Friday, April 20, 2018

Healthy Pet Awareness Extends to Violence and Abuse

It is easy to lose sight of the broader picture and easy to overlook the fact that animal abuse and domestic violence are closely related; we tend to disassociate the fact the pets are close members of our families and often the most vulnerable. Aggressive and cowardly acts to the most vulnerable individual of the family, whether it is two legged or four legged, is a huge sign of power and control. Killing, harming or threatening to harm beloved pets are weapons used by domestic abusers to manipulate victims into silence. A startling survey revealed that more than 70% of survivors stated that their abuser threatened, killed or injured their pet out of revenge or control.

It is very common for a victim of domestic violence to report that their beloved pet has been hurt or killed by their abuser. Additionally, in many cases victims who are fleeing a domestic violence relationship are forced to stay to protect their pets or must choose between their own safety or their pet’s safety. In a recent study, 34% of women surveyed had delayed leaving.  Victims describe being emotionally attached to their pets and the thought of leaving them behind because they couldn’t care for them is unimaginable. 

The Animal Welfare Institute, an agency that focuses on advocating and fighting to change policy to protect animals, in a recent study reported that pet abuse was identified as one of the four significant predictors for Intimate Partner Violence.  Moreover, the study found that batterers who abuse pets used more forms of violence and demonstrated greater use of controlling behaviors.

And then there are the children. Children will register everything they see and hear and when they witness their pets being hurt it is registered in their delicate brains.  More shocking, the behaviors that our children witness and learn from people who hurt pets is more likely to be expressed through their behavior in school and as adolescents and adults. Children learn that it is okay to take out their frustration on those more vulnerable, including their pets. 

It is important to understand the relationship between animal abuse and domestic violence.  Some people try to justify or undermine this problem because the victim is only the animal.  However, it is important to consider that a person who hurts animals often escalates to hurt people. And children who abuse animals can also escalate to violence against people. Often this is a warning sign that something is going on with the child and in the family dynamic.  Other behaviors include aggression and bullying.

No one deserves to be treated badly or physically abused. This includes our pets. How can you help?  Talk to your children if they ever hurt an animal or witness someone hurting an animal.  Start by telling them that is not okay and that there are healthy options to express complex feelings of depression, anger, and anxiety. If you see others hurting their pets, or just animals in general, you can report the matter to your local animal control or regional animal services.  You can also call 911.  Likewise, you can help victims of domestic/intimate partner violence by connecting them with agencies who can provide them with safety and support. Your local domestic violence community organization is Tahoe SAFE Alliance.  Please be mindful that by doing this, you can be saving a valuable life.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Boys are Not Alright. So What Can We Do About It?

In the wake of yet another mass shooting at a high school in Florida, a popular opinion piece has been circulating connecting the dots between violence and men and boys.  It's main point: America's boys are broken.

The piece, titled "The Boys Are Not Alright," by Michael Ian Black, exemplifies this connection by stating that men and boys are suffering from an outdated model of masculinity and society is paying the price.  Men and boys are the main perpetrators of most violent crimes, including gang violence, intimate partner violence, mass shootings, and gun violence.  Additionally, boys are four times as likely to complete suicide than their female counterparts.  Our boys are experiencing a crisis.  And Tahoe SAFE Alliance believes there is something that we can do about it.

For years, Tahoe SAFE Alliance has implemented a Community Outreach and Prevention Program that teaches true gender equity.  The agency attempts to navigate the complexity of gender-based labels through education at the schools and through its Youth Empowerment groups.  Through this community education, Tahoe SAFE Alliance allows youth to examine the constructs of traditional gender roles defined by a patriarchal system.  Additionally, youth are encouraged to consider how these roles are damaging to society and to themselves.

With boys' Youth Empowerment, Tahoe SAFE Alliance specifically focuses on what it means to be a boy/man in today's world and the struggles and pressures that boys and young men face to fit into constricting and outdated gender roles. Furthermore, the participants are incited to redefine what masculinity means in a manner that allows for the full human expression of emotions and experiences.  These empowerment groups provide room for boys to express vulnerability, love and compassion while challenging the stereotype that male value relies solely on strength and having power over others.  When you allow men and boys to show emotion without emasculating them, you provide a safe space for them to reach out for help when needed without being seen as weak.  You also grant courage to stand up to violence and allow for the full human experience that boys also deserve.

The continuous struggle for gender equity is on all of us, as it affects all of us.  The only way we can truly face today's challenges such as gun violence, gender-based violence and suicide, is if we dismantle a patriarchal system that keeps us all in stifling and subordinate roles.  Tahoe SAFE Alliance continues to fight for gender equity and the rights of all people in the community, however this also needs to be reflected at home.

We hear all the time, "What can I do"?  First, let your sons cry, tell them its okay, boys do cry and there is nothing wrong with that.  Second, have conversations with all of your children about gender equity and what that means in today's society.   As Mr. Black poignantly points out, "To be clear, most men will never turn violent.  Most men will turn out fine.  Most will learn to navigate the deep waters of their feelings without ever engaging in any form of destruction.  Most will grow up to be kind.  But many will not."   Lastly, show your boys that they can ask for help and it doesn't make them less of a person.  And give them just as much patience and tenderness as your daughters, they deserve it and need it now, more than ever.

Contributed by Emily Abrahams
Community Education and Prevention Educator

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Significance of the Times Persons of the Year

On Wednesday, December 6, Time Magazine announced the Time Person, or in this case persons, of the Year 2017.  “The Silence Breakers” include activist Tarana Burke, who began #MeToo campaign ten years ago, Taylor Swift, Ashley Judd, Rose McGowan, Megyn Kelly, Terry Crews and all the other individuals that spoke about their experiences with sexual violence.  The women and men behind the #MeToo campaign created dialog around the injustice of sexual violence and harassment.  As an employee at Tahoe SAFE Alliance I work end to end sexual violence not only in my work, but also in every aspect of my life. However, throughout my time as an activist, it has become apparent that not all share my passion to end the power imbalance that contributes to violence in our society.

When Alyssa Milano began this discussion in early October, there was an explosion of not only support, but courage, from other survivors to speak up.  This created a conversation that carried the topic of sexual harassment and assault to our dinner tables.  A topic that is traditionally pushed under the rug during a gathering is now dominating the conversation.  This is what our country needs to fuel our fight to eventually end sexual violence.  This is not just an issue for those who have survived sexual assault or harassment, this is an issue that involves each and every one of us. We need to bring these topics of injustice into our conversations when our friends, family, or someone in our community asks, “How do you feel about all these allegations coming forward now?” or “What is your experience with sexual harassment?”  This is our opportunity to be upstanding citizens, to continue the conversation and talk about the repercussions of allowing sexual harassment to go unnoticed.

Survivors have brought to light the individuals who committed these crimes and by doing this, we took the first step forward to create a world where if a person makes another member of our society uncomfortable it is no longer tolerated.  Harvey Weinstein, Mark Halperin, Matt Lauer, Matt Zimmerman, Charlie Rose, Mike Oreskes, Louis C.K, Kevin Spacey, and Al Franken.  This is just the beginning of the list of those who have lost jobs or pay due to their actions, and the list will keep growing.  By empowering survivors to name their assailants the “Silence Breakers” have empowered our society to stand up for survivors and have the individuals who victimized them rectify their actions.

The #MeToo campaign has been a tremendous way to empower survivors, however, this is just the starting point. To create a healthy and thriving community we need to pursue this fight.  Continue to stand up for those that may not yet have the courage to stand up for themselves.  I know personally that it is easy to burn out and at times easier to ignore comments about inequality than address them.  However, the reality is when we ignore these comments or jokes regarding sexism, racism, ageism, or ableism we are allowing discrimination and prejudice to exist in our community.

I challenge you to take action.  Let the “Silence Breakers” be our role models.  If an action or comment makes you uncomfortable, say so.  When you hear a sexist joke, tell that person it is wrong.  Encourage others to be brave and fight to end sexual violence.  Listen and believe someone when they tell you their story.  Be an upstander in our community.  Thank you to the activist Tarana Burke, and all the “Silence Breakers”, for creating a movement where survivors feel empowered to speak up about the violence committed against them.  Thank you for yelling in a world where we are told to whisper.  And, finally, thank you for having the courage and strength our community needs to end sexual violence.   

By Eileen Farry
Community Education and Prevention Educator
Tahoe SAFE Alliance

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

"Me Too" Is a Teachable Moment

“ME TOO” dominated my social media feed this morning. It was usually accompanied with a statement about the poster having been sexually harassed and or assaulted in their lifetime and the “me too” was declaring solidarity with other posters.   Nearly every woman on my social media feed posted it.  And thousands more.  And it was not just in response to the allegations against Harvey Weinstein. Or to Bill Cosby. Or to Presidents, both past and present. Or to the countless other men in power accused of sexual harassment or assault. It is in response to far too many girls and women being harassed and assaulted every day; whether it is occurring in the streets, at home or in the workplace.
As a man, I am far less likely to experience unwanted sexual attention. Whereas the majority of girls and women will during their lifetimes.  Certainly men can be victimized, but at a much less frequent rate and with far less dangerous consequences. And although I can’t speak to women’s deeply personal experiences with these behaviors, I can speak to being a man with power, both inherent and directly linked to my positional authority. As the Executive Director of Tahoe SAFE Alliance, North Lake Tahoe/Truckee’s service provider for victims and survivors of Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence and Child Abuse, I cringe everytime I hear of another male leader being accused of abusing his power. How cliche.  
I am the first male Executive Director of Tahoe SAFE Alliance in its 32 year history, and one of very few male ED’s in the greater Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault fields.  As such, male leaders are blessed to be trusted with the leadership of these incredible feminist-based, grass-roots born organizations.  Our staff, boards and communities entrust in us to use our power for good. And this does not always happen.  Male leaders in the nonprofit sector are not immune to abusing their power. And while the behavior of one does not reflect the behavior of all, it does reflect a culture that we are all complicit in if we are not actively working to end sexist and abusive behaviors.
I have 24 staff members, 21 of whom are female.  I do my best to use my authority to create a just, equitable and safe working environment for everyone.  As the Executive Director, it is my job to lead the organization, internally and externally. And what an honor and gift that is.  It is incumbent upon me to create an environment where everyone feels safe and valued.  And how easy it seems to be for men with positional authority to use that power to sexually harass, intimidate and assault women.  Many men with power, but not all, feel as though they are entitled to women’s bodies and attention.  We live in a culture that, if it is not rewarding this type of behavior, it is certainly looking the other way. This takes shape in many forms, whether victim blaming or excusing the behavior with the notion that “boys will be boys” and protecting the accused because of their status. The list is exhaustive.
    At Tahoe SAFE Alliance we provide “Sexual Harassment in the Workplace” trainings to local employers.  In our trainings, employers learn the best practices of addressing sexual harassment and how they can provide safe environments for people to come forward and report sexual harassment. In addition, we work with local youth around identifying sexual harassment, the harm it causes and the behaviors that support it.  We show youth how sexual harassment occupies a place on the same continuum as sexual assault and is a form of sexual violence.   We work with young men, teaching them about the impact of unwanted sexual advances, both physically and verbally.  We teach them that “no means no”, whatever shade it may come in.  We work with with young women, supporting their self-confidence and autonomy.  We teach them that to be treated with respect and dignity is their right and that they should expect nothing less. It is our goal that the youth in our communities strive for and engage in healthy relationships.
    We may not have control over what happens in Hollywood, Washington or in professional sports, but we do have control in our communities.  We have the power to model respectful and equitable relationships. Men with positional authority must demonstrate through their actions to young men that there is great responsibility in having power; it is a gift and must be exercised with care, empathy and compassion.  We must hold those who use abusive behavior accountable.  The coverage of sexual harassment/assault in the media is a teachable moment; it gives context to necessary conversations with the youth in our lives about healthy relationships, what behavior is appropriate and the consequences of our actions. We have the power to end these cycles of violence. As the Executive Director of Tahoe SAFE Alliance, I commit to my staff, board of directors and community to lead with integrity, equity and love.

Paul Bancroft, MA
Executive Director
Tahoe SAFE Alliance