Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Houston, we still have a problem

A week ago I posted about the arrest of Navy Captain Lisa Marie Nowak for stalking and attempted assault/murder. Here are some more thoughts on the stalking issue:

Even though the diaper and "lust in space" jokes have faded from the repertoire of news columnists and late-night comics, we still need to face the real issue. Stalking is a serious crime. Over a million women and 370,000 men will be targeted by stalkers this year. Current estimates are that 1 in 12 women and 1 in 45 men will be stalked in their lifetimes. Stalking is behaviorally defined as a person embarking on a course of conduct that would cause another reasonable person to feel fear. Specific behaviors can include: following you either on foot or in a vehicle, waiting for you, leaving notes, phone calls, destroying property, and threatening violence. Most victims know their stalker. If the stalker is a current or former intimate partner, the risk of violence increases. Stalking has only recently been recognized as a potentially serious threat to personal safety and is a crime in all 50 states; California passed the nation's first anti-stalking law in 1990, and by 1995 all other states had their own measures. The first federal antistalking measure was signed into law in 1996.

What does this mean for your safety? What can you do if you believe you are being stalked?

Your most important first step is education. There are several national organizations that provide information as well as listings of local help and support resources, some of which are listed below. Recognize that your life has changed, and you will have to adapt. And while you're learning about stalking, here are some tips:

  • Do not communicate with your stalker after you initially let them directly know that you want no further contact. If they try to contact you 100 times and you respond on the 101st time, even if it's telling them to get lost, that only teaches them that the cost of a response is 100 attempts. And they will repeat the cycle, and you won't enjoy that.
  • Document EVERYTHING. Each and every attempted contact, each and every sighting, each and every phone message and note left on your car. Carry a camera to document their presence.
  • Do not trust your stalker. If they "only want to talk," RUN! A stalker is deliberately violating any boundary they can find, and will use your sense of trust, empathy and fairness against you.
  • Tell your family and friends. If they are aware, they can help watch for you. They can also watch out for themselves, as stalkers sometimes also try to harm people close to their victim.
  • If you find yourself thinking that perhaps this person really does love you, think again. Someone who really cares about you would not stalk you. It is not a sign of true love, it is power and control.
  • Limit access to your address. This slows down stranger stalkers and intimate partner stalkers after you move (yes, you may have to change your address--some victims have had to change cities or even countries). Go the the DMV, voter registration office, any agency where your address is on file and have it blocked. Do not use your address on mail or your checks, use a post office box or private mail service. Have all mail sent to this box. Destroy discarded mail.
  • Keep your cell phone with you at all times. Don't have a cell phone? Now's a good time to get one. One with a camera that can be used to document, document, document.
  • Contact your local crisis clinic or abused women's hotline. Ask how to find an advocate and support group. You'll want them.
  • Take a self-defense class. A significant minority of stalkings turn violent, and that number increases if the stalker is an intimate partner or former intimate (the majority of women being stalked by a current or former partner are physically assaulted). Solid physical and verbal skills, plus the confidence that you know you can be effective, are critical.
  • Restraining orders leave a great paper trail, but they are not bullet-proof. Most stalkers violate them anyways. Getting a restraining order in many cases escalates stalking to violence.

Other resources online are The Antistalking Web Site and the Stalking Resource Center. A good book is A Girl's Gotta Do What a Girl's Gotta Do by Kathleen Baty (a/k/a "The Safety Chick"), as she describes her experience with a stalker. Other good information is in these downloadable PDF files: US Dept of Justice's Stalking in America, Stalking Myths, and Stalking Fact Sheet.

Finally, if you believe you are being stalked, take steps immediately. When it's your safety at stake, the moves that give you more control and less fear are your best bets.

From Strategic Living's News Updates, February 2007

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Answer: Because we often protect them

Question: Why don't child molesters always get caught?

The King County Sexual Assault Resource Center publishes information on child sexual assault, and you can view one of their excellent PDF documents here. They list a number of reasons why perpetrators aren't always caught, but left out one biggie. Because the perpetrator is often defended by people who despite overwhelming evidence cannot believe that such a wonderful, generous, helpful, upright member of our wonderful community could do such a thing. And the victim in these cases rarely comes forward.

This came to mind as I read this article about a religious community seeming to cover up a young man's sexual relations with a 13 year old girl. I have to wonder when that happens. I don't believe, at least in this case, it's at all about the community choosing one individual over the other. It's about how we want to see ourselves as embedded in community life. Believe it or not, a LOT of people need to deny instances of abuse to maintain their own sense of belonging to a worthy community. Perhaps you too feel that it says a lot about you if someone you've been close to is charged with abuse.

Which is also why a lot of battered women keep quiet. First, many feel that nobody would believe that such a nice guy is capable of battering. Second, even if they are believed, they are often also covertly shunned for rupturing the fabric of friendships.

But now say you have outraged community members. Take this instance, of a man in Oregon who walks around on his property in the nude. This article begins as if it were a nuisance complaint, but then reveals how local school and police officials more or less either ignored or denied complaints, and finally that the gentleman in question is up on charges of kiddie porn. Community members are frustrated.

The lesson I take from these stories is BE PROACTIVE. The institutions you trust will always protect someone, but it may not be YOU.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Houston, we have a problem

Of course this is about Navy Captain Lisa Marie Nowak, astronaut, now possibly facing attempted murder charges. If you get past the diaper and "lust in space" jokes, stalking is a serious issue facing many people, particularly women.

From news reports, Nowak claimed she was only trying to scare Air Force Captain Colleen Shipman into "talking" with her about a common romantic interest. Shipman apparently recognized that Nowak was stalking her, ran and got into her car. After securely locking herself in, Shipman felt compelled to partly roll down her window to speak with a crying Nowak, only to find herself pepper-sprayed.

What does this mean for your safety? Do not trust your stalker. Do not communicate with your stalker. If they try to contact you 100 times and you respond on the 101st time, even if it's telling them to get lost, that only teaches them that the cost of a response is 100 attempts. And they will repeat the cycle, and you won't enjoy that.

Stalking has only recently been recognized as a serious threat to personal safety and a crime. Enforcement is difficult. However, if you believe you are being stalked, be sure to document all incidents and contact your police department and abused women's hotline for recommendations.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Uneasy with Change - Sound Safety Podcast

One woman's encounter with a nasty hitchhiker, and her subsequent self-revelation. To listen to the audio file of this podcast, click on Sound_Safety_2-5-07.

Barbara picks up hitchhikers. She knows it's risky, but she does it anyway. She says she meets truly intriguing and unique people and has great conversations. Mostly.

Three years ago she was on a roadtrip with her friend. They stopped to pick up a lone male hitchhiker. He was friendly and chatty and they all got into an animated conversation, she didn't remember exactly what it was about except they had lots of laughs. Nor did she remember exactly when it changed, but she noticed that the conversation was drifting. He was asking some very personal questions, and the sexual humor was becoming increasingly barbed. She became more silent, but her friend merrily chatted on with the stranger, oblivious to her information oversharing.

Barbara saw that he was "testing" them, seeing how far he could push their boundaries, what kinds of answers he could get to requests for more and more intimate information. We had covered that material just a couple of weeks earlier in the self-defense class. She was bemused that what were then merely words on a page was now only weeks later unfolding in a real-life drama. And it was her real-life drama! And her friend still merrily chatted on.

Sunset was approaching. The stranger suggested they stop in the next town for beer. He knew a nearby campsite where they'd have some privacy. They'd have a blast, he guaranteed it.

Barbara pulled into town. She pulled into the parking lot of the first convenience store. She spoke. She told the man that this was his stop, to get out of the car. He sputtered a protest. She told him get out. He called her a bitch. She told him get out. He called her a fucking bitch. She told him get out. As he got out he called her a fucking bitch again, and a fucking cunt. He kicked the car. He kept up a stream of invectives as he walked away. And she drove away.

Barbara recounted this story in class with a mixture of pride and uneasiness. Pride that she held that firm boundary when she told him to leave. Uneasiness that she had held that boundary, successfully. She'd always been her own worst critic, and she'd proven even to herself once and for all that she could change her life and get outcomes that she wanted. She sensed her own power, and it made her nervous. How about you? What are you not doing, that would make a great difference in your life, because you're uneasy with change?

Martial Arts Builds Self-Discipline and Character

In my post 2 days ago I wrote about W. French Anderson's conviction and sentencing for child abuse. How did he gain access to his victim? In addition to being a world-renown research scientist, he held a black belt in tae kwon do and taught/coached martial arts. His victim was one of his martial arts students. Since the California charges were brought to trial, a young man in Maryland (Anderson worked at the National Institutes of Health for many years) has come forward with similar charges.

Parents often put their children into martial arts programs to develop their self-discipline and character. Be careful with whom you leave you children. Pay attention to any teacher or coach who suggests "private time" with your children, especially if the don't want you around. Pay even closer attention to your child's response to that teacher. Martial arts does attract some interesting characters (I teach karate as well as self-defense, so I've met many "characters"); take some more time to look past the teacher's reputation and charm. Anything that makes you uneasy is worth investigating.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Arrogance and Admiration

Renown scientist W. French Anderson was sentenced to 14 year in prison yesterday of child molestation. He had been conviced on July 19th. According to the Los Angeles Times, the jury took slightly longer than a day to deliberate. Deputy District Attorney Cathryn F. Brougham said that the decision demonstrated that the jury "did not allow his status, his high education, and his professional reputation to stand in the way of the truth," the Times reported. (Cited from article in The Scientist.)

The Seattle Times noted that, despite support from several prominent scientists, the sentencing judge rejected Anderson's argument that "his imprisonment would deprive humanity of the benefits of his medical efforts."

"I wish they had seen the evidence," Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor said at sentencing. "You had a choice to stop, and you didn't because of intellectual arrogance."

How do you think you'd feel if someone you respected was accused of child molestation, or domestic violence, or rape? How about if the accused was respected by not just you but your community? How would you reconcile the good he's done in the community with the harm he's done to some individuals? Let's reframe the question a bit. How would you reconcile the good he's done in his field of work with the harm he's done in his community? Because sexual assault, on children or adults, destroys trust. Particularly when committed by those whom we privilege with our admiration.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

In the ordinary instant

In a highly unusual assault, an attacker splashed lighter fluid on an elderly man and tried to ignite him, but the intended victim fought back. The attacker then turned his attention to 2 women a few yards away, splashed them with lighter fluid and did set them on fire.

Dawn Atkission became an ordinary hero yesterday. According to KING5 Seattle News, her acute observations and quick response the saved the two women from severe injury when she used her coat to smother the flames. Dawn also directed other bystanders to get the assailant until the police arrived.

The Seattle Times' report of the same incident focused on Gus Jones, the 82 year old man who fought back by striking that assailant with his cane until the assailant backed off.

In the ordinary instant, both Dawn and Gus were able to connect their observations with immediate and decisive action. I admire people who show those qualities, and hope that if I'm faced with an analogous incident, I would also act positively. And I appreciate the news outlets focusing on the pro-active actions we could all learn to do.