Male Survivor Podcast

I spoke with Das Chapin at Male Survivor (malesurvivor.org) about the unique challenges men face when needing to heal from sexual abuse.

MaleSurvivor has been a leader in the fight to improve the resources and support available to male survivors of all forms of sexual abuse in the US and around the globe. We are a community built upon a unique foundation of respect and mutual partnership between survivors themselves and the professionals who work with them.

To learn more about Male Survivor and the support they offer in your area, go to: www.malesurvivor.org/find-support/

Restorative Justice Podcast

I sat down with two students at Reed College, Frankie Breedlove and Eleanore Denegre, to learn more about their efforts to bring a Restorative Justice program to Reed College. 

Restorative Justice for sexual assault cases is an idea that has been pioneered and championed by Mary Koss, a researcher whose work was seminal is starting the campus sexual assault debate more than 30 years ago. It offers a pathway for survivors to pursue accountability from their perpetrators that is separate from the criminal justice system. However, because it is experimental, time-consuming and costly to implement, students seeking these justice alternative don't usually have access. 

Reed College's proposed Restorative Justice policy is a collaborative student-led effort to create a Restorative Justice program at Reed. We define Restorative Justice as an alternative, voluntary, non-adversarial Title-IX process that requires perpetrators to be fully accountable and embraces survivor autonomy. Our goal is that throughout this process, both parties are supported in healing and harm reparation by their community. If you are interested in learning more about Restorative Justice, you can contact eldenegre@reed.edu. 

 

 

 

When Consent Isn't Simple

You may have heard people insisting that consent is really very simple. The tea video and Project Consent’s dancing vagina PSA are the most visible examples of people ensuring us that there isn’t anything complicated about consent. And while the highly-shareable videos are a great way to keep consent on people’s minds, it is important to remember that sexual assault is a complex problem that requires a complex solution. So, while the slogan from Project Consent’s video, “If it’s not a Yes, it a No” is a totally accurate statement that I fully endorse, it’s not at the crux of why sexual assault is such a widespread problem.

The danger in a hyper-simplified message is that it leaves out any discussion of context. And I don’t just mean context that might lead someone to conclude that a “no” is a “maybe,” but the context that might pressure someone into saying yes when they don’t really mean it. In both of these situations, unspoken power dynamics add an important layer of nuance.

It’s tempting to say that none of the nuance matters because consent is simple, but with relationships, nuance always matters. For example, you probably learned about consent as a toddler. On the playground, a teacher insisted that you couldn’t take another kid’s food without asking first, that you had to take turns with toys, and that it’s not ok to bite anyone. All of these lessons boil down consent. But think about how an understanding of power crept into these situations. When the bullies wanted another cookie, they weren’t going to try and take it from someone older or bigger than them. They would go after the smaller kids who could be overpowered or tricked.

As children, our teachers were there to watch out for the younger kids and insist that everyone be treated fairly, but as we grew up, it became apparent that the rules didn’t apply to everyone equally. Some people were better at getting away with things than others. Eventually, we learned how money, status, race, and gender played into who the rules actually applied to. As our problems became more complex, the differences between athletes, wealthy kids, conventionally attractive girls, and everyone else became more apparent. In this way, the broader power structures of our culture were written into daily life and became the unspoken rules that guide our lives.

Rules about sex are written into these messages as well. Women are rewards in video games. Movies end with the protagonist “getting the girl.” Wealthy men are sometimes seen with women far more attractive then they are. Access to sex is generally seen as the natural result of accomplishment and status. It plays out in cases like the one against Jameis Winston, where his accuser can’t even get the police to investigate her rape, but also among people with less notoriety and fame. Back in school, many boys learned that the rules of respecting others didn’t always apply to them. When they hit, they heard their parents shrug, “boys will be boys.”

When this entitlement is carried into sexual situations,the problem isn’t a misunderstanding about consent. The problem is that consent implies a relationship among equals and society is set up with clear hierarchies. This is why sexual assault is higher among women of color and in the queer community. These groups experience even greater levels of depersonalization, and therefore more people who see the need to obtain their consent as irrelevant. Consent isn’t so much about teaching people how to recognize a no, but insisting that each no is respected.

An even deeper problem with this dynamic is that people who are on the lower end of the hierarchies can internalize that position and agree that their own consent is irrelevant. One of the trickiest situations are relationships where an abuser will seek out a person who is already vulnerable, tell them that they are worthless, isolate them from their friends, and make them feel as if their own desires are wrong or meaningless. Can a person meaningfully say yes in that situation? If we say “No, they can’t,” are we adding to the problem by taking away their ability to control their own narrative? When people are attracted to their abuser, how can we disentangle the desire from the fear?

That is a somewhat extreme example. There are other questions, like what do you call a situation where someone said yes to get someone else to stop asking? Or they said yes because they are afraid of being seen as a prude? Already, you need to bring in qualifiers about enthusiastic consent, which is given freely. But that still leaves some questions. What about someone who has says yes to certain sex acts they aren’t excited about, but they do it out of a desire to be a generous lover? Obviously, there is a difference between being a generous lover and being manipulated into submission, but in both cases, a person says “yes.”

This is why the simple definition of consent will never be enough. It is a great rallying cry, but the danger is that it will give people a sense that this whole sexual assault mess has been solved. People need to stay engaged to talk about the hard stuff. We need to push for smart policy and comprehensive sex education in schools. We need to be able to talk about the grey area of sexual assault, not in order to minimize survivor’s experiences as not being violent enough, but to have a good vocabulary around abusive power dynamics.

Domination and abuse thrive on silence. When there is a taboo against talking about sex, unequal power relationships become the norm. But right now, people are speaking up. Women, men who have been victimized, and sexual minorities are insisting on their equality. As we all talk about our experiences and share our stories as survivors, it’s important to remember the decades of activism and the very real fight that is going on to maintain this cultural change. We should share videos that define consent, but we can’t see them and stop there. We need to keep working.

Press!

Since Yeah Maybe, No has screened in Portland, we've gotten some press. Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 1.01.30 PMBitch Media ran a review.

"Yeah Maybe, No provides an honest and frank viewpoint on sexual assault and a rare, personal discussion of boundaries."

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 1.01.37 PMStreet Roots ran an interview.

"Through interviews with experts interwoven with personal stories and animated sequences illustrated by Lucy Bellwood, Kend offers a fresh perspective on a complicated issue. She hopes her film will complement the efforts of activists who are pushing for states to join California and New York in passing affirmative-consent laws. "

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 1.02.35 PMKBOO hosted me for an interview on The Film Show.

 

 

 

And the same intervieScreen Shot 2016-02-10 at 1.02.12 PMw ran for longer on XRAY FM on The Five Quadrants of Portland.

 

Yeah Maybe No is Done

Yeah Maybe, No is finished. It has been finished for two months, but finishing is nebulous. I'm no longer tweaking anything is the project file, but I'm still talking about it, setting up screenings, and selling DVDs. My work has just shifted from a very inward, private process to an outward, public process.

I want to say that finishing this project was a triumphant affair, but that's not quite right. The truth is I pulled it along to the very end, driven by a sense of indebtedness to the people who funded me more than anything. I believe in this story, but sharing such a personal story about such a difficult topic took more out of me than I thought it would. Getting pregnant and having a baby while working on the film ground me down into a fine ash of burn out.

I thought about putting it off for another year, but there was always the tug. I could never be at peace while the story swirled around in me, still untold.

In many ways, it's beautiful how much the process of making this film parallels my healing process from my sexual assault. I was hesitant to start at first. I knew in my gut that it was the right thing to do, but I was terrified. Then it got hard, and I had to deal with uncomfortable truths. I wanted to quit, but I didn't because I could see that it was going somewhere that I needed to be. And all along, I was expecting a big moment at the end. When I was done with weekly therapy, I wished that there was a graduation or something to signify how much the work I did in that little room mattered. Instead, there was a quiet transition from doing one type of work to doing another.

I started my film after I finished regular therapy. I wanted to transform that personal pain into something that I felt comfortable sharing with the world. It was the project that was meant to help the stifled voice in my head find its way out. And in that sense, it's been a success. I found a raw and honest part of myself and investigated how it fits into larger patterns of sexual violence. Though the details are mine, I am part of a long tradition of violence. We've just started sharing the film, and already I have heard from people watching it that it has positively impacted their healing process.

At the outset of both therapy and the film, I thought that there would be a neat warp-up at the end. But I think work that changes you so much can never have a smooth edge in your life.  Even though I'm done, I'll keep writing and reading about sexual violence. I'll keep sharing my film. Gradually, I'll do less direct work on it, but the gains will always be there. I've been transformed into someone who feels more confident speaking up and speaking out. I've found my voice, somewhere on the more personal side of the political. I have this story that I spent three years crafting that I can share with the world. I'm finally comfortable with the work.

New Series is Out!

For the past few months, I've been quietly working on a new series. However, it is out now, and I am so excited about it. I've been working with Uplift, a newly formed non-profit dedicated to eradicating sexual violence in online communities. The leadership has been really inspiring, and I have had a great time taking their vision and crafting it into reality. Right now, I'm packing (procrasti-packing) to go to VidCon as part of this project. We're going to be interviewing some big name YouTubers to get their perspectives on how to make online communities more healthy. Again, I am stoked to be putting this all together.

The series will be 26 episodes and run until the end of the year.  The first three are out now.  Check 'em out!



Why sex isn't like tea

You've probable seen the video (or read the blog post) that explains consent in terms of serving tea. It's a pretty simple idea that basically says you wouldn't force someone to drink tea, so you shouldn't force someone to have sex. There are a few reasons why this isn't as great a metaphor as the internet is making it out to be. The first is that a lot of sexual assault perpetrators know the rules of consent and don't care. The second is that drinking tea is an act completely devoid of the messy emotions inherent in sex. And it's that context that makes consent difficult. I made a video explaining why.  

Spring Progress Report

I've been hiding out for most of the winter. I gave birth to a baby girl at the beginning of January and have taken some time off to care for her. It's been an amazing time getting to know my little person, and my film's been going on the back burner the whole time. As the weather warms up, it's time to get it in high gear again! The good news is that a lot has happened since I last checked in.

One of the biggest pieces of news is that I was awarded at RACC (Regional Arts and Culture Council) grant to finish this project. Funds from that were allocated to higher-quality color for the illustrations and bringing on a more experienced documentary editor to finish up the story.

The other big piece of news is that the posters are done. I just got back from seeing proofs, and I'm really happy with them!

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Right now, I'm working with a rough cut that has the final structure. We're still tweaking the pacing and working on music to see how it all fits together. I'm also waiting on motion design to come in. Once we have all that locked, it's off to do a sound mix and THAT'S THE LAST STEP.

Yeah Maybe, No Update: Color Process

The end of the year is wrapping up, and so is work on this project. I've got the final art back from Lucy, and thanks to the support from the Vlogbrothers, the files have been sent along to an extremely talented colorist. I just got back some thumbnails last night, and the panels are looking fantastic! I can't wait to see the final results. color thumbnail crop

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I was really hoping to have this whole thing finished up by the end of the year. However, there was a large delay that came about from a curve in the story's development this fall. With that behind me, things are coming along smoothly again. The art is nearing completion, a composer has begun working on a soundtrack, and the edit is in it's final stages. It is so amazing to see this project come together. I've poured so much into it. At times it's really hard to keep working on it, but seeing the artwork come together, and seeing people respond positively makes it all worth it.

This film has been an incredible journey and I can't wait to share it with you all.