Monday, May 28, 2018

Tap-Code: When Sexual Assault Survivors Are Not Alone

Do you know about the "tap-code" created by US prisoners of war captured in Vietnam? Held in isolation for years, the soldiers created a code that allowed them to communicate by tapping on their cell walls. In this way, they were able to teach, learn and pray together. Because social support is how we humans become resilient.
Here's today's reflection on the concept of a "tap-code":
Research on the spiritual impact of sexual violence, and the voices of survivors themselves, reveal that the effect of traumatic victimization creates a feeling of “radical separation”—a sense of profound isolation and disconnection.* When I speak and write about the cultural context of sexual violence, I often point out that sexual violence against women is so prevalent that it is an unspoken commonality among adult women. Many factors contribute to the “unspoken”-ness: The fact that the sexual/bodily realm of experience is intensely private and personal. A victim-blaming culture that holds survivors responsible for violence done to them. The power of shame to silence and separate. The short- and long-term effects of the neurobiological stress response that accompanies sexual assault.
But social support is of tremendous value to people facing adversity, and survivors of sexual violence are no exception. Advances in clinical treatment for trauma survivors, much of which is based on neurobiological research, is terrifically important. But macro and mezzo practice also have the opportunity to change social norms and the cultural conversation. This is one reason recent shifts in policy and culture – elevating and validating the voices of survivors – are exciting to me. Creating a common, survivor-supportive language for discussing sexual violence signals survivors that social support is available for them. The way we talk about sexual violence in public—in the media, in public policy, and in our communities—is itself a “tap-code” that tells survivors of sexual trauma that they are not alone.
Deputy Director
Northampton MA

*The conception of PTSD as spiritual injury rests on an understanding that trauma damages the person's fundamental capacity for trust and attachment--what Sinclair (1993) calls "radical separation," cited in McBride and Armstrong, 1995, p. 8

McBride, J.L. and G. Armstrong. 1995.The Spiritual Dynamics of Chronic Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Journal of Religion and Health 34 (1): 5-16.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Our words matter

A community was outraged when it was discovered that a janitor had drilled holes in the girls’ restroom at a local high school,  taken photos, and had the photos on his laptop. He was fired and charges were filed against him. But the community was left with a swirl of emotions.

In “Words a Powerful Response to Violence,” Empowerment Self-Defense Instructor Lynne Marie Wanamaker offers a path for addressing the ripple effect such an experience has on the whole community by using our words to connect with others and support survivors when people in our communities experience violence.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Internship with IMPACT Chicago: Connecting Women’s and Gender Studies and IMPACT

Much of my  internship with IMPACT Chicago has been  spent archiving the organization’s physical documents and photos. I appreciate being able to look back over a 30-year span and see the paper trail of the organization’s labor and dedication because it really gives me a fuller understanding of the organization. I have seen everything from grant proposals, instructional manuals, and conference presentations.One conference presentation  was on media portrayals of violence and implications for self-defense. Alena Schaim, Resolve (IMPACT in New Mexico) and Martha Thompson, IMPACT Chicago, analyzed popular media images and advertisements, examined assumptions underlying rape myths, and then reframed the images of violence, in order to challenge what the media makers (patriarchy) want us to believe and do. Violent images in the media do not only affect women, but they also influence men’s understanding of masculinity.
In the fall of 2017, I took a violence against women course, Just-321, and this conference presentation on Media  reminded me of an article we discussed by Quinn, 2002, “Sexual Harassment and Masculinity.” In the text they introduced the concept of “girl watching,” which is the phenomenon where a man or men come together to examine women for sexual gratification and humiliation. While they examined this concept in the workplace regarding the relationship between women and male supervisors, it can also be seen in various aspects of daily life through the media. Quinn stated, “Men see harmless flirtation or sexual interest rather than harassment because they misperceive women's intent and responses,” (p.389). We continue to find that, compared to women, men are less likely to define an act as being sexual harassment or violent in nature, and Quinn proposed that when women say, “men don’t get it,” there is actual truth behind these statements. Men do not understand women’s experiences due to the differences in their early socialization and their performative requirements of masculinity. Men tend to lack empathy for women because they lack the need to identity with women’s experiences, due to the male privilege granted upon them by the patriarchy. Men participate in girl watching because it affirms stereotypical-masculine behavior, and the dominant culture uses media subtext to normalizes images of gender-based violence.
          This  internship is aligned with my Women’s and Gender Studies program because it is offering me other tools that I can utilize when challenging hegemony. IMPACT is showing me how not just women in the rest of the world are resisting and creating change, but also how women in my own community are. I have also learned, for as long as IMPACT Chicago has been around, it is only one small branch of an even larger tree. I believe that IMPACT most identifies with third wave feminism because they practice intersectionality. IMPACT is inclusive of woman across all aspects of gender, race, class, and has also expanded their curriculum to create safe, healthy, and informed communities for women with disabilities. Their organization is a non-profit and has 10 chapters in the U.S. and two internationally, in the U.K. and in Israel, and are currently seeking to further expand globally. I believe they are also third wave because they rely on technology and social media outlets to form connectedness, in order to remain at the forefront of current research regarding violence against women, as well as advocating for women’s rights.

Stephanie Elyse Paredes, IMPACT Chicago Intern, Spring 2018
Quinn, B.A. (2002). Sexual harassment and masculinity: The power and meaning of “girl watching.” Gender & Society, 16 (3), 386-402.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Reducing violence against boys and men improves community safety

Empowerment Self-Defense (ESD) can play a role in reducing violence against boys and men and improve community safety.

ESD Instructors care about everyone’s experiences and believe everyone has the right to live free from violence. Self-defense has mistakenly come to be understood as solely a women’s issue and as primarily focused on physical responses. Interpersonal violence is a societal problem that affects all genders. Physical resistance is only one of many possible options for response. Men (from here forward men is inclusive of male-identified people of any age) have their own challenges to practicing and using behaviors that can increase their safety, make it more likely they will be believed and supported, and improve access to recovery. It is critical to address situations such as sexual assault and rape, bar fights and schoolyard conflicts, hazing and bullying, abusive parents and abusive partners - both for ones’ safety as an individual and to interrupt the cycle of interpersonal violence.

Our programs are guided by ESD principles. This includes examining the social and cultural norms that create vulnerabilities for specific populations, such as men, to be targeted for violence. Social norms can also be an influence when committing acts of abuse and violence.  Men’s safety may be at risk when they act out violence as well. They may experience physical injury even if they were the aggressor and they could be criminalized and/or face other consequences if they victimize others.

Men sometimes face choosing between being victimized, being an active bystander, or siding with the aggressor. For example, witnesses to bullying may be forced to decide whether to ignore the bully’s actions or speak up and risk becoming the next target. An individual may find themselves being both a target of violence as well as an aggressor.  In situations such as fraternity pledging, someone may be the target of tests of bravery, pain tolerance, and humiliation freshman year. Once a member, they may then test freshman in following years.

Space to be more authentic apart from adherence to gender scripts helps interrupt the cycle of violence

A classroom based on ESD principles facilitates an environment where men and boys can learn safety skills without the pressures of hierarchy and competition. ESD programs:
·        Examine the utility of gender scripts and “guy code” for responding to violence and reframe strength (not just brute force) and “winning” (anything to end or interrupt the encounter, including walking away and de-escalation).
·        Provide skills and tools where size, weight class, athleticism, and previous combative experience are not relevant.
·        Decouple fighting arts/self-defense from masculine culture and masculine spaces.
·        Minimize intra-student competition through practice and role-play only with instructors. Additionally, participants don’t receive rankings.
·        Make no assumptions about gender and previous knowledge - everyone gets to learn together.
·        Provide opportunities for participants to talk about their responses to this material, such as acknowledging that one doesn't like fighting, or that it is hard/scary/triggering to be on the receiving end of aggression, even simulated aggression.
·        Create space to connect with other men and explore emotions without reacting to them with anger, pride, need for control.
·        Provide a safer space to ask for and give support to others. This can be especially valuable for men who face constraints about reporting and asking for help, such as internalized shame and blame.
·        Value participants for who they are, regardless of their social status, money, success, or looks.
·        Honor choices about participation and limits.

Space to reflect on the lived experiences and abilities of oneself and others helps interrupt the cycle of violence

ESD programs explicitly provide opportunities for participants to share their own history of violent or abusive experiences and/or to hear about classmates’ lived experiences. For men it might be the first time that they share what it felt like to be targeted for violence. Many experience relief to learn they aren’t alone in their experiences and emotions.

In all gender or mixed gender classes, it might be the first time they become aware of the way people with different genders experience abuse and violence. They may learn how other people daily address safety concerns and how they organize and limit their lives to reduce their risk of being targeted.

In ESD programs staffed by mixed gender teaching teams, men get to experience being taught and coached by women as leaders in the class - an explicit choice to model less traditional gender roles. Observation of mixed gender instructors and mixed gender co-students invites men to expand their view of women’s capacity to resist violence, to lead, and to be strong in a variety of different ways. Many men leave class committed to be better allies to people of all genders.

Space to heal from experiences of violence such as abuse and neglect helps interrupt the cycle of violence

ESD programs teach valuable tools that may prevent interpersonal violence and help people heal. Research suggests a statistically significant connection between experiencing abuse and neglect as a child and being charged with criminal offenses as an adult. Participants may connect how their early experiences shape who they are now and provide insights into how they respond to triggers such as stress, verbal aggression, and intense emotions such as anger or rejection. Classes offer support, new skills, and alternatives to violence when aroused/adrenalized through grounding exercises, breath control and pacing. Role plays provide opportunities to explore strategic responses designed to match levels of response to levels of threat. Participants experience an embodied sense of power and safety that isn’t defined by control or domination of another person.

ESD programs examine gender role messages and how those messages may have influenced past behavior or beliefs. Young people socialized into hyper-masculinity and beliefs about distinct, binary, gender roles may perpetuate hierarchical systems that condone or encourage violent behaviors (sports team hazing) and may commit violence, sexual assault, and /or relationship abuse.  Research suggests that fear of emotions, gender role stress, and gender role enforcement are connected to violence against gay men and women.

Restrictive social and cultural norms are challenged as students learn and practice a spectrum of avoidance strategies and verbal skills.  Expanding response choices beyond all or nothing (punk out and cower or come back hard and go to blows) is critical for trauma survivors, for folks who might face unfair and severe consequences for self-defense, and for those who don’t want to use physical self-defense as a means to counter violence.

Ernest Wawiorko
ESD and Impact Instructor

Baugher, Amy R. and Julie A.Gazmararian. 2015. Masculine gender role stress and violence: A literature review and future directions. Aggression and Violent Behavior  24: 107-112

Jakupcak, Matthew. 2003. Masculine Gender Role Stress and Men's Fear of Emotions as Predictors of Self-Reported Aggression and Violence. Violence and Victims 18 (5)5 : 533-41.

Moore, Todd M., Stuart, Gregory L., McNulty, James K., Addis, Michael E., Cordova, James V., Temple, Jeff R. 2008. Domains of masculine gender role stress and intimate partner violence in a clinical sample of violent men., Psychology of Men & Masculinity 9(2): 82-89

Parrott, Dominic J. 2009. Aggression Toward Gay Men as Gender Role Enforcement: Effects of Male Role Norms, Sexual Prejudice, and Masculine Gender Role Stress Journal of Personality 77(4): 1137-1166.

Widom, Cathy Spatz. 1989. The Cycle of Violence.  Science 244 (April): 160-166.