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...

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

We Can Choose Love: Reflections on Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Sometimes the words you hear change... if not everything, then at least something. Sometimes that event you dragged yourself to even though you'd been running behind schedule all morning gives you exactly the inspiration you need. Sometimes a simple smile reminds you that you are not as alone as you think you are...

Yesterday was one of those days for me...

I walked into Franchesca Ramsey's talk at Oregon State University a few minutes late without a clue what to expect. She spoke to a decent size crowd about activism as part of the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day . As I listened to her speak, my mind began to wander in that way one's mind wanders when the words spoken spark a thought, inspire a new idea, and/or push one to think about one's own actions.

Following Franchesca's talk, I joined the Peace March on campus which ended up being relatively quiet with a bit of singing and a bit of chanting but with many people just walking quietly. I began to wonder if perhaps people felt a bit meditative, or at least contemplative. I know I did, but I attempted to sing along (my apologies to the people marching within earshot.) We sang We Shall OvercomeAin't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around, and This Little Light of Mine. At the end of the Peace March, there was a short rally where a few more speakers spoke about the importance of unity, equality, and recognizing our role moving forward.

Of course through it all, there were many Dr. King quotes mentioned. Some people just have a way of saying and writing things that are timeless in their ability to inspire and encourage. Dr. King was certainly one of those people. Yesterday my thoughts kept going back to a few quotes over and over and over...

"I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear."

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

"...Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."

I think these particular quotes resonated deeply with me because I try to live from a place of love, and lately I've been failing on that front. I've never been perfect at it, but the past few months I've felt so much fear, anxiety, and despair boiling just beneath the surface that I've found it hard to love in the face of people's hatred.

There seems to be a disconnect that allows people to preach hate one day and the next day praise those who have historically fought that very hate. It amazes me to witness and makes it hard for me to react to those people with love. People seem to forget that Dr. King and all those in the Civil Rights Movement faced resistance with every effort they made to gain the same rights as their oppressors. While we celebrate those marches now, they were met with hatred, violence, and cruelty when they happened. Those seeking change were told not to cause trouble and to go through official channels that time and again shut them down. Today we applaud their persistent efforts, but at that time those efforts were reviled and so were the people putting forth those efforts. It's easy now to look back and romanticize the struggle by focusing on the beautiful words and the outcome, but it's unfair to those who fought to do so.  A large part of what makes the Civil Rights Movement the crowning achievement it is is how the protesters risked their safety, their livelihood, their very lives to draw attention to the inequality they faced.

Yet, even as we now herald The Civil Rights Movement, far too many condemn those seeking equality and civil rights today... I wonder how many times we have to learn the same lessons before we finally understand that equality isn't a special privilege. When are we going to understand that just because someone gets the same rights as us doesn't mean we somehow lose ours? In fact, the more people experiencing rights, the more people can engage with the world around them to offer creative and unique solutions to the problems we all face. When we treat one another with compassion and kindness and humanity, we make the world a better place.

We can never forget the struggle, but we don't have to keep repeating history. We can learn from history and make different choices. We can choose equality. We can choose compassion. We can choose love. Really... we can...

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

So It's Now 2017...

2017 has arrived. 2016 has ended. Life feels pretty much the same...

For all the good in 2016 and for all the bad in 2016, the clock passing midnight on December 31st, 2016 once again wasn't actually a catalyst for change. I've never understand this notion that there's some kind of reset button that lets us start over each year. Life, or at least my life, doesn't work that way. Whatever I was dealing with on December 31st is still there when I wake up on January 1st. It doesn't resolve until I do the work to resolve it.

I set goals, not necessarily yearly goals, but goals nonetheless. I work on my goals and change them as my schedule demands, and that means some years look better than others for accomplishments.

As I look at 2017, I know what my projects are. I know what needs to be done. And while I'm disappointed I didn't publish any books in 2016, it's okay because I know where I'm at with my various projects. I will publish them when they're ready, hopefully that will be in 2017.

I also know that 2017 will have ups and downs and all arounds. People will die. People will be born. People will love. People will hate. Wars will be fought. People will proclaim they want peace while spreading the very hate that creates war. Politicians will lie. Promises will be made. Promises will be broken. People will lose jobs. People will find jobs. Corporations will buy politicians. Our water, earth, and air will be polluted. People will share half-truths and outright lies on social media. People will protest. People will acquiesce. People will fight. People
will argue. People will find everything they cherish about the lives they lead challenged. People will worry their loved ones will fall victim to someone's hate. People will fall victim to someone's hate. Murder will happen. Rape will happen. Violence will happen. Compassion will happen. Vengeance will happen. Forgiveness will happen. People will get married. People will get divorced. People will eat too much. People will starve. People will fight climate change. People will exacerbate climate change. Immigrants will immigrate. People will blame everyone except themselves for their mistakes. People will take responsibility. The rich will get richer on the backs of the middle class and the poor. People will stand up for those without a voice. People will fight for equality. People will pray, beg, plead, and bargain for more time. People will...

So as I look at 2017 and think forward to December when everyone starts making their lists about the best of and the worst of, I wonder if we'll care so much about going through the motions and honoring traditions yet again that we'll forget that 2017 will become 2018, and nothing will reset then either. You'll still be you. I'll still be me. We'll all still have challenges. The only time we make any difference is in the actions we choose every day of our lives... 

And, we have to decide. Each and every one of us has to decide. It is our choice. We have the power to choose. We have to decide what role we will play in society... 

Because inaction is deadly... Because inaction condones... Because inaction speaks more loudly than we know...