Tag Archives: change

Awareness Games: Breast Cancer and Domestic Violence

Every October, when Domestic Violence Month rolls around, before it even begins I get very, very tired. That’s because every October, gaining awareness for domestic violence seems to be an uphill battle against the pink army that is the other October cause, Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

That sounds really bitter, right? Like I hate people who support breast cancer or something? Wrong. Breast cancer is obviously a worthy cause that deserves attention. But does it have to steal all of the attention?

It is frustrating for those of us trying to gain support for Domestic Violence Awareness Month, trying to get our purple ribbons seen when we’re staring at an ocean of pink. An enormous part of the problem is stigma. A few decades ago, breast cancer was very stigmatized. Awareness campaigns brought out the subject and made it okay for people to talk about. Everyone understands now. Cancer is a disease; it’s not a person’s fault. The women who have it and are fighting it and living with it are considered brave, strong, even heroic. It’s a cause everyone can get behind without question; what kind of jerk doesn’t support cancer? People feel good about themselves when they buy a product that has a pink ribbon on it; it’s armchair philanthropy.

Listen, I’m not saying these things are bad. It’s amazing that the stigma on breast cancer has lifted, because millions of lives have been saved. It’s simply that, in comparison, domestic and sexual violence are still largely crimes that live in the dark. There’s a stigma attached to them that’s so severe, that one third of victims of domestic violence and two-thirds of sexual assault victims are not reporting to law enforcement. Of those victims, 41% of male and 34% of female stated victimization being a private/personal matter as reason for not reporting, 15% of women feared reprisal, 12% of all victims wished to protect the offender, and 6% of all victims believed police would do nothing.

Unfortunately, they are right about that.

Nationally, in the last 10 years the number of arrests for domestic violence have dropped from over 120,000 per year to around 85,000 per year. If a person in that one-third that comes forward to report a rape actually endures the re-traumatizing and invasive post-rape medical exam and is interviewed by police, it is highly unlikely that his or her efforts will result in justice, seeing as the conviction rate for sexual assault is only 3%— meaning  97% of rapists walk free.

How in the hell is that possible? It’s called rape culture. It’s just like how it used to be for breast cancer: unmentionable in public, the person who had it was marked somehow and there were sympathies to her face and gossip behind her back. In our culture, when a person is raped— especially a woman— she is the one with the burden of proof. She is considered a slut until proven virginal. We spend so much time focusing on what she was wearing, where she was walking, what she was drinking, and if she said no that we forget who the criminal actually is. It’s the same way with domestic violence. It is complicated and messy. There’s often substance abuse involved and children who are witnesses and fights that could go both ways. Emotional and verbal abuse are hard to pin down, though I assure you, it happens all the time. But come on: there is absolutely no fucking excuse for ignoring physical violence. And yet people do, constantly. No one wants to talk about domestic and sexual violence the way they are willing to openly discuss breast cancer. Why? Because it’s ugly; it’s painful; it’s shameful. People are afraid of it. And for reasons beyond my comprehension, people really love to blame the victims. While cancer patients are considered brave, victims of domestic and sexual violence are called stupid, lazy, slutty, and deserving of their abuse.

Every October, I feel burned out by the 2nd. I stare at the ocean of pink and wonder how in the world I’m going to gain attention for a cause that no one wants to speak or hear about. A cause that makes people uncomfortable, that triggers a flicker of shock across their faces as soon as the word “violence” comes out of my mouth. The only ones who are not shocked are the ones who have a personal connection to domestic violence. That’s when I hear the stories: “My sister had a boyfriend who hit her.” “I was married to a guy like that.” “My dad abused me as a kid.”

When I hear those stories, I have a bit of hope; these are people who will help spread the word. Perhaps they will understand, perhaps I can explain to them and make them realize how much we need to educate the public about domestic and sexual violence. I’m doing everything within my power. But when I look at all the major corporations and foundations that are sponsoring breast cancer, I think, I want those same resources for this. How do I make them realize that domestic and sexual violence are at an all-time high? 1 in 3 women worldwide will experience violence in her lifetime. How do I get them to hear that and maybe give their support towards another cause this October?

The thing is, breast cancer is no longer a crisis the way it was a decade ago. Female breast cancer incidence rates began decreasing in 2000, then dropping by about 7% from 2002 to 2003.  Death rates from breast cancer have been declining since about 1990, with larger decreases in women younger than 50. These decreases are believed to be the result of earlier detection through screening and increased awareness, as well as improved treatment. Think about it; that pink ribbon has become synonymous with breast cancer, and you can find it on every product imaginable. The Susan G. Komen Foundation in particular has done an incredible job with this. Another big part of the decrease is due to the fact that pharmaceutical companies and companies that sell medical and surgical equipment will invest in awareness campaigns, the pink ribbon branding, and fund-raising for research, which brings in millions of dollars every year for the cause. Domestic violence does not have this resource because so far, there’s no surgery that can prevent a man from beating his wife, and chemotherapy can’t cure incest. Those companies have no interest in sponsoring a cause that will give them nothing back. With breast cancer, there are patients that use their products so they recoup that money. Until we figure out what part of the brain makes a person violent toward their loved ones, or find a medicine that can erase the effects of sexual trauma, those companies have no incentive to spread purple ribbons the way they do pink, or try to raise funds for victims’ services. Meanwhile, the statistics show a 42-percent increase in reported domestic violence and a 25-percent increase in the reported incidence of rape and sexual assault. Does this mean that I think we should ignore breast cancer? That breast cancer is no longer a problem and we should focus solely on domestic violence? Of course not. Breast cancer is still a killer, the second deadliest cancer after lung cancer, and obviously, we need to keep seeking a cure. But do I think it’s currently at the crisis level that domestic violence is?

No.

Saying that is going to upset people, possibly offend people, particularly those who have loves ones affected by breast cancer. I understand your feeling that way. But when you take a look at these numbers, you might begin to understand where I’m coming from when I say that.

–       About 1 in 8 U.S. women (just under 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.

–       Twice as many, 1 in 4 U.S. women (25%) has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime.

–       In 2011, an estimated 230,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer were expected to be diagnosed in women in the U.S., along with 57,650 new cases of non-invasive (in situ) breast cancer (288,130 cases total).

–       Twenty times as many, an estimated 6 million women are victims of domestic violence each year

–       On average, more than three women and one man are murdered by their intimate partners in this country every day. Intimate partner homicides accounted for 30% of the murders of women and 5% percent of the murders of men. Homicide is the number 1 cause of death in pregnant women. Most intimate partner homicides occur between spouses, though boyfriends/girlfriends have committed about the same number of homicides in recent years.

–       One in five (21%) women in the U.S. reports she has been raped or physically or sexually assaulted in her lifetime. Three in four women (76%) who reported they had been raped and/or physically assaulted since age 18 said that an intimate partner (current or former husband, cohabiting partner, or date) committed the assault.

–       Nearly three out of four (74%) of Americans personally know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence. 30% of Americans say they know a woman who has been physically abused by her husband or boyfriend in the past year.

–       There are only 1,500 shelters for battered women in the United States; there are 5,000 animal shelters.

This is beyond unacceptable. When we have more resources for stray animals than

abuse victims, something is seriously fucked up.

This whole thing may sound like I’m trying to make the month of October some giant competition between breast cancer and domestic violence, like I think one cause is better than the other. That’s not the case. What I really want is just some more air time, a little more space, and more financial resources to do as wonderful a job of eradicating the stigma around domestic and sexual violence as the breast cancer camp has done. Seriously, we need some of the breast cancer publicists over in the domestic violence camp! Those people get shit done.

Another suggestion that has been made is to move Domestic Violence Awareness Month to May, so it won’t be drowned out. That could work. As long as there is some time dedicated to fighting for this cause. As many of you know— if you’ve read any other part of WfR— I’ve got my own (long and intense) history with both domestic and sexual violence. Whenever someone takes up a cause, it’s not a coincidence; they do it because it affects them somehow. That’s why this is such an emotional topic, and why, when I bring it up, people who are affected by breast cancer tend to get pissed off at me. That’s okay. As long as it’s being discussed, as long as it’s out in the open, perhaps things will begin to change.

© Sarah Ann Henderson 2012

P.S.— In the interest of fairness I feel I must add that there are two other October causes that get even less attention that either breast cancer or domestic violence: Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month and National Bullying Prevention Month. Both of these are really important and deserve attention too, please take a look at their websites for more information!

National Bullying Prevention Center

Remembering Our Babies

FirstCandle.org

Statistical Resources Included:

Bureau of Justice Statistics

Domestic Violence Resource Center

BreastCancer.org

Susan G. Komen Foundation

Human Rights Watch

ASPCA

Clark County Prosecutor, Domestic Violence Office

Centers for Disease Control


Post-traumatic Growth: Lorin’s Story

This April my goal is to feature stories of hope and personal growth after trauma, as a way of showing that PTSD and self-destructive coping mechanisms are not the only necessary outcomes. This is one such story from a brave woman named Lorin Leatherwood, who used her experience to raise awareness and to raise funds for her local battered women’s shelter and rape crisis center. In this blog, she describes her journey from a young, distraught rape victim into a strong, wise rape survivor. She has done the work and has much to be proud of; I deeply appreciate her allowing me to share her very personal blog here on Writing for Recovery to help others.  Thank you Lorin!!

Stand Up. Speak Loud. Finding My Voice So You Can Too

Also, I wanted to add a new image to go with these stories, and I think that of the Phoenix rising from the ashes is quite appropriate.


PostHope: A Place for Inspiration

Hello Recovery Writers!

It has been awhile, I know! But when I came across this site recently I had make WfR a part of it. Here I want to announce the opening of an adjunct site to the Writing for Recovery blog: It is called PostHope, and MY hope is that is will be a place for recovery inspiration. Please read the introduction from the PH site:

This is going to be a place where I hope (!) people will post some of their successes in battling the things we talk about on WfR: addiction, PTSD, eating disorders, sexual and domestic violence, self-harm, mental illness, and other issues. I would love to hear your stories of triumph, your progress, even the smallest of victories. Whether you’ve recovered completely, are in the process, or just had a moment where you decided not to use a self-defeating behavior, this is the site where I want to hear those inspiring tales. I believe sharing these things will give people hope that full recovery is possible!! So please feel free to post your own personal successes, those of your friends, or anything else that inspires you: quotes, photos, etc. 

Thank you for visiting this new little project. I hope you it gives YOU hope!

You can find the new site here at  http://www.posthope.com/writingforrecovery

I look forward to seeing you there! Peace, Sarah


Project Unbreakable: Pictures Worth a Thousand Words

Hello Recovery Writers! It’s been a little while since I’ve posted here on the blog, but a couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to stumble across an amazing project I just had to share with you.

A young photographer named Grace Brown has begun a web site called Project Unbreakable, where she uses her camera skills to help survivors of sexual violence reclaim their voices. Survivors write the words that their attackers said to them on posters, and Grace photographs them holding those posters. Yvonne Moss, a survivor and advocate who works with the project, describes it as “a way for victims to take the power back of the words that were once used against them.” As soon as I saw Project Unbreakable, I knew I wanted to feature it on WfR. What Grace is doing with her photography is exactly what Writing for Recovery is all about: Using words to heal, empower, educate, and give other survivors hope.

I am honored to participate in this wonderful project; the photo you see above is my contribution. When I was 16 I was raped by a stranger. These are the words he said to me: Shhh….I won’t hurt you if you shut up and don’t move. I’m pretty sure that up until now my therapist is the only one who knew that. Now it’s going public, and that is just fine with me. It was a pretty horrible thing to hear, and I’m hoping that other people will be horrified by those words too. Perhaps horrified enough to do something.

If you are reading this and have been a victim of sexual violence, please consider submitting a photo to Project Unbreakable at grace@50extraordinarywomen.com.

Update: To view my contribution on the Project Unbreakable website, please click here.


New Poem: “Passing On”

 

 

 

 

So after that last blog post about moving on and leaving my trauma history behind, I was inspired to write this poem. I hope you like it. Peace, Sarah

 

11/9/11

 

Passing On

 

I feel something, don’t know what

Dragging, needing to be cut

 

Dry old bones that I still treat

As if they’re covered with fresh meat

 

These fossils have a proper place

Buried beneath the earth’s dirt face

 

Dead things belong underground

Where they cannot make a sound

 

Cannot call back out to me

Flashing back my history

 

Chaining me to what is gone

Keeping me from moving on

 

Pulling one eye backwards to

The things that I once saw in you

 

Making me listen again

To threats and screams, wrists being pinned

 

I now refuse to hear those things

I will not answer when you ring

 

Your name is Past, I’ll leave you there

It isn’t that I didn’t care

 

I’ve honored your pain quite enough

I’m focusing on other stuff

 

Facing my future, with you behind

A new beginning peace of mind

 

© Sarah Henderson 2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Declaration of Independence from Stigma

I have something important to share with you all. Earlier a friend of mine gave a very brave statement when she said: “I have PTSD!! I’m not ashamed to talk about it!” Taking her example, I want to say this:

I have bipolar. I had eating disorders and PTSD, I cut myself and attempted suicide. I was a victim of childhood physical and sexual abuse. I grew up in domestic violence. I was raped.

And I am not ashamed.

I have done nothing wrong. I am not to blame for the abuse I suffered or the psychiatric disorders I am diagnosed with. I got therapy and take medication and that does not mean I’m crazy. I will not be silenced or shamed by stigma or societal pressure to keep these things hidden. They are part of my story, and I know they are part of your stories too. Join me in declaring that you will not be silenced by stigma!!! ♥


Domestic Violence Story Project: Cathy

Hello everyone! Thank you for joining me once again for the Story Project. This fourth story on our series comes to us from a woman who has really turned her pain into power. The way she did it may not work for everyone, and you may or may not agree with her spiritual views, but you must agree that she has taken her experience with domestic violence and used it to transform the lives of other victims. I believe Cathy to be a very brave woman, and I’m glad she was one of the fortunate ones who survived to tell her story. 

 

My name is Catherine Staton, and I am a survivor, advocate and spokesperson of domestic violence and abuse. I am the founder of MyHelpMyHope Charity, Inc. I could not believe the man I had married, was not who he said he was. He was a retired from the army as a drill sergeant and I was his cadet. At the beginning he would set the clock for 2am and I had to get up and have sex every morning before he went to work. And if I didn’t give it to him, he made my life miserable. I couldn’t even decorate our home without his approval. If he came home and there was a scratch on the wall, it was an argument. If my son put the dishes in the dish washer wrong or the wrong dish in the wrong cabinet, it was an argument. I was nothing but a sex machine.

Outside of that he had no conversation. His true self appeared 6 months after moving into his home and giving up mine. Before I moved with him, he acted like he loved my son. That changed once we moved in. After we moved in, it was like my son was not even there. I was head butted like a savage beast. I was told to get out. Can you imagine being married and your husband telling you to get out of your home? After you have physical and verbally attacked me, how is it that you think I want to lay with you? That’s what I would ask him. He would physically or verbally attack me and then want me to lay with him. He didn’t even expect me to drive my own car.

The day we buried my mother, this man wanted to have sex. Enough was enough. I fled for my life 3 years ago, went back after a year, and then fled for my life again 1 year after that, from extreme verbal, emotional, physical, mental and psychological abuse. When I went back the second I thought he had changed. I was trying to live according to the word. But nothing had change. I became very depressed, I lay in the bed all the time, I didn’t want to go anywhere. This time he didn’t put his hands on me but he verbally, emotional, mentally, and psychological abused me every day. I started praying to God more than usual. Then one day, I was driving in my car and I saw the clouds in the sky like I never seen them before, the grass and the trees weren’t just grass and trees any more.

Something was happening to me. God started my transformation. I tried to make my marriage work, according to the Bible, especially since God was transforming me. So I did everything I could to make this man happy, but it was not good enough. So as God transformed me, he spoke to me. I started volunteering at a domestic violence shelter, and educating myself on what was happening to me. I found out I was being abused. As I got more informed God put this shield around me. My husband would come attack me verbally and I wouldn’t hear a thing. During the last year of being abuse I developed an intimate and personally relationship with God and during this period is when I discovered my calling.

I started preparing myself to get out of that situation and when I got the chance I ran and never looked back. I created a new life for me and my son. I am happy to be here and that we are free. I truly believed how I was being treated, was the way a man was supposed to treat you, until I got married and started living for Christ and I woke up. I started speaking and doing things for victims and survivors. I decided to turn my negative into a positive. I decided to live to make a difference. I refused to let my circumstance take over me.

Peace is something powerful to have and I was glad to have it. My son and I could have a good night’s sleep. Change starts from within. I refused to let what my husband had done to me take over me. I had to start living my life for today. I had to get up and be obedient to what God was whispering in my ear to do. Go out there and show other victims and survivors that they don’t have to live a life of abuse. There is help and hope, if you leave. Transitioning wouldn’t be easy, but if I could do it, so can you. Through God all things are possible.

 

 

 

 

www.myhelpmyhope.org

Helping Victims of Domestic Violence

I Live to Make a Difference!

TOGETHER EVERYONE ACHIEVES MORE!

(757) 202-2451