Friday, December 23, 2011

Suicide Among Our Finest

The story unfolded in the local media, posted on my Facebook page this afternoon. A major street was closed due to police activity. Police were investigating a possible suicide. A note had been found and the family called police. Officers on the scene were seen wiping their eyes. And finally, the news that the Chief of Police at Eastern Michigan University killed himself today.

This man was well known in the law enforcement community. In addition to the Eastern police force, he had been an officer in Ann Arbor for many years and quite recently did a brief stint at University of Michigan as their police chief. It's likely that most if not all of the responders to this scene knew him personally. My heart goes out to them.

The suicide rate among police officers is, depending upon whom you ask, either higher or lower than in the general population. A study in 2006 found that while the suicide rate for law enforcement was 52% higher than the general population, if you controlled for race, gender and age it was actually 26% lower than the general population. The discrepancy is caused by the fact that police officers are very disproportionately white males between 25 and 55, and that demographic has a suicide rate about twice the population average.

Not surprisingly, most cops who kill themselves do so with a firearm. Most civilians in that demographic do too. That's why men are so much more likely to kill themselves than women -- the method of choice is almost always lethal. Suicide is most common in groups with easy access to lethal weapons, cultural bias against asking for help and a lack of severe cultural bias against suicide. That last factor is what differentiates black males from white males.

Men don't like to ask for help. Cops really don't like to ask for help. So do a favor tonight, would you? If you know and love a cop, ask them how they're doing. If they're fine, fine. At least you've told them you're willing to have the conversation.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, please call, 24 hours, 7 days a week: 1-800-273-TALK (veterans press 1 at the prompt). Help is available. You just need to ask.

Friday, December 16, 2011

What Breaking the Silence Really Means

Just over a month ago, I was blogging, as was pretty much every other blogger out there, about the Penn State child sex abuse scandal. I wrote about how hard it is to know what you don't want to know and see what you don't want to see. I wrote about breaking the silence and creating a world where things like this didn't happen and children knew they'd be believed and supported if they did.

Today brings us a story that I would like to offer as exhibit A in my argument that this is a cultural phenomenon and that we as a society need to create a cultural context that does not allow it. At Rosemount High School in Minnesota they held a "pepfest" last week. During this, and organized by school officials, Captains of various teams were blindfolded and told they were going to get a kiss from "someone very special" and they had to guess who. Then each of their opposite-sex parents came out and started to kiss them.

Now, apparently this is a not uncommon prank, and generally mom comes out and gives sonny boy a peck on the cheek, and he thinks it's some girl, and he's embarrassed in front of his schoolmates. We can argue about whether that's a good idea, but it's not inherently evil. But that's not what happened here. In a video that has gone viral, we see the parents lock lips in passionate, make-out kisses. One parent rolls with their child on the floor. A mom can clearly be seen placing her son's hand on her rear end.

The most common reaction I've seen to this is something along the lines of "What the heck were they thinking?!?!" and I certainly echo that sentiment. But I want to put something of a closer focus on what is wrong here.

This "prank" involves parents doing something with their children that, if we saw them do in any other context at all, we would not only think was inappropriate, we would feel obligated to intervene. If one of these children told us that their parent had done this to them in any other context, those of us in education or human services would be obligated, by law, to report it to child protection authorities. If a teacher did this, they'd be fired.

Consider this. Statistics tell us that at least 5% of the boys and 15% of the girls attending this assembly have been or are being sexually molested. Some of them are being molested by a parent. They already feel like they can't tell, like no one will believe them, like no one will protect them. Then they go to pepfest, and see this, arranged by adults, condoned by adults and performed by adults. Can you imagine any stronger message that no one is going to help them or care what they're going through? And God forbid that one of the Captains is being molested at home. Now they got to have it happen in front of the whole school.

As long as we think that adults sexualizing teenagers is OK, or even funny, we are not going to be effective at protecting them from sexual predators. Saying that pedophelia is bad is not the same as stopping it. Child sexual abuse is about failure to respect boundaries between adults and children. We have to show our kids and our adults that we will enforce those boundaries every day in every way, period. If it's going to stop, it stops not just when a rape is in progress. It stops at pepfest, too.

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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
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