Thursday, April 28, 2011

Sexual Assault Awaremess Month

By Deborah R. Gilg, United States Attorney for District of Nebraska
(Used with permission of author)

It is time to get involved.

“Sexual violence is an affront against our national conscience, one which we cannot ignore.” President Obama, April 2010.

In 2009, President Obama was the first President to mark April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This was significant because awareness months serve not only to highlight different issues that impact our society, but they also challenge citizens to learn more and to become involved in finding solutions to a collective problem. This April, I am heeding the President’s call to be a partner in raising awareness on the issue of sexual violence and I hope you will join me.

This devastating crime warrants our focused attention because it is often misunderstood and incorrectly portrayed. Paradoxically, on the one hand, we are reluctant to talk about the issue; yet, when sexual violence is discussed, we see that it continues to be misunderstood. Myths still dominate the collective thinking; victims are blamed and often shamed into silence.

It’s commonly believed that rape is something that only happens between strangers. This is not the case. Statistics show that the majority of rape victims know their perpetrator.

Many believe that consent to sexual activity is a flexible concept up for debate. It is not.

Regardless of whether you or someone you know has been personally affected by sexual violence, you have only to read the newspaper or turn on the television to realize the extensive nature of its impact on our society and around the world. Sexual violence knows no boundaries. It reaches people of every age, race, class, gender and sexual orientation. It affects entire communities from high schools, to college campuses, the work place and our own homes. Some populations are particularly vulnerable such as children, people with disabilities, and the elderly. Whatever the circumstances, it must be said plainly and indisputably: no one asks or deserves to be sexually assaulted.

Researchers estimate that about 18% of women in the United States report having been raped at some point in their lifetimes. Many men are also victims of sexual violence: 1 in 33 men will be victimized in his lifetime.

Nearly one in three American Indian and Alaska Native women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. The level of sexual violence in tribal communities is particularly disturbing. The Department of Justice has made addressing public safety in Indian Country a priority. Department leadership has held numerous listening sessions and consultations to hear from Tribal Nations on ways we can work together to assist victims and hold offenders accountable. In my own office, we have conducted consultations with tribal communities to develop specific plans to improve public safety in those communities, and to prioritize prosecution of sexual assault of Native American women.

But a deeper look at these numbers reveals another critical concern. Sexual assault remains one of the most underreported crimes in America. In fact, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that in 2008 less than half of rapes or sexual assaults against women were reported. Many victims will never seek justice for a host of reasons, including fear of not being believed, having to relive a traumatic experience, or fear of retribution, to list a few.

The effects on victims and society are profound. Many rape victims suffer severe long-term physical and emotional difficulties. They experience higher rates of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and even thoughts of suicide.

One sexual assault is one too many. From a criminal justice perspective, we must create an environment where victims feel safe reporting crimes to law enforcement so that they can begin to seek the justice they deserve. This April, let us challenge every community in Nebraska to learn more about sexual violence, to better understand its impact, and to take a stand against it.

As the US Attorney for Nebraska and part of the Department of Justice, we view working for greater public safety not only as our job but as our moral imperative. Our greatest hope is that more citizens will join us in our quest to meet the needs of victims, hold offenders accountable and put an end to sexual violence here and around the world.
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My thanks to Ms. Gilg for allowing me to post her article. To read more about the trauma of sexual assault and how it affect the lives of women offenders order The Women of Block 12: Voices from a Jail Ministry. 

Saturday, April 23, 2011

"I Love To Tell The Story"

crucification of JesusWhen I visited the women Wednesday evening, I wanted to present the story of Holy Week in a way that would be memorable for the group and, at the same time, give them a method of teaching it to their children. After Googling "The Easter Story for young adults," I found this site that used small objects inside of plastic eggs to tell the story.

Because we are limited to what we can bring into the jail, I gave each of the 14 women in our group an envelope with a picture in it. The envelopes were numbered and had a corresponding Bible verse written on them.

One-by-one, I told the women to open their envelope and show the picture. The first was a palm branch. I asked  if anyone could tell the group what that meant. Two women  raised their hands and told the story of Jesus's entry into Jerusalem. Then we read the verse.

We went around the table, opening envelopes -  a loaf of bread, silver coins for the betrayal. a crown of thorns, a cross, a pair of dice for the casting of lots, a stone for the cover of the tomb, (you get the idea . . .) With each picture, I looked around the room and asked, "Does anyone know what this picture stands for?"

The same two inmates answered all the questions! The other twelve women just shook their heads. Eighty-five percent of the group had never heard the story! As shocking as this might seem, a former inmate once told me, "Until I went to prison, I thought Jesus was a fictional character."

Tonight, as we wait for Easter morning to celebrate the risen Christ, let's pray for those who walk in darkness.

God Bless all of you!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Guest Blogger - Joy

Joy speaking at book signing March 31, 2011.
 For those of you who don't know me, my name is Joy. My story is also in Linda's book The Women of Block 12: Voices from a Jail Ministry. When Linda asked me to speak at her book signing, I thought, "I can't do that! I would be too nervous." But then, I thought, "This isn't about me. . . this is about a woman who took the time to love and encourage me to be who I am today." So, I decided to do it.

I met Linda about nine years ago. I was in jail and she facilitated a creative writing group every Wednesday. The only reason I went to her group was because the other girls in the block told me, "Linda gives us a free pad of paper and a pencil." In jail, that's a big deal! At the time, I was so lost - addicted to drugs, men, living a selfish lifestyle. I was looking for something to fill the void in my life. I had no hope of changing because I didn't know how. I had been in treatment many times, but couldn't find sobriety.

Anyway, as I got to know Linda, I knew there was something special about her because no matter how many times I fell on my face, she was there to pick me up and encourage me. Don't get me wrong. . . she didn't pull any punches and baby me. She always said it like it was and she never gave up. I knew about God and Jesus dying for my sins, but I thought he was just a fictional character and he couldn't possibly love or forgive me for all that I had done in my life. I was wrong! God uses people to reveal his love for us and he used Linda with me.

When I first met Linda, she stayed in contact with me when I went to prison. I used to think, "What does this lady want with me?" because she was always there, right on time, when I needed her. But she didn't want anything from me. She just wanted me to see the good things about myself that I didn't see and to know that I was worthy of having a good life, no matter what I'd done in my past.

So Linda, I want to thank you for never judging or criticizing me and letting my story be told in this book. I want you to know that I don't give up because you don't give up. And, although I am not where I want to be in my life. . . yet. . . I am definitely not where I used to be thanks to you and this ministry.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Book Signing at Martha Merrell's Books & Cafe

Thursday, March 31st 2011 was my first opportunity to join friends, co-workers, and fellow St. Dismis Ministry members for the official launching of "The Women of Block 12."

__________________________ Our host was Martha Merrell's/Cuddles Books & Cafe on Main Street in historic downtown Waukesha, Wisconsin. __________________________

It was a night filled with the love of family and friends as more than 50 people joined us for an evening of fun and celebration. _____________________________________________________ The highlight of the program occurred when two ministry graduates, Tesa and Joy shared their stories. There wasn't enough kleenex to go around.

Tesa, Linda, Joy


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