Thursday, July 21, 2011

Dispatch From Grant County -- Rerun blog from May 2010

Mary Ann said,  “It’s not that people don’t care.  They do care, but the issue is so intimidating.  They don’t know what to do, so they don’t do anything.”
Mary Ann is the Executive Director of Heart of Grant County, the local agency that supports for survivors of domestic violence in Grant County, Oregon.  Since the county has fewer than 8,000 residents in an area twice the size of Delaware, Heart of Grant County also advocates for survivors of other forms of abuse.
Mary Ann went on, inspired for her passion for supporting victims.
“”When the Aryan Nations wanted to set up a headquarters in Grant County, people joined a coalition to stop hate crimes and came out and marched and rallied against the Aryan Nations.  Hate crimes are a good cause to rally against, but violence against women and children is a much bigger problem in Grant County than hate crimes. Unfortunately it is really challenging to rally people to come out and march against violence against women and children.”
I know what Mary Ann’s is talking about.  Been there, experienced that, done that. When I was six years old I told my mother about the two teenaged boys who touched me in an inappropriate way.
My mother said, “That’s where babies come from,” but she didn’t do anything.
Much of my life I struggled with depression, low self esteem, relationship issues, problems with touch.....
What if my mother had done something to support me instead?
I’ve experienced the same reluctance to do anything  about clergy abuse from fellow Catholics, but I am also guilty of not knowing what to do, and, consequently, doing nothing.   Not only did it take me a while for me to support survivors of clergy abuse after an abusive priest was removed from my parish, but to my shame, I also failed to report a potential incident of domestic abuse that I witnessed a few years ago.
I shared my story with Mary Ann when we chatted on the phone a few weeks ago.  I had called Mary Ann to interest her in supporting my Walk Across Oregon to Stop Abuse and Heal the Wounds.  We started Walking Across Oregon in 2008, specifically to address the issue of child sex abuse, but in Winston, Oregon, we ended up witnessing domestic abuse.  Our support van parked across the road from a house on a rural road, and, as we paused to refresh ourselves by drinking water and eating snacks, we noticed that there was a man standing on the front porch of that house across.  The man held a beer in his left hand while he was shouted and gestured at a woman.  She circled the house as though she was looking for a way into the house, but she never entered.
We watched this interaction unfold for more than thirty minutes, debating on what we should do.  Although we were all profoundly disturbed by what we saw, we ended up doing nothing.   We ended up walking away, and while we were walking away, the man continued to stand on the porch and shout and gesture at the woman, who continued to circle around the house.  Later, when I recounted the incident to domestic violence advocates, they told me that we should have called the police.  Oh well, live and learn.  
It is hard to know what to do.  Sometimes abuse doesn’t rise to the level of criminal conduct at a time and in a way that social workers can conclusively document as abuse.  Sometimes, victims of violence and abuse are struggling with their own relationship and self esteem issues and don’t welcome outside interference.  Sometimes the perpetrator of the abuse is a well-respected man in the community, and people can’t believe he is an abuser.  Sometimes the perpetrator is a woman, and some people can’t believe that the women are capable of abuse.
But there are consequences for not reporting abuse.  We know those consequences in the Catholic Church – scandal that has reached the papacy and shows no sign of going away.
But our whole society is impacted by the consequences caused by all the forms of abuse.  A few years ago I was posting a flyer for the screening of a film on clergy sex abuse that I hosted.  I decided to give a flyer to a man selling Street Roots, a newspaper written and sold locally in Portland, Oregon, by people struggling to overcome homelessness.  The man confided to me that he was chronically sexually abused as a child in nearly every foster home in which he lived.
Then he added, “I haven’t told the guys down at the shelter about that.”
I walked down the street to the Park Blocks, and offered a flyer to still another man selling Street Roots.  He, too, told me that he was a survivor of chronic childhood sex abuse.  Certainly many homeless people are on the streets for reasons other than child sex abuse, but I’ve gotten in the habit of asking, and I have found that around 50 percent of the homeless people I spoke with were victims of some form of child abuse mixed in with the war veterans and others who appeared to have biologically based mental challenges.
So victims of abuse and emotional trauma suffer depression, anxiety, low self esteem, problems with trust, boundaries, relationships, jobs, drugs alcohol, and housing.
And it gets worse….
In November 2009, at least five Oregon women were killed by ex-husbands or boyfriends who preferred to kill the woman in their life rather than give up control of her.  In December 2009, a 15-year-old girl named Jeanette Maples was tortured to death by her mother.  Her case had been reported numerous times to the Department of Human Services, but caseworkers had concluded that she was old enough to advocate for herself.  But like many victims of abuse and violence, she was too cowed by those who abused her to tell the truth to authorities.  In another chilling case that made the Portland Oregonian newspaper a couple weeks ago, a five year old girl living in Portland suburb died after repeated beatings by her father’s girlfriend.  Investigators said they found it hard to believe that no one around the girls observed the violence perpetrated on her, but there are no records of any reports made to authorities.
Why should we care?  
Because all the forms of abuse are related to each other.  If children are being abused by a father, it is likely that the mother is also being abused by the father too.  Mary Ann told me if the children aren’t victims of violence, but the mother is, the children still frequently suffer from undiagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from all the violence they are witnessing.  Moreover, as child victims often grow up, they often have such poor self-esteem, that they are vulnerable to even more abuse as an adult such as date rape and domestic violence.  The cycle of abuse goes on and on..
Why should we care?
Because the cycle of abuse won’t stop until we become brave enough to talk about it, report it and support the traumatized survivors.  Supporting survivors is another important issue, because it is much harder to heal alone and unsupported.
If you want to raise consciousness about abuse in the larger community, if you want to support survivors of abuse on the path to healing, then join us for the Walk Across Oregon.  We will be walking through John Day on August 4th with employees and supporters of Heart of Grant County.
Click here to see a preliminary itinerary.  A more detailed and specific itinerary will become available later on.
We will probably begin our day by eating at the Outpost Trading Company at 8:30 AM.  The Outpost is located at 201 West Main Street, John Day, Oregon.  We will cir-cum navigate John Day, and hopefully end up cooling off and refreshing ourselves at Dairy Queen at 106 South Canyon Boulevard around Noon.
This is not a march or rally.  We hope to enjoy ourselves and visit the Kam Wah Chung museum and park and maybe some shops or stores that strike our fancy.  We are child friendly.  My children are coming and would really appreciate it if your children come too.  Children aren’t happy unless they are having fun, so we plan on having fun.  We also discovered that survivors needed a chance to check us out before they came forward.  Trust and safety are enormous issues for survivors of abuse, so when we take time to have fun, survivors have a chance to think about sharing their story with us.  Moreover, getting out and having fun are healing.
If the town of John Day is too public for you, then join us on August 5, on a hike at the Sheep Rock Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds.  We hope to begin the Islands in Time trail at 10 AM in the Blue Basin.  We are taking it easy because of the August heat.  Next we will visit the Flood of Fire Trail and the Story in Stone Trail.  We hope to be at the Thomas Condon Visitor’s Center at 1 PM.
Oregon is beautiful!  Hope to see you there.

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