What Is There to Say About Adrian Peterson?

Reposted from my Sports Blog.

As a survivor of child abuse, I’m just not sure where to start with this whole Adrian Peterson story. I’ve been thinking about it all weekend, and trying to figure out what to say about it, and I think finally I do have some thoughts.

First off, let me just get this out of the way. Yes, lots of us can look back and say “my parents did this”, or “my grandparents used a switch” what’s the big deal? As Cris Carter said on TV yesterday, it’s 2014, we know better now, and those people were wrong to do what they did. Going out and getting a switch and beating your kid with it to the point where you draw blood and leave some vicious marks on their legs is wrong. (I won’t link to the photos, but trust me, they’re not pretty.) Stop trying to defend it. If you were beaten with a switch, you were abused, whether you feel like it was abuse or not. Whether it’s been going on in your family for generation or not. This doesn’t represent the “weakening of America” this represents a step forward in preventing injury and later issues for children. I do think we can have a reasonable disagreement over light spanking in certain circumstances, but beating kids with a switch should not be a normal part of any child’s life!

The tougher question is what to do about Adrian Peterson. I think it’s fairly obvious that he is a victim of his own upbringing. When he needed to be disciplined, he got beaten with a switch. This is a textbook example of repeating the cycle of violence. Adrian now has a chance to learn better, and to stop the cycle, because he’s been reported for child abuse.

This past weekend, he was inactive for the Vikings. That makes sense to me. He was indicted on Friday and had to go to Houston to turn himself in and post bail. That all occurred, and he didn’t play.

Now it’s been announced that the Vikings are going to let him play while the legal process runs it’s course. For most of us, if we were charged with a crime, after posting bail, we’d probably go back to work and await the rest of the legal process to continue. But, being a professional athlete isn’t the same as a regular job. You’ve got the extra media attention, you get the public relations nightmare of having this guy go out and represent your team on Sunday and so on. That throws a lot of other things into the fire. (By the way, if you want to know why Ray Rice was released by the Ravens only after the video went public, think PR. They stood by him and his suspension when they judged that the issue would blow over and people would root for him again, then when the video was released, they re-thought that idea and released him.)

As far as I see it, the Vikings are perfectly within their rights to play Peterson while they await the legal process. They would also be within their rights to release him outright and never let him play again. That’s their choice, and it’s your choice to make up your own mind about whether what they are doing is right or not. You can choose to protest the Vikings decision to let him play next week, boycott the team and the NFL, or any other option available to you. If enough people think it’s wrong to play him, and that response hurts the Vikings bottom line, it might just get them to change their mind. That’s how free markets work. As a survivor, I’d like to think that anyone convicted of child or domestic abuse would not be allowed to play any more, but what to do until they are actually convicted? I don’t know.

What I hope, more than anything, is that this situation and all of the publicity will help us understand the damage done to children by outdated, barbaric practices. Perhaps enough people who still view getting a switch as normal will begin to question these beliefs and end the cycle within their own families. I think we can all agree on that!

Irrational Fears?

That’s what Bruce Schneiner suggests is at the root of a story about a woman in South Carolina who was arrested for letting her 9 year old play at a park while she was at work. Now Bruce is an expert on security, and risk assessment and I tend to agree that we don’t assess the risks very well, especially when it comes to very emotional topics like protecting children.

Lovely Sunday in St. James Park. Oh, if you like the deck chairs, you can sit in one, for a price. ;-)
Now, without knowing the kid, the park, the neighborhood, the people in the park, or anything like that, I can’t say how much of a risk this truly was. I was allowed to walk to a neighborhood park as a 9-10 year old by myself for Little League games, so I don’t find the idea of a 9 year old hanging around a park by herself to be as shocking as some others might. I also know the truth about child abductions and abuse, that the vast, vast majority of them are the result of someone the kids already know, not the random stranger on the street. But, the random stranger on the street abducting a child does happen from time to time, and perhaps in this situation, leaving the kid there wasn’t the safest thing in the world. But, it also sounds like maybe there weren’t a lot of options here, which is a whole other blog post that I’ll let someone with kids write!

No, what I want to talk about are the irrational fears we have as a result of media attention. You see it’s the rare and random crime that gets the media attention precisely because it is so rare and random. A child being abducted due to custody disputes, or a child being abused by a family member, doesn’t grab headlines the way these other stories do, so you don’t notice it as much. Unfortunately, our brains are hardwired to pay attention to the risks that we see and hear, and those are the ones that make big news, rather than the risks that we take everyday.

So, it’s the “stranger danger” risks that grab our attention, because the stories are horrifying, but also because it’s the type of risk we feel like we can do something about. Managing the real risks of children being abused is hard. Figuring out how to keep kids safe from the much more likely risk, the people already around them, requires a lot more work and good ideas. But people don’t want to acknowledge the real rate of victimization, or imagine that kids are being abused by people they already know! It’s too scary to think about!
Read more

TED Talks on Mental Illness

In light of yesterday’s news about Robin Williams, lots of folks have been reaching out on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media to share their own stories of depression and other mental health issues, or make sure folks know where to go to get help, and that there is help for mental illness.

I even shared out my post from a couple of years ago about my story with suicide on Twitter and Facebook as well. It has been heartwarming to see so many, from all walks of life, coming out of the darkness and sharing their own struggles. I hope it’s something that continues. We all could do with feeling less alone.

TED Talks shared this playlist that I thought many of you might want to take a look at.

7 talks on the struggle of mental health.

There’s quite a lot there, real stories from real people dealing with metal health issues. Exactly more of the kinds of stories we need to be talking about if we hope to stop losing good people to the lies their illness is telling them!

Time Doesn’t Heal All Wounds

Dr. Robert K. Ross giving a Tedx Talk at Ironwood State Prison. In it he talks about the long lasting effects, physical and emotional, of repeated childhood trauma. He also talks about courage and resiliency that can not only overcome the trauma, but better ourselves through it.

I have to admit, some survivors are some of the most courageous and resilient people I know. Others are the most self-destructive people I know, and some of those turn into the former category. This helps explain what is really going on.

Going Beyond Prosecution

I found myself nodding along as I read a recap of a presentation given by Connilee Christie, who works with children who report being sexually abused. Especially, this part:

Success often is measured on prosecutions, she said. In part, she said, because it is easily measured.

But that is not how the Children’s Advocacy Center in St. Louis measures it. The center abides by what is called the “Child First Doctrine,” which states:

“The child is our first priority. Not the needs of the family. Not the child’s ‘story.’ Not the evidence. Not the needs of the courts. Not the needs of police, child protection, attorneys, etc.”

“Sometimes that means no prosecution,” she said.

I’ve written before about the difference between “justice” and healing. Just because your abuser didn’t go to jail, or didn’t go to jail for as long as you thought they should, has no bearing on your ability to heal. I see the same sort of thought pattern in what they are doing for children in St. Louis. Yes, it would be wonderful if justice could be served in every case, but that’s never going to happen. We can do as much as we can to try and carry out justice in these cases, but getting a guilty verdict is dependent on so many things that are out of our control, as survivors, or those who wish to help them. It depends on being able to take the stand, having others do the same, having a jury believe you versus the person you are accusing, etc.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t pursue justice, but that can’t be the only goal, and the only definition of success. Success, when dealing with victims of sexual abuse is in getting them the help they need, keeping them safe, and getting them on the path to healing as soon as they are able. The best part, is that we can do that without waiting to see what the criminal justice system comes up with, and we can do it regardless of the results.

A survivor overcoming their childhood and learning to life a full life is just as much of a success as seeing their abuser convicted. But the two are not the same thing. Healing can happen regardless.