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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.

Moments that Matter – a small story from our shelter

This story was featured on the newsletter of A Window Between Worlds as part of their “Impact Spotlight.”  A Window Between Worlds is the non-profit that provides training to domestic violence shelter staff to use artwork with survivors of domestic violence to help in the healing process.  We have been using their “Women’s Windows” program for the past year.

I thought I’d pass the story along to our own blog so you can share it as well.  This happened some time in the last year with one of the residents at our shelter.  Her name has been changed to protect her identity.

Box Image EnhancedRemember the Important Things

“I did a Self-Care Box workshop, in which I had the residents of my group write self-care ideas on slips of colored paper (things like taking a walk, deep slow breathing, etc.). Then they decorated small hexagonal boxes with paint and collage in which to keep the suggestions, to draw out when they felt stressed.

“A week later, Jennifer shared this story with me:

She told me that she felt a little bad because the week before she had been kind of ‘flip’ about the group (although I hadn’t noticed she had been!). She also said that during the week, she’d had a really bad morning. She was feeling stressed, her kids were out of control, and she was having a really hard time keeping perspective and controlling her temper.

“When one of her kids swooped by her, she grabbed for him, but instead knocked the little Self-Care Box onto the floor. She said, ‘It was like slow motion. The lid came off and those little orange slips came out and all landed FACE UP, so I could read them. And they were saying, “Remember the important things” and “breathe” and all the things I had written to myself. It was powerful. And it was on the day before my 50th birthday.’

“She then gave me a huge hug and said, ‘I will never forget this.’

“It gave me goosebumps, and so I wanted to share this story with you!

 

 

Boosting the Signal: WARP’D (Women Actively Rejecting Personal Distortion) — aka, amazing and inspiring teens!

“Imagine how life would be if… instead of making resolutions about body image at the end of the year— every woman made a resolution to treat herself and others with utmost respect and dignity. That is what I call a resolution!” -Tori Knuppe

Foothill High School junior Victoria Knuppe wants to change how women and girls see themselves— one woman at a time. An ambitious undertaking, indeed, given the messages seen in society, the current culture and an ubiquitous media but 16-year-old Knuppe is more than ready for the challenge. She is on a mission.

Knuppe believes women are “plagued with feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness” and says she also struggles with “self-image issues.”

“It genuinely breaks my heart to see the physical effects of this problem across the nation and the world,” Knuppe said. “And, what’s more, it breaks my heart to see nothing being done about it.”

[Reblog of article on Tori here at this link]

[Direct link to her website WARPD.org is here]

Bystander Intervention – She’s Doing It Right (You Go, Shelby!)

I just wanted to cross-post a selection from a blog of one of our great advocate volunteers, Shelby Henry.  She has graciously allowed us to reference her blog from time to time, and a few days ago, I came across this amazing story.  Shelby, you are an amazing woman and thank you for the story.  You illustrate what it means to be an active bystander not only in your advocacy work but even in your day-to-day life. 🙂  (Oh, and the emphasis in the post is mine, not Shelby’s, but I could not resist highlighting it.  Hey, this is a work blog, after all!)

Shelby Henry is an advocate at Tri-Valley Haven, a passionate blogger, a dolphin rights activist, and an all-around amazing person!

Shelby Henry is an advocate at Tri-Valley Haven, a passionate blogger, a dolphin rights activist, and an all-around amazing person!

Yesterday I witnessed a man assaulting a woman, in broad daylight and on a busy street. When I drove by I only saw for maybe a second what was going on and I think that my brain tried to convince me it wasn’t what it looked like. They were probably messing around. It’s 11 AM, you would have to be insane to attack a woman in broad daylight on this busy street with all these cars driving by. I kept driving. I made it about two streets further before I finally decided it was worth at least turning around just to ease my mind and confirm that the woman was alright and nothing was going on. The woman was not alright and the man had in fact been attacking her. He was grabbing her by the hair as she tried unsuccessfully to swat him away. I turned my car in his direction and floored it. I screeched to a stop right before ramming into the sidewalk and started revving my engine at him, honking my horn, and screaming that the cops were on their way (he was probably really intimidated until he heard Etta James playing through my open car window…). The woman got away and took off, barefoot and in pajamas. The police arrived within just a couple of minutes and handled the situation.

I was horrified to think that I had almost continued about my day without going back to verify what was going on. If you’ve taken a basic psychology or sociology class you’ve probably heard of a phenomenon called the bystander effect. Basically it is when bystanders witness a crime or emergency and do nothing, either out of fear or because they think someone else will call authorities. I think that five months ago, before my training with the Tri-Valley Haven, I would have kept driving. I would have convinced myself it was nothing and that I was just crazy.

Sometimes I think people worry that they will report something incorrectly or that it won’t be worth the officer’s time to check something out. What we don’t realize is that the police are here to serve us and to protect us; it is their duty and it is what they get up everyday to do. I think that as citizens it should be our own duty to look out for each other and keep our towns as safe as possible. We have a responsibility to help police maintain city safety, as they are unable to be everywhere at all times. If you see something that catches your eye and it doesn’t seem right, call the non-emergency number in your city. Err on the side of caution, because it is always better to be safe than sorry.

“Last Night, It Was Closer to Home…” (How to make a difference.)

This afternoon, when I got to the office (I am attending an in-service later tonight, thus a late start to the day), I had several messages from a co-worker, Samantha.  Samantha is a remarkable person – she is the young, determined, extremely capable and organized, passionate and politically-savvy head of our Homeless Services program.  She manages Sojourner House, our 16-bed homeless family shelter, our Food Pantry, Thrift Store and other Homeless-centered services.  She also happens to be one of my very best resources for “what is going on around the world” in terms of human rights issues of all kinds.

Today, she had left me two items — one of them was extremely personal to her, and she gave permission to share the story.  The other is a wonderful series of posters from Missoula’s “Intervention in Action” project.  More on that in a moment.  What I want to start off with, though, is the story she told — in her own words — of how she had her faith in humanity reaffirmed last night:

Samantha is the director of Tri-Valley Haven's Homeless Services department - a one-woman powerhouse of passionate, intelligent advocacy for those in need in our community.

Samantha is the director of Tri-Valley Haven’s Homeless Services department – a one-woman powerhouse of passionate, intelligent advocacy for those in need in our community.

Sometimes being an advocate against violence can feel like you are banging your head against the wall or screaming as loud as you can at deaf ears. Rape culture and domestic violence are very prevalent in society and, through venues such as media, actually encouraged. It leaves me feeling deflated at times.  But every now and then I am reminded there is hope for this society in ending violence towards women (and all of humanity), and that the work I am doing is not futile.

 Usually I get my faith reaffirmed by an amazing news article about someone who stood up and intervened, preventing a woman from getting assaulted.  However, last night it was closer to home. I was chatting with my partner about his day and he shared with me a situation that happened to his 20-year old male cousin. His cousin lives with a couple and the other night the male party started physically assaulting his female partner. His cousin did not stand by and pretend it wasn’t happening, nor decide it was not his business and let it continue. In fact, he took a stand– intervening, calling the cops, and assisting his female roommate in establishing safety. He made a choice to say this behavior is not acceptable and he would not stand by and let it continue.

 As my partner was sharing this story with me…all I could think about is how proud I am of this 20-year-old male and that somewhere along the way he did get the message that he can stand up against violence as a bystander.

 I can’t wait to see him again and tell him how proud I am of him myself.

You know, that restores my faith in humanity, too.
Now to share her other story — this one is about a really great poster campaign by the “Intervention in Action” project, which is a group of community organizations dedicated to ending sexual violence.  This poster campaign really highlights a couple of excellent things — the ways in which moral, responsible men and women (meaning, most men and women) can take a stand in preventing sexual violence.  So often, violence happens and those who are witnesses to it stand by… oftentimes because they don’t know what to do, or how to help, or become swept up in the group-think that allows terrible situations to escalate unchallenged.  What Samantha’s story above shows was one man who broke out of that paralysis and intervened — a real-life hero.  An everyday hero in a world where such interventions happen every day… but not nearly often enough.

These posters talk about the same kind of situation, and also highlight the stereotypes that culturally give the “it’s ok, go ahead” nod to violence against women… and challenge them in a wonderful, clever way.  Here are a few of them:

I Could Tell She Was Asking For ItA Girl That Wasted Is Way Easy933871_297802630363523_2002242685_n

A Special Thank You for VAWA (Spreading the Love from YouTube to You!)

Teens Becoming Active Bystanders and Pledging to Support Healthy Relationships!

Teens from Dublin High School pledge to help end dating violence in their school.

Teens from Dublin High School pledge to help end dating violence in their school.

Look at all that purple!

In the, “There is Hope For The World” department of blog reporting:

Today at Dublin High School, teenagers from Tri-Valley Haven’s Be Strong Group held a Violence Prevention Event in the school’s courtyard. Male and female teens signed hearts pledging to do their part to end teen dating violence. Students also took Healthy Relationship Quizzes, and discussed ways to remain safe in dating relationships.

“Be Strong is a teen violence prevention program aimed at helping female youth define respect, healthy relationships, and support one another as they put these concepts into place,” says Linda Law, Tri-Valley Haven’s Prevention Instructor. “The Be Strong teen leaders ran today’s event and encouraged fellow students to join in!”

Sometimes hearing about healthy relationships from adults when you’re a teen isn’t exactly the most helpful or effective way to get the message.  But when you hear about it from your own friends and classmates and peers, that’s when the magic happens.

A little magic happened today.

One Billion Rising and… Vaginas!

That got your attention, didn’t it?

As you may have seen from my co-blogger Christine’s post earlier in the week, we are closing in RAPIDLY on the Tri-Valley Haven’s benefit production of The Vagina Monologues at the Mertes Center for the Arts at Las Positas College.  The collectible tank-tops are ordered, the program has gone to the press, tickets are selling rapidly and I personally am really excited to see the show!  In addition to this, the One Billion Rising event for Valentine’s Day went off around the world in spectacular fashion and we at the Haven got to be a small but proud part of it.  In honor of BOTH events, I decided this week to just share some pictures of our amazing staff and volunteers and actresses from this year’s and previous years’ Vagina Monologues productions and some photos of us doing our small part for One Billion Rising’s flash mob extravaganzas–ours in downtown Livermore.

I hope you enjoy and–if you are near Livermore, California, I hope you take advantage of our showing of the Monologues and come share the experience with us!  Photos of the Monologues come next!

We were small, but mighty!

We were small, but mighty!

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One Billion Rising – The Day is Here!

A crowd dancing for One Billion Rising in Poland...

A crowd dancing for One Billion Rising in Poland…

This afternoon, Tri-Valley Haven will host its own Rising event in downtown Livermore, but what we are doing is set against the background of a worldwide phenomenon–200 countries, presentations at the United Nations, a legislator (male) dancing for women’s rights in the New Mexico legislature (that video is hilarious!), flash mobs, original songs, poems, dances, demonstrations, protests… voices lifted and bodies moving and hope… hope for change.

The updates worldwide are POURING in on their website--you could waste the whole day, and more, being uplifted by what is streaming there.  And you know what?  I’m not convinced it would be a day wasted.  So much news is devoted to what is wrong–seeing people rising up with joy for what is RIGHT… that isn’t time wasted.

I know I’ve focused several blog posts on One Billion Rising, but I truly feel that this is an important event.  Will it end violence against women all by itself?  Of course not, but something this large, this worldwide and this… this viral, to use internet-speak, really should not be ignored.

I urge you today, if you are in the time zone where “today” is still February 14th and Valentine’s Day, to go to the One Billion Rising website and look up an event taking place near you.  I can almost guarantee there WILL be one.  Go to it.  Dance, smile, clap, raise your voice.  Be part of a movement that says that change IS possible, that women–all women–deserve to live lives free of the threat of violence, rape, pain and suffering.  1 in 3 women worldwide in their lifetimes will experience a rape or violence.  Let’s change that.

Let’s start today.

Strike! Dance! Rise!

OBR-logo-englishWell, I posted a while back on the movement called One Billion Rising and I posted a link to a wonderful short film promoting the international day of awareness.  And then I managed to NOT keep posting about it (which I wanted to do, because this whole thing is pretty awesome in my opinion) and go on to other topics which are also important.  But I CAN’T STAND IT!  I have to post again!  There’s a couple reasons why I am so excited:

#1 – My organization, Tri-Valley Haven, is hosting a One Billion Rising event in our home town of Livermore, California!  So I’m putting out a link to the event here.  I know not all of you (or even necessarily most of you) who read my blog are my real-life neighbors, but SOME of you might be.  And so, in that off-hand chance… you should totally come to Panama Red Coffee Company on February 14th to celebrate with us!

#2 — Ok, I think we all love inspiring, uplifting and amazing dance music, am I right?  Do we love it more when it’s not only inspiring, uplifting and amazing but… international?  How about inspiring, uplifting, amazing, international and for an INCREDIBLE cause?  Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about!

So… here are links to some beautiful art that people around the world are creating in honor of the One Billion Rising event!

Want to dance?  Check out the One Billion Rising theme song–Break the Chain!  I guarantee it will be stuck in your head, and that’s a good thing!  It’s been in mine all day!

Want to dance… en español?  Si, se puede!

For a bunch of wonderful videos–some from the United States, some from Mexico, India, South Africa and so many other countries, go to the VDay YouTube channel and be inspired!

And when you’re done dancing around your home, your office, or wherever you are when you plunge into this amazing outpouring of art and spirit, consider joining up with a One Billion Rising event in your area.  There are tons out there and you can even do an easy search by city, State, zip or country!v_day-page2437

Because sometimes being a bystander can be challenging, hard or lonely work.  But sometimes, being an active bystander means to sing, to dance, to be visible, to raise your voice… and to be part of something magical!  Strike!  Dance!  Rise!

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