October: Domestic Violence Awareness Month

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DVAMAs the leaves begin to change, sweaters come out, and warm beverages become the norm, make sure to remember National Domestic Violence Awareness month. Whether your discussion is over a pumpkin spice latte or while raking leaves, it is up to our network of allies, survivors, and advocates to raise awareness of interpersonal violence. It’s important that we talk about the wider implications of violence, prevention mechanisms, and how to be effective allies.

Initially created by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in 1981, DVAM is an opportunity to unite survivors, advocates, and community members. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines intimate partner abuse as “physical, sexual, or psychological harm by a current or former partner or spouse. This type of violence can occur among heterosexual or same-sex couples and does not require sexual intimacy.” Moreover, the Department of Justice notes that domestic violence, the pattern of abusive behavior “used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner,” extends to physical, sexual, emotional, economic, and psychological abuse.

The Facts

From the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey:

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(How) Can We Talk About Rape?

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The fabric holding this nation together wears away with each passing second. What used to be the thread of principle is now replaced by consumption and consumerism.

Such claims are not foreign to Dr. Kumi Silva, Assistant Professor of Communication at UNC-Chapel Hill. These statements were the topics of UNC’s roundtable discussion, (How) Can We Talk About Rape?. Silva argued that consumerism and consumption allow society to thrive on a relative culture. Relativity hinders our ability to recognize the current state of rape discourse – which says that strides have been made, but fails to recognize that there are more to be made. Women and their sexual autonomy have progressed; yet, language and actions continue to reinstall their marginality in today’s media. Silva presented several advertisements from the last decade to illustrate her point. Each of these advertisements serves as a reminder that sexual violence is as prevalent in today’s media as it has been in the past and that these depictions are casually accepted as much today as they were back then.

So, how is this possible? Dr. Barbara Friedman, Associate Professor at the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication, suggests the news plays a large role in sustaining the relative culture.

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“Mommy, What’s Rape?”

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"What's Rape?" How to Answer This Tough QuestionWhether your child hears the word rape in the news, reads it on the internet, or sees it on one of our materials, there are age-appropriate ways to talk to your child when he or she asks about it.

However, even before this comes up in conversation, there are a few things parents can put into practice with children and teens that will help set the stage for this discussion.

1. We want kids to know that their private parts are for them and off limits to others, but we also want them to know what they are and be comfortable talking about them. Using the anatomically correct terms of vagina, vulva, and penis can promote positive body image, self-confidence, and parent-child communication. Conversely, using euphemisms to describe private parts can promote the ideas of shame, discomfort, and embarrassment about bodies. And in the event of inappropriate touch, being able to use anatomically correct words helps the child be specific when reporting to parents or police.
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There Is Only One Line: Consent

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After spending some time abroad, I returned home to find that Robin Thicke’s summer hit Blurred Lines was a widespread phenomenon, gracing the radio waves of top 40 stations across the nation. With a catchy tune, nice beat, and memorable lines, more than once I caught myself singing along without quite considering the words I was saying – until law students from Auckland University remade the song into a feminist anthem (warning: adult content).

Adelaide Dunn, Olivia Lubbock, and Zoe Ellwood tag-team to unveil the damage inflicted by the overtly misogynistic lines normalizing sexual advances despite “blurred lines” of consent, with self-assured men chanting, “I know you want it, but you’re a good girl.”

You Know You Want It

As reported in the New Zealand Herald article “Law Students Blur the Lines in Online Hit,” Thicke has responded to allegations of misogyny by noting “the song was about breaking taboos.” Yet Dunn, Lubbock, and Ellwood retorted that the “attitude of the whole thing came across as being quite arrogant, especially with the issue of consent.”

Project Unbreakable (from whom we’ve re-printed pictures in this blog post) is an organization founded to help sexual assault survivors in their healing process by photographing themselves with quotes taken from their abusers in order to break the silence and shame surrounding their victimization. Some of these photographs were recently published in conjunction with the University of Minnesota’s The Society Pages in an article titled “From the Mouths of Rapists: The Lyrics of Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines.” The parallels to Thicke’s lyrics are unmistakable. Echoing the lyrics, survivors were pictured with phrases such as, “I know you want it,” “Good Girl,” “We both know you don’t really mean it when you say no,” and “Thank you for making me feel like a Man.”

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September is National Suicide Prevention Month

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Suicide is PreventableSeptember is National Suicide Prevention Month, and as it comes to a close, prevention efforts must continue. Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death among Americans. And according to the Suicide Prevention Center, for every suicide death, twelve others have been attempted. The number grows for victims of sexual assault and rape. Feeling powerless and struggling with shame and self-blame, many victims turn to suicide as a way out of emotional burdens.

But suicide is 100% preventable – it just takes effort from a community of family and friends to prevent it. Recognize the warning signs of suicide and intervene. Here are some signs worth a second look…

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The Wonders of Companionship

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I first heard about the opportunity to become a Companion in my Women’s Studies 101 class at UNC during spring of my first year in college. We went around the large lecture hall and students shared the various kinds of feminist community service they were involved in. One young woman spoke about her experience as a Companion with the Orange County Rape Crisis Center and how meaningful she found the work. Having seen the effects of sexual violence in my group of closest friends and knowing the feeling of helplessness when they had come to me with their stories, I knew I wanted to be able to give more, but I was unsure of what that would look like.

After class, I spoke with my classmate and felt sure that I wanted to become a Companion with the Center. Sixty hours of training seemed daunting at first, but as the weeks went on, I built relationships with my fellow trainees and staff, and I began to understand the impact of what I was learning. When we discuss sexual violence in a classroom or read about it or even hear about it on the news, it can seem abstract. So many myths surround the topic that is often difficult to discern how someone might experience rape in real life.

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Living in a Rape Culture: A Primer

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Being introduced to the concept of rape culture changed everything. It changed my understanding of television, music, jokes, laws, and even language. When asked to write a primer for rape culture, I assumed it would be a simple task. Surely, I had been using the term for years, since taking a Women’s Studies 101 course at UNC. It took the better part of a week, however, to even start this overwhelming blog post.

It feels difficult to define something as pervasive as rape culture, but essentially it is a set of attitudes and practices that normalize, tolerate, and even condone sexual violence. We hear messages supporting rape culture everywhere, from television and music to casual comments and jokes from friends. These everyday messages have a deep-rooted impact on society.

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The Intersection of Sexual Violence and Disability

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Sexual Assault Is Everyone's Issue!It’s time to dive a bit deeper into the nuances of sexual violence and how it differentially affects certain groups of people. Although I’ve been involved in the anti-violence movement for about 5 years, something you may not know is that I’ve also done a lot of work to support folks in our community who have developmental and/or intellectual disabilities. Having the opportunity to work with folks with an array of different levels of ability, both cognitively and physically, has only increased my passion for raising awareness about the intersection of sexual violence and disability status. Based on extensive research, we know that people with disabilities are at heightened risk to be sexually victimized. I hope to highlight some of what we know about this issue.

Many of us have heard the line “sexual violence does not discriminate,” and it affects people of all races, ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds, genders, sexual orientations, religious affiliations, and other forms of identity. However, though this violence affects us all, it does not do so equally. Research consistently shows that people with developmental and/or intellectual disabilities are at increased risk to experience sexual violence in their lifetimes.

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Punk Cuts to End Rape

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Punk cut!

A year ago on a warm night in June 2012, folks assembled into the house of the bold and brave Rachel Valentine to donate to the Orange County Rape Crisis Center. When the number of donors reached a total of 50, Rachel’s friends brought out the clippers and gave Rachel a punk cut to remember. This past weekend, the tradition lived on.

Arriving at Orange County Social Club on Saturday night, I was taken aback at how many people had gathered inside to support the Center. I pulled out my camera just in time to capture the first cut: the brave Amado, the son of Board Secretary Lydia Perez. Others joined in and soon, the room filled with applause and punk spikes supported by hair gel. The amazing stylists from Mina’s Studio provided an array of fresh styles to our team, including Rape Prevention Education Coordinator Rachel Valentine, Rebecca Honeycutt (wife of Crisis Response Coordinator Joey Honeycutt), Education & Finance Coordinator Alexis Kralic’s family, StartStrong Intern Amanda Baldiga, the Ruiz-Perez family, and Heather Wegerzyn.

In accordance with the punk DIY mentality, the night became more unceremonious as the gifted stylists left, leaving Rachel and myself with a pair of buzzing clippers and a flock of nervous volunteers. Community members began an impromptu “live auction,” offering to shave their heads for funds raised on the spot for the Center. The punk cuts performed by yours truly turned out “just fine” even if a little sloppy, and I was even able to get my own hair all punked out by Rachel. It felt incredible, not only to feel the summer breeze on the sides of my head, but also to feel the overflowing sense of love and gratitude among all the folks involved.

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Another Man Standing Against Sexual Violence

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Reuben picDespite supporting survivors, working against rape culture, and participating in the local feminist community for years, I had never really thought of myself as an activist or even as someone really worthy of speaking out. I felt unsure of myself, and didn’t want to be a know-it-all white guy speaking up just to feel important. But this sense of myself has recently begun to change.

I was moved last November after reading about Jen Kirkman, a comedian profiled on Jezebel who went on a Twitter strike until there was more public support from men about online harassment of women. She created the site MA’AM: Men Aligned Against Misogyny to give men a space to speak out and voice their dislike for sexist behavior. Jen described her frustration with her male friends’ reluctance to publicly challenge other men’s hateful, belittling comments (such as: “shut up, jen, you’re a bummer, go back to being hot or maybe funny for once in your life”), instead sending her private messages to voice their discontent. However, as the article’s author asserts, “Private assurances of support don’t cut it anymore. It’s time for the dudes to step up, speak out, and call out the creepers and the critics who’ve made the web such a uniquely hostile environment for women who dare to be smart, to be political, to be funny.”

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