Stop Abuse: guest article by Mandy Trouten
One of our goals here at Another Voice is to give you perspective on the issues that face us and from time to time, we will be showcasing articles from guests contributors.
Today’s guest article deals with topics that we often don’t like talking about, but MUST be addressed by us all, sexual abuse, esp. teen peer sexual abuse, domestic violence and bullying.
Our guest contributor is Mandy Trouten, a local graphic/web designer, author (Maybe Today), anti-abuse advocate and peer counselor. She speaks passionately on the subject and I urge everyone to take to heart what she has to say.
Stop Abuse by Mandy Trouten
This past July, as part of the 2012-2013 General Appropriations Bill, Governor Haley passed a series of vetoes, many of which are vital to South Carolina’s well-being. Section 90 included state funding to anti-abuse organizations. Not long before this, Congress voted to enact the sequester to help fix the deficit. Anti-abuse organizations were targeted here also. Federally, rape crisis centers receive funding from VAWA (the Violence against Women Act), VOCA (the Victims of Crime Act) and other organizations. On a state level, they receive funding from VAWA. Almost immediately after the veto passed, the House voted 111-0 to override it. However, the matter of the federal grants has not yet been resolved. Consequently, South Carolina anti-abuse groups are facing steep cuts to their already limited budgets. The Pickens County Rape Crisis Council is looking at an annual loss of as much as $45,000. As “small” as they are–working on an annual budget of $300,000–a $45000 loss could be devastating.
What’s especially disturbing to me isn’t just that the funding was cut, but Governor Haley’s words on the matter:
“I am vetoing each of the earmarks in Section 90 of the Department of Health and Environmental Control’s budget. Each of these lines attempts to serve a portion of our population for which we extend our sympathy and encouragement, but nevertheless, it is only a small portion of South Carolina’s chronically ill or abused. Overall, these special add-on lines distract from the agency’s broader mission of protecting South Carolina’s public health. Each new special interest that wins an earmark takes more of DHEC’s attention away from its overall mission.”
South Carolina is the third most violent state in the country. Pickens is believed to have the second highest sexual abuse rate in the state, while Greenville is believed to have the highest child abuse rate in the state. An estimated 48% of teens were victims of peer sexual abuse in the 2010-11 school year. 25% of teens are victimized on a daily basis. More than 36,000 South Carolina residents annually report a domestic violence incident to law enforcement agencies. According to national statistics, 35.6% of domestic violence victims are women and 28.5% are men. Each year, there are approximately 21,000 reports of child abuse, involving approximately 42,000 children. An estimated 17-67% of public/private school students are victims of verbal or physical bullying. In a 2009 survey by the CDC, 25% of adolescents said that they experienced verbal, physical, emotional, or sexual abuse from a boy/girlfriend in the past 12 months. On top of these statistics, school violence reports from elementary school through college each estimate that only 10% of cases are reported to parents, teachers, administrators, counselors or law enforcement. Including non-school cases, only 16-38% of rape victims report the rape to law enforcement, and only 17-43% seek a medical help or a rape kit. Given the general scorn, socially, for victims of sexual abuse who haven’t been raped, but are seeking help anyway, I can only imagine that far fewer sexual abuse/non-rape victims seek help than rape victims. Rape victims and sexual abuse victims who haven’t been raped fear being blamed, accused of making more of it than it was and re-targeted. The first inclination of a non-rape victim is to assume that rape crisis centers are only for rape victims; thus, they don’t seek help. Both sets of victims decide against seeking help on the assumption that the people in their lives will find out if they do. Of course, these are only a couple of the social reasons for not seeking help. The personal reasons people have also include financial concerns, self-loathing, the preference of denial and/or fear of making the memories worse. On the assumption that the majority of people don’t view research in the same light as official reports, I’d like to think the above statistics account for at least 80% of victims, in which case only about 11% of South Carolina residents are victims of abuse. Unfortunately, though, research consistently indicates an intense fear of being discovered, as victims are consistently shamed by the abuser, friends/family and society for the crimes committed against them. Too, I have never seen one of these surveys, until the past few years. If I had, with the sole exception of a few occasions in high school, I would most likely have ignored it or denied abuse for fear of retribution. Following the earlier estimate of only 10% of people reporting abuse, as many as 81.5% of South Carolina residents are victims of abuse each year.
Governor Haley’s stated reason for cutting funding was that it was a recurring need from a one-time fund for special organizations and should not be earmarked inside the DHEC budget. Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said the governor was not referring to the people served by those agencies as “special interests,” but the fact that DHEC was being forced to give state money to non-state agencies. Though she is also said to have signed off on an increase in funding to rape crisis centers and domestic violence prosecution, saying she “supports the work of the rape-crisis centers but is opposed to how the Legislature tried to pay for them,” the impression given is that of general apathy and ignorance of the significance of abuse.
Taking her statement literally, that “these lines attempts to serve…only a small portion of South Carolina’s chronically ill or abused,” it then becomes clear that they serve a minority of South Carolina residents because they serve a minority of victims. This being the case, the better decision—for the overall health of South Carolina residents—would have been to increase funding to anti-abuse groups by so much that they don’t need to seek help from the one-time fund. Likewise, if the government objects to funding “non-state agencies,” they should make a more determined effort to address and end abuse. It is precisely because the state and federal governments are not taking an open/active role in ending abuse, and because abuse is such a serious issue, that privately run agencies must be created. It is the apparent belief of government officials in general that abuse is a private, albeit very unfortunate, issue that does not extend beyond the victim, the perpetrator and, possibly, the children in the case of domestic abuse and, therefore, doesn’t concern them. It is in fact completely illogical, from a psychological or sociological standpoint, to believe that so many people can be victims of any kind of abuse, individual act of violence or any other traumatic event, without others being affected. Add to this the sheer number of estimated victims—whether closer to 11% or 81.5% of South Carolina residents—and we have a clear argument that abuse is a statewide, public concern. Abuse of any kind is a traumatic event. It and the PTSD symptoms, individually and together, wreak havoc on the personal lives, relationships, jobs, spiritual lives and finances of anyone/everyone affected—be it the victim, the perpetrator, a loved one, a witness or even a complete stranger that one of the above happens to come in contact with. People don’t always realize this when they abuse someone. I believe most abusers never consider the lifetime effects of their actions. They don’t care and, frankly, if they actually thought about it, the majority of those who would otherwise abuse someone would instead choose not to because the leading reasons for peer sexual abuse in schools at least is that the perpetrator views it as harmless fun.
From experience and research, I know there are also those who are fully aware of the “short-term” effects of their actions—fear, humiliation, inability to concentrate on school/work, anxiety/dread, preoccupation, physical sickness, etc. For some of these, learning later of the victim having nightmares/flashbacks about them is an added perk, a means of continuing the thrill. This decision is, in itself, potentially detrimental to the perpetrator’s loved ones as well. Personally, I no longer find abuse to be that complicated an issue to understand, but how far the damage reaches is something else all-together. Damage of this magnitude cannot be contained on such limited resources as those afforded to anti-abuse groups by our ever flimsy government. This is not to say it’s impossible of course—only that affecting the whole of society would require the participation of society. Local rape crisis centers and other anti-abuse groups work passionately and tirelessly to change the world for one person at a time. The budget cuts from Governor Haley’s office, if they had gone through, could have cost several people their relationships, jobs and, possibly, led to an increase in suicides. The federal government cuts still may. I can virtually guarantee that you, the reader, have been affected by abuse. Even if you have never been abused and don’t know anyone who has, it’s nearly certain that you have a friend, relative or coworker who has been abused. Please step up for abuse victims and for yourself by donating to your local anti-abuse groups. Please also consider donating to the Pickens County Rape Crisis Council at 900 E. Main Street, Suite D, Easley, SC 29640.
Lastly, each time you think of abuse, think of the people that you love and/or admire and take a stand against abuse whenever you see/hear it or hear of it.
Mandy Trouten, author of Maybe Today