “Male offenders who abused girls had an average of 52 victims each, men who molested boys had an astonishing average of 150 victims each, and only 3% of these crimes had ever been detected.” These statistics only reflect men who perpetrate sexual violence.  Although offenders are overwhelmingly male, it is estimated that women are the abusers in about 14% of cases reported among boys and 6% of cases reported among girls (Statistics on Perpetrators of Child Sexual Abuse, National Victims of Crime).

  1.  It’s not easy to know how to respond to child sexual abuse, especially when it’s someone well known in the community.

Knowing “how” child sexual abuse can occur can be helpful but, when an incident happens, the information on “how” is often less important to the community affected by Continue reading

Exposed and Uncovered – Child Sexual Abuse in Your Community: How it Happens, How to Respond Part I

 

By Laura Young, Youth Advocate, Umbrella

On Friday, June 9th a local St. Johnsbury counselor was arrested for sexual assault of a child (a 14 year old young man) and recording a sex act of a minor. Many of our community members have been left reeling and angry. How can a man with that level of trust in the community rape a young boy? Not to mention the question lying in the back of our heads as advocates and concerned community members-how many more children did he violate?

I recently watched the movie Spotlight which covered the way that the Boston Globe brought to light the sexual violence occurring within the Catholic Church in the early 2000’s. I couldn’t help but think of this movie as I think of the actions of the counselor in St. Johnsbury. In both situations, the priests and, in this case the counselor, used their standing in the community to cover up their actions.

At this point, when I think of those in authority who abuse children there’s so much I could say. I could keep you reading for days but I will try and sum up just a few (okay, seven) of my thoughts on how this happens and what to do if your community has been affected by child sexual abuse.  Here are three of my thoughts…watch for Part II for the rest!

  1.  An abusive person from outside of the family is generally a trusted, well liked member of a community and of a child’s life.

First, it is important to note that, according to the National Sex Offender Public Website, 30% of perpetrators of child sexual abuse are members of the child’s family.

Of the 70% that are not family members, we tend to have this image in our minds of a perpetrator of a man in a white van offering candy to small children. Although sexual abuse by strangers does happen (10%), the truth is that 60% of perpetrators of child sexual abuse are people well known in the victim’s family or the surrounding community. Someone with the communities’ trust and respect. Perhaps we like to think of the man offering candy as a way to protect ourselves from thinking that we may give our trust to someone who could violate our child but this is not the (horrible) truth. Taking a look at the National Center for Victims of Crime’s website we learn that “3 out of 4 adolescents who have been sexually assaulted were victimized by someone they knew well.” This includes individuals that their family and community knew well too.

Often, perpetrators look for places to work or volunteer where they will be around children. They will make an effort to get close to the child’s caregiver and earn their trust or look for a child who does not have actively involved adults. They may intentionally be a friend to families who are having family difficulties and they may hang out in places where children frequent, they may offer to coach or mentor children etc.

Also, people who are seeking to abuse children may use their ties to religious organizations, sports or schools (or in St. Johnsbury’s case their work in a counseling office) to their advantage. Within these organizations, children are taught to trust and respect whomever their authority is (as they should be able to do). Additionally, by being involved in the community, especially in religious organizations the perpetrator has established themselves as someone who shares certain values which causes some parents and some community members to naturally be more trusting of this individual because they hold them to a higher moral standard.

  1.  A sexual predator will groom their victim and their victim’s family as well as the surrounding community

Grooming is an action that a sexual predator takes in order to earn the trust of a child and Continue reading

Brock Turner & Prison Justice: When the Liberation We Seek is Beyond Words

By Lucy Basa, Victim Advocate at HOPE Works

This piece represent the personal opinions, beliefs, and ideas of the author, and not necessarily those of H.O.P.E. Works.

Over the course of the last couple weeks, the public exchange around Brock Turner’s rape of a woman near Stanford’s campus has coalesced into a deep and multifaceted conversation reinvigorating our country’s complex and often discordant opinions around the reality of sexual violence on college campuses and throughout all our communities. Although, as always, there is a strong contingent of people victim-blaming and excusing Turner’s actions (his father among them), there seems to be an even stronger following of people advocating for the experience of the survivor, and the healing, safety, and needs of survivors everywhere. It is between these two largely dichotomous public discussions that I find myself, somewhat mired, to a host of difficult questions.

As I sit at my office desk, my kitchen table, my steering wheel, my front stoop, I have a hard time putting into words the staggering mess of emotions I find myself sitting in around this case and so many others like it. As a white woman, a queer and femme person, a survivor, it is painful, complicated, and difficult work to make sense of events like these and the multiple planes of violence and oppression that come to demand our attention and careful understanding.

What does it mean to learn to hold multiple, coexisting truths? To hold knowledge of the earth-shattering pain of rape compounded by such resounding silence from lawyers, Continue reading

Clarina Happenings!

Part II

Engaging Kids by Getting Outside

By Allyson Scanlon, Family & Youth Advocacy Specialist, Clarina Howard Nichols Center

It is that time again… school is coming to an end for the year and the weather in VT is actually pretty GREAT! It also means that it is a wonderful opportunity to get the time and attention of kids who may be significantly struggling with any number of things. For lots of kids, school may actually be preferable than spending every day at home this summer.

That’s why I feel one of the most important programs we offer through Clarina is our Summer Youth Program. Writing this blog, I’m realizing I should probably try to come up with a more exciting name for it, but the good news is that I have been coordinating and facilitating the program for the past four years and kids keep coming so we must be doing something right!

As an individual who is passionate about the outdoors and physical activity, I just see so many links to positivity, friendship strengthening and growth, self-esteem, team-building and confidence-boosting that can be formed simply by engaging in outdoor activity. Not to mention, here we are blessed to be nestled in the beauty of the Green Mountains. That beauty, especially in summer, is something impossible to ignore. I have witnessed kids bonding simply due to the need to walk single file on a narrow mountain trail. Kids who normally tend to follow begin taking the lead because they may be older and feel they finally have a reason to take on a leadership role. Simply meeting a group of new friends, and the feeling of a clean slate that comes along with that – combined with going places they have never been before and/or doing things they simply haven’t done, such as swimming in a pool at the bottom of a natural mountain waterfall – can coax out pieces of a child’s personality that are typically guarded; and not lightly.

Last year we were extremely fortunate to connect with a local horse farm, Hope Grows. Their mission is to encourage personal growth in children and families. They also strive to Continue reading

Empathy Books: Big Emotions in Little Bodies

By Savannah Williams, Youth Advocate, The Advocacy Program of Umbrella

I have been an advocate for a little over 11 years, but I’m not only an advocate I’m a mommy too, as I may have mentioned in past blog posts. Since I became a mommy I feel like I have one foot in each world. Sometimes the two worlds will mesh together, but there a times when I want to keep them apart. There are things that I’m not ready to teach my son about yet. People told me that parenting was going to be hard, but I guess I never really believed them until now.

I feel like with the experience and tools that I have learned throughout the years to share with other parents have helped me be the mom that I am today. By no means am I perfect. Nope, not at all. There are days when I think, “Is this going to bite me in the butt when my son is a teenager?” I guess we will see.

I’ve learned the importance of teaching children the right names for their private parts to enhance sexual violence prevention. Ever since my son was born I made sure to teach him the correct terminology. When he was three he decided to tell the cashier that he had a penis and asked her if she had a vagina. The cashier looked at me in horror, and I was having this internal debate on whether I should tell him to hush or use this as a teaching moment. So, I looked at her and asked her, “Well, do you?” Hoping she would be kind enough to share the moment with me, and she did. She was pretty great about actually after she too got over the initial embarrassment.

Which brings me to another tool that I found very useful, making empathy books.

We know that children learn about their emotions, behavior, relationships and how to develop empathy from the adults in their lives. As adults in children’s lives we need to Continue reading

Chicken Soup for the Anti-Cisheteropatriarchal Soul

by Rachel Rudi, Youth & Family Services Coordinator, Circle

For the past few weeks, I’ve trudged home from meetings around eight in the evening, eaten something from a box and fallen asleep by 8:35. Sunlight is scarce. Work has not been easy. My body is achey and aggravated and I am impatient, but a large part of me loves those stretches of time that push your limits and force you to be your own friend. Knowing this is not a permanent schedule, where do our minds go when personal growth and community are put on the back burner? Are we comfortable with that inwardness? 

In order to invigorate and sooth myself, I’ve been turning to the videos of StyleLikeU, a mother-and-daughter team who seek out the stories which inform individuals’ style and fashion choices. Dozens of people, largely women and queer folks, spend ten minutes connecting their body to their pain, resistance, and self-possession, slowly removing articles of clothing and getting deeper into why we present to the world as we do. Not only are these testimonies phenomenal educational tools for young people, and not only are they an interesting presence in the fashion world, but they give me enormous hope. Something about the process is so beautifully transcendent and connecting. I am reminded to spend time learning my story, reminded of the ways our lives weave in and out of cultural and historical narratives, reminded that we are encouraged to classify violences and thus isolate ourselves, and our anti-violence work, from the liberation. That is the inwardness I love about this season: the meditations. 

 

 

I first learned of StyleLikeU from following DarkMatter, a duo of south asian trans poets
Alok Vaid-Menon and Janani Balasubramanian. The two have brilliant politics that cut into the truth of identities, languages, and colonialist cisheteropatriarchy. Do yourself a Continue reading

Staying Positive

 

by Matt Renaud Youth Advocate and Prevention Educator, AWARE

 

Earlier today, I saw a news story titled, As pressure mounts, ISIS militants hide behind kids.  The title really says it all – ISIS militants are now literally using children as shields to avoid being targeted by U.S. military forces.  This story was kind of the proverbial icing on the cake for me after the recent events in Paris, Colorado, and California.  Even though all of these events seem to be terrorism-related at this point, it’s not even the terrorism that has me feeling down, it’s the amount of violence in general in our world that seems to be increasing as of late (or maybe the media is just paying more attention to it) and how there seem to be more and more innocent people (including many children) getting caught in the crossfire either literally or indirectly.

After seeing this news story and reflecting on recent events, I thought I’d look for some positive news stories involving youth to share in my post because it seems to me that one way to effectively “combat” this ongoing violence is to promote positivity.  Sorry for a short post this time around – I just wanted to share some uplifting stuff (more for my own self-care than anything), so I hope you enjoy the following links!  By the way, I read more news sources than just CBS, that’s just the site I happened to be searching on.  I’m usually more of a Fox News person (just kidding!).

I hope everyone has a great holiday season and let’s keep in mind how much we all have to be truly thankful for, even in the face of such senseless violence.

Twin Boys Reunited with their WWII Hero

On The Road:  Explaining Terrorist Attacks to Children

7 Year Old Donates Money in Piggy Bank to Vandalized Mosque

No More Hugging Grandma (without consent)!!!!!  

by Laura Young, Youth Advocate, Umbrella

About a month ago, I had the awesome opportunity to visit a local school to talk with some 7th and 8th graders about supporting survivors of sexual violence. It was a heavy topic that I was supposed to help “teach”, but I ended up being taught a lesson or two myself while in class. The lesson that stuck with me the most is on the importance of modeling consent to kids and teens.

Consent isn’t a new topic by any means. Most people think of consent as a term that expresses the importance of receiving a clear and uninhibited “yes” before engaging with an action that is sexual. Coming into class, sex is what I automatically associated the word consent with. However, while engaging with the class, the teacher of the class demonstrated a valuable lesson to me that helped me realized consent is about so much more.

As part of the class, the students were given assigned readings for the activity. One 7th Continue reading

On Naming Patriarchy, and an Advocacy of Trusting Children’s Leadership

by Rachel Rudi, Youth and Family Coordinator, Circle, Washington County

“Within white supremacist capitalist patriarchy children do not have rights. Feminist movement was the first movement for social justice in this society to call attention to the fact that ours is a culture that does not love children, that continues to see children as the property of parents to do as they will. […] Simply calling attention to male sexual abuse of children has not created the climate where masses of people understand that this abuse is linked to male domination, that it will end only when patriarchy is eliminated.”

                                                                        – bell hooks, Feminism is for Everybody

Six weeks ago, as I stepped into Circle’s Youth Advocate position, a longtime anti-domestic violence worker said to me, “Just to be clear, we don’t think of ourselves as a social service. We think of ourselves as a social justice movement.”

I’ve been chewing on this clarification, this seemingly clear delineation, as I try to see how I’ll wear the role. I have no social work degree, little formal schooling in education or psychology, no firsthand experience with intimate partner violence. I’ve been both panicked and calm about the learning curve: lessons in childhood development, statistics on violence, Vermont law and its shortcomings, endless acronyms, fear of saying the wrong thing to a person in pain. As I meet with survivors, children, medical professionals, family members, social workers, local politicians, law enforcement, advocates and counselors, I scrutinize my own credibility and question my ability to advocate for youth.

But in even the most clinical of these meetings something is invariably said that knocks the wind out of everyone and we sit in an unscripted moment of grief. There’s that communal sigh, a bewilderment at such a normalized culture of terror, a grasping for a Continue reading