Coffee & Consent – Episode 1

Coffee & Cosent Logo

 

April kicks off Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and in honor of the month, Voices of Hope has developed a campaign around short candid conversations about consent called Coffee & Consent.

The goal of Coffee & Consent is to educate the public on what consent is, #metoo, #timesup, and other issues around sexual, and domestic violence and sexual harassment.

Today is the first episode and it features Cathy Hughes. Catherine Hughes is an innovative storyteller and community strategist, currently employed as a social entrepreneur with Wesley Family Services. Inspired by raising a son with autism, now 20, she has built a career providing comprehensive support and passionate advocacy for children, families and their surrounding communities. She is a servant leader who cultivates relationships with grace and grit to create, enhance, and promote services and programs that transform lives. She also maintains a blog, The Caffeinated Advocate, and is currently working on her first book.

Cathy took the time to answer all of my questions, including those that didn’t make it into the video chat. They are below.

 

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I’m so thankful for the opportunity to participate in the Coffee and Consent campaign. As like many chapters of my unique and roller coaster life story, the #metoo and #timesup movements touch me both personally and professionally in deep ways. Yet again, I find my two worlds wildly colliding. However, this “crash” affords me the space to use my experience to provide help and hope, empowering individuals to find the strength to use their own voice in powerful ways.

I recently participated in Kristine Irwin’s Coffee and Consent conversation, but I asked if I could submit a guest blog to provide my answers to all of her potential questions. Who knew that coming across her name and simple participant request on the Global Sisterhood’s Facebook page would give me another opportunity to share powerful little-known statistics, but also allow me to come forward publicly in full for the first time ever about one of the darkest experiences of my life?

 

I am abundantly grateful for the chance to contribute to positive change in our world.

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1. What is consent to you?

Consent to me is your willingness to participate in something (an activity, a situation) and your personal grant of permission or “stamp of approval” if you will, to do so.

2. When do you feel consent should be taught?

Consent and teaching someone that their voice matters and is valid should be taught – and repeatedly – as early as possible, when an individual is cognitively able to do so.

3. With #MeToo and #TimesUp, what impact do you feel they have made and how have they impacted you?

This movement touches me far beyond what most people see throughout print and social media. I am deeply appreciative of the fierce commitment for society to stand united and say to the world that we who have been victims, or who have directly witnessed abuse and harassment, have had absolutely enough and we will no longer accept such action or lack thereof.

Both personally and professionally, I myself have been impacted by harassment, belittlement and victimization.

My best friend is a domestic abuse survivor.

I have a son with autism who has been bullied and who struggled during adolescence with understanding his physical and emotional body changes as well as societal norms, expectations, and his human rights. This is something too often missed with people who have diagnoses, disabilities and exceptional challenges and that we as a society are not nearly as aware of as they need be. It is a strong message I wish to send to your readers.

4. What changes do you hope come from #MeToo?

 

#MeToo should not and cannot be viewed by society as just “the movement for women.” I do not at all nor would I ever wish to downplay that women have been unjustly and cruelly victimized for far too long, however.

I’m one of them.

I was sexually assaulted at the age of 15 by a classmate who thought I “owed him” because he paid $20 for my ticket and $10 for a corsage to a Valentine’s Day dance. I don’t remember everything that happened that evening as there were moments I have blocked completely. I don’t know that I would want to remember. Days later, he became angry after a confrontation, choking me against a locker after our literature class. The principal, who I learned was his father’s best friend, said to me “You must be a tough girl to get over.” My voice didn’t matter to him, so I figured it wouldn’t matter to the police.

In a recent previous job, I was referred to as one of “the girls” frequently by a very chauvinistic male. I found myself retreating to my dark childhood memory of being attacked.

What I feel compelled to stress, especially as the mother of someone with an autism diagnosis as well as a community advocate, is that we cannot stop with women. Victimization is simply not limited to women. There are women and men alike with disabilities, diverse challenges or different sexual preferences and possibly impaired thinking due to a lack of understanding of their bodies and a lack of understanding about consent.

They may not understand or have been taught how to have a healthy relationship. They may be desperate to engage in any relationship, safe or unsafe. They may not understand sexuality. They may not recognize red flags, warning signs and/or be able to accurately interpret the thoughts and feelings of the other person they are interacting with at that time. Specifically with people who have autism or an intellectual disability, it is an absolute myth that they have no interest in relationships and/or sexual intercourse. By assuming that they are asexual beings and not teaching skills and knowledge that do not innately occur, society further sets them up to be victims of crime and assault. That is an unforgivable disservice.

We need to teach and preach to each and every individual walking this planet that all relationships should be healthy and safe. People deserve that. They are worthy of that. In my current role, I have the opportunity to promote a curriculum to schools and organizations to provide education that encourages prevention. Individuals with developmental disabilities are seven times more likely to be victims of an assault. This content is critical.

 

5. Now that so many people see scope of the problem, how do we deal with how repugnant our beliefs are?

Quite frankly, I don’t believe society sees the full scope of the problem. I believe that we need to continue to push forward and we are nowhere near there yet. We are making progress. But by no means would I say with confidence that “society sees the scope of the problem” and how widespread it is.

 

6. When someone you know or even love is accused of doing a terrible thing, how will you reconcile your ethics with your affection?

If someone I loved (especially a family member) committed an act of violence or crime, I would love them despite what they say or do and they would be a part of my heart. That wouldn’t change. I believe we would need to examine the root cause not to necessarily excuse but to understand the “why” and ensure justice for both the victim, the perpetrator, and our community at large. We can all contribute to positive change and every situation affords us an opportunity to learn. We can always do better, and we need to do better.

7. If someone came and told you that they have been victimized, in any way, what would you do?

For starters, two words: “I’m here.” First and foremost, I would want to establish trust. If that person did not feel that they could fully trust in me, I would encourage them to reach out to another trusted individual in order to have their voice heard, to recover, and to reach out to the right channels that will enable everyone to move through and past the situation that occurred.

 

8. One of Voices of Hope’s campaign is called #BeAVoice. How can you be a voice for those that feel they are silenced?

Part of being a voice is being an equally strong and active listener. I encourage people to listen – not just hear – people’s stories. I want people to listen to stories from women and men of many walks of life who face any number of challenges to gain understanding, clarity, and know then how to effectively use their voice for the greater good.

Being a voice means speaking out and fearlessly, and then empowering those who have been silent to use their own voice (verbal and non-verbal) to build a more powerful sound.

Together, let’s teach the need, the value, and the worthiness of healthy and safe relationships in our world, for all. All voices matter.

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Cathy, you truly are a strong and amazing individual. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and ideas with Voices of Hope. If you have a moment please check out http://healthyrelationshipscurriculum.org?

 

 

Check out the video interview below!

#Metoo #coffee&consent #timesup #beavoice #voicesofhope

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Emma’s Story – Why she educates on Consent

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If you would have asked me my freshman year of high school if I was or had ever been in an abusive relationship, my answer would have been a very confident “no”. At the age of 15, my first real relationship consisted of fight after fight with a whole lot of manipulation. At such a young age, couples should be fighting about which movie to see or who’s parent is going to pick them up, not how much control one can have over the other. I was so set on the fact that since he never hit me, or never even laid a finger on me unless I told him it was okay, that everything was perfectly normal. Now let me tell you something that took me years to figure out: Just because he doesn’t hit you, doesn’t mean he doesn’t abuse you. I can’t even tell you how many times I heard “it’s because I care”. Disclosure: this actually meant “it’s because I need to control you.” He might not have hit me, but he didn’t let me leave the house unless he knew where I was going. I was directed to text him who I was with, where I was going, when I was leaving, and how long I would be there. He might not have hit me, but he got mad at me when I dyed my hair purple because he didn’t like it. My hair. My decision. And HE was upset over my decision on what to do with my hair. He might not have hit me, but when I chose to hang out with my friends over him, I didn’t hear from him for the rest of the day. He might not have hit me, but when he saw my location on Facebook said somewhere that wasn’t where I lived (even if it said I was at my dad’s house an hour away), he would throw a fit. He might not have hit me, but he convinced me every friendship I had was toxic, except his of course. After these fights usually followed the “It’s because I care” or “I’m just kidding”. If anything is taken away from this, I want you all to know it’s not because they care and nothing is funny about abuse. It is because they have a need to control what they think belongs to them. You do not belong to anyone. You are brighter than the darkness they try to fill you with.

 

If it weren’t for my loving, compassionate parents who never doubted my strength and the friends who never gave up on me, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I wouldn’t have had the courage to leave him. My story is nothing compared to what some brave, strong women go through on a day-to-day basis. It is for these women I do what I do. It took me a long time to realize the relationship was toxic and controlling, but I vowed I would stand up to talk with anyone who will listen about what consent is, what abuse is, and what we can do to prevent it. I’m still learning myself, but everyone has to start somewhere. Making this vow is what brought me to Kristine and Voices of Hope, and my Sexual Assault Prevention seminar at my university. One of the first events our seminar held was a “Love and Support Day”. The campaign had everything from self-care to teaching about consent. The most important part of the event was the “Free Hugs” campaign. I stood in the middle of the very busy University Student Union and asked for consent for hugs. I then briefly explained to them what consent was and the actions we can take as a community. Watching people’s eyes light up when they got asked for a hug and understood what the meaning behind it was might have been the most rewarding part of all. My heart aches for those who do not see their worth because of the way someone else has treated them. To the women who do not believe in themselves or believe that someone else has control over them, this one is for you. You are not alone. Day by day I promise to make every effort to teach other’s about what consent is, why relationships can be toxic, and how we can stick up for ourselves and other’s around us.

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