Tag Archives: empowerment

Computer Crash: Amanda’s Story

By now, most of you have probably at least heard something about this story. Amanda Todd, to put the story in its most basic terms, was stalked through three cities, bullied, beaten, and harassed to death. She was a 15-year-old girl who ended up choosing suicide over living one more day in the hell created by her peers both at school and in the online/social media world that has now become a haven for all manner of bullies and predators. This behavior sickens me. Amanda left behind a chilling  Youtube video explaining her situation. And for the full story, you can read what her mother has to say in the The Vancouver Sun.

Having been a victim of bullying, of violence, and a teenager who tried to commit suicide, I really feel for this girl. I think I can understand the place she was at; I thought, maybe I could put that in a poem. So this poem here, this is for Amanda. This is also for everyone who doesn’t understand what is is to want to end your life. I don’t know that I can explain that, and I’m not trying to speak for her. I can only reach back into my own experience, and maybe offer a little perspective.

I am so, so sorry Amanda. We all failed you. But maybe your story will help others, and I hope that gives you peace.

 

10/12/12

Computer Crash: Amanda’s Story

All I wanted was to be liked

I just wanted people to see

That I was a funny, fun person

I wanted them to see the real me

Instead, I was lured to a trap

I was told I was beautiful, cute

He told me to lift up my shirt

For an unknowing photo shoot

From that moment my life was over

I was stalked like deer in the woods

There was nowhere for me to hide

I tried three neighborhoods

But the stalkers and bullies, they followed

They tracked me through wires and webs

I never asked for this fame

To be one more naked celeb

They used every weakness against me

They beat me and tortured me so

Finally I couldn’t take it

I decided I had to go

It’s not like anyone cared

The police didn’t even try

The haters get away with it all

While I sit with a razor and cry

So goodbye to the stalkers and bullies

Goodbye to my parents, I regret

Too bad I have to end this life

That’s hardly happened yet

For Amanda Todd

 

© Sarah Ann Henderson

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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


Representative Akin, Every Rape is Legitimate: An Open Letter

Hello Recovery Writers,

Rarely am I so angry about an issue that I feel I need to take it on in this manner, but when I read about this…well, you know how I am. This is not one I was just going to let go. I tried to stay dignified in my response, and I’m sending this letter onto his office. I encourage you all to write your own congressmen, as well as Rep. Akin himself if you feel as strongly about this as I do. I’ll include his contact information at the end of this article. As always, thanks for reading.

Update: In my zeal to get this letter written and out there, I originally called Todd Akin a senator; this is incorrect. He is a state representative who is running for senator in Missouri. My apologies for any confusion.

Also: There are now several petitions going around demanding sanctions for Rep. Akin. Here is a link to one of them if you’d like to sign (I already have, of course!):

CREDO Action: Tell Rep. Todd Akin: Stop lying about rape

Missouri Republican claims ‘legitimate rape’ rarely results in pregnancy 

Dear Representative Akin,

This is an open letter addressing your unbelievably idiotic and insensitive statements in the article above. How dare you attempt to qualify whether or not rape is “legitimate”. Until you have personally experienced rape, personally experienced unfathomable shock and trauma and shattering of your life and bodily integrity, you don’t get to say word one about the legitimacy of rape. And as far as the rate of pregnancy goes, if you’re going to have the nerve to try and use that as a factor to illegitimize rape, then at least have the decency to have actual science on your side. Despite what some pro-life witch doctor with a medical degree from Sally Struthers may have told you, pregnancy can actually happen without a woman’s consent. It happened to a friend of mine. For the majority of the time I was being repeatedly raped, I was “lucky” enough to have been a child, incapable of conceiving. The last time I was raped, I was severely anorexic and not menstruating, also making it highly unlikely. I didn’t get pregnant from any of the times I was raped, but I think about it sometimes: what would I have done if I had? I honestly don’t know. Back then, the morning after pill wasn’t available. Now, I would certainly do that first. And, by the way, the morning-after pill IS NOT a form of abortion! It PREVENTS pregnancy from ever happening, actually making abortions less likely to occur. If you’re really all about protecting life, supporting birth control is really the way to go. Keeping those pregnancies from occurring in the first place will stop abortions from happening. And if your interest is truly in stopping abortions- as opposed to simply controlling women’s lives and bodies- then really, you might want to jump aboard. Men like you who think that they have any right to legislate the choices available to women who have been raped truly terrify me. Like I said, you have not experienced this. You can’t IMAGINE what it is to be raped, much less to experience a pregnancy from rape. How dare you try to limit a woman’s options in that situation. As if it isn’t hard enough. The rapist should be punished. But the victim shouldn’t be. And that is exactly what you’re doing when you limit her ability to make decisions about what’s right for her body and her life.

Sincerely,
Sarah Henderson

Contact Representative Todd Akin

 


Post-traumatic Growth: Cynthia’s Story

Hello everyone!

This April is has been my goal to feature stories about post-traumatic growth as opposed to post-traumatic stress. Sometimes, the two happen simultaneously, one helping heal the other; this is such a story.

Cynthia Bland was a victim of childhood sexual abuse. Like many victims, she held onto this horrible secret for years, where it caused all sorts of chaos in her life and relationships. Finally, at 42 years old she revealed it to a therapist, and her recovery journey began. The pieces of her shattered life began to fall into place, and there was a name for what was happening to her: PTSD. As she worked in therapy, an idea began to form about how to help other survivors of childhood sexual abuse. What if there was a way to help society understand the effects of childhood sexual abuse on its adult survivors?  she asked herself. What if people understood that the often the root cause of drug abuse, promiscuity, teenage pregnancy, alcoholism, perfectionism is a result of childhood sexual abuse?  The more Cynthia looked at the problem, the more she realized that we need to be teaching adults how to prevent sexual abuse in the first place. One of the best ways to do this is through the Stewards of Children prevention workshop, created by the organization Darkness2Light.  Putting all of this together, Cynthia created Voice Found, a national non-profit organization that is committed to the PREVENTION of Childhood Sexual Abuse and the support of adult survivors. Voice Found is an important way for Cynthia to deal with PTSD…it gives the ‘ugliness’ some positive purpose. She never wants to be seen as a victim – instead, she wants to be victorious over what happened to her.

I believe you are Cynthia!

Voice Found is now a registered non profit and their charitable status is pending. Cynthia’s blog is http://voicefound.wordpress.com/. Their new website is  www.voicefound.ca and will be launching very soon!


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.


Positive Outlooks: Posttraumatic Growth

 

This year for Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month and Child Abuse Awareness Month I really wasn’t sure what I was going to focus on, until my dear friend Shannon turned me onto this article from the New York Times. This article happens to be about veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder, but the main concept that caught my eye was one I have not explored much: the concept of posttraumatic growth.

Posttraumatic growth is defined as “the positive changes individuals may experience following a traumatic event. For example, following a traumatic event, some people report positive changes in their goals, priorities, relationships with others, and spirituality as a result of re-evaluating or modifying their assumptions about the world and their life.”  This actually happens more commonly than you might think. Much more commonly than PTSD; often in tandem with it. In all the treatment centers and group therapy I’ve been through, I’m honored to have been witness to this over and over and over again. The women (and some men) that I’ve been in treatment with—my fellow travelers, as I call them—are all remarkably brave, at the same time that they are extremely vulnerable. It’s part of the process, to hear each other’s stories and learn from them; we grow with each other through the bonding of that deep communication. Sharing personal experiences of early childhood neglect and violence, sexual and physical abuse, the shame and rage and pain and guilt; one must open and raw. Yet, in the telling, there is so much power. We begin to feel the helplessness lift as we realize that speaking and naming our experiences is the start of transforming them. I have watched women who came into treatment quiet as a church mouse and trying to make themselves just as small, find their voices and stand up straight and realize they deserve to take up space and ask for what they need and have those needs met. I have seen women who believed the abuse they went through was pointless suffering and were in the darkest of places, transform those experiences to something meaningful and find a foothold in spirituality. These are examples of posttraumatic growth.

For me, posttraumatic growth happened at the same time I was processing my PTSD. I believe I grew and developed positive changes more from some traumas than from others. I know that the trauma of nearly dying at 22 from pneumonia, having part of my lung removed, being in a coma, my heart stopping in surgery, and everything that went with that, changed me for the better. I think about that experience every day. It taught me to value my body more, to respect the amazing resilience and capacity it has to heal after such a traumatic surgery and deadly illness. During my eating disorder recovery I remembered the feeling of just wanting to live. It taught me that I can handle more physical pain that I ever imagined. It also taught me that my mom would walk through fire for me- she never left my side the entire time, she fought for me, helped with my treatment (as a nurse), and I would not have made it through without her. Other traumas were not so clearly beneficial. Like being raped when I was 16; I do not see how that helped me change or grow. But as a child, surviving the chronic and severe sexual violence inflicted on me by my father, some skills developed that were helpful. A vivid imagination; places I would go in my head during the abuse. The ability to assess people’s moods and psychological states; I used this with my mom too, who had her share of depression and anxiety and my sister who had her own issues. A thick skin; nothing could get to me and I never cried as a child. A large intellect and vocabulary; to escape, I read every book I could get my hands on, even my parents’ medical texts (my father was a surgeon). These things were and are useful. I also always had a relationship with God, which has grown and changed over time. It’s a personal relationship, solitary and maintained through meditation and prayer; I never really needed a church or other group setting to feel in touch with the divine.

What I’d really like to know in this month that’s dedicated to awareness of child abuse and sexual assault, is how any other survivors feel they have grown through their trauma. Do you feel you have experienced posttraumatic growth? If so, in what way? Did it happen through therapy or on its own? I think this is a very hopeful part of post-trauma life, and I’d love to hear about it! Please feel free to share your story here or e-mail me at write4recovery@aol.com.

Also, click here to take an assessment by the American Psychological Association on Posttraumatic Growth!


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