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A Greater Community – The National Sexual Assault Conference from One Advocate’s Perspective

All over the United States, there are people hard at work to end sexual assault and rape. We work full-time or part-time. Sometimes we volunteer. We go to hospitals to be with survivors at midnight after an assault. We are there beside victims as they talk to the police. We are the counselors and group leaders who support trauma survivors as they recall grueling memories. We are the educators who work with teens and the schools to stop rape and harassment on campus. We advocate to local, state, and federal government officials to make our society more just. We visit jails and prisons when someone is victimized while incarcerated. We hear heartbreak. We see tears, courage, and strength.

We listen. We believe. We are there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

All over the United States, there are people working to end sexual violence. And once a year the people who support sexual assault victims get the chance to come together in one place. We learn and exchange wisdom and ideas; we support each other. We challenge one another to reach further, create change sooner, and spread sexual assault awareness wider.

NSAC GroupThis once-a-year event is at the National Sexual Assault Conference (NSAC).

This year, it was hosted by the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA) in Los Angeles, California. I and a couple coworkers from Tri-Valley Haven’s Rape Crisis Center were fortunate enough to be able to attend the event. The theme was “Inspired by Progress, United by Purpose.”

We were definitely both.

I am sure that anyone who attended the conference would have many stories to tell about what they learned. I am only one person, so I will just talk about what I experienced. And what I experienced was… WOW!

I met the most amazing people at the conference…and amazing barely covers it. Participants included survivors who have become teachers and healers in the NSAC Plenarymovement; people who have been fighting the anti-sexual violence fight for their entire professional lives, and people who have just begun; people who work with survivors individually and people who carry on the anti-rape movement to the White House itself. There were young people, lighting the sky on fire with their passion and their vision, and older people who have contributed to decades of change and know there are still mountains to overcome.

The most wonderful part, for me, of going to the conference was that it embodies the same affirmation that means so much to survivors of violence themselves: You are not alone. For those of us working in the Rape Crisis Movement across the country, our world can seem very small sometimes. We work in cities or suburbs or rural communities. We know everybody in the field near us and rely on them for connection and support. To step into a greater fellowship of human beings all working together to make the world a better, safer, and more just place is just plain moving; humbling.

We had a number of topics this year: building safer college and campus communities, fighting back against rape culture, educating our young men and women to bring change now that will echo for years to come.

Another spotlight was put on ending sexual violence in the military. A recent study shows that sexual violence in the military is far higher than previously reported (new data released by the U.S. Defense Department). Collaborations between rape crisis experts and the military to address sexual violence are so very important. Our soldiers in active service and our veterans both deserve better.

NSAC Forge BoothOther topics included serving survivors of sexual assault in detention, working with male survivors and LGBTQ survivors, preventing child sexual abuse, and much more.

At the conference, I concentrated on the Prison Rape Elimination Act “PREA track”. This training dealt with stopping rape and sexual assault in detention – for example, jail or prison, juvenile detention or an immigration facility.

I have spent the past two years working as a Tri-Valley Haven Sexual Assault Advocate and Crisis Counselor, responding to our local county jail when an inmate calls and requests support after an assault. I am glad to say that the jail staff has been universally welcoming to me, good partners with the Haven, and committed to making their jail safer. Even so, responding to the jail carries with it an emotional weight. I felt that I had already heard some arduous stories. With that being said, the stories I heard from survivors at NSAC stayed with me at night.

Sometimes, society seems to think that anything that happens to a person who is behind the walls of a jail or prison is deserved – they broke the law; they’re getting what is coming to them. Here is a truth: Rape is never part of the sentence. Allowing rape to happen to the people we put in detention, turning a blind eye to it, condoning it in society through jokes…does not make our country safer, quite the opposite. It adds trauma on top of trauma, and ultimately makes us all lesser.

PREA SLIDE 2Roxane Gay summarizes what many people feel about victims of sexual assault in her piece, Bad Victims. “People who have been sexually assaulted know there are good victims and bad victims. Good victims, of course, do not exist but they are an elaborate ideal. They are assaulted in a dark alley by an unknown criminal who has a knife or a gun. They are modestly dressed. They report their assault immediately to law enforcement and submit, willingly, to a rape exam. They answer all questions about their assault lucidly and completely as many times as is necessary. They are adequately prepared for trial. They don’t pester the prosecutor as he or she prepares for trial. When they testify, they are modestly dressed. They are the girl next door. They deserve justice because they are so righteous in their victimhood.”

“Good victims” are never prostitutes. They are never men. They are never gay or transgender. They are never drug addicts. They are never mentally ill. Those are allNSAC PREA slide “bad victims.” The worst victim of them all? Someone who is already in detention.

But when it comes right down to it, we are all human beings with flaws and mistakes and dark sides. None of us is perfect. None of us is a “perfect victim.” And nobody, NOBODY, deserves to be raped or sexually assaulted. Not even someone in prison.

It was good to meet other people who believe that.

It was inspiring to be at the conference with many people who are passionate about this intersection between the world of detention and the world of advocacy. It was also inspiring to see how many of us were at different levels of this journey, from the pioneers, to those who have gotten their toes wet for a few years but are still just beginning, to the people who wish to help and to learn how to do so… and whose journey is about to unfold.

The takeaway for me was that there is no such thing as a perfect survivor of rape. All human beings deserve to live in a world where there is zero tolerance for sexual assault – out on the street, or in a jail or a prison or in an I.C.E. (immigration holding facility). What we do as advocates is to connect with the strength and humanity of every survivor. We remind them of their own assets. We validate that they did not deserve what has been done to them. This is a fact, regardless if we spoke to a victim at our office, in our shelter, at a hospital… or from behind bars.

CALCASA’s National Sexual Assault Conference reminded me that there is a greater community of people working to end sexual assault; my work going into the jail to support survivors reminds me that there is an even greater community than that…the community of humanity itself.

Together, we build a world without violence.

Tri-Valley Haven’s Highlights of 2014

Without your generosity, we could not continue to provide vital shelter and support services to women, children and families in need throughout the Tri-Valley area. Every successful program and event at Tri-Valley Haven is made possible thanks to our local community. We are so very grateful for your support.

Before we jump into the New Year, let’s look at some highlights of 2014!

  • 2,600+ calls received on Tri-Valley Haven’s crisis line! That’s almost 10 calls every day, from women, children and families in need.
  • 267 clients served at our Domestic Violence Shelter! With 30 beds, Tri-Valley Haven’s Shiloh Domestic Violence Shelter houses and supports women and their children who are survivors of domestic violence.
  • 245 clients served through our Rape Crisis Center! Survivors of sexual assault receive advocacy and crisis counseling from state-certified advocates through our Rape Crisis Center.
  • 96 clients served at our Homeless Shelter! Sojourner House is the only homeless shelter in the Tri-Valley Area that accepts two-parent families, single fathers with children, and families with teenage boys.
  • 249 clients received counseling at Tri-Valley Haven! Tri-Valley Haven offers counseling and support group services to empower and support survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.
  • Almost 30,000 visits to our Food Pantry! Each month, the Tri-Valley Haven Food Pantry distributes free groceries to more than 4,000 low-income Tri-Valley residents.
  • 70+ volunteers trained during this year! No only did we train over 30 new volunteers as crisis line and sexual assault advocates, we also trained volunteers for our food pantry, thrift store and childcare services.
  • 40+ incarcerated survivors served by our Rape Crisis Center! Now incarcerated survivors at Santa Rita Jail and FCI-Dublin are able to contact our 24-hour toll-free crisis line and request advocacy services through our agency.
  • 150+ walkers/runners participated in our annual Pace for Pace event! In the past, Pace for Peace has been a smaller event (averaging about 30 participants a year), so we were floored when over 150 participants signed up to show their support for Tri-Valley Haven.
  • $2,000 raised for Tri-Valley Haven during #GivingTuesday! On December 2nd, our Tri-Valley community joined the new tradition of generosity after Thanksgiving and Black Friday. This was TVH’s first year participating and we received $2,000 in donations!
  • 4,036 individual family members signed up for our annual Holiday Program! With your support, we were able to provide food and gifts to over 900 local families in need this holiday season. Our Tri-Valley community went above and beyond this holiday season.
  • 1 incredibly moving experience at a middle school!  After one of our presentations on healthy relationships and bullying prevention at a local middle school in Livermore, a 12-year-old told our staff that no one had ever talked to them about ways to stay safe and prevent bullying. To thank TVH, the student gave the Preventionist .30¢ as a “a tip.”

With your help, we’ll raise funds to bring hope, healing and safety for women, children and families recovering from domestic violence, sexual assault and homelessness in 2015.

Make your 2014 tax-deductible donation by midnight to help Tri-Valley Haven to meet our fundraising goals this year, to enable our services to continue forward next year.

Together we can build a world without violence!

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April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month – Here’s what the Tri-Valley Haven is doing to Help!

Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM)

We are mid-way through the month of April already!  It’s amazing how time flies! Halfway through April also means halfway through Sexual Assault Awareness Month.  While in some ways, it might seem nice to be halfway through a month of an emotionally difficult topic, SAAM is such a valuable means of raising awareness about sexual assault – how often it happens, who it happens to, the effects it can have on survivors and the family and friends of those survivors, and what we can do to help.  You know someone who has been affected by sexual assault – as sadly common as it is, the odds make that a guarantee.  That person could be someone you only know in passing, or a coworker, a neighbor, a friend, a best friend, a relative, a parent, a child… or you.  Whoever that person is, he or she deserves support, someone to listen to their story, someone to remind them that sexual assault is never the fault of the victim, and access to resources for healing.  Read on for more information about SAAM.

Tri-Valley Haven’s SAAM Activities Still to Come

April 23rd – Denim Day. 

Join us and Rape Crisis Centers Nationwide.  Wear denim on April 23rd and tell people why!  For great ideas on how to spread the practice and teachings of Denim Day, go to the Denim Day Official Resources Page!  You can also connect with the #denimday online movement to end sexual violence.

April 24
Tri-Valley Haven and Los Positas Health Center Team Up for SAAM 

Tri-Valley Haven, in collaboration with the Las Positas Health & Wellness Center, will be hosting a Las Positas SAAM event at the college on Thursday, April 24th from 11 AM to 1 PM. There will be a Tri-Valley Haven table full of resources and information outside in the Quad near the student cafeteria.  Not only that, we will have a traveling display of our Clothesline Project with us as well!

April 25th – Candlelight March in Livermore
 

 Every year in April, supporters, volunteers and staff of Tri-Valley Haven converge on downtown Livermore to honor survivors  , celebrate our newest volunteer advocates as they graduate from our three-month, intensive training, give out information on services and resources, take strength from our united presence, and raise awareness of our mission to build a world without violence.  Previous guest speakers at Tri-Valley Haven marches have been Senator Ellen Corbett, Senate Majority Leader and great supporter of women’s issues, and other local luminaries. 

This year’s march will start at 7:00 PM on Friday, April 25th.  Meet us at Lizzy Fountain Park in downtown Livermore, at the corner of First Street and North Livermore Avenue.  This is a family-friendly event and everyone is welcome!  Come see the display of t-shirts from the Clothesline Project, get your candles, and join us in our short march along First Street.  The weather is always beautiful and we would love to have you join us. 

April 25th – The Clothesline Project


The Clothesline Project (CLP) is a program started on Cape Cod, MA, in 1990 to address the issue of  violence against women. It is a vehicle for women affected by violence to express their emotions by decorating a shirt. They then hang the shirt on a clothesline to be viewed by others as testimony to the problem of violence against women. With the support of many, it has since spread world-wide.

Last year, the Clothesline Project took off at Tri-Valley Haven.  Haven supporters, staff and volunteers all made shirts in support.  Most importantly, however, residents at our shelter and members of our support groups created t-shirts detailing their experiences and their hopes for the future.  These powerful works of art were displayed at our Candlelight March, at Las Positas College, and in front of the Tri-Valley Haven Community Building during the month.

This year, we invite you to make shirts and bring them to the Candlelight March to add to our display (see below).  New shirts from the shelters and other supporters and survivors will join the traveling exhibit at Las Positas College on April 24th and in downtown Livermore on April 25th.  All the rest of the month, the shirts will be on display every day outside our Community Building on Pacific Avenue.  We urge you to participate by making a shirt, or coming to see and be moved by the shirts made by others.

Tri-Valley Haven’s Newest Advocacy Efforts – Santa Rita Jail and the Prison Rape Elimination Act

Prisoner rape is a national human rights crisis, but it’s a crisis we can end. Every year, at least 216,600 people – more than a quarter of the population of San Francisco – are sexually abused in U.S. detention facilities. That’s the number of people who are abused, not the number of incidents; each victim is assaulted on average three to five times a year
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Sexual abuse is never an appropriate punishment and never part of the sentence, no matter what the crime. This type of abuse is also not inevitable. Over the last decade, a growing number of people – including many corrections officials – have begun to agree with what advocates have been saying all along: We

can stop prisoner rape.Now, thanks to a landmark law, the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), we have the tools to do just that.  Within the past six months, Tri-Valley Haven has begun to collaborate with the staff of Santa Rita Jail to provide sexual assault advocacy services for incarcerated survivors of sexual assault.  This collaboration part of the PREA standards passed last year which have given the law (which has been around since 2003), some real practical ability to address the problem of sexual abuse of persons in the custody of U.S. correctional agencies.

  Among its unprecedented provisions, the standards mandate strong protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender inmates; a ban on routine pat-down searches of female adult inmates by male staff; strict limitations on the housing of youth in adult facilities; and a requirement that all facilities undergo independent audits every three years.The standards also require that facilities offer survivors access to rape crisis counselors – trained experts who provide crisis intervention and emotional support in the aftermath of an assault. In other words, in the case of Santa Rita jail… Tri-Valley Haven advocates.

Within the six months since Tri-Valley Haven has begun responding to reports at Santa Rita, we have been able to provide outreach, crisis intervention, and resources for multiple inmates. We are glad to have the opportunity to reach these individuals, who are – by the nature of the system – vulnerable to assault, and who also – by the nature of the system – may not have many opportunities to get support after an attack.

How Big of a Problem is Sexual Assault Against Inmates?
  • 1 in 10 former State inmates reports having been sexually assaulted while incarcerated.
  • About half of these assaults are perpetrated by other inmates, the other half by staff.
  • Perpetrators tend to target people living with a disability or illness, those with a previous history of trauma or sexual assault, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or gender non-conforming inmates.
  • Prisoner rape, either by other inmates or by staff, is regarded as torture under international law.  
How You Can Help
Tri-Valley Haven receives no additional funding for this outreach into the detention system to help survivors of sexual assault behind bars.  Donations by our supporters are always gratefully accepted.
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