My Public Hearing Testimony About OCS

 Representative Tammie Wilson from North Pole held OCS Public Testimony Hearings at multiple locations around the state, after a grand jury declined to investigate and turned over their findings to the Citizen’s Review Panel and the Ombudsman’s Office. The hearings were opportunities for those “not satisfied with the current state of the Office of Children’s Services”.  Rep. Wilson has accused OCS of “legal kidnapping”.

As CPS workers, we are either accused of stepping on parents’ rights and kidnapping children who are perfectly safe or we don’t do nearly enough and leave children in grave danger in their homes. I decided to attend the hearing and below is what I said. I hoped it would be an encouragement to my fellow workers and a motivator to get the services that will actually help Alaska to be a safer state for children. Below is what I said:

My name is Jessica Veldstra and I am speaking as a private citizen. The opinions below are mine alone and do not represent  the viewpoint of the Office of Children’s Services.

 

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The Powerful Men of Evangelicalism Suddenly Care about Sexual Abuse of Children? Prove it.

*All opinions are my own and in no way represent those of my employer.

For years now, activist bloggers, including the Wartburg Watch, Boz Tchividian of G.R.A.C.E., and I have posted again and again about the rampant sex abuse of children in churches and church leaders horrific responses to sexual abuse of children in their congregation.

See these posts for examples:

Here are some of my posts that I have written on the topic:

However there is little evidence that the powerful in the church (and shouldn’t that phrase be an oxymoron?) take sex abuse of minors seriously. In fact, many of the most heard voices in the Evangelical community continue to cover sex abuse and even make jokes about the cover-ups. Recently, while SNAP (Survivor Network of those Abused by Priests) protested CJ Mahaney’s inclusion as a speaker in the 2016 Together for the Gospel Conference , Al Mohler, the head of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and regarded as one of Evangelicalism’s most influential people, took the podium and used the opportunity to make a joke at the victim’s expense. He stated “I told C.J. that in getting ready to introduce him I decided I would Google to see if there was anything on the Internet about him.”, referring to the activism online calling out Mahaney for years of covering up sex abuse. There are far too many  cases to list here of powerful men in Evangelicalism who have attempted to cover up the crime of child sex abuse or rape or who have sided with the perpetrator showing little to no concern with the victim, but here are just a few:

  1. CJ Mahaney’s cover up of the widespread sexual abuse of numerous minors
  2. Doug Wilson’s victim blaming and siding with a child rapist and presiding over the marriage of a known pedophile to a church member and asked for leniency after the conviction of the pedophile and then presided over the pedophile’s marriage to a church member.
  3. Ken Ramey’s insistence that a mother of a developmentally delayed youth who had been raped so severely he required medical attention keep quiet about the situation and to submit to a church mediated reconciliation process and put her under discipline when she refused. See  sources here and here and here. (This has been updated for accuracy. The child is not developmentally disabled but is delayed and the mother had already contacted authorities/medical attention by the time they met with Ken Ramsey as opposed to him requiring her not to call).

In fact the number one reason that churches end up in court is because of sexual abuse of a child. (Credit Church Law and Tax)

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However despite all their covering of their own behinds, patting each others backs and  recklessly disregarding victims to the point of making jokes at their expense, suddenly all these people seem to care about is the SAFETY of CHILDREN from sexual assault. I should be happy about this right? Isn’t that what I have been asking them to care about all along? Except the way they are going to protect children is to not allow transgender people to use the bathroom of their choosing.

Seriously.

Although transgender people, especially transgender women, were far more likely to be victimized than the general population, at a rate of as high of 66% being victims of sexual assault in their lifetimes, they feel that further putting transgender people in danger will help to make children somehow safer. They used the argument while transgender people wouldn’t be perpetrating the abuse, cisgender males would take advantage of dressing like women to perpetrate on women and children in women’s bathrooms. This point was made especially clear with Libby Ann’s blog Conservative Rhetoric and Transgender Bathroom Battles. (As a side note the emphasis is on a fear of transgender females rather than transgender males, who would, under the South Carolina law would be forced to use the women’s restroom. Most likely this is due to the predominate patriarchal culture’s belief that a male having feminine traits is horrible while a female having male traits is accepted, since male traits are seen as superior or naturally desirable).It is especially ironic that many in the far right, who traditionally believe in less government control are asking for more laws and more government control in regards to this issue. For years, transgender people have been using bathrooms that correlate with their gender and nothing happened. Suddenly, in the far right there is an outcry for states to make new laws, even though videotaping, spying, and any form of sex abuse in a bathroom is already against the law. It seems those in the far right want the government out of their private business unless it’s someone else’s business and then it’s ok, especially if they are a minority. Since when does one have to carry a birth certificate to go pee? And what if one is born with genitals that are not easily classified as either male or female, which is fairly common. For instance, Nate Sparks points out that the rate of people who are born intersex is more common than being born with red hair.

This clearly isn’t about protecting children. It’s just not. It’s about fear of other people and about those in power (READ: white, cis, Christian men) marginalizing other people even more. The reality is, is while it does rarely occur, statistically very few child sexual assaults are committed by strangers. At least ninety percent of perpetrators of sexual abuse are known to the child and I suspect the number is much higher than that, due to the far greater likelihood that a child would report against a stranger rather than someone he or she knew and who had been actively grooming them. I have worked in child protection for eight and a half years. Our office receives around 50-100 reports of suspected child abuse and neglect every month and I can’t remember even one of them being perpetrated by a stranger in a bathroom. Most sexual abuse is perpetrated in the child’s home, school or church. In fact, the very cultures that these powerful men of Evangelicalism create, makes it more likely that children will be sexually abuse. For instance, according to the CDC it is more likely that sexual abuse of children will take place in environments with hostility towards women, adherence to traditional gender role norms and hyper-masculinity.  The people we should be concerned about are people that the child knows and trusts such as relatives, teachers, neighbors, and pastors.
So what can people actually do to help?

  • Teach children body autonomy. Make sure the child knows that their body is theirs and no one else. Allow your children to say no to physical touch starting from a very young age.  See some really great tips in starting to teach this are found in 5 Phrases That Can Help Protect Your Child from Sexual Abuse and starting conversations in When Kristoff asks Anna for Consent in Frozen
  • Listen and believe victims. I can’t stress this enough. Our entire culture is primed to believe adults over children especially when it comes to sexual assault and most often churches and pastors take the side of the perpetrator rather than the victim.
  • Report to proper authority immediately. This includes the police and CPS. Do not let this be handled “in-house” in churches. Sexual abuse of a child is a crime  not just a sin. And in many places, not reporting it is also a crime.
  • Stop victim blaming. Sexual abuse of children is 100% the perpetrators fault. Full stop. No matter what the victim was doing, wearing, or drinking. If there is no consent (and there can’t be with children due to their age) it’s rape.
  • When there is doubt, over protect. Even if the accused is innocent, there is absolutely no harm in putting additional safe guards in place. There is no reason for anyone who has been accused of sexual assault to be alone with a child at any time, even if that person is thought to be innocent. Most people who are not predators actively try to make sure they aren’t put in a position where they are alone with a child. If someone tries to isolate children, then is defensive of their position, the community should be on high alert and should never allow that person alone or in a position of power over children.

If you really want to stop sexual abuse, start the conversations at the top, call out those who are protecting perpetrators or covering up abuse, call for longer sentences, over protect, believe victims and teach consent and body autonomy. However marginalizing transgender people and making it more unsafe for them in a public restroom is not in away safeguarding children. It’s just another way the powerful have twisted information to make it seem like they care, when they are actually just using it as an excuse to discriminate.

 

 

 

 

 

Hippie

My parents were sort of hippies. They weren’t the smoking pot, protesting against the government, anti-Vietnam War type of hippie that is portrayed in the movies and documentaries about the ’60’s and ’70’s. After all my dad was a Vietnam vet and my parents didn’t even drink alcohol when we were growing up. However, looking back at pictures and analyzing childhood memories, it was clear that they were the kind of hippies that grow their own food, drive a VW van, wear second-hand clothing,  home school their kids, and use weird “natural” cleaning products.

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See, my mom was kind of a hippie.

I was certain that I would not grow up to be them. As a child of the ’80’s  and a teen in the ’90’s, I rebelled against the natural beige, orange and brown of the seventies with my taste in clothing with bright jewel tones, neons, and later exclusively late ’90’s plaid. I teased up my hair into impossible heights in junior high and later I attempted to straighten it into submission in a vain attempt to get my thick mop to look like Rachel Green’s later sleek styles. As soon as I had the cash to buy my own food, I bought Pepsi, Orbitz  ( that psychedelic drink with colored balls in it),  and bubble gum by the yard instead of snacking on carob ice cream bars sweetened with honey that were in our home’s freezer.

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My dad was too; look at that beard!

I enthusiastically left any remnants of my all natural childhood behind when I went to college and discovered the world of reliable  indoor plumbing and cafeteria food.  Here even the potatoes and eggs were made of highly processed powder and chemicals and within walking distance there was a Target where you could purchase impossibly cheap new clothes and dorm decorating items.

By the time I  graduated and moved back to Homer five years later, I was a fully confident modern woman. I wore make up, heels, brand new cheaply made clothing and jewelry from box or online stores and proudly served food full of chemical and high fructose corn syrup without a second thought.

I don’t recall quite when things started to really change. It was slow at first; little insidious changes that crept into my psyche. Perhaps the first step was when  a friend suggested clove oil for dry socket and it worked far better than the prescription drugs that made me sick and foggy. Perhaps it was the first time I tried organic ranch dressing and realized how much better it tasted. Anyway, ten years later I didn’t realize how far down the rabbit hole I had fallen until one day I found myself with a cart in the grocery store full of fresh fruits and veggies, Dr. Brauner’s Magic soap  with hemp and almond oil, searching desperately for oxtail for my paleo Phö recipe.

My friend commented that I had turned into such a hippie. “Not possible”, I explained, stunned that they could think such a thing. I told myself that they had to be ludicrously mistaken. After all, I dress way too cool to be a hippie. My sandals are the latest style. Sure they are bought from a fair trade company that uses leather that is a byproduct if the meat industry, but that’s just not being wasteful. And yes, all my clothing is second-hand or locally purchased in small business because I don’t want to give money to large cooperation use factories with unsafe conditions and unlivable wages, but it is all name brand clothing. Plus, I wear makeup, and a lot of it. What hippie wears tons of makeup? Just because I make sure mine is made in the USA and not tested on animals and bought in a small business, doesn’t mean I am a hippie. And it’s not all Burt’s Bees after all (although he does make pretty good stuff).

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I developed an appreciation for farm to table veggies at a young age.

And, I reminded myself as I loaded my groceries into the car, a lot of my purchases are meat.  Hippies don’t eat meat, do they? Sure, I make sure to buy free range and grass-fed, but have you seen the cruelty of mass slaughterhouses or cage raised chickens? Not to mention the horrors of farmed fish. You may as well be eating gold-fish from an algae covered aquarium! And really, who doesn’t use coconut oil and raw apple cider vinegar as both a condiment and a cosmetic.
I’m just not that dedicated. I mean, I remember my mother grinding her own wheat to make home-made bread from sourdough. I would never have the energy or time for that. Plus, I don’t even eat grains. Most of them have far too many pesticides and are a GMO, and you know, if we don’t stop them, corporations are going to control the world’s food supply by trademarking GMO seeds, and then they will have all the power.
Seriously though, by the time I was putting away my groceries I had fully convinced myself that I simply could not be a hippie.
Now, if only I could figure out how to fit the farm to table salad greens on the same shelf as the tallow I rendered and the home-made kombucha.

It’s Friday! November 27, 2015

Drink of the Week:

I have been cutting out almost all sugar, however on the weekend, I do indulge in some honey or maple syrup (unless I designate a day off and then all bets are off!) This weekend, I was craving hot chocolate so decided to take a stab at making my own. It is decidedly chocolatey, but not sweet at all. It is also very filling and should be drank in small amounts, not like hot chocolate made with water.

Paleo hot chocolate:

(serves about 3)

1 can of coconut milk

1 tbs. honey

1 tbs cocoa

1 pinch sea salt

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Whisk together and heat in sauce pan and serve hot.

Blog of the Week:

There is Still Time to Be a Defiant Woman by Sarah Christine Schwartz

This is the type of blog that makes me want to jump up, and yell “Amen!” with my fist in the air.

Here’s an excerpt:

“But don’t for one moment believe that because you’re a woman, you must sacrifice passion or conviction in order to be heard, or that you must be quiet and small and relentlessly pleasant in order to fit someone else’s definition of ladylike.

You get to cause a fuss.

You get to make a scene.

You get to cry and sing and shout until your throat catches fire.”

Song of the Week:

The Wartberg Watch featured this music video about a week ago, and when I watched it,  I  listened to the lyrics of Coldplay’s “Fix You” for the first time. It is always amazing to me how often I can hear an overplayed radio song and never listen to the lyrics. What a sad song! It is beautifully sang by the group young@heart.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Friday! November 20, 2015

Drink of the Week:

The Kraken  Black Spiced Rum.

This is one of my brother Joshua’s favorite drinks and I love a good rum and coke made from it.

 

Blog of the Week:

Not All Comps by Nate Sparks. Nate explores the how much of a role does the idea of Complementarianism have in the abuse of women. He asks “At what point does defense of an idea become complicity in the abuses inherent to that ideology?” and :” At what point does allowing the voices of the afflicted to be silenced to preserve our own comfort and privilege become an active participation in silencing them?”   His article is filled with links with some shocking statements from a lot of very popular mega preachers.

 

Song of the Week:

“Cry” by James Blunt. I know I usually post a video, but this song is so beautiful and perfect for what I am feeling this week, I figured you could just close your eyes and imagine your own music video.

 

Politics, Christianity, and the Syrian Refugee Crisis

Today I was planning on writing about foster care. I was going to extol the importance of families opening up homes to the “least of these”, welcoming the little children into their homes and hearts for as long as as they are with them, then either supporting them as they return to their home of origin, go to another forever family, or adopting the children themselves. This is an extremely important subject, I spend my working hours every day dedicated to creating permanency for children and as another person in my job said, “I wake up and the first thing I think about is permanency for children.” Most days that is true, and I will write about foster care this month, but today, my heart is somewhere else.

This morning, I woke up and the first thought on my mind was the Syrian Refugee Crisis.

I began mentally plan on how to get to Europe to start helping people, what agency to contact, how to get leave from work, obtaining a passport… and realized that perhaps I was not the best equipped person to go (or at least go quickly). Plus, if I go, who would do my job of finding permanency for children in foster care, people also in need of safe homes? While I am not discounting going myself, at least for a short trip, I realized a more immediate way of helping was to use my voice to speak out and my wallet to help fund those who can go now and are equipped to serve well (you know, young or retired people with time and energy, who travel well and have passports).

I hadn’t planned to write about the Syrian Refugee Crisis. I had liked other people’s posts supporting the refugees, but I was afraid to write or even share a post myself. As I have shared before, my biggest roadblock to writing is fear: fear of exposing too much, fear of offending someone, fear of multiple grammatical and spelling errors. This time the fear was different. I started to think about why I was afraid of writing about the refugee crisis. I generally am not afraid of people disagreeing with me. I am a pro-life feminist, LGBTQ ally, Evangelical, creationist. Seriously, no one agrees with me about everything and a lot of people are pretty vocal about it.  But when I started to explore that fear this morning, I realized that I felt so strongly about this issue, I was actually afraid that someone close to me, someone that I loved and respected, would speak hatefully about the refugees and I would lose respect for that person. I decided to face that fear and write anyway. If someone seriously responds with hatred, perhaps a natural consequence is a loss of respect.

I scrolled through my Facebook this morning and saw that what feels like the majority of this country is slamming the door shut on people in danger, in need, who are fleeing for their lives. I am angry about the reaction of this country, but I don’t have much sway over what the government of this country does. What truly made my heart sink, what made me feel sick to my stomach, and what made me burst into tears of frustration was my fellow sisters and brothers in Christ using their Christian platforms to say we shouldn’t welcome or care for refugees.

It is one thing to say that politically, it might be unsafe (although statistics highly dispute that).

It is another to use a Christian platform to state that we should not care for refugees.

The more experience I have with politics, the more I am absolutely convinced that the goals  of the political are diametrically opposed to the teachings of Christianity.

Politics are about power about protecting the interest of the country.

Christianity is about becoming a servant and taking up a cross and following Christ.

Politics are about gaining and keeping wealth.

Christianity is about sharing what you have and giving up to everything you have to the poor.

Politics are about gaining popularity.

Jesus said the last shall be first and the first shall be last.

Politics are about having bigger guns and a bigger army than the other guy.

Jesus said to love your enemy, pray for those who persecute you, and turn the other cheek.

Politics are about protecting the status quo.

Christianity is about an upside-down kingdom of heaven where the meek shall inherit the earth, the peacemakers are called the children of God, and those who mourn are comforted.

What really fucks up Christianity is when we mix it with politics.It is then that we see Christianity used to support hatred, fear, bigotry, violence, power, wealth, and privilege.

I don’t care about individual politics and what may or may not be right politically.

What I know is that if you are a Christian, you already have your marching orders, straight from the mouth of Jesus, who was once a refugee, when his life was threatened by a King, his family fled to Egypt.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:35-40 NIV)

 

For ways you can provide practical help to the refugees:

Five Ways to Stand up & Be the Church in the World’s Worst Refugee Crisis Since World War II

 

It’s Fiday! November 13, 2015

Drink of the Week:

Old Fashioned- a mixture of whiskey, bitters, sugar, cherry, and orange wheel and a splash of  club soda. I generally do not like whiskey, but I love slowly sipping an old fashioned and am slowly beginning to appreciate the taste of a good bourbon.

Blog of the Week:

Akwarding is What Brings Us All Together by the Bloggess. She shared an embarrassing moment and twitter exploded with other people sharing their humiliating (and hysterical) stories. There are so many of them that took me days to get through them. If you need a good laugh, here is a great place to start!

Song of the Week:

“Ex’s and Oh’s” by Ellie King. I was listening to Pandora the other day during a get together and this soulful song started playing and everyone began to tap their feet. The video is a bit racy, but also funny and as well as breaking some gender stereotypes. This song makes me want to look up more from Ellie King.