The Role of Social Work in Combating Sex-Trafficking

As a woman of Eastern European descent, I can speak of the prevalence of sex trafficking throughout the world. According to a September 2017 report from the International Labor Organization (ILO), there are a reported 4.8 million sex trafficking victims worldwide, and while we’ve grown accustomed to believing it only happens in distant, faraway places, the National Human Trafficking Hotline reports that trafficking has actually increased from 35.7% from 2016-2017 in the United States. Media exposure and celebrity advocacy remains light, with the exception of Ashton Kutcher’s advocacy, so the issue is still relatively unknown to many.  But social workers are addressing the issue with therapies like Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) in hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, private practices, and shelters throughout the world. And considering the unique way DBT addresses PTSD symptoms which many sex-trafficking victims share, and the effectiveness of shelters catering to the issue, I do believe social workers have the power to improve the issue.

Since more and more shelters are catering to the needs of sex-trafficking victims, I do believe social workers can continue addressing the issue by opening up more of these shelters. Many victims cannot escape traffickers for reasons such as poverty, no support system, and/or fear of death if they go against their traffickers. Women are usually sold in by people they know & trust, many times by family members who sell them for alcohol, drugs or money. Many others don’t even ask for help because they could not imagine anyone ever being altruistic enough to take them out of their misery. For those who do escape, however, they can find refuge in shelters specifically catering to victims’ needs. Reaching Out Romania is one such program which provides these types of shelters to victims.  The founder, Iana Matei, has saved over 470 victims of sex-trafficking; many times, the victims are referred by the police, Child Protection Departments, and NGO’s from Destination Countries. However, when necessary victims are often rescued off the street from their pimps. Girls are offered psychological, medical and legal assistance. Furthermore, some facilities are even targeting women who are most vulnerable to trafficking as we’ve also seen with Stella’s House in Alabama. These houses are havens for orphan women who can no longer stay in state-run facilities and are prime targets for sex traffickers. Hundreds have been spared that life of misery and I anticipate many more victims will be spared as more and more social workers create and work in these types of shelters.

Since most sex trafficking victims suffer with PTSD from the extreme physical, sexual, and emotional violence they’ve endured according to a study at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College (Oram, 2015), I believe social workers can better address this issue by administering this therapy, which would be particularly effective in the specialized ‘sex-trafficking’ shelters that I mentioned previously.  Dialetical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), created by Marsha Lineham, has been used to treat individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The therapy combines CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy) with Buddhist Principles and has four components: Mindfulness, Emotion Regulation, Distress Tolerance, and Interpersonal Effectiveness. Mindfulness is the practice of being present in the moment; Distress Tolerance helps clients tolerate pain in stressful situations; Interpersonal Effectiveness helps clients improve relationships, teaching patients how to say no while preserving their self-respect and respect for others; Emotion Regulation is the practice of managing overwhelming emotions. The DBT Skills Training runs exactly like a class. All the DBT skills are taught, and homework is assigned so clients are able to apply their knowledge in everyday life. Then social workers provide individual therapy to help clients learn how to apply their knowledge based on challenges in their life. In the case of sex-trafficking victims, therapists are often well-aware of the patients’ histories, which commonly include extreme emotional, physical, sexual, and emotional violence and take this into consideration when they suggest how they should cope with situations that may trigger a reaction. This runs once a week, simultaneously with the group session. There is also in-the-moment support for those clients in case they have an emergency.  DBT social workers also help clients structure their physical and social atmospheres with case management, and they only intervene when absolutely necessary.

Ultimately, I believe that social workers can make great strides in the fight against sex-trafficking by administering DBT in sex-trafficking shelters. And while it all seems pretty unrealistic if we consider how taboo the issue remains, it’s undeniable the issue has generated more attention than ever before. We recently learned that former ‘Smallville’ cast-member, Allison Mack, was charged with sex-trafficking with her alleged involvement in an alleged cult, “Nexium” run by herself and the founder Keith Raniere. Even the social workers and psychologists at the heart of the mission are speaking to the media, such as Iana Matei, the founder of Reaching Out Romania, who was featured in the Huffington Post for her incredible work in rescuing over 470 victims of sex-trafficking since 1998. So, we aren’t as far away as we may think in tackling the issue. It’s just a matter of remaining cognizant of the reality and dedicated enough to fix the issue. And it’s in the scope – and the hearts – of social workers jobs to accomplish this.

Friendship Triumphs Over Fear

By Melanie Thompson

Fear is an equal opportunity employer. It is a parasite that doesn’t care if you are black or white, man or woman, young or old, rich or poor, or smart or stupid. Fear is adaptable, and it gets smarter as we age, learn, and grow.

When I was struggling, deadly sick with addiction, depression, anxiety, suicidal idealization, and self-mutilation, I feared not having enough food to eat or being safe from myself or “others”. I feared being alone for the rest of my life, never being understood. Today, after almost 10 years of therapy, self- help, 12 steps, and prayers, my fears have changed. Today I fear paying my bills, not having romantic love or children, not meeting my obligations to the ones I love, and not being able to fulfill my Higher Power’s purpose for me. The fears of today may be different than the ones I had almost a decade ago, but they still have the power to debilitate, create doubt, and make me feel less than the sum of my hard work.

I am as sick as my secrets. The more secrets I keep, the higher the toxicity levels in my body, which harm the relationships between God, myself, the world, and my loved ones. But if there was anything that should be a secret, it should be our fears right? We’ve learned that if we expose and share our fears, that information will be used to harm or humiliate us. Who wants to be harmed of humiliated?

No one of course! But eventually I became fed up with feeling toxic, alone, scared, and full of doubt, and I was told the only way to change those feelings was to expose my fears to the light of day. To take a chance on people and believe that they wouldn’t use my fears to harm or humiliate me. I wanted to be well, to experience happiness, and in- order to do that, I had to save my ass, instead of my face.

I took baby steps with saving my ass. I told my therapist some of my darker secrets – and thank God he didn’t flinch when I told him. (That is the sign of a good therapist, nothing appears to shock them). When the levees broke, and I became consumed with letting loose even deeper thoughts, I then turned to my friends. The ones I had left.

The curious thing about friendships is that they are brought into your life  sometimes for a season, but always for a reason. Sharing my fears with my friends taught me that I was not alone in my feelings, and not only had many of friends dealt with some of the same fears, they had triumphed over them as well.

Not all my friends were eager to swap battle stories, nor were all of them reliable for counsel. However, the benefit of telling them in hopes of finding a confidant outweighed the risks. Exposing my demons to the light, saving my ass, sharing my darkest thoughts with another loving person had cut my fears in half and revealed that I was not the only person who had to struggle with their weight. Finally I began to see myself as  a soldier among soldiers in the war for peace and well-being.

I need my friends as desperately as I need my health insurance. But, unlike my health insurance, which required a day at social services, I had to do very different work to acquire and maintain my friendships. Truth be told, it is much harder to be a good friend as an adult than it was as a kid.  Life shows up, gets in the way, and there never seems to be enough time or energy to cultivate trusting and long lasting friendships. But when we want friendships, and become willing to make the time for them, teachers appear to show us how to manage it all and achieve balance. My gurus of friendship are truly amazing. Glenda, Monica, Doriane, Dana, Dawn, Kelly, Zenobia, Lesa, and Leigh, to name a few, have helped me learn from my mistakes and take the risks required to learn how to be a good friend.

My friends have taught me:

  • Listen twice as much as I speak
  • Ask questions
  • Reach out first
  • Be Courageous
  • Show up for them the way I would want them to show up for me
  • Speak to myself the way I would speak to them
  •  Forgive myself- and also ask for forgiveness – when I do something harmful
  • Hope for the best
  • Believe that there is more good than bad in the world
  • The only secrets I can keep with impunity are theirs
    and the only secrets they can keep with impunity are mine.

Friendships not only split fears in half, but they also make fears manageable, life manageable, and living enjoyable. It is imperative to take care of our friendships and to be good stewards in those relationships. As with all relationships, friendships come with their fair share of disappointments. People grow apart emotionally and physically, but with all relationships, it is important to never stop trying to be a good friend and a good person.

Fear will cause decay and stagnation. Friendships will revolutionize your existence regardless of their outward appearance. The compassion, peace of mind, hope and hilarity they can bring can rescue you from the brink of despair, and hurl you to the edge of ecstasy. So, seize the moment, reach out and take a risk because you deserve to live the most fulfilling life possible and you cannot do that alone. You are never alone.

“Frozen Oranges”: Inside the Mind of Violet Paley

There’s no shortage in abuse that Violet Paley has endured since the James Franco scandal. While she’s procured a solid position in the #metoo movement after calling out Franco for his hypocrisy, she’s also been hailed against by pro-Trump trolls who have threatened her very life on Instagram. All this we know about Violet Paley.

But do we know Violet Paley? Do we know the young feminist who’s been unusually powerful in an industry still dominated by far older, richer, and more established media moguls?

Violet Paley recently wrote, Frozen Oranges, to give us a look inside a mind she describes as scattered and slightly unusual at times. Still, there’s an equally unusual clarity which she views the world. A true method to her madness which is grabbing the attention of some of the most powerful people in show-business, some even rallying for her cause as we’ve seen with Scarlett Johansson not long after the allegations surfaced.

Her disposition is strong and nonchalant. Fiercely loyal to her cause and totally removed from the outside noise,  while she’s made great strides for women this year alone, I couldn’t help but wonder how she defined her own mission. I personally know Violet Paley, so when I heard she wrote a book, I jumped at the opportunity to interview her. I know she’s a true feminist, but her messages are easily lost translation with a media and Internet trolls who often nominalize her to nothing more than an attention-seeking, mentally-ill girl. So how can we ever credit her for being such a pioneer in the fight against sexual harassment amidst all this negativity being spewed at us about her?

We must get to know her. And lucky for us, Frozen Oranges gives us the chance.

 “So why did you write Frozen Oranges?” I asked.

“To help people,” she answered. It seemed simple enough, but still, I didn’t fully understand.

“Well, how? Your book. It’s your stream of consciousness, your thoughts. Inside a mind which you label as borderline. That is, Borderline Personality Disorder, a disorder marked by mood swings, instability with the self, self-harm, and even sexual confusion.”

“It is,” she answered, “I just don’t see why this wouldn’t be helpful? Couldn’t we all relate to strange thoughts? To feeling misunderstood in a society which tells us it’s wrong or bad to be different?”

She continued, “Plus, having Borderline Personality Disorder doesn’t define me as a person. I wrote the book to speak my truth. And for all those who choose to label me as crazy, there’s millions more who want someone they can relate to. Someone who has struggled with drugs, self-esteem, sex, and has come out through the pain, empowered as ever.  It’s about the people.”

Her honesty made me question if I ever was truthful in my life before. And her uncanny ability to sense inauthenticity forced me to become even more transparent about my own thoughts, knowing I could not go deeper with her unless she too felt I was being just as honest.

“Well,” I started, “I can see that. Admirable that you are willing to take the punches even after the negative backlash. But I have to know, do you think the situation with James will prevent you from being seen as the feminist you truly are?”

“I wouldn’t care if it did.” She looked at me deeply while she calmly massaged the inside of her one hand with the other.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because it’s not about others’ interpretation of the situation with James. It’s about me doing what I believe is right. I spoke out against James because I know what he did to me and so many other girls. And by speaking out I gave them a voice. If I sat here concerned about some of the things people will inevitably say about me, how could I help all those women right now who are being quieted out of fear?”

Her eyes spoke with a sincerity that you would see in a child when she does not understand how something could be any different than how she sees it.

She continued, “I’ve always spoken out about sexual harassment, and my book speaks to the severity of the problem as well. I’ve been a victim of rape and I’ve spoken candidly about it to help other women who also struggle with the memory. It’s something I feel strongly about and I will continue to take punches as long as women can come out stronger. I KNOW I am a feminist. I KNOW I am helping people. And that’s all that matters.”

And lucky for us, Frozen Oranges takes us deeper into her beautiful mind. Clearly, Violet Paley understands that she cannot control the perception other people have of her. She knows people may never credit her for the rippling effect she’s already had on an entertainment industry that has quieted hundreds of women in the last decade alone (let’s not forget Vogue decided to take Franco off their Hollywood cover after Violet and four other women came forward about his sexually exploitative and inappropriate behavior). Some may claim she simply spoke out at a time when many other women were doing so and jumped on the bandwagon to avenge a career she believed Franco would advance by working with him.  And others may just credit her perceived recklessness as reason enough to define sexual harassment so more and more men aren’t falsely accused. But in learning first-hand about her, we see that Violet may very well be at the root of all the positive changes that have occurred as well. As it seems her goals are pretty consistent with what’s manifested after the allegations surfaced. More women have spoken out. More men are suffering  the consequences of their behavior. And more people are learning right from wrong in the myriad of ways that we can learn from this movement. Even when we as women should speak out for others. And because of Violet’s INSANE strength  – the real method to her madness – we are seeing first-hand the incredible impact of a true feminist in the fight against sexual assault.

So thank you Violet Paley. You are an example for us all.  And you’re making this fight much easier for us all.

Janibell: The Up-and-Coming Power Icon from Perth Amboy

“Instead of obsessing over someone else’s moves, pick up a book and become smarter.”

Was it God’s plan that I should come across Janibell on Instagram?

I think so.

As a journalist in search of young talent,  why wouldn’t I be stopped in my tracks when I came across her Instagram profile?

Just a regular shmegular girl from Perth Amboy, Janibell uses her transparency to help others reach their full  potential, and as an artist, uses her many talents to get the message across. An entrepreneur, businesswoman, and model, getting to know her is entering a world of positivity, self-exploration , and most importantly, hope. 

Immediately enthralled by her unique prowess, a combination of a Dominican goddess and a chic, New York professional —I observed in her a proclivity to take risks, and clicked her website URL at the top of her Instagram profile: lovejanibell.com

I read her bio.

Janibell packed her bags for FIT (the Fashion Institute of Technology) after high school to pursue her passion of modeling though she was offered a full ride to Rutgers University for Mathematics. And it was an ideal situation that she’d be in a place where she could pursue her dreams at FIT and also receive the degree her mother always wanted her to get.

But sadly, Janibell’s mother died when she was in her second semester of college.  Being the center of her world, Janibell decided to concentrate on earning her BA in Fashion Merchandising Management and currently manages her very own Interior Home Design business. And it is her mother’s death which inspires her to remain transparent enough to help others get through their hardships and carve out the necessary paths to reach their goals, as she herself does every single day.

“Life is very short. After losing my mother and finally letting go of her, it took me about four years to really, truly get to know who I
am and grow into the woman that I am today. I am a true believer that we are all born with a purpose on this earth. Once you find your purpose do not allow anyone to stop you from achieving your goals. The sky is the limit and yes, sometimes life can get difficult, but nothing is impossible.”

In addition to her Interior Home Design Business,  Janibell works as a Sales Representative in the plumbing world.  She is very passionate about her job, but everyday she is forced to challenge the misconception that beautiful women cannot be smart and reports having to be very dominant to be taken seriously in such a male-dominated industry. However, with an impressive track-record, she proves the point exactly:  women can be successful despite the challenges they may face, and should not give up until they reach their goals.

And lucky for us, she remains transparent about how she overcomes these struggles, where she wants to go,  and how she intends to get there in her blog.

“I learned it wasn’t about where I come from, or what obstacles I may have overcome. It was about being content with myself, and just being the best version of me that I can be. It’s about finding my purpose, and doing what makes me come alive. We all get wrapped up with the world needing more successful people, but the reality is that the world needs more healers, restorers, storytellers, and most importantly, lovers…”

Within ourselves we aspire to be what we are programmed to believe is ‘better’ so we don’t have to grapple with all the shortcomings that lay dormant within us. The Kim Kardashian makeup tutorial inspires of us to be more beautiful. The Nike commercial inspires us to be as fit as the track model. But Janibell’s attempt to motivate comes from a very different place, and her words keep us in competition with no one other than ourselves.

Janibell speaks this truth. And she walks the walk. A businesswoman, a model, and a true visionary, she’s here to prove that we can live life on our terms if we search hard enough to find ourselves beneath all the pain, and not let hardship get in the way.

Who knows? Maybe the hardship will become the very reason we become the healer, restorer, storyteller, or lover,  the universe is calling us to be. 

So let’s walk with Janibell along her path, and find our own path in the process.

I Lost My Soulmate, and Here’s What I Learned About True Love

True love.  Most would argue that true love’s greatest challenge is to be found. Others would argue that it’s greatest challenge is to be kept alive.

I argue true love’s  greatest challenge is to be broken apart, leaving two people with nothing but the option of returning back to  normal, ‘earthly’ relationships.  Not easy when you once connected such a deep, soul connection with someone.

 

What do I mean by this?

If there are too many factors preventing you from being with a man or a woman, you both cannot share true love.  If your soulmate’s friends don’t like you, if your family values are different, if he or she is afraid to surrender to such a strong connection, true love is challenged—and can, and often does, fail.

That doesn’t mean that true love wants to hurt you. It means true love presented you with a challenge for a reason, and if you can see that reason beneath the whirlwind of emotions true love brings, you will be freed of the heartbreak.

I met my soulmate at 24. I went to a local club with a friend. He worked at the outside bar, and the moment I looked at him as I stepped out of my car onto the wobbly, archaic-looking pavement, I fell in love.

It was as if we were destined to meet that night: my girl-friend knew his guy-friend and he decided to approach my car as I prepared to leave the parking lot at 4AM. I was mildly drunk and more agitated that me and my friend had to make the trip back home so late, so my senses were overwhelmed when he knocked at the side-door window.

I screamed.

I had no clue it was him, but after seeing it was, I rolled down my car window, glossed with the dim light of the full moon shining upon it. He smiled.

“Hi, how are you?”

“I’m good” I started, “such a pleasant surprise it was you tapping at my window. I was hoping you’d come over at one point during the night.”

He laughed deeply, then took my number.

I thought I’d never hear from him again, but it turned out that I did. The next morning, he asked if I got home.

I can’t speak for him or his feelings, but I felt such a strong energetic connection that for weeks afterwards, I couldn’t think of anything else. Our conversations lasted for hours, and I wound up meeting him at a diner not long after. Days later, we went running. Weeks later, we went to a museum. And a month later, we made love.

Then, the morning after, he told me he needed a break because he felt we were moving too fast, and he wasn’t sure if he was ready for a serious relationship. A knife sliced through my gut, and all I could say was, “Well, I never planned on staying with you anyway.”

He never spoke to me again.

To this day I have regret. What I said was wrong, and it wasn’t until years later that I realized what I’d done. I’d heard from a close friend he was engaged to a woman, and while I still feel my love may’ve been requited in a way at the time – I know what I said destroyed any chance of us being partners, friends, or even acquaintances in the future.

In this case, true love posed a challenge, and I failed.

But what we don’t always realize is that the challenge of true love brings the challenge of self-love.  And if we take on the challenge in the right way, we can become more evolved human beings. If I’d realized I wasn’t responsible for being abandoned in my youth, I would’ve understood that his feelings were completely unrelated my own sense of unworthiness. And if I were just kinder in my delivery, I could’ve very well salvaged a relationship that I secretly cherished.

So while I accept we cannot be together,  I’ve grown to understand the importance of kindness in true love…and in relationships in general. And even if this lesson was the only reason for our meeting,  I’m grateful for it. Because true love is hard, and only if we love ourselves enough to know we are deserving of it, can we truly experience all it has to offer. And this includes showing the world who we are, unabashedly,  with all the kindness and compassionate we hold within ourselves. And strive everyday to manifest our highest self, true love’s greatest challenge – and greatest gift.

For all those in search of love, or with a love lost, I hope this helps you.

Much love,

Merissa

I Received A DM from Violet Paley, And Here’s What I Now Know About Abuse

A message from Violet Paley helped me understand the dark world of covert psychological abuse and why we continue ignoring the signs~

 

Did I expect Violet Paley to disclose her side of the story after I wrote an article defending James Franco? Not in a million years.

When Paley alleged Franco displayed “sexually exploitative and inappropriate behavior”, I wrote Is James Franco Apologizing for Bruising the Ego’s of Young Women?  to send the world a message about the witch-hunt she pioneered to avenge a career she believed Franco would advance.

According to the LA Times, the five women involved with this scandal believed Franco could help them professionally and “acquiesced to his wishes even when they were uncomfortable.”  Later, Paley revealed  that I was “the only person who had a problem with the statement”; still, I was convinced she used #metoo to forge ahead in her career, and there was no better time to stir the pot than right after his win for Best Actor at the Golden Globes.

The aftermath was nothing short of catastrophic for Franco. His mural was painted over at his high school, he was removed from Vanity Fair’s Hollywood cover, forced to apologize for his behavior on Colbert’s Late Show, and was humiliated in nearly every major news source in the country. Still, it was only the stories of five, young women, all of whom the country knew little else about, that convinced us he was a sexual predator.

In writing the article, I aimed to question the legitimacy of these claims. Had we defined sexual harassment yet? How thoroughly were these allegations investigated before Franco was deemed a predator?  Had we considered other motivations these woman could’ve had to accuse Franco of sexual harassment?

So when Paley contacted me directly, it was nothing short of flabbergasting. First I received a friend request from an eerily familiar looking girl, with darkness around her eyes, as if she screamed for help with them alone. Her platinum blonde hair was plastered against her porcelain skin, but before I could assess more of her picture, I received a DM.

“You don’t even know the half of it.” she started the Facebook conversation.

“Then tell me.” I responded.

She referenced my article: “‘How do we know Franco wouldn’t have stopped his advances if Paley asked him to?’ I said can we not do this here.”

“ ‘And how do we know her allegations were not out of resentment as he basked in glory at the Golden Globes while she herself admitted to expecting career advancement out of their relationship?’ Because I’ve been saying it for months, almost a year, and it only went viral because he was trending that day and I was appalled by the “Time’s Up” hypocrisy. I didn’t “expect” career advancement. He offered to help me with my career.”

The conversation took an ugly turn: ‘Honestly, I’m offended by your post,’ she started, “your article was tweeted to me by pro-trump trolls who have sent me death threats. Just so you know who your article is helping.”

“Honestly, I really didn’t think too many people would read it. Let alone you.”

“Then why did you write it?”

“My intention was not to hurt you or create this type of uproar. Clearly, it was to make a point based on what I thought was the reality of the situation. Maybe you should take this up with the LA Times: ‘In some cases, they (the girls) believed Franco could offer them career advancement, and acquiesced to his wishes even when they were uncomfortable.’ ”

“I am in contact with them, and you are the only person who has a problem with that statement. Not all of us are given opportunities from our families, so when someone says they’ll help us, we take it.”

“What does my family have to do with this?”

Did I just become another victim in this convoluted witch-hunt? I couldn’t help if other people used my article to justify their actions. I didn’t send her death threats.

She answered my question, “No. But I’m saying that in Hollywood to get ahead you need family in the business. And I don’t have that and neither did these girls. And we LIKED James. So he took advantage of both those facts.”

Shortly after, Paley sent me a message from another girl he allegedly forced to give him oral sex. The message was about my article…

As I read this message, and re-read our conversation, I began to question whether I did, in fact, take the truth, and twist and diminish it, just to open it up for ridicule. Did I string together facts only to validate my first impression of Paley as being a fame-hungry millennial looking for 15 minutes of fame? It became clearer that Paley’s situation was very different than I’d originally anticipated, and if I’d been much less ignorant to the realities of abuse – and placed her story in the right context – I could have saved her that much more mistreatment.

“James psychologically threatened me and several girls. If we didn’t do things his way, he’d hate us, and we would have to give up on our dreams.”

Was James Franco conscious of the self-worth he destroyed or controlled by an unconscious need to dominate these women? We don’t know. We don’t know WHY he took out his genitalia in a car and continued his advances even after Paley confessed she was uncomfortable with the atmosphere, which should’ve been reason  enough for him to stop his advances.

Whatever the case, the reality remains that Franco abused his power to get what he wanted, and these covert psychological tactics can only be tackled if we identify the signs, and punish those in the exact same way Paley had done to James. And the punishment was, and still is, appropriate for what he’d done.

I apologized to Paley and promised to make it public.

“Thanks,” she responded, “I hope you don’t write that way about women again. Thank you.”

“I won’t, I promise.”

If you ever have the chance to meet Violet Paley, you are a lucky person. I thought myself a feminist until I met her. Someone willing to fight for her rights even while her life was threatened. Not just standing by her convictions, but knowing enough within herself that those convictions are worth fighting for. Thanks to her, much of the gritty work is done. Now we must remain conscious enough to continue the fight until every woman no longer has to worry about sexual harassment.

Thank you Violet Paley for all you’ve done for this movement, for women, and for me.

With love,

Merissa

 

Thank you Violet Paley

I think as an artist, we feel a moral responsibility to speak frankly on what we believe is right and wrong. Not that the desire is not in most human beings, but we cannot refuse the desire within ourselves to somehow express it. We need to do it to stay alive.

But that doesn’t mean our convictions are always channeled in the right direction. So when Violet Paley reached out to me I couldn’t imagine that this young girl would have anything too life-changing to say to me especially since I rode a high horse being accomplished in my field, and her being the butt of so many jokes throughout America when she accused James Franco of what I perceived as bullshit at the time. But I have to say, she is far more remarkable than I ever imagined she would be, and changed my perception of myself and my experiences forever.

Thematically my Facebook has centered around abuse which may seem like overkill depending on who you are, and how you relate your own experiences to yourself and others. But I never really had courage to admit I suffered extreme abuse for most of my life. And I think embarrassment and generations of acceptance to mistreatment lead me to not only minimize my own experiences, but to also minimize the experience of others.

When I saw what Paley had done, her bravery and relentlessness triggered in me a need to just hide, to turn the blind eye as most people do because it just seemed natural and intuitive. But to be honest, that’s what creates the pain. That’s what perpetuates the anger. I won’t get into much more of my own experiences because I’m not ready. Nor do I feel it’s particularly relevant because the concept here is about a young woman from LA who changed my life. But I do feel a moral responsibility to myself and the world to account how she changed me – because we are inherently ignorant creatures who must come to our own conclusions in order to change, and it may impact more people in the long-range than if it were lectured to them.

But the point here is this: we cannot harbor on the past. We cannot change what happened. But we can speak, and should speak, not only for ourselves but for people who cannot speak for themselves. And prove that damage is nothing to be ashamed of because pain is collective. And it’s ok to have experienced it.

I did not write this article to get more renown. I’m established but far from famous and the in-depth article I have written could give me far more recognition if published on the right source. But I will not do that unless Violet consents because protecting her and honoring her experiences is far more important to me than getting ahead. Somehow the experience loses all it’s beauty if I use it for myself. Plus I can hardly forget how my Huffpost article helped others hurt her – and I am still ashamed of this.

But all I can say is she put me in my place. I’m reckless at times, but in the wise words of Angelina Jolie, I am not ‘a rebel without a cause.” And finally I know what that cause is, and I’m brave enough to speak. Speak from my soul. And get this off my chest.

Much love to all.

Best,
Merissa Bury

In Response to the Assault at Stanford

By Violet Paley

To the girl at Stanford,

This fourth of July marks the 4 year anniversary of when I was raped. That is the first time I have written down that haunting sentence.

First, let me start out by thanking this brave young woman. There are so many cases like this happening everywhere, where the victim stays quiet and it is swept under the rug. Your feelings, your experience, your bravery, your eloquence — all things that got me feeling and talking about things I had suppressed all this time. I think parts of my story are similar to yours.

I had just turned 18 and graduated from high school. One of my best friends Maddy and I had taken jobs at a camp in Big Bear. We are from Los Angeles, and we were excited to get to live with our coworkers in a cabin whilst working with different campers that would come up each week. I was the hiking instructor, which was funny in itself because I am terrible athletically and complain when I’m in the sun. The place we all lived in was big, coed, and a lot of fun. The bedrooms were small, and there were two sets of bunk beds in each of them, each with a thin cot. Most of the other staff members were from other places around the world, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, but mostly England. Maddy and I were the youngest working there. We were thrilled, and instantly had crushes on people.

At night, they would do this thing called “star bar” where we would all go to the woods while the campers were asleep (supervised by their counselors), get super drunk, and have fun. My first week there, I had sloppy, drunk sex with the hot lifeguard from New Zealand on one of those thin cots. Maddy and I talked about it in the morning, she asked for all the details and it was fun, we laughed and joked around about him. She asked if I would do it again, I said maybe. I was happy about it. It was consensual. Yes, I was drunk, but I was also awake.

Not even an hour after that, all the other staff members knew what had happened. The walls were thin. I could hear these girls calling me a whore. Girls that I tried so hard to be nice to. I remember telling my supervisor how I thought the girls didn’t like me and she told me, “well don’t shag someone the first week you’ve met them and people won’t judge you.” Fair. But is it their business who I sleep with, or what I decide to do with my body? Were they jealous? Or in actual disgust by my actions? It didn’t take me a long time to notice there was a lot of secret sex, relationships, and drama on the down low. Realizing it was rather hypocritical, I confronted one of the girls. She told me that I was new, very young, and just very different from them. She reminded me we’re coworkers, not friends. That hurt, I wanted to be friends with my coworkers.

Eventually things seemed to get better, I was on good terms with everyone and having fun with the kids during the day and blowing off steam at “star bar”. Fourth of July was coming up, and the supervisors had planned with the staff at another camp to rent a big, nice cabin for all of us to party in. It was going to be super fun. I was excited. And the day finally came.

Maddy and I got ready together. We put our hair up in matching bear buns, wore red, white, and blue make up, and took a whole bunch of selfies and sent them to our moms. We piled into one of the cars that was going, and got to the cabin. A lot of people were already there. My friends and I went upstairs to get drinks. I remember having a couple of drinks, maybe a shot, I’m not sure, it all seems blurry to me. Next thing I remember I was sitting on the couch laughing with everyone at my friend talking to us. I leaned over onto Jay, a guy in his 30’s from the UK. Everything seemed to be going in slow motion. I remember kissing Jay’s neck. I don’t remember much else. I have flashes of being on the floor and being put back on a bed, crying. But I had blacked out.

I woke up in the morning, completely confused on where I was. I got up and saw that someone had urinated on my body. My underwear were off I had bruises in my crouch area, and my vagina was swollen. I touched it and a mixture of what seemed like blood and seamen was in my fingers. I started yelling “Hello!?” repeatedly. Maddy ran in with her then boyfriend.

“Holy shit” they said looking at me. “What happened to me?!” I asked. She said, “you had sex with Jay I think.” I told her I didn’t. She said she saw him carrying me to the bedroom, and that’s all she remembered. It hurt to move, but we had to get back to work. There were only 4 of us, my friend and her boyfriend, and one of my coworkers with a car. I asked him to stop the we passed a drugstore. “I think I should buy plan B.” They all walked with me inside. I was limping, and something in my heart didn’t feel right. I took my friend’s boyfriend aside and asked him what happened. He seemed disturbed, “I was pretty drunk and I was trying to find a bathroom. I opened the door and you were falling off the bed and Jay kept pulling you back on. His pants were down. You didn’t seem awake. I said something like ‘what the hell is going on?’ and he told me ‘it was all cool’, and closed the door.” That hurt. Tears and the feeling of worthlessness started forming. I paid a days worth of my paycheck for the plan B, while standing shoeless, on the cold tile of CVS trying to not smell the scent of a stranger’s piss on my body.

We got back to camp and I was in trouble for being late. I told my supervisor I had to shower, someone had peed on me when I passed out. She rolled her eyes and let me do it. I could barely shower. I just stood there. I couldn’t touch my body, it hurt too much. I went into my bedroom and sat on the floor, curled up, and started crying. Maddy came to me and hugged me, told me she loved me, and told me it’s ok, we all make mistakes when we’re drunk. But she didn’t get it then, this wasn’t a mistake I made. Her well intentioned words made me feel worse, but I cried into her arms as she pet my knotted hair.

I finally got up and started getting dressed. “I made a mistake,” I told myself, “I got too drunk and had sex with someone. I was irresponsible.” Walking down the hall I heard the 3 older British girls sitting in their room talking about how “Violet’s a slut” and “18 years old and she screwed a 34 year old!” And more banter about how I’ve already “shagged” two guys there. They had all worked their for years and had a closer relationship with Jay than me, so naturally I was the perverted one in the situation.

I went up to my supervisor, frightened. She was always on top of her job, always right, and very strict. I told her, “I think Jay took advantage of me last night.” She stared at me. She said, “I’ve known him for 11 years, he is very important to me, he would never do anything like that. And if you say that to people, people will be very upset and you won’t work here for much longer. Ok?” I was instantly regretful. Praying she wouldn’t fire me because I tried to confide in her. It also made me confused, was I wrong? Why did this feel so disturbing to me? Why was I bleeding? Why couldn’t I touch my vagina without shrieking? Why was I bruised down there? Why did I feel RAPED?

I went through the day trying to get the word rape out of my head and just accept it as a drunk mistake. Then I saw Jay. My heart started pounding, and I walked right up to him. “Hi, I need to ask you questions about last night.” “Ok, I was really drunk,” he prefaced. I told him I felt like he took advantage of me and I wasn’t going to say anything to anyone if he was completely honest and told me what had happened. He told me I had been kissing his neck on the couch, and falling onto him so he took me to the bedroom. We were lying down and making out and then he started having sex with me. He said he wasn’t sure if I was passed out or not, he was “too drunk”. But that didn’t make sense, because he told me while he was fucking me, I fell off the bed. He said this happened several times. “Why didn’t you stop?” I asked meekly. “I don’t know, I’m sorry. I was really drunk.” He told me I woke up after some time and started throwing punches at him and sobbing, “get away from me”. He said it looked like a demon had taken over me. So he left. I thanked him for telling me the truth. Before I walked away he asked, terrified, “Do you think I raped you?” I didn’t know how to answer that, because from what everyone around me was telling me, no, he didn’t, I’m a slut. But my beat up body told me otherwise. I finally said, “no. please don’t do it again though.”

After that, I realized the true horror of what had happened, he had left me half naked, passed out, in a house where a party was still going on. So my mind just thinks up all the things that could’ve happened. Maybe a couple of guys from the other camp came and had their turn in me. Maybe some drunk people thought it would be funny to pee on the passed out drunk mess. Or maybe some pervert came and did brutal things to my vagina with inanimate objects. Jay’s story made it seem like he never came, so who’s seamen was dripping out of me? I didn’t even know how I felt about what he told me.

After leaving that camp for other reasons, I became heavily into drugs. I drank and did drugs before, but at this point I started doing it in lethal amounts. I would be in the ER blacked out screaming, “I was raped! I was raped at camp!” When I was sober in the morning and my parents would ask about it, I’d tell them it was nonsense.

I became very promiscuous after that. I would sleep with anyone if I was alone with them. I’m still working on this. My current therapist explained to me that some victims of rape will become extremely sexually aggressive because if they are the one’s to make the first move, they feel like they made a choice, and that they have the power. And that’s exactly how I’d feel. I’m giving them what they want, so they can’t do anything bad to me. I had sex with people and would just be lying there, my mind somewhere else, waiting for it to be over.

It’s taken me way too many breakdowns, inpatient treatment centers, outside validation, and research to finally be able to call what happened to me rape.

When you spoke out about your assault, I cried, I shared it with everyone I knew, and it reminded me of how important it is to be open about this. You’ve helped so many girls, just through your courage of going forward and being honest. I hope to do the same.

I want this dialogue to continue. More victims should feel like they can speak up. You speaking about a tragedy in your life helped me dealing with mine. Rape isn’t just how “SVU” or other shows, films, and books portray it, you can be a sexually active person, or drunk, or raped by someone you know.

And to any person out there that is scared their rape wasn’t “legitimate” or it was “a mistake”, you are not alone, the patriarchal conservative culture has made us feel that way. But there are people here to help. I needed to be able to say it out loud so I could get proper trauma therapy. I’m still working on it, and I look forward to it becoming something that makes me stronger.

Accept That He Cheated

Seeing clearly what is within one’s power to change is the key to taking action after infidelity.

With the temptations available to high-profile men, it’s not surprising that many of them get caught up in cheating scandals. In the last year alone, via almost every media outlet, we heard about men like Chad Johnson and Ashton Kutcher engaging in sexual relations outside their high-profile relationships. And with the surge in reality TV and massive media coverage, we’re better able to witness how their wives and girlfriends handle these situations.

No doubt infidelity is painful. When anyone dedicates themselves to a union, and their trust is betrayed, the emotional pain can be overwhelming. But for women in particular, to avoid this pain, there seems to be a specific way in which these situations are handled. As seen in countless scandals, when cheating allegations surface, oftentimes the woman will first stand by her partner. Demi Moore and Fergie are just a couple of women who stood by their husbands when mistresses first reported affairs with their men.

In cases of infidelity, women may also shift blame to the ‘other’ women. We see this pattern surface on reality TV programs like Basketball Wives and Mob Wives, where wives and girlfriends hold the other women primarily responsible for their men’s misbehavior. There seems to be aversion to one simple reality—the man’s betrayal.

And if it’s clear he’s been unfaithful, there’s constant rumination as to why the cheating occurred. Like the scandals themselves, the media harps on the subject, discussing all potential reasons for male infidelity. And depending on the source, you get a different answer. According to marriage counselor M. Gary Neuman, its emotional disconnection. According to TV personality Bill Maher, it’s the desire for something new. And according to legal prostitute Brooke Taylor, its narcissism. I’m sure there’s some truth to these arguments. But if there’s anything that’s certain—it’s that the cheating happened.

In an attempt to protect ourselves from pain, we think around ‘what is’, rationalizing or rejecting the reality before us. And with something as prevalent and painful as cheating, it’s not surprising that women mentally avoid the reality of their men’s indiscretion. But in acknowledging this act comes the acknowledgement of your partner’s sexual relation with another—not your indiscretion.

Some may ask—wouldn’t it be better to find reasons why this occurs, instead of just accepting it for our relationships? And my answer is—sure, if you want, you can look for reasons why and perhaps you’ll get some answers. Perhaps, as Gary Neuman claims, it’s emotional disconnection, or as Brooke Taylor claims, it’s your partner’s narcissistic character. But if you don’t at least hold him responsible for his decision, you’ll continue to carry the emotional burden of the indiscretion.

Furthermore, accepting this reality does not mean accepting infidelity in your relationship. Women who tolerate cheating do not hold their partners fully responsible for their actions. This allows her to maintain an illusion that her partner’s behavior can somehow be controlled.

But to accept the reality of his cheating is freedom: a release from bondage to a situation that can only be changed by the cheater himself. Understanding her powerlessness to keep her partner from cheating is, paradoxically, empowering. A woman who finds herself in this situation, and accepts that her partner has decided to cheat, and that this is not in her power to change, can find what in the situation she does have control over, including whether to remain in the relationship at all.

Check out this article on the Good Men Project of the The Elephant Journal. 

Channeling Sexual Energy Into Productive Energy

Sex. One of the greatest motivational forces in life. Our sexual impulses control so much of what we do, how we act, and the choices we make. But if not properly harnessed, these impulses can lead to great destruction.

Sexual energy is what drives this urge. It is a life-energy. The vibe we give off when we interact with others. The way a woman speaks or the way a man glares. A mode of communication which transcends even the intellectual and emotional realms of human interaction.

It is a force that we feel. However, often we channel this energy into… sex. Yes, this is important; without sex our species would’ve died out long ago. But if not controlled, in doing this, we can create extreme gender imbalances in society. I would argue some of the world’s greatest social, political and economic issues for women are somewhat rooted in male and female inequality.

Sexual dilemma is arguably the most significant human conflict. It is the way we question the gender roles in any given society: male and female expectations.

Advertisements, TV shows, and movies all imply that a woman’s greatest significance is in her sexual allure. Standards of attractiveness may vary by region, but whatever is considered “sexy” is arguably the greatest measure of female desirability in that area of the world.

Women are susceptible to these standards. They understand the value of being attractive and use their sexuality to their advantage. To an extent, this is validating. Flirting with a cop to get out of a ticket. Dressing provocatively to get into exclusive parties. But in the quest to be truly gratified, this rather one-dimensional persona is paradoxically disempowering to women. Any woman subjected to this objectification (whether it be as extreme as prostitution or minuscule as bartending at a comedy club) can at least relate somewhat to the abuse and discrimination that is often imposed on women in these dimensions.

Men’s own sexual struggle would render them very ‘tempted’ in this matter. Their intense sexual desires drive them to penetrate as many attractive females as possible, even while they are committed to one. It is a difficult feat for a man to humanize a woman who has sexualized herself for his validation. He will likely perceive her as an object – which may or may not manifest into harmful treatment towards her. But in any case, how he perceives her will affect how significant she becomes to him. So, discriminatory treatment in a sense is in the inevitable outcome of him objectifying her.

So, in the quest to be socially accepted, women are paradoxically self-sabotaging their own empowerment. Men neurologically struggle to multi-facet women who are sexualized, and women fear social rejection if they multi-facet themselves. So, in the process, qualities that would otherwise yield to women’s full empowerment — intellect, assertion, independence — may not fully develop.

This is actually disempowering for men as well. If a man constantly sexualizes a woman, he is not prompted to develop feelings for her in most cases — unless he is in touch with the situation – which would naturally manifest if he developed feminine traits within himself (namely compassion).

This is not the fault of any one gender: it is merely the imbalance of the two.

Ultimately, in the process of attracting sex (women) and pursuing sex (men), nothing too significant gets accomplished. What is typically depicted as the most gratifying means of sexual release actually perpetuates “use” and “abuse” in male and female relationships, if that is the only way to measure a woman. Women use their sexuality to get what they want, and men do take advantage of those opportunities – whether they are cognizant of this reality or not.

This is not to imply that sex is wrong or bad. It is a great mode of communication that creates some of the most mind-blowing physical, emotional, and spiritual experiences. It has just been misconstrued as the only satisfying means of sexual release. If not for ‘gender roles’, both men and women would be able to embrace a much wider range of their sexuality.

The cycle can only be broken if we consider other outlets of sexual release. We can then transduce our sexual energy into productive energy. The process is all very specific to the individual — it usually occurs once the current system in one’s life crumbles.

In my own sexual dilemma, I found myself deficient in many areas of life: relationships, jobs, money. I repressed masculine traits that would’ve otherwise empowered me if I hadn’t sacrificed them for social acceptance. In turn, I measured my own worth by men’s standard of physical attractiveness, especially in the dating world. On the outside, I seemed content. But inside I was pretty frustrated with the one-dimensional female role I assumed in hopes of finding the best possible mate (which naturally attracted men who prioritized appearances above all other traits). So, in the end, I lost out.

So, I made a vow that I would change. I channeled energy that was once expended on sexual allure into duty. A purpose. A responsibility. I started writing, working, and just operated in a way which allowed me to exercise all my masculine traits – such as assertiveness, intellect, and overall dominance – in many important aspects of my life. Traits I suppressed for years.

So, I encourage men and women to openly embrace their gender conflicts! I encourage them to explore the full range of their sexuality and consider other outlets of sexual release — transducing sexual energy into productive energy.

In the process, perhaps we can also redefine our notion of human desirability. Sex will always define us to an extent — we cannot help but to measure people based on their attractiveness. But as we expand our sexuality, we may also broaden the range of traits we find desirable in others. Creating altogether, a more gender balanced society…