Again. Mass Shootings and Our Response.

It has happened again. A school shooting that has left a community in agony and a country demanding answers. 17 people murdered and thousands of others whose emotional lives will never be the same.

Once again, the country is asking good, important questions. Once again, there is a crescendo demanding that action happen.

Action needs to happen, but it needs to focus on the real problem.

Mass shootings, though horrific, are no different than any other type of violence. They, along with every rape, robbery, burglary, DUI crash, drug deal, and hate crime are a symptom of a darker problem. Only psychopaths are born to inflict harm, sociopaths are created.

Created – as in their environment and upbringing. Created – as in there IS something you and I can do about this.

Where do we start? The first step is to show up, educated, in your local polling place on election day. It doesn’t feel like much, but in reality it is the crux of how all our laws are created, and in the case of judges, enforced. Voting is the greatest power a citizen can wield to help mold and direct a nation. In 2016, arguably one of the most heated years ever for presidential candidates in the US, only 55.7% of registered voters actually voted.  Compare this number to other industrialized countries like Belgium (87.2%), Sweden (82.6%), and Denmark (80.3%) and we can see we are woefully behind. Every missing vote is a missed opportunity for using our voice and our power.

However, voting alone is clearly not enough. Before we ever set foot into our election site, we need to do our homework and not just on the heated topics such as gun control. It’s easy to know where people stand on topics that receive lots of press time on the news and in our social media feeds.  Instead, we need to educate ourselves on the more subtle topics, the ones that are actually driving the problems in society.

We need to be voting for people who understand the dynamics of domestic violence and the importance of addressing it on a systemic level. Once again, we are hearing reports that the gunman was “troubled,” known to be “volatile,” and may have been abusive to his girlfriend. We now know that authorities responded over 35 times to the house of Nikolas Cruz and that he was expelled from school, killed animals, and was aggressive to others in his neighborhood. These are all warning signs that were either patently ignored or dealt with in a silo.  Somehow, they were not linked together to compel anyone to do anything truly transformative in the lives of these individuals.  We have to stop pretending that what is happening in the privacy of our homes will not have an impact on our public streets.  Until we truly embrace this concept, we can anticipate more of the same.

We know that domestic violence is a learned behavior, and thanks to ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences Study), we know that children who experience trauma are at a disadvantage compared to those who do not experience trauma. Exposure to trauma increases the risk of engaging in harm behaviors, and harm behaviors should be a cry for help. ACES flips the question from saying, “Why did you do that?” to “What happened to you?” If we want to get serious about stopping school shootings, we have to be willing to educate ourselves on the candidates who are forward thinking enough to create budgets that put more emphasis on people rather than roads, who are courageous enough to overhaul our very broken systems, and who are brave enough to put action behind the words that our children are our future. We need people who understand that the best solution begins with identifying families in crisis and then doing something about it. We need better paid positions for social workers and school counselors, and we need more of them in the communities and schools to provide support for these families

But there is something else we must do. If we are going to be authentic and true about how we are going to do this, each of us must get involved. This is not someone else’s problem to fix. It is our problem. We are the ones turning a blind eye to the fact that 1 in 3 women are, as you read this, living in domestic violence and many of them have children who are watching and learning. We are the ones turning a blind eye to the fact that we have 25% of our female population being sexually assaulted, most frequently by someone they know, before they turn 18. We are the ones turning a blind eye to the fact that if we don’t expect accountability, not just punishment, from offenders, we will only get more victimizers because 95% are returning to our streets.

Who is responsible for the shootings? I am. You are. We are. If I want to end the violence, I must roll up my sleeves and do something. I must get involved with organizations who pour into broken families and kids and show them that there is a different option than violence. I must approach my local domestic violence shelter and offer to lead a class to teach the women about building their self-esteem and self-worth. I must connect with my local child advocacy center and learn about ways to provide support to our youngest sexual assault victims. I must volunteer in my school to relieve them of some of the burden, for at least a moment, of being the only eyes and ears in a classroom of 20. I must be willing to give…of my time and my money…to support these places who are doing good work but cannot do it alone.

This plan is hard. Much harder than arguing over whether guns should be banned or not. This plan requires sacrifice and maybe even some tears. But it is this plan that will produce kids who are resilient and kids who know that they have value which means that other people, and their kids, have value too and that no act of violence should be perpetrated against any of them.

Find your voice and join us.

Written by:  Valerie Craig, Co-Founder, Tennessee Voices for Victims

Contact Valerie at valerie.craig@tnvoicesforvictims.org

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Jackie Finds Her Voice

How do you talk about how you found your voice? Do you start with all the times bad things happened and you kept them a secret? Never telling. Would anyone believe you? I have spent most of my life living in silence with secrets that should have been disclosed or told when I was a child, even a teenager – or even on my wedding night! Unfortunately, I grew up in a time when “those things” weren’t talked about. Because of decades of secrets, I have lived with a lot of shame and guilt. This unfortunately had a huge impact on the person I became. Quiet, insecure, easily controlled.

After enduring a 21 year marriage to a controlling abusive alcoholic, I finally found enough strength to stand up and say “Enough!” My 3 minor daughters and I left in 2010 with only a suitcase each full of clothing. He never allowed us to get the rest of our belongings. So began a 3 year divorce battle with him trying to prove me as an unfit mother at every turn. I worked 2-3 jobs at a time, doing whatever it took to provide. I managed in 5 months to make enough money to get us a little apartment. I felt a bit like I wasn’t providing enough, because it was government housing, but my youngest daughter who was 8 at the time said “Momma I love it. We each have our own room now with a door on it.” I cried. Finally a new start, a place to call our own. I stood up to each accusation made by my ex, and each obstacle overcome. Little by little my girls were watching their mom take back her life.

In spring of 2012 with help from my parents, we were able to buy a small home just perfect for us. Finally, a real home. I was still working several jobs to make ends meet, showing the girls that I would do whatever I had to do to take care of them. Around this time I began spending time with some of my friends after work a few times a week. On one evening in August 2012, I met with some “friends” whom I trusted. That evening forever changed my life. I was raped by the 3 men whom I thought I knew. I had trusted them. How could this happen?! It was just drinks! 3:00 am is a time that still haunts my thoughts.

For the first few days after the rape I was in shock! Disbelief! Was this real? Did this really happen? A few days later I was able to confide in a friend who inquired about the bruising on my arms. They said that I needed to go to the police. I did about day 6 after the attack. I guess it was at this point in my life that I truly found my voice. I went to police and agreed to file charges. So began what has turned into a nearly 5 year battle for justice. From the very beginning evidence was not properly handled.  The police never attempted to obtain the phones of my three attackers which contained pictures of that night which they had shared with their friends. The detective assigned to the case decided early on that he didn’t believe my story, so he delayed investigating the case and following through on the leads he had been given. The sheriff also failed to follow up with the detective, thinking he was doing his job. New District Attorneys were assigned to the case in 2014, and they decided that now too much time had passed, and there wasn’t enough evidence to follow through with a trial. But I stood my ground in a big way. I did research. I found laws. I went to the news media, who in turn did their own investigation on the detective in question and found evidence to prove that he had been fired from previous jobs for his lack of gathering evidence or because of his attitude. They helped me bring this to light in 2016. By now, I had already appeared before 2 grand juries who found my story convincing enough to bring it to trial. In addition, there was also a preliminary hearing before the judge who heard my story and said she would allow it to go to trial. During this time period I had demanded a re-investigation of my case.  The new investigator looked deeper into case but unfortunately because of the length of time, little evidence was found. Finally, in February 2016, two of the men came to trial. With no physical evidence besides the pictures I had taken of myself after the rape, the jury found them both not guilty. The 3rd man is still awaiting trial which I doubt will happen now.

I had realized early on in this process that I wasn’t going to get justice in the traditional sense, but I fought anyway. I stood up and found my voice. I have had many opportunities in the last few years to use my voice to share with others in a positive way. I found my voice through much change. I found my voice through loss. I found my voice through grief. I found my voice through sadness. I found my voice through healing. I spoke up for my children. I spoke up for others who could not speak for themselves. I spoke up for MYSELF, finally! My hope is that good will come from such a horrible past. I want to share my story so that others will see that they too can find their voice and find the strength and courage to stand up for themselves.

My outcome has not been what I hoped for when I started this journey. I had hoped that justice would be done. That those who had done wrong would be punished. Maybe at some point they will be. At least they have all been put on notice. I stared my attackers in the face and didn’t back down. By my speaking out maybe they will never harm anyone else. Maybe the authorities involved will step up the way they handle victims of assault.

I have found so much healing through the Nashville Sexual Assault Center. They have been with me on this journey since October 2012. I am forever thankful for their part in my life. I have met many wonderful people over the last 5 years that are advocating for changes for victims of crimes. Along the way, I met Verna and Valerie from Tennessee Voices for Victims. They have stayed in contact with me and helped with different aspects of my journey.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my story.

Written By:  Jackie, Survivor

 

Addendum by Tennessee Voices for Victims:

If you have additional questions or need help in regards to sexual assault, please contact us at valerie.craig@tnvoicesforvictims.org.

A Survivor Speaks

How do you talk about how you found your voice? Do you start with all the times bad things happened and you kept them a secret? Never telling. Would anyone believe you? I have spent most of my life living in silence with secrets that should have been disclosed or told when I was a child, even a teenager – or even on my wedding night! Unfortunately, I grew up in a time when “those things” weren’t talked about. Because of decades of secrets, I have lived with a lot of shame and guilt. This unfortunately had a huge impact on the person I became. Quiet, insecure, easily controlled.

After enduring a 21 year marriage to a controlling abusive alcoholic, I finally found enough strength to stand up and say “Enough!” My 3 minor daughters and I left in 2010 with only a suitcase each full of clothing. He never allowed us to get the rest of our belongings. So began a 3 year divorce battle with him trying to prove me as an unfit mother at every turn. I worked 2-3 jobs at a time, doing whatever it took to provide. I managed in 5 months to make enough money to get us a little apartment. I felt a bit like I wasn’t providing enough, because it was government housing, but my youngest daughter who was 8 at the time said “Momma I love it. We each have our own room now with a door on it.” I cried. Finally a new start, a place to call our own. I stood up to each accusation made by my ex, and each obstacle overcome. Little by little my girls were watching their mom take back her life.

In the spring of 2012 with help from my parents, we were able to buy a small home just perfect for us. Finally, a real home. I was still working several jobs to make ends meet, showing the girls that I would do whatever I had to do to take care of them. Around this time I began spending time with some of my friends after work a few times a week. On one evening in August 2012, I met with some “friends” whom I trusted. That evening forever changed my life. I was raped by the 3 men whom I thought I knew. I had trusted them. How could this happen?! It was just drinks! 3:00 am is a time that still haunts my thoughts.

For the first few days after the rape I was in shock! Disbelief! Was this real? Did this really happen? A few days later I was able to confide in a friend who inquired about the bruising on my arms. They said that I needed to go to the police. I did about day 6 after the attack. I guess it was at this point in my life that I truly found my voice. I went to police and agreed to file charges. So began what has turned into a nearly 5 year battle for justice. From the very beginning evidence was not properly handled.  The police never attempted to obtain the phones of my three attackers which contained pictures of that night which they had shared with their friends. The detective assigned to the case decided early on that he didn’t believe my story, so he delayed investigating the case and following through on the leads he had been given. The sheriff also failed to follow up with the detective, thinking he was doing his job. New District Attorneys were assigned to the case in 2014, and they decided that now too much time had passed, and there wasn’t enough evidence to follow through with a trial. But I stood my ground in a big way. I did research. I found laws. I went to the news media, who in turn did their own investigation on the detective in question and found evidence to prove that he had been fired from previous jobs for his lack of gathering evidence or because of his attitude. They helped me bring this to light in 2016. By now, I had already appeared before 2 grand juries who found my story convincing enough to bring it to trial. In addition, there was also a preliminary hearing before the judge who heard my story and said she would allow it to go to trial. During this time period I had demanded a re-investigation of my case.  The new investigator looked deeper into my case but unfortunately because of the length of time, little evidence was found. Finally, in February 2016, two of the men came to trial. With no physical evidence besides the pictures I had taken of myself after the rape, the jury found them both not guilty. The 3rd man is still awaiting trial which I doubt will happen now.

I had realized early on in this process that I wasn’t going to get justice in the traditional sense, but I fought anyway. I stood up and found my voice. I have had many opportunities in the last few years to use my voice to share with others in a positive way. I found my voice through much change. I found my voice through loss. I found my voice through grief. I found my voice through sadness. I found my voice through healing. I spoke up for my children. I spoke up for others who could not speak for themselves. I spoke up for MYSELF, finally! My hope is that good will come from such a horrible past. I want to share my story so that others will see that they too can find their voice and find the strength and courage to stand up for themselves.

My outcome has not been what I hoped for when I started this journey. I had hoped that justice would be done. That those who had done wrong would be punished. Maybe at some point they will be. At least they have all been put on notice. I stared my attackers in the face and didn’t back down. By my speaking out maybe they will never harm anyone else. Maybe the authorities involved will step up the way they handle victims of assault.

I have found so much healing through the Nashville Sexual Assault Center. They have been with me on this journey since October 2012. I am forever thankful for their part in my life. I have met many wonderful people over the last 5 years that are advocating for changes for victims of crimes. Along the way, I met Verna and Valerie from Tennessee Voices for Victims. They have stayed in contact with me and helped with different aspects of my journey.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my story.

Jackie

Decisions, Decisions

Decisions, decisions.

Every victim is faced with them and every survivor has chosen between them.

Though intensity may vary, every single type of crime is traumatic because the world, as the victim knew it, has been changed. A home burglary feels like a violation and victims are often apprehensive about entering their homes again. Living in domestic violence is demeaning and victims are often left feeling worthless and no good. A homicide produces a grief unlike any other and those left behind find it difficult to even breathe let alone live.

But life around a victim continues even as theirs has stopped.

And to restart it, they will have to make a choice. And the choice will boil down to a very simple question: “Will I or won’t I?”

Though the question is simple, the actions around the answer are hard. “Will I” requires the victim to eventually decide that a new normal is worth it, that peace has value, and the acknowledgement that they will have to wrestle with some big concepts along the way such as forgiveness. “Won’t I” requires less but is still a choice. “I won’t” allows the victim mentality to begin to take root – the sense of entitlement and the idea that no one has suffered a worse pain. Both require a decision, one produces healing.

Merriam-Webster defines “survivor” as continuing to function or prosper despite a circumstance or happening. Even the definition points out the choice – when faced with trauma, one can continue or one does not. The definition also points out that making the choice to continue may only produce functionality BUT it also may cause the person to prosper – a decision within the decision.

For those whose lives have been impacted by violence, we grieve with you but we also want to encourage you. Your life, though no longer the same, does not have to be over. Your life still has purpose and meaning. Your life can have beautiful moments in it and it can be a testimony to others of the blessings that come from choosing to overcome.

For those who are survivors, maybe you are ready to take the next step of sharing your story with others. For those who want to be survivors, maybe you are ready to take the next step of accessing resources to help you on this journey.

If either are you, please contact Valerie Craig at valerie.craig@tnvoicesforvictims.org.

Decisions, decisions…..which will you make……check out this link for a little motivation.

Written by:  Valerie Craig, Co-Founder, Tennessee Voices for Victims

Connect on Facebook here.

Crime Victims’ Rights Week 2017

April 2-8 is National Crime Victims Rights Week. Established by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, communities across the United States observe this week to consider the plight of the victim, and to show support for them.

When you are a victim of crime, your life is totally upended. Many times there are physical consequences that must be overcome- on top of the always present grieving process that has to occur after a victimization. Restoring a shattered life is hard and time consuming and made more difficult because all the pain was caused by someone’s selfish and cruel motivations. The victim’s trust is totally compromised. The emotional rush is powerful and unrelenting. Fear and anger play tug of war with the psyche in every waking moment. There’s no reprieve from the torment. Even in sleep, the violence, pain, and grief re-play in nightmares. It feels like insanity, with no hope for escape. And then there is the justice system.

Most people have no idea the frustrations victims face in trying to obtain justice. From legal maneuvering by defense attorneys that re-victimize the victim to the endless delays in bringing the case to trial, some victims are “lucky” if they get through the system in 2 years. Other victims are suspended in limbo for years longer, like the victim in the Vanderbilt rape case who was victimized in 2013.  She has endured two trials, is scheduled for another, and still has other offenders charged but no trial dates set…yet. Or the family of Brooke Morris in Roan County who waited 5 years to finally go to trial. Or victims like Gail Chilton, a mom who is struggling to see justice for her daughter who was murdered in 1996! And, after the victims finally receive their trials? Assuming there is a conviction, they now deal with the parole system where they will have very little rights. Victims have made some gains for considerations in the justice process over the years, but the system still holds many inequalities. The fight is far from over as each year advocates for justice are forced to work tirelessly to get “common sense” victim bills passed.  Thankfully, President Reagan acknowledged this struggle and set aside a week each year to remember victims on a National level.

Victims should have rights. After all, THEY are the INJURED party. It is their life that was destroyed. They didn’t choose this cruel path, it was forced on them. We all should be concerned about their injustices, as our world grows more violent with each passing day. In reality, we are not immune to experiencing the same kind of injustice.

National Crime Victims Rights week events are being held across Tennessee.  All are welcomed as these events are open to the public.

On Sunday April 2nd at 2:00, Nashville Advocates will gather at the large pavilion in Centennial Park near the train and airplane to acknowledge and honor the strength of victims of crime.  This ceremony will feature survivors sharing their stories of empowerment.

From Friday, March 31st to Sunday, April 9th, the Homicide Boards for Davidson County will be on display at the Downtown Nashville Public Library.  These boards will be located on the 3rd floor during normal operating hours.  Validated parking is available in the parking deck attached to the library.

Additionally, the Tennessee Board of Parole along with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Tennessee Department of Correction, and TRICOR will be hosting Tree Planting Ceremonies throughout the state during the week.  Click the link below for additional information about these ceremonies in your area.

2017 NCVRW Tree Planting Address-Locations Schedule as of 3-21-17 cps

If you know of other ceremonies in your area in honor of Crime Victims’ Rights Week, please leave the information about them in the comment section below and feel free to share this blog so everyone can have the opportunity to support victims during this important week.

Written By:  Verna Wyatt, Co-Founder, Tennessee Voices For Victims     verna.wyatt@tnvoicesforvictims.org

Finding Me in Spite of Myself

I came from an average, American family, went to church every week and lived in a good neighborhood. It never crossed my mind that someone I loved would try to hurt me. I was a good person! Boy, did I get that wrong.

I have been in three abusive relationships, but I didn’t realize it until it was too late. You see, none of the men laid a finger on me, until the relationship ended. I was being emotionally abused. I was ridiculed, controlled, manipulated and isolated from my family and friends.

My first husband struck me one time and I was out of there. The second time my boyfriend broke my nose after we were broken up for several months, because he realized I wasn’t coming back. Later, he came back with a gun to kill me. And my third, well – he tried to kill me after he broke into my house and stood waiting for me to get home. The chances of a woman being murdered when she leaves an abusive relationship increases by 70%.

I will never forget sitting on the window ledge of my bedroom with only two choices. Jump or be killed. I jumped 20 feet and shattered my ankle. What followed almost caused me to take my own life several months later. This was my reality — a severe bone infection, realizing soon after that I was pregnant, 4 years of constant pain, 16 operations over a 10-year period, debilitating depression, losing my job and finally hitting rock bottom.

Because of the abuse, I suffered from chronic depression, anxiety, PTSD and nightmares. I medicated myself with alcohol. Nothing helped. I finally got on medication, went to therapy and received support from a local church, which saved me. It’s been 20 years now and I am still suffering from the effects of domestic violence. However, I came out on top. Domestic Violence was not going to define who I was.

The one thing I didn’t do was give up. Deep down I knew that something good had to come out of all of this. I was confused and alone. I didn’t understand why these bad things happened to me, so I dove into research. I had to understand what domestic violence was and how to overcome it.

I decided that the only way I could really heal myself was to give back and help other women. I was determined and I was passionate. With my church’s support, I started a non-profit, which later became the largest transitional housing program for domestic violence victims in middle Tennessee. This year I finished my memoir (which is the title of this article and in the process of being published.) I raised a beautiful daughter and am married to a loving, supportive husband. I also try to give back by helping other domestic violence agencies such as TN Voices for Victims.

As an avid horse rider, a Trail Ride to raise money for TN Voices for Victims was started 3 years ago and is an annual event. We need your help! This is such a worthy cause. Will you contribute today? Domestic Violence effects everyone. I’m sure you know someone in your family, church or neighborhood that is being abused this very minute. Your financial help for this cause will make a difference.

I found my voice, in spite of all of the horrific things I went through. Will you find yours? Every voice matters.

Written by Beth Lowry

*Note:  If you are interested in supporting our work either through a donation or through the Trailblazers event, please visit here.  Questions?  Please contact valerie.craig@tnvoicesforvictims.org.

Changing Minds

In the fall of 2016, the Department of Justice launched “Defending Childhood.” This initiative is designed to help educate our world on a child’s brain development and the role violence plays on how the brain grows and matures.

This is not necessarily a new initiative from a conceptual standpoint. From 1995-1997, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente began doing research on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE). This study was revolutionary in showing that adverse experiences in childhood could and would impact adult behavior and long-term emotional and physical health. Though there was discussion about the results, at the time, these discussions lacked the wider dialogue needed to make a difference in a child’s life.

However, that is beginning to change. As the country has seen the rise of addiction, mental health issues, crime, relationship problems, etc., the prevailing question has been, “Why?” This question, related to these problems, have begun to generate momentum for looking at a person’s entire life – not just the snapshot of the addict in the hospital or the prisoner in his cell. And (finally!) the battle cry is beginning to sound that ALL adults who are influential in a child’s life, including parents, teachers, doctors, etc., must be made aware of this information so they can best serve the children in their care.

This directly relates to the work being done by Tennessee Voices for Victims. For 12 years, the co-founders have been meeting people in prison who have caused harm to others. Verna and Valerie realized very early in this journey that if those individuals were not sitting in prison, but were living healthy, productive lives, that victimization would be reduced – an incredibly important goal for victim advocates who see the pain survivors of violence must learn to live with. Reduction of crime is an audacious goal, but it is one, in our opinion, that can happen if we successfully answer the question of “How?” Our most effective, and in some ways, direct answer will always be to prevent someone from causing harm to others because in the words of Fredrick Douglass, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Under every circumstance, strong children will not happen through accident, but for those who are living in violence, a plan of action is required:

  1. SEE – We have to be willing to see that there are children being exposed to violence, chronically and without relief. And that they, in their childhood, are powerless to help themselves out of the violence.
  2. LISTEN – We have to be willing to listen to what these children want us to know. We have to be willing to hear their pain and understand how that pain is impacting them. We have to stop shying away from the things we do not want to hear. Without question, most parents love their children; however, loving a child is not enough. For love to be effective, the child must feel it. They have to know in their core that they have value and worth and that message gets lost in the midst of trauma. It is hard for a child to believe they have worth when they worry about falling asleep out of fear that one parent may kill the other during the night or because the whipping they received was so severe they will have trouble sitting down for days or that when they get home from school their parent is passed out on the sofa from their prescribed medications.
  3. LEARN – We have to be willing to learn what that pain means for these children and what we know, through decades of studying these behaviors, this pain means for other individuals, the community, and society as a whole. We also have to be willing to learn about the issues causing the pain – absentee parents due to addiction, incarceration, or mental health and negative family dynamics such as domestic violence, child abuse, or divorce. This is where websites like the Department of Justice’s https://changingmindsnow.org are critical. This site offers concise information about what these issues do to children, how we can help, and links to additional resources.
  4. ACT – We have to be willing to decisively act. Reduced crime and safer communities begin with us, the adults, in our society, finding our voice and speaking up and out about the violence the children in our society are experiencing day in and day out. It requires us to have the courage to engage when we know there is a problem. Our children and our society can no longer afford our silence.

Find your voice and help these children find theirs.

 

Written by: Valerie Craig, Co-Founder, Tennessee Voices for Victims