March 15, 2018
By Brian Pacheco
*Trigger & Spoiler Warning: the following articles contain spoilers of Black Panther and shares details about violence.
As a kid, I was more of a Catwoman kind of boy. I was never really into male Superheroes, so when I heard about Black Panther, I wasn’t interested. My friend had to drag me to see the film.
But I was blown away. I was surprised by how much of my own story, and the stories of the men in my life, I saw reflected in the film. In fact, it brought back so many memories of my own childhood. Like the scenes depicted at the beginning of Black Panther, I grew up in a low-income, predominately black and Latino neighborhood. My father is Afro-Latino, and both my parents are Puerto Rican. The basketball court that Killmonger played in as a young boy looked almost identical to the one that was outside of my own apartment complex.
Like Killmonger, I grew up experiencing events that would be considered ‘traumatic’ (i.e. domestic violence, child abuse and bullying) in my own life and the lives of the boys and men around me. Of course, we didn’t label them that way back then. It was just my life: like so many others, full of beautiful, funny, scary, painful, and unforgettable moments.
Working at Safe Horizon, I’ve learned language and concepts that have allowed me to name and move past traumatic events in my life, but not everyone has these resources.
Like Killmonger, so many boys and men of color do not get to process their traumas with the same support that is available to others. Our voices and our stories are so often muted from the conversations of trauma. In fact, the very word “trauma” is not often in our vocabulary. That’s why when I saw Black Panther, I was so thrilled to see how trauma was not only a central part of the movie but that the hurt and pain of boys of color (in this case, black boys) were humanized.
I recently had a conversation with my colleague Paul Barrett, Jr. (also a man of color), project manager for Safe Horizon’s Enhanced Service for Boys and Young Men of Color, to explore these themes further.
BRIAN: In Black Panther, Michael B Jordan’s character Erik Killmonger lost his father to homicide, which is traumatic. What is the impact on boys and young men of color when they witness violence or lose a caregiver to violence?
PAUL: What is anyone’s experience when they lose a loved one? There is grief, deep sense of loss, anger and powerlessness, to name a few. But the way that men are taught to be socialized is largely that your manhood is grounded in your ability to assert dominance over others. These messages are no different for black or white boys. What is different is that white male toxicity is normalized, while for men of color it is pathologized [seen as abnormal] and demonized.
Look at when white men vandalize property and riot after a sporting event, the media frames it as a celebration. But when black men protest for their basic human rights, and if they vandalize priority, they are framed as thugs and vandals. Why is the framing different?
BRIAN: What is the best way to address a young boy’s trauma? Are there enough of these services?
PAUL: Take the best of what we do for everyone else and do that for boys and young men of color. We need to funnel more resources to communities of color. One of the feelings I left the movie with was that Killmonger would not have become Killmonger if King T-Chaka had brought him to Wakanda. He was left to deal with a traumatic event [death of his father] on his own.
For service providers, if a young man of color comes to you after getting robbed, it isn’t just “Fill out this compensation form.” It’s humanizing this scary experience and asking, “How are you doing?” So often, these questions aren’t asked because society doesn’t see men, boys of color, as people who experience trauma. We blame them for the hurt that has come to them. Any agency that works directly with or interacts with young people needs to move past ‘What materials resources do you need?’ and dig into ‘How are you doing?’
BRIAN: The film explored the effects of structural racism, such as poverty and lack of resources in communities of color in the U.S. How does structural racism affect boys and young men of color?
PAUL: Therapeutic resources, social services, financial resources that can direct a person away from risky behavior and exposure to harm is readily available in most white communities. Yes, there are still poor white communities, but at a disproportionate rate, these resources are not as accessible to communities of color. When you look at the intersection of class and race, people of color are more likely—even if they are not poor— to live in less resourced communities than white people.
BRIAN: Erik Killmonger ended up as the antagonist in the film because he wanted to avenge his father’s death. Do boys with unaddressed trauma go on to harm others?
PAUL: Let me be clear: not all people who experience violence or trauma go on to harm others—many don’t. Trauma affects functionality. Unaddressed trauma can lead to self-harm, harming others, being hyper-vigilant and sensitive, as examples. There is a real need to address the effects of trauma after it happens. Even then, it really should be as simple as responding to the trauma of boys and young men of color because they are human beings. You can be the toughest, hardest, dude around and you still want to get stuff off your chest. We need to normalize sharing feelings.
BRIAN: The theme of fathers and sons was an important one in the movie, and resonated with so many black men who watched the movie. Why do you think that is?
PAUL: It exists because in many ways in the black community we have been taught to believe fathers are the solution to the trauma that boys are experiencing. ‘If their dad was around, all this would be solved.’
I do not want to hate on the need for fathers to be in a child’s life. I just became a father myself, but if all black men came out of prison then underlying issues such as white supremacy, structural racism, and toxic masculinity would still exist. And these are the root causes of what is pushing forward much of the trauma boys and young men of color experience.
Of course, it is important to note that many many black men are great fathers to their children and the absence of black fathers is not specifically because they are incarcerated.
BRIAN: Safe Horizon is strengthening our services for boys and young men of color. What can we learn from Black Panther?
PAUL: We look at boys and young men of color as this distinct species. What I love about this movie was that it was a human a** movie. There were funny scenes, tension, nuance—people changed over time.
It also humanized the trauma of loss—whether that is losing a family member to homicide or generational/historical trauma for black communities that we are still grappling with. So many of us are searching for home and our roots. Few white people have to grapple with this. For example, my last name is Barrett—that is a slave name.
But what I really took away was this: The representation of Killmonger was very human. His rage is totally understandable. To me, he represents a subset of black people who are validly angry, both at injustices of white supremacy and inaction of certain people within the black community. Yet, his rage is not effectively channeled.
So many people who saw the film said: “I was rocking with him.” This reads like so many black men I know. Unfortunately, the direction he was trying to move his anger in won’t help him or ‘us.’ But, Killmonger has experienced traumatic events. His response is fueled by hurt. And how do we respond to that?
By R29 Editors
March 13, 2018
In the five months since the #MeToo movement revolutionized the way we think about sex and power, it’s become rather clear that men have a lot of self-reflecting to do. Oftentimes, these reflections came off as a variation of mansplaining: Men who believed they had done nothing wrong seemed angry, defensive, scared, and ultimately confused. But these provocations and other earnest attempts at reckoning with how men behave are evidence that #MeToo has also created an opportunity for everyone.
The fact is: It’s hard to pinpoint another time in history when men were expected to rethink their gender role so publicly and profoundly. As we reckon with how pervasive sexual assault and harassment have become in our continued fight for gender equality, it’s clear that frank conversations about masculinity (and not just “toxic masculinity”) are crucial.
That’s why Refinery29 is committing to facilitating this chapter in the #MeToo conversation. In reality, all men aren’t assaulting or harassing women. But most of the people who assault and harass women (and people of all genders) are men. So, we’re tapping experts to tackle some questions that men seem to be asking: How should men handle “making the first move” in the #MeToo era? What should they do if they see someone being sexually harassed? And perhaps the most fundamental question: What does it look like when we rethink masculinity?
We’ve grappled with these issues since October, but today we’re letting men know that, if they need help forging a new kind of manhood, we’re here to help.
How do you make the first move while being mindful of consent?
For starters, you’ll have to think beyond “no means no.”
What sex myths do men need to unlearn?
Myth #1: Men have to be aggressive and horny all the time.
What should you do if you see someone being sexually harassed?
Don’t underestimate the power of validating someone’s experience.
Is masculinity inherently toxic?
We miss the point — and give men a pass — when we label masculinity “toxic.”
The simplest way to put it? It’s complicated.
To kick things off Monday night, we hosted a panel discussion with Ted Bunch, chief development officer of A Call To Men; Cindy Gallop, founder of MakeLoveNotPorn; and Jennifer Wyse, supervising social worker at Safe Horizon.
We are launching our site-wide conversation about how to be a male ally in the #MeToo era talking about some common questions men have been grappling with. Nothing is off limits today! Join the convo.
We are launching our site-wide conversation about how to be a male ally in the #MeToo era talking about some common questions men have been grappling with. Nothing is off limits today! Join the convo.
Posted by Refinery29 on Monday, March 12, 2018
By Walter Scott
March 9, 2018
Alan Cumming, the Emmy-nominated actor for The Good Wife, 53, takes the lead in his own CBS series, Instinct (March 18). He plays Dr. Dylan Reinhart, a former CIA operative living quietly as a university professor and author—until he’s lured back to his old life to help catch a serial killer copying a villain in his fictional books.
How will Instinct stand out from other crime shows?
The quirkiness of the characters and the snarkiness of the dialogue, in addition to having a good mystery.
How big of a deal is it that Dylan is gay?
It was one of the reasons I wanted to do the show. It’s another layer to the character that makes it interesting to play. But socially and politically, I think it’s important to have a character with a successful same-sex marriage on network screens.
What was your role as an executive producer?
The two things that I feel I contributed were to have vegan options on the catering menu and to help create an atmosphere where everybody felt appreciated. It was a very egalitarian set. We have a lot of fun. One of the camera guys has a speaker on the dolly and we dance in between takes.
You sing, you write books, you’re a photographer. What inspires you to do so many things?
Because I’m allowed to. I feel, “Why not?” I get bored quite easily, but you don’t get bored when you have so many options.
How do you feel when people compare Dylan to Sherlock Holmes?
I think you could make that comparison about any male detective who’s a little quirky and a little socially awkward, but it wasn’t something we thought of.
Even quirkier was Columbo.
I loved Columbo. Loved him.
Was The Good Wife a career changer for you?
It was in terms of I felt I never really played a [grown-up] before. He was definitely a man in a suit. Playing him, I became a man, if you like, even though I was well into my 40s when I started. What was a lesson to me is that even if someone is in a suit, they’re as idiosyncratic and full of foibles as playing a superhero or an alien. So it was a really good lesson for me that in acting, there’s no generic person.
What did you learn from The Good Wife’s star, Julianna Margulies, about how to be the lead of a show?
She taught me how to be measured and how to preserve energy because it’s exhausting. There’s a big difference between playing Eli Gold on The Good Wife and playing Dylan in terms of my commitment to the show and the sheer amount of time and energy. She worked hard, measuring her time, and was economical with her life. I had to really tone down my life to do this. I stopped drinking during the week and stuff like that. So that’s a big sacrifice for me.
You’ve written two personal books—Not My Father’s Son and You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams—what is it about your experiences that made you want to share them?
I think I have an extraordinary life. I didn’t come to America until I was 30, and yet here I am. I live here, and I’m playing the lead in an American network television cop show. It’s hilarious to me.
What I’ve discovered is that I’m an outsider in this country, but I’m also an outsider in my own country [Scotland] now because I’ve spent so much time out of it, and I’ve realized that’s actually a good place to be. It makes you have a healthy perspective on whatever you’re doing, because I didn’t grow up thinking this would be my life. So, I treat it with respect, but also questioning it. I’m able to stand back and go, “This is crazy,” or, “This is remarkable,” or “This is amazing,” and that makes me want to write about it.
Not My Father’s Son was, obviously, about my father and my grandfather. I felt compelled to write that because I just couldn’t stop talking about it after that summer when I was told that my grandfather died playing Russian roulette and my father told me that I wasn’t his biological son within the space of a couple of weeks. It was almost therapeutic for me to write and share it. I needed to talk about it all the time because I needed other people to say to me, “Oh my God, that’s incredible. That was such a bizarre thing to happen to anyone.” I needed to get it all out.
You did do a DNA test and he is your biological father?
Yeah. He was.
You had a rough childhood. What role did that play in your learning how to act?
My first training of acting was having to deal with my father’s moods and by that I mean when someone is an abuser and you’re potentially the abusee, when they walk into the room, you immediately focus on what mood are they in. How are they doing? How do I need to behave in this situation? So, that’s acting. But I didn’t become an actor because I want to be loved because I wasn’t loved by my father. I don’t buy in to that at all.
But you started developing the skill really young?
Exactly. That’s what I meant.
Along the way, have you had an aha moment that put you on the road to the success that you have achieved?
No. I always thought I wanted to work and things just happened to me. I was in Scotland working on a play, and then the play I was in transferred to London. I went with it and I was nominated for an Olivier Award, so I stayed in London. Then I went to the Royal Shakespeare Company, and then I started doing films. I did a film in Ireland, and they came and asked me to come and do press for it in America. That was the first time I came to America. I feel like I’ve tumbled through life. Obviously, there’s been things I’ve thought, Oh, that would be nice, but it’s always been like, Oh, I’ll give it a go. This wasn’t my aim.
Do you still have emotional ties to Scotland? You mentioned feeling like an outsider.
I’ve been living in New York for 20 years, but I feel completely connected to Scotland. I go all the time and I feel incredibly Scottish. Being an outsider doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not utterly connected to the place you’re from. I mean that I’ve spent more time away from Scotland than I’ve spent in it, but I think you realize that it’s not about how much time you spend somewhere. It’s about how it has formed you and made you as a person, and then you take that out into the world. I realize what makes me Scottish much more now than I think I did when I was living there.
You’re active in the LGBT community. How do you decide which charities to support?
Since Not My Father’s Son came out, I work with Safe Horizon, which is trying to end domestic violence, but mostly I’ve dealt with LGBTQ rights, and more so now that I’m an ambassador for the Hetrick-Martin Institute, which is about helping kids who are homeless who are LGBTQ.
I feel it’s hard enough getting by in this world anyway, and if you’re queer and not being accepted or not getting a chance because of that, that’s even harder, and if you’re homeless on top of that…it’s a tough time to be gay in America, so I feel those charities are even more important.
Do you hope that seeing you as the first gay lead of a network procedural drama should help kids that are living in communities where there aren’t a lot of other gay people?
I really hope so. When I was 17, I worked in a publishing house in Scotland before I went to drama school and I wrote the horoscopes for a newspaper. I just totally made them up, and I always used to think there might be a little old lady with cats who was reading it, and it might mean something to her, so I tried not to be too specific like, love will fall into your life, to preclude her.
In the same way, any decision that I make about a script, or a character or even the way I conduct myself in my life, I always think there must be a teenage lesbian in Wisconsin—I don’t know why she’s in Wisconsin, but she is—who, if she sees a role model in someone like me, or sees some of the work I’ve done on TV, then that would really help her to think that there are people out there whose stories are being told, and that is important to me.
The New York City Council voted for the age for youth shelters to be raised to 24. We are hopeful more young people will find the support they need to thrive.
The New York City Council unanimously passed a body of bills that impact homeless youth. One of those bills raised the cutoff age for emergency youth shelters from 21 to 24. Below is one story that shows the strength, resilience, and desire to succeed despite the many unfair barriers placed in the way of homeless youth and reminds us why we advocate for policy changes like those passed today.
March 8, 2018
Four years ago I was panhandling outside New York City’s Columbus Circle, right next to the Trump International Hotel. The people who passed me rarely acknowledged me. I felt disposable. In fact, many of them would look at me with disgust and say, “Go back to where you are from. Don’t you have a family member you can stay with?”
The truth is, my step-dad changed the locks. He always made his dominance clear: “This house is not a democracy, it’s a dictatorship,” he often shouted. Growing up in that house, I got stitches and bruises, as did others in my family. Taking drugs was the only way I felt that could cope with the abuse I experienced and witnessed in the house that should have been a safe haven. By age 14, I was in rehab for addiction.
My house felt like a prison, and on my 18th birthday, I finally escaped. Since then, I’ve learned that domestic violence is one of the leading causes of homelessness nationwide. In NYC, 34% of homeless youth report that fleeing mental, physical or sexual abuse was the primary reason for their homelessness.
The other homeless teens I met when I came to New York were also running away from something worse than sleeping on the street. I wish I could say it got easier after meeting others like me, but it didn’t. The homeless system for youth is deeply flawed and many of my friends have fallen through the cracks; some have even died.
In order to make a better future for ourselves, young people need a safe and stable place to lay our heads at night. But finding housing takes time, and getting kicked out of a youth shelter on your 21st birthday does not in any way accelerate the process. It takes time to become stable, and it’s much more complicated than “Save up, move out.” That’s why I am glad the City Council voted unanimously to raise the age for youth shelters to 24. I hope Mayor DeBlasio will soon sign this important bill into law.
I remember when I learned about Safe Horizon and their Streetwork Project, a program for homeless youth. A case manager told me that Streetwork has a crisis youth homeless shelter, and someone was praying for me that day because there was one bed open starting that night. I rushed over to the shelter. I was so nervous because I was accustomed to being treated as a 2nd class citizen. But as soon as I walked in, I felt like I mattered. The case manager there asked me, “What’s your goal?” It’s a standard question she had probably asked thousands of times, but it really had an impact for me.
I whispered, “…to be happy.”
In that moment, I realized that I never knew what it felt like to be happy. I was not really living but existing, surviving, in a way that made it nearly impossible to enjoy anything in the moment.
Today I have stable housing, two beautiful children, and my loving husband. It has been a long process to get to this point, and the staff at Streetwork were my advocates when I was too exhausted or overwhelmed to advocate for myself. They were constantly rooting for my family and I, and we won.
But for four years I moved from shelter to shelter, slept in abandoned buildings that Hurricane Sandy destroyed, and dodged bullets in a city-sponsored apartment in Queens with my then 7-month-old daughter.
It takes at least a year to be approved for supportive housing. Once you’re deemed eligible, you spend 6-12 months finding an open apartment, then another 2-3 months to get an interview. After an interview, you could wait 2-3 months just to get a rejection letter.
My hope is that raising the age to 24 will give homeless young people the support they need to thrive.
By Madina Toure
March 5, 2018
Anti-sexual harassment advocates say legislation proposed by the City Council that requires New York City businesses to conduct anti-sexual harassment training needs to go further, calling it a good but “conservative step.”
Last week, the Council rolled out legislation that requires private employers with 15 or more employees to conduct annual anti-sexual harassment training. Brooklyn Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo introduced the bill, which is part of a legislative package seeking to combat workplace sexual harassment. Supervisors and managerial employees would receive additional training.
The training would also touch on measures employers can take to appropriately address complaints, and the New York City Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) would have to create a series of online interactive training modules employers can access online.
Blake Johnson, the supervising social worker for community programs at Safe Horizon, the nation’s leading victim assistance organization, said sexual harassment “exists on a continuum of sexual violence.”
He pointed to the additional impact of gender, race, sexual orientation and immigration status and noted the trauma individuals experience after they report harassment or other forms of abuse, as well as when they interact with the legal system.
“It is important for any organization to understand the potential for trauma that someone might experience, and to ensure that this response is not minimized and that appropriate resources are available to them,” Johnson continued.
The Buffalo News
By Tom Precious
March 2, 2018
If Rev. Norbert F. Orsolits had sexually abused what he’s described as “several dozen” teenage boys in Connecticut or Utah or even Guam instead of New York, the victims he molested four decades ago would today have a path in civil court to seek financial damages and perhaps some sense of justice.
But New York is one of the most restrictive in the nation when it comes to allowing victims from long-ago abuse to file lawsuits against their alleged perpetrators, and so neither the former priest or the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo is liable for the acts he told The Buffalo News he committed long ago.
Now, people who say they were abused as children are pointing to the Orsolits case as the latest evidence for the need of a long-stalled bill called the Child Victims Act. It is a measure that would expand the criminal and civil statute of limitations in abuse cases. But it’s most controversial provision – and one that has stopped it from becoming law so far – would and create a one year “look back” period to allow victims over the age of 23 to file lawsuits against alleged perpetrators or the institutions where they worked or volunteered for incidents of sexual abuse dating back potentially decades.
Victims say the measure, long blocked in the GOP-led state Senate, is about more than just permitting civil lawsuits to obtain monetary damages. “As a whole, the Child Victims Act will force, most importantly, institutions both public and private to act responsibly towards protecting children,’’ said Tom Travers, a Buffalo resident who says he was abused by a Catholic priest while he was an altar boy in the 1970s.
Advocates this year believe they have added ammunition to get the measure approved. Cuomo and all lawmakers are up for re-election and, these advocates believe, they can tap into the #MeToo movement to help push their agenda.
The issue, though, has not been an easy one at the Capitol since it first emerged 12 years ago. At the heart of the concerns by groups including the Catholic Church, some yeshivas, and the Boy Scouts, is the one-year look-back provision.
There have been worries about a flood of litigation – some brought by people not abused but looking to take advantage of the litigation-easing measure.
And there are concerns that institutions including the Catholic Church could be held financially responsible for incidents involving alleged abusers who are dead and for which there is little evidence to say whether the abuse occurred.
Dennis Poust, a spokesman for the New York State Catholic Conference, which represents the church’s bishops, said church leaders support extending the criminal and civil statute of limitations on a prospective basis.
“We do continue to oppose an unlimited look-back for decades-old claims because it would open institutions up to claims going back to the 1950s and ’60s or earlier, which are nearly impossible to properly defend due to the passage of time,’’ Poust said.
Bishop Richard J. Malone said the Buffalo diocese shares that concern.
“It’s fraught with problems when you go back to cases that are 40 or 50 years old,” he said.
The diocese also opposes any form of the bill that would exempt public institutions.
“It’s got to be all or none,” he said. “Otherwise, let’s face it, it’s targeting one institution.”
But advocates for the Child Victims Act say the church’s concerns are misplaced. “The bill doesn’t guarantee an outcome in court. It doesn’t change the rules of the court or rules of discovery or rules of evidence,’’ said Michael Polenberg, vice president of government affairs for Safe Horizon, the nation’s largest victim services organization that has been pressing for the law in New York for years.
“The (look-back) window is important because it’s the only way to have a comprehensive path for justice for survivors,’’ Polenberg said.
Moreover, Polenberg said eight states in recent years have adopted laws permitting a similar look-back period. None have seen the litigation floodgates open, he said. In California, which has since ended its one-year window for abuse victims to sue related to incidents that may have happened decades ago, 1,150 cases were brought.
The issue is about to become a matter for the state budget because Cuomo, in his January fiscal plan, included provisions of the Child Victims Act. Though the issue is not necessarily a fiscal matter for the state’s financial plan, Cuomo’s decision to include it in the budget provides negotiating leverage for supporters of the issue as they’ve not seen over the past decade.
Spectrum Local News
By Capital Tonight Staff
March 1, 2018
Child sex abuse survivors were at the state Capitol this week, pushing lawmakers to pass a bill to make it easier for victims to seek justice as adults. Governor Cuomo for the first time included the measure in his budget proposal, but advocates still have to get through to Senate Republicans. Earlier this week, we discussed this more with Deondra Brown, a survivor turned advocate; and Michael Polenberg, Vice President of Government Affairs at Safe Horizon.
*Warning: This article contains stories that depict sexual assault and rape that some readers may find difficult or triggering.
From left to right: Recy Taylor, Terry Crews, Tarana Burke and Safe Horizon’s Blake Johnson
February 26, 2018
“I was told it wasn’t that bad.”
“I’ve waited almost 40 years to tell my story.”
“We are everywhere.”
According to the Center for Disease Control’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, Sexual violence will affect 1 in 3 women and nearly 1 in 6 men, in their lifetimes. Stories from survivors of sexual assault, abuse, and harassment have dominated our news feeds since Harvey Weinstein’s accusers were met with unprecedented support and media coverage starting last October. The #MeToo hashtag reached millions on Facebook and Twitter in the first 48 hours. Conversations that had long been happening in private, or not at all, were now going public.
Long before the events of the fall of 2017 brought more attention to sexual assault, people have bravely spoken out about their experiences and advocated for fellow survivors. In the context of the #MeToo movement, we want to highlight four individuals who helped pave the way for this national conversation.
Recy Taylor was a 24-year-old wife and mother returning from church one September evening when she was kidnapped and raped by six white men. She didn’t stay silent during a time when speaking out against a white assailant could have deadly consequences for women of color. Unfortunately, despite giving information that enabled law enforcement to identify at least one of her attackers, she was flatly denied justice and faced threats for making the report. “They seemed like they weren’t concerned about what happened to me, and they didn’t try and do nothing about it. I can’t help but tell the truth of what they did to me.” Though she never found legal justice, her story helped propel the civil rights movement and galvanized efforts to support her and others like her. Taylor worked with the NAACP and Rosa Parks to seek justice for herself and others and became a lifelong advocate.
In 1997, Tarana Burke sat across from a 13-year-old girl who was disclosing her experience of sexual abuse. Overwhelmed by the feeling, (Burke herself first experienced sexual abuse at age 6 according to reports) she resolved to become a source of support for fellow survivors. In 2006, Tarana Burke founded the #MeToo movement to help survivors of sexual violence, particularly young women of color from low-income communities, find pathways to healing. #MeToo went viral last October when celebrities (notably Alyssa Milano) began using the hashtag, but Burke has been doing this work for years.
“It wasn’t built to be a viral campaign or a hashtag that is here today and forgotten tomorrow. It was a catchphrase to be used from survivor to survivor to survivor, to let folks know that they were not alone and that a movement for radical healing was happening.” She reminds us that while holding abusers accountable is crucial, the driving force is solidarity. “This iteration in social media has placed a larger focus on perpetrators being called out and held accountable for their actions. But the actual Me Too movement is about supporting sexual assault survivors.”
Terry Crews is an actor and former NFL player who publicly accused a Hollywood executive of sexually assaulting him at a party. Since calling out his alleged abuser and taking to Twitter to support others, Crews has spoken frequently about the experience of male survivors, especially black men, and the additional barriers to justice and empathy that they face. “I did nothing wrong. You almost have to repeat it. […] Because if no one gets a pass […] the whole system will be disciplined into knowing how to behave because this is all about not accepting this foul behavior[…] If I would have just retaliated, in defense, I would be in jail right now. Being a large black man in America, I would have immediately been seen as a thug, but I am not a thug.”
Crews also urges men to hold each other responsible for treating others with respect. “You need to be held accountable for the things you say, the things you do.” Tarana Burke applauded his courage, “It’s really difficult I think as a black man to come forward and be honest about the way in which they are looked at and dealt with as survivors of it, not perpetrators.”
Blake Johnson is a Supervising Social Worker at Safe Horizon, supporting survivors of sexual violence as they work to recover from their trauma. The #MeToo movement has brought sexual assault into a national conversation, and it’s about so much more than just reporting criminal behavior. “I wish people understood how amazingly pervasive sexual assault is in society. Many behaviors are not quite sexual assault but are also not great. They’re non-consensual,” he says. “What’s missed is that this is actually pervasive rape culture. I really want to work on what’s so wrong with our culture that this is happening so often, despite a lot of intervention from organizations like Safe Horizon. The fight against sexual violence has been a very long one. How are we still here?”
A critical part of the work, he says, is helping survivors reject the fear that they are responsible, and the societal pressure to be silent. “You see people understand what’s happened without having to constantly feel like they were somehow at fault,” he says. “It’s great to see when people have that peace of mind. They go from, ‘If I had done x, this wouldn’t have happened,’ to ‘This person is a predator who chose to victimize me. I could have done things differently, sure, but this person is at fault.’”
In celebration of Black History Month, we are highlighting the work of nine leaders in three fields within the scope of Safe Horizon’s work: advocating for the rights of children who have experienced trauma, survivors of sexual assault, and boys and young men of color harmed by violence. We mourn the staggering measure of humanity and talent that has been denied in the African-American community due to racist actions, policies, and beliefs, and we celebrate all of the achievements that have been made despite this.
By Claire Lampen
February 26, 2018
On Tuesday, nearly a week to the day after a gunman opened fire on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the Washington Post published an article looking at a group of teens readjusting to life in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event.
One 18-year-old named Hannah told the Post her body constricts at loud noises. Another girl feels like she can’t be alone. A boy finds himself unable to sleep, for fear of recurring nightmares featuring the shooter, a former student. Another boy is back to sleeping in his mother’s bed.
The Post met them gathered at Hannah’s house — to talk; to avoid looking at their phones, where the images on social media risk retraumatizing them all over again, and random adults accuse them of fabricating their experiences; to recount individual memories of a shared experience; to vent; to distract one another; to avoid being alone; to do something other than, as Post writer Jessica Contrera put it, “[stare] blankly at the wall.”
Parkland students have received attention and deserved praise for their uncanny ability to swing into action after the shooter slipped onto the Marjory Stoneman Douglas campus with an AR-15 assault rifle and killed 17 teachers and students. On social media, survivors recalled hiding in closets to wait out the shooting. Now, they’re demanding action from politicians on behalf of the approximately 150,000 students who have endured similar attacks at their schools since the Columbine shooting in 1999. And amid the activism, the organizing, the speeches, the marches, they’ve had to figure out how to cope with a range of foreign feelings. They are, as Vilma Torres, director of staff at Safe Horizon’s Bronx Family Justice Center, tells Teen Vogue, parsing out the difference between “who you were, who you are now, [and] what’s the new normal.”
She explains that following a traumatic event, survivors might find they’re hyper-anxious, or especially vigilant, jumping at the sound of someone dropping a bag. They might find it hard to concentrate. They might be overcome with uncontrollable emotions, or feel numb. They might have trouble with their memories, they might exhibit impulsive behavior, they might undereat or overeat. There’s no one way to feel.
Such reactions also ring true for anyone watching the news at home who sees the graphic imagery and finds themselves right back at the scene of a shooting at their high school; or re-experiencing the fallout from a shooting in their own community; or plunged back into the sadness they felt after sudden loss, whatever its source. In a country where gun violence is unfortunately ubiquitous, the trauma of a school shooting touches many more people than just a particular student body. There are parents, there are teachers, there are people with parallel experiences, and there is widespread fear.
And thankfully, there are ways to cope. Teen Vogue spoke with experts to figure out what you can do to start feeling better now.
Trauma doesn’t unfold along a prearranged timeline, and there’s no expiration date on grief. When “we’re talking about PTSD and we’re talking about these horrendous situations,” says Veronica Vaiti, LCSW-R, director and co-founder of NYC Therapy Group, “there’s so much … to contend with, first the immediacy of this: how do I make sense of the unthinkable?”
There’s the blow that comes when you open your phone to text your friend and realize you can’t anymore; there’s anger, and confusion, and anxiety. Achievements and events, like graduation and prom, that might have inspired excitement a few weeks ago are now freighted with the “constant reminder” that many friends and classmates didn’t make those milestones, “and that can be very heavy and very guilt-inducing,” Vaiti explains. Set aside the idea of what’s normal and what’s not: feelings will come up and they won’t necessarily make sense, Torres said — you might find that you want to scream, you might find that you want to laugh. Let your body react the way it wants to.
That might be easier said than done, however, especially when your understanding of comfort has just been fundamentally altered. What’s particularly difficult about a school shooting — or a shooting in a place of worship, or a shooting in an office building — is the way it obligates survivors to return to the site of trauma, and challenges the notion of a safe space. And yet “creating safety on all levels,” Vaiti says, “reestablishing a safe space,” is crucial to coping with trauma.
A safe space might be music; it might be talking with friends; it might be home; it might be a counselor’s office; it could be a hotline, a number you can call where you know someone will just sit with you and listen. You shouldn’t feel guilty for allowing yourself distractions or joy. Seek out the people, places, and things that bring you comfort.
That, too, might be difficult if that place was a school, or that person was a victim. It helps, Vaiti says, to find someone who can help your process trauma in its immediate aftermath, who can help you build a support system. A therapist can help you find ways to restructure your thoughts so that they don’t always lead you back to the event; they can guide you toward different imagery, and help you surface positive, comforting memories. They can sit silently with you when you need silence, offer an ear when you need to yell, help you identify what you need when you need it.
Counseling is often expensive, especially for patients without insurance. There are free and low-cost mental health services, however, and victims organizations — like Safe Horizon — you can call for help when you need it.
A therapist or counselor can also help you find anchoring words to describe how you’re feeling, and that label might help you feel like the emotion is real, like you’re not “losing it,” Torres says.
“Trauma is heavy, it’s like the elephant in the room, let’s identify the elephant in the room; let’s not ignore it. Ignoring it just makes the elephant get big,” she adds. “If we talk about [trauma], it doesn’t become the elephant in the room. That elephant in the room is going to get smaller and smaller and smaller.”
Talking doesn’t have to happen immediately, though: it should happen when you’re ready. But if you can’t undo the past, it’s crucial to find words you can use to address it, to describe what’s going on inside your head, without retraumatizing yourself.
To that end, it helps to change the imagery you associate with the person or thing you lost. This is particularly true in the age of social media, where graphic photos and videos immediately go viral with every new tragedy. You want to get to a place where you can remember your friend, for example, without that picture surface in your mind.
Try to think of it this way, Torres says: “I don’t want to focus five years from now or a year from now on how he or she died; I know that. No one needs to tell me that, but I want to remember the last time we ran a race together, how he or she made me laugh because that’s where you’re going to see me smile. You’re going to see me smile if you ask me to talk about a pleasant memory or a funny story, you’re going to see me react to it.”
When you’re ready, consider doing some of the things your friend liked to do; watching the TV shows they liked to watch; listening to the music they liked. “Graduation is coming, Mother’s Day is coming, you have all these holidays where you’re missing a person, where you’re thinking, ‘Wow, he or she and I would be doing something like this,’” Torres says. “What can you do on that day to commemorate this person, so you’re not focusing on how he or she died but you’re focusing on how he or she lived?”