Shepherd’s Care Forum

“I am learning how hard it is to build the bridge from the idea of taking on a cause, to actively doing it.” ~Emily

Today I had the privilege of attending the first organized Shepherd’s Care Forum, dedicated to helping church leaders and clergy members address and respond to the issues of domestic violence and sexual assault in their congregations. With close to 45 various faith-based organizations and/or resource agencies coming together to discuss these issues, I am overwhelmed with information, but mostly with how many people of all faiths and backgrounds are serving in our community, working together as God’s hands to save His children! The Spirit was with us in the conference room at the Criminal Justice Lab today. Being able to connect with my community was a reminder of how often I let myself get caught up in my own little bubble of understanding.

Richard Irwin, Chairman for CDVSA and Executive Director of Anchorage City Church, opened the seminar with his vision of a brighter future for our state, “My dream is that there wouldn’t be little children hiding in the dark. That they would be able to maintain the innocence they were born with, and they would grow up to be healthy adults, raising healthy children”. Sadly, our states staggering statistics would say this dream is still far from being realized.

Presenter Brad Myrstol, Director of Alaska Justice Statistical Analysis Center for UAA, provided those statistics stating, “Domestic violence and sexual assault are the most important crime and justice issue in our state”. Richard Irwin (CDVSA) added, “This is one of the most crippling issues of our state.” Almost half of all Alaskan women (117,685) have experienced intimate partner violence, and more than one in three (91,725) have experienced sexual violence during their lifetime. (For more research and stats, visit UAA Justice Center)

With these alarming statistics you may be wondering “What can I do?” Virginia McCaslin, the program manager at AWAIC said, “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something!”

Covering a wealth of topics today, it is impossible for me to share all of the information discussed in this forum. I will try to include some important points of the day within the three goals of CDVSA, safety, prevention, and accountability.

1) Safety, be trustworthy. Know how to respond to victims. Virginia McCaslin (AWAIC) advised to first, believe them! It takes a lot of courage and strength for a victim to come forward knowing they are in danger, and not knowing what kind of help will be available. In order for a victim to feel safe in taking the necessary steps towards healing, they must be validated.

Second, reassure that they are not to blame. If we recognize sexual assault as trauma, we can know how to respond appropriately. Participants talked about some of the words associated with trauma: pain, fear, lasting impact, unexpected, injury, horror, helplessness, confusion, etc. There are many different types of reactions to trauma, any of which are perfectly normal. Presenter, Joshua Arvidson, Director Alaska Child Trauma Center at Anchorage Community Mental Health Services, encouraged us to work with victims, helping them reset their trauma triggers by understanding the world as a safe place.

The third thing advised was to get victims in touch with resources. No two experiences are the same, nor are two journeys to healing. Getting victims in touch with resources will help them to decide what are the best steps for themselves. But the one thing every victim has in common, is the need to feel safe throughout the healing process.

2) Prevention, be proactive, be part of the solution. These are some statewide prevention programs:

The 4thR is for relationships. This program focuses on reducing violence in schools.

The Green Dot Campaign teaches bystanders how to safely intervene. This program offers on site training for elementary age school children up to adults in the workplace.

The Talk Now, Talk Often campaign was developed by parents and caregivers in the state to encourage communication and healthy relationships that can be carried into adulthood.

Girls on the Run integrates running to develop self-respect, healthy lifestyles, responsibility, optimism, and other core values.

The Stand, Up Speak Up offers tools for teens to develop healthy relationships.

Alaska Men Choose Respect is a media campaign that offers information, networking, and tools for men to work together to end violence.

Coaching Boys into Men offers a program to train coaches, school administrators, parent or other community leaders in raising the next generation of boys to understand respect.

COMPASS: A Guide for Men was created by ANDVSA as part of the AK Men Choose Respect campaign. This training is for adult men mentoring young men ages 13-18, teaching them through example how to live respectfully.

Look for training opportunities in your area. There are some great events coming up in October for Domestic Violence Action month. Know what resources are in your community, or at least know someone who knows the resources.

3) Accountability, be responsible. CDVSA funds eight and oversees fifteen batterer intervention programs that focus on accountability for perpetrators, but we can all take accountability collectively for our community. The consequences of what is happening in our families and communities would prove that abuse is a serious problem. Expose the problem because abuse thrives on silence. In the forum we were asked to think about what each of us can do in our own sphere of influence.

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There are many things we do to protect ourselves and prepare for a healthy future. We have medical insurance for injuries, college degrees to ensure a well paying job, food storage and savings plans, we even have fire escape plans for our homes and workplaces, but how many of us take the necessary steps to protect our families from sexual assault? Talk to your kids about the signs and dangers. Help them identify trustworthy adults they can talk to if they find themselves in a threatening situation. Know who to call and where to get help.

STAR Crisis Line 907-276-7273

AWAIC Crisis Line 907-272-0100

Although this was an amazing opportunity, and extremely educational, all I wanted to do when I got home was cry. Halfway through the day Richard Irwin asked me if I was overwhelmed and I cheerfully said, “No, this is great!” But by the end of the day my anxiety level was high to say the least.

I definitely experienced some of my own triggers during the day, which is a reminder that I need to stay in constant prayer that God will protect me along this journey. Talking about responding to victims I thought of all the times I reached out for help and was shut down, or found people’s reactions to be more damaging than helpful. When the OCS case worker, Travis Erickson, talked about the seven cases of infant deaths due to child abuse or neglect that crossed his desk during a one month period, all I could think is what God must be feeling when He looks upon His suffering children in this world. I am learning how hard it is to build the bridge from the idea of taking on a cause, to actively doing it.

When I knelt to pray with my husband and three beautiful children tonight, the words of gratitude held more weight. I often express gratitude for my family, my home, my testimony, and the experiences I’ve had with the Atonement, but today those blessings seem more valuable than all the riches in the world.

“There is no wrong time to start the healing process.” Keeley Olson, STAR

Facing the Monster

When I was a little girl, I was convinced there was a monster living under my white wrought iron daybed. Lying in wait, I imagined it grabbing my feet as soon as they touched the ground. So my escape plan was to crouch on the edge of the bed and take the biggest leap possible off the side to avoid whatever terrible thing was lurking where I could not see.

It took me 15 years (from the time I told my secret) to heal from the effects of sexual abuse. There were times it consumed me, nights of insomnia, and moments I felt my heart crumbling. But through it all, God has been there to hold my hand. He taught me to believe that I could be made whole. The day finally came when I felt like I could live out the rest of my life and never talk about the abuse ever again. I just never expected the day I was ready to move forward, would be the day I was ready to face the monster—without fear, to put my feet solidly on the ground.

The monster I am referring to is our society’s epidemic—our sickness, the infinitely layered problem of sexual violence. There is a part of me that is overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the monster and I am not just speaking of the statistics which, in Alaska, include 37% of women who have experienced sexual violence (andvsa.org). I am also speaking to those endless layers that cause so much debate; pornography and how we view sex and violence; the magnitude of the effects that ripple out across generations and communities; the blame and shame game that shuts down the healing process; the misunderstood victim that becomes an addict, an anorexic, a prostitute, a suicide—just to skim the surface.

All of this started one year ago, well, actually 23 years ago, but let’s fast forward to the end. Using journaling as a source of healing and release, I was able to find a connection with God. Examining my life through writing opened my heart to experience love, hope, and finally forgiveness. Because a journal is a private place, this is where I did most of my healing, in private. I kept these spiritual moments to myself, but these same experiences that brought my healing process to an end, put me on a whole new path. One where upon I am just taking my first steps. It was one year ago that I opened my journals for others to read and began to shed light on my healing process. Doing so changed all of my relationships and the way I interact with the world.

Now, as a whole person, I am ready to share what I have learned. I can face the monster with the right armor; with a strong and abiding love for my Savior and a testimony of His Atonement. David killed Goliath with a single stone (1 Samuel 17). I do not expect history to repeat itself here.  A single stone will not be sufficient to defeat this monster, but I do believe that working together with God on our side, we can be victorious.

As I stepped onto this path, I became more aware of just how big a monster I am taking on. Feeling overwhelmed, I quickly realized I need to pace myself and narrow my focus. Looking back on my personal experience, the things I needed the most were answers and support for my spiritual healing. Having a support system is key in the healing process, so after much thought, this blog will be dedicated to two goals. First, providing a place for victims of sexual violence to find answers, understanding, and experience healing. Second, providing information and connecting people with resources so they can better respond to victims in crisis.  I hope that I can be part of the support system whether you are a victim, a family member, a friend, a co-worker, a church member, or just a bystander.

I view this blog as a journal, a window into my life, and how I experience healing. Starting this blog will allow me to use this journal as a tool to fight the monster.  Journaling brought me to this point, so I believe journaling will continue to impact my spiritual growth and hopefully along the way, provide light for other victims. It is still a work in progress, but so am I! And like me, I anticipate this blog will grow day after day, year after year, reaching out to those who need it.