Child Marriage in America

i May 4th Comments Off by

By Laura Young, Youth Advocate at Umbrellachild bride

March 13, 2017 Elizabeth Thomas vanished. Upon investigation it was determined that Tad Cummins was also missing. Cummins (50) was a science teacher at a high school in Tennessee and Elizabeth Thomas (15) was one of Cummins’ students in his science class. Investigation revealed Tad Cummins had a lengthy inappropriate relationship with Elizabeth Thomas and had researched legal age of marriage before their disappearance. Additionally, before their disappearance Elizabeth Thomas had changed her Instagram profile to say “wife” with a clip art image of a ring. They were gone for over a month before they were found thousands of miles away. At the time that I write this, it is unknown if Elizabeth was being held captive against her will, but as a youth advocate, I am well aware of the manipulation and coercion that an adult man can use against a child to convince them to be “in a relationship” even if she physically was not being restrained. It is evident how Cummins manipulated and groomed the school staff, her family and his own and especially Elizabeth. Husband and wife? Hardly. She was a minor, unable to consent to sex according to her state law-he was an adult who should have considered her and her future more than himself.

However, this story does not differ as much as we would like to think from the stories of hundreds of girls across America. Her disappearance and their relationship brings to my mind an issue that is hidden here in America, the issue of child marriage.

The average age of marriage in Vermont is 16 with parental permission but 27 states do not specify the minimum age for legal marriage. In some cases, the legal age of marriage with parental permission may even be before a child experiences puberty. For example, in the state of Massachusetts a judge can permit a girl as young as 12 to be married. We would like to believe that this does not happen but in searching records from 2000-2010, Unchained at Last, an organization advocating for girls and women who have been forced into marriages found that a quarter of a million of children were married in the United States, some as young as 12. Many states do not hold data on child marriages so there could be children even younger getting married in those states. Additionally that data does not account for religious-only ceremonies.It’s evident that our laws do not protect minors who potentially could have been exploited by their “partner” or parent. This Washington Post article records that “Many of the children married between 2000 and 2010 were wed to adults significantly older than they were…at least 31 percent were married to a spouse age 21 or older.”

How does this intersect with domestic and sexual violence?

When you think about it, marital” sex with a child would be charged with statutory rape if the sexual act occurred without being married because the minor was unable to legally consent. However, with the permission of a guardian or parent, a pedophile could knowingly rape a child daily with no or little legal recourse. Additionally, if the child is young, they may not even be able to file a restraining order by themselves, access healthcare by themselves not provide their own transportation. Additionally “Evidence shows that women who marry as adolescents are exposed to a higher risk of life-threatening diseases, mental disorders and domestic violence, and are more likely to drop out of school.”These children, America’s children, may be trapped in a harmful situation with no way of escape. We know that abusers thrive on power and control. When someone is in a relationship with a minor, there is automatically a level of power and control that the adult has over the child. Entering a marriage relationship the offender would have even more opportunity to use the power and control they have over a child to abuse and exploit that child.

Additionally, what about when a child faces pressure from their parents to marry? What about the minor who has been raped and as a result has become pregnant? In such cases, a minor may be forced to marry their rapist in order to “preserve the family’s reputation”. What about religious sect or a cultural norm which state that a father can choose a mate for his daughter? What if she is forced into a marriage she feels as though she does not have a voice to say “no” to or even recognizes as wrong? Additionally, one can only assume that perhaps there have been situations where through coercion, manipulation and deceit a predator has convinced a parent or guardian to sign off for a marriage in exchange for favors, money etc. (a version of human trafficking).

If we look at this issue globally, only two countries list the minimum age for legal marriage for girls as low (or lower) then the United States, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. American children are not immune to being trafficked by family members overseas with the intent of entering forced marriages. If you think this does not happen, here is an interview with two girls who were brought by their fathers to their respective countries of origin with the intent of marrying them off. Additionally, in some countries, many young girls may be forced to become “common law brides” long before they reach the age of legal marriage then be forced to marry the person they had been with. Other countries, cultures and customs do not have adequate requirements to provide documentation which would prove a minor is underage. That said, I am aware that we can do very little about what happens overseas but it is our responsibility to protect children in our country.

A child, in the United states who may have not have even completed middle school, of whom many of their peers are stressed about tests or playing Pokemon Go may be forced to marry a someone they do not love.

More than “Boys will be boys”

i Mar 29th Comments Off by

 

woman shadow streaks

By Laura Young, Youth Advocate at Umbrella

In a world where a man who confessed to torturing his ex-girlfriend, dismembering her body and feeding her to dogs is now being paid to play professional soccer in Brazil, it should come to us as no surprise that the world often glorifies and enables abusers. In case you’re thinking “oh that was just Brazil that stuff doesn’t happen in America”-how about the fact that a man who repeatedly assaults women is the years highest paid athlete in the United States even though he spent three months that year serving time in jail for his actions (I’m looking at you, Floyd Mayweather). Removing ourselves from the sports world, we see many other examples of the way that an abuser is enabled. Johnny Depp, Chris Brown, Nicolas Cage, Charlie Sheen…these are just a few of the names who are well known in our society who have also been accused and/or charged with domestic violence. These individuals continue to rake in money and produce various forms of media that we knowingly or unknowingly consume-yet many of these individuals have used the profits the media has provided for them to their advantage when it comes to finding ways to avoid paying for their actions. Sadly, the way that we enable these individuals does not hold them accountable to their actions and contributes to further violence.

What makes a house fall down? If the foundation is compromised. What makes some abusers stop abusing? If society dares to not condone or accept their behavior. What if ESPN stopped airing fight from Floyd Mayweather? Better yet, what if no one showed up at his matches? What if producers of the movies and shows we watch took the time to investigate actors and hold them to acceptable non-violent behavior? What if local radio stations stated that they would no longer play certain songs because they were produced by someone who had been convicted of domestic assault?….you may think, hey, it’s nice to dream and I am aware that a lot of these ideas are things that will never occur-but what if we look closer at the ways we enable and support people who are abusive? I think we can learn that there are things that we CAN do.

First, I believe we need to stop accepting the excuses that an abuser makes for their actions. For example, Bruno Fernandes, the Brazillian athlete mentioned at the start of this article stated that we should all move on because “mistakes happen.” A mistake is when I accidently leave milk out of the fridge while going for a late night snack and it goes bad. A mistake is not killing your partner, chopping them up and feeding them to dogs. Bruno Fernandes isn’t alone with his excuses. Even to this year Floyd Mayweather continues to not take responsibility for what he’s done and states that he won’t because there is not picture proof that he did anything wrong. However, what about the fact that his 10 year old son documented in a sworn statement (see link for statement, trigger warning) to police the specifics of the assault he had seen at the hands of Floyd Mayweather to his Mom? Or what the multiple police reports that have occurred-aren’t those enough to prove what has happened?

To bring it closer to our community here in Northern Vermont there are many excuses we hear in advocacy that have been said to survivors. For example “it’s not that bad”… “if you didn’t make me so mad I wouldn’t have hurt you”… “I was drunk or high”… “I won’t do it again, I’m not like that”… “I was just so stressed from work and I snapped”…these excuses should not be tolerated by the hearer-they are just a cover up for the unacceptable behavior that an abuser gives to someone they have taken the power from.

Second, I believe we need to critically evaluate the messages in the media that we feed that is fed to us. I’m not saying don’t watch movies or listen to music-I’m saying take time to think and to talk about the messages in the media we consume. When was the last time you talked with your kid (a kid, any kid on the street!) or your partner, a friend or a family member about the lyrics of a song or the content of a movie? If you never have, it might be a good time to start. Are there components of the shows you watch or the music you listen to where you see an abuser enabled? If so, take the time to talk through the messages and share with others your feelings regarding the messages. What about when we tell kids “boys will be boys” or “if someone teases you or doesn’t leave you alone it’s because they like you”-how are these messages contributing to enabling the next generation of abusive individuals? We have songs and movies that glorify power and control and we have songs that promote independence and remove shame-what if we asked the radio station to play those songs more and remove songs that contribute to violence. We have a responsibility to be conscious of what we consume and what is fed to the next generation of youth who are starting or will be starting to enter into relationships. You are prone to media and their lives are centered on the media which they consume-why don’t we use the media to portray positive messages of self-esteem, value and non-violence then continue to feed messages that violence is acceptable.

Third and I believe the easiest thing we can do is believe survivors. Before you take a minute to doubt if a person is being truthful about being assaulted ask yourself would you rather believe someone saying that they had been abused when they had not been or not believe someone who had said they were abused and they were telling the truth. The truth is that very few people lie about being assaulted by their partner. We are not detectives. It is not our job to determine the truth. Nor is it our job to decide when someone chooses to leave an abusive relationship. Our job is simply to support and care for each other as well as we can as we all experience this messy thing we call life. If we believe survivors we may be able to provide information or support to help them make the best choice in their situations to be the safest that they can be regardless of if they decide to stay or leave.

1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of an attack by an intimate partner. That means that 100% of those survivors were harmed by someone who we could be unintentionally enabling. Look for the signs of domestic or sexual violence in your friends and family’s relationships and don’t be afraid to speak up at a safe time. Additionally, molding healthy relationship norms to friends and family or sharing experiences of intimate partner violence may help someone in their journey to have and maintain healthy relationships. You are powerful-your experiences are powerful-don’t underestimate the impact you may have. I leave you with this quote by Heidi Thompson “The power of one. The smallest act can ripple and spread and have a bigger impact then you ever imagined. Every one of us has the power to make a difference in each other’s lives and in the lives of people we meet. What if you are the one? The simplest act can change the world.”

Supporting Survivors With Disabilities

i Mar 1st Comments Off by

By Laura Young, Youth Advocate at Umbrellagetting-free-image

“Privilege is when you think that something’s not a problem because it’s not a problem for you personally.” -David Gaider

According to the US Census Bureau, 1 in 5 people who live in the United States has a disability. These individuals are daily faced with challenges that many of us who are given privilege take for granted. Additionally, this population experiences violence at an alarmingly high rate. According to sources found on the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Program’s website:

“Dr. Brian Armour of the Centers for Disease Control has found that women with a disability are significantly more likely than women without a disability to experience domestic violence in their lifetime, 37.3% vs. 20.6%. Women with a disability are much more likely to have a history of unwanted sex with an intimate partner, 19.7% vs. 8.2% (Armour, 2008).” Additionally, “83% of women with disabilities will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime (Stimpson & Best, 1991). Only 3% of sexual abuse cases involving people with developmental disabilities are ever reported (Valenti-Hein and Schwatz, 1995).”

Not only do individuals within the community of disabilities experience violence at an alarmingly higher rate than the rest of the population, accessing services can be an additional challenge. For example, what if you are reliant on your abuser for transportation? What if your abuser avoids making accommodations to your home/life which would allow you the ability to access services? What if your abuser has cut you off from your supports? What if once you make an attempt to access services you find that the program is not equipped to support someone with a disability? What if you need a personal care attendant but they are not allowed to accompany you into shelter?  What if the staff that you interact with don’t treat you well? What if your abuser threatens or attempts to take your children away from you by using your disability against you?

Are you overwhelmed yet? These are all the things that a survivor with a disability has to think about before accessing services. Additionally, some survivors also do not choose to access services because of the cost that reporting to law enforcement may have for their health and wellbeing. For example, Ariane Garner-Williams in the clip “Violence Against Women with Disabilities” states “Some women I guess are just scared of the repercussions of what could possibly happen. They might go to the police and that person gets put in jail. Then… (they’ll think)… I’ll have no one to look after me and I’ll be in the room by myself and that’s going to be hard so I’m better off just staying quiet and putting up with it.”

Additionally, some survivors with disabilities are denied the services they deserve. In the short resource guide Serving Sexual Violence Survivors with Disabilities by Shirley Paceley, Kris Bein and Leah Green a survivor with cerebral palsy stated “I did not get the rape kit done because they didn’t know how to get my feet in the stirrups.”

Women with disabilities are not the only ones who experience violence, however. When you research violence in the disabled community you often read about violence against women. Although we know that it is true that women experience higher rates of intimate partner violence then men do, one area of violence against disabled men is often missed and not spoken about. That area is men who experience sexual violence. According to an article called “Sexual Violence Victimization Against Men with Disabilities” by Monika Mitra, PhD, Vera E. Mouradian, PhD, Marci Diamond, MPA “The prevalence of lifetime sexual violence victimization was 13.9%…among men with disabilities; 3.7%…among men without disabilities 26.6%”

So what do we do about all of this? I personally believe that if we have privilege we need to re-evaluate ourselves to remove unintentional misunderstandings. Simply, if we have been given something that someone else has never had, how can we know what we need until we ask them? We may (just by our privilege) make assumptions or unintentionally do or say something that could cause more harm than good. I believe that just as I wrote in the last blog about intersectional feminism-if we have privilege then we need to shut up and listen. After we listen we need to ask them how we can be a better support and only then begin to take action. We need to stop assuming we know how to help someone who does not have something that we have. I once heard in a webinar a saying which I believe that is absolutely core of those with privilege to consider. The saying is “nothing about me, without me”. I believe we need to advocate for women and men with disabilities to be forefront in making the decisions for the community.

Second, I believe we need to learn how to respond and better understand those with a disability. A study conducted by the Delaware Disabilities Project Core Team found that many survivors were not treated well when they accessed services. In their report they stated that within a case study they were conducting about accessing domestic violence support “All program participants were given the opportunity to discuss the barriers they have experienced in accessing and receiving services. The barriers mentioned most frequently related to the poor quality of services at the “point of entry.” All program participants shared experiences in which agency staff behaved in a way that suggested they felt uncomfortable being with a person with a disability, mental illness and/or Deaf individual, at the point of entry.” The more we interact with people who are disabled the less awkward and uncomfortable we will be with welcoming them into our spaces. Here is a great site that offers some tips on how to interact with someone with a disability.

There are so many more things we can do to help to support women and men experiencing intimate partner violence but if I were to continue to write about it, you would be reading all day long. However, if you’re looking for more information about how to be a good partner to someone with a disability, please check out the links below!

Vermont Center for Independent Living (VCIL)

Disability Rights Vermont

Green Mountain Self-Advocates (GMSA)

End Violence Against People with Disabilities

 

Intersectional Feminism and other news & events

i Feb 8th Comments Off by

By Laura Young, Youth Advocate at Umbrella

Intersectional feminism

What pops into your mind when you think of the word “feminism”? Do you identify with the word? Does it make you feel empowered or does it make you feel forgotten? Perhaps how you feel about the word “feminism” has to do with your privilege or maybe your experiences with a specific type of feminism.

See, as you may already know, we are all born with certain privileges. Your gender, race, sexuality, ability, age etc. all influences your experiences in the world. For example, a Caucasian male who is cisgender will have a different experience in life then a disabled woman of color (to learn more about privilege check out this youtube video or read this article about the different types of privilege). These experiences all are unique to who we are as individuals and they all give us a different perspective.

Where privilege fails to intersect with feminism is where feminists of privilege become blinded by their own privilege and forget to advocate for ALL, especially those who may be at greater risk of experiencing oppression. For example, while it is good to fight for equal pay between men and women do we recognize that women of color make even less than white women? Or to connect it even closer to the work we do at Umbrella, do we take the time to realize that women who have a disability are almost twice as likely to be assaulted by their partner? When we fail to be intersectional, we contribute to marginalization of important members of our community.

Is this marginalization intentional? Often times I believe it is not as the best thing that privilege does is blind us. However, there are those who have been informed of privilege and still live, do nothing and enjoy it, which is where oppression begins.

So how do we fight against privilege to make sure we are not unintentionally marginalizing groups of people? The first thing we can do is inventory our own selves. You can ask yourself some hard questions. There’s a lot of short quizzes you can find online but the best kind of quiz is to think through your own experience and what makes “you-you”. Start with questions about your identity like “What was your socioeconomic status growing up? What is your gender? Do you live with a disability that impacts your daily life? What is your race? What is your religion? What is your sexual orientation?” then ask questions about your experiences like “have you or someone in your family been ostracized for the way you were born or identify? Have you been denied access to a public facility for the way you were born or identity?” Asking questions like these will help us realize what kind of privilege we were born into or what privilege we have not been given.

Once we have established what kind of privilege we have, I believe one of the best things we can do is as this video on white feminism states (warning-this does include the f’word)-shut up and listen. Listen to the experience of marginalized people. Don’t question or blame them for what they’ve experienced and don’t try and compare your suffering with theirs. As tempting as it is to try and relate to their suffering with some form of our own (the whole oh you broke your ankle, I broke my wrist once)-comparing pain is rarely helpful, especially when it comes to privilege. While as humans, we all like to be heard, sometimes it’s just our time to be quiet.

We often want to “do” stuff and listening does not feel like doing enough. I like this quote from this article on Everyday Feminism however You can be a perfectly nice person with good intentions and still do something that upholds oppressive structures, so focus on adjusting your behavior rather than saving face or exempting yourself from systemic oppression.” Simply, listen. If you’re feeling extra brave after you have listened and you’ve inventoried yourself maybe take the next step and ask for others input who do not share your privilege on how you can change your own behavior to advocate for them.

Most importantly, just do what you do well, I’m sure which is taking the time to care.

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 AREAS OF STRENGTH
★97% of 7th and 8th graders think their parents would think it is wrong, or very wrong, for them to smoke cigarettes.
★74% of 8th grade students talk with their parents about school at least weekly.
★Participants were able to name 28 community organizations, programs, or people who support their efforts to be independent, share generosity, help them belong, and develop mastery.

AREAS OF CONCERN
12% of 8th graders reported drinking alcohol (other than a few sips) before age 11.

➔     Root Causes: Lack of parental guidance/role models, social and media influences, lack of education about the consequences, and easy access.

➔     Proposed Action Step/s: Parental education, communication, rewards programs (such as Wait 21), and safe spots and activities for youth that are substance-free.

55% of middle school students have been bullied at school.                                 ➔Root Causes: People may bully others because they: have a rough life, family issues, depression, differences, or a lack of something they need; they may be jealous, angry, taking revenge, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol; or, they may do it because they like to, or because the media influences them.
➔Proposed Action Step/s: Consequences for the offenders, support groups, more counselors, and bystander intervention training.

26% of middle school students reported feeling so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row that they stopped doing some usual activities in the past year.

➔     Root Causes:  Technology, cyber-bullying, exclusion from groups, inability to meet media standards (body image, social groups), labels/stigma/stereotypes, family issues (loss/grief, unstable home), using substances, lack of support, gender bias (boys need support, too), lack of positive role models.

➔     Proposed Action Step/s:  Suicide prevention classes, PSA’s to raise awareness, media literacy, exercise activities, support groups, and diversity education.
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YMHFA information sheet 2017

A New Year: Focusing on Trauma and Resiliency

i Jan 6th Comments Off by

 

By Laura Young, Youth Advocatessoygataeuo-catherine-mcmahon

Could the reason why we see the cycle of poverty, violence and trauma be repeated in generation after generation actually be linked to our genetics? Perhaps so, new research is finding.

I recently attended a conference here in Vermont focused on the ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences) study produced by Kaiser Permanente and the Center for Disease Control. The ACE test surveys individuals as to if they have been exposed to eight different Adverse Childhood Experiences which includes challenges like experiencing abuse, difficult “household changes” and neglect. Over time the researchers monitored the individual’s health conditions and looked to see if there was any connection between an individual’s traumatic experiences in childhood and their long term health conditions. The people studying these experiences learned that the higher amount of Adverse Childhood Experiences that someone has experienced as a child, the higher the level of risk they will have for developing major health challenges like cancer, diabetes, depression etc. Additionally, the higher the ACE score the more likely someone will experience a life challenge like alcoholism and substance abuse, (and not surprisingly) domestic and sexual violence. Additionally they learned that the higher the ACE score, the person’s life expectancy significantly drops. As a result of this study we can clearly conclude what advocates have assumed for years, trauma impacts the whole of a person’s being and can impact their physical and mental health too. 

On a separate but related note to ACES, research scientists have also found that certain fears, depression, anxiety and trauma can be passed down from generation to generation (the process called epigenetics). Now what we can assume from combining this knowledge with the ACE is that trauma directly impacts and impacts our body so deeply that it can not only change us, but also the generations that follow.

While there continues to be a growth in knowledge, research and spreading the word about the ACE study is also group of people who are working to support children and families experiencing high ACE scores and generational cycles of poverty and violence. We are truly learning from these studies that we must build resilient communities which address all areas of children’s development. Stemming out of this concept comes the idea of building “Promise Communities”. These communities all were awarded a grant to help create and establish a community modeled after Harlem Children’s Zone, a community which has set itself apart from others by creating a network of education, family supports, community involvement and health services focused on supporting children and families. We are finding that what works best for individuals experiencing high levels of trauma is if we have an early intervention of wrap around serves and supports waiting to assist them.

Here in Vermont, I am thankful that we are beginning to consider how trauma impacts generations. I do believe that there is a lot more than meets the eye when we consider the root causes of many of the “issues” we are facing in our communities in Vermont. I believe that changes will start to take place when we focus inside of ourselves to see how trauma has impacted our own life and also begin to look into our community to see how trauma is impacting each member of our community. It is clear we have a lot of work to do when it comes to creating a safe environment for children who have experienced high ACE scores but it is not something beyond reach. I look forward to seeing how our community will continue to address high ACE scores.

 

FOR FUTHER INFORMATION:

  • To learn more about ACES I suggest watching this short TED talk by Nadine Burke Harris.
  • Here’s a great video on epigenetics!
  • Here’s a great TED talk on how to help kids dealing with ACES (bonus point the presenter has a great accent!) 

Try a little kindness

i Dec 1st Comments Off by

kindness

By Laura Young, Youth Advocate

Happy Holidays! The brisk, winter air is upon us. The snow (okay, freezing rain) is descending on the Northeast Kingdom and the holiday music has now been infused into our stores. However, with the brisk, winter weather we know that for many comes dark days and long nights. In a time of happiness and festivities, many are bearing heavy loads in their hearts as they watch the celebrations around them. Now more than ever it is so important that we deal gently and lovingly with those around us because we may never see if there is sorrow hidden in their heart. When bad news abounds, it’s so important to focus our minds on the knowledge that there still is good around us and treat ourselves gently. Doing that is part of taking great care of ourselves. Sometimes that seems impossible, however, in order to help accomplish this, I have dedicated this blog post to mentioning some good news. I hope that this good news from here in the NEK and across our nation that will bring cheer to your heart and help you practice amazing self-care. First I will let you know about our local good news. Ready for a warm, comforting mental bath of great news? Let’s jump on in!

Here in Advocacy in the NEK:

  • A survivor who spent time in our shelter wanted to donate gift cards to our current shelter residents so that they would have an amazing Christmas! She donated over a dozen gift cards from local businesses that our shelter residents will have a great Christmas!
  • A local church is helping to sponsor some of the kiddos from our southern office to provide them with some new boots and coats.
  • A donor from our northern advocacy office donated some money to help some of the kids have a day of equine therapy.
  • A local mechanic helped out our southern advocacy office when a client’s car was tampered with.
  • Someone dropped off some linens and blankets to help fill our shelter with warmth.
  • The Waterford school donated a few boxes of new hygiene items like hairbrushes, body washes and shampoos, razers etc.

Nationally

  • Most people love a good cat video, here’s a story on about a 22 year old cat who was abandoned but then adopted by a caring couple who are now giving it a bucket list experience during what could be the end of his life.
  • An 86 year old Grandfather from Georgia has learned to knit to make hats for premature babies which he donates to his local NICU.
  • A 9 year old decided to shave her head after her mother lost her hair due to treatment for ovarian cancer.
  • A 7 year old found a winning lottery ticket and decided to use the proceeds to feed homeless.
  • An 8 year old decided to use his Bar Mitzvah money to buy each of the kids at a low income elementary school a pair of Nike shoes.
  • A veteran converted his wheelchair into a plow to plow the neighborhood sidewalks in Omaha

Yes, there is a lot of sadness and sorrow in this world but I hope that remembering the people who are choosing to give hope to others encourages you. If you liked reading this small collection of good news, the Today Show has a great website I’d encourage you to check out: http://www.today.com/kindness and if you have a story to share you can always participate by posting #sharekindness on your social media site!

No More Hugging Grandma (without Consent!)

i Nov 2nd Comments Off by

grandma-and-kid

By Laura Young, Youth Advocate at Umbrella

It’s hard to believe October is wrapping up and the holiday season is soon on us. With the holidays comes a lot of times where I believe we can unintentionally hurt the children around us. In my last blog I talked about Adultism. This blog is very much related to this topic. Although I wrote it initially a year ago for our Youth Advocacy Task Force Blog, I believe it is just as, if not even more relevant today.

With no further adu I present: No More Hugging Grandma (without Consent!)

“About a month ago, I had the awesome opportunity to visit a local school to talk with some 7th and 8th graders about supporting survivors of sexual violence. It was a heavy topic that I was supposed to help “teach”, but I ended up being taught a lesson or two myself while in class. The lesson that stuck with me the most is on the importance of modeling consent to kids and teens.

Consent isn’t a new topic by any means. Most people think of consent as a term that expresses the importance of receiving a clear and uninhibited “yes” before engaging with an action that is sexual. Coming into class, sex is what I automatically associated the word consent with. However, while engaging with the class, the teacher of the class demonstrated a valuable lesson to me that helped me realized consent is about so much more.

As part of the class, the students were given assigned readings for the activity. One 7th grade student bravely stated that he did not want to read the assigned statement. The teacher took a moment and asked her students “well class, what should I do? What do I need to have before I can ask him to do anything?” All of the students answered in a chorus “consent!”

This moment in class got me thinking about how often adults (including myself) fail to model consent with kids. What does it truly mean to treat them with respect and ask for their consent first? Yes, while there are things that are important for kids to do even if they don’t want to (like eating vegetables, going to the doctors, school etc.) there are also many things that we ask them to do that we could ask for their consent for first. For example, we (hopefully) would not pressure our friends to participate in a game or read a statement that made them feel uncomfortable or force them to give a hug to someone they just met, so why is it ok if we force a kid in our care to do things similar without consent, even if our intentions may not be bad?

As with sexual consent, there are a few variables that I feel are important when we consider asking kids for consent or providing them with choices.

  1. Let them know what is going to happen in advance. If there is a choice to participate, let them know the choices they could have.
  2. If you are going to do an activity and you can ask for consent, ask permission in a private place if possible beforehand so that they don’t feel pressured to make a choice that they may not want to.
  3. Make saying “no” acceptable without fear of your response or resulting negative feelings (shame, embarrassment etc.)
  4. Even if you are playing together and a child says “no” to an activity (ex: tickling or rough housing) stop whatever you are doing, even if you know that they are joking. If they really want to continue to play, they will ask for more, but this way they know that if they say no, they can expect others (especially an adult) to respect that.

 

For more reading on this topic check out: Consent Around the Holidays: Watching the Messages We Give to Children and I Don’t Own My Child’s Body.

 

Finally, here’s a great video from Parenting Gently called 4 Ways Parents Teach Kids that Consent Doesn’t Matter!

 

Writing from a survivor…

i Nov 2nd Comments Off by

The Woman Within

Love, hate, anger, joy, peace,
there is not enough room inside the heart to hold all of it.
A need to cleanse, to purge the soul,
to make a choice that is not obvious.
A need to look deeper inside, to the very core of the woman inside.
..Yearning for loving and softness,
yet only finding hate and hardness.
Yearning for generosity and kindness,
yet only finding selfishness and cruelty.

For too long the woman inside has been hidden behind closed doors and silent tears,
She longed to be released, to rejoice in freedom, but fear held her back.
For too long the woman inside has been a prisoner to cruelty and selfishness,
but she longs to give herself to the loving softer side.
Darkness holds the key to the past but light the key to the future.

Who is the woman inside?
Beyond darkness, beyond doubt, beyond condemnation
there is light, there is hope.

Love conquers hate, joy
and peace conquers anger,
courage conquers all.

Stepping one step, then two steps
the woman inside is revealed,
soft, yet hard,
kind, yet selfish.
Three steps then four steps the woman inside is revealed,
strong, yet weak,
whole yet broken.
Five steps then six steps,
unreachable, yet longed for,
slowly the woman inside is revealed.

There is hope.

Hope found in darkness and fear,
hope found in loneliness and silence,
hope found in uncertainty and caution.

The woman inside,
who is she?
Where is she going?
Will she ever heal?
The questions lead the way,
five steps, six steps,
fearful she ventures forth,
finding gentleness and kindness to light the way.
Seven steps, eight steps,
hope is in the future,
in the unknown, in what was forbidden.

Alone she steps forth,
alone she faces the fear,
nine steps freedom is nearer, ten steps, freedom is here.
The woman inside alone,
strong, yet weak,
fearful yet brave,
broken yet whole
she steps into being.
Never to look back, never to coward, never to be ruled…
freedom is here.

Time to gather signatures for TOWN APPROPRIATIONS once again…

i Nov 1st Comments Off by

We are in need of people to come together and help us gather signatures for Town Appropriations on Nov.8th! Yes, election day is an important day to get out and vote AND also why not help your local community by helping Umbrella gather signatures! Town Appropriations are a big part of our fundraising efforts and if we are able to collect all the signatures needed we have the potential to raise over $50,000! This year being an election year means that the odds are in our favor to reach that goal. This is where YOU come in. We could really use you to collect those signatures. This is YOUR OPPORTUNITY to take action and do something good for your community. The money we raise goes to the programs and people we serve in our communities. Help us do good this holiday season!

We need signature gatherers in the following towns:
Derby, Kirby, Barnet, and Canaan.

Job Details:
Assistants will be paid an hourly stipend $15 and mileage reimbursement $.575.  A total of 10% of the total number of signatures required is needed in order to be compensated for this position. To apply please respond with a brief statement of your interest and availability. Transportation is required.

You can also request to not be paid and VOLUNTEER YOUR TIME!

 

Adultism

i Oct 4th Comments Off by

adultism

By Laura Young, Youth Advocate at Umbrella

Adultism. Do you know what that word means or have you heard it used before? I did not before I became an advocate. See, adultism is a form of ageism (ageism is defined as a discrimination against a specific age group). More often than not, ageism is talked about in terms of discrimination against the elderly. In fact, the dictionary makes no mention of the word “adultism”. However, unlike racism, homophobia, gender or disability discrimination (etc.), adultism is a discrimination we all have experienced at some point.

Do you remember what it was like to feel little? To feel ignored? To feel like your opinion wasn’t valued or that you, as a child were of lesser value then an adult? Honestly, I would be surprised if you did not remember that feeling. Adultism is so engrained in our culture it is second nature and pervasive in so many areas of life. Adultism influences even how our bathrooms are constructed (children often can’t reach the sink, nor can they get on the toilet without assistance!)

Do you remember a time you wanted to talk about something that mattered to you and you were told “children are to be seen, not heard?” Do you remember getting hurt-really hurt physically and being told “you’re okay” or “it did not really hurt”? Was there a time where you were forced to participate in an optional activity even though you did not want to simply because your parent enjoyed or appreciated it? Or how about that time that Grandma insisted on kissing you even when you did not want to kiss her?

These are just a few examples of adultism in our culture. Now, I am not saying that children should never have any basic responsibilities, nor am I saying that a child has never made up being sick or hurt before. I am simply saying that as a culture we automatically devalue a child’s ability to choose, to speak, to feel pain and to have the right to their own body etc. Part of our work as caring members of society needs to evaluate how we, individually and as a community, treat children.

So how can we fight against adultism? Here are a few ideas (some ideas have a link to another site to discuss in more detail why each idea is important and how to go about the idea):

  • Let children control their bodies-there have been a lot of articles written on consent with children. It’s important that a child feels that they have ownership of their own body and the choice to say what they are comfortable with and what they aren’t. This can help prevent sexual violence!
  • Let children have as many choices as possible when it is safe for them to do so. In a world where children’s choices are constantly controlled by adults, if they can have the opportunity to choose something, let them! Even if it is something as simple as letting them dress however they want (even if it doesn’t match or look stylish) or choose the flavor of yogurt at the grocery store-it will give them some power to choose!
  • Listen empathetically-Often times kids have a lot to say that they feel passionate about. Take the time to validate their emotions and passions. You’d be surprised how important it is to validate a child’s emotions. It’s so easy to say “it didn’t really hurt” when a child gets a small cut or scratch but remember to you what “isn’t a big deal” is huge for that child!
  • Advocate for child friendly spaces-Do you know of a space which has adapted to be child friendly? Encourage and support that place! There are a lot of places that still are not child friendly. Ask store managers to make changes to make a facility more child friendly. Even something as simple as a step stool to reach a water fountain or a sink to wash their hands helps give a child more access to something that could benefit them.

These are just a few things that you can do to help fight against adultism. There are many other ways that we can challenge society’s perspective on children. Children are a gift and deserve all of our respect and care!