#METOO: Tiffany Ashenfelter, Licensed Professional Counselor
Tiffany Ashenfelter is a Licensed Professional Counselor, a Board Approved Supervisor for new counselors as well as a Certified Equine Specialist in Mental Health and a dear friend. She earned a Masters of Arts in Counseling from Dallas Theological Seminary and a Bachelors of Arts in Psychology from Angelo State University.
Which account do I share? How only a couple of days ago I was harassed by 2 men driving by in a truck while waiting to cross the street; or the time I received a sleazy proposition via Facebook messenger from a complete stranger; maybe the time I was standing in a crowd with friends at the age of 17 and someone ran by grabbing my butt as they went; or all the times my body has been commented on, stared at or told how to dress appropriately (read “modestly” so as to not tempt my brothers); or maybe the time I was groped by “friends” at a party while they laughed. I laughed too so the situation wouldn’t escalate and to avoid further humiliation by being told I “was being stuck up” or “couldn’t take a joke.”
As a licensed therapist, I have built my practice on working with women; teens, college students, young professionals, working moms, stay at home moms, empty-nesters, even grandmothers. The stories of abuse, degradation, fear, silence and shame are an ever-present theme in my office. When I hear their stories I often see accompanying questions in their eyes “will you believe me?”, “will you judge me or blame me?”, “am I safe here?”
Think about it, when stories about men like Harvey Weinstein come out and we learn he’s been perpetrating and harassing women for decades, it’s human nature to seek to understand it, to attempt to make sense of something so vile. We begin to ask questions like, “how did this happen?”, “How could he get away with it for so long?”, “Why didn’t she_________?”
And this is it, right here!! This is where we get ourselves in trouble and begin to wrongly place blame on the victims. This is where the conversation quickly turns away from the perpetuator of the abuse, the rightful focus, toward the victims. Questions like “why didn’t she speak up?”, “why didn’t she go to the authorities”, “she should have ____.” Or more sinister questions like “why would she go to his hotel room?”, “was she drinking?”, “what did she do?” or “what was she wearing?” All of these questions indicate blame on the part of the victim rather than placing full blame on the perpetrator.
This can be just as painful and damaging, sometimes more so than the actual abusive event because these questions are often asked by friends, allies and loved ones, people the victim considered safe.
So what can we do for or say to someone who has experienced abuse or harassment? How can we be a part of changing the conversation and changing our culture?
- Believe Them – one of the biggest reasons victims stay silent is the fear that no one will believe them if they talk. No matter how unbelievable the story may seem, no matter how much you don’t want to contemplate that level of evil in the world, BELIEVE THEM. This is their story, their life, their experience, their pain, BELIEVE IT. The number one thing we can do right is to believe people when they share their story. The number one thing we can do wrong is doubt them. To doubt or question their story is to silence them and for a victim of abuse this can feel like abuse all over again.
- Just Be – sometimes the greatest thing we can ever do for someone in pain is to just be with them in that pain; give witness to the pain, let them know they are not alone, let them know they don’t have to “keep it together”. By doing this, we can exemplify God’s heart for the hurting and oppressed. We can lean into the pain as Jesus did when he wept with Mary and Martha over the grief of their brother Lazarus’ death. Jesus knew he was going to raise Lazarus yet He grieved because those He loved grieved. He did not shy away from their pain, He leaned into it with them.
- Be a friend, not a therapist - When someone we care about shares a deep pain we often want to fix it, resist that temptation! We can’t fix it and it’s not our job to fix it so let’s be relieved of that burden. As a friend we can offer love, support and a listening ear, avoid giving advice and trying to fix. When they are ready and with the help of a therapist our friend and loved one can seek the help they need to overcome their abuse.
- Be empowered to seek information – as more brave souls speak up about the abuse and harassment they’ve suffered the more we will want to understand this epidemic of our culture. Rather than placing the burden on victims of abuse to explain the patterns abusers utilize to perpetrate their abuse let us be empowered to seek out organizations and experts who can provide us with the information we are seeking. In this way we do not add to the burden of our friend but through our knowledge we may be able to find ways to lighten it.
- Be a voice for change in your circle of influence – We may not have a national platform from which we can speak into the lives of hundreds or thousands of people however we all have a circle of influence, people with which we are in relationship, with whom we can have difficult conversations. We can begin to effect change in society by speaking up in our circles of influence about the effects of “locker room talk” on both men and women, by speaking up when we see our friends laugh about or minimize harassment, and by helping to educate others on the impact of abuse and harassment on our culture. If we refuse to tolerate abuse and harassment at work, in our churches (yes, even in our churches), and in our society, the more society will begin to change. Let us use our influence with those closest to us to begin to effect change in our world.
“What hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor, but the silence of the bystander.” Elie Wiesel, Nobel Prize Recipient & Holocaust Survivor