Marin: Hello everybody and welcome to today’s audio conference training on responding to intimate partner sexual violence offered by the Office of Violence Against Women in partnership with Praxis International. My name is Marin Hanson, and I will be your host for today’s call.
Across the nation there is growing awareness of the need to respond to the unique safety and advocacy needs of adult victims with battering who have also experienced intimate partner sexual violence. And, in response to this, both the Praxis’ major TA programs, the rural TA and the Safe Haven’s TA programs have begun to explore these issues with OVW grantees
The purpose of this particular training series for Safe Haven’s grantees is to begin to explore together how issues of intimate partner sexual assault play out in the context of supervised visitation and safe exchange, how we can work together with adult victims around these issues to enhance their safety, and how to identify resources in our community that address their safety and advocacy needs. We began this exploration on last week’s call by hearing from Kirsty Elo about the prevalence of intimate partner sexual violence, the distinctions among intimate partner sexual violence, other forms of sexual violence and other methods of battering, and also the implications of these issues for our work with battered women and their children. During today’s session, we’ll more closely analyze the needs of victims of intimate partner sexual violence, how these issues might come up in supervised visitation and safe exchange centers, and how we, as a community, can respond to her needs in a safe and meaningful way.
Communities can work together to improve the collaboration and advocacy on behalf of battered women who are victims of intimate partner sexual violence. We will identify in the session ways that supervised visitation and safe exchange, domestic violence and sexual assault programs can work together to ensure that holistic, ongoing and meaningful support to victims is available. Additionally, we’ll also examine how center staff can respond to the experiences of the adult victims of intimate partner sexual violence in respectful and thoughtful ways. Our trainer today is Sarah Houser.
Sarah: Thank you, Marin, and hello to everybody. I wanted to start by talking a little bit about my orientation to the topic of sexual assault. I think nationally it is more and more recognized that we need to focus on sexual assault and understand it as its own unique issue, as well as understand it in the context of domestic violence, and, not only understand it but to know and learn more about implementing our policy and practices a way that responds to sexual assault in the context of domestic violence. So, I’m very honored to be a part of this dialogue. My background is in the field of domestic violence and sexual assault here in Michigan. I currently work for the Michigan Domestic Violence Prevention and Treatment Board, which is a seven-member, governor appointed board with the charge of eliminating domestic and sexual violence in Michigan, and my work there has centered around two main bridges; one being prevention of both sexual assault and domestic violence and also on the intersection of domestic violence and child welfare. I have been at the board since 1999, before that I spent seven or eight years in direct service working both at domestic program that was only a domestic violence program and then sexual assault program which was primarily a sexual assault program with some domestic violence. So, I have actually worked in direct services in both contexts.
As you know, sexual assault is part of everyday life for girls and women in this country. And, if we look at the power and control wheel, the physical and sexual violence or the threat of that keeps domestic violence intact and only needs to happen one time, for a battered woman to know that the threat is real. From the context of supervised visitation this threat can escalate post separation which is the way that you are all interfacing with couples who’ve experience domestic violence and sexual assault. So, for the purposes of today’s call, sexual assault, is any form of unwanted sexual contact that is without consent or due to use of force, threat of force, intimidation or co-coercion. And in the context of battery, marital rape or sexual assault can be anywhere on the continuum of the very brutal rape with no physical brutality but sexual activity gained through that coercion of guilt and manipulation of threat.
I’d like to share a story with you that addresses a bit of this continuum of sexual assault in the context of domestic violence. There’s a broad continuum and I want to keep reminding of us of that, because I think a lot of us think about sexual assault as happening one way, and I want to challenge us to broaden our thinking about the various forms of sexual assault. I want to tell you a little bit about a woman that I worked with. Her name, I’ll call her Amy; that was not her name, but for today, she is Amy. And, this story, I think, challenges us both legally and philosophically as we think about sexual assault. Amy lived with a boyfriend of several years and there was domestic violence heard of from her experience, and he wasn’t always violent, of course, many times he was the person that she fell in love with, but there were times when he would batter her, he would destroy properties; both general properties and things that were very special to her and this generally created a scene of violence that we have seen in our work. But, often after those assaults when he would begin to apologize, he would in fact apologize, he would begin asking her to have sex with him, and she would initially say no and he would keep telling her that he needed to feel close to her, he needed to know that she forgave him for what he’s done and if she’d have sex with him, he would know that. He kept asking her and asking her and asking her and because she was afraid of just what she has seen what he was capable of, in terms of violence, because she felt that fear, she always said yes. Now I would say to you that some people would look at that and think that is consent, and other people look at that and say no that is coerced. She said yes, because she was afraid. And, that’s how my orientation to this topic, and I believe that is a form of sexual violence in the context of domestic violence. And I don’t know how many of you have ever had the opportunity to see a presentation or work with Lydia Walker; she was a pioneer mother of this field. I was at a training one time and she gave us some wording to use with survivors and I’m not suggesting that you use this in a context of supervised visitation; we can talk about that a little bit later. I’m sharing this wording with you because I think it’s a great way to talk about the continuum of sexual assault and violent relationship. Lydia’s wording was as follows;
“Sometimes in relationships where there are problems with violence, there are also problems with sexual abuse. There are two ways this can happen; the first way is how you might imagine a stranger rape. The man beats up the woman, puts a gun to her head and says you are going to do this. There’s a second way this can happen and this isn’t the way, if the woman had a choice she would say no, but she is so afraid of his temper or reaction that she says yes. Has either of these things happened to you?” And, I think this is such a great way to set the stage with a battered woman who has experienced violence in a relationship that lets her know that the person asking the question understand that continuum; and it’s very important. So, we’ll come back to pieces of that throughout the rest of the presentation.
In the context of supervised visitation and I don’t know how many of you have experienced a disclosure of sexual assault in the context of supervised visitation; I do want to hear about that later in the call, but I believe, and I’m so glad that Praxis’ is putting this out there and supporting technical assistant around this issue. I believe that the context of supervised visitation that we need to understand sexual assault. We need to understand the impact on survivors. We need to be willing to hear disclosures from battered women who are in supervised visitation settings, not only willing, but we need to be ready to hear those disclosures. I don’t know exactly where people fall on whether or not we should be specifically asking; I do want to talk a little bit about that, because if you, in your local community, decide that that’s what you want to do that you want to make it part of your assessment. Please be careful how you ask about that. I don’t know how many of you have been to an emergency room lately, but if I’ve been at the emergency room or taken one of my children there, it is on their forms now that they ask about violence and they ask about sexual assault. But I have yet experienced where I’ve been asked in a way that makes me feel like I would tell them if I had that experience. Often you get; have you been abused at home? And the person who’s looking at me, there is no eye contact going or somebody will say; you haven’t been beaten by your husband, have you? Or things like that and it really sends a message of not wanting to listen, not wanting to hear that disclosure and that’s worse than not asking the question at all. So, as you struggle in your own community collaboration and advisory consultant committee groups around this issue in supervised visitation be sure that if you are going to ask the question, that you know how to ask that question and that you are ready to hear the answer and you are ready to help with what the disclosure is. So, I just want to set back part of how we think about sexual assault in a context of supervised visitation. Also, I think it’s important in the supervised visitation setting to see the connection of what it means in terms of safety at the supervised visitation center and to be flexible to meet the needs of individual survivors. There is no one way to heal from sexual violence or domestic violence. There are some common reactions and responses, but there is no one way and still no cookie cutter approach for responding to survivors of sexual assault and hopefully today’s call will be helpful with that being reasonably safe.
So, having said all that, what we walk through today and get into deeper into our outline, will probably be review for some of you, many, many of you, and not for others. And since this is the beginning of this exploration of sexual assault in a context of domestic violence regarding Safe Haven’s collaboration, it’s good to establish a common ground and so that’s my focus today. I really would like to draw on the tremendous expertise of both the supervised visitation staff and the sexual assault and domestic violence staff who are on the call. So, I invite you to please share your experiences and knowledge with the rest of the group, and then we’ll open it up for questions and answers and will talk more about how to do that.
Moving on to Roman numeral two on the outline; Language. I just want to make sure everyone is on the same page with the language I’m using. A victim, of course, is a person who is, in this context, a person who sexually assaulted. A survivor also described the person sexually assaulted but many use this term as the way to recognize, honor and focus on the strength and courage of those surviving sexual assault. I will use primarily the term survivor. A perpetrator, assailant, rapist, I might also call the person a batterer, because we are talking about battering and that is the person who has committed an act of sexual assault. And this is the definition of the language that I’ll be using. Let me take a deep breath here since the next one is a bigger topic.
The rape culture; this is a deep issue. It is something that we could do a whole training on, maybe even a two or three-day training. It runs deep in our culture that this condoning of physical and sexual violence against women in both overt and covert ways. And I want to walk through that a little bit and will take it all the way back to childhood as a way to think about it, and, as I said, it might be a review for some of you but I think it’s really important to understand the culture aspects to this. We can see that not only rape happens but also that the culture influences drive how we traditionally responded or not responded to sexual assault. But, I think talking about the rape culture is not being more important.
First I’ll start with a word that you all know patriarchy, and our rape culture is built on the foundation around patriarchy, and that is a societal understanding that males have more power than females in our society. We learn early on about the gender roles, and I take it all the way back to the Mother Goose and some of the nursery rhymes that tell us a little bit about the gender roles and attributes. Think about, and I’m not going to quote all of this, but think about those nursery rhymes what little boys are made of, things like snips, snails and puppy dog tails, things like that that really indicate energy that indicates mischievous and maybe that indicate the outwardness; those kind of attributes. And what are little girls are made of, they are made of sugar, spice and everything nice which is much more internal and a very subtle way to say that girls should not become angry or girls always come from the place of being nice and not making waves. So, those elements are out there, and these are two examples, but we learn them early.
Moving from gender roles onto which gender has power and prestige, we need to turn to Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater, of course, because Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater had a wife who couldn’t keep her. He put her in the pumpkin shell and there he kept her very well. And, I would suggest to you that Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater was, in fact, a batterer. I don’t know what Mother Goose would say all about this, but I think those are the notions that we are saying about Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater that he felt he had the right to say where his wife could be, and he had the right to isolate her and he put her in the pumpkin shell and he kept her there. And, I would say that those characteristics are right on the power and control wheel. So, we learn really early on that men have more power and prestige than women and I also want to share with you something other than out of the mouths of babies, one of my sons when he was four years old, and when he was in the bath tub, he blurted out to me, he said, “You know, Mom, men are better than women,” doing the work that I do, I was a bit taken back and I had to catch my breath there, but once I did, I said, “What would make you say that, Sweetie?” And, he said, “Well, men are better than women, because God, Jesus and Santa Clause are all men.” And, you know when I reflected on this later; I thought wow that is very powerful. Here is a four-year old who has already identified that the people with the power are of the male persuasion. I thought that was very interesting. This notion of patriarchy continues on into our childhood years with its being clear that it’s really better to be a male than female in this society, and that the last thing they should do is act like a girl. And, we all heard the term of ways to demean a boy and tell them, they cry like a girl, or they run like a girl, or they throw like a girl, so clearly being a girl is not good. And, ultimately, girls who act like boys are looked on as cute, probably until they get to puberty and that is a pretty awkward time for everyone but I would suggest to us that is a very awkward time for a girl who has tried to be more like a boy. In fact, a friend of mine, when we were in sixth grade she was actually the fastest runner of anyone in our sixth grade class. There was a race for the presidential fitness award and she out ran everyone in the class boy and girl and she remembers, we talked about this in our later years, she remembered that our teacher said to her “Wow, you should have been a boy.” And that always stuck with her and made her feel a deficit in her life because she wasn’t a boy. It was something that she struggled with again; I think that was very fascinating.
Continuing on with the patriarchy we are still struggling in the workplace. Same money for same work, equal advancement, etc. And all of this is very connected to violence against women. Violence against women has everything to do with the inequality between men and women.
Then there is another thing that we do on top of this patriarchy we build something in society which is a value and enjoyment of violence in entertainment and sports. Or at least we tolerate it. And I ask you to consider some movies, music, songs, videos, video games, those kinds of things that you have seen or heard. And in these mediums you’ll find links, very very subtle ones and very very overt ones, that link violence and sexuality. And with sports, I like to look at football, as the microcosm of these cultural aspects I’m talking about. Its men who are playing the game and it’s women who are just standing on the sidelines cheering them on. And this is very reminiscent of societal gender roles. And I’ll just ask you to think about that phrase “Behind every good man is a good woman.” There is an attribute to our society that men are playing a game and women are either on the sidelines or behind the scenes. With girl sports you don’t generally see boy cheer leaders cheering them on. So back to football, consider the physical aggressiveness necessary to play that game well and then consider that the females on the sideline they are often wearing short skirts and sweaters at best and virtual bikinis at worst. The more aggressive the players the louder the cheerleaders cheer. Because of the violence of hearing of what the males are doing, and the focus on objectifying the bodies and what the females are doing and wearing. We have an example of a combination of violence and sexuality. And if you’ve ever watched a college or professional game on TV, you can think about some of those commercials you’ve seen during the sporting events and then we can start talking about making a case for how sex and violence are used to make money. So that is what I will say about football, and if you have any questions at the end, please do feel free to ask.
Now let’s add another layer here: religion. And how some aspects of some religions are used and misused for the patriarchy. And things that are put out there are messages about women being subservient to men and want to obey their husbands in all things etc.
So with those three levels we can see how the society makes it possible for sexual violence to happen in intimate relationships. But I think we can all agree that it is not right, it’s not moral, and now gratefully and finally, it is illegal and that is why we are all here today to try to learn more on how rather than immediate pursuing accountability for assailants the powerful can keep their power, it’s really pretty clever if you think about it. But to change this we all need to make it clear that our business, supervised visitation, sexual assault, and domestic violence has a new way of thinking about that old phrase “business as usual.” Again we talk about rape culture for these but I want to release that I felt it’s very important to establish how important understanding that cultural underpinning is on how violence exists and how we find it in our own work.
So from numeral four on the outline; rape culture impacts our work via social conditioning and much of the way we respond or don’t respond to sexual assault is rooted in the myths that we’re all taught. And when a survivor discloses sexual assault most people hear that disclosure through a filter of our social conditioning and unless we had thought out a specific education and talk about these ideas and reflect on them it’s pretty likely that we will struggle with hearing a survivor without that lens of nonsocial conditioning. So I want to go over just a few of the myths that might make their way into our work set that is worth talking about it in community collaboration.
The first one is, rape is about sex. And this is a very powerful myth; this is a fact that sexual assault is a violent crime which can result in great harm and even death to survivors and victims. And closely connected to this myth is another myth that says rape is about the perpetrators uncontrollable sexual desire and the sexual assault is first and foremost and act of power and control so there you’re probably thinking about the power and control wheel and we’ll come back to that; it’s not about sex it’s about power and control. Sex is not the gold it is the weapon that’s used to get that power and control. This makes it a very valuable tool for batterers.
Third myth; most perpetrators are strangers to their victims we know that the overwhelming majority of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows, usually a husband, a boyfriend, a friend or an ex-husband, boyfriend, a date, a classmate, acquaintance. I do have a story I would like to share in this point two of another woman that I had the honor of working with and she had broken up with a boyfriend and there had been violence in that relationship and one of the things that when they were together her boyfriend had always wanted to do but she never wanted to do was to have anal sex. She was very threatened and very afraid of this person but she was able to separate from him and try to start a life outside of him. And what happened was he broke into her apartment when she was there she knew he had been stalking her so he knew that she was there alone he knew what her patterns where, etc. And this was probably three or four months after they broke up so she was just sort of settling in to feeling maybe a feeling of safety like he was not going to bother her she did not know until later that he had been stalking her. Anyway, he broke into her apartment and he sodomized her it was a very brutal rape, very, very brutal and people often think of those kinds of assaults as only being stranger rapes. I want to remind us that sexual assault is a continuum, there are very brutal rapes and there are sexual assaults that happen as a result of coercion threats, manipulation, etc.
A fourth myth is that serial rapists are uncommon and the reality is that most every rapist is a serial rapist. And that causes us to check prison for ourselves if we haven’t heard those connections before that a person who assaults his girlfriend is probably a serial rapist. A person who assaults his wife is a serial rapist meaning that they have chosen to use coercion, violence, threats of forced, etc. to assault women or a woman on a repeated basis.
Myth number five many women falsely report or accuse someone of sexual assault for some other purpose and you might hear some of this in the context of supervised visitation to get a leg up in a custody battle for example but sexual assault remains one of the most underreported violent crimes and even those survivors who do report many do not get justice. Cases are plead down to misdemeanors, etc., and disclosing sexual assault in custody may even work against battered mothers because of the unfriendly or alienating parent factors and I don’t know if those are the terms we use in Michigan I’m not sure what you use in your state. Often times we know that if mothers are seeking custody in an uncontested case yes they do get custody but if it’s a contested case most of the time the custody is going to go to the father so it’s very interesting to think about someone reporting sexual assault, most women who’ve been sexually assaulted are not going to comply about being sexually assaulted that is what I’m trying to say. So we can come back to that if people have questions.
If the victim did not physically struggle with or fight the assailant then it wasn’t really rape. I ask you to think back to my first story about Amy, why did she have sex with her partner? Did she want too? Would you call that consent? It’s important to challenge ourselves with that.
Myth number seven, the victim is to blame for being raped; this myth is used when victims, usually women, are questioned about what they were doing, the choices they made, what they wore and using substances that kind of thing but it’s pretty helpful for those in power to blame the victim as we have already mentioned.
Myth number eight a person can’t be raped by someone that she has had consensual sex with in the past and this is one of the biggest stumbling blocks for a misunderstanding that rape can’t happen within a marriage or committed relationship. The fact that marital rape is now illegal at least in most states has helped to dispel this myth.
Myth number nine really has to do with the fact that we all have an image I think of what the perfect rape victim looks like, says, acts like, etc. And probably the only element of truth to what we are all visioning in our heads is that it’s probably a woman or a child. We need to let go of the fact that we think about there being the perfect rape victim we would know one if we saw one. There are many different kinds of victims of sexual assault, it happens in every society, every race, every religion, ethnicity, etc. there is no perfect rape victim. So to speak a little bit more about that cultural stereo type without communities of color that people question whether or not women from that community or ethnicity could be raped. Those are very strong out there and we need to struggle with that too and to be very honest to ourselves and to work through these myths so that we can be better helpers. And then we’ll talk about the section of characteristics of helping but before I do that why don’t we break here and if we have questions hopefully we’ll have some answers.
No questions, ok, well then I will move on to characteristics of helping and I excerpted this from a book that I recommend everyone should check out if you have not already. When I was doing direct service I used this book a great deal to guide my work because I wanted to be the best helper that I could be and I imagined all of you are the same and I felt this book to be very, very helpful. It is specific to interviewing and counseling techniques but I think there are pieces to this book that are golden for anyone who wants to be a helper, whether you be a friend or a co-worker, church member whatever, whatever role you’re in I think it’s a book that can help us. So when we fail to help a survivor of sexual assault, and this is a very challenging statement, we fail to help a survivor, we simultaneously and probably unknowingly collude with the batterer by doing exactly what the batterer wants us to do about the abuse and that is nothing. So when we do nothing we help the batterer. So as we walk through this section I think it would be good for us to further evaluate our own helping ability and experience. There are so many wonderful techniques out there and ways that we can put them into our own practices.
Ok, use of these characteristics are extremely important in the survivors experience of being helped; these are true for all helpers at all levels like I was saying a moment ago whether it be a friend, a supervised visitation worker, a sexual assault advocate or a counselor. The first characteristic of good helping is self-awareness and I think this is extremely important and I don’t know if any of you out there are doing or have friends that do this work but we’re always talking about how we over analyze everything and this is just sort of a way of life for me personally but I actually use it to my advantage when I think about being a helper because when I over analyze I am also increasing my awareness about what I think and how I am putting what I think and believe into my work. So those two are more in tuned with their own feelings, perceptions, biases tend to be the best kind of helpers and are more able to help others increase their self-awareness. Questions to ask yourself when you’re in a situation where you’re helping but you’re feeling like something is going on and ask yourself what is really going on here? Why am I feeling this way? Am I really listening to what this person is saying? Or am I projecting my own feelings and values into this situation? Whose problems am I getting these feelings about? Is it my problem or is it the survivors’ problem?
The next piece is cultural and gender awareness; those who are aware of how gender and culture affect their own perceptions, values and beliefs are more likely to be open to how those same variables can affect others. Someone who is aware of gender and cultural will recognize that people of color and women experience life very differently from that tall white middle-class male who has had the highest privileges and may have never experienced any form of oppression. This awareness leads to a better understanding and a deeper value and differences due to gender and culture and allow the helper to look at each person as an individual with their own unique experiences, values, beliefs, and therefore options. And I want to draw us back to what we were saying when we talked about working with survivors of sexual assault; there’s no one way to heal and that means there is no one way to help, so we need to be tuned in to our own self-awareness and awareness of the culture that we come from as well as from the percent we’re trying to help; from that context then figure out what the options are for help. The next piece is so critical and that is honesty. It is a critical piece of any helping relationship; helpers should answer questions to the best of their ability and then state in helping the relationship being honest of lack of knowledge in a certain area. When I use to work with the crisis line workers I know many of them were concerned about what if I say something wrong, I use to always encourage them that if you say something wrong you recognize it and you’re honest about it you can fix it for the most part, not always, but for the most part. If you’re honest with someone and say I did not mean…what I really was trying to say is this, you can repair what happened; but honesty is really important. Congruence, this is a consistency between your words and your actions. That old famous phrase talking the talk and walking the walk, those who are congruent will be better able to articulate their perceptions and a value system, they are not as likely to impose them on others and be less threatened by others that are different from themselves. They will understand that the purpose of a helping-relationship is to facilitate and help with self-understanding in decision making and not to impose your own, and that’s congruent again. It’s very important to really be fair with the service protection with what she isn’t telling you.
Ability to communicate, effectively communicating verbally and non-verbally what we perceive, feel, and believe is helpful in any relationship; we also mentioned the congruence in non -verbal and verbal communication. I know we can’t do that now on this audio conference call but if we were in person I would have a sense from all of you whether or not we were engaged with the topic of what I’m saying or not. I think you all know the connection between your verbal and non-verbal communication is extremely important when you’re acting in a role as helper.
Knowledge, the effecting helping book talks about knowledge of series of helping in this context in the kind of working we’re talking about in the call. I think knowledge and understanding about the issues people are struggling with like battered moms, they don’t want to bring their child to supervised visitation with the perpetrator who she saw at least eject the kids with violence if not worse. Our knowledge of issue dynamics of domestic and sexual violence and the knowledge of community resources and what those resources have to offer, we will get back to that piece in a little bit.
The final piece is ethical integrity. And ethical integrity is the intersection of honesty and congruence. And it results in helping in responsible, moral and ethical ways. There could be lack of ethical dilemmas and I’m sure many of you have experienced those in many areas of your life, but specific to supervised visitation they are very complex and very challenging not easy situations when we are in explicit ethical dilemmas. Helpers need the capacity to tolerate that ambiguity and the uncertainty diligence. To find a lot of that in your work is not an easy issue. When this comes up in the context of intimate sexual partner violence in supervised visitation it needs to be able to struggle with what to do and not just what we believe. If battered women disclose the sexual assault but you don’t believe what should you do? You should know what to do in that situation and you should ask her how she feels about the fact that she was sexually assaulted and seeks her safety at your center, this is the very least you want to think from a safety perspective, how to provide an environment that is safe for the child or children and anyone else who is involved in the visit. What are the harms, I suppose you say something to her that is not judgmental and offer resources in the community. That is all; you don’t have to believe her to be able to say something that is not judgmental and to offer resources. So I know these are issues you all have to struggle with at the local level but I raised them I know they’re difficult and they’re not fun to think about but I feel that they are important to doing them in this type of work. Let’s see the supervised visitation, oh sorry, checking my notes, sexual assault agencies need to be talking with survivors who are involved with supervised visitation centers without the pros and cons of disclosing and another piece I don’t know how many folks from sexual assault agencies are on the call but hey I would like to talk about that when we get to the question/answer session.
Things to say to a survivor and again even if you’re in a situation where you don’t believe her I would say there are still things that you can do that won’t do harm and you don’t have to believe her that is your prerogative, but in the role of your work I know you don’t want to do no harm, think there are ways and things that we can say that meet that pro ground, we’ll come back to that.
Being a good listener; recovering from sexual assault can take a long time and the survivor may be disclosing to you because she feels the need of support at this time, let her choose when she wants to talk, when she does disclose, here are some helpful things to remember that you could do and say and not do. Do concentrate on validating her feelings, allow for those silences, recognize the courage for her to share that experience with you, remember not to ask for specific details of what she was forced to do, as part of sexual assault don’t ask the why questions, such as, why did you let him do that to you in front of the children? Those kinds of things, don’t tell her what you think you would have done, or what you think she should have done, basically just listening is the most helpful thing and many survivors are never listened to, so when I say listening is the most important thing, I really do mean that. Then, non-judgmental non-victim blaming validating statements are the best thing you can say to a survivor and really you can’t say them enough. These are not the messages that survivors generally hear if they have chosen to come to one before and when I use to do trainings for police officers and other systems people I would put these phrases on little pieces of paper that you can laminate so they can stick them on their bulletin board or in their wall or somewhere accessible to them as they work with survivors. I think it’s helpful because you don’t have to remember what these are, you can look at the board and be reminded and these are fail-proof statements, you can use these one or ten times with a survivor it’s never too much. But “I’m sorry this happened to you, it’s not your fault,” “I believe you, I’m glad you told me, you’re not alone, it’s ok to be angry about what happened to you, you have the right to make choices, no one deserves to be abused, you need and deserve to know your rights and options, there is help, I’d like to talk with you about a place that can offer you more help.” I hope those would be useful to you as you work with sexual assault survivors.
Roman numeral seven linking for support, we know that supervised visitation centers are not domestic violence or sexual assault agencies and staff at supervised visitation centers don’t have to be experts in the issues of sexual assault or domestic violence. But by linking together to look at these issues in the context of supervised visitation we connect by how to respond to these cases and establish best practice for doing so. Knowing your limits is very important, going back to the effective helping principles you know you don’t have knowledge in a certain area and being aware of that and not putting information out there, you’re not sure if there are people in the community that you could network with so that you can have that kind of information the importance and it leads into the next one, the importance of what resources existed in your community, the importance of understanding what areas of responsibility each agency has. For example if there is a domestic violence agency in your community do they offer supply services for survivors of domestic violence who have experience sexual violence? Or do they work with a local sexual assault agency to do that piece? To know how those resources in a community work together is very important. If you don’t know who provides sexual assault services in your community find out who does and go to lunch with them or talk to the director or other staff, invite them to your advisory or consulting committee, include them in policy and procedure review, that kind of thing, getting them involved in the process in the context of supervised visitation. If no one in your community does this work and knowing that across the nation we’re struggling with how to address sexual assault both as its own issue and in the context of battering. It may happen that some of your communities don’t have sexual assault survivors and if no one in the community does that work, then may be pulling together a group of who should be doing it, and how can this community come to better establish these services. So the importance of linking with other communities is really important and I know you’re already doing that with supervised visitation and domestic violence. We’ll be going over services for sexual assault survivors so I want to offer a sampling of many sexual assault centers that do provide for survivors, friends, and family who access their services. One is a 24 hour crisis line and not every program is going to have all these services but many will. One is a 24 hour crisis or hotline; most programs will offer counseling if not individuals then maybe a group, or support group or information and educational groups. Most sexual assault agencies will provide legal and medical advocacy, first response teams who will meet survivors at the hospital or police department and help them build what their rights and options are. And if a survivor wants to pursue a criminal case helping that survivor with whatever legal needs she has, understanding the criminal justice system process, attend hearings with the survivor, meetings with the prosecutor, etc., etc. Public awareness is something that many sexual assault agencies do, creating and disseminating materials regarding services that are available and are aimed at increasing the public’s awareness of the issues around domestic and sexual violence through brochures, flyers, billboards that kind of thing. Many sexual assault agencies work within a community to develop an understanding of the dynamics of domestic and sexual violence services that are available and identify some of the changes within the community system that would benefit survivors of domestic and sexual violence. Specific kinds of assistance providing service participants with financial resources for items such as prescriptions and transportation, living expenses, and medical appointments, etc. things to address that are specific to individualized needs. Many of you have probably heard of SANE programs or sexual assault nurse examiner program, they create and operate comprehensive programs to provide sexual assault forensic services medical forensic services utilizing specially trained nurses and education and prevention that is especially designed presentation for community members assistance to talk about the dynamics of domestic violence and sexual assault the impact on survivors, their families and society and the root causes of this kind of violence. So this is just a sampling of what you can expect of services provided by sexual assault agencies. Finally their struggling together and I think one of the things that we can do as we struggle together in these collaborations is staying focused on safety whenever it gets hard thinking about what you should do or what you shouldn’t do to bring it back to staying grounded to what our purpose is and then I would say that these aren’t the words but in my mind you’re providing an environment that’s safe for the child or children and anyone else unsafe or at risk at the supervised visit. So staying focused on safety I think can help work through some of those more difficult struggles. If there is a lack of resources in your community who is responsible for instructing those services for survivors of sexual assault in the context of battering we talk about trying to move along the community to make sure they are addressing those needs linkages between supervised visitation centers, sexual assault agencies and domestic violence agencies, and required agencies to mentioned and it’s important to know if you’re a domestic violence program is dealing with sexual assault and responding to the needs of survivors help. Cross training couldn’t be more important for sexual assault agencies to know what a domestic violence agency is and vice versa and for supervised visitation staff to have an understanding on domestic violence and sexual assault and what services are available in the community. So cross training those based on issues as well as services and then maintaining regular contact with each other whether through the community collaboration meetings or specific meetings that you set up as a matter of routine. If we don’t talk about it and establish a common knowledge foundation and no one is likely to do anything then nothing will change. Survivors will continue to suffer in the blame and shame they are most likely feeling and that will cost all of us. I wanted to end our time together before questions and answers with a poem and a few of you may have heard it before but it always reminds me of my responsibility to human kind regardless of what my own struggles are and it’s a poem attributed to pastor Martin Niemoller I’m not sure if I’m pronouncing his name correctly and it was originally about the inactivity of the German intellectuals following the Nazi rights to power and purging of their target group by group but it’s very relevant I think to the work that we all do because we’re trying to make social change here. So the poem goes and I hope you find it inspiring.
They came first for the communist and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a communist then they came for the Jews and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me and by that time there was no one left to speak out for me.
I think that helps us focus on how we can make this world a better place for all of us. With that I will turn it over for questions and answers and hopefully we can dialogue with each other a bit.
Lauren: You mentioned at the beginning of the call I believe this question was raised on last week’s call; explore with us a little bit this question about whether centers should be asking about sexual violence and how a center might come to some good conclusions about when they do decide to ask it how they’re going to just systems talking about how specifically they prepare themselves to talk to her in the context of an orientation intake I meant that might be one more name place for them that might come up also a number of supervised visitation programs across the country are shifting their practices to incorporate more time to spend with victims in between the visits either on the phone or sometimes they come in between the visits or they just check when mothers dropping their kids off; it’s just creating more opportunity for center staff to have more interaction with victims. So that might be another setting where these issues might come up and given sometimes the short amount of time that staff would have with women. Just talk about your ideas about whether they should be asking about it and if they are how they should be.
Sara: Ok, whether or not they should be asking I truly believe that we need to establish best practices on that and I don’t believe those have been established yet. So really learn that, that is a question that we need to struggle with whether or not it’s part of assessment that we may ask supervised visitation staff and so I’m hesitant to put something out there because the struggle is currently going on and it continues to figure out what these best practices are. If it is being asked already or if it comes up as a result of having more time with survivors which I think is a great thing to build practices around setting more time with the survivors. Now you have a better idea of the context of battering for her if it comes up in that context I think at this point what we need to ask ourselves is if somebody tells me that they have been sexually assaulted will I know what to say? Will I know what to do? Will I know where to refer them? And if I’m uncomfortable with the fact that not many people go around talking about their sexuality let alone abuse in the context of sexuality. It is very difficult to talk about and it’s quite an uncomfortable thing for many of us to hear but I think we need to become comfortable with terms around sexuality and as well as clinical terms. We need to develop a comfort level with talking and hearing about someone’s experience being sexually assaulted and not to go back to that effective helping but to be aware of what we know and what we feel to be honest with ourselves and the person who is disclosing to us about what we know about sexual assault and to say there are people in this community who could help you more than I can but I’m so glad that you told me and I want to think with you about what this means about your safety while you’re part of the services of this center. And that’s what I think is important being ready to hear it, being willing to hear it, knowing what you would do and say and then to ask that critical question of you have told me about the sexual assault and many of those other things to say to a survivor but they’ll always ask what does this mean for you in terms of your safety and your child’s or children safety while you are using this supervised visitation center services. So that is my response, did I answer your question?
Lauren: That’s really good, as centers are moving to really work with adult victims of battering to understand what her unique safety concerns are that’s coming to and from the center. And we all know there’s a broad range spectrum of the use of power and control specifically around visitation and exchange and that centers are really working to work with each individual women about her unique needs and doing the best they can to respond to the unique needs that come up for her even though the capacity limits those sort of things that the center might have but during the best that they can to work with her to address those unique needs and she knows best how this is going to influence her safety when she’s coming to the center. So I appreciate those comments.
Sara: Did anyone raise their hands while we’ve been chatting?
Marin: No ma’am. So one final opportunity for people to raise their hands and ask some questions.
Sara: If I could I have a couple of questions I could ask the group.
Marin: oh sure yes go for it.
Sara: I just wondered if there are people on this call who have had this come up and in the work that you’ve already done that someone has disclosed marital rape to you and what did you do ? How did you handle it? What were your struggles? On what we’ve talked about on this call and in part of what you experienced and what else would you like to know about it? So if you’ve experienced someone disclosing marital rape as part of the context of supervised visitation and would be willing to share your experienced I would really love to hear about it.
Marin: any other questions that you’d thought to ask participants?
Sara: This is out of curiosity both particular and in general; domestic violence agencies who are on the line is there someone else who can talk about domestic violence services you provide and how you are addressing marital rape in the context of domestic violence or maybe you refer that to a sexual assault agency or how are you dealing you with survivors in a domestic violence agency? How are you feeling with providing services to battered women who go to you that have been sexually assaulted?
Participant 1: I actually have a comment that I guess took a while for my thing to show up. I was going to talk about when a person discloses that to you; and I was hesitant to say anything because I think it is because you know you never quite feel that you’re saying everything that you need to say on such a sensitive subject. And I just said when I was in that situation I just wanted to before I got into what legal remedies or anything like that I just wanted to acknowledge her feelings and how she felt at that very moment and just listen to her. I know that it may not as an alternative be the first thing you do, but you still have to acknowledge that, that person is a human being and is going through a lot of emotional things and as far as the second question that came up when I previously worked in a domestic violence agency we would often have a counseling program right on site and we would gently offer it to the clients. How that subject came up or even if it came up it may not come up right there and then it may come up at the end of a conversation it really depended on how the conversation was going you know the type of record that you may establish with the client.
Sara: That’s true. Those are wonderful comments, Shannon, it really illustrates there’s no prescribed path here and someone may disclose that they’ve been sexually assaulted in their first conversation with you and others may not and others may do it only after you develop that kind of relationship that you were talking about with them. Part of developing that kind of trusting and honest relationship goes back to exactly what you said in your first point which is to acknowledge the survivors feelings what she’s going through right at that time and being willing to just listen and I really thing that as a society we don’t really tell people that listening is the most helpful thing that you can do but if you think to a time in your own life that you have talked to somebody about something that is this emotionally different for you, I bet most of us would say that it really helped when I could just talk to a person that I trusted and they just listened to me, that is so helpful and I really appreciate that you made those two points they were great points, thank you.
Marin: This is Marin, if you don’t mind staying on the line for a second I’d like to ask you another question about when you were working with this moment in particular and she raised sexual assault as an issue for her were there things that came up in your conversation with her that she felt clearly impacted her safety coming to the visitation center, leaving the visitation center, using the visitation center and were there things that you as a center worker did differently knowing that you have this information that she had been a victim of sexual assault?
Participant 1: oh I’m sorry I wasn’t a center worker, I just worked within a domestic violence facility that had a shelter but often I would have to draft an order for her to go to a certain center and a particular center that we worked there with some on sensitivity issues regarding her safety and that this came up not initially but may be a month in to it that she would disclose she was having problems and her issues weren’t really taken seriously at the center. You know, I think it’s because the particular center they don’t always know the specifics of a case and sometimes, not all but, sometimes some of the centers kind of formulate their own ideas about the client maybe oh she seems difficult or he seems like a nice guy and so issues of safety and being afraid weren’t really taken that seriously.
Lauren: Which is exactly why we’ve been doing this work for the last four years working with centers and also the courts to make sure that centers really have a clear picture of why she’s being referred why that family in particular is being referred to use a supervised visitation center. So the centers not a new place of trying to guess what her safety needs are but they have a picture of them from the referring agency of what those safety needs are already and then also to integrate into the orientation in the intake and ongoing as people use the centers to explore with her what safety needs are coming up for you now you’ve been using the center for two months; is he changing his tactics, is he doing anything differently than he was when you started using the center and what can we do to help address that changing nature. That happens after battered women have left their partners.
Sara: We’ve talked about this issue around not being neutral to violence and the struggles within supervised visitation centers around neutrality and I think that you cannot be neutral to violence but still be courteous and hold batterers accountable and part of that I think is working with that survivor to what you were saying Lauren, to identify how the patterns change, are you feeling less safe now than you did last week, and what has happened in between then to make that so and exploring things, these are not one time conversations that tell you where battered women is; it is always changing, batterers are always changing tactics and doing new things and sending messages in new ways that only that survivor will recognize. But as you were saying we need to continue our conversations to access how things are in terms of safety for her that particular time. Take a snapshot when we talk to her you know? We need to do this in an ongoing thing.
Marin: Well thank you so much Claire for your presentation today. And thank you to the persistence for calling in and that’s it for today have a lovely afternoon.