September 1, 2012

Victim Blaming Prevention Tips... Again

Recently, in response to a Toronto police warning about numerous sexual assaults occurring in a particular area, Krista Ford tweeted (since removed): "Stay alert, walk tall, carry mace, take self defense courses and don't dress like a whore."

I am sadly used to women bearing the responsibility of 'preventing' sexual assault even though these tips (like Ms. Ford's) are totally ineffective. Sexual assault prevention tips which focus on the behaviour of the survivor ignore the facts about sexualized violence. Such as:

* 85% of sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone the victim knows (a friend, family member, spouse, someone the victim is dating, etc.)
* For children, this statistic is 95%
* Many survivors "freeze" as involuntary coping during an acute stress response to trauma (aka fight/flight/freeze); this is especially common if the perpetrator is someone the victim knows and/or trusts and/or if the victim has been sexually abused/assaulted before
* Survivors may consciously or subconsciously choose not to physically resist (e.g. fight back) in order to minimize physical violence, including death
* Some offenders target women who behave in the ways prevention tips tell us how to act (e.g. act confident, walk tall, make eye contact, etc.) because sexualized violence is not about sex but about controlling and humiliating another person
* Especially in cases of sexual assault where the assailant is someone the victim knows and trusts, the survivor may feel confused and unsure of how to react, thus creating an involuntary shock/freeze response, rendering her or him unable to use self defense course skills
* Weapons the victim carries, including mace, can be used against her or him


If these prevention tips were simply ineffective but benign, there would be less of a problem. However, these tips tell survivors:

* You SHOULD have fought back
* You SHOULD have been more aware
* You SHOULD have been more assertive
* You SHOULD have never let your guard down, ever
* You SHOULD never ever drink alcohol
* You SHOULD never dress a certain way

And these messages contribute to the shame and self-blame many survivors feel, as well as blaming by supports.

Instead, what survivors of sexualized violence need to hear is:
* It's not your fault
* I believe you
* The offender is 100% to blame
* You are NOT responsible because you did ______ or did not do _______

(In contrast to prevention tips, these are the messages that contribute to healing.)

So prevention tips like Ms. Ford's (and this is by no means limited to Ms. Ford) actually harms survivors. These tips increase internalized self blame and other post-trauma reactions, and can decrease the likelihood of survivors reaching out for help.

Which is why I STRONGLY oppose sexual assault prevention tips focused on the behaviour of survivors (usually women).

I also reacted strongly to Ms. Ford's words "don't dress like a whore". One of the first things I thought about was how "whore" is used disparagingly against women in the sex trade. Some of my first thoughts and repulsions were simply: Do sex workers 'ask to be raped' because of their occupation? Do they 'deserve' to be raped? Or maybe they don't even have the right to consent or not consent to sexual contact at all.

Some people may see this as a reach, but I invite you to think about it. There are pages that facebook has yet to pull despite multiple reports, and other websites, that say things like "Is rape of a prostitute theft of services?"or "Is raping a hooker shoplifting?"

Clearly our society treats sex workers like crap and with the direct connotation of the word "whore" I couldn't help but think Ms. Ford was, at least subconsciously, attacking women in the sex trade who may experience higher rates of sexualized violence if they are legally forced to work alone and/on the streets.

Some offenders/sadists/murderers target sex workers because they know that sex workers are less likely to report victimizations to the police, are less likely to be believed, and may be forced into working in isolation due to current legislation. These offenders tactically choose victims in order to decrease the likelihood of being caught.

So when Ms. Ford casually tells women to not dress like whores, she is not only engaging in victim blaming but is directly contributing to the stigma faced by sex workers.

I mention this last, not to shame Ms. Ford, but to illustrate the importance of holding perpetrators (and not victims) accountable for sexualized violence. Ms. Ford was reportedly a member of the Lingerie Football league, which essentially involves women playing in their underwear.

While I am definitely concerned when women's sports are popular because they titillate men, my point is this:

Ms. Ford, when you dressed in lingerie as part of your league, you do not invite sexual assault. You do not ask to be victimized, and you in no way deserve to be. You (like everyone else) have the right to wear what you want without fear of rape.

And if you were ever sexually assaulted when you were wearing lingerie as part of your league involvement (and I truly hope this is not the case), these same rules apply. The sexual assault is not your fault, you are not to blame, your clothes are not to blame. Sexual assault is 100% the fault and responsibility of the offender. 

Krista Ford has since apologized for her tweet, stating: "I didn't mean to cause such an alarm and I apologize if I did. I just want women to be safe."

Ms. Ford, I agree 100% with your statement about women being safe. But telling women how to dress does not keep women safe. True prevention focuses on holding offenders accountable (see the Sexual Assault Voices of Edmonton campaign: )

For more info visit on the tweet and apology, visit:

For other responses visit:

August 29, 2012

My University is Advertising TD

My response to an email I received...

Dear UVic

I am puzzled as to why I received a TD insurance advertisement from you. 

Perhaps you felt people such as myself wanted advertising from banks after giving thousands and thousands of dollars for an education at your institution. 

TD holds a special place in my heart. You see, along with others, I protested against them when they sponsored an Edmonton LGBTTIQQA Pride Parade and subsequently renamed it the TD Pride Parade.  I wasn't sure if I should be proud of my bisexuality (and others' sexual orientations and gender identities) or banking. Was I there marching to celebrate persons who identify as LGBTTIQQA or renegotiate my mortgage? 

Along with many other awesome people, I marched carrying signs that my pride was not for sale. 
And the three years attaining a degree from UVic isn't either. 

While I have gladly contributed each year since graduation to UVic fundraising for students (you know, the alumni yearly phone call checking my contact info and then asking me to donate) I kindly request that you remove me from your database. 

Instead, I will donate to an organization that doesn't email me insurance advertising from a (highly profitable) bank. Or would you suggest that a highly profitable bank such as TD needs my money more than the many students facing ableist, racist, classist, sexist,heterosexist, homo/bi/transphobic oppression. 

Wait a minute! Perhaps TD will cover the fees of these students. I just hope they don't become TD UVic degrees. 

In recognition of the Coast Salish and Straits Salish Peoples upon whose traditional and unceded land Uvic occupies, I sign off,

Monika Penner, M.Ed (counselling psychology)
Maybe soon to be sponsored by TD?

June 16, 2012

Let's Not Be Limited in Our Thinking, K? It Might Hurt Someone

There are very well meaning support groups who are highly beneficial to some people. 12 step programs are some of these. 12 step programs help a lot of people and offer invaluable support.

However, my beef (tofu) is what I have heard recently (recognizing everyone's experiences are different).

Some people self-medicate through alcohol and other drugs, as well as other self harming behaviours (including eating disorders) because they experience complex pschological conditions, including Anxiety, Schizophrenia, and mood disorders (like Bipolar and Depression).

I am not saying that 12 step models can't and don't help persons with mental health challenges (when the addiction is part of coping). But I struggle with the belief (of some 12 steppers) that surrending, attending meetings and praying are the sole or best solution to the "problem".

There are so many roads on the path towards wellness. There is counselling, peer support groups, yoga and meditation, proper nutrition, exercise, sleep hygiene, crisis lines, and supportive friends and family.  And for some people, medication is part of this path.

I am concerned when 12 step programs prioritize meetings and minimize medication and psychiatry, e.g. "You don't need meds, just pray and come to meetings." While medication is not needed by many people, the fact is is that it is needed by some.

Anyone who knows me realizes I am not a pill pusher. But there are situations when medications and consultations with doctors and psychiatrists are needed.

Just as we can't "pray the gay away" (thank goodness!), pushing 12 step programs exclusively while ignoring all of the many other options can be harmful to people with complex mental illness.

A person with Bipolar or Schizophrenia (for example) may very well benefit from 12 step programs if substance misuse or abuse is an issue. But that doesn't mean that this person may not also benefit from therapists, psychiatrists, and other mental health practioners.

So 12 step programs, you are a terrific resource but you are not the only resource some people will need.

Dogs are Different than Cats!

My spouse and I do cat rescue and over the years have learned some valuable information when it comes to cats. Like how to give assess hydration, give subcutanious fluids, give medication to even the most grumpy cats, give vaccinations, know when polysporin and antibiotics will do the trick, and when it's time to see the vet.

However, we have NO experience with dogs...

So we rescued a lovely dog (Bailey) who is still a puppy. Long story short: Bailey was on the side of a highway in the middle of a blizzard at 3 a.m. We took her in the car (she jumped in) and tried to contact the owner (from her dog tag) multiple times. We offered to drive Bailey back (8 hour drive for us). No go.

So Bailey is part of our family and we are learning SO MUCH along the way. Like...

* Some dogs (like Bailey) like to eat cat poo. And then lick our face.

* Bailey likes pill bottles because they are plastic. That has already led to an emergency vet visit (Delton Veterinary Hospital in Edmonton RULES!) and subsequent child proof locks installed.

* Bailey needs constant stimulation. Like treats inside a ball, and treats well tied up in cloth.

* Bailey (and us) may have benefitted from some boundaries about sleeping on the bed. Her grooming at 2 a.m. bounces the bed, and she hits the cats (and us) with her tail when she moves.

In fact, here she is when we first should have set bed boundaries, slinking onto the bed...

 * Bones and antler ears (the latter of which you can buy from people who collect them when antlers naturally shed) are noisy on hard wood floors. Especially at night.

* Some dogs, like Bailey, will chew anything and everything. Bailey likes shoes, pencils, socks and remote controls.

* According to our vet, having dozens of toys is too much when training her not to eat the forementioned yummies.

*If you leave Bailey in the car for a second, she will jump in the front.

 *And sniffing out the window is yummy

* Egalitarian approaches don't work. It turns out dogs like a pack leader. And they can't be "soothed" when they are engaging in inappropriate behaviour, such as growling, but need to be "corrected".

So, we are learning as we go along. Thank you for teaching us, Bailey.

Sexual Violence Against Boys and Men

I'm going to rant because this is a pet peeve of mine. Actually, calling it a pet peeve minimizes the issues. This is a serious problem.

People of all genders experience sexualized violence (including childhood sexual abuse, sexual assault and sexual harassment). The specific rates of sexualized violence against females and males vary, depending upon the source. Studies however suggest that 1 in 3 girls and women will experience sexualized violence in their lifetime. For men and boys, current research suggest the rate is between 1 in 4 and 1 in 6. (Unfortunately, I have no stats on sexualized violence against persons who identify as neither male nor female).

I think (hope) that it has become more widely accepted or at least acknowledged that boys and men experience sexual abuse and sexual assault. My experience, however, is that men and boys who have been sexually victimized are treated differently in a myriad of ways (only one which I will address here).

Some professionals (counsellors, teachers, social workers, day care workers, child welfare workers, etc.) assume that boys who have experienced childhood sexual abuse will automatically become offenders. Parents are (sometimes) told to never let their son be unsupervised lest he sexually act out.

What a message to send!

Yes, most offenders are men, and most offenders have a prior trauma history themselves (which may or may not included sexualized violence). BUT most people (of all genders) who experience sexualized violence do NOT offend themselves. And it's important to note that while most offenders are males (statistically), offenders can also be sisters, aunts, moms, grandmothers, stepmothers, and other women.

Assuming males who have been sexually abused/assaulted will become offenders is just as dangerous as other myths (e.g. that people are partly responsible for being sexually assaulted because they drank or used other drugs' that people "ask" to be sexually assaulted due to their clothes; that sex workers can't be sexually assaulted because it is "part of their job"; that sexual assault can't occur in lesbian relationships.)

Why are these myths problematic? Because they blame victims, highlight the sexual aspect (when sexual abuse/assault is about power and control) and pathologize persons who have experienced sexualized violence.

Let's disentagle our misunderstandings of sexualized violence, even if it feels uncomfortable, so that all persons who have experienced sexual abuse, sexual assault and/or sexual harassment are equally believed and supported.