Naming Trauma

By a guest Youth writer from Outright Vermont

Content warning:  This post is a very honest, up front account of surviving sibling abuse.  The content may be difficult to read.

When we are constantly told that our family is supposed to be the ones closest to us, the ones to shield us from harm, to care for us, to help us grow, it can be difficult to recognize and name when they become our abusers. We can minimize our own struggles with domestic violence, especially since it can seem so unreal when it’s happening.

Growing up, my brother was always the one that assaulted me physically. He had a powerful temper, like an orchestra reaching crescendo repeatedly. He has 3 years, just over a foot in height, and about 100 pounds on me. If something didn’t go his way, he would quickly let it be known; first with his words, then with his fists.

I often wore scarves throughout high school. Part of it was a fashion statement, but they were such a convenient accessory because they hid the thick, finger-shaped bruises he left on my neck when he throttled me. I always covered myself up fully, for fear of showing Continue reading

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What Teens Really Need from Us

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

My personal lesson this month has been about adolescent development and the responsibilities that adults have in the lives of teens.

At a training this week, I heard a scenario of a middle school relationship.  The boy sent abusive accusing jealous texts to his girlfriend.  The boy had lots of unhealthy relationships to watch and model, transition and trauma to contend with – not to mention the experience of racism and a culture dominated by male privilege telling him that he had the right to exert this kind of control over his partner.  The girl was from a home with lots of healthy models but nonetheless a girl hearing from the larger world to be strong and stand up for herself and, at the same time, take care of her boyfriend’s needs and watch the length of her shorts.  How confusing is all that to figure out?  We adults want them both to succeed, be safe and happy, and learn about and engage in healthy relationships.  But, they can’t do it without us.  They are only 14.

We lost a teen boy in our community last night.  He was swimming with friends in the pond, went under and didn’t resurface.  We don’t know what happened yet.  Most likely he was dehydrated or had a cramp.  This beautiful young man’s life was cut short and his family, friends and community are devastated.  He was only 17.

I have been watching his friends on facebook.  They are sharing stories, expressing their love for him, their love for each other and offering to spend time together and talk.  They have created a beautiful safe forum to grieve together and support one another.  I have a worry, though.  I have seen a few invitations to go out and get blasted together in honor of him and a few stories of reckless and unsafe behavior.  In the wake of the death of a friend, Continue reading

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

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

Praise My Journey, Not My Intelligence

By “Tabitha”, Age 16

My mom always tells me that I’m doing a good job at home and school. She would surprise me by placing small motivational notes in my lunchbox when I was in elementary school. They would always say how she loved me and to keep up the good work.

Her notes stopped once I got to middle school. I guess she feels they would embarrass me. She is so right!  But, she has never stopped praising me for doing my work. My teachers do the same. They tell me how smart I am. I believe them…sometimes. Secretly, I think what they are saying is a joke. I hate to disappoint the adults in my life, so I play it safe. At home and school, I take on easy projects and assignments. Also, I do my best to look smart. What is this? Where is my confidence?

Educationalist, Carol Dweck, says the problem maybe with how the adults in my life are praising me. In Carol Dweck’s TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) Talk, she explains her theory on Mindsets and how they are relevant to developing a child’s potential. Ms. Dweck explains how children view their intellect and abilities by what Mindset they hold. Her research concluded that two types of Mindsets exist in children, Fixed and Growth.

Children with Fixed Mindsets believe they have limited intelligence and abilities. They tend to be afraid to try new things and take risk. They are fearful of looking dumb and stupid in front of their peers. Looking smart is very high on their list of importance and they will go out their way to hold on to this image. They also believe setbacks and failures 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

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

Supporting Queer, Trans, and Questioning Youth

by Amanda Rohdenburg, Director of Advocacy, Outright Vermont
So a youth in your life has come out to you.  Congratulations! This is a huge step for them, and the perfect time for you to show up as an ally in their lives. 
According to the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are four times more likely than their hetero peers to experience sexual assault, four times more likely to skip school because they feel unsafe, and six times more likely to attempt suicide.  The survey doesn’t ask about the experience of trans or gender-nonconforming youth,but increased marginalization often puts youth at further risk.  According to the Trevor Project, “Two key suicide risk factors for LGBT people are individual-level factors such as depression and experiences of sigma and discrimination, including anti-LGBT hostility, harassment, bullying and family rejection. There is growing evidence that the two factors are linked.”   
It is so important that queer, trans, and questioning youth have adults in their lives who are validating and supportive of their identities:  A teenager isn’t going to bring their problems Continue reading