It Doesn’t Just Happen In Hollywood

#metoo.

It’s only 6 strokes of the keyboard but it makes an impact. Social media was abuzz last month with posts and tweets about incidences of sexual harassment and sexual assault that had happened to people in our country, locally and nationally. Women and men were posting revealing messages about their experiences of sexual assault at work, at school, and in their communities. This recent movement was in response to the national headlines about high-profile cases of sexual abuse and misconduct. So what was the point of this movement? And more importantly, did it work?

The point is simple: to raise awareness about how prevalent sexual assault and harassment is in our everyday lives and how it has become the norm in our culture. The victims who bravely shared their own experiences helped to contribute to the conversation about rape culture, respect and safety, and the magnitude of sexual violence in our country. And the stats back up just how prevalent it is. Over one third of women report experiencing unwanted sexual advances or unwanted verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature at work. One in 4 women and 1 in 6 men report experiencing a sexual assault in their lifetime (NSVRC, 2015). The perpetrators of sexual misconduct aren’t just Hollywood executives and politicians either. Sexual offenders can be individuals in a victim’s everyday life. In 8 out of 10 rapes, the victim knew their perpetrator. And 34% of individuals who abuse a child are family members (NSVRC, 2015).

Whether or not this movement worked is hard to measure. But what has happened is that the conversation has begun. More and more victims are feeling comfortable to come forward and share their stories in an effort to right the wrongs that have occurred. It’s important to remember, though, that for every story of sexual assault that has been shared, there were also victims who were not ready to share publically.

So what can you do? If you know someone who has been a victim of sexual harassment or assault, your response can be simple:

  1. Listen – Sometimes that’s all people want and need.
  2. Say “I’m sorry that happened to you” and “It’s not your fault” – You don’t need to make them feel better or try to fix it. It’s ok to simply acknowledge what has happened and begin to combat the self-blame that some victims experience.
  3. Don’t ask too many questions – Victims will share what they are ready to share, when they are ready to share it. By listening and acknowledging their experience, you are providing a safe place for them to tell what’s happening or what has happened.
  4. Encourage them to seek help – Some people need additional and professional support to deal with feelings surrounding their victimization. Provide referrals, offer to help make the call, or support them as they decide when it’s the right time for them.

For victims in Bucks County, NOVA provides free and confidential counseling and advocacy services. Victims, friends, and family members can call NOVA’s 24/7 hotline at 1-800-675-6900 to ask questions, raise concerns, or to seek services.

You are not alone. And we are here to listen.

Post written by: Kendal, Victim Advocate

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A Lesser Known Option for Victims of Sexual Assault

Recent news has been filled with reports of high-profile sexual assaults, and while no two stories are ever exactly alike, there is something strikingly similar about them.  The victims in these cases often did not disclose their assault for many years – not an uncommon response.

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center reports that approximately 63% of sexual assaults are not reported to police, making it one of the most underreported crimes. The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR) explains that victims often don’t report because, “Sexual assault can cause intense feelings of humiliation. Denial, shame and self-doubt are all typical psychological byproducts of being abused by someone you trusted.  Victims often struggle with fears that other people will judge, blame and disbelieve them, and fear how gossip about what has been done to them can further inflict feelings of isolation, shame and humiliation.”

One option following a sexual assault that has not been readily discussed by the media is the medical-forensic exam. In Bucks County, this exam, often referred to as a rape exam, is conducted in emergency rooms by highly trained sexual assault nurse examiners (SANEs) contracted with NOVA.  Their approach is non-judgmental, compassionate and gender-sensitive. The SANEs first responsibility is to the emotional and medical needs of the patient, while also addressing the forensic requirements of the criminal justice system. The exam is usually conducted within five days after an assault and includes a discussion of risk factors for sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy with prevention options offered. A victim advocate is available to all patients to provide emotional support and information on counseling and advocacy. A patient’s right to decline any part of the exam or discontinue it at any time is always fully respected.

The emotional, physical and psychological stresses a victim experiences after a sexual assault can be overwhelming. PCAR confirms that, “Victims sometimes need decades to even admit to themselves that what happened to them was abuse, let alone muster the courage to file a report about what is perhaps the most traumatic physical and psychological betrayal that one can experience.”  Participating in a medical-forensic exam can provide victims with much needed support in the aftermath of an assault while also affording a great deal of time (up to the 12-year statute of limitations) to determine their best course of action while addressing immediate healthcare needs and preserving evidence that would otherwise be lost.

In Pennsylvania, the medical-forensic exam is conducted free of charge and adults age 18 or older can choose whether or not to involve law enforcement.

Please call the 24-hour NOVA hotline at 1-800-675-6900 for additional information.

On Cultivating Resilience

Resilience is the process of adapting and rising above adversity, trauma, tragedy, significant sources of stress such as childhood abuse or neglect, relationship problems, serious health or financial stressors.  It means “bouncing back” from difficult experiences by honoring the past hurts we have sustained at the same time as embracing our potential.  It is a balancing act of pain and courage.

Human beings have considerable capacity for strength and resilience.  Being resilient does not mean we escape unscathed.  Emotional pain and sadness are common in people who have suffered major adversity or trauma in their lives. In fact, building resilience is likely to involve considerable emotional distress.

Research shows that resilience is both an inherited trait and one that can be cultivated.  It involves behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone.

  • Reframing and perception are at the heart of resilience. Positive construal of an event can be learned by reframing the way we think about it, which in turn shapes the way we experience and react to that event.  Positive reframing does not mean we think of the event itself as being positive, but rather we shift the spotlight onto strengths and resources we can use.  Martin Seligman, the University of Pennsylvania psychologist who pioneered the positive psychology field, proposes that training ourselves to change our explanatory style from internal to external (“Bad events are not my fault”), from global to specific (“This is one single event, rather than an indication that something is wrong in my life”), and from permanent to impermanent (“I can change the situation, rather than assuming it will feel like this forever”) has helped to improve emotional states after a traumatic event.
  • Another characteristic that can be cultivated is insight. We do this by asking poignant questions about ourselves and our experiences and responding to them with honesty and compassion toward ourselves.
  • Taking charge of problems as they arise and stretching ourselves to find solutions and build healthy boundaries, we cultivate a sense of self-competence and confidence. The belief that we can impact and change our outcomes and goals, rather than our environment shifts the control and power to an internal “locus” or place which informs our approach.
  • Critical to creating resilience is having or finding support systems to help us grow in a healthy direction. Whether our family of origin, or a friend, teacher, or spouse, these supportive relationships will foster our resilience.

Thinking along these three lines will help us remember our capacity for strength and cultivate our resilience:

  • I have: strong relationships, role models and healthy rules in my life;
  • I am: a person of strength, compassion, and hope who can develop my inner strengths;
  • I can: solve problems, express myself clearly, and seek healthy relationships

Talking With Children About Tragedy

In light of the recent horrific shooting in Las Vegas, we would like to take some time to address how we can talk to youth about unexpected tragedy. This can often be a difficult topic for adults who may be overwhelmed themselves emotionally, and who may also be unsure how to tackle such conversations at an age-appropriate level.

According to Yasmine Awais, Assistant Clinical Professor with Drexel University, avoiding such a discussion is not useful. “For a young child, it may not be necessary to broach the topic directly but to answer any questions they have if it comes up. Another approach is to ask your child what they talked about or heard in school today, whether they discussed current events.”

At NOVA, we acknowledge that there are no easy answers to having such discussions, but we can offer you the following articles that can help to get you started:

https://store.samhsa.gov/shin/content/SMA12-4732/SMA12-4732.pdf

http://www.philly.com/philly/health/kids-families/las-vegas-shooting-what-do-we-tell-the-kids-20171003.html?mobi=true

sexual assault and college campuses.

Despite the drop in sexual assaults in the United States over the past twenty years, sexual assault near college campuses still remains a prevalent issue today. As a current student at West Chester University, too many times I’d receive an alert from campus security informing me of this tragedy.  According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, college women ages 18-24 are three times as likely to be victims of sexual assault, with 23.1% of undergraduate females experiencing sexual assault by means of physical assault, violence, or incapacitation. Of these victims, it is believed only 20% report these incidents to law enforcement. To think that institutions of higher learning can be so corrupted by these shameful acts is despicable and unacceptable.

ted blog post pic 1               ted blog post pic 2

However, there is hope. An increase of campus security in the past decade, as well as the advancements in technology have led to faster response time. Reinterpretation of Title IX under the Education Amendments of 1972 during the Obama administration has brought the issue of sexual assault on college campuses to the forefront of agendas of universities across the country. I know that my own school’s Student Health Services offer extensive sexual assault care, including non-forensic exams and counseling.

Unfortunately, sexual assault isn’t a problem that can simply disappear. But through education and easier access to emergency services, college campuses can be a place where students feel like they truly have a second home.

If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual assault or any other form of abuse or harassment, you can contact the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) at 1-800-656- 4673 or the Network of Victim Assistance 24-Hour hotline at 1-800-675-6900.

–Ted Carroll, NOVA Intern

Head, shoulders, knees, toes, and private parts.

Capture _ Kim's blog postHere at the Bucks County Children’s Advocacy Center, a program of NOVA, we hear lots of interesting names for male and female private parts.  To share a few names for female parts we have: “front butt”, “no-no spot”, “birds nest”, “purse”, “cookie”, “peach”, and “toe-toe”.  For male parts we have heard: “pecker”, “special thumb”, “undercarriage”, “wee-wee”, and “tummy tail”.  I’ll even include a story from my childhood.  When I was little the penis was referred to as a “peter.”  Even to this day, I giggle on the inside when I meet a man named Peter.

When children visit the Bucks County Children’s Advocacy Center they are here because there are allegations of physical abuse, sexual abuse and/or neglect.   The child is interviewed as part of the investigation into such allegations.  The process of determining whether or not a child has experienced abuse goes much easier for children who know the proper names of their body parts.  When they don’t, the parents and professionals have to guess at what the child is talking about.  Let me share an example with you.  A little girl told her teacher several times that her uncle was “eating her cookie.”  The teacher made comments such as, “Oh that’s not nice” and “He should get his own cookies.”  It came out later that her uncle was sexually assaulting her “cookie”, AKA vagina.  (Although that in itself is not the correct body part.  The outside is the vulva. The inside is the vagina. #Biology)

This sad story clearly illustrates the need for our children to learn the correct, anatomical names for their private parts.  If that little girl had said her uncle was touching her vagina, there is a good chance that intervention would have come sooner. Maybe her abuse would have stopped sooner.

For many of us, using the anatomical names for private parts can be awkward, embarrassing, and anxiety provoking.  Maybe we have grown up with the same messages of shame and secrecy about our bodies. If you can’t bring yourself to use “penis”, “anus”, “vulva” or “vagina”, come up with words that are as close to the correct name as possible and are NOT food related.  For example, “pee-pee” is a term that is widely used and is very often readily identified as a private part.   If you can bring yourself to use the anatomical names, all the better.

When adults can’t talk about private parts, children learn to see these parts of their bodies as shameful, dirty, secretive.  There is a difference between private and secretive.  Offenders have an easier time offending when children are ashamed of their bodies, think that private parts are not to be discussed, or do not have the right words to describe what has happened to them.  If children are confident and knowledgeable about their bodies are more likely to disclosing if someone touches them inappropriately.  If they do disclose, they use words that are clear and more helpful to adults who want to make sure they are safe.

Capture _ Kim's blog post 2Resources to help talk with your child about their bodies include:

  • Amazing You! Getting Smart about Your Private Parts. By Gail Saltz
    • A great book for young children who are curious about their bodies but are not ready to learn about sexual intercourse. Discusses the difference between girls’ and boys’ bodies in an age-appropriate manner.
    • Recommended for children ages 4+
    • Available on Amazon.com and in bookstores
  • Those are MY Private Parts. By Diane Hansen
    • In 12 pages of rhyme, this book informs children of tactics that perpetrators may use on young kids while teaching them age-appropriate safety and refusal skills. This sing-songy book discusses important topics in a very non-threatening way.
    • Recommended for children ages 3+
    • Available on Amazon.com; Spanish version available; also made for Kindle
  • Who Has What?: All About Girls’ Bodies and Boys’ Bodies (Let’s Talk about You and Me). By Robie H. Harris
    • Young children are curious about almost everything. Asking questions is one of many ways they learn about themselves and the world around them. Now, this unique series for our youngest children provides easy-to-understand facts and answers to their delightful, thoughtful, and often nonstop questions. Launching the series is WHO HAS WHAT?, a simple story following Nellie and Gus on a family outing to the beach. Humorous illustrations, conversations between the siblings, and a clear text all reassure young kids that whether they have a girl’s body or a boy’s, their bodies are perfectly normal, healthy, and wonderful.
    • Recommended for children 3-7
    • Available on Amazon.com

 

 

Mental Illness and Violence

Did you know…
• It is more likely that people with a major mental illness will be the victim of violence, rather than the perpetrator.
• You are more likely to the be victim of a violent incident perpetrated by somebody you know, than to be the victim of a violent incident perpetrated by a random person.
• According to a recent study, the frequency of violence among non-substance abusing people with a major mental illness was no different from non-substance abusing people without a mental illness.
• A recent study of criminal victimization of people with severe mental illness showed that 8.2% were criminally victimized over a four-month period, which is much higher than the annual rate of violent victimization of 3.1% for the general population.

 

 

 

bri's blog capture

 

When a violent community event occurs, there is a general public perception of the stigma linking violence with mental illness. That false perception acts as validation for bullying or victimizing people with a mental illness. People who have a history of mental illness, do not necessarily have a history of violence, and vice versa. The above facts come from a variety of studies conducted across the United States. The correlation between being a violent offender and having a mental illness is low. People with a mental illness are more likely to be the victim of an attack by a violent offender, than to be the violent offender themselves. The negative association with being a violent offender and having mental illness can end. As a community, we can spread knowledge and awareness of this stigma, and help others to be aware that when a violent event occurs, the perpetrator does not necessarily have a serious mental illness.

If you or someone you know is a victim of a crime in Bucks County and are seeking legal advocacy or counseling, please contact our 24-hour hotline at 1-800-675-6900. You may also visit our website for more information- http://www.novabucks.org/

Sources
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1525086/
http://beaconlens.com/mental-illness-and-violence/