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!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Sexual Assault on College Campuses and Title IX: Educate Yourself On the Facts!

Many fondly remember the time they left home for college. That sweet taste of freedom brewing. Sure, the mistakes were a necessary part of learning and the bad decision to party all night was just part of the vibrant experience. Kudos to the ones who passed on late night social endeavors for strong coffee and dedicated hard work. For some, it took the entirety of college and hefty debt to then realize what it was supposed to be about- education, personal progress, their future. But media culture tells a very different story of what it’s about because the flirty girl in a short skirt, binge drinking debauchery, and the coming of age misconceptions are the true selling points of entertainment. 

Media culture itself isn't all to blame for this campus vision; many parents and other influential adults, and most youth, buy into the idea that college is about that kind of experience. But does that portrayal genuinely set college-bound kids up for success? Unfortunately, this typical college story becomes one of many contributing factors to sexual assault on campuses nationwide. What if we flipped the script, creating a more intentional story of learning and boundaries along with their newly granted freedom?  What if hard-core studying, responsible drinking and consensual sex were the new vision?

In 2001, sexual assault was finally granted a dedicated month to raising awareness. And during this time of teal ribbon wearing or catchy hashtags on social media, it’s also about taking a proactive stance to everyone's right for safety. Sounds like an obvious solution, but awareness months exist because a problem still exists. However, there is good news amidst the complexity of sexual assault. Anyone has the power to make a difference and it starts with you. Here’s an example, with universities across the US dealing with sexual assault issues, campaigns and other awareness programs have recently brought this problem to the front line. Awareness of the issue has grown exponentially, and many are fighting back. Even though sexual assault remains a problem, with time and momentum awareness has the potential of turning into the fight that changed it all!

So, where do you start, you ask? You can take a look at something worth fighting for which is currently on the chopping block, Title IX.

Title IX, which is more widely known to be a law protecting equal rights in school athletics, requires every school receiving federal aid to take concrete steps to deal with campus sexual assault. Sounds like a great idea, right? But there is a long divided line between whether schools should be allowed to grant punitive action towards a perpetrator of sexual assault versus handing the problem over to law enforcement. Although there are a handful of other arguments that play into Title IX’s hotly debated status, this one plays on those who have never been a victim or know little about what it’s like to be sexually assaulted. Confidentiality and choice are two crucial components to this argument. 

It’s not that Title IX discourages victims from reporting, nor is it a replacement for reporting to law enforcement, but it allows the victim to come forward and obtain the support necessary to continue their education. Forcing a victim to report in order to receive support for the violation perpetrated against them places them in a box of certain restraints that may end in not reporting altogether. And, even worse, it could lead to yet another victim of sexual assault going without support, services or help of any kind.  There are a multitude of reasons why a victim doesn’t want to report: fear of skepticism, re-victimization, fear of retaliation, going through the ordeal to have it not end in an arrest, perception that law enforcement doesn't have a clear understanding of trauma, some states not recognizing men as the victim or women as the perpetrator, and/or the victim being part of the LGBTQ community. Until these reasons get addressed, forcing a victim to report isn't going to be the answer.

Law enforcement and college administration need to find the compromise.  The answer isn’t simple and both parties have a history of guilt in handling these cases incorrectly.  If you are in college, have a child in college, ever went to college, live near a college, care about college students or in general care about the well-being of others, educate yourself on the intricacies and debates that lie in Title IX.   

Think about what is best for a victim of sexual assault, and specifically what would create the best possible environment for a college student victimized by sexual assault to thrive on campus. 

You can start there.  And what’s next, you ask? The simple task of getting media culture on-board with the new vision of campus life.  Okay, so it’s not that simple.  But by individuals taking initiative to recognize Sexual Assault Awareness Month, educate themselves on the incidence of sexual violence, speak-up about the trauma of sexual violence and openly voice that sexual assault should not and will not be tolerated or seen as a normal part of culture, then change will happen.  The more individuals, the greater the change, so get on board with putting an end to sexual assault!

Contributed by Christina Vaughn
Violence prevention advocate and volunteer at Tahoe SAFE Alliance