The Media’s Abusive Relationship with Survivors: Part 2

children_two_rulesI didn’t expect that the “Breaking the Silence” documentary on TLC would evoke the need for a second piece on the topic of the media’s abusive relationship with survivors, but I think that the longer I sit with the reality of what I watched, the harsher the truth becomes.

As an author and advocate for over a decade, on this and other issues related to trauma/recovery, I know exactly what happens when cameras are rolling, disclosure/release contracts are being signed, and the phone is ringing off the hook for “one more interview.”

Judgment is clouded.

That is exactly what I perceive happened to those involved in the documentary that aired on TLC, following the Duggar scandal and tragedy.

I don’t know any of the survivors involved personally and as an advocate for the two organizations featured (Darkness to Light and RAINN), it is hard to sit here and digest the following…

  • An 11-year-old female survivor was turned into a propaganda piece.
  • The Duggar Girls have a superfluous cameo that couldn’t have been more out of place.
  • Key steps in preventing childhood sexual abuse were covered.
  • Adult advocates shared important, brave stories about finding identity beyond their trauma
  • Education on the signs/symptoms and steps to take to get help was outlined…

But right… In a documentary designed to be a CALL TO ACTION to ALL ADULTS on how to PROTECT CHILDREN… An 11-year-old female survivor was turned into a prop.

I have been working with children and youth since shortly out of college, but also even as a young person, I was a camp counselor and actively involved with being a safe place for children/youth – The one thing I have always believed and practiced diligently is that children deserve a space for their childhood experience. Part of my survivor journey makes me what I call a “Mamma Bear” on this topic. Mainly, I seek to ensure that children get what I didn’t have…

Adults who understand and are committed to the healthy boundaries that children need during crucial formative years!

What does an 11-year-old girl know about the effects of disclosing in a media forum?

What does an 11-year-old girl know about how it feels to disclose to potentially millions before she’s barely approaching puberty?

Most importantly, how is her development shaped by having been given a LEADERSHIP role in advocating for her PEERS (other children) before she has even reached the stage of sexuality awareness on her own time frame?

Does she have an identity outside of her sense of being a survivor?

Putting her on screen, disclosing her name, her face, and her story before she is at the PROPER age of development and thus CONSENT, is exploitation.

And yet… RAINN, Darkness to Light, TLC, and the author of some books and a law, all stood behind this dizzying scenario?

The person behind Erin’s Law admitted that she herself, according to the documentary, came into the advocacy scene hard and fast, then stepped back and had to clear up her experience and her story – this is something I can relate to in part because when I first became an advocate in 2004, I realized I wasn’t ready…

But then I stepped back!

I grew up.

I got help.

I lived my life and formed my identity… 

And I didn’t come back into the scene until I was actually ready.

This is the sad reality of what was missing from the documentary – an awareness of long-term effects of exposing CHILDREN to the dizzying experience of a media-related role in advocacy.

I have always believed that children are resilient but even today, when I visited with some of my pre-schoolers, I thought about the 11-year-old who was featured in this documentary last night. As a 3-year-old clung to me during a transition, because she found me to be a comforting and “safe place” for her big feelings, I thought…

All children deserve to have a childhood.

And who more, than an 11-year old survivor who had a PART of hers stolen?

Time will only tell how decisions like this will reflect on child abuse victims, survivors, networks, and lawmakers… some will call the child brave, but let’s be honest here…

When she is ten years removed from this, will she know that she has privacy about her experience, or will she be GROOMED at a young age, to stand with ADULTS in arenas that are NOT DEVELOPMENTALLY appropriate?

Has her path of abuse only continued, now in the hands of advocates of prevention?

I won’t name her here… she will remain in my memory as an 11-year-old girl whose story was misused as a pawn of the media and those involved with this piece. (She deserves anonymity from at least one adult who is thinking of her long-term well-being.)

Now the larger question becomes: Does this lack of judgment on the parts of those involved with the documentary cast a long, dark shadow on the value that the piece offered, when it comes to prevention?

Yes.

Because if we can’t produce a piece about preventing childhood sexual abuse without exploiting a child in the process, we don’t deserve to be speaking about such prevention.

To the brave 11-year-old girl, I am sorry that no one protected her from the FUTURE privacy she deserves on this matter. I wish her many, many years away from the camera and away from books that adults need right now in order to get the messages out…

children_natureI wish her mud puddles, hugs from loving caregivers, friends who know her for her interests, stickers, dolls, cars, coloring books, puzzles, trees to climb, and gardens to grow…

And to the adults…

Slow down and grow-up before you turn on the cameras again. Passing a law, airing a documentary, or writing a book cannot replace our general sense of what is truly right for every child… including those brave enough to trust us to go on camera when we should know better!

Tread lightly out there, survivors. I hope we find the bigger picture and embrace a more careful and mindful approach to our advocacy. We cannot create pawns, martyrs, and heroines and expect a collective shift toward a greater awakening.

To those tempted to boycott RAINN and Darkness to Light, entirely, I urge you to remember that most of their work is done well off camera for all the right reasons. Call them to accountability, but don’t forget that their educational and on-call resources are much needed.

Namaste.

~~

RAY_7318Gail is an author, poet, blogger and activist whose book, Enlightened-ish chronicles her spiritual awakening experience after witnessing a suicide, grieving her father’s unexpected death and leaving a spiritual community. Her first book, “Coming Out of the Closet without Coming Apart at the Seams” was published in 2004. Gail has appeared in FOX DC News,SkyNews and Our America with Lisa Ling as an advocate for ex-gay survivors and young people. Her freelance work has appeared in God Allows U-Turns, Encounter Magazine and Outlook Weekly. “For Gail So Loved the World” is her blog, where she discusses spirituality, politics and social and emotional intelligence from a global perspective. Her spoken word pieces and drumming meditations are available on YouTube and she schedules private speaking engagements where these performances are shared. Gail is the only lesbian known to hold a Bachelor’s Degree from Cincinnati Christian University. Currently, Gail resides in the Washington, DC Area with her wife, where she serves her local community as the Executive Director of a nature-based early learning center.

The Media’s Abusive Relationship with Survivors

Courage_LiveThe following commentary represents my personal opinion, not the opinions of the organizations named in this piece. (Part two of commentary after watching available here.)

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I have to come to my blog with the topic of the TLC “Breaking the Silence” piece which will air tonight. I have to write because I not only am a two-time survivor of crimes against my body and soul during formative years, but because I am an active advocate both for sexual abuse prevention and sex positive education.

I have to say something because I am not deaf to what survivors are saying and I’m not blind to what we are seeing.

The media has an abusive relationship with survivors…

How do I know? Because I am a survivor.

What is depicted by the media is the ignorance of bystanders, such as when reporters genuinely ask questions like, “Why didn’t you tell someone,” or “Why did you wait so long to disclose?” Furthermore, often survivors are recounting the traumatic details in such a voyeuristic manner that I can’t tell if I’m watching an interrogation or an episode of Law and Order SVU.

I’m not saying that the details of our stories don’t matter – they do! In fact, I arranged a training for my pre-school teachers this week, which was one of the modules designed by Darkness to Light, who is partnering with TLC and RAINN in this documentary this evening. The “Stewards of Children” is a well-designed training module where survivor stories are told in detail, along with an important list of steps that educators/families can take in order to prevent this crime against our children and their innocence.

RAINN also, has been advocating for victims of sexual assault since 1994. Many survivors associate their name with a safe place.

But the recent affiliation with TLC has caused many survivors to use words like “boycott” and “disappointment” when it comes to this documentary.

Such anger and readiness to walk away entirely from reputable organizations is a reflection on our fear (reasonably) that what will come out of cable news will just exploit survivors.

I saw it firsthand when I was a part of a cable special on OWN, which highlighted the survivors of conversion therapy and our interaction with one of the most outspoken hypocrites of the movement, Alan Chambers. (My piece with Sky News also exploited my experience.)

Lights, camera, action – our infatuation with these things has created an unsafe environment for survivors who off-camera, are still just trying to figure out how to do the following:

* Disclose to our loved ones.

* Live transparently among our families or coworkers without losing our boundaries.

* Believe in humanity.

* Trust that what happened wasn’t our fault.

* Separate from the negative beliefs about sex, religion, or community, which likely resulted from the abuse.

* Get online and not go numb when yet another article indicates that all anyone really understands is how to re-traumatize us…

So, if the “media” cannot be trusted with our stories, we have two options…

1. We can continue to boycott everything that screws up the WHOLE picture of our recovery and resilience (Not a bad option).

2. AND/OR we can find a way to bring our stories forward and connect with those who are LIVING out their recovery AWAY from cameras, lights, etc in order to fill in the gaps of what is presented in the media.

Look, I’m not sure what to expect of tonight’s “performance.” Surely I will hear things that will remind me of my own experiences. No doubt, I will see brave faces and hear things that embody the truth of my experience.

There will be gaps. It’s only a documentary. It will not be thorough and it will not be perfect. It’s also possible that when the mic is handed to someone whose belief in God surpasses the healing journey and reasonable psychological needs, I will cringe and maybe even feel sick to the stomach.

If someone blames the victim (or themselves) or even, in a sense, blames god, I may not be able to eat until sometime tomorrow…

But I’m making the choice to watch because I feel like RAINN and Darkness to Light wouldn’t produce something that puts their entire reputation at risk…

Am I wrong? Well, we can all turn to the comment section here and find out 😉 I will be live-blogging through the comments and on my Facebook Page throughout the airing.

Spring nature background with grass and blue sky in the back

Spring nature background with grass and blue sky in the back

In the end, what I can celebrate is that we are aware enough to challenge the media and call them to be accountable when it comes to representing our stories.

I support those who boycott, because I understand.

I support those who watch, because I understand that too.

The truth is that our journey of recovery with ourselves, our families and our communities will not be summarized by a show, a law, or any single movement.

We are brave because of what we do every day, off screen.

Remember that today, tonight, tomorrow – your courage matters.

I applaud the courage of survivors who challenge the “media” and ask questions of leaders who form potentially shady alliances. I also applaud the courage of survivors who take the risk of appearing in the media. Having been there, I can tell you that those who let themselves be filmed and recorded carry scars from those experiences that are almost never discussed on camera or off camera. If you boycott, keep the survivors who were involved in your thoughts…

Let’s hope education shines over exploitation. That is a hope worth having, my friends.

Namaste, yo.

~~

RAY_7279Gail is an author, poet, blogger and activist whose new book, Enlightened-ish chronicles her spiritual awakening experience after witnessing a suicide, grieving her father’s unexpected death and leaving a spiritual community. Her first book, “Coming Out of the Closet without Coming Apart at the Seams” was published in 2004. Gail has appeared in FOX DC News,SkyNews and Our America with Lisa Ling as an advocate for ex-gay survivors and young people. Her freelance work has appeared in God Allows U-Turns, Encounter Magazine and Outlook Weekly. “For Gail So Loved the World” is her blog, where she discusses spirituality, politics and social and emotional intelligence from a global perspective. Her spoken word pieces and drumming meditations are available on YouTube and she schedules private speaking engagements where these performances are shared. Gail is the only lesbian known to hold a Bachelor’s Degree from Cincinnati Christian University. Currently, Gail resides in the Washington, DC Area with her wife, where she serves her local community as the Executive Director of a nature-based early learning center.

A Brief Meditation on Gentleness

Gentle_Strength“Too often the timid are taken advantage of because we will not compete with the cruel… somehow it is our commitment to strength in gentility that makes us a target. Nothing bothers those trapped by internal conflict more than the peace others have because it cannot be bestowed OR taken away… When their weapons of jealousy, projection, misrepresentation, self-hate, or greed head in your direction, remember that it is a distraction. Nothing more – nothing less.

The gentle are mostly annoying to the harsh… because even if their words bring us to tears, they call us names, they threaten our integrity, or they push us aside like we do not matter, the gentle do not succumb and the gentle will not be made hard in our hearts.

Soften yourselves and be with peace… then, we will proceed toward justice, as it includes a brand of gentle indignation.”

Aho and Namaste.

~ Turtle Whisperer, 8.17.15 ~

~~

DSC_0354Gail is an author, poet, blogger and activist whose book, Enlightened-ish chronicles her spiritual awakening experience after witnessing a suicide, grieving her father’s unexpected death and leaving a spiritual community. Her first book, “Coming Out of the Closet without Coming Apart at the Seams” was published in 2004. Gail has appeared in FOX DC News, SkyNews and Our America with Lisa Ling as an advocate for ex-gay survivors and young people. Her freelance work has appeared in God Allows U-Turns, Encounter Magazine, Blue Mountain Arts, and Outlook Weekly. “For Gail So Loved the World” is her blog, where she discusses spirituality, politics and social and emotional intelligence from a global perspective. Her spoken word pieces and drumming meditations are available on YouTube and she schedules private speaking engagements where these performances are shared. Gail is the only lesbian known to hold a Bachelor’s Degree from Cincinnati Christian University. Currently, Gail resides in the Washington, DC Area and serves her local community as the Executive Director of a nature-based early learning center.