Words Unspoken

This week has brought many articles about Chrissie Hynde’s statements blaming herself for the rape that occurred when she was 21. “If she was dressed differently…” “If she had not put herself in that position, she would never have been raped.” All of the articles that I have read have been very critical of her statements… and at first blush, I would be as well.

However, if you understand victimization… the “making sense of the situation” is key. Victims of violence need to sometimes believe that they can have some control over the situation to feel empowered… blaming themselves can be, in a warped way, a means to gain control…. but reality is that she did not and cannot control another person’s actions if that person is intent on harm.

Thus, blaming herself is actually a grasp for personal empowerment.

What remains important, is for one to be able to communicate and relate their experience in a clear way. DVSD was approached by a survivor who wanted to start a program to help women do just that… tell their stories. Step by step. By understanding and processing experiences, one can put into words their feelings of loss, fear, success and, ultimately, their need to be empowered.

DVSD was founded because survivors of domestic violence voiced a desire to ask questions of offenders of violence that they knew could never be asked of their own perpetrator. The Words Unspoken project is, once again, listening to the desires of a survivor who knew that she had a story to tell and created a 4 part workshop to help others talk publicly about their experiences. DV thrives in silence. There are so many Words Unspoken…. with proper support, that will change.

Empowerment. It comes in many different forms.

When Rioting is Not Black and White…

In the wake of the Baltimore riots, the above video appears. When I first saw the video with the volume off, my stomach turned upside down. The woman in the video has been identified as the boy’s mother. She was watching TV and saw her son in the middle of the riots and went out to find him. And she did!

As someone who spends their time working against violence, it was really troubling to witness this mother repeatedly slap the side of her son’s head. I thought to myself, “no wonder he was in the midst of the violence… look at what has been exemplified in front of him”. I could think this, click off the computer and continue on my way. Being a mother of 3 children who has chosen not to spank my children…. the actions of this mother would not be mine; HOWEVER…. there is a different side… and I find myself, the loud non-vilolence advocate, in a very odd position of wondering “would I do the same thing?”.

Listen to the video. The words of the mother. “You are proud of what you are doing? Take that hood off and show your face”. Her voice is shaking. As a “fellow mom,” I recognize that shaking. It is not just anger over what he is doing… but fear. She is screaming, and lashing out at him and, then, she grabs him by the shoulders as he walks away.

In that moment, she easily could have just saved his life. Certainly, she prevented him from being arrested for looting, participating in the riots and violating the law. What I heard and saw is a mother who is desperate to rescue her child.

Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people and creates the desire for harmony or conformity within the group and results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Group members seek to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints, by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences. Rioting is an example of this phenomenon. There are many who are rioting currently in Baltimore who are lashing out against what they perceive is an unjust system while there are others who are joining in groupthink… profiting from the looting and mayhem.

Martin Luther King, Jr. who has been touted as such an amazing powerhouse in the world of non-violence said “A riot is the language of the unheard”. The video of this frightened mother brought his comment to mind. Why did she lash out and “riot against” her son? My conclusion… Because she was unheard and afraid.

Rather than sitting in my home thinking “I would never do that”, I will stop for a moment and be grateful that I am not in the position of that mother, forced to physically pull my child away from a group and behavior that could result in his death. And I will hope and pray for those out there grabbing their children, pulling them out of the groups and hoping that all the voices can be heard… that is how we stop the riot.

Listenting and dialogue. It does come down to those two things. It just does.

When to jump in and when to watch others.

One would think (well… I would think that one would think… anyway…) that since I write about, talk about hear about domestic violence 5-7 days out of the week that I would know what to do and how to react and how to feel when I witness violence in person.  Well, I now know that I do not have any sort of magical words, actions or thoughts when faced with a violent situation.

My daughters and I were in a parking lot and after hearing a car alarm going off, I realized that a man in the car was hitting the woman. He was screaming at her. I pushed my daughters around the corner so that they would not see what was occurring, walked back and looked him in the eyes to let him know that I saw what he was doing… and he pulled her into the car and drove away with her pounding the window.

I called 911 and gave them a location, license plate and description. And then what?

My mind has been racing ever since.  What else could I have done? If I were that scared, how on earth did that woman feel?

I tell myself that I did what I could — and my mind says “in this crazy age, he could have had a concealed weapon”, “I had two young girls to keep safe”, “I have to trust the system and believe that good will triumph”…. sadly, my mind cannot convince the rest of me.

So what should I have done? Well… exactly what I did. In general, the advice is to stop short of advising that you jump into the middle of the fray—it could trigger the abuser to become more dangerous to either his partner or to you. Call the police, or 911. And if you aren’t sure how to assess the situation, get help at the national domestic violence hotline: 1-800-799-7233.

Many advocates suggest that when you witness a violent couple, make some kind of noise to create a distraction, including going up to a neighbor’s house where you hear screams and ringing the bell. The idea is to let the abuser know you’ve noticed, thus, possibly intercepting an escalating rage. In addition, taking photos can out the person. Other advocates suggest that, where possible, you ask the victim if she needs help.

The main objective/goal is to do something. Because doing nothing is one more vote that, as a culture we accept that it’s OK to strangle your partner a little, even in public, and maybe hit her, punch her, break a bone.

Every time you take action, know that you are making it more difficult for an abuser to “get away with it”.

Who is in Charge Here??

i was on a plane that was supposed to be traveling from NYC to Portland, Oregon last Sunday. A “quick” 6 hour flight. Unfortunately, there was a mechanical delay. Even more unfortunately, thy had already had us board the plane before said delay was discovered. 2 1/2 hours later, we were on our way. Personally, if I was going to be on a flight for 9 hours, I would hope that it would land in Paris or Barcelona… but this one took us home, the long way.

As I sat in my cozy (crowded) seat, I was thinking about how helpless I was feeling. There was absolutely nothing that I could do to better the situation. I could not get back off of the plane and 2 toddlers were already running up and down the aisles, so that option was taken. All I could do was fret and look at the dog that was also fretting across the aisle from me. (yes, he let his fret be known… in many ways….).

I do not like the feeling of not being in control. I do not really consider myself a control freak, but rather, I like having the ability to make my own decisions and guide my own direction. When that does not happen, I try with all my might to get back in the drivers seat.

When does the desire to have control cross over into the “danger zone”? This is a great question that I am asked sometimes by clients who are trying to determine whether their partner is just wanting to get a normal amount of control or if their controlling behaviors are abusive. I speak to HS students about spotting the red flags of controlling behaviors early so that they can protect themselves and their friends.

It is difficult to explain sometimes the difference between controlling vs. romantic. In the beginning of a relationship, an abuser will attribute controlling behavior to concern for the victim. For example, the victim’s safety or decision making skills. As this behavior progresses, the situation will worsen and the abuser may assume all control of finances or prevent the victim from coming and going freely.

I use some scenarios with the students to exemplify the point. For example:

“I love you so much, I wish that I could spend all my time with you because you make me so happy.” (romantic) vs. “I love you so much. I don’t want you to go out with your friends anymore, I want you to just be with me on the weekends” (controlling).


You get these voicemails: “You were 15 minutes later than you said you would be, who were you with just now? Why didn’t you call me?” (controlling) vs. “You were 15 minutes later than you said you’d be, hope all is ok” (romantic).

Spotting red flags early can help each participant in an relationship is so important.

Oh… and I hate flying. That will not change.

Time to Pull Out the Umbrella?

Living in Portland, Oregon, rain is a daily part of spring life. (This year has been freakishly dry, but we are not saying anything so that we don’t jinx it… Does blogging it count? Huh.). The rain is seen more as a nuisance. Similar to little bugs darting back and forth in front of you, something that you just try to ignore.  Because it is part of our daily life, we just go on about our business as if it is not happening. The common NW joke is that you can spot a tourist by their raised umbrella.

As I was sitting in my car waiting for the rain to let up a bit, I looked in the pocket of the door and there sat a small umbrella. I thought to myself “I can’t” as my eyes darted around the street watching umbrella-less people running down the sidewalk looking miserable and bikers trudging bravely along the street.

Then I thought “I’m smarter than this… Why am I not automatically reaching for my umbrella?” Why on Earth do I not reach for that umbrella and raise it with pride knowing that I will be the ONLY Portlander to arrive at their office door dry? Pride? Wanting to make sure that everyone knew that I belonged?

Over the past week, the pilot that crashed the plane into the mountain has been constant in the news. The biggest problem with the 24 hours news stations is that they must fill the time – so they have commentator after commentator give their opinoins on the story. Unfortunatly, the current story is that the “pilot committed suicide” and “people around him knew that he had past depression issues” rather than “THE PILOT HAD EVIL MURDEROUS INTENTIONS THAT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE MAJORITY OF PEOPLE WHO HAVE DEPRESSION OR SUICIDAL THOUGHTS.”

As with every tradgedy, people want to be able to point to something and say “there is the issue, let’s fix it and blame something. That way we all feel safe again”. The path we are heading down after this week is a very dangerous one. Blaming people who are depressed, talking about blocking applications of those who have anti-depressant medications on their medical history is reckless and very short sighted.

Mental Health issues are real and, according to the World Health Organization, effects 1 our of 4 Americans. Depression is common. Some people can move through it by engaging in talk therapy while others have a chemical imbalance that requires some medication. With early intervention, people can learn how to handle life’s challenges. What we need is encouragement. What we need is to make it more acceptable to seek help.

What we need is for the constant news channels to understand and look at the bigger picture. Encourage mental health advocacy, not stigmatize and demonize those who are reaching out for help.

Oh- I did grab the umbrella-,it was broken from years of being shoved aside in the car door… But it helped.