Shepherd’s Men on Memorial Day

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People entering the welcoming area of the Shepherd Center at the end of the 2017 Shepherd’s Men Run, Atlanta, Georgia, May 29, 2017

On Memorial Day, my son and family, and members of my son’s Boy Scout troop attended and participated in welcoming the Shepherd’s Men to the final destination of their multi-day run at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta.  Members of my son’s Boy Scout Troop and Venturing Crew in Snellville served in the Honor Guard, posting colors (flags) for the event.  The Shepherd’s men are military veterans – both men and women – who raise awareness and funding to support veterans’ concerns, including those such as suicide, traumatic brain injury, and post traumatic stress disorder.

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Members of the Shepherd’s Men at the Shepherd Center following their 2017 Run, Atlanta, Georgia, May 29, 2017

This year, the Shepherd Center in Atlanta was the final destination of the Shepherd’s Men Run that began in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the location where one of the airplanes from 9/11 went down.  Their multi-day run that ended on Memorial Day was also in remembrance of and to honor civilians who lost their lives in that plane crash. The Shepherd’s Men each wore a 22-pound flak pack, symbolizing the 22 American veterans who commit suicide every day.

The welcoming ceremony included speakers who were wives and/or mothers of veterans, including the wife of a veteran who had traumatic brain injury and came to the Shepherd Center for treatment and the mother of one young soldier who tragically committed suicide without showing signs of being depressed or suicidal.

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Members of Boy Scout Troop and Venturing Crew 548 from Snellville, Georgia as Honor/Color Guard for the 2017 Shepherd’s Men Run, Atlanta, Georgia, May 29, 2017

Other speakers at the event included administrators of the Shepherd Center as well as an Atlanta City Council member.  There were also two singers who sang “America the Beautiful” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” to remember those who’ve died in service to our country.  Many members of the Atlanta Police Department, including those mostly riding motorcycles, also provided an escort for the Shepherd’s Men as they arrived at the Shepherd Center.

The event was poignant, memorable, and sensitive to veterans and their families who are experiencing struggle with physical and mental illnesses, and those who have experienced personal loss and grief.  It was nice to be present and be a supporter of this event and cause that is so important for the support of our veterans and their families.

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Protecting Girls from Sexual Predators by Being Aware and Making Informed, Intelligent Decisions (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Stop Sex Offenders (Retrieved from converseprisonnews.com, February 27, 2015)

Stop Sex Offenders (Retrieved from converseprisonnews.com, February 27, 2015)

Sexual predators come in all shapes and sizes, all ages, backgrounds, and ethnicities. Unfortunately, the all seem to have the same thing in common – committing sexual offenses against others in efforts to show power, control, and domination, and to make themselves feel good while hurting their victims. Another very sad thing about those who commit sexual offenses against others is that they typically see no wrong in their actions. In efforts to normalize their thoughts and actions, they often appear to be in denial, externally blaming others – including their targets – rather than admitting their actions and taking responsibility for them. They often go to whatever lengths necessary to blame their victims, cover up their offenses, and manipulate others into believing their falsehoods.

In this article, I will discuss the manner in which girls can and do become sexual targets. Boys, men, and women may also be targets of sexual predators, and this article does not minimize their experience, but is to solely focus on how society often fails to protect many of its most vulnerable and innocent members.  Perhaps if parents, educators, and/or others in our society are more aware and informed about the manner in which girls are targeted, more girls will be protected from sexually traumatizing situations that they should never experience.

Research has shown that most individuals who are sexually abused or assaulted are those who are known by their targets. Often, those who target them are family members or “trusted” pillars of the community, including those in positions of great wealth, power, influence, and/or authority. Men (and women) who sexually abuse and/or assault girls are those who believe that their thoughts and actions are correct. Their perspectives and behaviors, however, are pathological, including their actions of grooming their targets throughout time, potentially gaining the trust and friendship of the target’s parents or family, and taking whatever measures possible to see that their inappropriate interactions with their targets are secret, silenced, overlooked, and/or otherwise minimized.

Sadly, many sexual offenders are never caught. Many of these highly esteemed pillars of the community are so powerful and influential – or have such strong ties with a connective network of powerful and influential people who believe and protect them – that they continue their inappropriate actions and sexual offenses throughout their lives, always getting away with them. What is to be done for girls to protect themselves from such people? Nothing? If the girls or their families went to police, they would be laughed at and humiliated out of the police station due to the infiltration into police networks by these powerful and influential people. If the girls and their families publicly identified such people, they risk being financially, socially, and professionally ruined by such people and their large network of supporters with whom they are connected.

Must victims of their sexual offenses continue to suffer in silence? No. It is up to survivors to speak out because, in so doing, the offenders are not protected. The offenders count on tactics of fear, intimidation, and ruination to silence and destroy their victims and their victims’ reputations. Being silent only protects the offenders. By speaking out about offenders, society is informed and becomes more aware of those in their communities – and perhaps, even in their own families – who are so powerful that they get away with their sexual misconduct and offenses. In these ways, at least people are informed, whether or not they believe the truth and heed the warnings about the offenders’ harmful and pathological behaviors.

One way that sexual predators groom and prey upon girls is by sizing up their parents and/or families. If those targeting girls judge that the girls’ parents are unaware, uncaring, weak, or oblivious in any way, then their daughters are prime targets for grooming by sex offenders. Parents and/or other caregivers must be loving and caring toward their daughters, having created an atmosphere in which open and honest trust is shared, in order that these girls feel safe enough to be open with them about any inappropriate actions or offenses performed against them.

Next, parents must not be too free – and should be more guarded – about with whom their daughters spend time and what activities they do. A safe environment in which everyone has passed background checks and drug tests are among the most ideal places for parents to believe their girls are safe, however people must recognize that those with enough money and power who are involved in these environments may have had their offenses undocumented. People must not always trust that the authority, stature, and appearances of those in power are necessarily honest, honorable, and respectable.

Particularly in regard to young girls, people should be aware and informed about those with whom they have interaction and contact. Outside of a girl’s family, there are those in church, at school, and at other community events and even regular family outings, such as to the local grocery store, gas station, or other business, who may target her. People, particularly men, who have regular contact and/or interaction with a girl, long enough to speak with her in a way that gains her trust in some way are those who could be suspected of grooming a girl in order to sexually harm her. Should such interactions be overlooked and/or not perceived, then such grooming will continue and likely escalate. The grooming can escalate to sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, sexual abuse, and sexual assault. Then, a host of excuses, cover-ups, and denials begin, as well as a discrediting of the victim.

Men who hold powerful positions, and who are looked to as trusted community members, are sometimes those who commit sexual harassment and/or misconduct against girls.  Some of these men may include priests of parishes that have churches, schools, and children’s activities, as well as millionaire or billionaire members of those parishes who lead and/or participate in church and/or community activities involving children. Those men who are so wealthy, powerful, influential, “trusted,” and “esteemed” in their communities and greater regional areas who perform sexual misconduct against girls have already duped everyone before a girl realizes what has happened, before her family can support and/or defend her (if at all), and before the girl’s healing process begins (if at all). Because these men are unwilling and/or unable to be responsible and accountable for their actions, they deny them and do whatever possible to cover them up, discredit their victims, and continue to victimize others.

The small Catholic parish in my small hometown of Gowanda in Western New York State is one such place of which I am aware that several people have had these experiences throughout a period of decades. To my knowledge, no one has ever officially reported the instances of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and sexual assault that have occurred there and/or as a result of powerful people who are parishioners there. Many of those who have committed such offenses remain leaders and active members of this parish. A current priest there from Salamanca, New York threatened one former parishioner with Mafia action due to her knowledge of his sexual harassment and pedophilia toward girls. The survivors who have left the parish are aware that the shear wealth and power of those people would extremely outweigh anything they could ever say or do in any futile attempts to obtain justice. In effect, obtaining justice is impossible, and the lies, cover-ups, and misconduct will likely continue far into the future since those particular people are tied to the area.

Therefore, people must always be aware of and informed about others. Sometimes, those who dress well, have money and power, and/or be in positions that are spiritually-supportive of others are the very people who should not be trusted. This is further correct, especially if such men have free and open access to children, and even if they can pass every background check. Just because a “trusted” and “esteemed” man can pass a background check does not mean he does not have a sexualized pathology. People must be active in guarding and protecting children, even in places typically considered safe, such as churches. People must be aware that appearances are not always what they may seem, in order to be activists in adequately protecting children.

This is also not to say that all men who are involved in children’s activities are sexual predators. Certainly not. I recognize that there are many more men of honor and respectable character in our society than those who are not. Thank goodness for that! It is simply that, in a world where children have no rights and are often manipulated, controlled, objectified, abused, and/or sexualized, those vested with their care must be more vigilant and effective in our protection of them. Even those who do all they can and who have the best intentions toward protecting children may be unable to protect them. However, we must always do whatever possible to achieve that end.

Thoughts on Some Recent Societal Violence (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Talking, writing, and/or teaching about violence in society, and ways to reduce it, are always sensitive issues that tend to stir up many emotions in people.  Unfortunately, many times, emotions sometimes get the best of people regarding situations, and those situations escalate into those that only fuel maladaptive and/or harmful conduct.  Two recent situations that I would like to address include the terrorism at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, France, and the killing of a 12-year-old boy (who was holding what appeared to be a real gun) by a police officer in Cleveland, Ohio.

As a person who tries to view all sides of a situation or issue, I am one who does my best to think through it before addressing or weighing in on the subject.  My approach is the same in regard to the two above-identified issues.  Knowing that these are sensitive and controversial issues that have created tragedy and turmoil, my approach is one that tries to consider and share different perspectives.  These, of course, are views that others may or may not agree with, and I understand that.

Admittedly, regarding Charlie Hebdo, I know little about this company, but can already see that the satirical cartoons published by it may be offensive to particular people.  First, as a Caucasian, Christian, and Westerner, I understand and appreciate people’s freedoms of speech, expression, publication, and the arts.  Even if what is expressed is offensive – and certainly, there are plenty of publications and art mediums out there that are offensive – there are protections on them that are guaranteed by official government documents in many countries.  For people whose cultures may be middle eastern and/or who practice religions other than Christianity – such as Islam, for example – their upbringing may create views that clash with the majority, including rights enacted within countries in which they live.

I am not condoning, nor do I support any kinds of harassment or terrorism – in any forms – however what I am saying is that increased tolerance, understanding, and sensitivity toward peoples and cultures that are not the majority in particular countries must be exercised.  People who commit terrorist actions appear to believe they are actually doing a good thing.  In the case of those who died as a result of the terrorism at Charlie Hebdo, it seems that the terrorists were acting as martyrs, willing to sacrifice their own lives in seeking vengeance and retaliation (but what they likely believed was justice) for insults to Muhammad and Islam.  In their own way (that most likely view as twisted), they believed they were doing the right thing, even though it is completely against Western values in this regard.

An issue closer to home – in Cleveland, Ohio – about which I read, online, today is about a 12-year-old boy who was shot and killed by a police officer.  The boy had been holding and/or carrying what appeared to be a real gun, but was apparently a replica of a gun that sure looked real to me.  I’ve also read about situations in the past in which boys who hold guns, including toy guns that appear to be real, have been shot by police.

First, I express my condolences and sympathies for the boy and his family about his untimely and tragic death.  This is certainly an unfortunate and devastating occurrence that could have been avoided and prevented.  But, what drew me to reading this story are the many questions that I have about it.  First, why is a child holding what would appear to be a real gun?  Wasn’t he taught not to hold anything that would remotely appear to be a weapon?  Why does he want to hold it to begin with?  And, hasn’t he been taught that police officers are trained to shoot to kill in these types of situations?  This boy’s actions were like inviting suicide.

With all of the recent bad news about incidents involving police officers around the country, we must also remember and keep in mind that there are many truly good and helpful police officers who place their lives on the line every day in service to others.  Sometimes, it seems that police in some areas have resorted to using increased and unnecessary force.  Requiring that police are competent in training regarding the de-escalation of violent and potentially violent situations is necessary.  Also, police minimizing, covering up, and/or excusing situations that are clearly wrong and/or which could have been prevented or improved upon only serves to increase public distrust of the very people who are supposed to protect us.

So, that brings me back to the boy who was holding what did appear to be a real gun, but was not.  Parents must educate their children that our society has drastically changed.  In today’s generation, there was the horrific tragedy that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in which so many were killed, including children.  In my generation, I noticed the change when the violence at Columbine High School in Colorado occurred.  In a prior generation, the change may have been more noticeable as a result of the students who were killed by authorities at Kent State University in Ohio.  What I’m saying is that police don’t play – they can’t.  Police sometimes have only split seconds to decide on what actions they must take – shoot or not shoot.  And, in my understanding and observations, police typically shoot to kill.  They don’t shoot to wound or they may end up being those who are killed.

Therefore, and as tragic as it is for the young boy who was killed, and his family, children must be taught these things.  Guns and weapons – and things that look like them – are not toys.  In this day and age, people aren’t playing, especially police.  It is up to adults to educate children to act in their best interests.  Yes, this boy did a stupid thing, but it is something that could have been avoided.  Because he did not, he tragically paid for his mistake with his life.  How many more children will be killed by police for holding fake or toy guns because they have not been taught otherwise, are taking unnecessary and dangerous risks, and/or don’t care?  People have to remember that police are going to shoot first, and will shoot to kill – that is their training, otherwise they will become the one who falls.

There are many other situations of violence that have occurred in our society, especially recently, that I could address here, as well, however these are two that have captured my attention because of the manner in which they could have been prevented in the first place.  So, while there is freedom of speech, press, and arts in the West, those from other cultures who now live in Western society may have differing views.  Sadly, they are willing to sacrifice their own lives, take the lives of others, and create turmoil out of situations that they appear not to respect, tolerate, or understand.  Increased tolerance, respect, and sensitivity is needed on all sides in order to improve relations between people of differing backgrounds and cultures.

Lastly, people must not invite tragedy to occur.  The boy in Cleveland who was holding what appeared to be a real gun, but which was not real, lost his life because of his actions.  This boy was wronged by a society and culture that either did not teach him that holding what appeared to be a gun was extremely risky and dangerous, or it was not instilled in him enough that he not do such a thing.  While the boy should have been old enough to understand some consequences and risks regarding his actions, parents must also do more to educate and instill in children not to do such things that invite escalating repercussions that might involve loss of life, regardless of whether the person taking the life was a police officer.

May all who have died in these situations rest in peace, and may society learn from these situations so that they do not continue to occur.

References:

Ahmed, B. (January 8, 2015). Charlie Hebdo and the alarming evolution of terrorism.  ThinkProgress.  Retrieved on January 23, 2015 from http://thinkprogress.org/world/2015/01/08/3609528/paris-terrorism-evolution/

Cleveland boy, 12, shot and killed over fake gun (January 23, 2015).  CBS News.  Retrieved on January 23, 2015 from  http://www.cbsnews.com/news/cleveland-boy-12-shot-and-killed-by-police-over-fake-gun/