“Want to be an activist?  Start with your toys.”

By Judy Szeg, Educator, Safeline

All too often, adults seem to think that youth should be followers, not leaders.  That they should not challenge the status quo, if for no other reasons than that challenging the status quo is difficult and we adults feel that those efforts are not likely to be successful.

Thirteen year old McKenna Pope proved us wrong several years ago when she took on an issue, gender stereotype toys, which was important to her.  Her younger brother was interested in cooking but the conventional cooking toy, the Easy-Bake Oven, was designed in “girly” colors and only featured girls in its advertisements.  So, McKenna began a Change.org petition to request that toy giant Hasbro change the design of the oven and the way it is advertised.  She raised over 45,000 signatures and Hasbro agreed to make the changes she suggested.

Hear what she has to say about her endeavor in the following TED talk and, adults, take note!

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Students and Gender Norms

By Megan Fariel, Hartford High School Alum

Guest Youth Writer and former Intern at WISE

In high school, I have noticed more gender-based traditions than in elementary and middle school. Prom, football culture, and dating in high school all seem to have some pretty clear gender expectations: The guy has to ask the girl to prom, girls wear their boyfriend’s jerseys, and so on.

Why doesn’t this happen before middle school?  While there surely is a biological change associated with puberty and development, I think a lot if it must be due to environment. Students may not realize that media consumption, role models, and exposure to new ideas can shape how they think. For example, a younger student might be more inclined to the views of his or her parents than an older student, because the younger student has not been exposed to new ideas yet.

Last fall, I decided to test this idea out with a survey of students in my school district to see how gender norms may affect us differently as we get older. I surveyed fourth, seventh, and tenth graders, for a total of ninety-five usable surveys. I asked questions that Continue reading

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

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

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

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

Much Doo-Doo About Nothing

By Amanda Rohdenburg – she/her, Director of Advocacy, Outright Vermont

There has been a lot of talk about bathrooms lately.  In the Outright office, in our state, and across the country.  If you haven’t been following: North Carolina—along with some other states—have proposed or passed legislation that forbids transgender people from using public restrooms that correspond to their gender identity.  On a local level, a similar conversation has been going on at Green Mountain Union High School.  Then the federal Departments of Justice and Education published a statement of support for transgender youth to use facilities that correspond to their gender identity in accordance with Title IX.

With transgender rights and bathroom debates gaining such broad attention, a lot of questions have been coming up for folks.  So let’s have a bit of a Q&A!

Q: What does transgender even mean?

A: Transgender describes a person who does not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth.  If a person still identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth, that person is called cisgender.  It’s okay to shorten those words to ‘trans’ and ‘cis,’ so I’ll do that from here on out.

Q: So someone with a different body than mine could be using the same bathroom??

A: Yes! And they do, all the time! All bodies are different, encompass such a huge variety—in size, shape, color, and genitalia.  In fact, the reasons for gender segregated bathrooms 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