Spirit Mountain Community Fund

Last month SARC was honored to be awarded a significant grant from the Spirit Mountain Community Fund, which is the philanthropic arm of the Confederated Tribes of Grande Ronde that operates Spirit Mountain Casino. The grant was to support our Prevention and Education Program led by our program manager, Jenna Harper. Jenna attended their ‘2nd Quarterly Check Presentation’ ceremony to be presented with a check. That’s right folks, this Community Fund awards grants every quarter and has a ceremony and presentation event for all their grantees. Since 1997, over 2,500 grants have been awarded which amounts to almost $78 Million.

The Spirit Mountain Community Fund’s focus is to improve the quality of life in Northwest Oregon through community investments that provide lasting benefits consistent with the Tribe’s culture and values.

We were blessed with a ceremony with their staff and trustees present and many of the other grantees in attendance for the award ceremony. Jenna even won a raffle prize of a handmade necklace! On that day the Community Fund awarded almost $800,000 to more than 30 non-profits in our area. Amazing!

This funding supports our Prevention Program so we can continue to teach our youth about healthy relationships and sexuality to combat sexual violence. The program is gaining momentum and we hope to keep growing it to reach as many more youth as possible.

If you know someone or encounter Confederated Tribes of Grande Ronde members, or anyone from Spirit Mountain Casino, please thank them for all the giving they’re doing that is making a direct impact to our communities.

 

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We thank the Community Fund staff, the Board of Trustees, and the Tribal Council, with love and gratitude.

Self-Care: Exploring the Mind-Body Connection

When you feel at a loss of control over the circumstances in your life, it is common to be filled with self-doubt, anxiety, guilt, and a plethora of other draining emotions that hurt in more ways than one. Whether we are aware of it, pain takes on both mental and physical side effects. Muscle tightness, headaches, weight fluctuation, high blood pressure, and insomnia are just some side effects of persistent negative emotions–and since everybody is different, the symptoms may vary from person to person.

What is also true is that within all of us is the power to take control of how we cope with the circumstances life throws our way. And though we may always face hardship, the way in which we process it can help bring us closer to the health and happiness we all deserve.

What is mind-body medicine? Mind-body medicine is the practice of healing ourselves in both a mental and physical way based on the idea that every mental component has a physical component, and vice versa. And so, we can often address one by giving care and attention to the other!

Here are some suggestions of how to put mind-body healing into practice.


Breathing and Meditation

Have you ever thought about your breath? We all do it all day, every day, but rarely acknowledge the value of it. When we become aware of our breath, we become present in the moment, which benefits our whole self. Diaphragmatic breathing is a relaxation technique which is just breathing deeply from our lower bellies. While practicing diaphragmatic breathing, you can add visuals which help the mind and body to communicate and will help you reach a meditative state.

“Draw a Square”

Close your eyes, and begin to take a deep breath while counting to five in your head. While counting, imagine the first line of a square being drawn. Then hold your breath for two seconds at the end of the inhale. On the exhale, draw the second line. Continue this pattern until your square is complete.

Prefer visual aids? Here’s a video.

“Internal Body Images”

If you have an injury or are feeling pain in a certain place in your body, try closing your eyes and imagine that there is a warm light or warm colored light around the place in your body that is causing you pain. On your inhale, the light/color expands. On your exhale, it shrinks back. Imagine this light is healing. Imagine with each exhale that the pain is being washed away.

For more information on different types of meditation including, movement meditation, mantra meditation, and mindfulness meditation go here.


Journal Writing

This is an outlet known to be transpersonal psychology . That just means that the active awareness we have while journaling can lead to therapeutic self-discovery. By jotting down thoughts, whether they are random or focused, on a specific event or general feeling, we can gain insight and clarity. This can help us clear away overwhelming thoughts that run through our heads everyday and cause stress.

Journaling initiates communication between your mind and soul, providing feelings of catharsis which help us to express our emotions. Because of the calm feelings that accompany journal writing, our body responds positively.

Do you have a hard time getting started journaling? Here are some tips:

  1. Get a notebook that you will just use for journaling, and something to write with
  2. Find a quiet or calming environment
  3. Center yourself — try some breathing exercises from above
  4. Label your journal entries so you can refer to them later
  5. Don’t judge or censor yourself
  6. If structure helps you, try to write for five minutes a day, or build up how long you are writing for bit by bit

Art Therapy

Art therapy enables us to describe our feelings and thoughts in ways that words cannot. When we step back and allow ourselves to express, we may discover things about ourselves we may not have been able to access otherwise.

Here are some ideas that can help you to try out art therapy:

  1. Get some crayons, colored pencils, or pastels
  2. Never say you can’t draw! Art therapy isn’t about being an artist. It’s about expressing yourself
  3. Draw a picture of yourself
  4. Draw a picture of an area of yourself you feel needs attention; part of body, or feeling
  5. Draw an image of peace, a peaceful place, a place you would like to return to, or a place you’d like to go
  6. Draw how you feel in the moment
  7. Draw an image from a dream

Want to try a guided Art Therapy exercise?


Exercise and Nutrition

When we keep our bodies and minds healthy through exercise and nutrition, we lower stress levels, blood pressure, and we fight off possible long term effects of stress and trauma, like diabetes and heart disease. When we exercise, we benefit from the release of positive endorphins like dopamine and serotonin, also known as the happiness hormones. With summer coming, be sure to get outside. Walking, hiking, biking, and swimming are all wonderful activities which promote mind-body healing. Nutrition plays a large part in this as well! Be mindful of what you eat and keep in touch with the foods that make you feel good and give you energy vs. the foods that tire you out and lead to aches and irritability. What goes into your body is your fuel for living! Choose to live well

Chair yoga for people with injuries and disabilities.

TED-Ed video on food for mental health.


I hope you feel inspired by some of the ways you can promote healthy mind-body connection in your life. Not all of these suggestions will work for everyone. I encourage you to discover new and different approaches to see what fits best for your personality, body, and mind.

Disclaimer: This blog is does not provide medical advice. The suggestions above are based on research and the works of other people.

Additional Resources:

Seaward, Brian Luke. Managing Stress: Principles and Strategies for Health and Well-Being. Jones and Bartlett, 2014.

https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2008/03/sobering-look-at-mind-body-connection/

How Misconceptions About False Reporting Hurt Sexual Assault Survivors

Content warning: This blog includes descriptions of sexual assault reports.

Sexual assault cases are extremely difficult to investigate and prosecute in our existing criminal justice system. Reporting a sexual assault takes incredible courage and resilience. Despite this, sexual assault survivors are often the only victims of crimes who are treated as suspects. People who report sexual violence can face professional and personal repercussions, re-traumatization, disbelief, rejection, financial burdens, and physical, emotional, and mental discomfort. Lack of training in law enforcement often leads to misconceptions about crimes involving sexual assault and trauma, often leading to doubts about survivors’ stories. Many people both within and outside criminal justice fields assume that false reports are a regular occurrence.

We’ll attempt to break down those incorrect assumptions by discussing research around false reporting, and using SARC’s 40+ years of experience working with sexual assault survivors.

How many reports are false?

Multiple studies show that false reporting is very uncommon, and some demonstrate it may be even less common than older research suggests. The following information is compiled in an article by Kim Lonsway (2010). The Home Office in the United Kingdom found that only 4% of sexual assaults reported to law enforcement are suspected or found to be false. Research conducted in the United States and Europe show similar rates, between 2% and 6%. Recent U.S. studies by Dr. David Lisak support a false reporting rate of 2%, similar to findings by the Uniform Crime Report (UCR) done by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Even still, numbers from research cannot be taken at face value, as some studies use vague definitions for what constitutes a “false report.” The FBI’s UCR report has historically been one of the most common cited reference points for false reporting data in the United States, despite the flaws in the way it counts false reports.

“Unfounded,” “baseless,” “false” – What’s the difference?

The data in the UCR was provided by law enforcement agencies across the country. The report marks cases as ‘cleared’ in three ways: by arrest, by exception, and as unfounded. “Unfounded” sexual assault cases are not always the same as false reports. An “unfounded” case can be one of two things: a false report, or a baseless report. A “baseless” report is presumed truthful, but does not have all of the factors to charge as a crime. A “false” report is one that should be proved to be untrue through concrete evidence, not simply because of doubt, suspicion, or uncertainty from law enforcement or anyone else.

Baseless reports can indicate that investigators determined there was not enough evidence to pursue an investigation. For example, lack of forensic evidence, or difficulty concretely proving that an act was non-consensual. A baseless report can also indicate that the reported act of sexual violence did not meet the criteria for a criminal charge, such as having an element of “force.”

Why is this frustrating? In our experience working with survivors, most sexual assaults do not leave physical injuries, as coercion and manipulation are some of the most common tactics that offenders use, in lieu of overt force. Offenders often claim that the assault was a consensual sexual encounter, a claim difficult to disprove without concrete evidence. These characteristics of sexual violence, and many others, help explain how cases might be marked as unfounded without being false.

How does this complicate false reporting data? The UCR counts all reports marks as “unfounded” as false, whether they are baseless (meaning the assault likely still occurred) or actually proven to be untrue. This suggests that even the low false reporting numbers the UCR reports may be partially inflated.

What Makes a Report “Suspicious”?

What causes a professional, friend, or family member to doubt someone’s experience of sexual assault? Research laid out in the Lonsway article indicates that the most common characteristics that lead to people to think a report is false are delayed reporting, alcohol or drug use during the event, inconsistencies or omissions in statements, and/or if the survivor did not physically resist “enough.” In actuality, most sexual assault cases include one or more of these factors. In short, the reports that draw the most scrutiny are often the reports that are most likely to be true.

Let’s break down these elements of suspicion. Few survivors report right away. Just some of the reasons for this that we have heard from survivors include feelings of guilt, anxiety, fear, or shock, among others. Reporting is not always safe or accessible to everyone. Inconsistencies in survivors’ statements are common indicators of trauma, and the brain’s struggle to encode and recall memories of traumatic events. Additionally, survivors may initially omit pieces of their story if they fear they may face shame, victim-blaming, or other consequences. It is not uncommon, for example, that a teen may not want to be punished for drinking under age, or an adult may not want to get in trouble for use of illicit substances. Finally, the majority of survivors report some level of “freezing” or tonic immobility during their assault, meaning that their body froze in order to survive and cope with what was happening. Freezing is a very common instinctual response, and often leads to shame and doubt from investigators and others who question why survivors did not “fight back.”

In reality, persons filing false reports are actually less likely to admit to potentially illegal, embarrassing, or questionable behavior, such as drug or alcohol use. False reports are more likely to sound like a “stereotypical rape” — usually involving a stranger, with a weapon, outside, where the survivor fought back, sustained injuries, and reported immediately. Additionally, more often than not false reports did not name a suspect, debunking the assumption that reports frequently made out of malice in an attempt to malign the offender. False reporting may address a need the individual is lacking elsewhere, such as emotional support systems, feeling cared for, access to mental health resources, and much more.

Why Is It Important to Believe Survivors?

Obviously, there are many reasons to believe and trust survivors. Research on sexual assault perpetrators shows that the majority of perpetrators are serial offenders, or someone who has committed more than one act of sexual assault. The less accountable our institutions hold offenders, the more opportunities they afford offenders to cause harm to others.

Beyond this, is the harm that invalidation and blame can cause people who survive sexual trauma. Treating survivors with suspicion serves only to re-victimize them. Persons that come forward seeking help following a sexual assault should be given assistance and support, not mistrust and skepticism. When survivors are met with support and validation, it can lessen the burden of their trauma and improve their ability to move forward and begin to heal.

Some initiatives, like Start By Believing, aim to educate people on the impact of believing survivors from the very beginning. To address these issues in our community, SARC currently offers a half day and full day of training to law enforcement agencies in Washington County. Our goal is that through ongoing training and feedback, the institutions in our community can make reporting a more accessible and safe option for survivors who choose to do so.

If you are interested in offering training for your workplace or school, please contact us at sarc[at]sarcoregon.org or 503-626-9100.

 

Check out the resources below that Frankie, our intern, used to write this blog, and ask your local law enforcement agencies if they have received training on sexual assault response.

Overview on false reporting from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center: https://www.nsvrc.org/sites/default/files/Publications_NSVRC_Overview_False-Reporting.pdf

More information on the difference between unfounded and baseless reports from End Violence Against Women International:

https://www.evawintl.org/Library/DocumentLibraryHandler.ashx?id=56

News Article from the United Kingdom on the realities of false reporting:

http://theconversation.com/heres-the-truth-about-false-accusations-of-sexual-violence-88049

More information on false reporting in Europe:

http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1077801210387748?url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_id=ori:rid:crossref.org&rfr_dat=cr_pub%3dpubmed

Most information for this article are drawn from this excellent piece by Kim Lonsway:

Lonsway, K. (2010). Trying to Move the Elephant in the Living Room: Responding to the Challenge of False Rape Reports. Symposium on False Allegations of Rape, 1356-1371. Retrieved May 15, 2018.http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1077801210387750

Image by startbelieving.org.

Media Review: Anatomy of Doubt

In 2016, before Tarana Burke’s Me Too movement gained national attention, popular podcast,  This American Life aired “Anatomy of Doubt.” In part of that podcast, they compared the experiences of two survivors of sexual assault. The first woman, Marie, was not believed by the people closest to her, law enforcement, and those in her community. The second woman, assaulted by the same offender in a different place, had a drastically different experience.

Three SARC volunteers, Jasmine, Anders, and Jessie, were interested in listening to the podcast, and answering some questions around its enduring significance. You can listen to the podcast here or read it here, and answer these same questions for yourself.

This podcast is from 2016 — how is it still relevant, or more relevant, today with the Me Too movement?

Jessie: As long as survivors have the courage to speak the truth about sexual violence, podcasts and articles like this will remains relevant and important.

Anders: I would say it is more relevant today, even.

Jasmine: Even though Marie’s experience is pretty different from the high profile cases we are hearing about in the media today (it was a stranger assault, it was reported right away, etc.), the way Marie was treated is how so many survivors associated with the #MeToo movement are also being treated.

The people closest to Marie don’t believe that she was assaulted, largely because they think that her trauma response is not “normal” behavior. They shun her and share their doubts with investigators. Now believing that Marie has lied to them, these investigators are “bullying” and “coercive” towards her, as described by another investigator who specializes in sex crimes. They go so far as to charge her for false reporting. And they stop investigating the assault.

By showing how Marie is mistreated after she publicly talks about the assault, this podcast addresses why many survivors of harassment and assault are hesitant to share their stories.

How did you hear biases or assumptions come up in the podcast? What impact did they have?

Anders: Marie’s friends thought it was weird that she would tell so many people about the assault. They thought it meant that she just wanted attention. Peggy thought Marie was covering up a sexual encounter turned bad.When an officer called Marie to come in, she asked if she was in trouble. He said in his experience, only guilty people/people hiding things ask that question. Just to name a few.

Jasmine: Sergeant Jeffrey Mason and Detective Jerry Rittgarn, the investigators for Marie’s case, incorrectly attribute significance to certain things that Marie says and does. For example, when Marie asks Mason if she is in trouble after he requests to speak with her at the police station, Mason begins to doubt Marie. He later says, “…in the 25 years in law enforcement, my experience has been people that ask that are usually in trouble.” By being overly reliant on his past experience, Mason does not consider Marie’s question in the context of her youth, trauma, and concern about being distrusted.

Jessie: The way we impress our personal biases onto others goes hand in hand with victim blaming. How would this investigation have gone if Peggy had not gone to the police to say she thought Marie was lying? Biases can alienate survivors, and create doubt.  In Marie’s story, doubt snowballed so out of control that it ended up poisoning the police’s perspective on the case. So much that they not only closed the case and ceased investigating a serial rapist, but also charged the victim with false reporting.

Why is it important for survivors to have support systems believe in them, or at least, suspend their disbelief?

Jessie: In order to come forward as a survivor, a lot of strength has to be harnessed. Strength like this can be nourished by loving and supportive people in our lives. Affirmative responses are a basic need.  As humans, we want to feel validated. Feeling blamed and ashamed of an incredibly traumatic event can make someone only feel worse.

Anders: Anytime someone is going through a traumatic experience it is only beneficial to have  friends and family support you. Marie could have had a completely different experience if she had a support system that believed in her.  In the case of Law Enforcement, we read about two officers going from treating Marie as a victim, to treating her as a criminal.

Jasmine: If survivors don’t have supportive friends and relatives, it can be difficult for them to cope with what has happened to them. This podcast also shows how disbelieving friends and relatives can amplify doubt in detectives’ minds and, thereby, compromise the investigation.

We all have the ability to foster safe and supportive environments for survivors to come forward. If you’ve experienced sexual assault and need support, you can always contact SARC’s 24-hour Support Line at 503-640-5311.

 

Image by Jennifer Heuer

Mental Health & Sexual Assault

Mental health and sexual assault are closely intertwined. Many people believe an assault is the main cause of trauma for a survivor. However, the assault itself if often just part of the overall ongoing trauma survivors experience.

Sexual assault is not a just a traumatic event; it is a traumatic experience. Trauma is cumulative. Trauma stems from not just the assault, but the aftermath as well. Social and institutional responses to sexual assault can inform how people who are sexually assaulted approach their path to recovery. Sometimes, survivors have great support systems ready and willing to offer assistance. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

A study conducted by Michigan State University examined the various micro- and macrosystems that affect survivors of sexual assault. Cabral, Campbell, and Dworkin state that, “sexual assault does not occur in social and cultural isolation.” Victim-blaming, slut-shaming, disbelief, and personal attacks all await people in the aftermath of their assaults. The same article also suggests that for some survivors, diagnoses like PTSD can feel limiting, because sexual assault trauma is more nuanced and expansive that a diagnosis alone can encapsulate. Part of the reason why is because rape culture is so expansive, in our media, our justice systems, our social interactions. Rape culture perpetuates a cycle of trauma for survivors of sexual assault, beyond what science alone can explain.

Social and societal responses to sexual assault can be as traumatic as the initial assault. According to the Michigan State study, up to half of survivors “meet diagnostic criteria for depression,” and up to 40% “experience generalized anxiety.” For survivors who don’t have strong support systems or ways to cope with their assault, these issues can be exacerbated. They can be worsened further by problems including, “rape-prone culture, institutionalized racism, cultural differences in responding to rape, and acceptance of rape myths.” Although these problems present a bleak picture of survivors’ experiences, there are ways to positively impact someone’s path of healing.

While the study found that social macrosystems tend to perpetuate rape culture, microsystems do not necessarily do the same. Support and care from people closest to the survivor can have a significant impact on the distress levels of the survivor, such as friends, family, advocates, and more. Sexual assault response centers, mental health services, and trauma-informed hospital staff, including sexual assault nurse examiners (SANEs) can also reduce the level or likelihood of post-assault depression and anxiety.

Taking the blame from survivors is of the utmost importance for these small support systems, because at every step of a survivor’s process there is an opportunity for other people and systems to blame and shame them. To move past pervasive rape culture, we must start by being trauma-informed and less doubtful of survivors. If we do not, we abandon survivors, and leave them to face mental health needs like anxiety and depression, among other needs, by themselves. Surviving a traumatic assault is not a reason to be shunned; it is a reason to be embraced and supported on every level possible.

Campbell, R., Dworkin, E., & Cabral, G. (2009). An Ecological Model of the Impact of Sexual Assault On Women’s Mental Health. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 10(3), 225-246. doi:10.1177/1524838009334456

There’s no easy cure for mental health conditions, but stigma can be cured. Find your cure at CureStigma.org #CureStigma

Photo credit: Eden Baron

How to Keep Advocacy Work Sustainable

Sexual violence takes a toll, on those who experience it and on those who work at agencies like SARC to respond to and prevent it. Read our volunteer, Jessie’s, article about how SARC staff and volunteers keep their work sustainable.

With any job, it is critical to practice healthy habits to ensure the work is tenable. When it comes to trauma-informed care for the advocates at organizations like SARC, sustainability can be difficult. When we talk about trauma-informed care and supporting survivors, we also need to talk about keeping this work viable for staff and volunteers. I reached out to current SARC employees and volunteers, as well as mental health professionals outside the agency who deal with trauma for their thoughts on sustainability and current coping skills.

An emphasis on staying centered and grounded in a stressful role was a recurring theme in people’s responses. Baili, a volunteer with SARC said, “I really rely on yoga to help me stay centered.” She also draws attention to the importance of checking out and silencing her phone at times. Disconnecting from the world can be a useful key to recovery from the stress involved in this work. Her last bit of encouragement is that she says volunteering with SARC has grown her support network and she has made connections to more people since starting here.

Lee Anne Dillon, a case manager who has been with SARC since 1994, lends some useful advice on staying grounded. She says, “Staying grounded is staying present with the client, and listening with the knowledge that I will be able to support them through whatever the story is.” It is so important to recognize that even if we cannot change what has happened, we can support people through their experiences and the sharing of their story. Balance is another key focus when it comes to keeping advocacy work sustainable. Finding a balance between what the client or survivor needs from you, versus what you realistically and practically have to give. Saving some of your resources for yourself is a necessary practice, as no one can pour from an empty cup.

Bri Ellingson, another case manager at SARC, states that her support system has also changed since working for SARC, and that it is important to surround yourself with people who support the work you do. She says, “When you’re fighting systems of oppression everyday, it’s important to have people around you who are also fighting the good fight, in whatever way the choose, or are at least open to the idea.”

This insight shows how crucial it is to hold space with people who recognize and appreciate that this work can be exhausting, and is also imperative. Surrounding yourself with other socially conscious people can help you feel like part of a community and less isolated. Sometimes it is easy to push down feelings of being overwhelmed and to “power through.” Having strong supervisors, and fellow coworkers or volunteers to check in with regularly helps counteract that impulse. SARC’s monthly volunteer meetings and weekly staff meetings provide structured space for that as well. Many people engaged in this work also have their own therapists and counselors they speak to outside of work.

Finally, finding things that fill your heart and soul with positivity and love will take you far. Take an overly indulgent bubble bath. Go on a soothing walk in the hills. Go to a chocolate tasting with a friend. Do some deep breathing for sixty seconds. Find things that help you take life one day at a time.

Photo credit: Eden Baron

Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Being More Than Just “Aware”

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Read below for our volunteer, Jessie’s, take on how to be more than just aware!

 

“For those working on a cause they care about, the first instinct is often to make sure that as many people as possible are aware of the problem. When we care about an issue or a cause, it’s natural to want others to care as much as we do.”  -Stop Raising Awareness Already, Christiano & Neimand

 

People may confuse being knowledgeable about a health issue, like the ongoing epidemic of sexual violence, with taking action to address it. While awareness is a great first step, there should be a couple steps after it as well.

Sexual Assault Awareness Month should go hand-in-hand with a call to action. Part of our response to sexual assault should be finding ways to help. Awareness has the potential to break ground for productivity, teamwork, and more, but it does not do any of the heavy-lifting itself.

Let’s break down some language. Self-awareness is when you understand how your behavior affects and impacts other people. Self-regulation is making small or large adjustments to your behavior to change or alter the situation as a whole.

For example, self-awareness might look like someone acknowledging that slut-shaming women contributes to rape culture. The next step towards self-regulation could be that person actively interrupting slut-shaming when they hear it in their friend groups, or stopping themselves when they are tempted to slut-shame other people.

 

New rules for awareness? Learn, teach, and react.

 

Research has found that when people are simply given information, they are unlikely to change their beliefs or behavior. As a community, we must think actively about how to transition from awareness to regulation and change. One of the simplest things we can do to move forward from just awareness, is to educate. It is not enough to recognize that sexual assault happens far too frequently in our communities. By educating others and ourselves on topics like consent, privilege, rape culture, oppression, and bias, we can help our community understand what the root causes of sexual violence are, and take steps towards prevention.

As an organization built from advocates, SARC is seeking to inspire change in the public eye and community to move past just raising awareness.

Sexual assault is a terrible violation that affects many more people than just survivors. The entire system, our schools, our government, our entertainment, and more, is impacted by sexual violence. By making small changes in our personal lives and ourselves, we can change the way our culture responds to sexual assault moving forward.

Cooking Self Care Spotlight

Self-care looks different for everybody. Read our volunteer, Frankie’s, blog about cooking as self-care below!

Food is the universal language of love. Many people love to cook, and all people love to eat. Some are passionate bakers; some prefer to stick to the savory.

My first experience cooking came courtesy of my mother. My father and brother were three hundred miles away for the weekend, and it was just us girls. On weekends like this, we made simple food. Rotisserie chicken from the grocery store, farfalle noodles, and canned pesto sauce. I made the noodles while my mom picked the chicken clean. I wasn’t very sly when I pilfered the small pieces of succulent dark meat as she pulled them from the bones. These nights with my mom are the feeling I try to recreate when I cook. Time was suspended and the meal was always perfect.

I forgot about our special nights for years. When my partner and I moved into our very own house, he insisted on buying a new oven. With this purchase came a promise to myself: I will learn to cook. I didn’t have the talent of a great chef, but I could learn the techniques if I practiced. I would apply myself, hit the (cook) books, and I would be a Michelin star cook on a year.

That didn’t happen. However, now in year three, I can roast a very fine chicken. Along the way, I did surprise myself. I had grown to love cooking. It made me feel the way I did on those nights with my mother. I felt safe and warm, the way I felt curled up with my mom on the huge, blanket-covered couch at home.

Cooking made me feel capable. Never before had I had an urge to photograph and post food to my social media. Never before had I found beauty in vegetables, or observed the delicacy in garlic and sprigs of thyme. I had never felt the tragedy of throwing away sauce I had made with my home grown tomatoes. I am not ashamed to say that I shed a tear that day.

Cooking was always something others did for me. It was not something I aspired to learn one day, until we bought the oven. Now, coming home and preparing a painstaking meal is one of my favorite things. Sautéing onions until they are achingly silky is an empowering experience. Heating the pan, drizzling oil, and the decisive slicing of a knife into a carrot is an exercise in control. When I put all of the ingredients together in the right way, it creates something whole, new, and delicious. Cooking is a way to be completely alone, but still feel close to my family. The experience of making something that both fills my body and nourishes my soul is my way of caring for myself. It really helps that it tastes good, too.

 

Feeling Overwhelmed by the Media?

Read SARC Volunteer Coordinator, Morgan Evans, talk about how to care for ourselves in an age of endless media below!


 

Take a moment to really feel your feelings. Literally. Take a deep breath and ask yourself, “What is the media bringing up for me?” Does reading or participating in these cycles make you anxious? Do you feel overwhelmed, triggered, or angry? Is it empowering to contribute to these newsfeeds or comment strings? Exhausting?

All of these (and many more) are normal reactions to the increase in disclosures of sexual assault we are seeing in the media.

Whether we are survivors ourselves, support people for others, allies, generally ignorant to the topic of sexual violence, or activists for social change- incessant media coverage of sexual violence impacts our mental health and general wellbeing.

We can counter any effects of vicarious trauma by consciously acknowledging our thoughts and bodies and practicing something called self care.

Self care awards us the space and mental energy to react to stress in an intentional way. Self care is a process. It is hard to start doing, it is ongoing, and sometimes one method does not work and we have to try something else! Here are some ways you can start this practice today:

Feel free to take a break

It is easy to put pressure on ourselves and others to research, educate, or act immediately in response to the stories we are seeing lately. During this time, it is important to remember that we are entitled to take a break.

How does it feel to read that third news article, comment on that thread, or watch two hours of media coverage on the same topic? Is it beneficial to my mental health to participate in this hashtag at this time? Some days, the answer is no.

There should be no shame in taking a timeout, unfollowing that page on social media, or telling someone, “Actually, I am really not interested in talking about that right now. Can we talk about something else?” This can look like setting specific time limits on how long you want to spend on these topics. It could be disconnecting all together. And it can change day to day!

It is important to be intentional and do what feels right for us at the time. By doing so, we allow ourselves the space to return to what we care about in an intentional way.

 

Pay attention to our bodies

It is really easy to ignore the things our bodies are telling us or asking from us. Our physical and mental health are fully intertwined. Taking a moment to pay attention to how they interact can have major positive effects on our mood. Some things (like exercise, drinking more water, and consciously breathing) can help to physically flush stress hormones from our bodies quicker.

Self care does not have to be elaborate or expensive. It can be as simple as taking two minutes to consciously breathe. Get up and take a five-minute walk. Eat or drink something you really enjoy, slowly. Spend time physically close to a person or animal you care about. By doing activities that center around physicality and our senses, we can help to ground ourselves back in our body, which can help reset our thoughts.

Find your good

What fills you up? What brings you joy? During times of high stress or immediacy these are some of the first things we tend to neglect. It is especially important to designate mental energy and time to the things that bring happiness and meaning to our lives.

This could be music, art, community, sport, or nature. This could mean creating room on your phone or computer to store pictures you’ve taken during good times or screenshots from conversations with people you care about. Sometimes it is staying in bed all day and binge watching a show you really enjoy. Sometimes it is completely disconnecting from technology and spending time alone outside. You can pay gratitude to the good things that already exist in your life, or set reasonable goals for you to give back to yourself in a meaningful way. Give yourself space to play, joke, laugh, enjoy the things around you. We cannot get rid of the ugly or bad that exists in the world without acknowledging what is good.

 

No matter your personal, political, or professional connection to the topic of sexual violence, it is important to recognize the very real impact there is from hearing and talking about this subject so often. It is important to be kind and compassionate to ourselves and how we react to this news. We cannot feel guilty for prioritizing our own health and wellbeing.

I leave you with these words from Black Lives Matter cofounder Alicia Garza on staying centered in the face of adversity

“My emotional and mental well being depends on my commitment to what I care for most. It depends on being resilient, which is not the same as being perfect. It depends on being durable, which is not the same as infallible. And when I move towards the things I care most about, I am the most free I have ever been. Wounds, cuts, scars and all.”


 

To get in touch with SARC’s services, seek support, or ask questions, contact SARC’s 24-hour Support Line: 503-640-5311.

Responding to #MeToo and More

In a time when our newsfeeds are overflowing with disclosures from sexual assault survivors, articles about the social and political consequences for high profile perpetrators, and endless debates over what accountability should look and sound like, it is natural to feel overwhelmed.

We are swimming, sometimes drowning, in questions. “How do we stop sexual assault?” “How come it has taken this long for people in power to be called out?” “How do I heal?” “What do we do with offenders?” “How do I escape, when it feels like sexual violence is everywhere?” “Who can I trust?”

As an agency, SARC wants to directly address all that is occurring in Hollywood, state and federal politics, and in our own communities. But while this storm of media attention has the potential to be a pivotal moment in changing how our culture views and addresses sexual violence, SARC’s response has remained the same:

If you have experienced sexual violence and are looking for some kind of support, SARC is here for you.

Whether something happened three hours ago or thirty years ago, SARC is here for you.

Whether you know exactly what you want or you have no idea where to begin, SARC is here for you.

For anybody with any gender identity, race, documentation status, sexual orientation, occupation, spirituality, and any other identities that make up a human being, SARC is here for you.

Whether you want to tell us what happened or you want to keep that to yourself, SARC is here for you.

For people struggling with how to support a friend or family member who has experienced sexual violence, SARC is here for you.

To people who may be grappling with the multitudes of denials that have come from these disclosures, and the small number of admissions, we want to recognize how painful and messy it is to hear perpetrators try to lie or apologize their way out of accountability. Hearing offenders admit their wrongdoing can have value and be healing for some people, and SARC respects the power that can give survivors. We would be ignorant to not also recognize critically that it is only under the most extreme social and political pressure that these few public admissions are coming to light – when entire careers, financial investments, and crucial elections are on the line.

The reality of how commonplace acts of sexual violence are is as true today as it was 40 years ago when SARC first started, as it was 400 years ago. The consequences these high profile perpetrators are facing represent a step forward in cultural accountability, but this momentum needs to carry us further. As a culture, we can’t only pay attention to an offender after more than 50, more than 70, more than 100 survivors come forward. We can’t come out against sexual assault but not call out “locker room talk” at our jobs, schools, and in our personal lives.

To those in positions of power, especially white men, who pledge to be more accountable in their personal and professional lives, and who recognize how they have contributed to and enabled sexual violence, we say: thank you, more please. Step up through ongoing actions, beyond words alone. Take the pressure of voicing these issues off of those who experience sexual violence most often, like women, trans women, women of color, LGBTQ people, women in poverty, and more. For too long, the burden of combating sexual violence has fallen to those who have experienced it firsthand. Help us change that.

SARC is, as always, in awe of the resilience and strength of the survivors out there. The people we work with, and the people we don’t. The people who are sharing their stories, and those who are not. Everyday may not be perfect, you may not always feel the magnitude of your strength, and you may not always feel okay. Through all of that, you are not alone. Everyday, especially the tough days, SARC is here for you.


 

To get in touch with SARC’s services, seek support, or ask questions, contact SARC’s 24-hour Support Line: 503-640-5311.