Unforgiven: Social Work edition

13 02 2012

Those of you who follow me on Twitter (thank you, as my self esteem is directly proportional to my number of followers) will know that I was a little upset about the Grammys last night. It’s surprising, because I didn’t even watch them.

Was Chris Brown at the Grammys before? I think maybe he was…ah yes, three years ago! He was going to perform, but the night before he punched Rihanna, his girlfriend at the time, leaving her face a bloody and bruised mess.

I’ve already talked about the damage Chris Brown has done. Not only to Rihanna, but to young people across the country, for whom he further normalized violence as a part of romantic relationships. So I’m not going to go into that again. (Though he did. He did a lot of damage, on a problem that was already bad enough.)

Chris Brown is right at the top of SocialJerk’s Shit List. I assure you, it’s an unpleasant place to be.

But he’s not alone. He has the company of Ben Roethlisberger and Roman Polanksi, to name a couple. Michael Vick had set up residence, but he’s done some work in getting himself removed.

A dinner party you’d never want to attend, amiriteladies? These are people that my friends and family members know not to mention in my presence. If they don’t want me to turn red, and them to not have a chance to speak for the next twenty minutes.

Just so we’re clear–Michael Vick, the one who killed and mistreated dogs, got the harshest sentence (a fine and a suspended prion sentence) and has done the most to make up for his crimes (through seemingly heartfelt apologies, and by lobbying for harsher penalties for animal fighting.) He’s also, arguably, the most vilified. He’s the one who mistreated and killed dogs. The others exploited, raped, or beat women and children. In case you weren’t feeling my rage.

I can’t see any of these individuals ever getting off said shitlist. I just can’t.

Chris Brown and Roman Polanksi in particular have acted like and been treated like victims. They have whined like petulant children about how unfairly they’ve been treated. None of these men have made a real, meaningful apology. They’ve all been defended relentlessly in the press.

What do I want from them? So glad you asked. I want this:

“Wow, I appreciate you all caring about me, but I’m a total piece of shit. I hope that by taking some time out of the public eye, I can do a lot of work on myself, and be deserving of your respect. But until then, remember–I’m a real asshole, a danger to society, and I’m just not worthy of it.”

Then, after some time off, they either shut up and stay that way, or, preferably, get out there and educate people as to why they were wrong.

Chris Brown tells young women that real men won’t hit them, and tells young men that he was an idiot for ever putting his hands on Rihanna. Roman Polanksi will explain that it doesn’t matter if that 13 year old got herself wasted and ran around naked begging for him to anally penetrate her (which people seem to believe), he was the adult and should have acted like it. Ben Roethlisberger will tell men the world over that, even if you’re a big star, more physically powerful than women, and a women is drunk, she can still say no to any sexual encounter with you.

The social work connection, and there is one, is forgiveness. Forgiving the unforgivable, excusing the inexcusable.

Not all of the people we work with are exclusively victims. Some of us work with men who abuse women, women who abuse children, people who abuse animals, and many variations thereof.

People who are abused, very often, want to go back to the person who violated them. They want the abuse to stop, of course, but they don’t want that person out of their life. Children love their parents. People love their partners. Teenage girls at least feel like they love their boyfriends, and maybe they do. They want to forgive their abuser. It’s normal. It takes a domestic violence victim an average of seven times to leave an abusive partner, before leaving for good. And the time that victim is most at risk to be killed is when she’s attempting to leave, and right after.

Remember that next time someone offers Rihanna talking to Chris Brown as evidence that we should all get over it.

Many of the women I work with have suffered through domestic violence. This means that their children have as well. One of those women lived with the man who beat her horribly for thirteen years and had five children with him. Just recently, she left him for good. When she says she hopes she never sees him again, I believe her. She made her kids deactivate their Facebook pages so their father couldn’t find them–these days, that’s the ultimate in putting your foot down.

Another woman is, sadly, just at the beginning of this process. She left her abusive partner once, and has considered leaving him many more times. She has one very young child with him, and three older children who are completely fed up with their mother’s relationship.

She keeps bringing this man, who hits and intimidates her, back into her home. This woman forgives this man, for some reason. Her children are in the position of trying to forgive her, because she’e their mother. And I’m doing my home visits, trying not to narrow my eyes and spit every time this dick man looks in my direction.

She’s made her decision. I can make sure that the children are safe, and that this family has somewhere to go when he inevitably does it again, and I can try to help her to understand that what he’s doing is inexcusable and that it follows a pattern. But I can’t make her decide that it’s unforgivable.

She can forgive this man. It doesn’t mean I have to. Rihanna can forgive and Tweet at Chris Brown. That doesn’t mean we should forget what he did and applaud him at award shows. Samantha Geimer can say she’s over what Roman Polanski did to her. Of course she wants it all to go away. It doesn’t make him any less of a sick bastard, and a fugitive from the law.

Don’t let anyone tell you different. Victims can forgive if they feel they need to. We have an obligation to remind them that they deserve better.

I need to figure out a way to work with them all. (My client’s abusive boyfriend, not Brown and Polanski.) Ignoring him and feeling self-righteously angry about the fact that I hate this guy doesn’t move us forward. It makes mom feel like she needs to lie to me about her feelings for him, or her intentions to leave.

I heard a man speak once about telling his friends that street harassment is, for lack of a better term, a dick move. He admitted that it was a while before they took him seriously, because he used to shout sexual comments at strange women right along with them. A friend of mine just stopped using the “f” word (no, the other “f” word) because he realized, “I’m offending an entire group of people that I actually don’t have a problem with when I do that.”

Both of these guys used to do something stupid and offensive. We’ve all made mistakes. Many things can be forgiven. People can learn. And, I think, they can change. We can agree to disagree, but that’s the basis of the profession, and if I didn’t believe that I’d quit and work at Starbucks.

I don’t want to go out for a drink with anyone on my shitlist. They’re bad people, and some of them would probably assault me. But I do honestly believe that they can improve themselves. Michael Vick, even if you still choose to hate him, has taken some steps. Many of us have people in our lives who did as well. Whether we want to deal in forgiveness or not, the reality is that we have to work with it.

And please, if you’re as angry as I am, consider making a donation to SafeHorizon, a wonderful organization that helps  victims of domestic violence. (I swear, I did!) Tell them the Grammy’s sent you.

There are some things even awesome dance moves can’t excuse

5 04 2011

If you keep up on important current (not terribly current, as SocialJerk went Hawaiian and had no WiFi to post this last week) events, you’ll know that there’s a lot to be concerned about in this country. Number one on everyone’s mind, naturally, is this: Chris Brown is at it again.

A young, spoiled celebrity throwing a temper tantrum? Stop the presses, send in the social workers!

To be fair, this one applies. In recent years, we’ve been hearing more and more about domestic violence being a problem in young people’s romantic relationships. It’s not just for married people. And it’s not just physical. Teens are often jealous and possessive in their relationships, but professionals are being directed more and more to look closer, for the early signs of verbal and physical abuse.

It’s a topic that’s important to talk about, especially with teenage girls.

I was told once that I stereotype along gender lines. So let me put it out here right now–chill out I recognize that men can be the victims of domestic violence. I recognize that domestic violence happens in same sex relationships. But what I work with? Is women who have been beaten and otherwise abused by men. I also specialize in group work with teen girls, because 1) I like to laugh and 2) I am a glutton for punishment.

When the story first broke, just over two years ago, that 19 year old Chris Brown had punched and bitten his girlfriend Rihanna, my coworker and I saw it as an opportunity. We had a concrete way to talk about this important issue with our girls. And hey, they loved Rihanna! This should be easy.

We started with the infamous picture.

“I love Chris Brown, he mad sexy. And his music’s good.”
Yes, he’s a fine dancer as well, and I really enjoyed his version of “This Christmas.” It’s possible that Gaddafi is a fine painter and likes kittens, it doesn’t mean we should excuse what he’s done.

“Miss, I wouldn’t be surprised if she made those bruises look worse. Like, to get him in trouble.”
True. It’s everyone 21 year old woman’s dream to have her image plastered all over the internet, bloody and bruised.

“We’re not hearing about what she did. Like what she said, or if she hit him too.”
No, we don’t know if she hit him too. (“Hit him too” often translates to “covered her head to ward off the blows.) But we do know that there are photos of her injuries, while photos of Chris Brown’s are conspicuously absent. And, I’m sorry, but what exactly could she have done to have this coming?

“You don’t want a guy that’s gonna like, beat you, but you don’t want a guy that’s a pussy! You need someone who will push you around a little.”
That’s a quote from a 14 year old girl. Burned in my mind, I can never unhear it. Your only options are a guy that will hit you, or a weak man-child who will let you walk all over him. Choose wisely, everyone.

I’d always thought of abusive relationships as something that creeps up on people. Things start out well, you fall in love, then things get tense, someone gets jealous, then gets controlling, someone gets hit, someone apologizes, and the cycle starts again.

I might have gotten some of this from Lifetime movies starring Candace Cameron. Not the point.

I never thought of them as something that people see as inevitable. Call me naive, but I genuinely thought that my tough, sassy, take-no-BS-from-anyone girls would tell me just what they would do to a guy who laid a hand on them. Even if I didn’t have faith that they’d really leave right then, or hit him back until he begged for mercy. I was surprised that they didn’t even pretend.

They saw domestic violence as a part of life. Something that happens. Chris Brown’s statement after this was all made public played into this as well.

“Words cannot begin to express how sorry and saddened I am over what transpired.”

Not, “I am sorry for what I did.” It transpired. It happened. The world spins, grass grows, SocialJerk is sarcastic. So it goes.

When someone sees a certain future as a certainty, it’s hard to dissuade them from that. It’s such a central part of our jobs, letting people know that they have options, and control over their lives. But it’s so hard to do. Especially in an hour a week, for three months, in group.

Maybe they pick up the idea, at least, that it’s not necessary, that there are relationships that exist without violence, and there are people who think that they deserve this.