Life is a Battlefield… It’s a long one…

Hi all, I have been working on an assignment as a volunteer for The Pixel Project and it has been quite absorbing. I haven’t forgotten  my work here and apologize for my lapse. It’s a little after 2 am and I am wide awake. My mind is racing and I just can’t seem to quiet it. It’s a very specific thing that is preventing sleep and I hope that by sharing I can get some relief.

There is a photograph circulating on Facebook of a young man, he is holding a dog by the throat against a wall, his other arm is pulled back and he is about to punch the dog in the face. The same day I saw this horrific image, I was posting a link on the home page of the advocacy center that I volunteer for. On the page I noticed a post, some one with a name that didn’t make any sense and that even now I cannot recall, had posted a comment. An extremely vulgar comment, one that I am loathe to repeat – I checked if it was still there in order to correctly communicate it’s intention – it’s gone. When I saw the comment, I clicked the person’s name to report them (it was THAT bad). On this person’s home page there was a series of pictures, they started with someone putting a cat in a cage and then a series of images of the cage on fire.

It was horrible, my mind wants to tell my soul that these images are not real, that people don’t do such horrendous things, but they do. We know they do. Part of the reason that people do these things is because there is an audience for them. People take pictures of themselves doing disgusting, horrible things for their own warped pleasure and the twisted pleasure of their friends.

Recently, I shared something on my personal Facebook page about rape. The piece or meme as it were, reflected on what is consent and what is not. Being drunk, wearing a short skirt, being out after dark, these are all old, tired lines that called into question the validity of a survivor’s statement. Were they drunk, were they dressed inappropriately, were they out too late, in a bad part of town? An old acquaintance commented on the post, he made a inappropriate comment about rape and mocked the intention of the piece. I had tolerated his various idiosyncrasies thus far, but this was the final straw. I made a polite, but to the point statement that shared my disappointment in his behavior and then I unfriended him.

I believe in free speech, I enjoy the right to say whatever I want without fear of reprisal. People are always welcome to disagree with me and my point of view. However, I do not believe that I am required to tolerate your masochistic, misogynistic attitude. Not when you know my stand on gender violence and how I make it part of my every day life to fight it.

Which is the point, why do we shudder at something someone says and try to laugh it off? Why, when we know someone who’s behavior is just this-side of being totally inappropriate do we simply stand by? Because, “it’s just not our place”? Well, guess what, someone has to start saying something. Someone has to stand up and say, “ENOUGH”. Because when survivors speak out and stake their claim, they have a vested interest in the outcome. That vested interest makes others a little less sympathetic, a little less willing to listen. But, when a man says to his group of friends, “you know, I think that that is really inappropriate, I’d like you to stop”, yes he might get mocked, but he might not. His friends might listen, maybe not the first time; if his message is always the same and he makes it plain, people will listen.

It’s something that we all have to do. We have to stand up for those who have no voice. Especially animals.  They can’t speak for themselves and often when we see things happening to them, we look away. We make ourselves culpable in their suffering. It’s easy to post and repost things on Facebook, feeling like we’ve done something good. It’s not enough, we have to start standing up. No more sitting down. Instead of reposting pictures on Facebook contact your local shelter, find out how to help animals that are being abused. Intervene when you see something happening. Don’t walk by. We can’t let this happen any longer. It has to stop. It has to stop now.

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In the interest of getting involved, I’d like to invite everyone to check out the Hollaback campaign’s website. I discovered them while doing research for my Pixel Project assignment and I find their message really resonates with how I am feeling right now. Their message is amazing and effective. Check them out at www.ihollaback.org.

My editor is sleeping, so if there are tragic grammatical mistakes, I apologize.

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The Plan Begins…

I had a very interesting conversation today, one that I would like to share with you.

Today was the Domestic Violence Vigil at the Circuit Court on Harrison. This courthouse specilizes in domestic violence. The courthouse also houses various agencies providing resources for survivors of domestic violence.

While at the vigil, I was speaking to a woman who was there with an advocacy agency. As is want to happen at these functions, we were dicussing the struggles that the advocacy community faces; not only the usual trouble related to funding and staff, but the fundamental issues that we find in garnering understanding from those outside the advocacy community.

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Why are we still struggling against partner and sexual violence? Why, in 2012, is this still even an issue? It isn’t even strictly about women. Partner violence is violence, no matter the gender of the perpetrator. Those of us fighting for the survivors don’t differentiate between gender, race, class or creed. We simply see people that need help and we want to be there to help them.

So, why, I asked her, are we having such trouble convincing people to help us help survivors? Not only help, but stop judging. I came to this conclusion: in large part it is an issue of understanding.

Sexual assault and domestic violence can all happen (though not exclusively) in established relationships. What does this mean? Women who drop charges against their abusers, or refuse to prosecute their rapist, to the frustration of police and the court system, are often linked to the perpetrator, emotionally and psychologically.

Imagine if your partner of 2 months or 12 years suddenly became abusive, the feelings of confusion that would accompany this sudden change in behavior. What would you think: what happened to them at work, or school? What happened today to upset them? Did I do something?

That’s how abuse often starts in these relationships; slowly, with psychological abuse, then the alienation of family and friends. By the time the physical abuse begins, the survivor often feels like they have no one and nowhere to find help.

Think about how many times it took you to break up with the last person you dated. Was the decision easy? Were you married, financially dependent on them? Were children involved? What about pets? Ending a relationship is difficult, even when violence isn’t involved. Now, what if that person was threatening to hurt you, your child, or your dog? Take your money, tell everyone lies about you? Murder you?

The most dangerous part of a relationship that involves domestic violence is when the survivor decides to leave. This is something advocates tell them. They tell survivors because they want them to safety plan, so that a survivor knows when they are planning to leave, that this part, NOW, is when they are in the most danger.

When you put it into perspective you can’t really blame the survivor for struggling with the choice to leave.

This is why advocates are so important – they have not and can not be alienated by abusers. They don’t fall for the tricks and the lies. They are willing to wait while a survivor rebuilds their self-esteem and sense of worth, builds their safety plan and gets ready to leave, to run, and sometimes to hide.

That’s why advocates need our support. More than ever. And I have a plan. Are you willing to help me?

copyright 2012 Michelle Cahill