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Peace and War Begin at Home: Our Shared Responsibility to End Violence

nflRecent NFL news has been less about impressive plays and game outcomes and more about family violence and league policies. If you have not heard, the NFL and some players have been getting a lot of bad press lately.  A video was released of Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Rice punching his fiancé out cold and dragging her unconscious from an elevator. Evidence and allegations of child abuse recently came to light after Minnesota Vikings’ Adrian Peterson ‘spanked’ his child with a tree branch leaving open wounds and welts over the boy’s legs and genitals.

These occurrences of family violence are unfortunately common in North America. In Canada, one in six women will experience physical violence from an intimate partner and nearly one in three Canadians experience some form of abuse as a child. The Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson stories are not unique. These stories are most certainly being played out in every community to some extent.

There is a lot of debate about how the NFL ought to respond to these incidents. The NFL decided to indefinitely suspend Ray Rice once the video became public, which was long after the NFL knew about the incident. Adrian Peterson was suspended for just one game.

It should be striking to us that if Adrian Peterson had taken the same action against anyone other than his own child (someone else’s child, his wife, his father, a total stranger) there would be no debate about the issue. It would very clearly be assault. If Ray Rice had punched out someone with whom he was not in a relationship, there wouldn’t have been as much wavering on the consequences. Why is it that the most intimate of relationships seem to come with permission to commit crimes against each other?

And what if these events involved the employees of a different workplace? The alarming stats regarding family violence make it clear that the NFL is not the only ‘employer’ dealing with this issue. Would your employer suspend an employee who knocked out his wife? Would there be support for someone who hit their children with branches, leaving them bloodied and bruised? Who is included in the list of responsible parties when families become violent?

In Canada, when it comes to child protection, every single one of us is responsible. Every adult is expected by law to report suspected child abuse to an authoritative body such as Child and Family Services. Children are dependent on adults for nearly everything in their lives and we are all a part of the village that is required to raise them to adulthood.

Many families will experience violence firsthand, but even more families will be bystanders. We are not required by law to report violence between adults, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t be responsible bystanders and lend a helping hand where it is needed. There are countless ways we can all be positive influences on the people around us. Our input can range from being examples of healthy families, or talking to our friends when we think they’re in trouble or causing trouble. In worst case scenarios, we can call 911 when we witness an assault.

Our intimate relationships should not be places of violence. There should not be silent permission to treat our partners and our children far worse than we treat our friends or even strangers. No matter what the situation is around us, we can all take some responsibility for ending violence. If peace and war begin at home, let’s make sure we are all promoting peace with our own families.

If you or someone you know is in danger, please contact the appropriate resources.

How We Talk About Sexual Assault

In Winnipeg last weekend, a woman was sexually assaulted by a cab driver in the middle of the night. She had been at a club and after stumbling on the sidewalk, a cab driver helped the woman into his cab, drove to the area near the address she provided, and then he sexually assaulted her.

The day after this incident, women started sharing their own scary experiences of cab drivers on social media. This story is not a new one. This is not the first time a woman has been sexually assaulted in a cab. This is not the first time a woman has been sexually assaulted after leaving a club. The lack of news reports about these types of occurrences creates a false sense of the actual rates of these incidents. I read this story and thought, “Why are they reporting on this assault and not all the others that have occurred?”

Nevertheless, it is important that these stories reach the general public, even if it is only some of the time.  We know that only about 10-15% of sexual assaults are ever reported to the authorities, so that means for every story we hear about sexual assault, we can assume that there are probably upwards of 8 other stories that we are not hearing.

That being said, just reporting on these incidents is not enough. We need to be careful with how they are reported. There are several concerns that stand out in the way this story was reported in the Winnipeg Free Press and on the CBC website.

Victim Blaming

The victim of this sexual assault had been drinking and every news report made that clear multiple times. It was reported in a matter-of-fact and non-judgmental way but the repeating of it communicates that this was a very important part of the story. If the victim’s alcohol consumption is communicated as a key factor in this story, then the message behind this repetition is “If the victim had not been drinking, none of this would have happened.”

Far too often, the victim is blamed for an assault if it happens when she/he is intoxicated. Victim-blaming messages are way too prevalent in our society. No matter how much someone has had to drink, it is always the perpetrator that is responsible for sexual assault.  Do we think that this woman’s intoxication is what gave the cab driver the idea to sexually assault her? His desire to take advantage of a vulnerable person has nothing to do with her clothes, her actions, or her alcohol consumption. It is all on him. (The “safety tips” in this sketch from The Daily Show are a joke because they won’t keep anyone safe.)

Highlighting the habits of victims when we report on sexual assault does absolutely nothing to address the root causes of why some people want to take advantage of others and engage in non-consensual sexual acts. Yes, there are social forces that encourage men to view women as objects to which they can help themselves, but we still need to hold individuals accountable for their actions while we try to change those harmful social forces.

Misplaced Concern

Despite the “seriousness” of this sexual assault (more on that later), the news reports still spent a significant amount of time addressing concerns that are peripheral to the crime that took place. Winnipeg Councillor Harvey Smith found it necessary to emphasize the good relationship between the Winnipeg Police Service and the taxi companies. He also talked about how few sexual misconduct cases come to the Manitoba Taxicab Board, of which he is a member. He also speculated about whether or not the victim made up these allegations and said it “does not look good” for the cab driver right now.

All of that is incredibly dismissive. Is the relationship between police and taxi drivers the most important concern in this story? Should we really be worried about the job security of the perpetrator of this crime? Raising these political and outlying concerns seems very disrespectful to this particular victim of a violent crime and to all victims of sexual assault. If this incident creates an opportunity to discuss any political issues, it ought to be the issue of women’s safety. Winnipeg was among the first “developed” cities to sign up with the UN Safe Cities Initiative because street harassment of women is a major concern and this story is an example of that first and foremost.

Serious vs. Not So Serious

The sexual assault in this incident has been reported as a serious sexual assault, which begs the question, “Which sexual assaults are not serious?”

If we look at conviction rates for the answer to that question, we would see that sexual assaults are deemed among the least serious of all the violent crimes as they have the second lowest conviction rate. A study of reports to police forces in Ontario found that sexual assault reports had the highest rate of being considered “unfounded” and only a third of reports across Canada lead to charges compared to half of all other violent crime reports.

The criminal code does not distinguish between serious and not serious sexual assault. There is, however, a difference between sexual assault (any unwanted sexual contact) and aggravated sexual assault (any unwanted sexual contact that results in wounding, maiming, disfiguring, or endangering the life of the victim). It sounds like this story is about aggravated sexual assault because the victim was reported to have been injured during the sexual assault.

Calling this a serious sexual assault is someone’s subjective take on the situation, not the legal description of what happened. Of course this is a story about serious sexual assault, but only because every sexual assault is serious. As long as we call some serious and others not, we will keep sending the message to victims that there is no guarantee that what they went through was serious enough to deserve any kind of a response. This also implies to perpetrators of sexual assault that sometimes what they do is not serious and therefore allowed. What we permit, we promote, and if we permit sexual assault of any kind, we are promoting it.

There have been a number of disappointing media stories about sexual assaults over the last few months. The very existence of sexual assault is bad enough; we don’t need to make it worse with the way we talk about it in the media. We can do so much better than this! We owe it to victims of sexual assault to honour their experiences when we report on them by making their concerns the central feature of the story.

Book Review: The Guy’s Guide to Feminism

The Guys Guide to FeminismBy: Michael Kaufman and Michael Kimmel

Feminism is often understood as a women’s topic that only engages ideas that matter to women. In The Guy’s Guide to Feminism, Michael Kaufman and Michael Kimmel turn that assumption on its head and use humour to explain why feminism is not only important, but also an integral part of life for males and females.

Kaufman is a co-founder of one of Canada’s most successful and internationally lauded charities, the White Ribbon Campaign which encourages men to join the cause of ending violence against women. Kimmel is an author and a sociology professor at State University of New York. Together, they have authored this step-by-step guide for guys. Even though the book is titled as a “guy’s guide,” just like feminism, it is not exclusively for one sex as it is interesting and relevant to everyone.

The book is a comedic encyclopedia that addresses a wide range of topics that are important to feminism and explains how these topics impact the lives of men. Issues such as birth control and domestic violence, consent and rape are redefined as issues that are important to men as well as women. At bottom, feminism is about equality. It is about three things:

1. Recognizing that there is discrimination against females in our world (such as women being stoned to death in Iran, girls being prevented from going to school in Pakistan, and the missing and murdered Aboriginal women of Canada).
2. Acknowledging that discrimination based on sex is not right.
3. Taking action against that discrimination and working in big and small ways to make the world safer for everyone.

The strength of Kaufman and Kimmel’s book is that it is a very accessible and funny introduction to many important issues that are an essential part of men’s and women’s lives. They use short stories, comics, and plenty of jokes to get their message across. The book is perfect for anyone interested in learning more about the basics of feminism and equality. It is also a great read for anyone who hopes to make the tenets of feminism more accessible for others.

The Guy’s Guide to Feminism is available through the SADI Resource section of the Pinawa Public Library.

Expectations of Victims?: Reactions to Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence

Near the end of March, a Nova Scotia woman had a very unfortunate experience with her boyfriend and then with the RCMP. While going through the process of reporting a domestic assault and documenting her injuries, this woman received a disturbing accidental voicemail message from the RCMP.

The officer that called seemed to think he had hung up the phone when in actual fact he left a three minute message. The message consisted of several officers discussing this woman’s case. They discussed the complainant’s emotional state and one of the officers asked if she deserved to get hit and laughed.

It is important to say that this is not typical RCMP behaviour. Canadians are helped by dedicated officers every day and Survivor’s Hope works alongside such officers through the SARAH program. The officers involved in the voicemail message are now subjects of a disciplinary inquiry and an official apology has been issued.

IS THIS A REFLECTION OF US?

This story raises a very important concern and it doesn’t have anything to do with the RCMP. For a moment, let’s just think of the voicemail comments coming from average Canadians, not RCMP officers. Do their comments reflect some of the attitudes of the general public? Do we expect victims of domestic violence or sexual violence to express a limited range of emotional responses? Don’t people deserve help regardless of how they emotionally process an experience?

I am most concerned about the first comments heard on the voicemail message which are about the emotional state of the woman. The officers say that when they talked to the woman about what happened, she said she was afraid her boyfriend would kill her, but according to the officers, she was “very nonchalant,” which they point out a few times. I worry that they were pointing out her nonchalance as if it diminished her report of violence and how threatened she felt.

A LITTLE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE THEORY

Every time we discuss domestic violence, we discuss the cycle of violence, or cycle of abuse. The vast majority of domestic violence happens in a patterned matter. This means that it takes place in a relationship that follows a predictable path of building tension, explosive episode, rationalization, and then pretending normal for a while before the tension builds again and the cycle repeats. This is the cyclical pattern of abusive behaviour and those who are subjected to this behaviour by their partners know this cycle very well.

cycle of violence

It may not be surprising then that a victim of domestic violence can report their experience and their fear in a matter-of-fact nonchalant way. The cycle and the abuse, the fear and the pain are very familiar facets of everyday life. Many people organize their lives around this cycle because their partner controls them with abusive behaviours.

Those who live in the cycle of abuse, both the abusive partner and the victimized partner, can become so accustomed to this pattern that this seems normal. Children who grow up seeing the cycle of abuse in their home may come to believe that these behaviours are normal. Even though violence can be normalized in people’s lives, it does not make it okay and it does not mean that the threat of serious harm or even death is not real.

LEARNING TO COPE

Normalizing the cycle of abuse and violent experiences can be a coping strategy for those trapped in the cycle. It is not that they want this to be normal, but they can become so accustomed to it, that they just try to make it work. No one can live constantly in hyperdrive, in that adrenaline pumping state of fight or flight that happens when we feel threatened. Thus, constant fear becomes normal and can be discussed in nonchalant ways, or even minimized and explained away.

There is no typical or standard reaction to domestic violence or to sexual assault or to any other traumatic experience. The range of responses can be from numb to frenzied, from distracted to fixated, from urgent to avoidant, from guilty and shameful to enraged and vengeful and anything in between. Normalizing fear as a coping strategy is definitely not what everyone does when they are brutalized by domestic violence.

The point is that someone who lives in the cycle of abuse may not have the emotional response that we think is “appropriate” or “normal.” No one – not average citizens, not RCMP officers, not medical staff, not crisis workers – should take that as permission to dismiss a victimized person’s request for help.

OUR REACTION MAKES A DIFFERENCE

When we compare self-reporting surveys to police statistics, we find out that more than 70% of domestic violence and sexual violence does not get reported to the authorities, and that’s a conservative estimate. It is not easy to talk to strangers about these experiences. But when someone is able to talk to another about what has happened, the response of that trusted other is very important and can set the tone for the victimized person’s healing process.

This very unfortunate voicemail message might function as a mirror for us. When we look into this mirror, do we see our own assumptions about domestic violence? Do we judge a victim’s credibility based on how we assess their emotional reaction? We know we should not judge a book by its cover, so let’s make sure we don’t judge people by their outward response.

Sexual Assault Awareness Month: North Eastman Students Confused About Age of Consent

April is Sexual Assault Awareness month. Since the 1970s, organizations across North America and around the world have worked to raise awareness about the medical, legal, social, and emotional impacts of sexual assault.

Despite decades of activism, many misconceptions about sexual assault remain. Survivor’s Hope recently surveyed high school students in North Eastman found that students are unclear about the legal age of consent in Canada.

I had students throughout the North Eastman region complete a short quiz about sexual exploitation as a part of the Reaching Out Program for Survivor’s Hope. There was one question that seemed to stump the students and it was the question about the legal age of consent. More than half of the students did not know the right answer to that question.

It is very important that students know that the legal age of consent is 16. It is equally important that they know, their parents know, and the adults who work with youth know about the additional clauses regarding age of consent, or also referred to as age of protection.

The legal age of consent in Canada changed from 14 years of age to 16 in May 2008. However, the age of consent is 18 when the situation may be exploitative. This means that someone who is 16 or 17 cannot consent to sexual activity with anyone in a position of trust or authority, such as a teacher, coach, boss, or caretaker. Anyone under 18 is also not able to consent to being involved in pornography or prostitution in any way. All adults who engage minors in these activities are committing a criminal offence and should be reported to the RCMP.

There are also “peer group” exceptions in Canada’s criminal code. Someone who is 14 or 15 is legally able to consent to sexual activity with someone who is no more than 5 years older than the youth in question. Similarly, someone who is 12 or 13 is able to consent to sexual activity with someone no more than 2 years older than themselves. Adolescents cannot be charged for consensual sexual activity but any and all non-consensual contact is still illegal.

Canadian statistics on sexual assault and abuse show that 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys experience unwanted sexual acts before the age of 18. The majority of these incidents happen during adolescence and 95% of victims know the person that abused them. All unwanted sexual contact is sexual assault, which is against the law regardless of the ages of the people involved.

Survivor’s Hope Crisis Centre offers immediate sexual assault crisis intervention through the Sexual Assault Recovery and Healing (SARAH) program. When someone experiences a sexual assault, a SARAH worker is available at any time of day or night to assist them at the RCMP detachment or at the hospital. Read more information about myths and facts about sexual assault.

Everyone should take a moment to educate themselves on what the criminal code has to say about this issue because we are all responsible to look out for the children and youth in our communities.

Book Review: Masterminds and Wingmen

masterminds and wingmen coverMasterminds and Wingmen: Helping our boys cope with schoolyard power, locker-room tests, girlfriends, and the new rules of boy world

By: Rosalind Wiseman

Masterminds and Wingmen, by Rosalind Wiseman, is a non-fiction book in a similar vein as her previous book, Queen Bees and Wannabees. While Queen Bees discussed the social dynamics of girls and young women, Masterminds and Wingmen tackles the inner thoughts of boys and young men. Wiseman challenges the notion that boys are inherently simpler or have “less drama” than girls and reveals through interviews and scenarios how much is going on in their lives.

Wiseman insightfully explains many common circumstances teenage boys experience and what that means for their friendships, their relationships with their parents, and their life at school. Rather than dismiss or reduce the challenges that boys face in their day to day life, Wiseman is encouraging and uplifting, writing from a place that speaks to young men on their level. This book is not a trite answer key that gives formulas, but offers some guidance for the people around the young men in question: their families, parents, and community.

The strongest aspect of the book is the interviews Wiseman has included with every topic she covers. Alongside each idea she broaches, statements from pre-adolescent to young adult men are presented – the concept in their own words. Not that Wiseman is not a worthy intelligence on her own, but the effort she’s taken to research and stay true to the common experience boys in North America face only makes the book stronger.

This book is aimed at primarily parents and teachers of teen boys, and likely the ones who will benefit most from it. However, it is an interesting read that exposes the environment in which men in North America grow up. Learning about how boys think and feel informs us in how they think and feel as adult men. Wiseman clearly states that this is not a huge secret to be kept from the young men in your life – rather the opposite. Several times she writes to suggest having a teen boy read it, to add to your experience. This is a valuable resource for everyone, for when we understand how young men are growing up, we all have the power to help change it for the better.

Masterminds and Wingmen is available in the SADI Resource section of the Pinawa Public Library.

Book review by Shannon.

Book Review: A House in the Sky

A House in the SkyA House in the Sky

By: Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett

Amanda Lindhout grew up reading National Geographic in the security of her bedroom to escape domestic violence in her home.  The glossy magazine photos launched her into far off lands to escape the violence close at hand.

Fifteen years later Amanda was off travelling the world to explore those National Geographic locations.  Her worldly adventures were financed by her waitressing job in Calgary.  She was in her early twenties, wandering the world six months of the year, soaking up the culture, and feeling invincible.   As Amanda sought greater adventures she traveled to less pedestrian travel locations and more often to conflict hot-spots.  Not wanting to break from her adventures to return to waitressing in Canada, Amanda worked to develop a career in journalism to support her adventurous lifestyle while on the road.  With little journalism experience or understanding of political terrorism she stepped into Somalia.

Just days after arriving in Somalia with her photojournalist companion, Nigel Brennan, Amanda and Nigel were kidnapped by jihadists and held for ransom.  Their captivity lasted 15 months.  The $3 million ransom was beyond possible for Amanda’s father living on disability and her mother working a minimum wage job.  Nigel’s family were middle class but “mortgaged to the eyeballs.”  Both the Canadian and Australian governments refused to assist with the ransom.  Amanda and Nigel believed they would likely die in Somali.

Fifteen months into captivity, a reduced ransom was paid and Amanda was released.  Amanda’s ordeal in Somalia was brutal.  Sara Corbet, from the New York Times Magazine, assisted Amanda in telling her story.   Amanda’s hope and strength held her together from one day to the next during captivity.  Her capacity to deal with nonstop cruelty surpassed the ability of most human beings.   Amanda’s hope and strength is inspirational and, for this reason, the book is worth the read.

Most amazing, however, is the story that continues after you close the book.  I couldn’t let her story go after the last page so jumped on Google to see what had become of this young woman.  I discovered Amanda Lindhout has returned to Somalia with her organization, The Global Enrichment Foundation, to advocate for improvements for young Somali women.

A House in the Sky is available through the Pinawa Public Library.

Book review by Holly.

Book Review: Wherever I Wind Up

 

whereveriwindupe

Wherever I Wind Up: My quest for truth, authenticity and the perfect knuckleball

By: R.A. Dickey with Wayne Coffey

R.A. Dickey is a knuckleball pitcher with the Toronto Blue Jays.  R.A. Dickey’s book Wherever I Wind Up is a memoir about life’s obstacles, and the place perseverance and faith play in moving forward.  As you follow R.A.’s story you catch yourself frequently asking, “Does this guy ever get a break?”

R.A. is challenged early by his mother’s alcoholism, his father’s absence, and his own experiences with childhood sexual abuse.  Against all odds, R.A. becomes a number one draft choice for the Texas Rangers.  Unfortunately, multiple issues bog down R.A.’s career until he is pushed to reinvent himself as a knuckleballer.

R.A.’s story is a very personal journey opened up for readers.  After years of struggling, R.A. eventually recognized that sexual abuse as a child severely derailed him and all the hiding and dodging had ruined his marriage and his career.  The conflict associated with needing help but not wanting to talk about the abuse clearly identified the issues most adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse struggle with.

As a baseball fan you will find this book is a stunning look at minor and major league baseball. There is, in fact, a lot of baseball talk and little about the abuse (but a lot about the consequences associated with abuse).  Those of us who aren’t baseball fans get the opportunity to learn a little something about baseball while enjoying the story of a man who approaches life with uncommon passion and drive. All readers, regardless of baseball experience, will recognize the role of faith, friends, and family in R.A.’s struggle to reclaim his dream.

Wherever I Wind Up is available through the Pinawa Public Library in the in SADI Resource section.

Book review by Holly

Book Review: I Am Malala

I Am MalalaI Am Malala: The girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban

By: Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb

I Am Malala is the memoir of one of the world’s most famous teenagers even though she is not in films and does not have a new album coming out. Malala Yousafzai is one of few young people internationally renowned for her social activism.

I Am Malala was written after Malala was shot in the head by the Taliban on her way home from school. She was targeted because of her participation with her father in advocating for better access to education for girls in Pakistan. She currently lives with her family in Birmingham, UK which is where she was treated for her injuries.

The book provides a glimpse at the history of Pakistan which helps the reader to better understand the political situation in which Malala has lived. It can be easy to forget that there are individual people behind the headlines about the Taliban and drone attacks, but this book reminds the reader of the humans that are involved in the politics of the Middle East.

Pakistan was the world’s first Islamic nation, established in 1947. After years of political unrest and bouncing back and forth between democracy and dictatorship, Pakistan has become known for the presence of Taliban, particularly in the northern regions.

Malala grew up in Swat in northern Pakistan, a region she describes as a natural paradise. When Malala began attending school, she could walk to school freely and proudly. But over ten short years, she has had to change what she wears to school, hide her books, enter the school only through a private entrance, and eventually stop attending altogether.

To hear the story of Pakistan’s experience of the Taliban from this teenaged girl is at times infuriating. The stories of competing with her classmates and watching TV with her brothers show us that Malala is like millions of other children around the world. Why would such a girl seem to be a threat to an international terrorist group? However, Malala’s international blogging at age 11 and meeting with politicians to expand girls’ education also show us how exceptional she is. It also shows us the power of education which is precisely why the Taliban tried to kill Malala.

In Canada, it is easy to take public education for granted. It is not dangerous to promote education or attend school here. In fact, we’re more likely to complain about the systems we have! I Am Malala is a reminder to us all of the power of education and the important role it plays, not only in our country but in every country for every child. Because of the power of education, it is important that we support education for all whenever we get the chance.

I Am Malala appeals to many different readers. There is something here for history buffs, politicos, educators, social activists, teenagers, multi-culturalists, and anyone who enjoys a good memoir. The appeal of the book is broad which is very important because the message is one that all people need to hear and keep in mind. When Malala addressed the UN on her 16th birthday, July 12, 2013, she said “We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.” While addressing the need for peace and education, I Am Malala emphasizes that gender equality and the equal empowerment of all women and men, boys and girls is essential for a better world. The solution for many social and political problems begins with education for all. “One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first.”

I Am Malala is available through the Pinawa Public Library.