Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Why Women Don't Report...

Sex... Sexual harassment... Sexual abuse... Sexual assault...

We wrap anything related to sex up in so much shame and guilt that it imprisons us in our own minds convincing us no one will ever believe us, that we should be ashamed for someone else's actions, that keeping quiet is the best way forward.

People ask "Why didn't she report it?"

I know my story will resonate with many women, and some men, too, because it's not a new story. It's been going on for ages. And occasionally a scandal brings it to light and we all look for ways to be make it better, to find common ground, to not need to say "Me Too." And, then the fervor dies down and we all go about our lives until the next time. Will this time finally be the one that's different? We can hope...

Still fairly fragile from being sexually assaulted in college, I started an office job at a cabling company(now out of business if my research is accurate) in Lexington, Kentucky. I started as a temp employee and was soon offered a permanent position based on my work performance including finding an error that saved the small company tens of thousands of dollars, and later I learned based on my appearance.

I found the job quite boring but it was an income and I worked with some nice people. The company hired quite a few women. I liked that it hired quite a few women. I thought that was a good sign until...

One of the upper level management guys, my direct manager's boss (I've forgotten his title), let's call him Drick, started to take a personal interest in my role at the company claiming he saw a great future for me based on the error I'd discovered as a temp. I was flattered but also uncomfortable. Drick tended to stand too close. Drick asked personal questions that seemed weird but often prefaced them by saying he was trying to see where my life goals and career goals would fit in with the company.  Then one day he asked me about my sex life with my husband (I was a newlywed). I was taken aback by that, but I tried to laugh it off with a noncommittal joking response. Somewhere in here he began to touch me. It all seemed innocent enough at first, things I couldn't quite tell if accidental or intentional, his arm would brush mine as we went over some numbers. His hand would touch my shoulder or back as I left the room, at first so softly I wasn't sure what happened. A few of those seemingly incidental touches found a breast or my thigh but again I was unsure if they were intentional touches, at first. Eventually, Drick tried to rub my shoulders. He made several innuendo type statements. I was young and all I knew was this older man kept invading my personal space and asking me about things I felt were none of his business. I kept wondering if this was just what happened at the workplace. Yet, I didn't like it. I didn't want it. When I said something to him about it, he laughed and told me not to be so serious; however, he didn't stop. He, did, however continue to tell me I was a valuable asset to the company and that he saw huge potential in me and a great future if I listened to what he told me.

I didn't know what to do. I was embarrassed and kept wondering what I could do to make him stop. I started mentioning my husband ad nauseam, even to me, in every meeting. That did nothing to help the situation.

I needed my job. I needed the income.

I started hearing other women talk about receiving the same type of treatment I was receiving both from Drick and other members of upper management. Around this time, I learned I was being referred to as Drick's new "pet" and his old "pet" was now being treated badly. I didn't want to be his pet, and I didn't like the way he treated me. I made that known to the other employees, who brushed off my protestations.

Management decided to address the high turnover rate and requested the employees write, in detail, what we thought the problems were at the company and why people were leaving. I wrote a long document that centered around the idea of protecting people's personal space. I focused on personal space rather than sexual harassment because I feared I would lose my job if I called what I was experiencing sexual harassment. My manager read all the statements of the employees who reported directly to him before sending them on to upper management. I assume all the managers did this, but I'm not sure. After he read them, he called me in for a meeting. I have to give him credit. He handled the situation with my interests at heart. He also took steps to protect me and to make sure I was never alone with Drick again.

He insisted I report what Drick had done to me to Human Resources after he'd talked to Human Resources with a unanimous complaint about the problem in general. That's where things got tricky. As I sat down with the Human Resources Director, I immediately knew from her expression it wasn't going to go well. She asked me what had happened. I told her everything I could remember. She sat back and stared at me. Then she asked me if I liked my job. She wanted to know if I planned on contacting a lawyer. She started to hint that maybe I should change my account of things. She told me bluntly that it would be my word against his and he was more important to the company. At the end of the meeting, she told me that a note would be placed in my file that I'd reported but that no disciplinary action would be taken toward him or even a note in his file that a complaint had been made. She asked me if I really wanted to start this kind of trouble and implied it would only make things harder for me.

Over the next few weeks, I heard whispers that I'd been labelled a troublemaker. I started getting hints from my co-workers that it might be best for me if I quit. I started getting complaints about work that had previously been highly praised. My manager stepped in here and tried to support me, particularly regarding my performance.

I began searching for a new job. Being too honest for my own good at times, I told the truth about why I wanted to leave my job thinking that this had to be an anomaly. I had no idea how badly that would be received by potential employers.

Before I found a new job, my husband got a job in another state, so I left the company anyway. It's hard to put into words how hard those last few months were and how trapped I felt in a culture that seemed set up to support and protect a group of men who sexually harassed young women with abandon and without consequence.

Everyone at the company knew there was rampant sexual harassment in upper management beginning with the owner of the company, and most everyone ignored it or blamed the women being harassed. It made for a hostile working environment. Everyone knew speaking up would only make things worse, but I was naive enough to believe that when upper management said they wanted to create a better working environment in order to have better worker retention, they meant it. It later became apparent this exercise was only meant to out "troublemakers" who might bring attention to the harassment going on within the company because nothing was done to create a more hospitable working environment. When I outed myself I also outed the manager who supported me and who also ended up leaving the company.

This was not the first time I was harassed nor would it be the last, but it's what happened the time I reported.

And, this is why women don't report...

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Open Letter to Michael T. Benson, President of Eastern Kentucky University, Regarding Title IX Protections for Sexual Assault Survivors

Last week Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that she intends to dismantle the Dear Colleague Letter Guidelines that have given survivors of sexual assault more respect in the reporting and investigatory process of sexual assault by utilizing the protections in Title IX to a safe learning environment.

Shortly before her announcement I posted Sexual Assault Happens... Then What?, my post to raise awareness about the importance of taking campus sexual assault seriously and urge people to stand up for survivors.

Upon learning of Secretary DeVos' decision to dismantle those guidelines, I wrote a letter to the current President of EKU, Michael T. Benson. As an alumna of EKU and a survivor of campus sexual assault I feel a duty to urge my alma mater to be a leader in the adherence of Title IX using the Dear Colleague Letter Guidelines to take campus sexual assault seriously and providing the support survivors need to move forward.

Here is the open letter version of the letter I sent President Benson.

Dear President Benson,

I am writing to you today to urge you and the entire Eastern Kentucky University administration to take concrete actions to protect the civil rights of survivors of sexual assault. As a proud December 1991 alumna of EKU, I am concerned about how the rhetoric and actions of the Trump Administration and the Department of Education under Secretary Betsy DeVos will impact the ability of students, including my niece, at EKU to enjoy a college education free from discrimination.

As a survivor of campus sexual assault that took place on the EKU campus, I implore you to use the Title IX protections, including the guidelines in the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter, to their fullest extent to protect survivors and give survivors the support needed to continue their education. Campus sexual assault is a serious issue. Survivors have a hard enough time moving forward with their lives. I want survivors today to have the support I didn’t have on campus. During my time on campus, there was a general knowledge among females on campus that reporting was pointless. I attended, and as an RA even organized, rape prevention events on campus. Interestingly, those events put all the responsibility on girls to stop rape and never once addressed the concept of telling boys to take no for an answer. I mention this because I noticed the EKU police website still pushes this same idea. This makes me sad. It makes girls less likely to report because they’re too busy trying to figure out what they did wrong when a guys refuse to accept their nos. Also, those rape prevention events did little to encourage reporting in those days. I sincerely hope that has changed.

Although I didn’t report it when I was sexually assaulted on campus, I sought counseling on campus. Far too much of my counseling focused on whether or not I was going to go public and the counselor questioning my experience rather than help me deal with it. The guy who raped me was still a student and began to stalk (though I didn’t realize that his behavior was stalking until much later) me during my counseling. My counselor was ill equipped to handle the situation and kept circling back to whether or not I was going public. I eventually had to leave my job as an RA and move to a different residence hall to keep the guy who raped me from finding me and eventually off-campus when he found me at the new residence hall as well. I had to put everything that happened in writing and once again was questioned about whether or not I intended to go public before being granted permission to move. I didn’t know things could be handled any differently and was far too vulnerable and naive to fight back at that time. I just wanted to get my education, graduate, and get as far away as possible.

I sincerely hope that survivors today aren’t faced with a situation like I was where the university is more interested in protecting its reputation than in providing support.

I would like to see EKU lead in the adherence to Title IX protections for sexual assault survivors and to come out with a strong statement that sexual assault is taken seriously on campus and that Secretary DeVos’s rollback of the guidelines won’t change that. It is within your power to treat sexual assault with the seriousness it deserves. Please protect all EKU students by vowing to handle sexual assault on campus justly rather than seeking ways to cover it up as has happened in the past. Give students, including those who are marginalized, the security of knowing they can report and will be treated with respect.

In light of the September 22, 2017 announcement by Secretary DeVos to dismantle the Title IX guidelines protecting survivors, I urge you to publicly commit to upholding prior Department of Education guidance, including the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter. It is more important than ever that EKU show it will handle campus sexual assault responsibly. In addition to a public statement vowing to protect survivors utilizing Title IX protections, I ask you to make your voice heard to the Department of Education and to Secretary DeVos to urge them to do the right thing and maintain policies and guidance that have been established by the implementation of Title IX in cases of sexual assault.

I have read the guidelines set forth in the Dear Colleague Letter. They are fair and just. For the first time, they give survivors a sense that their voices matter. Please don’t take that away because the Department of Education has dismantled the guidelines.

Please show your alliance with organizations such as It’s On Us, End Rape on Campus, and Know Your IX as part of your statement. These groups are working to protect students all around the country, including EKU students.

I look forward to reading your public statement soon.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Sexual Assault Happens... Then What?

I started this post over a year ago after I watched The Hunting Ground, a documentary about sexual assault on campuses and the way universities handle sexual assault on campus. I've come back to it multiple times but have hesitated to publish it yet I couldn't bring myself to delete it. So... With today's announcement regarding the plan to eliminate Title IX protection for survivors, I must speak up. I can no longer be silent.

The Hunting Ground affected me deeply. I stopped it several times when I needed to think and feel and cry and rewind to listen again. (Currently available on Netflix and streaming or DVD purchase on Amazon.)

As I watched, many thoughts went through my mind. I am still dumbfounded by the way universities dismiss and/or minimize sexual assault complaints. I suppose admitting the number of campus sexual assaults on their individual campuses might deter some potential students, but...

Sexual assault happens. It happens in every community. It happens in small villages and big cities and farming communities. It happens in homes and apartments and condos. It happens in streets and alleys and fields. It happens in places of worship and dance clubs and business offices. This is reality. So, of course, it happens on college campuses. After all college campuses are communities filled with a wide variety of people.

There's never been a time in history when sexual assault didn't happen. Let that sink in. There's never been a time when sexual assault didn't occur.

So, what matters more than whether or not sexual assault happens on a college campus is how the university deals with it. I would much rather see a university be honest about its numbers and then show real action taken to investigate and deal with sexual assault than to discourage reporting and try to manipulate statistics. Fine, tell me ten rapes took place on your campus. Then tell me what you did about them. Did you have the rapists arrested? Did you participate in the investigation? Did you provide counseling services to the survivors? Did you expel the rapists? Or did you take the route that seems to be so common and make the survivors lives on campus miserable? Answer these questions with answers that demonstrate you are serious about dealing with campus sexual assault rather than trying to pretend like your campus is somehow immune to sexual assault. It isn't.

I repeat because it's important. Sexual assault happens. It happens in all communities. There has never been a time in history where sexual assault didn't happen.

If universities say no sexual assaults happen on campus, I am positive they're covering them up. I will never trust those universities. I would advise others not to trust those universities. What they prove is that they're willing to dismiss survivors in order to protect the reputation of the individual universities. I long for the day when we can have campuses where no sexual assaults take place just like I long for the day when sexual assault in all communities is a thing of the past. But, then reality sets in.

I reiterate, sexual assault happens. I'm not excusing it. There's no excuse for it. However, there's a saying that to address a problem you first have to admit it exists. Therein lies the problem, far too many people in this world want to pretend the world is something it isn't, that people are something they aren't, and that certain institutions should be immune from real world realities.

I remember when I was in college and we were given the list of things to avoid being sexually assaulted. The emphasis was on how girls could stop guys' behavior and often referred to it as behavior "getting out of hand" instead of as assault. Sadly, I visited the website of the campus police department of my beloved alma mater, Eastern Kentucky University, to find a very familiar list of ways to avoid being sexually assaulted or drugged as appears to be typical of most universities. Nowhere on that list was there a single admonition to boys to take no for an answer or to get an affirmative yes. Nowhere on that list was there a single warning to boys to not drug girls or to not get them drunk in order to "take advantage of them" to use another common phrase designed to mask assault. Nowhere on the list were punishments listed for those who perpetrate rape. Nowhere on that list was there a single thing directed at would-be rapists because once again, it's up to girls to take responsibility for the actions of others.

We can teach girls how not to get raped until the end of time, but until we teach boys to not  rape, rape will happen. Even when we teach not to rape, we only lessen the possibility of it happening. Sadly, these admonishments to girls on how to behave in order to not get raped also tend to increase feelings of guilt for survivors and decrease reporting. We have to start teaching boys that girls have the right to be respected as human beings and are not conquests to be made. And we also have to teach girls they aren't conquests to be made but fully realized individuals with needs and desires that deserve respect. We have to teach the concept that no is a complete sentence and that taking no for an answer is imperative even admirable. I addressed this before in my posts If Girls Must... What Must Boys? and Respect for Boundaries.

 (Note: I've used boys and girls here because that's the language used on the university website and because statistically the numbers of boy on girl assaults are higher than other types of assaults yet it is important to remember that same sex assaults and girl on boy assaults also occur.These same ideas apply in all these situations.)

It happened here....
The blurriness of this photo depicts
how I felt returning to this spot
years later.
When I was raped by two completely different guys in completely different places (both on campus and off campus) under completely different circumstances in less than a nine month time period, I reported nothing because I kept wondering which of the rules to keep me safe I broke. If I'd done all those things they taught me, I wouldn't have been raped, right? WRONG!! I was raped because two different guys each thought they had the right to invade my body without my permission. Period end of sentence. The reality is these two guys didn't think my "no" mattered.

Universities need to take a leadership position in the efforts to combat sexual assault. They need to step up and investigate and prosecute and do right by survivors.

Several months after I watched The Hunting Ground and while still trying to decide what to do with this post, I watched It Happened Here (available streaming on Netflix and streaming and DVD on Amazon), another documentary about how universities handle sexual assault on their campuses. I was dumbfounded by the seeming lack of awareness of the administrations of universities. Sexual assault on campus has been happening for as long as there have been campuses, and it has, as a general rule, been downplayed leaving victims to flounder as perpetrators walk free.

The girls who have taken it upon themselves to document and publicize the way universities handle sexual assault cases are much braver than I was at their age. I applaud the work they're doing. I wanted to get through it and pretend like it never happened. When  Kylie Angell said "I felt like the 21 years years before were completely separated by that day and then the future. It was like A.D. and B.C. I could no longer just enjoy college and I no longer felt safe in my own body." my breath stopped for a moment. Even after all these years, I still feel as if my life is segmented into before I was raped and after I was raped with time between the first time I was raped and the last time I was raped feeling somewhat unreal to me. I remember very little of it, what I do remember is fuzzy, and I often don't even recognize pictures from that time.

Movies like The Hunting Ground and It Happened Here push us toward a more honest conversation about sexual assault on college campuses as well as the larger community as a whole. Organizations like It's On Us push us to all pay attention to sexual assault on campus and to hold universities accountable for not treating sexual assault survivors with the respect and compassion they deserve. Title IX protections are imperative and must be protected including those that address sexual assault on campus. Please visit End Rape on Campus and join the Dear Betsy campaign to urge the Department of Education to protect Title IX.

If you have survived rape, on campus or off, reach out for help. There are therapists who can help you deal with the aftermath. There are organizations, such as RAINN, that will give you the support you need. If friends and family members struggle (many of mine did) to be there for you, find a support group. There are other people who have survived. You are not alone. I promise you are not alone.

Every time I hear Lady Gaga sing Til It Happens to You, I tear up. I can't help it. It's so easy for people who haven't experienced sexual assault to pontificate with what they think sounds like wise words when all they're really doing is inflicting more pain.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Meet Me on the Other Side of You - A New Poem

It's been a while since I posted a blog and even longer since I shared a new poem...

Yesterday I read a poem, The Other Side of You, by my poet friend, Butch Knight. The entire time I read I kept thinking "Meet me on the other side of you" and today those words morphed into the poem below.

You can read Butch's poem, The Other Side of You, now or later.

And, here's mine...

Meet Me on the Other Side of You                                                                              

Meet me on the other side of you
Where the river filled with your tears flows
Where the mountain scarred with your heartache rises up
Where the valley of your vulnerability hides in the shadows
Where your nakedness stands in the beaming moonlight

Meet me on the other side of you
Where the trail leads past your smiles into the thorny brush
Where the rocks on the path force me to stop and ponder
Where the ruts fill with puddles of lost dreams
Where roots of your past are exposed

Meet me on the other side of you
Where the steep terrain of your losses leaves me gasping for breath
Where the sharp stones of your bitterness cut my feet
Where the weeds hide under the flowers of your smile
Where the you hide inside a dark and cold cavern

Meet me on the other side of you
So I can see both the beauty and the sorrow of your journey
So I can feel both the gains and the losses you’ve encountered
So I hear all the laughter and the tears you’ve expressed
So I can smell the sweet fragrance of your strength and vulnerability

Meet me on the other side of you
Where the wind whispers those secrets
You fear I will judge
So I can shiver under the hot sun with you
While we reflect on regrets

Meet me on the other side of you
So I can embrace your journey
Through the rising suns and the setting moons
We experienced on our separate meandering paths
Bringing us to this moment

Meet me on the other side of you
Where I can see the other side of me
Reflected in the snowfall
Of moments
We never shared

Then perhaps you can

Meet me on the other side of me
Embracing each other’s full reflections on the lake below
Instead of falling off the cliff
When we discover

The other side of each other

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Talking About Kentucky on 50 Authors from 50 States

Today I talk about how Kentucky influenced my life and my writing on the blog, 50 Authors from 50 States.

The blog offers a glimpse into my complex relationship with the state of my birth... Please check it out...

50 Authors from 50 States

Thursday, February 9, 2017

I Choose... Love

My adherence to the idea that living from a foundation of love has gotten me more than a few patronizing smiles. But I cling to the idea that the more love we put into the world, the less hate there is to multiply. It's so much easier to hear one another when we approach one another from a place of love instead of a place of hate.

People coming together at the Women's March in Salem, Oregon
January 21, 2017
I've always thought we could bring people together by sharing our lives with all their differences and similarities. Lately, I've been doubting that. Some people seem so determined to hate that there's no reaching them. In a way, I almost feel sorry for those people. They cheat themselves out of so many glorious experiences, so many unique and beautiful moments, so much happiness just so they can cling to stereotypes and hatred, just so they can rail against a perceived enemy.

When someone says "but not this one person I/you know" when making sweeping hateful comments about whole groups of people, their disclaimer means nothing. If you hate everyone from a group of people, you hate the person you have a direct or indirect connection to as well. So I'm not excusing you anymore. When you show me your hate, I'm taking you at your word.

I can almost hear the but, but, but... in the silence of my office. I've heard it often enough in real life. And, I've smiled and accepted it far too many times.

A few places I've visited over the years
I have been lucky enough to travel and to meet people from myriad cultures and backgrounds. I've been able to talk to and, more importantly, to listen to people from a vast range of backgrounds. I've been able to share experiences with people from all over the world. My life is so much the better for it that it astounds me that not everyone wants to have those experiences and make those connections. 

Yet, with all the experiences I have had, I feel like I don't know nearly enough about the world. The more I learn, the more I know there's so much I don't yet know. It's humbling to witness the immense and beautiful diversity of the world and see the similarities that sometimes surprise. To embrace the moment you discover something you thought unique to your life experience is shared by a kindred spirit in someone who has seemingly lead a life vastly different from yours is transformative.

As long we see enemy in every face that doesn't reflect ourselves back to us, how can we ever find those transformative moments?

We share the same planet. We share the same air. We share the same existence regardless of the differences in our experiences. We are all in this together regardless of whether we like or dislike that fact.

As I wrote this, I was reminded again of The Pale Blue Dot by Carl Sagan...

We have choices to make about how we'll spend our time on this pale blue dot...

As for me, I choose love... Love of self, love of my fellow Earthlings, love of the planet that sustains me, love... As hard as it may be at times, love is where I find my foundation, so I will try my damnedest  to live from a place of love even when, perhaps especially when, it feels so much easier to give in to hate...

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Foundation of Love... You'll See

I am usually motivated by love, but the past few months I've found it difficult to live from a place of love. I fought that difficulty. I fought it hard. I like being motivated by love because as I explored in a blog post, What Motivates Me?, back in August 2015 anger, hate, and rage tend to overwhelm me to the point of feeling paralyzed. Love on the other hand frees me, gives me direction, gives me a foundation.

Monkey Face at Smith Rock in Terrebonne, Oregon
The past few months every time I've tried to tap into the foundation that allows me to live from a place of love, I've felt fear and anger, perhaps even a bit of despair, raging just below the surface. I've tried. I've pushed myself. I've worked hard to embrace the love I feel for the people and animals that inhabit this Earth, for the Earth itself. The Earth is home, the only one we've got, after all. 

I've tapped into the things that remind me of love. I've avoided the things that increase my despair. I've contacted friends who always help me find my center. I've listened to empowering music. I've listened to inspiring speeches and poetry. I've read books, articles, and poetry that give me hope. I watched Madonna's 2013 Secret Project Revolution calling for a Revolution of Love a few times in attempts to tap into my foundation of living from love. 

I needed to remember that love, not hate, is how we find answers. I needed to remember that love, not hate, is where true progress lies. I needed to remember that when I live from a place of love, I put love into the world. I needed to remember that love can make a difference.

And yet I still felt a sense of loss under my skin begging for my attention. I cried. I grieved relationships that have long been dead without the pronouncement. I needed to find confidence in living from a place of love again. I needed to reconnect with my love for self, for others, for strangers, for people I have every reason to hate. 

I practiced loving-kindness meditation. I practiced gratitude. I practiced solitude. I practiced yoga. I sought answers. I sought out compassionate listeners. I sought out encouraging friends. I tried to listen to those who disagree with me. I tried to send love out into the world. It took more effort and energy than I possessed. 

I retreated into myself.

But I didn't give up.

Recently, I heard Madonna's You'll See, and it struck me in a way it never had before. On the surface, it's a love song, but is it a love song? It has always struck me as a song of perseverance, a song of loss, a song of standing for the truth, a song of survival in the face of a relationship gone wrong. But tonight that message felt wider. It reminded me that sometimes we find ourselves standing all on our own in a moment that will define us for the rest of our lives. Do we stand for the truth and acknowledge that even in defeat, truth is better than deceit or do we sink down and sling hate for hate, violence for violence, lie for lie?

I don't know how we can make the world a better place if we allow rage alone, however justified, to guide us, but I do know from the depths of my heart I have to find the strength to embrace living from a place of love even as I fight for what matters to me. It's the only way I can survive. It's the only way I can stay alive. It's the only way I can thrive.

When I decided to live from a foundation of love several years ago my life changed for the better. It didn't happen overnight, but over time I stopped feeling so defensive, angry, and scared all the time. I stopped being so suspicious of people, even those who appeared to have only the best of intentions. I found it easier to engage people without setting up artificial walls. I struggled to set boundaries while living from a foundation of love and I still do, but I continue to try. Living from a place of love means loving myself first and then letting that love expand outward.

I will not allow my confidence in living from love to be destroyed... I can't because if I did, I simply couldn't survive... let alone thrive...

And when I fail, I'll get back up, dust myself off, stumble until I find my footing, and move forward... You'll see...