When Men Who Promise Good, Actually Do Evil

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My stomach churns watching the news and my Facebook feeds right now. Watching a young, precocious, African-American woman being violently thrown to the ground by a white, male police officer makes me feel all the worst feels.

There should be no doubt or question in our minds that this is a clear and blatant instance of domestic violence against this young woman who was sitting in her seat in class. Domestic violence in our schools: an entrusted police officer, sworn to protect and serve the students of that school, suddenly and overtly begins brutally attacking the student who had recognized her wrong-doing (using her cell phone in class) and was asking to not be removed from her class (which is certainly within our rights to do – we should be able to advocate for ourselves, to apologize when we broke a rule, and given the chance to make it right).

As a survivor and former victim of abuse, I am triggered watching those images. I am triggered by my own horror stories of a white man who had sworn to love and honor me, towering over me and using his 280+ lb. body to forcefully control my behavior that he thought was out of control. In reality it was his behavior that was out of control.

As a woman watching these images, my spine becomes frozen in place by a cold, stiff hand of terror because someone who had sworn to uphold the (fair and just) law was clearly breaking the law.

As a white woman I am ashamed watching these images – that the police officer in the videos could be the guy I went to high school with, could be my former co-worker, he is someone who grew up probably a lot like I grew up, with the same values and traditions and biases.

As an advocate watching these images, the hair stands up on the back of my neck. I ponder quietly, if I had been there, would I have had the guts to yank that police officer off of her and give him a piece of my mind? Could I have been fearless enough to risk my own arrest and violence against my own person, in defense of this young woman?

As a mother I am outraged at these images. If this were my daughter, and I got that phone call, and I saw that video appear in my feed, would I be able to afford to pursue litigation in order to demand justice for my daughter? Would I, if I were a black mother, have the resources and ability to sue the police department of my county? Would I be able to walk back into my daughter’s school without burning down the place? Would I be able to look that principal in the eye ever again without burning my stare right through his or her heart?

As a former youth, a former student who trusted the security team at my school, I weep. I weep that those who are sworn to “protect me” are the very ones who committed horrendous acts against my body and my person. Men love to make themselves heroes at my expense, men love to tell themselves that they love me and they wish to protect me. What my actual experience has taught me, however, is that men will commit evil against me while saying they are protecting me. That they are protecting me from myself. Men will tell me to my face that they must commit violence against me in order to protect me from myself.

That is precisely what this police officer did to this young woman, and also to the girl who tried to defend her. That officer beat them down to protect themselves from worse. I have been studying patterns of abuse against women for six years of my life now. I fail to understand how being body-slammed and dragged out of my chair would be better for me than punishment. Most teachers post a very clear classroom code of conduct, including consequences of using a cell phone in class. Being rejected from the classroom or sent to the principal’s office are certainly reasonable consequences; having one’s head beaten to the ground in a violent act of aggression is not a reasonable consequence.

Just like fathers who guilt and shame their daughters so they won’t have sex until they are married, but then when the girl falls in love they threaten violence against her boyfriend because she can’t possibly know what love is. So he feels he must protect her from herself.

I call this form of punishment that occurs before crimes are even committed, a form of self-fulfilling prophecy that men brandish against women. The list of behaviors that women are expected to conform with are long and strict and restrictive and oppressive – and fathers and husbands and police officers line up to “punish” women and girls for stepping out of that conformist oppressive line. Women are told that only “bad guys” will mistreat them, stay away from the bad guys because those are the ones who will be mean and nasty to you. But then when women report abuse, and when women are filmed being abused, it is always the ones who are supposed to be good guys that are abusing them. It is almost as if men were so anxious to prove to women just how mean men can be, that they themselves must be mean to them in order to prove just how mean men can be.

This is the dynamic of abuse, when it occurs by those in position of trust and authority. Those who are sworn to protect, but then end up harming the very ones they swore to protect – this particular officer has other cases against him so I’m not even sure he has ever seen his position as a position of protecting, but rather as a position of unquestioned authority. Unquestioned authority will always abuse the power it is given.

I am positive that there is not a single behavior code in American schools that calls out for women to be beaten into the ground for using a cell phone in class. Nor is there a requirement that calls for dragging a student by her neck when she asks to please not be removed from her class, that she promises to behave herself. And I know that no parent has ever signed a code of conduct that included being arrested for standing up when a police officer abuses his power and authority. These are fear tactics and emotional warfare being used against women, being used against Black women who happen to still be minors.

The message is clear: if you are a woman, and you step out of the line of expected behavior, you can expect the men in authority over your life to make your worst nightmares come true. If you are that woman, you don’t have to wait for the bad guy to find you in the dark alley, the bad guy is the one who swore to protect you. The bad guy is the one you trusted.

Black Dot Awareness Campaign: Irreparable Damage

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Tonight this awareness campaign appeared in my Facebook feed: Black Dot Awareness.

I am incredibly thankful to Snopes.com for already knowing and writing about this so we can understand better what it is about.  As someone who is a survivor and has studied domestic violence, intimate partner violence and abuse, and the incredible amounts of professional and serious studies that surround this delicate issue, I can truthfully say that this campaign is set to do much damage and should not be perpetuated under any circumstances.

Don’t get me wrong.  I have spoken out for victims and survivors for many years now.  I have worked hard and written much on this topic, and I support awareness on this issue.

But I do not support this campaign and allow me to share several problems that present itself with this concept.

  1. It should be immediately noted that no professionals or authorities are trained to recognize this black dot because it is not an endorsed method of notifying authorities or healthcare professionals.  This is simply not how victims and survivors notify professionals when they are in danger.  Furthermore, when professionals are notified that abuse is occurring, they are not going to have the perpetrator arrested at that moment.  More than likely they will counsel the patient or client that if they are being abused they need to consult with a domestic violence shelter nearby to get help.  Most doctor’s offices and other professional healthcare facilities will have that information and will give it to the victim.  They are trained in how to handle those situations in the way that has been found to be most effective and helpful.  But most importantly, handling the situation requires delicacy so that the victims is not placed in more danger.
  2.  Most victims who are being watched by partners who are stalking them are incredibly vulnerable to simply getting a hair cut.  Any mark on the body is sure to garner interest from the perpetrator.  Making a campaign out of this ensures that perpetrators know exactly what this symbol means and puts the victim at greater risk.  The perpetrator may become combative at finding this symbol on their partner’s body.
  3. This campaign, while it comes from a person who truly wishes to help and could likely be worked out into something that might actually work, has not been tested or even consulted with professionals.  No professionals, and no advocacy services, have endorsed this campaign.  That is an instant red flag.
  4. The biggest issue with this campaign, as it came in my Facebook feed, was the request for everyone to wear this symbol as a sign of solidarity and to increase awareness.  Well, if everyone wears this symbol, then how are professionals to know who is really in trouble?  And if everyone wears this symbol, how is the victim supposed to maintain her confidentiality?
  5. That brings me to another delicate point – victim confidentiality.  When victims begin to speak about being abused, they become highly vulnerable.  If their abuser finds out they are talking about things that are going on, things can escalate very quickly.  Any person that a victim confides in must be completely confidential about what is going on.  Most of us do not have the training or understanding to be able to offer professional help to victims, and nor should we feel required to.  The best thing we can do as their friend is to listen intently, validate their experiences, and encourage them to get help soon.  We can help them find out what steps to take next, and we can help them financially.  We cannot offer guard or protection, nor can we place ourselves between the victim and the perpetrator.  We cannot become personally involved.
  6. Allow me to stress this enough:  There are crisis centers and domestic violence shelters that are very capable of offering assistance and sanctuary to women experiencing domestic violence in a safe, confidential manner.  Encourage the victim to reach out to professional services for assistance.  It is a very difficult, hard decision to leave an abuser, and it never occurs in a single moment but rather by a long process of preparation.  Do not expect survivors to leave immediately and especially do not attempt to force them.  Survivors, when they are ready, are fully capable of doing so and stand a greater chance of successfully separating when they do so because they are ready.  No one can rush that process.
  7. Please, if you wish to legitimately assist victims and survivors of intimate partner abuse, consult with professional agencies and shelters so that you can participate in safe ways.  This is a serious matter and should not be taken into a single person’s hand to try to solve the problem and it certainly will not be solved with one person’s rash social media campaign.  In fact, the damage that can be done is frightening.

It is painful to see misinformation being spread about something that already places individuals in danger for their lives.  Please help true advocacy occur by working with legitimate organizations to volunteer, support, and empower.

Here are several legitimate sources to contact for assistance:
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1(800) 799-SAFE

NCADV.org: 1(800) 799-SAFE (same as above)

These numbers are taken from the TEARS (Teens Experiencing Abusive Relationships) website:

National Youth Crisis Line
1.800.442.HOPE(4673)

National Sexual Assault Hotline
1.800.656.HOPE(4673)

National Center for Victims of Crime*
1.800.FYI.CALL(1-800-394-2255)*Monday-Friday 8:30am-8:30pm ET

Peace and crackers,

Theresa Moxley

Josh Duggar Makes Me Want to Hurl

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Photo credit: Theresa Moxley, Spring 2014

Photo credit: Theresa Moxley, Spring 2014

Josh Duggar Makes Me Want to Hurl

So today Josh issued a carefully-stated and planned apology to whoever is listening to him at this point.   The apology was quickly posted and also edited, conveniently deleting the part where he admitted he was addicted to porn.

Um, this boy is not addicted to porn.  He is addicted to sex.

But anyway, apparently his parents stood by his side, still defending him and still supporting him.   I guess if my son were going through some tough crap I would be forced to support him as well, but it seems clear to me that they are much more interested in showing outward support towards Josh than their own daughters.

As if this whole situation wasn’t creepy enough, it’s only going deeper and deeper down the ugly rabbit hole.

Why is that, you say?   How could it get worse?

Well, something about his apology seems insincere when Josh belittled what he did to his own sisters, but then rushed to apologize because he cheated on his wife. When word came out about what he had done to his sisters and babysitter, he was quick to diminish the allegations and deflect issues upon anything but his own guilt. Now that these records from a shameful website come to light, he changes tune a bit.

There’s a silent, horribly misguided theology inside that, so let’s take a look.

The reason Duggar is apologizing to his wife is because his relationship with his wife is bound before “God and all who are present” at the wedding. Growing up fundamentalist means that wedding vows are seen as being between the husband, wife, and God. Josh is apologizing, technically not to his wife for cheating on her, but to God for disobeying one of the Ten Commandments.

Yes, I said it. Josh is only apologizing because he has broken the Ten Commandments. He only feels accountable to God. Let that sink in for a moment. He doesn’t feel accountable to his wife, who he has lied to, cheated on, spent money behind her back, and who now expects to forgive. He certainly didn’t feel accountable to his own sisters and the babysitter, who he molested while they were sleeping, and before they even understood what was going on.

He only feels accountable to God, not to humans. His actions only warrant apology and concern at this juncture because the sacred vows of marriage have been violated.

I only have one question:   If marriage vows are supposed to protect the wife, what protects innocent virgin women who have never had a romantic relationship in their life? Where is dignity for these girls and women, whose innocence is stripped from them with the bedsheets?

I’ve already read the comments about how his wife will be tied to this relationship for the rest of her life because he will never allow her to divorce him, and the parents will never allow it, and the church certainly will never allow it.

She will be held up as the perfect wife who was able to embody forgiveness “because of the cross.”   But no one will even recognize the horrible price she has paid: his apologies are not sincere, and are not even for her benefit, but only for God.

Is it ok when people only apologize to God, and not to humans? I truly don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know this.   His apologies are all a little trite at this point, because nothing is fixed until he gets himself help. And even then, all of these women will spend the rest of their lives recovering in some way.

Even while he is apologizing and trying to piece these broken pieces back together, I can assure you he is still out running around and he is still looking for sex. His addiction has no cure by miracle. And if current studies are correct, he stands to molest or rape some 500+ victims within one lifetime.

This is why apologies to God and not to man don’t really mean a thing to sexual predators.   Apologizing to God allows them to wipe the slate clean, and then return to business as usual knowing that forgiveness is a never-ending well.

But here’s what really bothers me about all of this. When we prioritize the marriage vows as a vow between God and husband, God and wife, at any and all costs, that doesn’t mean we are divinely sanctioned to treat our wives or husbands like garbage. In fact, Jesus set the bar pretty high on one thing: Love your neighbor (husband, wife, sisters) as yourself. Josh Duggar has treated women with anything but dignity and respect.   Instead he has proven a track record of treating women like sex objects, free and available for his own pleasure.

Some days I’d like to know if God has had enough of Duggar’s proverbial crap too? Does God have a definitive line across which there stops being forgiveness? I’d like to think that persons who abuse innocent, precious girls and women don’t have a place in the Kingdom. I’d like to think that there is no room at the table for Duggar.

One thing I know: if there is a heaven, and there is a table, only those sex offenders who have sought true forgiveness and rehabilitation will be present, and they will be present in a new body. Each of us who have survived the monstrous acts that men have done to women will also sit around the table in new bodies. Whole bodies, in the full image of Creator, and co-Creators of Life.   Come, Emmanuel, please come.

Sandra Bland Was Taking Control

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Sandra Bland Was Taking Control

**In this article I intend to show how Sandra took control of her abusive situation with a cop who had over-extended his authority, in an effort to get the situation over with.   This post will reference abuse and intimate partner violence. In no way am I asserting that Sandra was a victim of domestic violence. But her behavior has a familiar ring to it. This article will explore that familiarity.**

I watched the videos that have surfaced showing Sandra Bland’s arrest, and have read the transcript of her altercation and subsequent arrest in a strange town in Texas. Make no mistake that police officer completely overstepped his bounds and treated her absolutely with less than dignity.   And everyone is asking the question: “Why did Sandra appear to goad him along during her detainment by this cop?”

My immediate response is, “Actually, every one of us would have responded the same way, if we are truly honest with ourselves, because every one of us would have been deeply offended by his attitude towards her.” Many white people have shown instances where they have been equally hostile towards a police officer, and were let go with only a warning or a ticket.   Just YouTube that.

But upon further reflection, I came to the realization that Sandra was more than just mouthy. She was doing more than simply asserting her rights. She was surviving. She knew where that whole interaction was going.   She knew that cop had lost sight of her humanity, and she knew things were going down. It really didn’t matter what she said or did, he was going to play this out in exactly the way it played out.

What Sandra did, was take control of an out-of-control situation, by speaking exactly what he was doing, as he was doing. She was calling out his explosive behaviors, in an effort to survive. This is a difficult concept to understand or grasp, but I’m going to work with some of Alice Walker’s theories on intimate partner violence to try to explain it.

Women who are deeply entangled in a relationship domineered by abuse are often viewed as having no control. They often feel as though they have lost control over the situation, but these women quickly learn that they can manage the abuse in some ways. They learn how to control when the abuse occurs and, to some extent, how long it goes on. Women who are in abusive relationships learn to escalate the abuse quickly, in order to get it over with. Their language might look like goading, it might look a lot like Sandra’s language, almost taunting the perpetrator.

Typically, when women do this in abusive relationships, they know who they are dealing with. They know the exact point the perpetrator will go to, and then he will stop. They know what he will do and how far he will go. This is a victim’s way of exerting some sort of control over the situation, and her way of trying to survive.

When a victim does this and does not survive, however, that means the perpetrator went even beyond his own limits. The escalation went beyond either person’s expectation, and the victim died. Sometimes the escalation happens with the victim, and the victim ends up killing the perpetrator.

Sandra’s words and behavior sound an awful lot like a woman trying to exercise control over an uncontrollable situation, by at least bringing the abuse on in order to get it over with. I have no way of knowing whether Sandra had been abused in her past, or whether she has witnessed abuse in her past, but her language has that familiar feel to it. I don’t think she set out to make this happen, in any way, shape or form. But I do think she knew it was out of her control and her survival instincts set in.

Regardless of what her behavior and words sound like, she deserved better treatment from that cop, and from that jail, than she received. She was stripped of her human dignity, reduced to a few words and a very grainy video. May her words haunt us, and, just like her mother has requested, may the anger be channeled to do good and make changes happen.

Theresa Moxley, Survivor and Advocate of Intimate Partner Violence, Writer, Artist, Mom.  Thinker, Dreamer, Creator of Good Things

Theresa Moxley, Survivor and Advocate of Intimate Partner Violence, Writer, Artist, Mom. Thinker, Dreamer, Creator of Good Things

Why We Are Still Talking

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Photo credit: Theresa Moxley, Spring 2014

Photo credit: Theresa Moxley, Spring 2014

Ok, so I’m seeing and hearing a lot around the interwebs about why Black people are dwelling on the past, and why they don’t just get over it already.

I cringe whenever I hear words like that.  I think every Black person who just spoke their every day experience of loss and fear and oppression cringes at the insensitivity and the pure cold nature that lies in those words.

I can’t claim to know fully the experience of Black people in the country of America.  I can’t write for them or to them, I can’t tell Blacks when to just get over their oppression.  I think it’s pretty ballsy, actually, for white people to do that to Black people, because it reeks of privilege.

It is also very anti-Christ.

I’ve heard those words myself whenever I speak about my experience as a survivor of domestic abuse.  I can’t compare the two situations, but I can express how it feels when I have become vulnerable and brave enough to express my pain, and someone knocks my breath completely out by asking me why I don’t just get over it.  It happened so long ago, they tell me.

Whenever I read the gospels, as different and unique as each one is, I never find that Jesus tells anyone to just get over it.  There is tender compassion when he stops what he is doing, and demands the children come to him.  There is a gentle listening when the woman touches his hem, and he asks who touched him.  Who are you, and what are your needs?  What is your suffering, my dear woman who braved the ridicule to show up?  Jesus rebukes those who stand in his way.  Jesus rebukes us for standing in the way.

There is one woman who put Jesus in his place – the Syro-Pheonician woman who reminded Jesus that if salvation was for all, and if healing was for all, then salvation and healing must even be for the ones who have been named dogs.  Or thugs.  Or hoodlums.  Or the horrible n-word.  She throws it in our face – hey, don’t be calling people that.  Don’t be denying grace to ALL.  And we are left to wonder, is this what God sounds like, when God refuses to see people as human?  Does God stop viewing people as human, simply because of the color of their skin?

I see in Black people a courage and a vulnerability, even when expressed through riots and burning, right now.  And I see some white people who dismiss them, who ask them just to protest peacefully – hey, why aren’t we making it so they don’t have to protest at all?????  Don’t you hear the absurdity in that request?  Haven’t you ever been so angry that you wanted to burn something down?  No?  Well then, consider yourself highly privileged, my friend.

And then, the most difficult words of all to hear, those that demand you just forget what happened, and here are your two choices: you can sit and bitch about it, or you can move on with your life and show them different.

Again, words of privilege and insensitivity.  Words that cut like a knife.  Oh, yeah, because it’s that easy to overcome the decades of housing markets that have been redlined so Black neighborhoods aren’t worth what white neighborhoods are.  And oh yeah, because it’s easy to overcome your dad, your uncle, your brother, and your son, all carrying lifelong records of crimes they did not commit, or of crimes that were non-violent, but crimes that render them unemployable and unhouse-able for the rest of their lives.  Sure, that is as easy to overcome.

What a gross over-simplification those comments are.

And I argue there is even a third option: we discuss honestly and painfully, so people are allowed to heal, and we continue speaking and advocating for others, so they can heal as well.

Black people are speaking their pain, my friends.  Honest, raw, vulnerable pain that white people have caused.  It is awful to hear.  It is necessary to hear and to make safe spaces to hear.

Ah, safe spaces.  That’s hard, isn’t it?  White people don’t consider the spaces where Blacks speak, to be “safe.”  White people see the labels on Black music, and perpetuate the warnings of Black neighborhoods, and carry a tradition of fear against the color Black.  The only reason these fears exist is that being in those spaces makes white people painfully aware of the strange dichotomy that exists in our nation right now.

It’s as if America is a big family, and there are two kids – the white kids and the Black kids.  And the Black kids are saying, gee this family is horribly dysfunctional for me.  I can’t breathe.  And the white kids are holding the mouths of the Black kids and saying what, it’s warm in here!  It’s lovely in here!  Just get up and move on!  You can’t breathe?  I can’t hear you!  Look at how lovely it is in here!  Look at all this wealth!  Look at all these opportunities!  Just get up!  But the hand is still over the mouth.

Being survivors is difficult work.  I am a survivor of my own micro-cosm of pain.  Blacks are survivors of multi-generational oppression that has gone on for centuries now and continues to keep them locked in patterns of human behavior that mean their children are marked for life.  No one can tell any person how to grieve, or how to heal, and simply pushing it off on Blacks completely erases the responsibilities of white people to assist.  The white kids in my example have to actually recognize their hand is on the mouth.  Their hand is on the mouth because they know if they release, they must share all the goodness, and they don’t want to share.

Jesus, give us ears to hear.  And willing hands to turn around long enough to ask, who are you?  What are your needs today?

Theresa Moxley, Survivor and Advocate of Intimate Partner Violence, Writer, Artist, Mom.  Thinker, Dreamer, Creator of Good Things

Theresa Moxley, Survivor and Advocate of Intimate Partner Violence, Writer, Artist, Mom. Thinker, Dreamer, Creator of Good Things

Change Only Starts When We Show Up

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So many of us are asking what we can do to make things better? What can we do to change the current situation, make the killings stop, help our communities be safer?
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Mother Emanuel, photographed by Theresa Moxley, edited in A Color Story

 
I didn’t say much about it, but last week while we were in Charleston I looked for ways to honor the Charleston 9, the victims of last year’s shooting at Mother Emanuel. Because I attended a historically Black seminary that is heavily supported by the AME Zion church, I am linked to Mother Emanuel in some very personal ways. Because I am human, I am linked to those 9 victims. Because I am Christian, I am even linked to the shooter because we believe his sins are atoned as ours are.
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Standing on sacred ground: the sidewalk at City Gallery

 
In many ways the Charleston community keeps going, although Charleston Strong banners are able to be seen and tributes remain at Mother Emanuel. Mother Emanuel continues to be the community foundation it ever was, remaining dedicated to Ministry rather than becoming a tourist trap it could become if it were worldly-minded.
 
The Black community of artists in Charleston are continuing their own work to help process and express and honor those horrific events. There are several opportunities to view their work, the Gibbes Museum is featuring an exhibit on the 3rd floor called “The Things We Carry,” for example.
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We chose to show up last week. One such artist, Dr. Leo Twiggs, created a series of 9 paintings and on Friday night he hosted an artist’s reception at City Gallery to showcase his paintings. While it was certainly not heroic for us to attend, and my point is not to say what a great thing we did, I have to believe that it meant something to the artist that white faces were there. It meant something to us, to go and view his paintings and show support to the Black art community of Charleston.
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Dr. Leo Twiggs is the gentleman to the far left who appears to be walking away.

 
Artists are some of the bravest, most sensitive people in the world. We are creatives. We live and breathe the world around us and we process our experiences publicly each time the brush washes over the page. Dr. Twigg used his paint brush to remind us that our Ecclesial symbols of the cross, the steeple, the colors purple and gold are indeed capable of erasing worldly symbols of hate, sin, and power.
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Today I continue to process our visit as my own brush washes over my own paper. And my mind goes to what can we do? Why, we simply have to begin showing up. White people, when was the last time we stepped into a Black event? Why haven’t we? Is it fear that Black people will shush us back out the door? Is it fear that we are participating in something that is wrong? Is it fear that we might have to look at the 12 boxes on the wall, 9 of them with crosses and 3 of them empty to recognize the 3 survivors? If we want to stop police killings, and pedestrian killings, and driver killings, we as white people have to start showing up for Black artists and shop owners and communities. If we want Black communities to have brighter futures we as white people have to support them and include them just as we include our own! I truly believe that as we start showing up, we begin to understand. And as we begin to understand, we begin to remove hate. And as we, within ourselves, begin to remove the hate that is in ourselves, then we can bring all our communities into brighter tomorrows. But first we have to show up.
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All photos taken by the author and edited in A Color Story App

On the Violent Punishment of Our Children

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We have a child in our home who sometimes becomes insolent and uncooperative. When we first blended our families I was one of those parents who thought (mistakenly) that our child needed more punishment. I thought our child was acting out of disrespect and pure mean-ness. I am the first to admit that I responded to this child by punishing and becoming angry. We tried everything with this child, every punishment method there is – grounding, spanking, time-outs, removing all the things in this child’s room, it was crazy the consequences this child did not respond to.

I have learned the most difficult way possible that my response to this child only fueled the insolence and disobedience. I have learned that there are times this child shuts down. Sometimes my asking this child to do something or to stop doing something, my requests are momentarily seen by this child as a threat. This child will literally shut down, sometimes eyes glaze over and I cannot lie, it looks like flat out disobedience and disrespect. It looks like defiance! Clear, flat out defiance! My natural response to that defiance in the past was my own anger and shock that this child dared to act in this way – and I reacted.

Through much studying, therapy sessions, unbelievable confrontations and copious amounts of tears, I have come to realize that my behaviors only escalated this child’s behavior. The angrier I got, the more I punished, the more this child was going to act out and the more this child was going to appear to defy me. I learned that this child was not acting out of defiance to me necessarily, but that this child’s body mentally, emotionally, and physically shut down beyond ability to control. I learned that removing this child from the situation, sending to room with a reminder that child was being defiant and when child was willing to cooperate child could return to the family, was the most effective solution. My calmness and my refusal to escalate has become crucial in managing our household.

Simply allowing this child time to process the request, decide the request is not unreasonable, and determine that it is in best interest to cooperate, allows this child the ability to return to the situation with clarity and compliance.

It pains me to think there will be times when this child is not able to remove self and process, and then decide to become compliant in self’s best interest. I watch the videos of the girl in SC and I realize that she needed a moment to collect herself and determine that what was being asked of her was not unreasonable – and that her refusal to do what was being asked was her own body shutting her down emotionally, physically, and mentally. That shut-down looks an awful lot like defiance. And we as a society are taught and continue to repeat the adage that defiance requires spanking or throw-downs.

Whether this officer acted out of racism is anyone’s best guess, but I can tell you that society has colored all of our interactions to believe that when children act out they need violence. Humans have a strange relationship with punishment – we think our children need punishment in order to solve all human behavior issues, but I and every other psychologist can tell you that punishment is violence. And violence is never the answer. I’m still seeing comments in response to this case that if this child had only been spanked she would have respected that cop – and I can tell you first hand that when the human body shuts down in these instances it has nothing at all to do with punishment or lack thereof. It has everything to do with how the human brain perceives threat and everything to do with fight or flight. When the body cannot fight and cannot flee it shuts down.

I’m not sure we can know precisely why this child shut down the way she did, just as I frequently do not understand why our child shuts down. But I know that anger and violence only escalate the situation and remove the human dignity of all parties involved. There are methods to de-escalate situations where children and teens become uncooperative, and those methods should never involve violence or abuse. Chances are, if that officer had said, “You have two minutes to place your phone right here on this desk or else you will be physically removed from the school,” that girl would have done precisely that – laid her phone on the desk without incident.

It is beyond time for our society to reevaluate our methods of dealing with our children and teens. This is not because children are “entitled or spoiled brats,” but rather because there are better ways to help them deal with their very complex emotions, and because we cannot expect children to be emotion-less robots. Our children deserve the best from us and deserve the best from law enforcement. This cannot happen until we begin to demand it – and first we must stare our relationship with violence in the face. We each have a troubled past with violence.

Lord in your mercy, teach us how to practice peace, the way you showed us. Teach us to suffer the children, as they are messy and insolent and defiant, but they are of immeasurable sacred worth.

Theresa Moxley, Survivor and Advocate of Intimate Partner Violence, Writer, Artist, Mom.  Thinker, Dreamer, Creator of Good Things

Theresa Moxley, Survivor and Advocate of Intimate Partner Violence, Writer, Artist, Mom. Thinker, Dreamer, Creator of Good Things

Advocacy and its True Nature

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So a couple of posts back I had talked about what advocacy looked like, so I have more to say on that.

This series was sparked by an advocacy campaign that didn’t go very well – its intentions were certainly honorable but it was not well thought out and when questioned the creator became overwhelmed and vanished.

I know many people wondered how I, as a person heavily invested in advocacy for victims and survivors, could criticize any campaign and how could I not support any campaign that is designed to help?

Well, just as there is such a thing as cheap grace, there is also cheap advocacy. As an advocate I must constantly check my own personal ego at the door. Every blog post, every new follower, every Like or Share is not about me, not ever, it is and must always be about survivors. My mission as an advocate must always be about victims and survivors.

If I make advocacy about myself and my own credibility and my own credentials and my own fame or celebrity, then I have lost the cause.

There are many people who think certain stereotypes about advocacy. They see sign-carrying protestors (which happens often!) or they see an advocate at the hospital bedside of a recovering survivor (very, very honorable and important work), or they see someone manning the phones at crisis lines (also very important necessary work).

These types of advocates are the front lines of advocacy work and we must recognize that their work, over the months and years, their tireless efforts working directly with survivors under the umbrella of credible organizations have changed so many lives and have done so much incredible good work!!!!!! Our job is to support those organizations, encourage and promote, give financially when we can, and volunteer our time and resources as we are able.

I always thought in order to be an advocate that I had to do one of those types of jobs. I always thought I would end up staffing phone lines or assisting in domestic safe houses. My advocacy has been quite different, however.

Survivors themselves who wish to go on to advocate fill a most important role in advocacy. As a survivor, I am an advocate no matter where I go. I wear my advocate hat every day, in every office, store, church, or facility that I walk into.

One of the gifts (I use that term lightly) that survivorship brings is a heightened sense of hypervigilance. Living with an abuser who is often narcissistic and self-centered means that you never really know what kind of day you are going to have because you never know what is going to set them off. So you begin to identify the things that set them off. And then you begin to try to manipulate situations so the abuser does not become set off. I can’t tell you how many doctor bills I paid in secret so my abuser wouldn’t have a fit at the mail box. I learned to remember where he absent-mindedly placed his keys, so he wouldn’t tear every drawer apart looking for them.

But going through thirteen years of hypervigilance taught me a few things about the world around me and how very few people really understand abuse and patterns of human behavior that contribute to abuse.  Even our language contributes to patterns of behavior that lead to abuse. There are many structures in our society that actually allow spouses to abuse their spouses and it is socially acceptable. Even the images that are portrayed in media and movies and the news support domestic violence.

These images, symbols, vernacular, jokes, portions of our culture that uphold patterns of violence scream to me. When we read Old Testament in seminary, my friend said to me, “Gosh, Theresa, those words just jump off the page at you. Where I skim right past them and don’t really grasp what is happening, you see it and you wrestle with it.” My friend didn’t know he was giving me a gift that day – the gift of recognizing that my hypervigilance was something important. Many would and continue to get upset at my gift, but it is a gift nonetheless and I must use it for the good of victims.

Many times my advocacy has nothing to do with victims at all, but rather consists of educating people that I communicate with on a daily basis. Most conversations I have are peppered with comments about injustice or social inequalities. Many friends and acquaintances don’t know really what to do with me when I gently let them know their joke was offensive to me. They get upset with me when I ask them to rephrase their statement in a way that does not offend half of the table. My advocacy happens in every day moments, in letting others know the subtle ways that we allow abuse to thrive through our culture, systems, culture, and ways of living.

Sometimes my advocacy does involve victims and survivors. Many times I have been pulled aside and have heard friends and acquaintances share their experiences with me. Many times I have prayed over the emails and the private messages that come my way throughout the week, typically as a result of my own speaking out and sharing my life story.

Other days I withdraw to practice advocacy for myself, to take time for self-care when the ache is too much to bear. When the sermon touched a nerve or hit too close for comfort, when a joke got a little too real, when my own reality is questioned or my own divorce is called a sin, I have to step away and nourish my own soul. I have to remind myself that my own experience, as the experience of millions of other survivors, is much bigger than an ideology or a “this is how it’s supposed to be.”

Survivors have learned first-hand that all the things they were taught should be, really aren’t. To be a survivor means nothing is as it appears – the smile on my abusers face was as fake as the watch he wore on his arm. The vows we made to love and honor each other only went so far as they were convenient for him. Love only meant what he could get out of it. Love, for him, was a tool to get what he wanted, and I was the closest pawn.

Every day I advocate for me. I advocate for the millions of women just like me, who fight every day to be stronger and quicker and better than the sum of those very bad experiences. And we are. We are the strongest and the quickest and the brightest. We are because we fought and we survived.

Theresa Moxley, Survivor and Advocate of Intimate Partner Violence, Writer, Artist, Mom.  Thinker, Dreamer, Creator of Good Things

Theresa Moxley, Survivor and Advocate of Intimate Partner Violence, Writer, Artist, Mom. Thinker, Dreamer, Creator of Good Things

What Might a Successful Campaign Look Like?

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In the past week and a half, I have seen how powerful the internet and social media truly can be.  I have seen an advocacy campaign take off with lightning speed, and I have seen voices raised in unison to inform the truly delicate nature of advocacy.

In light of the black dot campaign, I have had to ask myself some hard questions.  What would a successful advocacy campaign look like?  What would I do different, if I were the organizer of an advocacy campaign?

None of these questions are new to me.  I have been studying and writing and agonizing and wrestling with these questions not only for advocacy, but for my own survival.

I cannot write this article without stating that no campaign that focuses on the victim is going to be able to completely rid our society of intimate partner violence and domestic abuse.  Let me say that again: no campaign that focuses on victims and survivors is going to truly address the problem of DV and IPV.

To some that actually comes as a shock – what do you mean, that you don’t want to help victims?  Oh yes, I passionately believe in helping victims.  Victims cannot survive and cannot recover without being surrounded by people who believe in them and who support them.  I did not get here by myself.

But that’s just it.  I did not get into an abusive relationship by myself.  I got there because someone else behaved in a manner that put my life and well-being in danger.  Every victim got where she or he is because of someone else’s behavior.  Therefore, successful campaigns must focus on behaviors, rather than individuals.

Please help victims, please support agencies and organizations that help victims.  But recognize that as long as we do not address the behaviors that cause DV and IPV, we will always have victims.

So what I’m talking about is us.  Successful campaigns need to focus on us, on our collective human behaviors.  There are two aspects of this: 1. the perpetrator and how perpetrators use society to their advantage and 2. our own thought and behavior patterns that enable perpetrator behaviors.

So first, the focus of the perpetrator.  Nothing has been more humbling for me than realizing that my abuser acted out of his own painful realities.  We all grow up witnessing the same stuff – we see women being ridiculed and violated and abused every day.  We hear rhetoric at the dinner table that blames women and that allows us all to view women as less than.  The media constantly portrays women in vulnerable positions – even well-meaning advocacy campaigns portrays women as beaten-down victims with bruises and shattered esteems.

Perpetrators of violence grew up seeing these images too.  And then they grow up believing they have to be the powerful ones.  So they make themselves the powerful ones.  Every abuser and every victim comes to a relationship with already established patterns of behavior.  They arrive with set expectations of how men and women are supposed to behave, and these patterns often uphold abuse and harbor abuse and allow abuse to continue.  We are all passing down these patterns of behavior to our own children!

My second point focuses on certain aspects of human behavior – hierarchy is one aspect in which a sole entity is the ultimate control and all others are beneath the sole power.  We have by now probably all heard that DV and IPV is really about power and control – so I have studied power and control in relationships.  Another is the role that denial and the human brain plays in keeping victims in a situation.  The amount of information that is available to be studied is immense, and I encourage you to study it for yourself.

In this blog post I want to focus on denial, because denial is an easy trap to fall into, and our societal denial of abuse is one of the most difficult challenges in getting victims out.  I have written in the past about my experience in seminary and how whenever I raised my voice to speak about DV and IPV, I was frequently ridiculed and questioned and dis-believed.  People do not want to believe that abuse happens to them or to their loved ones, and in the effort to hang onto that belief they will discredit the survivor who is speaking to them from her or his own experience.

Why is this?  Why do people not want to believe?  Here’s the thing – with as broad of a statistic as 1 in 4, chances are highly likely that every one of us has witnessed abuse in our lives.  I might even go so far as to say that we have all witnessed it in our own families, in our own homes.  But we love our families.  We love our homes.  We love our parents and our grandparents and our aunts and uncles and the myriad of people who participated in raising us.  We love them and we cling to them.  And we excuse their behaviors.

The people who are closest to us, who abuse us or abuse those around us, are often times the ones we love the most.  We don’t want to believe that their actions are or were truly abusive.  So we deny abuse exists.  It would be a betrayal to mention how that person abused us, so we remain silent.

But here’s the thing – successful campaigns against DV and IPV begin in our own homes and begin by talking about the instances of abuse that we personally witnessed or experienced in our own homes growing up.  Recognizing the patterns of abuse that we grew up watching informs us.  It helps us to see how abuse came to be normalized within our own families, and how we carry that normalization forward to our own relationships and families.

I’m going to be writing about this for the next few days – there are several important points to be made and I realize it is a lot to take in.  Stay tuned for more!

Peace and Crackers,

Theresa Moxley

From an Anonymous Reader: Open Letter to the Other Woman

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I received in my inbox this open letter from an anonymous reader.  I know that many men and women both have felt this pain, and have sought peace in the storm.  Today, in honor of Peace Day, I bring you this:

Dear Woman,

This is hard. I don’t like you. I don’t even know your name, but I don’t like you. I don’t like a woman who knows a man is married and chooses to say and show him things that only his wife should say or show. I don’t like the kind of woman who would do things that could destroy a marriage. I don’t like what you did. I hate it.

And yet I wonder if we knew each other, if I would like you. I wonder if we knew each other, if I would see why my husband found you alluring. I wonder, if I knew you, if you would have known how much your actions would hurt me and if you would have refrained from making the choices you did. And now, imagining who you might be, I wonder if you were lonely and hurting and needed attention and kindness and affection. And I wonder if you were so hungry for something to make you feel good that you were willing to accept the flirtations of a married man, a man you knew to have a wife and children at home that he needed to attend to.

And yet, even as my heart is breaking, my heart hurts for you. My soul wonders that if we had known each other under different circumstances, would I encourage you and pray for you? And I know the answer is yes. So there is my dilemma. Hate you or hurt for you? And in the end, since we don’t really know each other, the choice really only affects me doesn’t it? So which do I choose?

I am choosing to forgive you. I choose to see you as a hurting woman and not as a woman who caused hurt. I choose to extend the grace that I’ve felt in my own life so many times. I choose to forgive your trespasses against me.

And I choose to pray for you. So God, surround this woman with your grace. Holy Spirit, convict her of her sin and lead her to seek forgiveness. Help her see that she is loved beyond measure and that no man can give her what you can God. Where she hurts, comfort her. Where she is lonely, fill her. Where she is broken, heal her. And where she is feeling less than, show her that she is worthy in you. Cover her in dignity and when the time is right God, help her tell her story so that others may see Your goodness and glory and grace. Thank you God for loving us both. Through the power of the cross, Amen.

Thank you for sharing your story, dear reader, and I pray peace upon you and your family.  In your mercy, Lord. 

Norms in the Medical Community

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Norms in the Medical Community

 

There exist in our social relationships many norms, or expectations: it is expected that we all fit in either category as male or female, certain prescribed races, only cis-gendered, and then society expects us to behave in certain ways based on those prescribed categories.

 

These are called norms.   Almost every headline that appears in the news these days has something to do with norms: someone rebelling against the norm, someone fighting for the rights of persons who do not “fit” a prescribed norm. On and on.

 

I’ve come to the realization that there exist norms within the medical community as well. It says something about us, that we need chaplains in hospitals to assist patients at their final moments of life, and to assist their families in finding peace in those final, unexpected, often tragic end moments.

 

I have been an unwilling participant in the medical community for some 20+ years now. A chronic patient, with a chronic illness that has brought all sorts of “expected behaviors” and a long list of people I have disappointed because my disease did not fit within their expectation of what my disease should be.

 

Even though my body has stopped working the same way that a “normal person’s” body works, I am still constantly compared to a “normal person.” Let’s get my body to behave like a normal person’s body because that is the ideal. But my body will never perform like the “norm,” because it is not “the norm.”

 

Every doctor’s appointment and every test result is a grim reminder of just how much my body has failed to meet “the norm.” There is nothing normal about my life, nothing normal about how I go about my daily work, chores, routines, and social life. Sometimes my behaviors actually might appear quite odd just in the attempt to appear normal.

 

Doctors and health professionals have tried to tell me what my “norm” should look like. They have forced their visions of how my life will look upon me. Those visions didn’t include having children. Those visions often are disastrous and terrifying. Words like “complications” and “long-term effects” are tossed around like candy, but not sweet M&M’s candy. Oh no, this candy is bitter and painful, and carries a threat. Do as we expect you to, or else this is what will happen to you.

 

Society, meaning friends and family, also have their own codified “norm” that they are quick to force upon the newly diagnosed member of the medical community. It sounds like, “Oh, I didn’t know you could do that.”   As if they knew anything at all.   Sometimes it sounds like, “Well, if you would only do such and such, then this would go away.” As if I had somehow failed in meeting this “norm” and that had become my downfall.

 

I’m refusing to name my own condition, because somehow I suspect that anyone who deals with chronic, long-term conditions can identify with everything that has been written.   I grieve most when we post “inspirational videos” that show a person with a very obvious disability making a remarkable achievement. Personal achievements are amazing things and should be celebrated, yes, but never compared.   And those videos never seem to show the tears and personal pain and suffering that person went through to achieve that. And honestly, for anyone with a disability or chronic health condition, celebrating the mundane is the thing we can all do to validate and acknowledge that person. Rather than expecting miracles from people who face challenges just getting out of bed today. Stop expecting miracles.

 

Sometimes the most terrific barriers to human existence in the face of disability is the most silent one: the emotional and spiritual and psychological tolls that each patient faces.   The medical community is remiss on this, I’m afraid, when we force patients to go to separate doctors for each body part, and forget that the mind and emotions are connected to each of those parts. When a diagnosis is made, the emotional toll is immediate and never ends. The struggles the patient faces aren’t just the struggles on the outside, but immediately the ones on the inside.

 

A diagnosis means an instant shattering of “the norm.” Life is no longer normal. The medical community tries to tell you what to expect, what life will be like. But their knowledge, unless they are patients themselves, is limited to textbook knowledge, not actual living experience.   It doesn’t take patients long to figure out that their mileage can and will vary. It doesn’t take long before the patient realizes that the old norm is shattered, and there is no new norm. Sometimes that norm looks like outright rebellion. AMA, or against medical advice, they call it.

 

And then we toss an additional harness onto them: the one called mental illness. We seriously expect people to walk into the doctor’s office and receive the most devastating and life-changing words they will ever hear, and then leave the doctor praising the Lord because they are blessed?   Blessed because now the medical community wishes to place them in a treatment program with 24-hour monitoring?   Blessed because the intervention worked to shame the patient into cooperating with treatment that is abusing them? Blessed because they will die?

 

Friends and family quickly jump in with their own opinions and control issues and misinformation.   Just like people like to tell pregnant women their labor horror stories, people like to tell persons with disabilities their horror stories. Try to tell them how to live, or how to deal with their condition. They are quick to judge. Quick to dismiss, “Well, at least you don’t have this……”

 

Reality with a chronic condition is not the reality of a “normal functioning” human. Reality is sleepless nights and rounds of blood work, physical limitations that didn’t exist before. Exhaustion. Side effects. Lack of understanding. A different norm that you know you will never be able to live up to. A feeling of failure, because your body failed you. Exhaustion. Every difficulty a judgment. Did I mention exhaustion?

 

This is how we as a society have saddled our disabled, our chronically ill, our persons who happen to not “fit in a norm,” with our own selfish ideas of what the world should be.

 

This is written to all who have had to listen to the judgments of those who did not understand, and who cried the tears of alienation simply because they were different.