• Powered by Tri-Valley Haven

  • Meet Our Bloggers


    Carolyn - Advocacy & Communications Specialist


    Jessie - Sexual Assault Advocate
  • Contributing Authors

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.

Advertisements

At The Haven: Support Groups 101

Support Group PhotoIf you are a survivor, you may have considered joining a support group to connect with other survivors and share your experiences. Tri-Valley Haven (TVH) offers support groups for survivors of domestic violence or sexual assault.

If you’ve never attended a support group before, here is some general information about what we offer!

What is a support group?
Support groups provide a safe space for survivors of domestic violence or sexual assault to share their experiences and connect with each other. Tri-Valley Haven’s support groups usually run 8 weeks and they are closed groups, meaning participants must sign up for the group in advance.

New participants are only accepted at the start of each support group. We do not accept for drop-ins.

What are the benefits of a support group?
Many survivors feel they are alone, so support groups give survivors an opportunity to connect with others who have also experienced domestic violence or sexual assault. Often survivors are relieved to have a safe, confidential space where they can talk about the abuse or assault.

Our support groups also aim to support survivors as they begin the healing process and give them tools to help them along the way. We also focus on helping participants to develop healthy coping skills and practice self-care.

Who facilitates a support group?
Our support groups are facilitated by therapists or crisis counselors who have received special training to work with survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault through Tri-Valley Haven.

How do I sign up for a support group at Tri-Valley Haven?
All participants must call Tri-Valley Haven and sign up in advance. After participants sign up, the facilitator will give participants more details about the group, including the location of group meetings.

Domestic Violence Support Group in Pleasanton
Start date: Friday, July 17, 2015 (1 – 2:30 pm)
Sign up: Call Liz at 925.449.5845 ext. 2718
Participants must call ahead. No drop-ins.

Sexual Assault Support Group in Livermore
Start date: Wednesday, July 22, 2015 (5:30 – 7 pm)
Sign up: Call Jessie at 925.449.5845 ext. 2727
Participants must call ahead. No drop-ins.

I am a loved one of a survivor. Can I attend a support group at Tri-Valley Haven?
Currently we only offer support groups for survivors of domestic violence or sexual assault. However both survivors and loved ones may receive individual counseling at Tri-Valley Haven.

Do you offer support groups for LGBTQ survivors?
Our support groups are open to LGBTQ survivors, though currently we do not offer separate support groups for only LGBTQ survivors. If there is enough interest, we may offer one in the future!

Do you offer support groups for men?
Currently we do not offer an all-men support group. We hope to offer specific groups for male survivors in the future. If you are a male survivor and would be interested in an all-men support group, please let our counseling department know!

How can I join a support group or find out more?
If you would like more information or are interested in one of our support groups, please visit our website www.trivalleyhaven.org or call:

Tri-Valley Haven Community Building: 925.449.5845
Domestic Violence Support Group: Liz @ 925.449.5845 ext. 2718
Sexual Assault Support Group: Jessie @ 925.449.5845 ext 2727


logoIf you or a loved one is survivor of domestic violence or sexual assault, Tri-Valley Haven can help. We offer individual counseling, support groups, advocacy, shelter services and a 24-hour crisis line at 800.884.8119. We are a nonprofit organization that relies on the availability of grants and the generosity of our donors to fund our life-saving programs.

To learn more about our live-saving services and how you can help us keep our doors open, visit www.trivalleyhaven.org!

Tri-Valley Haven Thrift Store Victim of Weekend Theft

On the first weekend of January, the Tri-Valley Haven Thrift Store at 116 North L Street in Livermore was victimized by a burglary involving the loss of $7,000 and property damage to windows and doors.  Police investigation of the incident is ongoing.

The Tri-Valley Haven Thrift Store has been in the midst of upgrades, generously donated by members of Asbury United Methodist Church, and the thefts were a shock to staff, volunteers and shoppers at the store.

The real tragedy is that the Tri-Valley Hav10420788_882823058412670_6207162463202371478_nen Thrift Store’s purpose is to support the community in two ways – the first by directly benefiting patrons of the store, who can purchase gently-used goods at low prices to help support low incomes. Secondly, the Tri-Valley Haven Thrift Store is positioned to financially support all of the Haven’s programs for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and homelessness.  With the theft, the lost revenue, and the resulting repairs and upgrades needed to safeguard against subsequent break-ins, the Haven Thrift Store itself is now struggling to survive and the programs it supports are struggling even harder than they were before the new year started.

Members of the public interested in donating can go to the Tri-Valley Haven website at www.trivalleyhaven.org.  For questions or concerns, contact Ann King, Executive Director, Tri-Valley Haven.

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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!

 

 

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
.
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.

Why People Don’t Report Rape

This is mostly just a reblog of a blog post by Sexologist on Tumblr.  The blog itself was posted to my personal Facebook wall by a friend who knows I work at a Rape Crisis Center and exploding-headit languished a few days without my seeing it, because… you know… Facebook.  (The way Facebook decides whether or not to notify about new posts is a subject for another blog and not one related to the subject matter of this one.)  Anyway, when I did read it, I found to my dismay that my brains had exploded all over the walls of my office.  It was quite a mess.  I am still cleaning up.

Because… HOLY MOLY did darned near EVERYBODY do EVERYTHING wrong.  Thankfully, toward the end, some Good Stuff ™ happened, mostly due to the Rape Crisis Advocate who eventually came out to the scene… but nearly every other component to this endurance-race of a report was horrible.  This is a great reminder of why we, who work at Rape Crisis Centers, need to be on top of our game not just most of the time, but ALL the time.

As a sanity check for myself and my agency, I’d like to say up front that our agency does quarterly police briefings with all three local police departments in order to increase police awareness of what we do and the role of sexual assault advocates.  We also have a system where at any time, day or night, not only do we have a volunteer (highly trained in our 65-hour training) advocate on call, but we have a staff back-up to step in if the advocate for some reason can’t respond to a call, and above that person is the head of our Rape Crisis Center, who could also go out on a call in a pinch.  (Although in all the 12 years I have been here, I don’t know of a time we’ve had to fall back to that response.)

So I would fervently LIKE to think that NOBODY who reported to our local PDs or to our agency would EVER have an experience like this.  But the truth is… systems can break down.  People can become tired, or cynical, or have an off-day.  But the fact of the matter is, we can’t afford that.  Not ever.  Because one off-day for us in this support web can equal a complete emotional disaster for someone who is already struggling with one of the hardest challenges of their lives.

Without further ado… here is the original blog.

I accompanied someone to the police station to report a sexual assault, and this is what happened

Art For Healing

In our lives, there are many "stepping stones" - events or hopes that lead us from one stage to another.  In this workshop, we asked the women to create a stepping stone symbolizing something they wanted to step away from, and a stepping stone embodying something they wanted to move toward.  These beautiful creations are the result.

In our lives, there are many “stepping stones” – events or hopes that lead us from one stage to another. In this workshop, we asked the women to create a stepping stone symbolizing something they wanted to step away from, and a stepping stone embodying something they wanted to move toward. These beautiful creations are the result.

Recently, I have begun leading a support group* at Shiloh, our DoTransfomationmestic Violence Shelter, that concentrates completely on using art as a means for our residents to explore emotions, experiences, fears and hopes in a way that is safe, creative, and expressive.  Art workshops provide a unique way to assist survivors of domestic violence in healing from the trauma of abuse, finding their voice, and building the courage to make healthy decisions for their future. For victims of domestic violence, art workshops provide a special window of support to share the complexity of their emotions, discover that they are not alone, and are not to blame for the violence. The art also helps survivors build healthy ways to handle anger and communicate non-violently.

What are your needs?  Do you need fresh air?  Relaxation?  A good book?  What are the things that make you whole?

What are your needs? Do you need fresh air? Relaxation? A good book? What are the things that make you whole?

At first, I wondered if the workshops would be well-received. Would a group of adult women really want to get together and play with colored pencils, paints, sequins, or construction paper? Would it really do that much good compared to the more “serious” groups like our domestic violence support group, or life skills? The group was set up as completely voluntary—you do not have to attend it as part of working the program at our shelter. Since it wasn’t mandatory… would anybody come? I had an image of me sitting alone in the conference room with a heap of supplies and a quietly ticking clock on the wall.

 
As it turns out, I shouldn’t have worried. The groups are really popular—when it comes right down to it, art can be an amazing way to build community, and safety, and even restore a sense of fun that the women who stay with us might not have felt for many years. And the results are beautiful.

* The training I received for this support group came through A Window Between Worlds, which provides training for domestic violence programs so that they can institute therapeutic art groups for women or children in their shelters.

Hands can carry a lot of meanings - especially for survivors of abuse.  Hands can be used to hurt.  But hands also can be used to hug a child, build a bookshelf, create a painting, reach for a flower, hold another's hand in trust.  Part of this workshop, which involves painting one's own hand, is the reclaiming of the hand as something positive.  Our hands are how we reach out into the world and change it - and ourselves - for the better.  What we 'can' do is reflected in our hands.  That is why we ask our participants to express their "I Can" on their own hands.

Hands can carry a lot of meanings – especially for survivors of abuse. Hands can be used to hurt. But hands also can be used to hug a child, build a bookshelf, create a painting, reach for a flower, hold another’s hand in trust. Part of this workshop, which involves painting one’s own hand, is the reclaiming of the hand as something positive. Our hands are how we reach out into the world and change it – and ourselves – for the better. What we ‘can’ do is reflected in our hands. That is why we ask our participants to express their “I Can” on their own hands.

March is National Women’s History Month – Sojourner Truth & the Rape Crisis Movement…

The history of the Rape Crisis Movement in the United States is – among other things – an excellent reminder that in order to fight one kind of oppression, one has to stand in solidarity with those fighting other kinds of oppression.  The denigration of one group of people is often inextricably linked with other kinds of tyranny.  In the case of the Rape Crisis Movement, the oppression of women in general and the oppression of African-American women in particular are closely bound together, and the first stirrings of what would become the Rape Crisis Movement came from within that group.

The following paragraphs come from Gillian Greensite’s History of the Rape Crisis Movement.

During slavery, the rape of enslaved women by white men was common and legal. After slavery ended, sexual and physical violence, including murder, were used to terrorize and keep the Black population from gaining political or civil rights. The period of Reconstruction from 1865 to 1877, directly following the Civil War, when freed slaves were granted the right to vote and own property, was particularly violent. White mobs raped Black women and burned churches and homes. The Ku Klux Klan, founded in 1866 in Tennessee, was more organized. The Klan raped Black women, lynched Black men, and terrorized Black communities. Propaganda was spread that all Black men were potential rapists, and all white women potential victims. The results and legacy of such hatred were vicious. Thousands of Black men were lynched between Emancipation and World War II, with the false charge of rape a common accusation. Rape laws made rape a capital offense only for a Black man found guilty of raping a white woman. The rape of a Black woman was not even considered a crime, even when it became officially illegal.

Perhaps the first women in the United States to break the silence around rape were those African-American women who testified before Congress following the Memphis Riot of May 1866, during which a number of Black women were gang-raped by a white mob. Their brave testimony has been well recorded.

Sojourner Truth was the first woman to connect issues of Black oppression with women’s oppression in her legendary declaration, “Ain’t I a Woman” in her speech at the Women’s Rights Conference in Silver Lake, Indiana, challenging the lack of concern with Black issues by the white women present at the conference.

The earliest efforts to systematically confront and organize against rape began in the 1870s when African-American women, most notably Ida B. Wells, took leadership roles in organizing anti-lynching campaigns. The courage of these women in the face of hatred and violence is profoundly inspiring. Their efforts led to the formation of the Black Women’s Club movement in the late 1890s and laid the groundwork for the later establishment of a number of national organizations, such as the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Although women continued individual acts of resistance throughout the first half of the twentieth century, the next wave of anti-rape activities began in the late 1960s and early 1970s on the heels of the civil rights and student movements.

During the month of March, I will add more blog entries, talking about the history of the Rape Crisis and Domestic Violence movement in the United States.  In a month that is dedicated to National Women’s History, it seems only appropriate to touch on the events and people that gave birth to the Rape Crisis Centers, the Domestic Violence Shelters, and the other support services that exist today, and otherwise might never have come to pass.  Many women and children, and the adults the children became, owe their lives to the women who came before us.

In closing for this blog entry, I will leave you with the words of Sojourner Truth, for whom we at Tri-Valley Haven named our own homeless shelter ten years ago.  She was born a slave around 1797 in New York and escaped to freedom in 1826.  Her “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech was given in 1851 at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio.   I repeat them here:

Ain’t I A Woman?*Sojourner-Truth-9511284-1-402

Wall, chilern,
whar dar is so much racket
dar must be somethin’ out o’ kilter.
I tink dat ‘twixt de nigger of de Souf
and de womin at de Norf,
all talkin’ ’bout rights,
de white men will be in a fix pretty soon.
But what’s all dis here talkin’ ’bout?

Dat man ober dar say
dat womin needs to be helped into carriages,
and lifted ober ditches,
and to hab de best place everywhar.
Nobody eber halps me into carriages,
or ober mudpuddles,
or gibs me any best place!
And ar’n’t I a woman?

Look at me!
Look at my arm!
I have ploughed,
and planted,
and gathered into barns,
and no man could head me!
And ar’n’t I a woman?

I could work as much
and eat as much as a man —
when I could get it —
and bear de lash as well!
And ar’n’t’ I a woman?

I have borne thirteen chilern,
and seen ’em mos’ all sold off to slavery,
and when I cried out with my mother’s grief,
none but Jesus heard me!
And ar’n’t I a woman?

Den dey talks ’bout dis ting in de head;
what dis dey call it?
‘Intellect,’
(whispered someone near).
Dat’s it, honey.
What’s dat got to do wid womin’s rights
or nigger’s rights?
If my cup won’t hold but a pint,
and yourn holds a quart,
wouldn’t ye be mean
not to let me have my little half-measure full?

Den dat little man in black dar,
he say women can’t have as much rights as men,
’cause Christ wan’t a woman!
Whar did your Christ come from?
Whar did your Christ come from?
From God and a woman!
Man had nothin’ to do wid Him.

If de fust woman God ever made
was strong enough to turn de world upside down
all alone,
dese women togedder ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again!
And now dey is asking to do it,
de men better let ’em.

Bleeged to ye for hearin’ on me,
and now ole Sojourner
han’t got nothin’ more to say.’

* An interesting thing to note is that Sojourner’s words have been reported in dialect and NOT in dialect.  She was, in fact, born and raised in New York and it is unlikely she spoke with this heavy Southern accent.  In fact, the first account of her speaking does not have portray the dialect, and later ones do.  Yet again, we see intersections of oppression and stereotype.  For more information on this aspect of the speech, this Wiki article has some good information.

To My Fellow Survivors

Your Story MattersThe following letter, To My Fellow Survivors, was written by an amazing survivor who recently participated in a support group at Tri-Valley Haven. We are so grateful she has given us permission to publish this:

My rape happened over ten years ago and for ten years, I thought I was fine. I told myself to suck it up, that it was not as bad as some other stories that I had heard, that I was being selfish and to not let it affect me, that I deserved it because I was not good enough.  These thoughts replayed in my mind over and over again.  They became deep-rooted in my soul.  I went through these ten years making bad choice after bad choice—from an eating disorder to self-injury, promiscuity, stealing, lying, anger, and depression, you name it.  I thought there was something wrong with me as to why I could just not be happy.  Why was I making these unhealthy choices?  I knew that I had all this anger built up inside me, but I thought that I had dealt with this part of my past, so when my therapist mentioned that she wanted me to go to a support group, I was very hesitant to say the least.  I was willing to try anything, though, because I was at my breaking point.  I made the call.  I thought, even if I do not like it, I can get out of work early on Fridays.

               I was really nervous my first class.  I did not want to talk to these people that I had never met about something so personal; plus, I do not trust anyone.  The more you let people in, the more they can use that against you.  I had learned this too many times.  I went week after week, did my homework and opened up as much as I could.  We then received an assignment to create a collage of how we felt at the time of the rape, and how we wanted to feel as a survivor.  I was not a fan of this.  I felt it was stupid, childish, and a waste of my time, but I was going to do it and prove myself right.

I clipped out a pile of sayings in magazines that jumped out at me, not knowing which side I would put them on.  Once I completed that task, I just started to glue them on.  I felt nothing, no emotion, like this was just a school project for a grade.  After I was done, I looked at my board and was astonished.  My “bad side” truly represented that horrible night—the pain, the horror, the sadness and the depression—everything I felt then and at that moment ten years later.  It hit me.  Somehow, looking at those words that were lost within me made it actually real.  I finally felt something other than anger.  I felt sadness for the girl I was, the girl that I would never be again, the girl that lost a piece of herself that night.

I then turned the board over and looked at my “survivor side.”  I started crying.  Is this really what I am supposed to feel like as a woman, as a survivor?  Proud, Strong, Courageous.  Even if I could not be or feel all of the things I had glued on that board, the possibility of being a little free from this pain and darkness is what I wanted.  This was probably one of my first, “AH HA” moments.  I think after this project is when I started to open up a little more to the other women in the group.

Then the teacher told us that the next assignment was going to be writing our story.  “Um, WHAT?  Not going to happen.”  What could possibly come out of doing this?  I was very skeptical. I know what happened to me.  Why do I need to write it out?

Needless to say, I sucked it up and started writing.  As I wrote, I again felt nothing.  It was like I was writing someone else’s story.  This is stupid, I told myself.  I had gone through years, telling the same version of my story—the bare minimum with friends and family who were concerned.  Wasn’t that enough?  It wasn’t until I actually started writing details of what he did to me that I started to feel sadness and anger.  I finally sat there and realized fully what had happened, what he did, what he said, what he made me do.  I remembered things that I had forgotten about, things that I think my mind made me forget until I was ready to process them.  I did not think it would be ten years later, but I know now that I wasn’t ready then.

I then had to find a safe person to read this to.  That was the scariest part.  I had never confided in anyone about the gory details. I kept those parts locked away inside me for so long.  No one knew the shame I felt, the guilt I placed on myself for not fighting back, for freezing, for letting someone do this to me, but writing my story and reading it to my counselor proved something to me that day.  It proved that I said, “No” numerous times; it proved that I did what I had to do to Survive.  As hard as this was to swallow, it did give me a little bit of peace.  I was able to forgive myself.  It made me open up to the women in the group, to care about them.  It was amazing to actually be somewhere I could just be myself and know that I would not be judged, to actually be surrounded with people that knew the pain I felt.  I had felt alone for so long.

As this course is coming to an end, I am confused with how I feel. I am happy that I was allowed this time to really look inside me and face some of my demons, but I am saddened to part ways with these women that I feel truly understand me.  I still have a lot of work ahead of me.  Am I fully healed?  I do not think I will ever be, but understanding who I am makes it a little easier.

As you read this, I want you to know that this will be hard.  I will not sugar-coat this process.  Will you want to quit?  Probably, but some of the hardest things in life have the greatest reward, and growing as a person is one of those rewards.  Just remember, you are strong, you are courageous, you are worthy, you are loved, and YOU ARE A SURVIVOR!!!

%d bloggers like this: