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Someone’s Gotta Say It

 

Insights from 30 Years at the Forefront of Medical Care for Victims of Sexual Harms

 

By Marina Sampanes Peed
Executive Director of Mosaic Georgia

We are thrilled to celebrate a significant milestone at Mosaic Georgia – 30 years of providing exceptional medical care for victims of sexual harms. Since July 1993, we have been at the forefront of delivering trauma-informed forensic medical services, setting a new standard of care in Georgia. As we reflect on our journey, we want to share some valuable insights and observations with you. 

Our mission began when the Gwinnett Rape Crisis Center was founded by a dedicated hospital volunteer named Ann Smiley. Our volunteer advocates would respond to calls from the hospital to provide support to survivors who disclosed sexual assault. However, we realized that there were opportunities to improve the process. By shifting the response away from hospitals and establishing a center focused on advocacy support and medical forensic care, we could ensure quicker, more private care for survivors while enabling law enforcement to investigate promptly. 

Our specially-trained Sexual Assault Nurse/Forensic Examiners (SANEs) have conducted over 6,000 sexual assault exams, catering to patients of all ages and genders. By offering specialized care, including prevention of sexually transmitted infections or pregnancy resulting from rape, we ensure that every survivor has access to the support they need. Witnessing the relief in survivors’ eyes when they realize they won’t have to worry about these additional costs is truly heartwarming. 

This community-based approach benefits everyone involved. All our services are provided at no charge to the victims or local law enforcement. We believe that access to quality care should never be hindered by financial constraints. However, we face sustainability challenges as crime victim services funding decreases while the costs of delivering 24/7 response increase. The work we do at Mosaic Georgia sits at the intersection of public safety, healthcare, and addressing the long-term harms caused by sexual violence. 

Looking at the larger picture, we see our work is far from done. Despite the #metoo movement and numerous media reports of high-profile cases, fewer victims are coming forward to report these crimes to the police (2021 estimate is only 25% of sexual assaults for people age 12 and older are reported to police). Myths and misunderstandings surrounding sexual violence persist. Our culture is inundated with sexualized images of girls and women and harmful definitions of masculinity. Additionally, instances of child sexual abuse, incest, and commercial sexual exploitation of children and youth are on the rise. 

The expansion of high-speed internet and the world wide web has facilitated predators in exploiting vulnerable individuals. Arrests and prosecution of perpetrators also remain lower compared to other violent crimes. It is clear that there is still much work to be done to address these pressing issues. 

At Mosaic Georgia, we are committed to making a difference through education and training. Our SANE Success Institute offers comprehensive programs that equip Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs) with the knowledge, clinical skills, and court testimony preparation they need. In response to the pandemic, we launched PRO/SANE, an online peer review platform that allows SANEs to learn from one another and discuss unique situations they encounter in their practice. Through these initiatives, we foster shared learning, skill development, and a supportive community of professionals across Georgia. 

Combating sexual harms requires a collective effort from our community. It is crucial that we support survivors, hold perpetrators accountable, and ensure that consent and boundaries are understood by all. Together, let us break the silence and create a world where every individual is safe, respected, and free from the devastating impacts of sexual violence. 

Thank you for being a part of the Mosaic Georgia community. Your support and involvement are instrumental in our continued efforts to make a lasting difference. 

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Secrets vs. Surprises: The Danger of Secrets

By Kendall Wolz
Mental Health and Wellness Manager

“Don’t tell  ______. It’s a secret.” 

“I’ll only tell you if you can keep it a secret.” 

“This is our little secret, you better not tell anyone- or else.” 

Secrets are dangerous. Secrets are heavy. Secrets hurt. 

Most of us grew up with secrets. I definitely remember keeping secrets with my friends and siblings in early elementary school and even throughout middle and high school. Whether it was a secret about kissing a boy on the playground or about my plans for my next trick to play on my siblings, my secrets seemed fairly innocent and inconsequential. It was not until I was threatened with serious harm or death that I found myself inside the prison secrets create. 

“This is our little secret, you better not tell anyone- or else.” -My Abuser 

 

When my abuser sternly uttered those words after we watched the first episode of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire in August 1999, I knew exactly what he meant when he told me this was our secret. I also knew what he was implying when he said “or else.” I was consumed with making sure I kept this secret. I worked hard at making everything look normal. I did not say things that would cause one to question me about my secret. In health class, I did not dare make eye contact with the teacher when we talked about the chapter in our textbook on abuse. 

Take a moment and think about a secret you have been holding? 

A secret about something in your life or in someone else’s life. 

What is the weight of holding that secret? 

At a young age, many of us learn that secrets are things you do not break. If you tell a secret, someone gets mad at you or someone gets in trouble. Secrets are meant to be unspoken. 

My secret placed me in a prison that was filled with pain, isolation, loneliness, worry, fear, and immense hopelessness. Breaking that secret only occurred when I was more afraid of keeping the secret than sharing it with another person. Breaking the secret is the only way I escaped the prison my abuser built. 

I wholeheartedly believe that we should live a life without secrets. But, how is this possible when secrets are normalized and it seems to be a routine part of growing up? 

A while back, I came across an incredible graphic from The Mama Bear Effect  which distinguishes between secrets and surprises. It is included at the end of this post; however, I would like to add another category to consider. Privacy. 

So, what does this mean for us and more importantly, what does this mean for the children in our lives?
 

Let’s look at secrets first. 

Secrets  are tactics abusers regularly employ to ensure a child will not disclose their criminal acts to someone else. Often, a threat is included with the instruction to keep a secret. In general, secrets are rarely positive, healthy, or encouraging. Research has identified 38 types of secrets that people tend to keep, ten of which are referenced in this Psychology Todayarticle. As you can see from the list, many are painful. Most secrets are intended to be kept forever. We do not say, “okay, I’m going to keep this secret for two weeks.” Breaking a secret can feel dangerous and very frightening. There are major consequences for telling a secret. If the secret is ever revealed, it involves as few people possible. 

Surprises  are those things that we do not want someone to find out about, yet. We throw surprise parties and purchase gifts that will be the ultimate surprise. Surprises are usually positive and exciting. We may tell someone to keep a certain gift a secret from someone, but what we really mean is that we want them to keep it a surprise. Surprises are temporary and time limited. When we share the surprise, we typically invite multiple people to participate. We do have to exercise some caution with surprises because abusers may provide a child with a surprise (a gift or special time together) and then instruct that the “surprise” must be kept a secret from their family and friends. While it may seem strange to say “let’s keep this a surprise” because we are accustomed to using the word secret, it is something we should challenge ourselves to implement.  

 The next time you and the kids make or purchase a birthday present for someone, let’s teach the kids that we are making a surprise and when that person’s birthday arrives, that is when we can tell/show the person the surprise we made. 

Private  things or privacy is fluid. When we were children, we had very little privacy. Someone put us in bed, someone helped us in the bathroom, and someone helped us get dressed. As we got older, our privacy increased. We began shutting the door when we used the bathroom. We were able to talk on the telephone without a parent being in the room. We could use the computer on our own. We begin to learn what conversations are appropriate for which environments. Privacy for children and teens is a privilege. Parents increase and decrease the amount of privacy allowed in order to balance freedom and independence with safety and discipline. Privacy includes who is allowed into our houses and our bedrooms. Clothing keeps some of our body parts private, exercising modesty. Privacy will look different in each family. 

Let’s empower our children by making a “No Secrets” rule in our families. Take away a tactic abusers use to control their victims and give that power to the children. Lift that burden of secrecy from a child’s arms so they do not grow weary and more frightened. 

Let’s challenge ourselves to use the appropriate terminology. Am I asking someone to keep a secret or a surprise? Is this something that should stay private, or can it be publicized? 

Most importantly, have regular, intentional, honest conversations about abuse with your child, encouraging them to always tell an adult when someone asks them to keep a secret.  

For more information, I encourage you to check out the Mama Bear Effect for more resources. 

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The Link Between “The Talk” and Kid’s Safety: Discussing Sex and Bodily Autonomy with Our Children

Kendall Circle Headshot

By Kendall Wolz
Mental Health and Wellness Manager at Mosaic Georgia

If I were to sit down with a random group of adults and ask the question, “What happened when you had THE TALK” with your parents or caregivers, many in the group would likely recoil and cringe with discomfort. Most of us probably have stories filled with awkwardness, distress, and anxiety. Parents likely had a similar reaction when they had the talk with their own children. On one hand, sexualized material infiltrates many aspects of our everyday lives with television shows, movies, advertisements, etc. On the other hand, the topic of sex is still taboo for many to talk about comfortably.  

It is vital that parents and caregivers begin talking to their children about their bodies and sex early and in an age-appropriate manner.  

Equipping children with accurate, scientific information about their bodies empowers them to respond appropriately to situations that may be harmful.  

How the Danger Shows Up

There is a story about a child attempting to tell her teacher she was being abused at home. The child had been taught that her vulva was called a cookie. She arrived at school one day and told her teacher that her grandfather had licked her cookie. The teacher readily replied, ‘you should go get another cookie when that happens’. No one knew this child was attempting to tell the teacher that her grandfather had licked her vulva. As a result, the abuse continued until the child could disclose, with more accuracy, the abuse she had experienced. This is an excellent example of the dangers of teaching children incorrect names for their body parts. 
 

From the ages of 8-13, I did not have the language to describe the abuse I endured. I did not know the boundaries of my body extended also to the father figure in my life – not just strangers, classmates, and non-family members. I was not familiar with what constituted abuse. I did not know that there was something I needed to keep telling until I was believed.

I did not know it was wrong.

It is imperative that we provide kids with adequate information so that they can recognize abusive behaviors. 
 

Being Okay with the Discomfort

Toddlers are naturally curious about the differences in physical bodies. And this may cause some uncomfortable conversations at the dinner table. It’s important to remember that toddlers do not feel shame about their bodies until adults in their life unknowingly respond in ways that create embarrassment or guilt.  

Below are some helpful tips and resources to help empower children with an understanding of their bodies.
 

Stay Calm and Neutral  

When my brother was a toddler, he was notorious for pulling his pants down and peeing outside. This is common with young children, and it is understandable that it might ‘freak parents out’, especially if company is over. A parent may respond by frantically telling the child to pull their pants up and to refrain from doing that again while friends are over. The child may be anxiously instructed to only pee in the bathroom with the door shut. While the information being conveyed is necessary and reasonable, the way it is communicated may unknowingly prompt shame, embarrassment and insecurity within the child. A healthy response would be to calmly approach the child and matter-of-factly state that when friends are over, we only pee in the bathroom. This mild, neutral tone does not create a sense of alarm. When a child feels alarm, they have difficulty listening to what we say and are more likely to only absorb the anxious energy put out by the parent. 

 

Eyes, Nose, Elbow, Arm, Penis, Vagina: They Are All Body Parts 

“Every single part of our body has an important job. All parts of our body are good. There are some parts of our body that we keep private.” This should be the focus of our conversations with children. As they grow and ask questions, our answers about the jobs of different body parts will expand and have more depth. We might even have to break out Google when a child asks about the job of the appendix. We can teach kids factually about their bodies. We do not need to assign a label of good or bad; however, we may assign a category of private.
 

Privacy 

It is important that we do teach children about privacy. When we are in public places, at a friend’s house, or even in places like the living room and kitchen, certain parts of the body should be covered. Many people explain private parts by what is covered by a swimsuit; for others, private parts may be extended. You will often have to remind children of what is private, but that should not be done in a shameful tone. It can simply be a reminder. 
 

A Helping Hand  

It’s a complex topic and the layers run deep especially because our children’s safety is at the forefront. Fortunately, there are many resources that can help us along.

Here are some excellent tips for having healthy conversations with children about sex.  

Lots of helpful advice can be found on the Birds & Bees Instagram account.

 

Kendall Wolz heads up the Mental Health and Wellness team that provides individual, family, and group therapy to those seeking care at Mosaic Georgia. As a survivor herself, she has a unique insight into the challenges of living with past trauma, how it impacts lives daily, and what the process of healing truly looks like. Her personal website, Brave Girl, Speak unpacks some of the complex issues that come along with being a survivor of sexual violence. Visit Kendall’s site to read more about her personal journey healing from trauma and peeling the layers to reclaim her true self.

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Someone’s Gotta Say It

Surviving Sexual Assault in the LGBTQ+ Community: Mosaic Georgia Extends a Warm Welcome, Support and Care

By Marina Sampanes Peed
Executive Director of Mosaic Georgia

June 2023

We know that sexual violence is as old as mankind. The expression of power and control over someone the perpetrator regards as their possession or less than fully human is universal. Rape is a tool of war – done to girls and women to insult the men in their group. People commit sexual assaults among all communities, irrespective of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or identity. The rapists use many means — force, fraud, coercion, and drugs/alcohol to complete their assaults.   

 Homophobia has existed for a long time. Today, only 7.2% of adults self-identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or something other than heterosexual. This month we’ll explore why LGBTQ+ people experience sexual violence at higher rates than the heterosexual, cis-gender populations.   

 

Prevalence of Sexual Harassment & Assault within the LGBTQ+ Community

 

Sexualized violence is almost expected among many LGBTQ+ individuals. According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 44% of lesbian women and 61% of bisexual women experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking, while 26% of gay men and 37% of bisexual men experience sexual violence during their lifetime. Transgender individuals also face higher rates, with half (50%) experiencing sexual assault at least once in their lives. Public and private harassment and threats are everyday occurrences for many.  

LGBTQ+ individuals face a higher risk of sexual violence due to a combination of societal factors, systemic discrimination, and specific vulnerabilities within the community.  

  • Stigma and Discrimination: LGBTQ+ individuals often experience stigma, discrimination, and prejudice based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. This marginalization can create an environment where perpetrators feel empowered to target and victimize LGBTQ+ individuals.
     
  • Hate Crimes: Hate-motivated violence is a significant concern for the LGBTQ+ community. Hate crimes can involve sexual violence, and individuals within this community are often targeted based on their perceived or openly expressed sexual orientation or gender identity. Most of the perpetrators of rape and sodomy are heterosexual males. 
     
  • Lack of Legal Protections: In many regions, legal protections for LGBTQ+ individuals are limited or absent, leaving them more vulnerable to sexual violence. The absence of comprehensive legal frameworks and protections can deter survivors from reporting incidents or seeking justice.
     
  • Increased Risk Factors: Some LGBTQ+ individuals may face additional risk factors that contribute to their vulnerability. For example, transgender individuals may experience higher rates of sexual violence due to transphobia and discrimination.
     

A Safe Resource for LGBTQ+ Survivors

 

Mosaic Georgia provides comprehensive support to survivors, including confidential advocacy support and medical forensic exams, commonly known as “sexual assault kits.”  Our center offers these medical forensic exams in a private and confidential setting. There are no fees associated with our services, ensuring that survivors receive the care they need without financial burden. 

These exams are available to all adults within 120 hours of the assault, regardless of their intention to report to law enforcement immediately. At Mosaic Georgia, we understand that survivors may have various reasons for not wanting to involve law enforcement right away, and we respect their choices. 

If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual assault and in need of support, please remember that Mosaic Georgia is here for you. Our services are confidential, compassionate, and free of charge. Reach out to us at 866-900-6019.  

 

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Kevin McNeil: Daring Men to Ditch the Mask

By Ashia Gallo
Wholeness Collective Coordinator at Mosaic Georgia

An interview with Child Advocate Kevin McNeil and Wholeness Collective Coordinator Ashia Gallo, MPA

Kevin McNeil wears many hats: former SVU detective, husband, author, businessowner, and motivational speaker and advocate against child abuse. Kevin is very open about his experiences of sexual abuse as a young man. His organization, The Twelve Project, aims to bridge lack of awareness around abuse with people’s desire to learn and to protect their children.

June is Men’s Health Month, which aims to encourage men to take charge of their overall health by implementing healthy living decisions. Kevin’s journey to healing his trauma and building a healthier view of his own masculinity made him the perfect Tesserae feature as Mosaic Georgia recognizes the unique struggles, coping mechanisms, and deadly silence of male trauma survivors.

What are some approaches you take to caring for your mental, physical, and spiritual health?

Truthfulness plays an important role for me. I avoid toxic positivity as a coping mechanism as opposed to facing how I feel. Acknowledging and honoring feelings first helps me to stay mentally healthy. Meditation, exercise, and isolation (with limits!) works well.

I encourage others to choose what works for them effectively. Everything doesn’t fit everybody. But expressing versus sitting with feelings is important. Feelings are a guide to wisdom.

Men should learn to be truthful with feelings and why they’re expressing them. It shouldn’t be to make others act differently – but to be real, and genuine. So much of our unhappiness comes from pretending. There’s a reason the Bible says, “the truth shall set you free”. Teach people to fall in love with your authenticity.

You speak openly about the “dark years” when you attempted to self-medicate and overwork to avoid addressing your own childhood abuse – how would you describe your mental health during that season?

I wasn’t even conscious of my actions or addictions. I used to cope with avoidance, loneliness, and inadequacy by grabbing something to drown it. Alcohol, sex, long work hours, etc. I wasn’t in a state of clarity. Only thing I felt was the dark side saying I wasn’t good enough. Then, more shame from using those unhealthy coping mechanisms.

Looking back, that’s how you learn! My dark side aided and guided me. If you avoid your pain, you’ll never meet your power. Don’t judge your dark places, embrace them. The trauma is still there sometimes. And the culture says men cannot be vulnerable about that.

When we are honest among one another, it becomes sacred space. I compared myself to Clark Kent, until I learned to kill the superhero.

What was the final straw that made you confront your childhood trauma?

My breaking point was watching a young boy tell his abuse story while I was a detective investigating his case. I realized I needed help. Children hold so much wisdom. We have it backwards – men can learn from boys.

According to the CDC, men make up 50% of the US population, but nearly 80% of deaths by suicide. We have heartbreaking pop culture examples, such as the death of beloved Stephen “tWitch” Boss from the Ellen Show late last year. What are your reactions to this?

Many men are very secretive, especially high profile men. Many times they don’t have people around them to say “you need help”. Suicide is an act of silence. We must be so honest it disrupts what it means to be a man in our society.

We work to create our lives to be seen a certain way. Then when we make it, and reality doesn’t match up, depression follows. We end up needing constant distractions, and cannot be free.

I was in football, the military, and became a detective to hide behind the uniforms and shields. We hide behind the titles and groups of men. The public image we’re expected to live up to is very frustrating. Life becomes a task. Suicide is the act, but the person has been killing themselves slowly by withdrawing, stopping doing what they love, etc.

Men don’t express how they feel. Even on the way out, many times they don’t express why they want to leave. They just know they can’t take all the emotions anymore. We express distress in subtle ways. And the culture isn’t trained to listen to men’s pain, so we miss opportunities to help them.

“Children don’t get traumatized because they get hurt. They get traumatized because they are alone with the hurt.” -Dr. Gabor Maté, Canadian physician and author.

Thoughts on men in therapy?

We treat therapy like an “option”. If we had more therapy offices than churches, we would see more positive change. It should be a mandatory requirement. Then again, I do understand that people who are forced to go won’t want to…

“Mental health” is becoming trendy and consumeristic. [As a society] we market things we don’t want to deal with. Even Men’s Health Awareness Month cannot compartmentalize these issues. Therapy allows us to go beyond awareness and into action.

We are also often too quick to treat what we should be listening to. We look for superficial answers and try to ‘fix’ things as opposed to ‘listening’. You can’t make things go away that you don’t fully understand. Therapy is an opportunity to confront the person you are and shape that.

What is the #1 message you’d like young men especially to know about dealing with emotions and traumatic experiences in their lives?

You are human before you are male. Maleness is a prescribed title. If they are not careful, they’ll live their lives out being something that they don’t have the capacity to upkeep. But being human is natural. Meaning is the currency in which you purchase your happiness.

To hear more about Kevin’s story, check out his Caring and Courageous interview on Mosaic Georgia’s Facebook page.

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SANE Spotlight: Remember the SANEs during National Nurses Week

By Marina Sampanes Peed
Executive Director of Mosaic Georgia

Mosaic Georgia SANEs in action. From left to right: Melissa Drinkard, Kathy Carter, Teresa Bullard

As National Nurses Week is upon us, we call attention to a small but mighty forensic nursing specialty: Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs). SANEs are specially trained registered nurses who provide compassionate care to survivors of sexual violence including assault, abuse, and sex trafficking.

The SANE practice is at the intersection of health care and criminal investigation. Their patients are both people and evidence. They collect evidence, document injuries, and provide treatment and support to survivors in a way that is trauma-informed and respectful. When cases proceed to court, SANEs are often called to testify in proceedings.

Kathy Carter, director of Forensic Medical Services, is often asked why she chose to practice as a nurse in such a difficult specialty. Kathy shares her Why: “While I cannot end sexualized violence, I can offer trauma informed care to patients after an assault or on-going abuse which promotes a feeling of safety, empowerment and healing. This level of care can make a HUGE difference in the trajectory of the patient’s journey.”

Victims of sex crimes are more likely to report the assaults and participate in investigations after receiving trauma-informed care from SANE and advocates. Like all people who seek medical care, the experience is more effective when the care providers lead with listening and believing.

Mosaic Georgia was the first Sexual Assault Center in Georgia to develop the community-based SANE/medical forensic program. In 1993 (then Gwinnett Rape Crisis), we treated our first patient/victim of rape in our center. Over the last 30 years, our SANEs have provided more than 6,000 medical forensic exams to people ranging in age from 3 months to 90 years. The medical care is enhanced with victim and family advocacy, mental health services, and other supports in one location.

To respond to calls 24/7, the community relies on committed SANEs who go on-call after hours and weekends and respond to our center when needed. These are special people. If you meet a SANE, let them know you appreciate their dedication.

Mosaic Georgia’s SANE Success Institute professional education, peer review, and an online community for SANE practitioners. It is a lively forum of support and connection for SANEs across Georgia and nearby states. For more information, https://www.mosaicgeorgia.org/education-training/

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Gen Z And Self-Esteem: The Kids Are (Gonna Be) Alright

By Ashia Gallo
Wholeness Collective Coordinator at Mosaic Georgia

May is National Teen Self-Esteem Month!

What better time to raise awareness on the importance of our youth feeling self-aware, confident, and healthy as they grow to rule this world someday. It’s been a few decades now since an iconic diva instructed us to teach children well, let them lead the way, and to hold up a mirror for them to see their own beauty. But in order to guide, we must understand Generation Z, or Gen Z, which comprises those born between 1996 and 2015.

As a 30-year-old Millennial, it blows my mind to watch my “Gen Z” nieces whose diapers I changed evolve into young womanhood. It’s fascinating to see their growing awareness of their own bodies, opinions, and talents. Especially in a world that continues to change at a mind-numbing rate!

Each generation has its gripes with authority and the stack of cards they feel they were dealt – it’s a natural rite of passage! Gen Z, however, is determined to break generational limits like injustice, intolerance, and bootstrap myths. On a large scale, their worldview seems to encompass inclusivity, sensitivity, and a refusal to shy away from tough societal realities.

A major strength of the Gen Z generation includes their willingness to accept all layers of their identities (think gender and sexual fluidity), despite outdated “social norms”. This openness applies to how mental health and self-esteem is discussed in youth culture today. Gen Z is open and eager to explore their struggles with anxiety, depression, trauma, and triggers. They also seem to not only question authority, but understand the unresolved issues of previous generations in order to break the proverbial chain.

Studies show Gen Z to be the least confident generation. Their progressive political and social views are challenged by the intense pressures of being a young person in 2023. Causes include: grossly skewed coming-of-age milestones interrupted by a global pandemic; very real struggles with anxiety and depression; lack of close family units and community; and less enthusiasm about the future than past generations.

The impacts of the Internet and social media have also been discussed since their inception in the 2000s. However, I’m afraid we are just touching the surface of the long-term effects of our (now portable) 24-hour news cycles and problematic portrayals of false, flawless on-screen lifestyles.

For school-age Gen Zers, the pressure of perfection runs deep. When I think of my own self-esteem struggles during teen years, the constant threat of permanent exposure of my most painful experiences existing forever on the Internet is unfathomable. The darker sides of technology – mob-like bullying, sexual exploitation, cancel culture, and abuse – have impacted our kids’ self-esteem deeply. Swiping, liking, and canceling at will is not only limited to Gen Zers. The increased dependence we have on our screens has led to a decrease in face-to-face human interaction and ease of conversation – especially for our youth.

Self-esteem is dependent upon having a sense of belonging, identity, and self-confidence. While Gen Z does struggle with these areas, not all is lost. This new generation is full of hard-working, pragmatic fighters. Even when their voices shake, they believe in activism and being advocates for human rights, in both large and small ways. They take up for themselves and their peers. They demand historically accurate classrooms, socially aware campuses, and respectful workplaces, despite age or skill level.

It gives me hope that this generation is willing to take a stand on anything and everything, from racism and transphobia, to climate change and equal pay. Their ability to survive and thrive will surely shape the future of society in ways that will move humanity onwards and upwards.

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Trauma and the Brain: A Look at How Traumatic Events Shape Memory and Perception

By Kendall Wolz
Mental Health and Wellness Manager at Mosaic Georgia

At the age of 13, I disclosed years of sexual abuse by my stepfather. Unfortunately, the rural area I lived in did not yet follow the robust Child Advocacy Center model that is the protocol today. This meant that I had multiple interviews by various investigative parties. I can recall extreme frustration when I was asked “when did the abuse start, how old were you, how many times did it happen?”

I felt intense fear that people would not believe me because I could not give the answers to those seemingly simple questions. The reality is that my brain did not file the memory of the first incident, or subsequent incidents of abuse as a biographical memory where the date and incident number were important.

Instead, what I could tell investigators included: the show, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, was playing in the background, what my favorite pair of pajamas I wore most frequently looked like, what the abuse felt like to my body, and the fear that swept over me.

This is an example of how trauma memories are often stored.

Let’s explore how this happens.

The Brain: One Fascinating Organ

Weighing on average 3 pounds, the brain is the most complex organ within the body. It processes every piece of information received through the five senses and communicates with the rest of the body to keep us safe and alive.

How do experiences impact our brains?
Decades of research have shown that trauma has a significant negative impact on various structures within the brain. Before discussing those impacts, here is a look at the healthy brain functions that are harmed by trauma.

  • Brain Stem: Responsible for our survival instincts and functions such as heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, consciousness, and sleep.
  • Midbrain: Stores memory, processes emotions, and serves as a connection between our cortex and our brain stem.
  • Cortex: The most highly evolved structure of the brain, responsible for cognitive processing, decision making, and controlling thoughts and emotions.

Fight or Flight Leads the Way

When a person experiences an actual or perceived threat to their safety or wellbeing, the lower part of the brain, the brain stem, becomes highly activated to ensure survival. It may respond to the threat in a variety of ways.

An event like seeing a bear on a hike, witnessing a crime, or experiencing a sexual assault may elicit a desire to either fight with intensity, get away from the situation as quickly as possible, become frozen or paralyzed, fawn (go along with what is happening), or faint.

If the traumatic or threatening event is survived through a fight/flight/freeze/fawn/faint response, the brain has performed its job well.

How our brain responds to trauma is not a cognitive choice.

Temporarily Turning Off the Lights

Decision making happens in the prefrontal cortex, near the forehead – sometimes referred to as the “thinking area” of the brain. When a threat is perceived and the body goes into survival mode, the cortex essentially goes offline, halting its ability to communicate with other parts of the brain. This conserves energy and allows the body to focus on survival, until the perceived threat is gone. For example, during a traumatic event the brain would not have the ability to think through and solve a word problem, or the body would not put effort into digesting food. Until the threat subsides, the brain and body direct their many resources strictly towards survival.

The Brain’s Megaphone

What alerts the body to go into fight or flight mode? A small, almond shaped structure deep within the midbrain called the amygdala is responsible for sounding the alarm. The amygdala sends messages to other parts of the brain that activate various elements of the fight or flight response when a potential threat is present. Functions like increased heart rate and the release of stress hormones allow the body to get itself to safety.

It is in this part of the brain where memories are attached to emotion. Traumatic memories get stuck in the emotional memory of the amygdala rather than reaching the hippocampus, the area of the brain that records the details – like the what, when and where of an event.

So for survivors the “memory” of a trauma often emerges as a strong emotional or sensory experience. Unfortunately, trauma shuts down our ability to integrate events episodically which creates a barrier to recalling things like dates and locations.

This is why trauma survivors often keenly remember a smell, like the smoke of a house burning or the cologne of a rapist, but not what time it was when the trauma occurred.

The Trauma of Disclosing Trauma

Without understanding what happens within the brain during a trauma, there exists a risk of doing more harm to people who have experienced horrific events. When survivors are expected to recall the traumatic event in an episodic manner (the when, where, why), they become set up for judgement, disappointment, frustration, and even disbelief despite the reality that the memory is not consolidated and stored in a way that can be recollected.

However, opportunities for people to disclose their memory of what occurred can be provided by eliciting the information they can recall – how they felt, what their senses noticed – while assessing whether they can also access any of the biographical data.

As this information becomes more accessible and understood by the general population, an opportunity presents to move away from some of the stigmas and widespread misconceptions that plague survivors.

Helpful and Informative Sources

A video illustrating how trauma affects the brain can be seen here. 

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk 

Dr. Seigel’s hand model of the brain: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-m2YcdMdFw 

https://www.verywellmind.com/the-effect-of-ptsd-on-the-brain-2797643 

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-mindful-self-express/202106/understanding-the-trauma-brain 

At the age of 13, I disclosed years of sexual abuse by my stepfather. Unfortunately, the rural area I lived in did not yet follow the robust Child Advocacy Center model that is the protocol today. This meant that I had multiple interviews by various investigative parties. I can recall extreme frustration when I was asked “when did the abuse start, how old were you, how many times did it happen?”

I felt intense fear that people would not believe me because I could not give the answers to those seemingly simple questions. The reality is that my brain did not file the memory of the first incident, or subsequent incidents of abuse as a biographical memory where the date and incident number were important.

Instead, what I could tell investigators included: the show, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, was playing in the background, what my favorite pair of pajamas I wore most frequently looked like, what the abuse felt like to my body, and the fear that swept over me.

This is an example of how trauma memories are often stored.

Let’s explore how this happens.

The Brain: One Fascinating Organ

Weighing on average 3 pounds, the brain is the most complex organ within the body. It processes every piece of information received through the five senses and communicates with the rest of the body to keep us safe and alive.

How do experiences impact our brains?
Decades of research have shown that trauma has a significant negative impact on various structures within the brain. Before discussing those impacts, here is a look at the healthy brain functions that are harmed by trauma.

  • Brain Stem: Responsible for our survival instincts and functions such as heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, consciousness, and sleep.
  • Midbrain: Stores memory, processes emotions, and serves as a connection between our cortex and our brain stem.
  • Cortex: The most highly evolved structure of the brain, responsible for cognitive processing, decision making, and controlling thoughts and emotions.

Fight or Flight Leads the Way

When a person experiences an actual or perceived threat to their safety or wellbeing, the lower part of the brain, the brain stem, becomes highly activated to ensure survival. It may respond to the threat in a variety of ways.

An event like seeing a bear on a hike, witnessing a crime, or experiencing a sexual assault may elicit a desire to either fight with intensity, get away from the situation as quickly as possible, become frozen or paralyzed, fawn (go along with what is happening), or faint.

If the traumatic or threatening event is survived through a fight/flight/freeze/fawn/faint response, the brain has performed its job well.

How our brain responds to trauma is not a cognitive choice.

Temporarily Turning Off the Lights

Decision making happens in the prefrontal cortex, near the forehead – sometimes referred to as the “thinking area” of the brain. When a threat is perceived and the body goes into survival mode, the cortex essentially goes offline, halting its ability to communicate with other parts of the brain. This conserves energy and allows the body to focus on survival, until the perceived threat is gone. For example, during a traumatic event the brain would not have the ability to think through and solve a word problem, or the body would not put effort into digesting food. Until the threat subsides, the brain and body direct their many resources strictly towards survival.

The Brain’s Megaphone

What alerts the body to go into fight or flight mode? A small, almond shaped structure deep within the midbrain called the amygdala is responsible for sounding the alarm. The amygdala sends messages to other parts of the brain that activate various elements of the fight or flight response when a potential threat is present. Functions like increased heart rate and the release of stress hormones allow the body to get itself to safety.

It is in this part of the brain where memories are attached to emotion. Traumatic memories get stuck in the emotional memory of the amygdala rather than reaching the hippocampus, the area of the brain that records the details – like the what, when and where of an event.

So for survivors the “memory” of a trauma often emerges as a strong emotional or sensory experience. Unfortunately, trauma shuts down our ability to integrate events episodically which creates a barrier to recalling things like dates and locations.

This is why trauma survivors often keenly remember a smell, like the smoke of a house burning or the cologne of a rapist, but not what time it was when the trauma occurred.

The Trauma of Disclosing Trauma

Without understanding what happens within the brain during a trauma, there exists a risk of doing more harm to people who have experienced horrific events. When survivors are expected to recall the traumatic event in an episodic manner (the when, where, why), they become set up for judgement, disappointment, frustration, and even disbelief despite the reality that the memory is not consolidated and stored in a way that can be recollected.

However, opportunities for people to disclose their memory of what occurred can be provided by eliciting the information they can recall – how they felt, what their senses noticed – while assessing whether they can also access any of the biographical data.

As this information becomes more accessible and understood by the general population, an opportunity presents to move away from some of the stigmas and widespread misconceptions that plague survivors.

Helpful and Informative Sources

A video illustrating how trauma affects the brain can be seen here. 

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk 

Dr. Seigel’s hand model of the brain: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-m2YcdMdFw 

https://www.verywellmind.com/the-effect-of-ptsd-on-the-brain-2797643 

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-mindful-self-express/202106/understanding-the-trauma-brain 

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Amy Lewis – Yoga and Sacred Space

Ashia Headshot

By Ashia Gallo
Wholeness Collective Coordinator at Mosaic Georgia

Amy Lewis has been drawn to spirituality since she was a child. Born in Tyler, Texas, Amy describes her childhood home as tense and a bit stressful. Religion became her first escape. As the youngest of her siblings, Amy lone followed her mother into the Southern Baptist Church. She loved the service-oriented part of religion, and by the time she was a teenager, felt “called to the ministry”.

“I knew I wanted to do counseling and recreation, I just wasn’t sure how they would fit together,” remembers Amy. “And I wondered – could women even go to seminary?”

Amy got her answer as she pursued her education. She earned a bachelor’s in social work and master’s at Seminary in Marriage and Family Counseling and Religious Education. She gained a ton of experience as an adult hospice chaplain, a pediatric oncology chaplain, as well as opportunities in community pastoral care. Amy began working with survivors of sexual trauma during her master’s practicum in 1994.

“It’s a privilege to listen to people’s stories,” Amy says. “Being in spaces where people are grieving, and having the honor of walking alongside them as they figure out how to continue to live with loss sparked my passion.”

It was also during this time, after Amy married a man she met at seminary, that she moved to Decatur, GA. Living in a very diverse and free community, Amy began to ask more questions about herself for the first time. Though she and her husband had a ton in common (including a baby girl born in 2001), Amy began realizing some truths about her sexuality.

“My pregnancy was one of the first times I paid attention to my body,” recalls Amy. “It was also the first time I took a yoga class! It was a pivotal moment of finally realizing ‘there’s nothing wrong with me, I’m just a lesbian!’”
Amy came out around the same time she was being ordained, her daughter was 18 months, and the family had moved to a new city. It was challenging to find a therapist who understood and believed her about her sexuality in the small Midwest town. With grit and determination, she found a therapist who supported her and her husband through their divorce with the primary goal of becoming the best co-parents they could possibly be for their daughter.

Amy finally felt she was living her truth, and after another decade of pastoral care work, Amy needed to expand her understanding and experience of embodiment practices.

“I had done grief and loss work as a chaplain for about 20 years at that point. It is important for me to do embodiment work. I needed to move and metabolize the pain and grief that I had experienced personally and vicariously.”

After a happy marriage to her now wife, another child, and a decade off her mat, Amy was ready to embrace her yoga practice again. As she sought an embodiment practice, her first yoga teacher, Kath Meadows, also worked with incarcerated women in Maryland. Amy learned a lot through Kath about creating space within ourselves and was inspired by the abundant ways yoga was making a difference in the lives of people who were suffering.

“My life shifted when I dove into embodiment,” says Amy. “Studying how the body transforms through movement felt like a natural next step in my personal and professional spiritual development.”

Upon completing her RYT 200 certification in 2014, Amy has been dedicated to teaching yoga in many mental wellness programs. She worked at a school for traumatized children, where she taught yoga and mindfulness as a part of teaching coping skills.

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Someone’s Gotta Say It

3 Steps to Protect Our Kids from Abusers: On-line and In-person

Marina Headshot (1)

By Marina Sampanes Peed
Executive Director at Mosaic Georgia

A friend used to be a kid who went to the same school or lived down the block. Today, friends are met online with few, if any, community supports. This is a predator’s playground.

“It’s not IF, but WHEN” your child will be exposed to people who may want to harm them. As parents and guardians, we must adapt our strategies to protect children. This means we are going to get uncomfortable. It is easiest if we start talking about physical, emotional, and sexual health with kids from an early age as a normal part of living. Kids get messages about their changing bodies, their body autonomy, and relationships every single day. Even the most engaged, helicopter parents cannot control the harmful messages kids receive.

“Stranger Danger” doesn’t help because over 90% of sexual abuse/harm is done by someone with easy access to your child. Someone they don’t think of as a stranger. A friend used to be a kid who went to the same school or lived down the block. Today, a “friend” is someone they “met” online – via SnapChat, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, WhatsApp, Kik, Discord, Kanakuk, Reddit, Yik Yak, and numerous dating/meet-up platforms.
Most of the youth we see at Mosaic Georgia were abused by trusted adults in their lives. A growing number were groomed by people they met online. You may have seen the show “Catfish.” It documents people who create fake identities and personas online to deceive people looking for relationships.

It starts out seemingly innocent and the abuser cultivates an emotional attachment without ever being in the same room. Then manipulation to send photos, videos, and then plan to meet. If they get uncomfortable and try to disengage, threats to publicize images/conversations or send to parents/school/employer are used.

So what to do? Resilience is built through factual information, a sense of self-worth and belonging, and coping strategies.

1. Don’t Worry, Get Ready! Talk With Your Kids provides great tips and information for parents and caregivers to nurture education, healthy behaviors, and relationships throughout a child’s development. Age-appropriate information that tracks a child’s developmental curiosity help grown-ups feel more comfortable with the conversations. Please, use anatomical words to describe all body parts – not just eye, nose, ear, hand, knee, etc. The more you normalize names for genitals, the easier your conversations will be as the kids grow.

2. Talk with your kids – regularly, over time. When you look, you will see prompts almost every day to explore situations, perspectives, healthy alternatives. Ask, “have you seen this?” “what do you think of …?” “how do you think they feel?” “what would you do?” Listen as much as you speak. Acknowledge the inevitable eye-rolls, and let them know you are trying. You love them and want to keep them safe.

3. Practice what you preach. Encourage kids to trust their intuition about their personal safety. Encourage them to use their voice. A real friend won’t ask you to do something that you are uncomfortable with or don’t want to do. Help them determine their personal physical boundaries with family, friends, and others. Don’t force them to hug someone they don’t want to. (You can tell the overbearing adult that you appreciate their support in helping the kids manage their personal boundaries.) Let them know that IF something happens, you will be there for them and they won’t get in trouble if they tell.

Teens and adults who derive gratification from abusing and controlling others – especially kids – look for vulnerabilities that open doors for access – kids who are hungry for attention, less likely to assert themselves, or tell someone about the “special” relationship.

You can provide protective factors that will reduce their risk and improve their recovery should such harms occur. Remember: the responsibility always rests with the abuser.

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