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

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Cyber Safety Tips for Parents

A parent’s role has commonly been to guide their child from a place of similar position and experience, but today’s parents are swimming in unchartered waters.  Today's technology and, in particular, social media that occupies a huge portion of children and teenagers’ lives is unprecedented.  As youth decrease face-to-face interactions in favor of “cyber-connections”, what is socially acceptable to say or do has drastically changed.   

Cyberbullying and online harassment, sending nude selfies, watching performance crime, and access to many types of pornography are just a few examples of this increased acceptance.  As a result, parents are finding themselves helping their children pick up the pieces of a poor decision rather than preventing that decision from being made in the first place.  Prohibiting a young person from using social media can create a barrier between child and parent.  So, what can be done?  Well, the answer takes us back to the initial cause of the problem: communication.  Lack of communication factors into the problem, and increased communication can be part of the solution.   

Face-to-face conversations and engaging in open discussions with your child have never been more important.  Teaching your child the art of in-person communication, as it is a dying art form, will model healthy relationships and set clear expectations and boundaries.  Here are some cyber safety tips you and your child can talk about together:

  • Explore the technology.  Talk with your child about rules, expectations and potential online dangers.  Spend time exploring their online devices and apps with them.  Familiarize yourself with security and privacy settings.
  • Discuss rules and guidelines.  Your child should share with you all passwords.  All devices should be “turned in” at night, as this is when there is the most risk for misuse.  Agree upon the amount of time your child can use their devices each day (aside from homework tasks).  Your child should agree to never share their passwords with anyone, never communicate online with anyone they don’t know in-person, and never send vulgar or mean messages to anyone.  Let them know the importance of coming to you if anything makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe.

Technology isn’t the enemy, but how people choose to use it can be dangerous.  As “cyber-connections” continue to grow as primary communication, helping your child to make good decisions through face-to-face conversation and modeling healthy behaviors can really go a long way!