Friday, June 24, 2016

I Dreamed A Dream

Anne Hathaway as Fantine The Victim of Society
From Les Misrebles
There was a time when men were kind
When their voices were soft
And their words inviting
There was a time when love was blind
And the world was a song
And the song was exciting
There was a time
Then it all went wrong,,,

Claude-Michel Schonberg

From Les Miserables

Fantine is the tragic figure of Victor Hugo's story to overcoming oppression, corruption, and other issues in Les Miserables. Although she is not the main character of the book, you cannot turn away from her trials as she goes from a young girl in love, to an abandoned single mother, and finally a prostitute on the streets of Paris who has nothing else to sell but her body to keep her child from being thrown out into the streets.

Recently I had the privilege of producing some videos for an organization which helps to rescue people from a life of prostitution. I learned how young girls (mostly) have been lured into the sex trade and even held captive against their will. Debra Woods told me her story.

When Love Was Blind

Debra Woods
Debra Woods came from a good environment with a loving dad and grandparents who reaffirmed and praised her for her achievements. But with an absent mother at the age of 12, she began to rebel like most children do. By the age of 15, Debra had a full on rebellious streak which included drug use, running away from home, and by 17 she was a single mom. She had reconnected with her mom who had been in prison for drug use and sex work. Debra's bad behavior in her father's home eventually led her to leave and live with her mom. Shortly afterwards she met a man who had charm, smooth words, and seem to love her. Her boyfriend convinced Debra to take a trip with him to LA and meet some friends of his. After checking into a hotel room, her sweetheart tossed some condoms to her and told Debra that she was going entertain his friends. Apparently money had been or was about to exchange hands for this entertainment. This infatuated and naive teenager was about to be introduced to prostitution, and he looked at her and remarked: "this is pimping, bitch." She endured a living hell for the next10 months.

He Took My Childhood In His Stride

The Romeo Pimp and his unsuspecting victim
The boyfriend who Debra met turned out to be a "Romeo Pimp." It's a good name for them. Romeo Pimps target problem girls mostly. They troll the bus depots, malls, you can find them on or in generally any place transient or troubled girls might be. They're called Romeo pimps for a good reason. They're very charming, charismatic, and sympathetic to a troubled girl. He goes from a sympathetic ear, to maybe a protector, and then being the boyfriend, and the man with all of her answers. This is not the comical over dressed flashy guy from from the past; he looks like your everyday man so that he's not noticed by the cops. When these men eventually have a woman in their clutches, they close the door on her choice to leave. The beatings, intimidation, and threats to family members are employed as a tools to keep her in line. In Debra's case what ended her 10 month nightmare of terror was getting incarcerated, and returned to her family.

But most girls become women, who have the deep wounds, which turn to scars from the experience.
Even after the pimp has been removed from her life, the hardness of being sex trafficked becomes tatooed onto her heart. She's learned how to survive and adapt. Many because of poverty, drug addiction, or homelessness, many return to the streets on their own to have enough money to make the rent, have food, or support their habit. Like in the story of Les Miserables, Fantine went from a young girl in love, to a woman struggling from day to day just to survive. She sold her possessions, and then eventually herself to survive.

Advocates (some who have been victims themselves) do not see these girls and women, as sex workers, but victims of sex trafficking. Because most of the victims have started out as young girls who were forced into this lifestyle as early as 13 years old, the choice was not theirs. And after being arrested and profiled as hookers or prostitutes by the police, and even society, they carry the Scarlet Letter of shame. In an interview with Police Chief Jerry Dyer; he stated,

Fressno Police Chief Jerry Dyer
"We in law enforcement have found over the years---is that historically we have treated many of the girls out there on the streets--- involved in the sex trade and prostitution as suspects, when in reality is that they are victims. So many of them are forced into this lifestyle and cannot get out. And that's why we have had to change our attitude in law enforcement--- to look at them as victims." - Police Chief Jerry Dyer Fresno PD

Police Chief Dyer and other police officers in a task force called The Coalition Against Human Trafficking are working to to break the cycle along with Debra Woods and the organization: Breaking The Chains. But sadly there are dark corners in this issue; we have pimps who wear the military uniform or the badge while exploiting victims for profit and their own personal needs.

The Tigers Come At Night

In 2014 sex trafficking was discovered at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas, where a NCO masquerading as a Sexual assault prevention officer would approach cash strapped female soldiers in attempts to recruit them into a prostitution ring. It all fell apart for Sgt. 1st Class Gregory McQueen, when a female soldier reported him for sexual assault and attempting to coerce her into his stable. McQueen had set up services for high ranking officers as well as civilians. The problem in the military isn't just confined to one military base in Texas, but as far as Korea.   See: The U.S. military’s long, uncomfortable history with prostitution gets new attention

And the meme "good cop, bad cop" takes on a whole new meaning as a story in Oakland CA reveals that several cops exploited a young sex worker. They traded her safety and anonymity for sex and money.
Officer Brendan O'Brien 
The scandal began in February 2015. Guap was seventeen at the time and working on the streets of East Oakland as a sexually exploited minor. In an interview, Guap said that one day a pimp chased her down International Boulevard, but she spotted an Oakland police car and approached the vehicle for help. That’s when she met officer O’Brien. The Real Reason Why Oakland's Police Chief Was Fired- East Bay News June 10, 2016
At the time Celeste Gaup was 17 years old running down International in Oakland Ca. from her pimp.
Fortunately for Celeste (at least for the moment) she spotted a patrol car, and asked for the Officer's help.  Officer Brendan O'Brien was Celeste's rescuer and the man of the hour. According Gaup, she and O'Brien began dating then the officer introduced her several other officers. All of them became sexually involved with her for money and protection. She was also transported from Oakland, to Alameda County, Richmond, and Livermore. Sadly the motto: "To Protect and Serve" gets another black eye and it did in the Kenneth Hotlzclaw situation. See my blog: The Times, They Are A Changin

I Had A Dream My Life Would Be...

Back in April at a meeting with several of the staff of Breaking The Chains Organization, with the co-founder Tiffany Apodaca, Debra Woods entered the room. She recalled some words to me which she spoke in an interview:
 Debra  Woods Today

"I have a lot of friends out there. I have a lot of girls--- and although I haven't seen them in 10 years, and although I've seen them in the most seediest of circumstances. I love these women. These are women that I cried with--- these are women that I have struggled with."
She then ushered in two young women who looked about 19 or 20. The were frail, and a little nervous with tears streaming down their faces. Debra then introduced them as two of the many girls she left behind years ago when she left the lifestyle, but seemed to have found a way to go back and rescue. I just looked stunned as others embraced the girls and introduced themselves. When those who have the power fail to be part of the solution, then we who have just a little hope, and a lot of heart must step into the arena. The Invisible War continues.

Special Thanks To:
Debra Woods and Tiffany Apodaca
Co Founders of Breaking The Chains for inviting me into your world and sharing your story and vision. and for giving hope to women everywhere.
Police Chief Jerry Dyer
For Taking a bold stand in the face of an issue that is older than America itself
Denise (Dancing Paint Brush)
For being my invaluable editor and spell-checker
Vera Santa Clara And Catherine (Deja1422)
My friends and Article finders who share what's going on in today's Rape Culture

Fort Hood sexual assault prevention officer ran on-base prostitution ring: witness
By:Sasha Goldstein New York Daily News

The U.S. military’s long, uncomfortable history with prostitution gets new attention
The New York Post- October 31, 2014

The Real Reason Why Oakland's Police Chief Was Fired
East Bay News by Darwin Bond Graham and Ali Winston

Breaking The Chains
Breaking The Chains.Org

Friday, June 10, 2016

Macho Man

Village People I've Got Be A Macho
Every man ought to be a macho, macho man

To live a life of freedom, machos make a stand

Have your own lifestyles and ideals

Possess the strength of confidence, that's the skill

You can best believe that he's a macho man

He's the special god son in anybody's land

Village People
℗ 1978 Can Not Stop Productions NYC 1978

I've Got To Be

Cowboy, Construction worker, Native American, Biker, Soldier, and Cop, made up the fun pop style of the group called the Village People. They strutted, gyrated, and sang to the pop sounds of Disco. We were no longer in the "Mad Men" era of Jazz, or the folk crooning's of the Sixties. It was colored lights, silk shirts with puffy sleeves, tailored hair and platform shoes. Outwardly we seem to be enjoying life, while not being afraid of the culture of unisex ideas and philosophy. Songs like the Village People's Macho Man, parodied the over done idea; the culture of male dominance and toughness. It was something of a joke, at least on the surface. Bulking up and being Mr. Hard Body back then, was no longer center stage in society. But still the idea of what a real man should be always remained in the forefront of many societies, especially in America. 

Doing what boys and men do
To be a real man the culture has taught us, means power, respect, and privilege. We live in this man-built, male driven society to succeed at all cost. Real men are suppose to live, play, and love like men do. We follow that pathway of maleness through sports, business, and the military. "Be a man...," your father would say. "It will make a man out of you...," said the recruiter or the coach. "Big boys don't cry" forced back the emotional and physical pain that every boy remembers from one generation to the next. We play hard, we fight to win, and never let people see your pain, insecurities, or short comings.

The unadorned truth is men in the military, college campuses, and even church institutions have been sexually assaulted.  They fall prey to coaches, superior officers, the clergy, as well as acquaintances or peers.  When it happens, everything the victim thought was true about masculinity becomes a brain salad of confusion. Like any victim of sexual assault, the boy or man feels a deep initial guilt. "How could I let this happen to me?" while no doubt questioning his own masculinity.

Every Man Wants To Be

Rape is thought to be the sexual conquering that happens exclusively to women. And so following the pattern in our society, male rape victims never talk about it, because to do so would conclude that they are not real men. A male victim of rape feels he has no other choice but to try to out-run the shame of the experience by keeping quiet while pursuing a more outwardly manly lifestyle. But the silence only allows his doubts, anger, fear, and guilt to grow inside of him.
On the surface the lyrics:
"Macho, macho man, I gotta be a macho man..."  are humorous, but it is also the programming of our society. Be macho, act the part, or at least fake the tough male boldness with everything we have. "If people find out this thing happened to me, then I might as well be dead." For awhile most male sexual assault victims can pull it off. But then like anything that goes unchecked, the assault(s) come flashing back. The victim pushes back harder with more work, more man activities. Maybe they drink more, move to another state, or whatever it takes to squelch the thing which violated them. 

Call Him Mister Ego

Sadly the very thing that young men choose to enhance their masculinity, has become their
betrayer. "Be all that you can be...," the old commercial jingle would chime. Or "Aim High..." and "The Few, The Proud..."

Bill Minnix who joined the Air Force in 1973 at the age of 17 was eager to serve and of course, do something with his life. While stationed at Kessler Air Force Base, he had been targeted by officers at that base who invited him and other recruits to these parties where they were given large amounts of alcohol. Minnix says he was raped 4 times within several weeks. The sexual assaults plus seeing his perpetrator everyday, lead to him not showing up for duty on multiple occasions.  Finally after only 6 months of active duty, Minnix was given an "other than honorable discharge" and released from the Air Force. Another hard truth is that although rape is more prevalent with women; more that half of the report cases in the military are of male servicemen.  But our credo of what a man is suppose to be, grips male victims with the guilt. They've seen female victims come forward, and speak out, only to be ridiculed, re-victimized, retaliated, and branded as not good enough.

To Live A Life of Freedom

 When the myth of who men are supposed to be collides with the reality of sexual assault and trauma, they get the living shit beat out of them. They feel not only not good enough in their profession, but not good enough to be a man. The most significant statement of stigma that Bill Minnix made after his discharge was:
“Nobody believed me. My family didn’t believe me," he said. "My sister picked me up from the airport. I couldn’t share with her what had happened, because a man just doesn’t get raped." -Veteran Fights To Overcome Stigma And Trauma Of Military Sexual Assault APR 29, 2016
Advocate and Sexual Assault Survivor: Bill Minnix- Photo BRADLEY W. PARKS
The culture of what is acceptable about both genders tells us that a man doesn't get raped. And that may be part of the reason for such low reporting of this crime. The shame and fear of ridicule from those that we know, keeps us silent and feeling disconnected from others.

Bill like other survivor/victims felt disconnected and lost. Disconnection and shame leads many male victims to broken relationships, homelessness and even in Bill's case attempted suicide. 40 years later, Bill Minnix was ready to end it all. With his Chevy Hatchback over looking a cliff he was ready to hit the gas and plummet to his death. Fortunately another car pulled up behind him at that moment.
maybe that was the moment which lead Minnix to make a call for help. Shame was the monster in the car with Bill and many other men like him, saying "Real men never let this happen." The shame was his constant companion which reminded him of his failure as a man. Many male sexual assault victims are losing this battle because they're running away from being open to the reality that their sexual assault happened. They won't tell anyone because if they do so, it will expose them as being weak.

I'd advise everyone reading this blog to go and listen to Dr. Brene Brown on the topic of shame and vulnerability. It could change your life. She said in a conference:
Dr. Brene Brown- Listening To Shame
"Vulnerability is not weakness. And that myth is profoundly dangerous. I define vulnerability as emotional risk, exposure uncertainty. It fuels our daily lives. that vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage to be vulnerable, to let ourselves be seen, to be honest.---If you put shame in a petri dish,it needs three things to grow exponentially :secrecy, silence and judgment. If you put the same amount in a petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can't survive. The two most powerful words when we're in struggle: me too" -Dr. Brene Brown: Listening To Shame- Ted Talks March 16, 2012
A few of my feminist friends will give me a gentle nudge on social media, hinting to me that I need to tell the stories of men and boys in our society who have been victims of sexual assault. And I humbly admit that they need to be more part of the conversation about sexual assault, because this is not a woman's or feminist issue, and it should not be used as a tool for the Male Rights Advocates to shame those who speak out. This affects us all. And with that said; I call more men to step out of the shadows into the arena having the courage to be vulnerable, because vulnerability is courage. Be the man in the arena who steps in to the fight, and makes this his fight too. Men like Bill Minnix are in this fight. They are speaking out through organizations like Protect Our Defenders, and other groups to let men and women know that they don't have to do it alone.

Possess The Strength of Confidence

The Fear of Ridicule and Blame for Men
Men like Bill Minnix need to be able to step out of the shadows of shame, and be heard and believed. They should not be re-victimized by a society or culture in America or anywhere that would tell them, "because this happened to you, you're not macho, and you are not a man."  Boys who wanted to serve their church in the name of God are betrayed by priests, or clergymen. In families some are attacked by another family member, and shamed into silence. And men on college campuses, in the military and other institutions are sexually assaulted, ridiculed, retaliated, and then eventually discharged with a less than honorable label. Some can't find work, become homeless, and or develop a drug addiction, and PTSD.

Our society refuses to understand male trauma and suffering. Men try to survive in a culture of manliness, bravado, and whatever else, and of course the shame continues to remain with them until they find themselves on the edge of a cliff ready to hit the accelerator and end their misery. Is it wrong to be cool, or feel manly, and enjoy what other guys enjoy? Of course not. But when the outer man is disguising a wounded broken soul, that is hemorrhaging with shame, life becomes a masquerade.
When We do Nothing For Men and boys

Although most of the stories I've share in my blogs, deal with sexual assault against women, I'm reminded by my fellow advocates (mostly women) that we need to encourage more men to speak out and share their stories. We must help both men and women to help break the silence. Again Brene Brown remarked in a Ted Talk, that a wise Feminist friend once told her, "When we do nothing for men and boys, then we do nothing for girls, and women."  Brene Brown at The UP Experience 2009- You Tube-2009 

Real men are afraid mostly being rejected by those who are closest to them. They hide their pain from family, friends, sweethearts, and people whose respect they covet. Maybe they take a risk and share their story, only to look back into the face of someone who reacts with a TMI (Too much info) stare. And so like Bill Minnix, many male victims would rather survive in silence than to risk being vulnerable again. We need to be open to their hurt and allow them to be real men who can step into the arena of shame, without the fear of getting the emotional shit kicked out of them by the ones they love the most.

The Man In The Arena

Macho Man- Village People ℗ 1978 Can Not Stop Productions NYC 1978
Military "Rape" Estimates: The Truth Behind the Numbers- Villainous Company
Veteran Fights To Overcome Stigma And Trauma Of Military Sexual Assault- By Conrad Wilson  April 29, 2016
Dr. Brene Brown: Listening To Shame- Ted Talks March 16, 2012 -You Tube
Brene Brown at The UP Experience 2009- You Tube-2009

Special Thanks To:
Vera SantaClara. Rosie Palfy and SueVee (For giving me the gentle nudge on the issues)
Catherine- Deja Thanks Cath for telling it's okay for real men to be vunerable
Denise Artlady- My spellchecker. It goes without saying. You're the last stop before I publish
And so many other whom shared with me parts of their stories of personal pain in confidence