Today is Thursday, January 14, of the year 2021.  Next week Joseph R. Biden will be sworn in as President of the United States, in a ceremony that threatens to be quite memorable. I generally don’t get very political in these posts.  Issues and principles, yes. Today is an exception; we are living through interesting times.

Thanks to last week’s events, some starkly clear lines are truly impossible to ignore.  [If you are reading this way in the future, just look up the events leading to President Trump’s second impeachment.]  Last week the Capitol Building in Washington, DC was over-run by a mob.  Yes, the outgoing President of the United States, at a rally of his most devout supporters, incited them to go after members of the legislative branch.  Among the unruly masses seem to have been some more focused individuals, who had goals of finding specific elected officials, restraining them, possibly physically harming them. In addition, it seems that some individuals who swore to uphold the law instead forgot their oath and enabled the mob. This is not the rule of law.  This is not democracy.

Why am I bringing this up, why is this important for your personal safety? (Yes, sooner or later this does get back to personal safety.) I’ll bet you can answer that question. Your personal safety is only as secure as your ability to rely on social institutions for justice and redress. Frankly, that’s been on shaky ground anyways for a long while. However, the last 4 years have exacerbated and highlighted inequities.

What makes this especially relevant are not just those who incite sedition or commit insurrection. They are the tip of the iceberg. The bulk are the enablers. Those who echo lies, engage in the gaslighting, mislead others usually for their own profit. Those who denigrate facts for their own benefit, and to others detriment.  I’ve written before about enablers (most recently about the documentary Athlete A), and why more people don’t report crimes committed against them.  It’s not just the perpetrators, though they are a critical ingredient.  It’s also those who support perpetrators.  Those who engage in distraction, gaslighting, and threats to intimidate those targeted and garner support from bystanders.    Not just the Trumps, but the Giulianis, Millers, and Bannons, who stand to gain from their support but at the expense of others.

Stay tuned for more living through interesting times.

The last couple of months I’ve written about recognizing (and fixing) boundary violations, finding support, and building community.  All are essential aspects of personal safety.  And, for my final post of this year (still 2020), I’m turning towards feeling safety, i.e., recognizing what is (or is not) “safety.”

  • Safety is situational.  We all move through different environments each day.  Leaving home, commuting to work or school, going out for lunch, meeting up with some friends in a park afterwards . . . each place has its own levels of safety.  What does safety look or feel like for each?
  • Safety is making choices.  Safety is the ability to navigate your course in life while minimizing the risk of harm.  The ability to make informed choices is a prerequisite for sustainable safety.
  • Does familiarity = safety?  Most of us feel safer in familiar environments.  Places we already know, when others we know, like and trust are nearby.  “Where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came,” to trot out that old TV sitcom theme.  Or even if we are physically alone, we can be on the phone with someone (while we may feel safer, we may not actually be safer).  “There’s safety in numbers,” says the cliche.  At the same time, most assaults against women are committed by someone known.  Over half homicides where the victim is female is committed by a current or former intimate partner.  The assailant abuses familiarity to gain access to commit assault.

Think about your different environments.  Work.  School.  Home.  Shopping.  Commuting.  Public space.  Social gathering.  Maybe you can add something specific to your life.  Pick one.

Get out a piece of paper and a pen, or colored pens.  Consider how you’d know you’re “safe” in that place.  Make a list.  It could be bullet-point or mind-map organized, just begin putting thoughts down what safety in a specific space would look and feel like.

I picked Home.  Take a look at this video for what I consider important for feeling safety at home.  Now do the same yourself.  You may come up with similar results, or yours may be different.  Regardless, they are your choices.  Make them.

 

Safety at Home from Joanne Factor on Vimeo.

 

Today I’m revisiting that hot mess from a couple of years ago that was USA Gymnastics, the organization that trains and selects the Olympic team. Because this weekend I finally got around to watching the Netflix documentary Athlete A.

This disturbing documentary brings to life to the phrase “the banality of evil.” How team doctor Dr. Larry Nassar was enabled by coaches and the USA Gymnastic organization, who themselves were too engrossed in making money and medals to give priority to the welfare of the teenage athletes. But it’s not just the coaches and administrators who bear responsibility. There are layers of staff and volunteers and even some parents around that circle who bought into the idea that athletes needed to be abused and belittled to achieve peak performance.

Perhaps “bought into the idea that abuse is required” is a bit forward. How about “studiously ignored,” or “turned a blind eye” to abuse, as long as it got results. An ideal set-up for a sexual predator to stalk their prey. But it was just business as usual, for them.

“Athlete A” was the alias in early court documents for Maggie Nichols, one of the many athletes sexually abused by Dr. Nassar.  Nassar himself, after an over 25 year career, was convicted of victimizing many athletes and of possessing child pornography (37,000 images on hard drives). One of the film’s major focus is on Nichols, who reported the abuse and was then not selected for the 2016 Olympic team (Nichols’ mother has stated she felt that Maggie’s exclusion from the team, despite having been a favorite, was retaliation).  Several other former athletes are spotlighted, as are the investigative reporters at the Indianapolis Star, the newspaper that broke the story and then dug deeper. Nichols was not the first to report Dr. Nassar, but she successfully spearheaded the effort and because of that many many others came forward.  A lot of this, and more, is also in the excellent podcast Believed.  There is also a Discussion Guide for Athlete A.

The story has a pretty good outcome for Maggie Nichols. She went to the University of Oklahoma, joined the gymnastics team there, and became one of the most accomplished NCAA gymnasts. Many of the former gymnasts, after Dr. Nassar’s conviction, felt the single most important outcome was that they were finally believed. And I’m sure there are many more out there who are still struggling with the aftermath of their abuse.

What can we learn from this film? How easy it is to get away with assault and abuse, so long as the perpetrator is successful and well-liked. How challenging it is for the abused to be taken seriously. An articulate example of the extent of the power imbalance in amateur athletics. When an administrator says “don’t report to the police, we’ll take care of that,” do not take them at their words. And, most importantly, how easy it is for SO many people to not want to see the real human costs of child abuse, as long as there’s some benefit for them.

Stay safe, live life.

All of us have had difficult conversations with friends, co-workers, family, etc., where we’ve had to set boundaries. Maybe, in the course of such boundary-setting, the other person took exception and voiced their objections, and you left shaking your head, feeling verbally or emotionally beat up. You’ve just experienced the “conversation web.”

There are many reasons to set boundaries, as well as many possible reactions. The other person may just say OK, and respect your boundaries.  They may say OK, but often “forget” (maybe just because they forget, or they’re doing it deliberately).  They may be surprised or puzzled because this isn’t something you’ve done in the past.

Or they may express surprise, sorrow, or anger.  Among the reasons (and this is NOT a comprehensive list) could be:

  • fear that you are looking to end a friendship/relationship that they still value
  • you are looking to change some of your habits that no longer are good for you, but they know you that way (and even may be enablers or co-dependent) and see this as a loss for them
  • they are manipulative, and manipulators just hate it when they hit boundaries

So they get aggressive.  One tactic they may use is the “conversation web.”

You’re chatting with one other person, and they are standing too close for your comfort.  You set a boundary.  “Hey, my space bubble is a bit bigger than yours,” you tell them as you take a half-step back and bring your hands in front.  “I’m more comfortable here.”  Most people will just say OK, and leave it at that.  But this person takes offense and challenges you.  “What, do I smell bad?  It was OK yesterday, and the day before, and the day before.  Chris and Jamie are OK with it, why aren’t you?  That’s just RUDE!  Are you PMSing?  You’re making a big deal out of nothing.  You’re just too sensitive!  I thought we were friends.  You are SO selfish!  That attitude is messed up.  No wonder you don’t have any friends.”

This is the “PARTING SHOT,” where they shoot back negatives hoping to deflate you.  It really isn’t about you at all.  It’s just them taking their frustrations out on you for daring to have boundaries that are inconvenient (for them).  And you can get caught trying to justify why, but no explanation seems good enough for them.

The antidote?  The “BROKEN RECORD.”  Saying the same phrase over and over and over and over.

Because the whole conversation web is not the other person trying to get to know you better via your explanation.  It’s all about you handing over your explanation so it can be shot back at you.

Here’s a dialog about how this would work, taking the statements from above:

THEM:  What, do I smell bad?

YOU:  I just feel more comfortable here.

THEM:  It was OK yesterday, and the day before, and the day before.

YOU:  I just feel more comfortable here.

THEM:  Chris and Jamie are OK with it, why aren’t you?

YOU:  I just feel more comfortable here.

THEM:  That’s just RUDE!

YOU:  I just feel more comfortable here.

THEM:  Are you PMSing?

YOU:  I just feel more comfortable here.

THEM:  You’re making a big deal out of nothing.

YOU:  I just feel more comfortable here.

THEM:  You’re just too sensitive!

YOU:  I just feel more comfortable here.

THEM:  I thought we were friends.

YOU:  And I just feel more comfortable here.

THEM:  You are SO selfish!

YOU:  I just feel more comfortable here.

THEM:  That attitude is messed up.

YOU:  I just feel more comfortable here.

THEM:  No wonder you don’t have any friends.

YOU:  I just feel more comfortable here.

See the pattern?  We practice this in most of our classes.  Especially the online classes.  Pick a neutral phrase — short is great — that you  can repeat over and over and over again.  A phrase that references YOURSELF, not justifies WHY.  I a calm tone of voice.  With good eye-to-face contact.  And know when you can walk away.

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

Not just for Spiderman.  This idea has been expressed by Voltaire, Winston Churchill, and both Presidents Roosevelt.  Some people even cite the New Testament verse Luke 12:48 as an early expression of this concept.

Trevor Noah is a comedian, and and astute commentator.  In this video he steps away from comedy.  He provides a thoughtful and heartfelt analysis of today’s protest actions spurred by the recent and raw murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor.  I’m not going to recap him here, his presentation is far more eloquent and precise than mine.  Just watch the video. Embedded for your convenience.

I very much appreciate how Noah discusses the “social contract” as key to any civil society.  As you probably remember from your high school history, the idea of a social contract was central to British and French Enlightenment philosophers, who were themselves highly influential in the thoughts and writings of our American founding fathers (think Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Paine).  All these were signers of our Declaration of Independence, which boldly asserted that all men are created equal.

And we are still stumbling through that most basic idea.  It needs to be amplified.  By you.  Today.

I’m not a football fan.  But, because I’m not a supporter of domestic violence, I was glad to hear that both Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and manager John Schneider avowed they would never allow an abuser to play for them.

Yet here we are today, being asked by the Seahawks’ new draft pick, Frank Clark, to have faith in him.

The selection of Clark as a Seahawks draft choice is dogged by charges that he struck his girlfriend, Diamond Hurt.  They got into a fight in a hotel, someone called the police, the officer determined there had been some physical violence and was obliged to arrest Clark.  Larry Stone’s article in The Seattle Times lays out more of the evidence and issues, and you should take a look at that.

One quote from Stone’s article bears special notice.  He cites John Schneider as saying, “I would say there are always two sides to a story. You have to go through the whole thing. You can’t just go with one police report. You have to talk to everybody involved. Everybody.”  Stone also notes that they did not talk to Diamond Hurt.  So much for everyone?

[Update Tuesday May 5: A subsequent article in today’s Seattle Times revealed that those Seahawk representatives charged with investigating this incident in fact did not talk to any witnesses, of which there were several.  Except for Frank Clark.]

That is not surprising, as another article noted that Hurt didn’t want to press charges.  She may have not wanted to harm Clark’s nascent football career, especially in light of the Ray Rice publicity.  A very common response in abusive relationships.

Again, I don’t know much about football.  But I do know something about abusive relationships and why they exist.  Abusers too often continue to abuse because they can.  It is a learned behavior, it gets them what they want, and there are often few if any meaningful consequences for them.  That’s because often people around them make choices that help minimize and mask the “not-so-bad” behavior.”

Renowned psychologist Paul Ekman has written, in his book Telling Lies, that intelligent people can sometimes fail to see blatant untruths because they have a vested interest in believing the lie, in “collusively helping to maintain the lie, to avoid the terrible consequences of uncovering the lie.”

It can be easy to minimize abuse when the abuser is someone you like, or you think can perform well for your organization.  It can be easy to minimize a police report when that certain someone has skills you want to exploit.  Domestic violence is perpetuated not only by those doing the hitting, but by those with a vested interest in other aspects of the abusers’ lives.  By those well-meaning ancillary enablers who want to give some a second (or third?  fourth?  fifth?) chance, but up teaching that abusers can get away with a LOT of bad behavior before suffering serious consequences.

We will probably never know for sure what happened that evening.  In general, however, by the time a relationship gets to physical violence, there’s been a lot of power and control and manipulation happening.  And physical violence in a relationship, once it begins, happens again, and again.  As a self-defense teacher, my suggestion to students is to recognize the relationship for what it is, and plan how to keep themselves safer.

Going forward could be challenging.  The first step I’d like to see is Carroll, Schneider, and the Seahawks as an organization express accountability for their decision to draft a player who, by witness accounts, did hit his then-girlfriend.  I’d like to see them own up to not really interviewing “everybody.”   Second, I’d like to see them discuss how to hold Clark accountable going forward.  Finally, I’d like to see Clark take seriously being accountable for his behavior, which would involve being publicly honest about that evening’s events.  Because, whether or not I follow football, my community is affected by prominent public figures publicly deny abusive behavior.

This book was recommended by a student.  She had left her abusive husband about a year earlier, and since then has been reading everything she could get her hands on about domestic violence.  Not only does she strongly recommend this book, she’s bought multiple copies and given them to friends who she thinks need to read it.

Really, everybody should read this book. Consider this: over 25% of all women have been, are, or will be involved with an abusive partner sometime in their lives.  Even if that person is not you, it was, is, or will be someone you know.  I often ask students if they’ve know anyone who’s experienced abuse. Most of the time most students raise their hands. Sometimes only half the class raises their hands.  Sometimes everyone raises their hands. Even in classes for teen girls, most of them already have a friend who’s experienced dating violence.

Pamela Jayne clearly depicts what abuse is, and how it is distinguished from other normal human behaviors that may be immature, petty, selfish, stubborn, or disagreeable. She points out the early warning signs, or “red flags,” of abuse. She goes into great detail, with lots of real examples, of the various ploys and manipulations used by abusive men to justify, deny, or blame someone else for what they’ve done. And she is clear that in order for an abuser to change, they need to take full responsibility for their behavior and really want to change.

Jayne divides the world of abusive men into three camps: the potentially good, the bad, and the hopeless. While they do have a lot in common, there are several important differences that predict whether or not any given abuser may change his abusive ways. This is an important part of the book, since so many women stay with their abuser because they believe they can change him, or if only they were better girlfriends or wives he wouldn’t be abusive, or even that it’s their obligation to stay and not abandon him. Jayne is clear that change is very hard, the abuser has to be willing to put in a lot of work and face some very unpleasant facets of his approach to life, and that not many will change. All the willpower and good intentions and love of the wife or girlfriend won’t make someone else change.

The potentially good man (who is less likely to use physical violence and usually does not have an alcohol/drug problem) may change if he realizes the emotional costs of his behavior and its impact on people he cares about, and takes responsibility for his own actions. However, those men who seem to constantly swim in chaos, who have trouble holding a job, who have substance abuse issues, and who believe they are life’s victims are unlikely to change.  And those who totally lack empathy, who use violence freely, chronically lie whenever it’s in his interest, and is routinely manipulative, are deemed hopeless. (Other authors, such as Martha Stout, have labeled those who fit this “hopeless” category as sociopaths.)

Ditch That Jerk is well written and easily comprehended. It is a fairly short book, and can be read thoroughly in a weekend (or several weeknights). It’s very suitable for young women, including those in their late teens, who may be less certain what abuse is or what their rights in a relationship are. I highly recommend this book, whether you believe you need it or not.

CBS, what WERE you thinking?

You had a real opportunity, and you blew it. Big time.

Perhaps you didn’t realize that October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. You had an opportunity during the October 16, 2009 episode of The Ghost Whisperer to say something intelligent about dating, relationships, and abuse. But you blew it.

Lots of things about The Ghost Whisperer I don’t understand. Like whether Melinda’s husband is dead or alive, or both. Like how she suddenly has a five-year-old son and I never ever realized she was pregnant. Or like how merely sad ghosts can’t pick up material objects, while the violent ones throw things.

But I do understand the warning signs, or “red flags,” of potential abuse.

Melinda’s sidekick Delia decides to stop dating Roger for screaming at the maitre’d in a restaurant. OK, the maitre’d insisted on opening a “special” bottle of wine for them even after they declined, and then spilled it all over Delia. Roger jumped to his feet, and let loose a verbal barrage (fortunately appropriate in language for prime time TV). As her mother told her, don’t date a man who’s mean to the waiter, and Delia saw a mean side she that just didn’t appeal to her. So she does not return his phone calls.

Then strange things begin to happen. On a show about talking to ghosts, that’s to be expected. But these strange goings-on were from a live person. Rose petals and roses on Delia’s car. A shower of violet flowers. A mime sent to pantomime love. Delia suspects Roger is trying to woo her back.

Melissa encourages her to reconsider: “Are you sure you don’t want to give Roger a second chance? But it proves he has a romantic side, and besides you told me that that maitre’d was obnoxious and had spilled things on you before! So, maybe, Roger was just, I don’t know, protecting you.”

Melinda had this GREAT opportunity to affirm Delia’s intuition. She could have said something like, “Delia, he’s still really interested in you and wants a second chance. If you do go out with him again, just look out for controlling behavior, it could foreshadow an abusive relationship.” I’m sure you have at least a couple of scriptwriters clever enough to turn some of the behaviors of potential abuse into scintillating TV dialog. (If you want to know what they are, download this Signs of Batterers list and Campus DV Safety flyer. Or read Domestic Violence for Beginners, by Alisa Del Tufo.)

But no, she made excuses for a man she did not know, evoking romance.

Sure romance is sexier than domestic violence. But when all rates of violence in this country are at 40 year lows EXCEPT for domestic violence, when domestic violence is the #1 lifetime hazard facing women today, and when in all of my self-defense classes for teen girls most already know of friends who’ve been in abusive relationships, popular TV shows have just got to do a better job of making at least a discussion of abuse more mainstream. Abuse is not romantic, to either the living or the dead.

[To watch this episode, paste this URL in your browser: http://www.cbs.com/primetime/ghost_whisperer/video/?pid=fVzaCoSHqUzAFBWSWl5NfT_DYYVFwRmt]