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Five in a Five Part Series by Sandra McDonald

Boys, this is a really rough time for you, hey? For a minute there, it looked like one power-hungry victimizer might act as a lightning rod of all of mankind, allowing other attackers to skulk off into the shadows unnoticed. But the word is out: assault happens.

You might be feeling a bit demonized? A little freaked out? What if someone accuses you of a #MeToo offense? What if you’re guilty? What if you’re not guilty?

And how are you managing the chilling memories of your own trauma? Are you ok?

Some of you need to be called out. You know who you are (and you’re definitely not reading this blog).

Some of you will be wrongly accused (maybe you already have been?). That will unjustly upend your world.

Some of you are the long-silent sufferers of wounds so deep and frightening and life-shaping. You didn’t ask to have your own memories yanked out from there hidey-holes, but two little words, a hashtag, and a media explosion, and now you’re face to face with your own ghosts and monsters.

You certainly don’t deserve to be hated, blamed, or shamed for just being male, but it’s a little tense out there right now. Our current culture is so tough on you: you’re either Homer-Simpson-sluggish or Trump-Weinstein-lecherous. You are the buffoon, the emotionally bereft slug, the power-mongering tyrant, the hammer-wielding superhero. Gone are the days of being just a regular, God-fearin’, hard-workin’, nice guy.

Would you consider re-writing that narrative? Your story is important.

Right now. In this conversation. You might have your own #MeToo chapters in your story?

How can we, as a culture, make space for men to be men to be men. What does that even mean today? I have three sons that, I have to tell you, I’m scared to death for. Did I do enough to teach them the value of their gender identity – in all of its masculine, feminine, and something-wholly-other goodness? Did I teach them the value of all humanity? The need to respect, validate, and truly hear the stories of their Others? Will they be at ease in their own bodies, with their own thoughts, and in engaging wisely and generously with the world – as men? Will they manage their need to be respected and powerful in the world, and will they do this without attempting to master another person along the way?

Your story. As brother-father-son-victim-abuser. We need to hear it just as badly as you need to give voice to it. There are people who will listen, without judgment to the scariest bits of your history. And if those bits include hurting others, don’t make a shiny apology, using words to gloss over bad behavior in an effort to distance yourself from hard truths. But don’t take on responsibility where it’s not yours to bear, either.

Contribute. Learn. Listen. Validate. Believe. Tell the truth of your experience. Know your own hungers. Own your hungers, and learn to manage them in ways that do not bring harm to any other person. You are not a monster. You are a man. #MeToo can be made a thing of the past with your work to that end.

Four in a Five Part Series by Sandra McDonald

#MeToo is an exposure of men behaving badly – and at great cost to the security, well-being, and identity of women. It is a match-flare flash of light into the dark corners of long-kept secrets. A sudden, alarming glimpse of the danger faced by most (all?) women at some point in their lives.

It is right that long-silent victims have an opportunity to bring their own violation out into the light (where it will lose so much of its shaming power). Your experience has made you stronger, more courageous, more fearful, more resolute, more timid. You’ve been marked by it in one way, or another.

Do find a safe and loving space to share your story. We might argue that social media isn’t the most secure place for that vulnerability. But your dear friends, a trusted advisor, a mentor, a space like BFF – it is important for your healing, and the healing of your world, that you tell your story.

#MeToo and #ItStopsNow are also a  testimony to the wrenching truth that women have just not been there for each other.

I well know what it is to be the one powerless woman in a room full of powerful men. I know how they use their bodies, their language, and their money to keep an intelligent, resourceful, get ‘er done gal in “her place.”

And I know what it is to be one of many women in a room, looking hopefully from one face to the next, thinking “Surely these women will stand with me for what they know must be done here?” only to see, immediately, that their heads are bowed and their lips are silent.

“Maybe if you weren’t quite so opinionated they would agree to make changes/adjust policy/implement procedure.”

“If you just talk more like a man they’ll be more willing to listen to you…”

“Oh, you just misunderstood his intentions.”

“It sure wouldn’t hurt if you just showed a little ankle…”

I was part of a community of women that knew exactly which ones were being hit by their spouses. It was an open secret, amongst the women, that Sally’s husband had gotten “a little carried away” with Sue…but it was all just a misunderstanding.

Your story can help change how men interact with women. More importantly (?) it may help change how women interact with one another.

But not if we leave it as a hashtag one-liner out in the Twittersphere. What is our part, girls? In our homes, our relationships, our places of employment, and the way we spend our dollars? We don’t need more blog posts, news feed buzz, or clever kitty-cat headbands. We do need to put action and choice and instruction (with some maturity and cool-headed sass) to the dogged work of adjusting the mindset of a culture. A global culture.

Three in a Five Part Series by Sandra McDonald

Have you found yourself tangling with unexpected memories of your own sexual history these past few months? Yeah, me too. In fact, #MeToo has compelled my own experience with unwanted touch and talk burbling right on up to the surface. I didn’t invite these thoughts. But here I am: thinking about my 47 years through the misty lens of long-quashed memories.

In “Your Story” I noted (in over-simplified terms, for sure!) that we communicate in the pattern of our own generation. I’m somewhere in the middle of, “Shhhhh. Nice girls don’t talk about such things!” (Words sternly spoken by the matriarch of my family. We also sit legs graciously crossed. We do not pick our noses in church. And we never, ever cry.), and “Don’t use those words – that’s my trigger!” I’m learning sensitivity to, and pushing against, this position just a bit…but that’s a different story, Resilient Friends. You’re stronger than you know!

This means that I share easily about some things, but there are many things that I, for the sake of propriety and the protection of the bullies in my life (What a strange propensity we have for this, right? A jumble of terror and politeness.) feel more comfortable remaining mum about.

I am not a beautiful woman. No, don’t protest that. Not even out of politeness. I’m not being self-deprecating or hateful. I am not pretty. I am prone to chubby with small eyes, thin lips, and a too-stubby chin. I’ve got a set of great birthin’ hips (read: broad and well-padded). My wobbly bits have always been strangely wobbly and I have never turned the head of a boy with the flip of my hair.

And I am a victim of sexual shaming and inappropriate touch. How I missed being more violently assaulted I cannot tell because there were some near misses.

“You fat cow!”

“You have hands like a man – look how big they are!” (One of the church elders made it a weekly point to meet me by the coat racks, my back pressed against dangling jackets and stacks of Bibles, to comment on some aspect of my physical appearance. Eyebrows too furry, waist too narrow, dress too short/too long/too lacey/too plain. And big ol’ man-hands.)

“You eat enough to be a farm boy!” (For Gramma, whom I revered, love and loathing were baked, equal parts into cookies, and squares, and ooey-gooey cinnamon buns.)

“You’re filling that top out really well right now.” (This by a man, lolling, legs-spread-wide in his church pew, as he leered at my milk-engorged breasts after the birth of my first son.)

“Come here. Sit on my lap. I want to show you how much God loves you.”

My stomach turns to jelly as this memory lurches to mind. He was a man 30 years my senior. A professional counselor working from a Christian retreat centre. I was 17 years old and feeling lost. My upbringing was staunchly patriarchal (that is, man is the head and woman is the submissive, weaker second), and subjugated (men lead, women serve). It did not, for even a second, occur to me not to obey.

And these are just a few of the encounters with men. It is the stories of women, one after another, from as early as I can remember, putting me in my place with shaming, hate-filled, “If only you were born a boy” intent that has heart-scars twinging with confusion and self-deprecation just when I least expect it.

My story is riddled through with religion, sex, morals, ethnic background, and shame, shame, shame.

But it doesn’t stop there. I am the mother of three sons. I am a neighbor, a friend, a wife, a relative. I am a listener and a story keeper. Countless women and men have shared their stories of one-off assaults and chronic abuse at my kitchen table. Of rape, incest, verbal assault, and unwanted solicitation. And I’m asking myself, “How have I contributed to the continuation of shaming-into-silence?” To listen to your story with full-hearted compassion and the willingness to look for resources is one thing. But is there more for me to do to ensure that cycles of abuse cease? How do I more capably advocate for healing for victimizers? How can I hone my language to ensure this conversation is being given space (carefully, gently, boldly) and then sacredly held? Did I (and here my heart stutters and my lungs fail with sick fear) do enough to teach my sons the honor due all of humanity? All races, genders, religions?

My story goes well beyond creepy men and handsy boys into a life where it is (desperately) important that I make space for women and men like you to bring some of the hard stuff out into the light of day. By getting what’s on the inside out, in a space that is wise and patient and free of judgment, we can heal hearts and quiet minds.

You, too. BFF can help.

First of a Five Part Series by Sandra McDonald

#MeToo is not a new movement, but it is new to Hollywood, and that means that, for this brief moment, it has grabbed the spotlight, our imaginations, and talk show conversation. The other night I watched an interview between a comedian and a famous actor. The former boldly challenged the latter to account for accusations of inappropriate touch. The latter, panic-eyed and breathy, choked out scripted lines (carefully shaped to reassure that he meant no harm, he doesn’t remember, he’s appalled that anyone could ever think…), decrying the shocking extent of sexual victimization in his industry.

But you, BFF reader, are not surprised by the reach of sexual assault, rape, or inappropriate touch and language. You already know that it can happen to anyone. Anywhere. And it happens at the hands of the powerful, the rich, the frightened, the poor. It is perpetrated by those who know better and who glory in the control they wield. It is perpetrated by those who were victims first, and who, truly, may not know any other way to be. It continues in closets and corners and offices and public spaces. It’s happened to you, and to the people you adore.

Maybe you’ve even contributed to this not-so-secret secret shame? Courage, friend. We all have. If only by our silence, the turning of an avoidant gaze, you and I share in this part of the human condition.

Organizations like BFF have had boots on the ground on these issues for years. They’re doing the good work of making space for conversation, helping us to find the language to shape and understand our own stories, and moving us forward in finding wholeness.

You have a role in this conversation, and in changing our world. If you are a man or a woman who has wounded another, it’s time to make things right. BFF can help with that. If you are a woman or man who has been wounded, will you give yourself permission to consider moving toward healing? There is space here for you, for your story, and for the restoration of your heart, mind, and body.

If you are the loving Other of one of the above, you are not powerless. Be the loving, attentive, and aware listener that your Hurting Person needs. Your part of hearing and helping is no small thing. Feeling inadequate and overwhelmed? That’s ok. This is really big stuff! But you can give to a work that is equipped to provide professional care. You can make it possible for the people who are courageously walking alongside the hurting to keep doing what they’re doing.

It’s ok if you and I are not comfortable putting ourselves out there on the front lines. It’s not ok for you and I to pretend that the people we love, and who love us, have not been marked by this.

Whatever our engagement in this (temporarily?) public conversation, let’s move things forward together. Then, when humanity revisits this conversation in the decades to come, it will have been propelled forward by good work done in our time.

In the age of #metoo, people seem to be left with more questions than answers, and among the most popular question I hear lately is “what is consent”?

Believe it or not, there is a lot of debate around consent lately, especially with the media circus highlighting the revolving door of accusations surrounding people in the public eye. But fear not, consent is actually very simple and I am going to (hopefully) make it even more clear and dispell some of the myths surrounding consent.

First thing’s first, and this is of utmost importance — consent is not about saying “no”, it is about saying “yes”. This is not up for debate. If someone doesn’t tell you to stop, it does not mean you are invited to keep going. Carrying out a sexual act without consent is what is called sexual assault.

According to the Criminal Code of Canada, sexual assault is any sexual activity without consent, regardless of whether there are physical injuries or a weapon used. [Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse (CCASA)]

A common myth surrounding the #metoo movement is the claim that victims may be lying about being sexually assaulted. Here is the truth about that one — only two to eight per cent of rapes are falsely reported, the same percentage as for other felonies. [1]

Even if you have a relationship with someone, consent is still required. Sexual assault is not about “stranger danger”, 86 per cent of sexual assault victims know their perpetrator. Also, a person under the influence of drugs or alcohol cannot consent to sex. Further to that, committing sexual assault while under the influence of drugs or alcohol does not excuse the crime.

If a person’s decision-making abilities are impaired by drugs or alcohol, they are not able to consent to sexual activities. Being under the influence of drugs or alcohol is not an excuse to commit a crime; a person is still responsible for their actions no matter how inebriated they are. [Calgary Sexual Health]

Consent is all about communication and that communication needs to happen every time. Giving consent to kiss is not giving permission to have sex. Having sex with someone is not giving permission to have sex every time. Another thing to note is that you can change your mind about consent at any time.

For more resources on consent and sexual assault, check out these resources:

[1] Rape Victim Advocates 

This day started out like many of my other days in university except that it was the day before I was leaving to go home for Christmas break.

I had a class or two to attend in the morning and then I was going on my first date. Well, we really weren’t going anywhere. We were just going to watch a movie and hang out in my dorm room while I packed to go home. Nothing special but I was excited and so nervous. I didn’t date ever in high school so this was my first.

Everything was going great. We were talking, watching a movie and getting to know each other all while I was packing.  I am really unsure of when things took a turn for the worse but they did.

I still remember how he felt on top of me. I remember not being able to scream or yell as I sat there looking at my unlocked dorm room door. Once in the past someone had just walked into my room and I was hoping at that moment it would happen again. I can picture how he looked. There are certain aspects I remember about him including blonde hair and both of his nipples were pierced. I cannot for the life of me remember what his name was.

It was painful.  After all, this was not the way I planned on losing my virginity. I am not sure how long it lasted but it felt like years. He just got up off of me and walked out the door.

I slowly got up and gathered up my clothing.  I walked to the showers and washed up while I bawled my eyes out. I went back to my room, took off the bed sheets, packed the rest of my things and headed off to my parent’s house, about a four hour car drive.

Everything else was a blur. I just remember I felt differently. I wasn’t sure how to act and I felt like everyone would see it on me – what had happened. After a few days, my parents knew that something was wrong.  I remember my dad asking me if I had had sex and I lied and told him yes. I didn’t want him to know what had really happened. I will never forget his response. His words were, “Promise me you will never have sex again.” I guess being a father and only having girls will make you want to believe that they will be virgins for a very long time.

I went further and further into a deep hole as the days went on. I didn’t know how to handle anything. I shut myself into my bedroom. I became antisocial, depressed, lonely and lost. I had no idea what way was up or down or even how to handle myself. I had completely lost who I was and was becoming this person that no one recognized. I still kept it to myself.

The only way I knew how to handle myself was to find the comfort in other men. It wasn’t until I met my husband that I knew my life had to change. I wasn’t sure how to do it or where to even begin but I knew it needed to be done.

I remember bawling while being intimate with my husband (boyfriend at the time). We would have to stop and he would comfort me and tell me everything was okay. I felt alone, like no one knew what I was going through. He was the only person that truly knew what had happened to me.

It took me another nine years to truly begin to heal. I kept it locked inside believing that it was my fault. That I was somehow to blame for what had happened to me. I was ashamed to tell anyone including family and friends for the fear of judgement that I thought they would have of me.

It was in the fall of 2014, when we made a huge move and started over. Life felt different. It was a new beginning for us which meant a new beginning for me. I decided to take back my life. I now had two children (aged six and three) and they needed me to be 100 per cent me again. They needed me to teach them how to love themselves and that was impossible when I didn’t love myself.

I started my blog, BeYOUtiful Rewritten, to show the world my transformation.  To start truly believing that what happened to me wasn’t my fault and that there was no shame in it.  I decided to finally announce that I was raped. Show the world that what happened to me didn’t define me. It was an incident that happened in my past but I was overcoming it and becoming a stronger person day-by-day.

I don’t want any other woman to suffer for 11 years before they realize that it wasn’t their fault!

I want you to know that you are not alone. This does not define who you are.  In no way what happened to you is your fault. You are beautiful, courageous, loved and most importantly, stronger than you realize.

— Guest post submitted by Samantha Laycock (follow on Twitter)

Would you like to share your trauma healing story on our blog? Please submit it to us online

Sexual assault in the workplace is a serious issue, an issue that has garnered a lot of extra attention as of late, with many big companies facing allegations and investigations right now. The media has been all over big brands in the last couple of months, for the stories of sexual assault happening among their employees or in the workplace.

In any case of sexual assault, it’s important to remember that there’s nothing rare about it, it’s how companies react to these allegations that can brand them as leaders or part of the problem.

FACT: sexual assaults are extremely common, 460,000 sexual assaults happen every year in Canada. Of that number, 33 out of every 1,000 sexual assault cases are reported to the police. Perhaps more importantly, only 2-4% of reported sexual assaults are determined to be false reports.

In understanding the statistics, companies should realize that in the majority of cases, these are very legitimate claims and need to be taken very seriously. However, some companies jump into PR mode when a sexual assault claim arises, and go on the defensive instead of putting their energy where it can be most effective—in care and compassion for the victim.

Brands are worried about losing credibility, but in going on the defensive, they end up hurting their business even more, and the victim too. A perfect example of this misstep, is what happened to Uber this past month. After a huge BuzzFeed investigative story was posted, it was unveiled that 6,000 complaints involving sexual assault were filed against Uber. Instead of going the compassion route, Uber posted a very defensive open letter on Medium, which proved only to cause more scrutiny towards the company, and re-traumatized the immense number of victims.

“Our analysis for all of these results shows five tickets that allege an actual rape occurred (0.0000009% of rides in the three years from December 2012 to August 2015) and 170 tickets with a legitimate claim of sexual assault (1 in every 3.3 million trips).” [Uber on Medium]

Needless to say, the response to the public concern over the high number of complaints, led to some serious scrutiny by many.

So Uber apparently thinks it’s okay to defend itself by announcing that only 1 in every 3.3 million passengers is sexually assaulted? Even if that number was 1 in every 3 billion, it would be one too many. Uber has an obligation as a company to ensure the safety of its passengers and to use figures like this as a form of defense is an insult to everyone who has ever reported such an incident. [The Next Web]

So how should a company react when a sexual assault claim is brought against their business or an employee?

  • Assure the person bringing forth the complaint that the matter is being seriously looked into. Walk them through the process and what will happen next, and be sure to offer support both on a professional level and through required HR resources or third-party resources (therapy, crisis lines, etc.).
  • Consult with your HR department and upper management on how to proceed with the situation internally and externally. Be sure to inform staff of the process occurring and provide the necessary support, as trauma can have a ripple effect within a workplace. The Government of Canada has some great resources on responding to trauma in the workplace, we also have additional resources on this on our website here.
  • In many cases, an external communication plan will be needed. If you don’t have the resources in-house, consult with both an HR and PR representative on how to address the situation publicly and with compassion and information.

If your company does not offer insurance-covered therapy with a certified trauma specialist, please check out our Therapy Grant Program for any employees dealing with the trauma associated with sexual assault. You can follow us on Twitter for more resources.

— Written by Amber Craig [Twitter]