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How to talk to your sons about Robin Thicke

29 Aug

Guest Blogger, Eric Clap

If you have ears, you’ve heard Robin Thicke’s hit “Blurred Lines.” If you’ve had any amount of spare time in the past few days and have access to the internets, you’ve heard about Thicke’s performance at the VMA’s with Miley Cyrus. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, congratulations! You must have looked past the headlines on CNN’s main page in order to read about “secondary” news like Egypt or Syria. You can find a video of the performance here.

If you’ve been on Facebook or Twitter with any kind of regularity over the past few days, you’ve probably heard countless friends or followers sounding off on any number of objectionable things about the performance. Undoubtedly, 99% of things written about it throw around words like “obscene”, “offensive”, and the like.

There have been a number of different parenting websites or blog posts who have come up with good ways to talk to your daughter about Miley. And, don’t get me wrong, I’m all about parents talking to their daughters about sexuality.

But is no one going to hold anyone else on stage or behind the scenes accountable for that performance? Are we really going to have another one-sided conversation where we only talk to the girls about their sexuality while we completely ignore the boys in the room about their standards of behavior too?

There are next to no commentaries, articles, or blog posts that talk about how Robin Thicke was on stage with a woman young enough to be his daughter while thrusting his pelvis and repeating the line “I know you want it” while T.I. nonchalantly raps about much more graphic stuff. As Shelli Latham astutely points out:

Girls’ sexuality is so much the focus of our ire. Women who have sex are dirty. Men who have sex are men. Girls who dress to be ogled are hoes. Men who ogle are just doing what comes naturally. This is the kind of reinforced behavior that makes it perfectly acceptable to legislate a woman’s access to birth control and reproductive health care without engaging in balanced conversations about covering Viagra and vasectomies. Our girls cannot win in this environment, not when they are tots in tiaras, not in their teens or when they are coming into adulthood.

Issues of misogynistic attitudes and acts of violence toward women aren’t going anywhere until us men make some very intentional decisions about our behavior and about the way we act toward women. There are certain things that Robin Thicke and “Blurred Lines” re-inforce in our culture.

For instance… Studies have shown that viewing images of objectified women gives mengreater tolerance for sexual harassment and greater rape myth acceptance,” and helps them view women asless competent” and “less human“. Certainly singing about “blurred lines” will at the very least reinforce a culture that already trivializes the importance of consent.*

There’s nothing blurry about Robin Thicke’s role in the VMA debacle. Even though he’s come out and defended his song, going so far as to call it a “feminist movement,” it’s pretty plain to see that’s far from the case.

Heblogre’s where it starts

So what can we do? In order to change the way we view women culturally, we need to change the way we view women individually. We need to call bullshit on attempts to end domestic violence and misogyny towards women by only talking to our daughters. We need to talk to our sons and our brothers about respecting women and respecting themselves.

It starts in homes. It starts in small conversations that treat all people as worthy and equal. It starts with having the courage to speak out against the wide variety of forces in our society that objectify women.

It starts with understanding that as men, our value does not come from how much power we hold over women. Our value comes from being respected and being loved as we respect and love the people who matter to us.

Be brave enough to tell a different story. Be courageous enough to rise above the lies that our culture tells you about how to treat women. In doing so, you’ll help create a better world for your sons. And for your sons’ sons. And that’s something to which we should all aspire.

About the Author: Eric Clapp is a 27-year-old Lutheran pastor in Camanche, Iowa — right along the Mississippi River. He holds a Masters of Divinity from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, CA and a B.A. in Theology and English Literature from Concordia College in Moorhead, MN.

Youth Doing Good

20 Aug

photoBirthdays are a time of celebration and for most children – a time to open up neatly-wrapped packages, hoping for that special gift they dreamed of receiving. However, when Julia celebrated her 11th birthday earlier this month, she wanted something that truly had meaning. What did she do? She threw a birthday party and asked her friends to bring brand new backpacks as gifts – not for her, but for the children participating in our annual Back to School Project. Julia collected 21 colorful backpacks and personally came to the Houston Area Women’s Center to deliver them. She arrived with a huge smile on her face carrying large bags stuffed with all the backpacks. “I wanted my birthday to be about helping others out, so I asked everyone coming to my birthday party to bring a backpack for the kids instead of a gift for me,” said Julia.

The day after Julia made her delivery, another noteworthy youth, high school senior Peter, made a special delivery to the Women’s Center. He spent many weeks collecting new clothing items and toys for children who reside in our Shelter. He put together special bags for infants that include clothes, pacifiers and blankets. He also made bags for the older children with games, cups and bowls. “I wanted to do something good for others, something that would help people in need,” said Peter.

Because of Julia and Peter’s kindheartedness and generosity, many of our youngest clients are starting the school year off with smiles on their faces! A BIG THANKS to Julia and Peter, they are a true example of youth doing good things for the community!

A Children’s Counselor’s Story

12 Jul

75403826_47by Isabel Martinez
Children’s Counselor

There’s a little girl sitting across from me. She has big brown eyes and dark wavy hair that doesn’t want to stay in its pony tail. She looks at me shyly inching her way closer to her mom.

What is she thinking?

Is she wondering why her mom is crying….again?

Is she wondering if I’m going to poke her in places she doesn’t want to be poked?

Is she scared her mom is going to leave her here?

Is she scared her uncle is going to hurt her….again?

In between sobs her mom answers my questions. How has the abuse affected your daughter? What changes have you noticed in her? Is she having nightmares? How has it affected you? Can you sleep? Has the person been arrested? Do you have a safe place to stay?

The little girl looks at the coloring book and crayons I sat down next to her when we first walked in the room. I remind her that if she wants to she can color. I ask her what her favorite color is. She slowly reaches into the box and pulls out a crayon.

“Is that purple?” I ask

She laughs…it’s the first sound she’s made a sound in the 20 minutes I’ve been sitting with them.

“NO!! IT’S PINK! DUH!”

 I didn’t even know kids still said duh. This of course makes me laugh. She relaxes a little and starts to color. However, as soon as I start asking more questions about her uncle, her hand stops moving. When I ask her mom if it’s happened one time or more than one time she looks up and answers. It was more than one time…

This brave little girl. How many times has she been hurt? How many times is she going to have to tell her story? How many times is she going to watch her mom cry and think it’s because of something she did?

Her mom leaves the room so she and I can talk. We chit chat at first, and then we talk about what counseling is. I let her know that it’s a safe place, and there will be other little girls too.

“Will there be any boys?”

“Nope just girls”

“Good! Boys are yucky”

She picks up another color and continues coloring.

This little girl no longer lives in a carefree world, and everyone is now a potential threat. Aside from her caregivers, I’m one of the first people that she will trust after her abuse. In 30 minutes, she has to have enough trust in me to know that if her mom walks out of the room, I will not hurt her.

Working with children is not just talking about what happened. It’s also about letting kids know that there are people in the world who are trustworthy and won’t hurt them. We need to show them respect. Treat them as people not as children. We need to respect their boundaries. We need to listen to what they’re saying, not only in words, but in their expressions and actions. It’s about going at their pace, and making sure they know that they are the boss.

The Houston Area Women’s Center provides individual and group counseling for children (ages 5-18) who have witnessed domestic violence and for children who are survivors of sexual abuse and incest. Isabel Martinez has been a children’s counselor at the Houston Area Women’s Center for six years.

Working with Sexual Assault Survivors

24 Jun

026by Laura Zavala
Senior Sexual Assault Counselor

As a counselor at the Houston Area Women’s Center, I have the privilege to work with survivors who have, and continue to, overcome incredible obstacles. My journey at the Women’s Center has brought me into contact with so many different survivors – from five-year-olds who have witnessed domestic violence all of their young lives, to girls and families coping with the effects of sexual abuse; from women experiencing domestic violence in the present to those dealing with its aftermath many years later; as well as men who have been abused by their partners, afraid to seek help out of shame or fear of not being believed. This journey, as long and diverse as it has been, has been as much about my professional development as it has been about personal growth. Now, five years later, I am in the place where I find my greatest passion – working with adult sexual assault survivors. The realm of sexual assault – part of the world in which we all live in – is characterized by a silence and a shame so pervasive and so familiar to those who walk in its shadow every day. Every survivor who takes the first step to stepping out of that cultural taboo – if it’s with a phone call to our hotline or walking through our doors – deserves recognition for that act in and of itself. It takes a great deal of strength to begin confronting the reality of sexual assault and the impact it has taken, and it is an honor, every day, to be in the company of that strength.

When I get asked what I do, I proudly say, “I work at the Houston Area Women’s Center. I’m a counselor for sexual assault survivors.” I am often met with the response, “Oh … That must be so hard.” Well, yes, it is hard. It’s hard to sit with a survivor as she recounts her experience of sexual assault. It’s difficult to be present with the feelings of shame, fear, pain, sadness and anger as they fill the room. It’s painful to watch her as she pauses and winces at the memories that come to her mind as she speaks. It’s saddening to know that I am the first one he has shared his story to because he has been too ashamed as a man to tell anyone. It’s challenging to help hold the weight that our survivors come in carrying. At the same time though, I have the opportunity to do a very sacred kind of work. It’s an honor to be present with a woman as she empowers herself through telling her story and begins to define herself as a survivor. It’s incredible to watch as a client who has previously found herself numb from the shock of the trauma begin to identify her emotions and learn to no longer be afraid of them. It’s powerful to hear a survivor recount her story, and to see how without the fear of being judged or blamed, she can finally begin to no longer judge or blame herself. It’s humbling to witness the layers of shame gradually fade away as he breaks his years of silence.

This work is hard, but it is also essential. It is critical that survivors have a place where they feel heard, understood and supported. This work, for me, has a meaning much deeper than “work;” it is a personal commitment that I make to every survivor I encounter – a commitment that he or she is not alone, not to blame and healing is possible.

And so my reply to peoples’ responses about my job: Yes, it can be hard, but I love what I do.

If you or anyone you know is experiencing/has experienced sexual assault, call the numbers provided below for help or more information:

Houston Area Women’s Center 24/7 Hotline: 713-528-7273

(Crisis intervention, shelter, referrals)

HPD Sex Crimes Unit: 713-308-1180

(Filing police report and information about your rights)

Harris County District Attorney: 713-755-52888

(Information and help filing a protective order)

*If outside of the greater Houston area, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE(4673)

Freedom to Soar

13 May

by Laura White

20130505_224715

This is my graduation cap. The purple ribbons and color scheme are for Domestic Violence Awareness and the butterflies represent the freedom to fly and soar to new heights. I am free as a butterfly!!!

I stayed the course.  I transferred to UHD to continue working towards my BA in Business Management.  I stayed the course at home in that abusive relationship.  It got worse and school got harder.  Because my classes were downtown and further from home always at night after work, the accusations of infidelity increased.  The fact that I was working full time and still maintaining a GPA of 3.80 was not enough for my abuser, he felt sure that I was also having extramarital affairs.  I can vividly remember the day I left him in September 2009 standing in the living room hearing the words he said to me “if you leave me you will never finish school, you will not graduate”.   He shot me November, 29, 2009 just one week prior to the finals for the fall semester. 

I stayed the course.  The faculty at UHD worked with me to allow me to complete those 3 classes and assisted me in re-enrolling the spring of 2011.  I am only 10 days away from walking across that stage dressed in my black gown trimmed in blue with the UHD logo on the sleeves.  I have red cords that I get to wear signifying my honor status.   I will be pausing because I will be overcome with emotion.  I am free to soar to new heights in my new life as a woman who can hold her head up high and know that she is no longer being controlled by another person.  My ex-husband is behind bars serving a life sentence, I am free – he is not. Everything he sought to deny me, God is returning to me in ways that I cannot even imagine!!!

Surviving my Daughter’s Sexual Assault-Part II

10 May

by Lori Leatherwood

Continued from Part I:

HIGH SCHOOL

Lorin had people who had captured her heart and there was not a chance she would not need to tell them. Her softball coach in high school is etched in her soul and the reasons for that go far beyond softball.   She never gave up on her and magically knew when it was finally time to demand she reach deeper.  We seriously love her. The one constant that remained in her life was softball.  For whatever reason, it felt like if we could keep her in softball then things would get back to normal.  It gave her structure.  Softball was natural to her – it didn’t require her to concentrate in class.  It was an escape.  It was really all we were hanging on to. My husband continually wanted her to practice her pitching.  That was going back to normalcy but there were always battles.  She did not want to practice.  He was holding on.   She could not.  I was the mediator, referee, Mom and wife. Her high school administrators and teachers rallied around her and facilitated her working through the pain that reared its ugly head in the months to come.  If the homework was just busy work, let it slide.  If her grades start falling, the dean wanted to be made aware and not at the end of the term.  If she needs to leave a class to go see a counselor, let her.  While it had to be so frustrating for her teachers, for the most part (amazingly, only one exception) it was like they saw the bigger picture.  The Village was determined to save the child.  Everyone has a “Village”.  The first step is to reach out to someone.  As Lorin has said, there was not a chance she would stay silent.  This did help her.  When she reached out on her own terms, some of the most unexpected people came to her rescue.

Things got worse.  Her grades did fall.  She could not stay in class.  She would leave school and show up at my office.  She would sleep and cry.  She would go back in time for softball practice.  This could not go on.  There was a round table discussion.  There was talk she would have to leave the team.  My husband and I pleaded.  We knew that would be the end of that school year.  There would be no reason for her to get up.   Things would have to change, she would have to show signs of stepping up.   I thank God for her coach’s insight to know just how much to push her.  She pushed, she responded.  She regressed.  She had a good day.  She had a bad day.  I can only imagine what it was like to have Lorin show up every day at practice.  You never knew what you were going to get.  Her coach NEVER gave up on her and we are eternally grateful.

She spent more time with her “at school mothers” – the dean of students and her counselor – than she did with me.  Actually, she spent more time in their offices than she did in class.  I am forever grateful to the two of you.  My phone would ring and I would see the school’s number and start shaking.  What now?  What had set her off?  Do you need me to pick her up?  Is she okay?  Her dad and I were mentally and physically exhausted.

Her recovery would not have been possible without all of these people.  They were able to put academics aside to try and save her.

Houston Area Women’s Center

We went to the Houston Area Women’s Center to get help for Lorin and desperate for the manual on how to deal with a child that has been sexually assaulted.   I learned quickly that it was her story to tell and there was no manual for parents.

I also learned that I had no clue whatsoever on how to deal with this.  My desire to push it under the rug and hope it would go away would have had dire effects for Lorin.  I was instructed to try to just be there and listen.  Let her work through it but be there every step of the way.

Initially, the Women’s Center was not a magic fix.  Lorin was not opening up.  She was resentful of the first counselor and mad at the world.  They were not equipped to see her for the long term.  They were making her draw pictures.  She hated drawing the pictures.  They suggested 10 sessions there and then we should find an independent therapist or psychologist.  We were not seeing a lot of progress.  She was crying all the time.

Four months after the assault, we began taking her to a psychologist.  The psychologist was delving into her childhood.  Lorin was getting angrier and angrier.  The psychologist was not treating the assault as much as she was analyzing Lorin’s entire life.  We were lost as to how to help.  She sent my husband and I to counseling.  It did not help.  These people were not equipped for what we were going through.  They were analyzing our marriage and avoiding the event that threatened our daughter’s life and she was getting worse.

Lorin’s anger prompted the psychologist to recommend she be put on Paxil.  This was the biggest mistake of her recovery.  Paxil suppressed her feelings and turned her into a walking zombie.  We came very close to losing her during this period.  She had sloshing in her head.  She did not want to live.  She stared blankly at us and would not respond to the simplest of questions.  She went out to her car to “get a CD” in her pajamas and left.  We were frantic calling everyone we could think who might know where she was.  We would find out two hours later she was at a school administrator’s home and they were going to dinner and yes, she wore her pajamas.

We directed in no uncertain terms that she be “weaned” off Paxil.  Crying is okay.  She was releasing the hurt.  Suppressing is not okay.  The right help is so important and the wrong help is so dangerous.  We were desperate, again.

We returned to the Women’s Center and were fortunate to start sessions with Debbie Okrina.  Under Debbie’s guidance, Lorin slowly started coming back to us.  Debbie described the effect of this type of assault on the victim as an opened hand placed covering their face.  They are trying to function but it is hard to see through the obstacle that is in their way.

I understood what she meant.  I was anxious and scared all the time.  I did not know what she would do next and felt she had no control over her emotions.  Debbie talked to Del and I.  Again, she explained that at times all we can do is be prepared to listen and just be there.  Let her cry.  It is a release.  It was a painfully slow process but eventually we started seeing signs of improvement.

A good friend had a daughter that had fought an eating disorder for several years and came very close to dying.  He described how he would pull in the garage and go to the garage door to enter the house.  He would put his hand on the doorknob and pray that when he opened the door it would be a good day.  I knew exactly what he was talking about.  I never knew what each day would bring.

Surviving My Daughter’s Sexual Assault-Part I

3 May

by Lori Leatherwood

Father’s Day, 2:00 AM, June 16, 2002

I am dreaming that the phone is ringing.

“Hello?”il_fullxfull_194220586

 “Mrs. Leatherwood?”

                “Yes”, I reply.

“This is (don’t remember the name) from the Uvalde Medical Center.  We need permission to treat your daughter, Lorin.” Okay, now I really know it is a dream.  I had just told my husband the day before that I had forgotten to give a medical power of attorney to the family from our church.  You see, Lorin, had gone away with them for the weekend to a deer lease they shared with several families.  She was so excited about the weekend.  The amazing power of my mind was playing out with this dream because I worried about that power of attorney.  I was the worrier – it was my job.  I would wake up and everything would be fine. “Mrs. Leatherwood?” Wait, she’s still talking.

 “Yes?”

 “This is the Uvalde Medical Center.  We need permission to treat your daughter.” This dream seemed so real.

 “Treat her for what?” I replied.

 “Sexual Assault”.

 “Sexual Assault!!!” I replied. My husband’s scream was proof this was no dream. I do not remember the woman’s name but she was the messenger of the news that changed our family forever.  It became the before and after in the timeline of many of our memories. The conversation became a blur. She will be taken to San Antonio University hospital because they are equipped to do the rape kit – Oh, you did not know? – no one from the family she was with has called you yet? . . .  would you like me to get them on the phone . . . your daughter is talking to the police now . . .The drive to San Antonio was a blur. I do remember trembling and feeling like I was going to be sick.   It didn’t really happen.  They must be mistaken.  How did this happen?  Where were the parents?  What about her volleyball camp on Monday?  Is she hurt? It can’t be that bad.  Thank God, she is alive.  Who was the person?  How was she left alone?  Did he abduct her?  Did they get him?  Was he arrested?

                We arrived at the San Antonio Hospital at 5am and were able to see Lorin.  My beautiful little girl seemed disheveled and exhausted.   She had a look of fear that I had never seen before.  They took her away to do the rape kit.  It was necessary if charges were brought against the perpetrator.  What would they do to her?  We had never talked about her first “visit” to that doctor.

                The father of her friend was there.  He was talking but I was not truly comprehending the words coming out of his mouth.  He did what?  He let his daughter and mine go to the river unsupervised?  No one else wanted to go with them and they really wanted to go.  No, surely he did not let a 15 year old and a 16 year old go unsupervised in bathing suits to float down a river – a public river without an adult.  Was this like New Braunfels – where groups tube down the river and drink all day?  Yes, there are families but the majority are young adults.  No, surely not.  No parent would turn two young girls loose in that kind of environment.  “Their” river must be controlled – it must be different.  Perhaps it was on their property.  She identified him.  Her friend identified him.  He was a college student from out of state.  There was a group of them.  They were drinking.  He was arrested.  What did all of this mean?  It was a public river.  How did they get there?  I didn’t know her friend even had a driver’s license.  Why would they go anywhere without the parents? I wanted to attack the father but I was too numb.  My mind wandered.  What now?  How can I tell Matt (her brother)?  How will he be able to deal with this? 
He was only 17 himself.

How could I possibly tell my Mother?  You see my Mother and I were as close as a mother and daughter could be.  She lived two streets from us.  She never understood the freedom afforded our kids of spending the night out and going away with people for the weekend.  Her words rang in my ear!

                Do you know these people well? Do you trust that they will keep a close eye on the kids? Will they be responsible? Will they be with them at all times? Who is driving? How far is it? What if something happens? What is the weather like?  I just feel better when the kids are at home.  You have control over situations when they are at home. What about the other families at the deer lease?  Do you know them well? Will there be other kids there?  Do you know them well? “Oh, Mother, she will be fine”, I would always respond.

                The father leaves to go back to Uvalde.  Lorin’s examination is over.  They say she can go home.  She likes the nurse.  The nurse gives her a heart pillow.  Katarina is her name.  Katarina seems well-trained in her job.  Lorin is given the “morning-after” pill and some other medicine.  It will probably make her sick.  They recommend contacting the Houston Area Women’s Center.  They will check on her in a few days. The trip home is deafeningly quiet.  Lorin slept.  She is nauseated.  I have a bowling ball in my stomach.  My husband looks drained and merely drives.  I want to ask questions but I do not think I can handle the answers. In my mind, I was already trying to figure out how we were going to keep this a secret.  We could handle this in our immediate family.  We would not have to tell anyone.  She would be able to block this out and get back to normal. We arrived home.  The mother of her friend (there were mothers on the trip but her friend’s mother had not gone) was at our house with flowers.  She was obviously distraught over what had happened.  I was on automatic pilot.  She went on her way.  Maybe the flowers would make this go away. Kristen, a good friend of Lorin’s, and her older sister came by.  This will help.  I sit with Kristen’s mother in her car and blurt out what has happened.  The words I just said can’t be real. We told Matt.  He screamed out in disbelief.  His world was now rocked too.

I asked my mother and stepfather to come by.  I called them into the bedroom.  I blurted it out.  My beautiful mother suddenly looked much older.  She held onto the side of the bed as she went down to her knees in tears.  My sweet stepfather (Pop – the only grandfather Lorin had known) was sobbing.

THEN WHAT? I guess my denial of what had happened was quickly shot to hell.  This was not the 60’s.  This was Lorin and there would be no cover-up.  One thing about our family is we are not quiet.  I did not know where to start.  Would I make it worse by talking about it?  Maybe it would still go away if we didn’t talk about it. Would my daughter be able to overcome this?  It won’t be that bad.  It will be terrible.  Everyone will know.  She shouldn’t tell anyone.  Will the girl she went with tell everyone?  High school girls can be so mean.  It is best not to tell everyone.  What if Matt’s friends find out?  How will he deal with it? How could I turn back the clock and not let her go away that weekend?  How could I deal with the anger I felt toward the father?  How could I maim the guy who did this to her?  Why did I hear about it from a nurse?  What about the legal aspect?  Could she be pregnant?  Could she have gotten a disease?  What about testing her?  What doctor will she go to?  She could have died.  Thank you God for not letting her die.

                                We slowly started telling family and friends.  It felt like every time we told someone, it validated the severity of what we were dealing with.  The look in their eyes would cut us to the core.  Please do not cry – maybe that will mean it will be ok.  Do not look so devastated.  This too, shall pass.  Would it really?

Her aunts, both police officers, arranged for her to give her official statement to be transferred to the Uvalde police.  I can still see their shocked and devastated faces as they sat in our living room.  We found out he posted $5000 bail and was allowed to leave the state!  I was amazed!  Could that possibly be right?  What were they thinking?

Lorin cut her hair off.  She stopped wearing makeup and caring about her appearance.  She resisted any suggestions I made regarding her clothes or appearance.  She pulled away from her friends.  She could not concentrate.  Her excellent grades fell for the first time in her life.  She could not process her homework.  She yelled, she screamed.  She was angry.  I bought her sculptures with sayings.  I bought her things that said Hope, Faith, etc.  I bought her clothes. I bought her a lot of crosses.  Maybe I could buy our way out of this.  She said she was ugly.  I said she was beautiful.  She told me to shut up.  I told her she would not talk to me like that.  I slept with her.  I slept outside her door.  I tried not to talk.  I lay awake at night so I would hear her if she started crying.  I talked and cried to my mirror.  I screamed at “him” in my mirror.  I cried in my car, a lot.  I talked to my mother a lot.  Go to bed, she would say, you will be stronger in the morning.  Nights were terrible, especially Sunday nights. Mornings were terrible.  I asked my mother for help so I could work when she would not get out of bed.  She was unresponsive.  She just stared.  She scared me.  My mother would show up and just sit with her.  Mimi had a knack of taking her to a dream world at her house that was an escape.  Mimi got a cat because Lorin wanted the cat.  Mimi did not like cats.  Mimi was scared of the cat.

I was angry.  How were all the people in the world acting happy?  Did they not know what had happened to us?  Why did this happen to us?  We were very involved parents.   We were not dead-beat parents.  We knew our kids’ friends.  This should not have happened to us.  Wait, it is selfish of me to think about my feelings.  What about Lorin?  How can I take the pain away?  How can I be her and figure out what she is going through?  What about high school?  This was supposed to be the time of her life.  Really?  It will get better.  Will it get better?

*Part II to be posted soon.

Lorin’s Story

8 Apr

SAAM LogoI was raped when I was 15 years old, between my freshmen and sophomore year of high school. I was with a friend and her family for the weekend tubing down the river. What was supposed to be a fun, relaxing weekend turned out to be the moment that stripped me of my innocence forever.  Rather than floating down the river sunbathing with my girlfriend, I remember waking up underwater, choking, fighting to keep my head above water. The first thing I could see was my purple, floral, bathing suit bottom just dangling around his neck. I remember screaming-at him, for my friend, to anyone who could save me. I don’t know how I got away, I just remember running down the river; the water was so low in places, I could run.  But then I slipped, slamming my chin into the ground. Of all things, I heard laughter. I turned around to find him, and apparently a friend that had watched the whole thing, pointing at me and laughing. Somehow I got back to my friend and between my appearance and obvious emotional state, I was lucky that there was no way to deny what happened. I was forced to face it. The rest of the night raced before me from questioning at the local hospital, identifying my perpetrator and finally the drive to San Antonio to have the rape kit done. 

That weekend didn’t just change my life; it changed my whole family’s life. I still feel chills when I recall the nurse calling my parents in the middle of the night, waking them. As my mother repeated the nurse’s words. . . “Permission to treat my daughter for sexual assault?!” I can still hear my dad’s scream as he fell to his knees.

Images from that night will forever be burned in my memory. I remember looking to the policeman that did the initial questioning for comfort or support.  Instead, I got questions about my past and disbelieving comments.  I remember standing at the front of the hospital as the police car drove up.  They shined a bright light in his eyes and I had to identify him right then and there. I remember finally getting to San Antonio and being greeted by a victim’s advocate.  Her name was Katharina which at that time was my favorite name in the whole world because it was the name of my favorite character in my favorite movie. My parents hadn’t gotten there yet so she sat with me and explained what was going to happen.  I had never been to the gynecologist before.  It was like being invaded all over again.    

Looking back, it’s strange that I can recall that night so vividly. In the two years following the rape, there are so many lost memories. People will recall stories and I will have no idea what they are talking about.  I can even swear I wasn’t there at all.  I remember feelings, vague instances, random details, but definitely not a sequence of events.  That night though- no matter how much I try to wish it away, it never will.  I will never forget it.

High school was a blur.  As I said earlier, there are things I don’t remember, I probably never will. However, there are also things that I will never forget. I will never forget the shame I felt, the giant burden I carried with me wherever I went. I will never forget the emptiness I had inside. At first, I was all tears. I couldn’t make it five minutes without crying. Looking back, that’s when it was easy. It had just happened; I was supposed to be sad. It was when the tears went away, when it was time to return to normal life that I felt completely alone. I wish I could find the words to describe what it’s like to have your innocence stripped away and to realize that the world is not safe. One man’s aggression and need for power would unfortunately change my view on life forever.

At first, we tried to deal with things on our own. My family went through classic denial behavior – if we don’t talk about it, it will go away.  Unfortunately, I started slipping away. I didn’t know who I was, why this happened to me and what I had to live for.  What had I done to deserve this?  If this world was such a cruel place, I didn’t want to be a part of it.  I secluded myself from all of friends. Many days, I just wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning. My mom told me she used to say a prayer every day before she walked in my room in the morning just asking God to please, let me have one good day. Unfortunately, those days got further and further between. 

Finally, it was time to face the facts – I needed help, real help.  I’d started going to a private psychologist.  According to her, my problems stemmed from my childhood and anti-depressants were the answer.  She must have been in denial too.  After the anti-depressants nearly sent me off the deep end, someone directed us here – to the Houston Area Women’s Center.

For me, the Women’s Center was a safe haven.  I clicked with my counselor here.  For the first time since this happened, I felt like someone understood not just what I was going through, but how I could make sense of my emotions.  I’m not going to tell you that they gave me all the answers, that they magically made everything better because no one can do that, BUT they helped me understand my feelings. They helped me realize that I was not alone.  Most importantly, they helped me find the pieces of me that were broken and gave me the strength to put myself back together again.  The Women’s Center put the power back in my hands.

It’s been over 10 years since I was raped and things aren’t perfect.  They never will be.  I still have bad days; I still have times where I feel like I’m slipping into a dark hole and I get that deep sense of desperation. . . But most days, I look at my life and I feel so unbelievably blessed.  I would not trade anything that I have gone through in my life because it wouldn’t have brought me to where I am right now and I can’t imagine a life that I could possibly more thankful for.  However, I can tell that I wouldn’t be here right now at all if it wasn’t for the Women’s Center.  The Houston Area Women’s Center saved my life.

(The survivor has granted permission for her story to be published on this blog.)

If you or anyone you know is experiencing/has experienced sexual assault, call the numbers provided below for help or more information:

Houston Area Women’s Center 24/7 Hotline: 713-528-7273

(Crisis intervention, shelter, referrals)

HPD Sex Crimes Unit: 713-308-1180

(Filing police report and information about your rights)

Harris County District Attorney: 713-755-52888

(Information and help filing a protective order)

*If outside of the greater Houston area, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE(4673)

Amber’s Story-Teen Dating Violence

27 Feb

(The survivor has granted permission for her story to be published on this blog.)

It didn’t start off bad. We met last year in February, when I was 19 years old. He tried to pursue a relationship with me for seven months and I gave him a rough time. He was known and very popular on our college campus, but he wasn’t my type. In July teen-dating-violence-awareness-month-2013he finally won me over and we started dating. At that time I was a virgin, I wanted to wait for that special person. But, he was very persuasive, and I ended up losing my virginity to him. During that time, I was very stressed. I was pledging for a sorority, working and school stressed me out. He wasn’t sensitive to my feelings and we began to argue a lot. The first time he became sexually aggressive was the last week of August. We were having sex and it was extremely painful; when I told him that it hurt and he needed to stop, he didn’t listen. Instead, he pinned me down and told me to take it. The pain was so excruciating that I started crying.

Afterwards, he got up and left. I was in so much pain I couldn’t get up the entire day. Because he was my boyfriend, I made excuses, I told myself that he really loved me and he didn’t mean to do it. Even after that first incident he continued being aggressive with me, especially when I didn’t want to have sex with him. It became an everyday norm.  He would constantly throw me against the wall, and physically and verbally abuse me. One time he even locked me in my bathroom and took off my clothes. I begged him to stop but he put my face in my robe to muffle my screams. This kind of abuse continued for a long time. He was my first and I thought he loved me so I continued making excuses for him.

Eventually, I found out that he was cheating and lying to me about several things.  I had a friend who was a criminal justice major who I confided in, and he made me realize that my boyfriend was abusing me. When I heard that, I broke down. I had been trying to avoid it, I was in denial, but I knew he was right. My grades were slipping, I couldn’t work or pledge my sorority, and I ended up having an emotional breakdown on campus. My coworker and boss told me to take time off and leave, and that’s what I did. I took time off from work and withdrew from my university. After I withdrew from school, I was notified that my boyfriend had done the same thing to two other girls. I was able to get in contact with them and got them to report their stories to the university police like I did. They were more than willing to help. We opened a case against him in which we won, and consequently, he was banned from campus.

I’m telling my story because people don’t realize the effects of dating violence. A lot of guys downplay their actions and say girls ask for it. In my situation, I felt like I was being blamed for his actions, especially by complete strangers and his friends. But today, I know it’s not my fault, and I don’t take responsibility for his actions. I’ll be going back to school next semester, and I’ll be starting a Teen Dating Violence group on campus. I’ve already talked to many girls who are in the same position that I was, but they’re too afraid to speak up. I just want to let other girls know that they are not the only ones going through this, and that there is help and a way out.

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. To learn more about teen dating violence, visit here. If you or anyone you know is experiencing domestic violence, call the numbers provided below for help or more information:

 Houston Area Women’s Center 24/7 Hotline: 713-528-2121

*If outside of the greater Houston area, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

Advocating for Children in Our Court System

9 Jan

It sounded exciting to 14 year old Allie when a group of older boys asked her and her friend, Kim, to skip school and go hang out at a new arcade that had just opened. They promised they would have the girls back to school before dismissal. Allie and Kim didn’t get much attention from their peers and were flattered and excited that these guys had asked them to go along. But once in the car, the boys headed in the opposite direction of the arcade and out into a rural area. When they drove down a dirt road and stopped in front of an old shack, Allie began to get a sinking feeling in her stomach. For the next three hours, Allie and Kim were gang raped repeatedly by the four older boys. They then took the girls back to the school, as if nothing had happened, and warned them not to tell anyone. After all, they had gone along willingly, hadn’t they? But when Allie’s Mom came to pick them up from school, she could tell something was wrong. Allie and Kim both started to cry and told her everything. A police report was made and both girls went to the hospital for a sexual assault exam. When the police concluded their investigation, they charged all four boys with sexual assault, two as juveniles and two as adults. They referred the families to Children’s Court Services at the Houston Area Women’s Center for assistance with the rest of the legal process. Both families were assisted in filing for Crime Victims’ Compensation and referred for counseling. The court cases were monitored and the families were kept updated on the status of the cases. Eighteen months after the sexual assaults, the juvenile cases were set for trial. The court advocate met with the girls and talked about what court would be like. The girls had two main concerns – that kids from school would be in the audience and that they would not be believed. The court advocate explained that there were already many people that believed them – that’s why they were getting ready for trial. She agreed to talk to the prosecutor about the possibility of closing the courtroom when the girls testified. When they got to the courthouse for trial, they learned that the prosecutor had agreed to let the boys enter a diversion program that would negate the need for a trial. The juveniles would have to go to treatment, change schools and stay out of trouble. While the parents were disappointed with the outcomes, the girls were relieved that they didn’t have to testify. Even though there weren’t any convictions, they felt like the boys had admitted to what they had done. Allie and Kim have now completed their counseling at the Houston Area Women’s Center and feel like they are ready to move on. But, there are still two adult cases pending. Children’s Court Services will continue to provide information and support to the families until all of the cases have been concluded.

(Names in this story have been changed and some identifying details have been omitted in order to protect the privacy of those involved.)

About Children’s Court Services:

Children’s Court Services (CCS) assists child victims of crime and/or witnesses to crime, and their families, as they participate in the criminal justice system. Our court advocates educate, support and accompany children and their non-offending family members as they prepare for the court process. All services are free of charge.

To learn more about CCS click here .To speak to an advocate about Children’s Court Services, call our 24-Hour Hotline at (713) 528-2121 or call Pam Hobbs, Manager of Children’s Court Services at (713) 528-6363 ext. 2255

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