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

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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

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

Are you an adult ally? Do you want to be an adult ally?

By: Carmen Fisher-Olvera, age 15, Intern at H.O.P.E. Works in Burlington, Vermont

Being an adult ally is very crucial to youth and children. The word “ally” means different things for different people. The most common response in a survey that I recently collected from children and teens ages 13-21, showed Continue reading