Kristin Canan, LMSW, interviewed by Michaela Williams
Michaela: I know before you had mentioned how the “#MeToo” Campaign can be potentially a trigger for those who have been sexually assaulted, so do you believe there is any type of negatives of the “#MeToo” Campaign regarding that?
Kristin: Yes, I think there are always concerns when we talk about different traumas that can be triggered and what those triggers are, based on that individual person’s responses, and what their trauma response looks like in the moment. We always take a risk of triggering. There is some concern around the amount of people who have experienced some sort of trauma trigger due to the “#MeToo” Campaign and all of the memories that are being brought up or the shame and blame they are experiencing. There is always a risk when we talk about traumas that are so wide spread. But I think the difference is in how we respond. My hope is that for those people who have experienced any sort of sexual violence, whether it be harassment or assault, that they have supports that they can reach out to. And if they don’t have supports, that they find supports, that they reach out to different organizations that are set up to support them like AACC, like their counties sexual assault agency or a therapist in their community. Because I think there is also some potential for healing in these moments when a lot of people experience triggers, whether that be a phone call to crisis line or showing up in your therapist’s office and saying, “I think I need to see you a little bit more often.” As much as the concern exists, I think the concern exists more so for people who aren’t able to reach out. But for people who are able to reach out, I think it provides another aspect and another avenue and another depth in healing.
Michaela: I know this has all been going around social media to increase awareness, but what do you think we could do beyond the social media side to increase awareness?
Kristin: I think that’s a huge question and I could probably talk about it all day because I think there are so many things that we could do to increase awareness, and more than that, but to start responding more in way that will be effective. So we can look at our school systems, and one of the things as a prevention education coordinator and director in sexual violence, in healthy relationships, on college campuses, one of the things that continued to be a frustration of mine is how much we don’t educate our children and our teens on what a healthy relationship looks like, what healthy sexuality looks like, what consent is. I used to provide education and seminars to freshmen students on college campuses at different universities, and I can’t tell you the number of men and women who were freshmen, so 18 to 19 years old, who had no idea what consent was and who had no education on what a healthy relationship was. They knew maybe what a healthy relationship was not but no one actually taught them how to engage in a healthy relationship. They had some stereotypical biological sex education but the actual intimacy of the relationship or how to show up and support people or what they deserve in a relationship, or all of those different healthy relationship dynamics, were never talked about. So I think when we talk about prevention, when we talk about awareness, when we talk about response, it starts with our kids, in the way that we role model, in our conversations that we have and the education we provide about what healthy sexuality and what healthy relationships look like and what they deserve and what they are worthy of in a relationship or in owning their own body and the respect that they deserve from other people. So I think there is a lot we can do in prevention in response for our kids and our teens and our young adults. But I also think that having conversations like this raises awareness, raises the ability to respond, but that’s going to require a cultural shift. Where we see the hesitancy to open up about the fact that “I was sexually assaulted” or “sexually harassed” comes because of the culture we’ve created around blame and shame and whose responsibility it is. A lot of it is going to have to come within the context of challenging some of the cultural norms. Instead of asking, “What was she wearing” or “How much did she drink” or “Why didn’t she say anything when her boss made an inappropriate comment to her;” instead, assign the responsibility to where it belongs which is the person who actually committed that offense in the first place. But we don’t necessarily do that and there are a lot of reasons that we can talk about, in theory, why that doesn’t happen. I think for women, we tend to be the worst victim blamers, as ridiculous as that may sound. There is a part of us that says, “If I can identify what she missed and why this happened to her then I can subconsciously tell myself that I am safe because if she didn’t do all the things she was ‘supposed to do’ to keep herself safe and something happened then that means I’m not safe either.” And so I think its kind of a subliminal subconscious way of trying to keep ourselves safe, but the problem that occurs within that is that then we kind of contribute to this blame and this shame and this silence for our survivors and realistically for ourselves and then we continue in that cycle.
Michaela: Why do you think the world struggles so much with keeping sexual assault a secret?
Kristin: Historically, we can look at how women and children were seen, valued, and viewed— more so as property than as people, in a lot of cultures. And I think some aspect of that, is that it translates over into some of our cultural norms; especially, because you can look at the differences in culture around the country, and how women and children are treated or valued, and you can see direct correlation with the rates of sexual violence. I think there is definitely a cultural aspect of reinforcement that allows this to continue happening and in some instances it encourages it to continue happening. If we look at some of the cultural norms or cultural values that we have that man “should be,” such as him being “strong” and “not having very many emotions” and “being able to be the person who is the leader and the bread winner,” and all of these societal constructs that we have created about what a man “should be,” whether or not they are biblical, whether or not they are actually valid in identifying someone who is healthy. We’ve created these social constructs around what we think a man should be and similarly we’ve created the same thing for women. Women should be “polite and passive,” they are expected to be “weaker than men,” and they are expected to be “valued for the way that they look.” So we have these cultural constructs whether or not they apply to everyone, whether or not there are different communities that put more or less value on them, but that’s largely what we see in our media, magazine, and our movies. So I think some of that is that it revolves around this society that we’ve created. Now how we challenge that is a larger answer, but I think it starts with identifying that our worth and our value doesn’t align with these cultural constructs of what we are told by our society of what we should be. We instead need to base our identity in who we are as sons and daughters of our Lord Almighty. Who we are as humans, with hearts for other people and service and the things that we know based on the Bible, are valued and true. I wonder what would happen if we started focusing on those values vs. these societal values that suggests that people are less valuable and worthy and that they don’t fit into these certain boxes.
Kristin Canan, LMSW, has empowered individuals’ healing journeys in a multitude of leadership, therapeutic, program development, and community-based roles through her work in residential treatment, addiction services, outpatient psychiatry, victim crisis response, outreach, and bereavement services. In addition to a Master of Social Work and Interpersonal Trauma Certification from University of Denver, Kristin is trained in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. She specializes in navigating the intersections between trauma responses, mental health disorders, and presenting maladaptive coping skills such as substance abuse, self-harm, suicidality, and eating disordered behaviors. Kristin has been invited to speak at national and international conferences, and has served as a trauma and grief expert for an international crisis intervention training organization. Kristin has also authored and published multiple articles on effectively responding to sexual violence, created training materials for victim advocates, and developed curricula for the Graduate School of Social Work at University of Denver. As a frequent speaker and educator, she is passionate about ensuring that every community has the ability to respond to trauma survivors in a way that honors their processes, leads them towards healing, and allows them to experience how loved and worthy they are. For further information on supporting trauma survivors or organizational response needs, please reach out to Kristin by emailing her at email@example.com or calling her at (920) 850-6496.
Michaela Williams was born and raised in Northern Virginia. She is a student at Liberty University studying Psychology with a concentration in counseling. She is an intern at the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC). She enjoys working part-time at her local coffee shop and teaches paint classes at her local art studio. Besides school and work, she is involved with Woven Together Ministries where she writes blogs and co-hosts on their radio show. She is passionate about others learning about Jesus and finding healing through the love and grace the Lord provides.