Remember When They Said “Suck It Up, Buttercup?”

by Laura Young, Youth Advocate at Umbrella in St. Johnsbury

Adultism. Do you know what that word means or have you heard it used before? I did not before I became an advocate. See, adultism is a form of ageism (ageism is defined as a discrimination against a specific age group). More often than not, ageism is talked about in terms of discrimination against the elderly. In fact, the dictionary makes no mention of the word “adultism”. However, unlike racism, homophobia, gender or disability discrimination (etc.), adultism is a discrimination we all have experienced at some point, and sadly, we all have probably unknowingly acted on this discrimination.

Do you remember what it was like to feel little? To feel ignored? To feel like your opinion wasn’t valued or that you, as a child were of lesser value then an adult? Honestly, I would be surprised if you did not remember that feeling. Adultism is so engrained in our culture it is second nature and pervasive in so many areas of life. Adultism influences even how our bathrooms are constructed (children often can’t reach the sink, nor can they get on the toilet without assistance!)

Do you remember a time you wanted to talk about something that mattered to you and you were told “children are to be seen, not heard?” Do you remember getting hurt-really hurt Continue reading

Checking the Pulse on Youth Advocacy and Prevention Education Work

by Matt Renaud, Youth Advocate & Prevention Educator at AWARE

I’ve been the Youth Advocate & Prevention Educator at AWARE for a little over two years now and I’m finally starting to feel grounded in what this job is all about.  That being said, I also feel that the field of youth advocacy (and advocacy in general) has been shifting during the course of my time at AWARE and that it continues to shift.  Maybe this is the way it has always been – the only thing that stays the same is that everything changes.  After all, in order to best meet the needs of the people we serve, we need to be constantly evolving.  I got curious about how other Youth Advocates and/or Prevention Educators have experienced change, success, and challenge in their role, so I sent out a set of questions to my colleagues across the state.  Responses came from people who have been in this work anywhere from one year to over a decade.  Here is a picture of where youth advocacy in Vermont is headed, straight from the horse’s mouth.

 Where do you see our work as Youth Advocates and/or Prevention Educators headed in the future?

Savannah Williams from Umbrella North in Newport explained, “Schools used to be really hesitant [about working with advocacy programs] before Act One was passed, but now Youth Advocates & Prevention Educators are seen more as allies than as strangers in certain communities.”

Bobbi Gagne from the Sexual Assault Crisis Team (SACT) in Barre describes the future of advocacy as “Learning from youth what they see as issues they face rather than us deciding what issues they see as important.”

What’s your favorite part about being a Youth Advocate and/or Prevention Educator?

Laura Young from Umbrella South in St. Johnsbury says, “My favorite part of being a Youth Advocate and Prevention Educator is all of the relationships that I have been able to build Continue reading

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

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

The Last Girl

By Amy Torchia, Children’s Advocacy Coordinator, Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence

(Excerpted from the Spring 2016 Vermont Network Newsletter)

A world where every last girl is valued, safe and able to reach her full potential

As the Network moves forward to actualize our purpose to create a world free of oppression, we envision a world where every last girl is valued, safe and able to reach her full potential. The “last girl” is a helpful metaphor that we use to understand the complexity of oppression and focus our efforts.  Where the last girl thrives, so too will her entire community because she is the most marginalized of them.  As a child advocate who has worked in the violence against women’s movement for many years, I feel hopeful.  I see that we now have an opportunity to talk about and engage young people in a way that we have not before – all because we have said that we want the last girl to thrive.

The Network is committed to examining how multiple forms of oppression compound to impact individuals and communities.  This path leads us right to the last girl.  She is oppressed because of her gender, further oppressed if she is a person of color or may be oppressed because of her ability or class.  She is also oppressed because she is a child.  Although her status as a child is a part of her identity that she will outgrow, it is connected to her other identities – and together they can create a deep rooted set of barriers.

Ultimately, we cannot make the world a better place for the last girl unless we look at all that oppresses her including the power that adults have over children – adultism.  On one hand, it is the hardest form of oppression to confront because it is us who are the 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

Book review: Sex is a Funny Word

By Brittany Lafirira, Youth Advocate, HOPE Works

One thing I will always be thankful for is my love of reading. This is something that my parents have encouraged from a very young age and something that follows me today. I read a variety of different things and enjoy when I can share my love of books with other people. One book that I have read recently and enjoyed is the book called Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth.

sex is a funny word

The very first page of the book is a letter to the grown up reader. It talks about how this book is meant to be read over time and that it is meant to be inclusive and non judgmental.  Each section starts with a comic that 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