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Sunday, November 4, 2018

What Sexual Assault is NOT About

This is a difficult topic to discuss.  However, it's certainly a whole lot easier to talk about than to endure, and so for all the folks I know that have endured sexual assault, and those who, unfortunately, will in the future, I want to speak out.  

We know that most of the men, women and children that have been assaulted don’t talk about those moments, or hours, of assault.  There’s nothing new in the world about sexual assault; it’s been around for as long as the human race and I’m of the opinion that it’s about time we attempt to get real about it.

To begin, I hope to make sure we are on the same page and reading from the same playbook about sexual assault. I am writing today to emphasize just four main points, simple though they be.

First of all, no one is exempt from sexual assault. Neither race nor socioeconomic status, age, disability, nor one’s sex can provide immunity from being the object of sexual assault. As distasteful as this is to think about, this includes children. As a child protection worker, I met children as young as 4 years that had been victims. Later, while working with elderly, I met people as old as 85 that had been victimized. Most of my life as a medical social worker has been spent working with children and adults with disabilities. Sexual assaults occurred  in those persons’ lives too. In fact, research suggests that people with disabilities are twice as likely to have been victims of sexual abuse as able bodied folks.

Although we may tend to think of women and girls first, when we talk about sexual assault, we know that boys are also victimized. Stories from the Catholic church have shown us that boys have long been abused, too.  And unlike Jacob Wetterling’s story of kidnapping, assault and death, most victims do know their perpetrators. 

The vast majority of perpetrators are never punished or even charged with assault. And If we, the rest of us, cannot accept the truth that sexual assault exists, not as a rarity but a frequent occurrence, how are we ever going to be able to talk about sexual assault. And if it’s something that cannot be spoken of, then, I contend that silence makes perfect victims of us all. And tacit accomplices.

My second point is this. Many people reading this will tell themselves that they do not personally know anyone who has been sexually assaulted. You are undoubtably incorrect in that belief. I don’t care who you are—unless you have been living as a hermit in a cave, you do know someone who has been sexually assaulted, whether you realize this or not. 

I ask you to think carefully. Think of your immediate family members. Think of your aunts and uncles, cousins, your nieces, nephews, grandparents, your brother and sisters and your own parents. Think of all the people you have known in your lifetime. There are stories there that you have likely never heard. People that we know and know well have been scarred by sexual assault at some time during their lives though we may not ever hear their story from their own lips. 

Over the years, my mental health clients have told me in anguishing fits and starts, their stories of sexual assault; whether as children in their own homes or churches, as adolescents at a party, or with romantic encounters gone south. They came to therapy with memories that still plagued them years after the events occurred  They came surprised to find themselves with feelings and fears that they had thought were successfully shoved aside years earlier. They came reporting that old memories had been resurrected along with milestones in their lives— moving away to college, starting a new relationship. the death of a parent or the abuser, the birthday of their own child, or a new sexual partner, to name a few.

They often came weighted down with the burden of having protected the identity of the abuser for years--the college student whose father was a pastor back home, the young woman with mild cerebral palsy who believed that she was selected for assault by her teacher because of her disability, the young man who was assaulted by his middle-school track coach, the middle-aged woman who because of chronic back pain stood throughout hours of therapy and all but shrank into the wall as she wept through the telling of her story. The tears aren’t all about the incident of assault itself, but about the current inability to trust another person. Some are because they cannot allow themselves to relax their guard enough to be intimate with another person. They report feelings of deep inadequacy, of loneliness, of living outside the circle of “ordinary” people.

Thirdly, if there is only one thing that you take away from this narrative, let it be this. Sexual assault is not about the sex act. Sexual assault is not about enjoying one’s sexuality. It is about power. It is about one (or more) person(s) of greater size, strength, authority, or mental capacity taking advantage of someone possessing less of one or all of the above. It's about having control of someone else. It's about using that size or strength, authority or mental capacity to do with that person's body as desired, without the permission of the other, without regard for the impact on the other. Sexual assault is an avenue to assert dominance, to massage a bruised ego, to prove superiority, to demonstrate hatred for the opposite gender, to cause another pain as retribution, to establish social standing within a peer group, to control the behavior of another person. It is a way to exact fear and compliance in another person or group.   

Sexual assault does not occur because the victim “dressed too provocatively”, nor because mixed signals were given or she “changed her mind.”  It’s not about the perpetrator being "oversexed," having too much of a sex drive, nor being too drunk to know better. And it is certainly not about “boys will be boys.” Those are all excuses that have been offered to justify behavior after the fact. Those are all ways in which we have collectively attempted, unwittingly or not, to place blame upon victims for bad things happening to them.

My fourth point, sexual assault does not require that intercourse have taken place. So, does this mean that having your butt slapped, or being rubbed up against (frotteurism) in a crowd, or being “felt up”, pawed, grabbed, pinched, kissed, bitten, restrained, mouth gagged, having a finger inserted into an orifice, neck squeezed, lewd things muttered into your ear, threatened with further violence, clothing torn, undressed, undergarments snapped--that all of these are sexual assaults? Yes, that is exactly what that means. Sexual assault also includes being forced to watch or to participate in sexual gratification of another, whether by physical force or by coercion through threats of harm or humiliation. These are all sexual assaults.

There's a phrase that I’ve heard used sometimes which actually diminishes the victims' authority to label a sexual assault for what it is. The phrase sounds innocent enough but it masks the reality of what occurred.  The phrase goes something like this, ”He (or she) tried to... (take advantage of, feel her up, get in her pants, etc.)” Do you see?  We have said"tried to" when what we really meant was that the perpetrator did do some of those things. With those few words, we are diminishing the reality of an experience that was an assault, was traumatic, or at the very least frightening, humiliating or anger producing.

I do not mean to imply that I an an expert in the field of sexual assault and treatment.  But I do mean to imply that I don’t have to be, nor do you, in order to be able to hear and to believe the reality of assaults. I beg you, if/when you hear of a person’s story of assault, do not automatically go to that suspicious place in your head where you immediately wonder if the victim is telling the truth. Please, please do not add more onto the assault. Please.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

First Amendment: A Right and a Responsibility

Sailing through New York City on Northern Star

Freedom of Speech. Hmm. A long time ago, we declared ourselves to have the right to express ourselves without fear of reprisal, a monumental improvement over life under the British monarchy, when saying the wrong thing about the King could lead to shackles or worse. There are a few caveats, of course. We can’t shout “Fire” when there is none, or terrorize others by claiming to have planted a bomb, nor threaten to kill. Freedom of Speech does not extend to inciting violence. Well and good.
Farmer's Market, Memphis.

Personal slander and lies, however, are more difficult utterances to police. Although the U.S. is one of the most litigious nations in the world, most of the time we don’t bother to sue others who slander us. Case in point: someone calls me a “dufus.” And although I would beg to differ, there’s no point in making a big deal of it. We tend to count on the ability of reasonable people to recognize that the slanderous person’s statements are without merit. It’s pragmatic.
"A reasonable person would recognize 
that I am not a dufus."

So since we are free to say what we like, where is Honesty in all of this? The First Amendment is the basis for many of our laws. But, Honesty, that takes us into the realm of morality.  Laws and Morality. Apples and oranges—not the same but both in the same fruit bowl.  The two ought to be able to cohabit the same space without bruising one another. Wouldn’t you think?

Underground Railroad Museum, North Carolina
We claim to be a nation of morals—Honesty, being one of them, yes? Historically, we pride our American selves on possessing a higher level of morals than many nations of the world. (Especially if we set aside for the moment, our history of slavery, internment camps and forced boarding schools for Native children). We like to see ourselves as beacons of fairness on the world stage. We believe we are the “good guys.”

An unexpected oversize "sign" in the
Upper Peninsula of Michigan
So, does Honesty make up one of the rungs on our ladder of American Morality? Do we believe in it?  Right along with Justice and Equality? Is it something we value? The past couple of years have been particularly tough for me in this regard….

“Nobody has greater respect for women than me.” Pres. Trump (Excuse me, but just writing that quote makes me guffaw).
"In another moment, I'm going to split a
gut laughing. Then I'll cry."

“There were good people on both sides of the Charlottesville thing.” Pres. Trump 

“The President did not say that. What I can tell you is that the President has the highest regard for (…women.. children…victims of hurricanes… people of color…etc.)” White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders Huckabee.  

"Who you gonna trust in this town?  A guy with bad hair,
or me, a Border Collie with a nose for Truth."
“Well, that’s not at all what happened…..I know the history of this. I’ve spent a lot of time on this throughout my career.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to John Dickerson, speaking on his decision to block Obama’s choice for SCOTUS, Merrick Garland. McConnell claimed that it was  justified to block a nominee when the White House and Congress were of different parties.

"Classic deer in headlights" reaction.
“Under my Administration, we have accomplished in two years more than almost any administration in the history of our country.” Pres. Trump’s speech to 100+ world leaders, ambassadors and dignitaries at the UN which prompted audience laughter. Trump later said that he had been “meant to get laughter.”

“We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.” Dept of Homeland Security (DHS) Sec. Kjirsten Nielsen.  As of June 19, 2018 2,342 children have been separated from their parents.

“Everybody knows that I’ve got what it takes. Because of what’s up here.” (pointing to his head) Pres. Trump in interview. (Clearly this is untrue because I, for one, do NOT know that he has what it takes).
"Seriously?  You want me to believe that?"

“We did an outstanding job in Puerto Rico. There were not 3,000 deaths. They added those on later.” Pres. Trump

“Fake news People.  Everybody knows it. You’re printing fake news, as usual. Please correct your facts.” Pres. Trump on Twitter, on a routine basis.

“I have good chemistry with Kim Jong-un. We had a very nice meeting. We have an understanding.” Pres. Trump explains why it was unnecessary to have anything in writing about their “understanding” on nuclear proliferation.
"Here's the thing....blub,blub,blub....
Putin is my best bud."

“He says he did not have anything to do with influencing our 2016 elections, and he said it very strongly, and so I think it’s true.” Pres. Trump after meeting in private with Putin. (As if truth were relevant? Curiously, this statement stands beside his other assertion which was that our own Intelligence was not believable.)
"I guess an American president would know
what's best for Europe, huh? Munch, munch." 

“Immigration is changing the culture of Europe and they had better watch themselves.”  Pres. Trump has advice for German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“Germany will become totally dependent on Russian energy if it does not immediately change course.” Pres. Trump’s speech at the U.N. General Assembly which brought about smirks among the Germans. (I would love to have overheard their dinner conversation that evening).

“The Mueller investigation is a witch hunt.” Pres. Trump, on Twitter and to news reporters, repeatedly. 
"I've studied the ocean and there are no whales.
Ignore the four whales below and behind me---
move along people. Nothing to see here."

“I did not limit the investigation of the FBI in any way.” Trump’s assertion that the FBI investigation intended to address specific allegations of sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh was not limited by him. FBI Director Christopher Wray later testified under oath that the Pres. did limit the breadth of the investigation.

"I can squirm my way out of most
anything. It's a rare skill."
“It’s a bad time for men.  You can get accused of anything and then your life is over.”  “It’s a great time for women.  A great time!” President Trump’s analysis after the Kavanaugh hearings.

“We need Saudia Arabia.” (The $115 billion arms deal) “would produce 500,000 jobs.”  “They are an ally.” Pres. Trump on the likely murder of the journalist living in America, Jamal Khashoggi, and the president’s desire to continue pursuit of an arms deal with Saudia Arabia. The claim of 500,000 new American jobs is unsubstantiated.

So, here it is then— our American Honesty displayed for the World to see. Maybe our Freedom of Speech gives us the right to speak nonsense? Is that it? We have all the rights of Free Speech and no responsibility associated with it? Sometimes it feels that way.

Everyone that I call “friend” was taught about Honesty in childhood. Do we not still teach our children to be truthful?  In my childhood home, lying was just about the worst thing I could do.  A liar could never be trusted.
Teenagers hanging out in a live oak on
Cumberland Island, Georgia.

Were you encouraged as children to win at any cost? I doubt that is what most of us were taught. Playing fairly and playing well with others were, and are still praised, are they not? Winning, by means of cheating, whether in a game or in academics, is nothing to be proud of.

And there’s this other really hard one that I believe we still promote—we still try to teach our children to understand that they are no more important or more worthy than other children in the world.  We want to lead them away from an attitude of entitlement. Most of you reading this will, I think, say that no, we do not want to raise the next generation to believe they are entitled. We want a generation that does not believe in taking advantage of those less fortunate. We can be a much greater nation than that.

Reflections on Honesty.
I would like to believe that most of us were taught to value Honesty. Although our 1st Amendment does not say, “You must be Honest in your Free Speech,” do we not want to pair up Honesty with Free Speech? Put that Apple right there next to the Orange and encourage them to get along together. We ALL own the 1st Amendment. It is ours and we need to demand our right to it in order to keep it. But Freedom of Speech is not only an American right; it is an American responsibility.  

We are responsible for speaking out; and to speak out loudly to support those with the smallest and weakest of voices in America. We bear the responsibility to point out dishonesty, scheming and trickery when we see it. If we shall have any hope of restoring Honesty in our nation we shall have to demand it.  We must vote for Honesty. Honesty rather than flashy rhetoric. Plain old ordinary Honesty, without glamor, without catchy phrases, and we’re going to need lots more Honesty in our national conversations. Vote for Honesty! Please! Let’s give Honesty a new life in America.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

A Book Review - The Essence: vignettes on my life with the sea

I’ll share what just may be revelations for many of my readers residing on dry land — Firstly, I dare say there are many more people living on sailboats, cruising around the world than you probably have imagined. Secondly, the percentage of those cruisers that write (whether it’s a blog, poetry, novel, “how-to” book, history, or travelogue) is greater than the percentage of writers living in the general population of land lubbers. I have absolutely no statistics to back up this claim—it’s just GOTTA be true because I’ve met so many of them. 

There is something about living on the water that prompts many of us to write for the first time. Or like me, a prior interest in writing became a need to write while living aboard a sailboat. I have read many, many books written by cruisers, and my husband has read yet again many more of them. Not all books written by sailors are memorable; I’m asking you to trust me on that point. A writer that is not yet confident in his or her craft may, I think, be tempted to add gratuitous drama to their story, rather than allow the tale to unfold, as it naturally wants to do. There are those stories, however, that are written so clearly and without artifice. 

A review of The Essence: vignettes on my life with the sea reveals that very sort of book -- a book that I will enjoy rereading. The Essence was written by a fellow cruiser, author and friend, Deb Akey. I first met Deb in Annapolis a few years ago, when I as a new cruiser, asked for her help with some technical aspects of writing using blog software. Deb was most gracious and patient with me.  She was already a published author, and as such, was to me a marvel of knowledge, skill and guts. We have bumped into each other a couple more times over the past three years, either while traveling the IntraCoastal Waterway, or while paused at a marina.  Sailors tend to keep track of one other.

Deb and her husband, Tim, together write a blog called They have lived aboard their Tartan 42 longer than our 3 1/2 years living aboard Northern Star. Like us, they sold everything several years ago and moved onto their boat in order to answer a voice that called them to the sea, a not uncommon theme among cruisers.

The Essence is, however, more than a book on a common theme of answering the call of the sea.  Each of the vignettes paints a gestalt that is familiar yet remarkable.  Accompanied by Deb’s beautiful photography, the author has teased out for us, emotions that are universal. 

Deb Akey has captured within The Essence, the most elemental of emotions, of human thought, of reflections that I myself have experienced while living on the water. The decision to remove oneself from land to live on a boat is a life-changing undertaking. Steps taken to live as full-time cruisers, cannot be undone. The previous life on land cannot be replicated without great effort, if at all. But beyond that major decisive experience, the author has summoned up many other experiences, big and small, that are part of boat living. And each is a pleasure to visit. 

Author, Deb Akey
The Essence vignettes evoke memories of contentment, belonging, surprising wildlife and sunsets. There are satisfying moments of small triumphs, moments of stunned awe, and “aHAH moments." It is simply poignant. If you live on the water, or want to imagine what such a life would feel like, you will love this book. Settle into a comfortable spot in the shade and let the beautiful words gently ferry you along.  Read The Essence in one sitting as I did the first time, or savor each vignette individually, as a treat at the end of your day. This is what I intend to do next time I pick it up.  It will be like unwrapping a chocolate to savor in the evening, one at a time.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Passport to American Ideals

United States of America

I was completing an application to renew my passport today, when I noticed for the first time, that there are quotes imprinted on each page 6 through 28. Those are the pages where Customs officers stamp the passport upon entry.
There are twelve quotations or excerpts from documents, that are included in our passports to express the beliefs of the American People. Five of the twelve quotes are by presidents of our great Nation. All twelve are beautiful and inspiring. I encourage you to look at them the next time you pull out your passport. I am focusing primarily on the presidential quotes today.
Birthplace of George Washington

At the inception of our country, we hear the following from George Washington —.

       “Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair.”
George Washington

In 1776, our new nation valued intelligent thought and honesty. Thumbs up from me!
The first Capitol of the U.S., in Annapolis, MD

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
                     excerpt from the Declaration of Independence

As we know, Thomas Jefferson was the author of much of the Declaration of Independence, although his name is not printed in the passport. I love Jefferson’s way of saying essentially, ‘well, of COURSE we are all equal, Duh.”  Of course from the perspective of 2018, we recognize that Jefferson owned slaves and nowhere in our nation were women treated as equal with men at that time.  But still, STILL those words remain so powerful, SO beautiful. 
Traveling threshing team, c. 1930

The next president’s quote to be included in the passport is from Theodore Roosevelt, the president that I think of as the adventurer, who traveled across our nation and other countries, as well.

“This is a new nation, based on a mighty continent, of boundless possibilities.”
Theodore Roosevelt

In 1901, our nation valued and acknowledged our might in the world. We knew that the very size of our country held a breadth of resources yet to be discovered. Diverse landscapes, diverse peoples, diverse thoughts. The opportunities before the people must have stretched out to some unimaginable future in 1901.
U.S. Allies in WWI

After our country had fought and bled in two World Wars, President Eisenhower had this to say, 

Whatever America hopes to bring to pass in the world must first come to pass in the heart of America.” 
Dwight D. Eisenhower

In 1953, we acknowledged that we could and would have influence in the broader world. We would however, need to achieve our hopes of liberty for the People here on our own soil, if we had any chance of leading other nations toward the goal of liberty for all.

“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” 
John F. Kennedy
Poverty in Appalachian America.

Kennedy is the first president that I can remember from my childhood. I know exactly where I was when he was assassinated, as do all other Americans alive at that time. I remember feeling so proud of this president. Later, I would learn that he was a man with frailties and foibles like everyone else. But during his short presidency, he proved a charismatic, powerful leader of ALL the American people.

In 1961 our nation recognized that we were not the champions of the world, but that we believed in our national duty to be a beacon toward liberty for all. There might be more war and we would come together to endure whatever might be required in that pursuit. Liberty must survive! It was the time of the Arms Race; it was the Bay of Pigs. My earliest memories of American national identity were that there were very big and scary people outside our borders that wished Americans harm. 
Kennedy Space Center, Florida

“For this is what America is all about.  It is the uncrossed desert and the unclimbed ridge. It is the star that is not reached and the harvest sleeping in the unplowed ground. Is our world gone? We say “Farewell.” Is a new world coming? We welcome it — and we will bend it to the hopes of man.”
Lyndon B. Johnson

In 1965, although Lyndon Johnson would never be the charismatic leader that President Kennedy had been, he carried the torch for liberty forward.  The 50’s and 60’s were such a tumultuous time. So MUCH was happening so quickly.  Johnson’s Great Society domestic programs were put forth in hopes of eliminating poverty and racial injustice. The Civil Rights Movement was a volatile time; tragedies were repeated across the country time and again. Fear and hatefulness drenched our People. We must recognize that large groups of those who were disenfranchised still reside in that unjust place within our borders.
Full moon over Cuba

We are painted with a bruised national and international palette. The Berlin Wall and Blockade, the Cold War, D├Ętente, and the divisiveness of McCarthyism—the practice of “publicizing accusations of treason and disloyalty with insufficient evidence.”  A practice that sounds eerily like current practice rampant in our nation.

The last quote which I have chosen to include is not from a president. It is by a woman who was born into slavery in 1858 in Raleigh, North Carolina. She was the daughter of an enslaved woman and either the white landowner or his brother. I admit I had no knowledge of this woman before today and a bit of research was required.  I admit embarrassment in the fact that I, as a white woman in America, do not know enough about black history in America. 
Alex Haley reading to African American children.
Statue on Ego Alley, Annapolis, MD

“The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race, or a sect, a party or a class — it is the cause of humankind, the very birthright of humanity.”
Anna Julia Cooper

This brilliant woman who became a well-educated writer, teacher and activist started life in the most rude of circumstances. She was the offspring of rape by a white (<- power) man (<- power) perpetrated against a woman of color who possessed no rights of citizenship.  It would take a war within our country’s borders to tackle citizenship for ALL Americans followed by struggles continuing to the present day. I am glad that her perspective is represented in our passports.  A woman with a clear voice, speaking for people of all races, all religions, all political parties and all socioeconomic statuses. 
Church in colonial Hawaii

I see her statement as prescient for the events of today. And though she does not specifically name “gender” in her list, her very existence is proof of that intent.  

And finally, I conclude with a more current quotation from a president. It hasn’t made its’ way into our passports, nor do I think it ever will.  I think you will recognize the author immediately.

“It's just fake. It's fake. It's made-up stuff. It's disgraceful what happens, but that happens in the—that happens in the world of politics." 
Wall Street, New York, NY
Trump on being accused of rape, White House Rose Garden press conference, 2017

I will leave it to the reader to evaluate the above quote from the perspective of the previously stated American ideals: 
Intelligent thought
Unlimited Possibility
Liberty for all
Loyalty and trustworthiness to our allies
Inclusion of all races, religions, thought and class 
Statue of Liberty, New York Harbor

Our American story isn’t a done deal, of course. Our current national scenario of “fake news,” distrust of women in positions of power, and the accumulation of obscene wealth serving as the means for the few to wield power over the People are not foregone conclusions. We, and we alone are the ones who will decide the course of our future American story. Do we cling to our American ideals?  Or, do we trade them in for something lesser — something cheaper, something that requires less effort?