The Houses with the Signs


#rape #abuse #Trump

It’s a weird time to be living through, this election.

In a month we could have a president who has gleefully admitted to sexual assault, whose ex-wife accused him under oath of brutally raping her. The boring cliche that politicians lie obscures the fact that this particular one utilizes almost every conceivable tactic of psychological abuse, from threats to victim-blaming to gaslighting. Like most rapists and batterers, this one doesn’t limit himself to the kinds of abuse that leave physical scars.

I was driving through a wealthy part of town on my way to see a friend today. I saw Trump sign after Trump sign. A completely ridiculous thought kept popping into my head as I observed the identical blue signs in the fading light: “They think rape is okay.”

House after house of smiling, friendly white people with kids and golden retrievers who think rape is okay.

My high school friends all came from families like these. One of my oldest childhood friends, with whom I’m no longer in touch–his mom has his page liked on Facebook. She is the only person on my friends list who I can safely assume didn’t like the page just to keep tabs on it. She used to take us out for pizza and root beer after ballet class. She thinks rape is okay.

My teenage brother likes Trump. He thinks rape is okay.

He is too young to know what his older sister has gone through. He is old enough to think rape is okay.

Obviously it’s ridiculous. Obviously they don’t literally think rape is okay. Maybe they don’t think he really did it. Maybe they think Crooked Hillary created the tape. (How do you Photoshop a fucking tape?) Maybe they think he did it and it’s awful but what else can ya do when he’s the only one who can make America great again.

But all of that charitable rationalization obscures the fact that there are people who are horrified by the man on that tape and people who are not.

In some of my darkest and craziest intrusive thoughts, I imagine being raped by a stranger on the street, after dark, near one of those houses with the signs. I am convinced that even in that state I would choose a house without a sign to knock on the door and ask for help.

I’m not convinced that the people with the signs understand that rape is real.

I hated him before. I hated him for the racism and the Islamophobia and the fatphobia and the garden-variety sexism and for the homophobic running mate and really for all of it, whether or not it would ever affect me personally. But this is what brings on the ridiculous thoughts about all the houses full of people who think rape is okay, all the people who wouldn’t help me, all the people who, in fact, didn’t.

I think about looking up an old high school friend today on Facebook and finding out that she is dating an old high school boyfriend of mine, who assaulted me over and over during the few months we dated. Nobody knew nearly enough about the dynamics of abuse to even suspect it, and if they had, I’m sure they would’ve blamed me anyway. I didn’t even realize I had been assaulted until years and years later, until quite recently. At some point after the relationship ended, he made fun of me, saying that I’d always “trembled like a scared bunny” whenever we did anything.

I can imagine both of their parents in a neighborhood just like that one, with the signs.

I think about the fact that I can’t vote because the naturalization fees are almost $700.

I think about “sure, Trump’s bad, but I just can’t bring myself to vote for Hillary.”

I think about what it would mean to the women and queers and trans people and survivors in this country for it to be led by someone who cheerfully, repeatedly assaults women.

I think about how I can barely look at people I know or suspect are conservative anymore, because they may think rape is okay.

I think about all the people I grew up with that, after this election, I can no longer trust.

Trump himself may lose and slither back into whatever disgusting sewer he came from, but the people who love him won’t, and I don’t know how I can ever comfortably share a planet with them again.





Saints and Scapegoats

When my parents tell their family friends what I’m in school for, the reaction is usually concerned panic about the future state of my finances. Once, though, they got a different reaction. The person said, “Oh wow, social workers are saints.”

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, and my complex feelings about it, and the ways in which this common perception of social workers both results from and drives expectations about the type of work we are supposed to be doing.

First of all: I’m not sure that I agree that social work is uniquely “hard” as a profession. Certainly the work can be stressful and can cause vicarious trauma or desensitization. Certainly the work can follow you home. Certainly many jobs will overwork you and not give you enough support (material or emotional) to do the work as it ought to be done. But I’m not sure how this differs from many other jobs.

In fact, to me, most other jobs seem much more difficult than mine–prohibitively difficult, even. Journalism. Scientific research, especially in the natural sciences. Business. Finance. Construction. Food service. Computer engineering. These jobs all require skill sets that I lack and could only build with considerable effort, stress, and financial investment, if at all.

The job I chose feels easier to me than these jobs because I am suited for it.

But people are tapping into something slightly different, too, when they say that social work is “so hard” or that social workers are “saints.” Maybe they notice our abysmal pay. (Someone with a Masters degree and years of cumulative field experience deserves a starting salary of significantly higher than ~35k, but the money’s just not there.) Maybe they notice that we have to do the job of two or three people. Maybe they notice that our work environments can be unsupportive and even abusive.

And I would hope that they notice these things and instead of saying, “You shouldn’t have chosen social work if you wanted more money,” they will say, “It’s abhorrent that you make so little money and if there’s ever any way I can influence this situation, I will.”

(Irrelevant sidenote: I hate it when I express concerns about money and people say, “Well, you’re not exactly in this field for the money, are you?” You are correct, I am not in this field “for the money.” I am in this field for the same reason anyone else is in any field: to be able to pay the fucking bills and the rent. Yes, I should be paid enough for that, and then some.)

But one thing that few people seem to pick up on–at least, people outside the field–is that part of the problem is that social workers are being tasked with things that should not be our job.

I don’t mean that in a flippant way; I mean that I continually feel like we are being asked to fix things things that it is simply beyond our power to fix. Or we’re being asked to slap bandaids onto severed limbs. I get so demoralized sometimes when I realize that I’m being asked to essentially help people learn how to cope with poverty or racism or homophobia or simply working a crushing minimum-wage job while raising kids alone without any help from anyone, and it feels almost cruel to try to help people be more okay with this when this is not something that anyone should be okay with.

I know there’s no other way. I know that, of course. I’m all for harm reduction. If I can help someone deal with the fact that they are going to be poor and hated by the rest of society for their entire life, I guess that’s better than not helping them deal with that.

You know what would be even better, though? If more people gave a fuck about creating a world in which it doesn’t have to be that way.

So when I say that fixing poverty shouldn’t be my job, that’s because it should be everyone’s job. We should all care about poverty. We should all learn about what types of approaches might actually help in reducing poverty. We should all vote for legislators who pledge to implement such approaches (rather than utter rubbish like mandatory drug testing for mothers on food stamps or reducing the total number of months someone can receive public assistance so that they “just get a job already” and all that). We should all then vote those legislators out of office if they fail to follow through on this during their first terms. We should all, if we are able, donate to organizations that have a proven record of helping people in poverty and helping communities develop the resources they need to thrive.

Instead, right now, we all seem to collectively decide that poverty (and racism, and violence, and unemployment, and all that) is someone else’s problem to fix. Let all the social workers and community mental health practitioners handle that stuff; we’ll just be over here voting for whichever candidate looks the nicest.

No wonder many people think social workers are “saints.” They have charged us with singlehandedly fixing all of the most enduring and challenging social problems in our society, while making barely enough money to get by. We’re sometimes less saints and more scapegoats, the people on whom the responsibility to care falls because nobody else is caring.

And, naturally, when things go wrong–an abused child doesn’t get the help they need, or a child who isn’t really abused is taken away from their parents because of false reports of abuse, or a person with an untreated mental illness becomes violent–people ask why the social workers or mental health practitioners didn’t “do their jobs,” and how it could happen that someone would fall through the cracks like this.

If you build a crappy cracked pavement and let it deteriorate without ever making the effort to fill in the cracks–or, better yet, rip the whole thing up and build a better one–don’t be surprised when those of us tasked with running around trying to catch people sometimes fail.

That’s not to deflect responsibility from us. That’s to spread it a little more evenly. We are responsible for doing the jobs we are hired to do, but we can only do so much in an environment where nobody else seems to care.