Agents of Change: Tercel Harris

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There are many people in our community working to create positive change to end sexual violence. We want to feature as many of them as possible. If you would like to submit a recommendation, please email prevention@star.ngo.


More men are needed to join the movement against sexual violence and honestly I feel it is our fight first and foremost. We carry on the ideas that boys are just boys and what happens to women is their fault. We need to change our mindsets to help those in need.

– Tercel Harris    

1. What is your relationship with STAR? tercel-1

I joined STAR as an intern in their Capital Area branch back in August 2014. After my internship ended, I continued an active role with STAR as a volunteer hotline advocate.

2. What led you to your work in sexual assault prevention and/or response?

A number of close female friends in my life are survivors of some form of sexual violence. The stories they told me made me feel angry and also powerless because I didn’t know what to do to help, or what to say to make it better. It was then that I knew I had to take a stand against sexual violence and the rape culture that makes those sort of actions seem okay.

I came to realize that men need to rise up and challenge rape culture, not condone locker room talk. We as men need to take a more proactive role to address this issue.

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3. What do you find most rewarding about your involvement in this work?

The most rewarding aspect is knowing that I am actually making a difference in lives of those that have been hurt before. Through the hotline, I can provide hope to those that feel hopeless and be a resource to survivors that feel no one is there to listen to them. It is also rewarding to hear about the role STAR has played in the lives of survivors when I table for STAR in the community.

4. What motivates you to keep going when things get difficult or discouraging?

Now that I know what to say and do to help, talking to friends is my motivation because of the impact I have had on their lives. They can finally open up about the trauma and handle it in a healthier way. Another reason I don’t lose focus and push on to make a differences is because a person very close to me was a victim of sexual violence at a young age. So in the back of my mind, I always think about that when times get difficult. I know that I can’t give up because there is so much left to do.

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5. What are some simple, day-to-day ways you promote positive change in your community?

I promote positive change in my daily life by educating others on the issue of sexual violence. Being a man, I point out the offensive ways my male friends make jokes or do anything else that promotes negative views and rape culture. I also try to bring the issue into my school life by joining organizations that stand with the movement and educating my fraternity about the issues so it starts a trend for other chapters around the world to join the movement.

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6. What advice would you give to someone who is hesitant about becoming an active member of this movement? 

My advice to men is to stand for something or fall for anything. More men are needed to join the movement against sexual violence and honestly I feel it is our fight first and foremost. We carry on the ideas that boys are just boys and what happens to women is their fault. We need to change our mindsets to help those in need.

If men out there don’t want to do it for others, at least do it for your loved ones that may be affected by sexual violence. I couldn’t live in a world where I condone the violence that is being done to someone else or my loved ones. Men, we are needed in this fight to challenge the men that create rape culture. Just doing simple things like educating other men is a step forward in the right direction.

 

Get involved and make change with STAR!

Agents of Change: Lisa Mount

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There are many people in our community working to create positive change to end sexual violence. We want to feature as many of them as possible. If you would like to submit a recommendation, please email prevention@star.ngo.


I love when people ask me what I do. It may be awkward at first, but it is usually a great opportunity to talk about STAR and the important services we provide. It also brings attention to the fact that these services are needed in our community – this is not something that only happens somewhere else.

– Lisa Mount    

1. What is your position at STAR? 

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I am the counselor at STAR’s Central Louisiana Branch. I provide individual and group trauma-informed therapy to adults and adolescents of all genders who are survivors of sexual abuse or assault. Because the support system is a vital part of the recovery of survivors, I also provide individual and group therapy for the support persons of survivors. This may include parents, grandparents, friends, significant others or spouses. The CenLa branch is brand new and I am also helping with program development activities so that we can get the word out about the services that STAR is now providing to this area of Louisiana.

2. What led you to your work in sexual assault prevention and/or response?

I became interested in learning more about responding to the needs of survivors early in my career. In every setting where I provided Social Work services, I was encountering people who had experienced some sort of sexual violence, or who had a loved one who had. I took steps to educate myself, then in 2007 I had the opportunity to work at a sexual assault center named Stuller Place, now Hearts of Hope, in Lafayette, Louisiana.

I continued to grow and learn through that experience and through my experiences as a board member for LAFASA, the Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault. Even after I left Hearts of Hope, I continued to provide counseling to survivors in community-based and mental health settings. I was very excited when I got the opportunity to work with STAR to provide counseling and support to survivors in my home region of Central Louisiana.

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3. What do you find most rewarding about your involvement in this work?

It’s the little things — the accomplishments that we see among survivors and their families as they move along in their journey towards healing. It’s the moment in counseling when the person realizes something that is important to their recovery — it is like a light comes on and you can see a little bit of the weight lift from their shoulders. It’s the day someone shows up for their first session, despite their fear of starting counseling. It’s when a person expresses a feeling of empowerment or the day someone lets you know they were able to do something they were not able to do before, like go grocery shopping or sleep through the night. It’s when parents of a child that was abused start healing and showing that they are more confident in their ability to help their child.

4. What motivates you to keep going when things get difficult or discouraging?

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Although everyone at STAR is working different angles of the mission, we are all working toward the same things. The culture of the agency supports growth and provides an environment where we learn from and support each other. This teamwork and support helps me to keep going even when things are difficult or discouraging.

Still, this is hard work. Support and self-care are important. My family and friends are supportive. I also make sure to do fun things like spending time with family and friends, getting my nails done, or hiking and kayaking every chance I get so that I can take care of myself. The passion I have for working in this field is also great fuel that keeps me going. That passion, compassion, and desire to help others helps me turn setbacks and roadblocks into hurdles to be overcome and problems to be solved.

5. What are some simple, day-to-day ways you promote positive change in your community?

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It is important to live the change you want to see in your day to day life.  This is something I have found impacts others by setting an example and helping them feel like they have permission to stand up against things in our culture that normalize or justify rape, assault, sexual harassment and other forms of sexual abuse.

I am always educating others. I love when people ask me what I do. It may be awkward at first, but it is usually a great opportunity to talk about STAR and the important services we provide. It also brings attention to the fact that these services are needed in our community – this is not something that only happens somewhere else.

Many times the people I’m talking to disclose that they are survivors or know someone that was abused.  When I hear someone say something uninformed about sexual abuse or rape, I immediately speak up in an effort to dispel the myth and educate the person. These little steps are witnessed and repeated within my social circle.

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6. What advice would you give to someone who is hesitant about becoming an active member of this movement? 

Anybody can be part of the movement to end sexual trauma.  Everyone has their own unique strengths and skill sets.  The most effective way for someone to get involved is to find their own personal way to contribute to the effort. There are no small actions. You can make a difference by doing things as simple as educating yourself, talking to those in your social circles, reporting and not spreading posts on social media that promote rape culture or myths about sexual trauma, and choosing not to listen to music or watch movies that normalize sexual violence. Everyone can make a difference.

To learn more about STAR’s Counseling services in Central Louisiana, call (855) 435-7827. 

Get involved and make change with STAR!

Agents of Change: Cherita McNeal

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There are many people in our community working to create positive change to end sexual violence. We want to feature as many of them as possible. If you would like to submit a recommendation, please email prevention@star.ngo.


At STAR, I am provided with the unique opportunity to help survivors get justice…I am grateful that I am allowed to be creative at STAR in finding solutions for survivors with the law as my aid.

– Cherita McNeal    

1. What is your position at STAR? 

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I am a staff attorney for STAR and provide a variety of legal services at our Capital Area branch and Greater New Orleans branch. As a staff attorney, I have the opportunity to represent survivors of sexual assault in areas including privacy, safety, employment, immigration, housing, education and criminal justice advocacy.

2. What led you to your work in sexual assault prevention and/or response?

I have always been actively involved in social service organizations. The importance of giving back to the community and helping other was instilled in me at a very young age. After I finished law school, I was looking for a career that would align with my Bachelor’s degree and Juris Doctorate. STAR was the perfect place for me because it aligns with my passion for helping others and provides me the opportunity to make a difference in the community as an attorney.

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3. What do you find most rewarding about your involvement in this work?

The most rewarding part about working at STAR is seeing the effect I have on survivors. The victories small and large are rewarding to watch, especially watching survivors regain control after such a devastating incident. At STAR, I am provided with the unique opportunity to help survivors get justice. Justice is subjective; it can be an arrest, a protection order, a job transfer, or a lease termination. I am grateful that I am allowed to be creative at STAR in finding solutions for survivors with the law as my aid.

4. What motivates you to keep going when things get difficult or discouraging?

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I am motivated by the support I receive from my family, friends, and co-workers. Having a supportive circle is the best thing in the world; it reminds me that I am not alone in this fight. When the system fails a survivor and I feel like I have done all I can, I look to my support group for inspiration. They remind me of the opportunity I have to make a positive impact on the world by making a difference in others’ lives. This motivates me every day.

5. What are some simple, day-to-day ways you promote positive change in your community?

On a day-to-day basis, I try to have conversations with people to educate them on how sexual assault impacts people. By talking about sexual assault in my social circles, I am able to bring awareness to the issue. Since I have started working at STAR, I have noticed that my friends and family also bring awareness to issues regarding sexual assault. One powerful and inspiring time that I often think about is when my mother called me to tell me how she dispelled a rape myth at work and that alone was so reassuring of the impact I have on others.

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6. What advice would you give to someone who is hesitant about becoming an active member of this movement? 

What do you have to lose? There will never be the perfect moment where you will feel 100% comfortable to talk about sexual assault, but by starting the conversation you are taking steps to end sexual violence. Educate yourself on the realities and myths of sexual assault and then have a conversation with someone. It all begins with you!

 

To learn more about STAR’s Legal services, call (225) 615-7093. 

Get involved and make change with STAR!

Emerging Together

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Last year, STAR’s newly established New Orleans branch received a grant of $10,000 from the Emerging Philanthropists of New Orleans (EPNO). Since being awarded this funding, STAR’s New Orleans branch has accomplished the following:

  • Responded to 176 hospital call-outs 
  • Answered 409 hotline calls
  • Served 233 unique clients through our counseling, legal, and advocacy programs
  • Covered 92% of all hospital medical advocacy shifts since starting shared 24/7 coverage of hospital medical advocacy at University Medical Center in April
  • Reached over 3,800 people in the GNO area through tabling, panels, forums, presentations, and meetings
  • Engaged all universities in St. Tammany, Orleans, and Jefferson parishes
  • Participated in the New Orleans Sexual Assault Response Team and the Jefferson Community Coordinated Response Team
  • Hosted a Clergy Open House to engage the faith-based community and participated in Take Back the Night
  • Trained over 80 community members through our 40-hour STAR volunteer training
  • Presented to over 500 people who are currently incarcerated at the Orleans Justice Center (formerly the Orleans Parish Prison)
  • Established a growing internship program
  • Grew our staff from 2 full time staff members to 5 full time and 2 part-time staff members
  • Reached 100% staff giving to support our services

As with any new endeavor, we have also experienced challenges. These include:

  • Meeting the community’s ever-increasing needs with a small staff
  • Navigating new systems and relationships with community partners
  • Funding prevention and community education efforts

After an astonishing year of successes and challenges, STAR’s Greater New Orleans Regional Director, Margaret Reynolds, became interested in paying it forward this year. She applied for and was accepted into the 2016 Racial Equity EPNO team, which awarded a grant of $10,000 to BreakOUT!, an organization that fights the criminalization of LGBTQ youth in New Orleans.

Given her unique perspective as a former grant recipient and emerging philanthropist, Margaret was selected to give a speech at EPNO’s annual awards and graduation ceremony on November 2nd. Below is the text of her speech:

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Margaret Reynolds, STAR’s Greater New Orleans Regional Director

Good evening. Over the past two years, I have been in the unique position of both receiving and awarding an EPNO grant. Tonight, I’d like to not only talk about how this experience has informed my personal view on philanthropy, but also the impact philanthropy has had on the hundreds of survivors of sexual assault supported by the choices of last year’s EPNO class.

The effects of philanthropy are hard to calculate. While each grant application has measurables, outcomes, and goals, it can be difficult to discern the actual effect of your philanthropic dollars on someone who needs support.

Being a philanthropist is and should be so much more than simply giving money. Being a philanthropist is acting as a guide. It’s using your particular set of skills to strengthen others in the community. It’s a supportive role in every sense of the word. EPNO has taught us that, as philanthropists, it is our job to be diligent while empathetic and supportive while ensuring accountability.

To be a philanthropist is also to be an ally. It is to use our privilege to equalize power imbalances. Supporting marginalized members of our community means educating others on why and to whom we give. It is confronting the intersectional nature of oppression and using both our money and talents to work with our community partners to remove systematic barriers. Simply put, to be a true philanthropist is to commit to supporting others in a strategic, holistic manner.

So, putting theory aside, I’ll tell you about my experience. In my professional life, I work as the Greater New Orleans Regional Director of STAR, or Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response. It is my organization’s vision to build a community free from oppression and sexual trauma. To do this, we work to support survivors, create social change, and improve the systemic response to sexual violence. This is accomplished through free legal, advocacy, and counseling services available to all survivors and their friends and families.

As you can imagine, sexual assault is not always an easy thing to talk about, or for which to receive funding. But, two years ago, when STAR decided to expand for the first time, we needed to talk about it, a lot. So, we applied for our first grant in the GNO area (and incidentally the first grant I had ever written).

In the grant application, we asked for the full $10,000 from the 2015 EPNO Women’s Issues Team. We applied for funding to hire an AmeriCorps member as STAR’s Volunteer Coordinator. During the one-year grant period, it would be her job to recruit and train two classes of hotline and medical advocates.

A few weeks after submitting the grant, I took a road trip to Maine. On the way there, I received an e-mail from the Women’s Issues Team with “a few more small questions.” Answering these “small questions” took me from Alabama to northern Virginia. That is a long way. And, side note, I wrote all the answers on my iPhone while taking a lot of Dramamine for car sickness.

However, the questions posed were poignant. With a single three or four page grant application, that team was able to identify STAR’s areas of improvement and push us to critically think about ways to expand upon our initial plan. Neither before nor after that process have I experienced another grantor who has cared so much about the stewardship and impact of their donation.

So, after one of the most rigorous vetting processes I’ve ever experienced while applying for a grant, STAR was awarded the funding. Since then, Michaela (our wonderful Volunteer Coordinator) has moved on to Tulane Law School. But, during her year at STAR, she coordinated the training of 30 volunteers who have since served upwards of 200 clients over the hotline and at the hospital.

Those clients have been able to seek counseling, bring civil legal action, and utilize all the case management services STAR offers. They have been able to return to work, to watch their perpetrator be held accountable, to move forward with their lives, and to help other survivors in turn.

One can’t really calculate the impact of their philanthropic dollars, but I’m here to tell you they go so far beyond a few measurables.

After experiencing the EPNO process from the outside, I started asking questions of current members. I wanted to know what the vetting process was like, what other organization’s applications looked like. I wanted to see what it was like to give in a strategic, holistic way. But, I work at a non-profit, so $500 is about a year’s salary. Still, when I found out there was a payment plan, the rest was history. I joined the (some might say) best EPNO team, the Racial Equity team, and we started to meet weekly.

My team members challenged me and gave me new perspective. By the end of the year, we had defined racial equity, reviewed strong applications, and selected an organization that will impact their members in ways that go far beyond the single program we’re funding.

EPNO is integral to a vibrant community. I encourage you all to stay involved. Continue your efforts and keep in touch. Participate in GiveNOLA day. Find your cause, push your organizations to provide excellent services. Integrate the philanthropic perspective that EPNO has encouraged into your daily lives.

Because a strong New Orleans, one where marginalization is addressed and our citizens are supported, starts with organizations like EPNO and philanthropists like you.

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STAR NOLA Staff (July 2016)

 

Get involved and make change with STAR!

Agents of Change: Commander Doug Eckert

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There are many people in our community working to create positive change to end sexual violence. We want to feature as many of them as possible. If you would like to submit a recommendation, please email prevention@star.ngo.


My motivation comes from the survivors of sexual assault who have not had the opportunity to get the conclusion they should receive. I constantly look at what was done that could have been done better, and what could have been done that wasn’t done. I try to improve on the past to be better each day.

– Commander Doug Eckert    

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In 2014, the Office of the Inspector General issued a report that outlined widespread problems within the Sex Crimes unit of the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD). This, in addition to the 2012 Consent Decree, promoted many changes in leadership, personnel, policies, and practices. Commander Doug Eckert was reassigned within the NOPD to oversee sex crimes investigations and has contributed to major improvements that were assessed in a follow-up report this year. We are pleased to feature him as an Agent of Change. 

1. What is your relationship with STAR? 

I learned of STAR when I was appointed as the Commander of the Criminal Investigations Division (CID) of the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) in March of 2015. A unit under my command is the Special Victim’s Section (SVS).  As I began to attend monthly meetings with almost every advocacy group involved in sexual assault response in the metropolitan area, I had the opportunity to meet Margaret Reynolds, the Greater New Orleans Regional Director of STAR.

As time passed, members of the NOPD SVS began using the services and resources of STAR. Our relationship continues to grow as both are now very closely involved in the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) to ensure that sexual assault kits dated prior to May of 2015 are tested and that the delivery of testing results to survivors is provided in a trauma-informed manner and every possible resource to assist them is made available.

2. What led you to your work in sexual assault prevention and/or response?

My appointment led me to work in SVS after years in homicide and violent crimes. I was unaware of the extent of sexual abuse actually committed in today’s society. Upon assuming my command I was afforded the opportunity to delve into the investigations my Team was handling. This was a real eye-opener for me both in the degree of trauma experienced by the survivor and the complexity of the investigation.

3. What do you find most rewarding about your involvement in this work?

I find it most rewarding to ensure the investigators working sexual assault investigations have the resources and training needed to properly and effectively do their jobs. A successful conclusion for the survivors of sexual abuse is an arrest and conviction and all the resources he or she needs to continue through life, a life that will never be the same.

4. What motivates you to keep going when things get difficult or discouraging?

My motivation comes from the survivors of sexual assault who have not had the opportunity to get the conclusion they should receive. I constantly look at what was done that could have been done better, and what could have been done that wasn’t done. I try to improve on the past to be better each day.

5. What are some simple, day-to-day ways you promote positive change in your community?

Unfortunately, a major part of the community does not see the day-to-day work my Team does unless they become a victim to these violent acts. Behind the scenes, my Team attends significant training. Every report of sexual assault is taken seriously, as they should be, and throughout the investigations, discussions are held with Multi-Disciplinary Teams to ensure everything that can be done is done with an investigation. Continuous efforts are made to build and maintain relationships with all of our partners involved in the fight against sexual assault. As their commander, it will become more of my responsibility to bring the spotlight on this crime and our response.

6. What advice would you give to someone who is hesitant about becoming an active member of this movement? 

I would tell them to learn as much as possible about how important this fight is. I would let them know that more sexual assaults occur by perpetrators known to the survivors than by strangers, and that “no” does in fact mean “no.” I would go on to say that we have young women and men being unknowingly drugged and raped. I would encourage them to get in the fight against sexual assault because someone they know may have already been a victim of this violent crime, and they too could fall victim as well.

And I would let them know this is not just the responsibility of the criminal justice system, as the criminal justice system comes after the act. We, the criminal justice system as well as all sexual assault advocates, need help from the whole community in getting involved to stop sexual violence before it happens.

 

Get involved and make change with STAR!

Agents of Change: Hannah Morace

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There are many people in our community working to create positive change to end sexual violence. We want to feature as many of them as possible. If you would like to submit a recommendation, please email prevention@star.ngo.


STAR is a vital service and I am more than honored to be serving a community that I was raised in, that I raise my own children in, and that I love.

– Hannah Morace    

1. What is your position at STAR? 

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I am the Program Director for STAR’s Central Louisiana branch. In May 2016 I was hired to begin building community partnerships, recruiting volunteers, and spreading the word about STAR’s services in the area.

Beginning this month, the CenLA branch began officially providing services to survivors to meet the need of our community.

2. What led you to your work in sexual assault prevention and/or response?

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While finishing my degree at Northwestern State University, my search for an internship led me to the Rapides Children’s Advocacy Center and Rapides CASA. During that period, I became more aware of the lifelong impact that sexual assault has on individuals, families and communities.

After graduation, I worked as a direct service case manager for children and their families. I felt an extra level of empathy for survivors partially because I knew that our community did not have the resources to assist them in recovery from their trauma. When word spread that STAR was coming to Central Louisiana, I knew that I wanted to be a part of the implementation. I could not be more thankful that the STAR management team recognized the enthusiasm and willingness that I had to contribute. STAR is a vital service and I am more than honored to be serving a community that I was raised in, that I raise my own children in, and that I love.

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3. What do you find most rewarding about your involvement in this work?

The most rewarding part of my job is knowing that I get to be a part of an organization that does such amazing work. Whether it be a small task or a much larger project, I stand proudly to be focused on STAR’s vision of building a healthy community free from oppression and sexual trauma.

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4. What motivates you to keep going when things get difficult or discouraging?

Working for STAR is rewarding, but there are also challenges. When I feel discouraged, I often remind myself of small victories that have made a big impact on someone. Positively impacting individuals’ lives motivates me to keep going and overcome challenges.

5. What are some simple, day-to-day ways you promote positive change in your community?

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I feel like the best way to promote social change is to educate people. Even in social settings, the topic of what I “do for a living” seems to open up the conversation. I enjoy talking to people who are interested in the work that I do, and I also love to be challenged by other individuals’ thoughts and even firsthand experiences of sexual violence. I’m kind of a nerd when it comes to learning, and I am learning a lot in this work!

6. What advice would you give to someone who is hesitant about becoming an active member of this movement? 

If someone is hesitant about becoming involved in the movement, I try to encourage them to do as much as they feel comfortable doing. If one person educates another and that person does the same, then they are making a difference no matter how small it may seem.

 

Learn more about STAR’s Central Louisiana branch on our website.

 

Get involved and make change with STAR!

Agents of Change: La’Shantlen Russ

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There are many people in our community working to create positive change to end sexual violence. We want to feature as many of them as possible. If you would like to submit a recommendation, please email prevention@star.ngo.


I talk about difficult issues like sexual assault and HIV with my family and friends. I hope that by communicating with others about these issues, we can work toward reducing stigma and shame.

– La’Shantlen Russ

1. What is your relationship with STAR? 

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I am the Prevention Coordinator in the Prevention Department at HAART (HIV/AIDS Alliance Region Two). STAR is one of our amazing community partners.

HAART offers a complete continuum of care to people living with HIV/AIDS including housing, primary care, medications, case management, and an array of supportive services. In addition, HAART provides HIV prevention education and free testing to the Baton Rouge area.

2. What led you to your work in sexual assault prevention and/or response?

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I didn’t know much about sexual assault prevention or response until my sister, Laneceya, started working at STAR. I would ask her questions about the agency and was astounded at the statistics in our area. I wanted to learn more so I started attending STAR events and have since joined their Prevention Action Coalition (PAC).

In 2014, our prevention department formed a partnership with STAR to provide assistance in accessing post-exposure prophylaxis, PEP, for survivors of sexual assault. PEP is an emergency prevention method available to individuals that may have been exposed to HIV during sex, through sharing needles, occupational exposure, or sexual assault to reduce their risk of contracting HIV.

3. What do you find most rewarding about your involvement in this work?

Making a difference in someone’s health, improving their quality of life is why I work in public health. Knowing that we have lessened a survivor’s burden is the reward!

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4. What motivates you to keep going when things get difficult or discouraging?

My awesome coworkers and our clients are what motivate me to keep going when things get difficult. I know that we provide a much needed service to survivors and the broader community. Working in this field can be challenging and discouraging at times, but I can always find the help and strength to keep moving forward from my coworkers, family, and friends.

5. What are some simple, day-to-day ways you promote positive change in your community? 

I promote positive change in my community by treating everyone I encounter with kindness and respect. You never know what kind of impact a simple smile or hello may have on someone.

I also talk about difficult issues like sexual assault and HIV with my family and friends. I hope that by communicating with others about these issues, we can work toward reducing stigma and shame.

6. What advice would you give to someone who is hesitant about becoming an active member of this movement? 

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I would say just go for it! I was new to the issues of HIV and sexual assault but I didn’t let that stop me from learning more and joining the fight to end them. Join the PAC, go to events sponsored by STAR, or become a volunteer advocate. These are all good ways to get involved in the movement to end sexual violence.

 

 

Get involved and make change with STAR!

Agents of Change: Alix Tarnowsky

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There are many people in our community working to create positive change to end sexual violence. We want to feature as many of them as possible. If you would like to submit a recommendation, please email prevention@star.ngo.


Being able to provide the survivor a safe space in which to process their feelings and not be judged is important to me. Knowing that a survivor feels supported and believed after leaving the hospital makes me proud to represent STAR.

– Alix Tarnowsky

1. What is your position at STAR? 

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I am the Advocacy Director for the Greater New Orleans office. As the AD, I manage and support our Resource Advocates, part-time Medical Advocates, and dedicated volunteers as they work with survivors. Additionally, I work in the community to establish partnerships, recruit volunteers, and help raise awareness for STAR and the work that we do.

2. How did you come to work at STAR?

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be Olivia Benson [of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit] when I grew up. The way she supported and championed all survivors impacted the way I viewed sexual assault. At one point, I even considered joining the NOPD to become a Sex Crimes Detective.

Prior to joining STAR, I was running a program focused on developing healthy relationship and conflict resolution skills for teens and young adults. Through this work, I found myself being drawn towards working with survivors of sexual trauma but didn’t have the capacity to do so at my agency. When I saw that STAR was hiring for its New Orleans office, I immediately applied and provided an offering to the goddess of dream jobs.

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3. What do you find most rewarding about your work at STAR?

The most rewarding aspect of my job is being able to offer support and assistance to survivors. Too often, survivors are ashamed about the assault and arrive at the hospital alone and nervous.

Being able to provide the survivor a safe space in which to process their feelings and not be judged is important to me. Knowing that a survivor feels supported and believed after leaving the hospital makes me proud to represent STAR.

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4. What motivates you to keep going when things get difficult or discouraging?

When the crisis line is ringing non-stop or I’ve spent countless hours at the hospital with a survivor, I try to take a moment and think back to one of the first survivors I helped. When she was leaving the hospital, she turned to me and said, “Thank you so much for being here, you made this bearable. I wish you had been there when I was raped the first time.”

On the rare occasion that doesn’t work, I look in a mirror and tell myself, “Make Olivia proud,” which usually does the trick.

5. What are some simple, day-to-day ways you promote positive change in your community? 

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It can be difficult to confront a friend or family member when they make comments or jokes that are offensive or inappropriate. I’ve found that the easiest way to address their bad joke is to tell them, with a straight face, that I don’t understand it. When I challenge the joke, it often provides a space for us to discuss the ideas perpetuated by the joke. If that doesn’t work, it at least sends the signal that I don’t tolerate that type of humor in my presence.

Also, I hold the door for others and hope that they pass it on.

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6. What advice would you give to someone who is hesitant about becoming an active member of this movement? 

Start with something small, such as thanking a friend when they disclose and telling them that you believe them. Acknowledging and accepting a survivor’s experience helps challenge rape culture while working towards ending sexual trauma.

And once you’re ready to be more involved in working directly with survivors, give me a call and I can set you up in our volunteer training! We are always looking for dedicated individuals who want to provide support to survivors.

 

Get involved and make change with STAR!

State Task Force to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse

On August 11, just before unprecedented flooding began to devastate many areas of South Louisiana, Prevent Child Abuse Louisiana sent out a call for testimonials to inform the work of Louisiana’s Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Children. This task force was created by the Louisiana Legislature in 2014 pursuant to Senate Concurrent Resolution 69 and further provided for in the 2015 Regular Session in Senate Concurrent Resolution 14.

Below is a slightly edited version of what STAR® submitted to the Task Force. If you are a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, or have other expertise on the topic, please consider contributing your testimony to the Task Force by responding to this questionnaire.

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Current State of the Problem

As an agency that serves individuals aged 12 and older who experience sexual trauma, STAR sees many clients who have been affected by child sexual abuse. The majority of our counseling clients are now adults and they are seeking services for abuse they experienced as a child. We also see that it is common for adults who are assaulted to have histories of childhood sexual abuse, which is consistent with national research that indicates that children who are sexually abused are at a greater risk for being assaulted again.

Child sexual abuse is an adverse childhood experience, and there is a significant connection between abuse at a young age and poor mental, physical and behavioral health outcomes later in life. We also see this in our clients at STAR—many of whom struggle with substance abuse, mental illness and other health problems.

What is Working?

In the Capital Region, STAR works with the Baton Rouge Children’s Advocacy Center to ensure that children and adults who experience sexual trauma have resources and support from our agencies. We collaborate formally through our Sexual Assault Response Team (SART), and have co-hosted support groups for children, teen and non-offending parents to address sexual abuse within families.

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What is Not Working?

Resources for prevention are incredibly limited. Many health care workers, educators and representatives of partner organization are not provided with the necessary information and knowledge to adequately and effectively address sexual abuse.

In addition to these issues with adults, there is very limited prevention information disseminated to children through school or after school programming. STAR has several curricula available to teach youth about boundaries, healthy relationships and violence prevention; however, many schools do not take advantage of this free service due to academic achievement and testing demands, despite that we know trauma can have negative impacts on students’ academic achievement. Additionally, with funding for only one prevention educator, our organization does not have nearly enough resources to address this need alone. To address the issue of sexual violence, all state and community institutions must make it a priority.

Finally, there is limited funding for services to survivors of child sexual abuse. At STAR, we receive no state funding, nor do any other sexual assault centers in the state. We rely heavily on competitive Federal grants to allow us to provide our advocacy, counseling and legal services to survivors and their loved ones free of charge.

Throughout the state, there are only 13 sexual assault service providers, while the numbers of those affected are staggering. There are many parishes in our state that are entirely unserved. Given this need, STAR currently serves the Capital, Central Louisiana and Greater New Orleans Areas (covering 14 parishes total), with 20 full-time and 6 part-time staff members. Given that sexual violence is experienced at epidemic levels, and given the often long-term and far-reaching impacts of this hidden epidemic, Louisiana survivors of sexual violence deserve much better access to resources.

What is Needed

  • Resources to train and inform mandatory reporters so that they have the skills and knowledge to report sexual abuse of minors
  • Increased funding for child sexual abuse services and prevention education
  • State leaders to make services for all survivors of sexual violence (children and adults) a priority
  • State leaders to make sexual violence prevention programming and awareness a priority
  • State leaders to recognize and understand the distinction between sexual violence and domestic violence, and why specialized services for sexual trauma are important
  • More research into sex offenders; including identifying risk factors for perpetration, intervention for low-risk offenders (prior to jail time), and management and treatment of offenders (both in prison and re-entry services)

your voice matters

To submit your own experience or expertise of child sexual abuse to the task force, fill out this questionnaire.

The Intersection: Nate Parker, Denial and the Damage Done

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The Intersection is a regular, in-depth segment in which we examine the many layers of oppression, violence, and trauma that we encounter in our survivor-focused and community-based work at STAR.

The Background

Nate Parker is an actor, writer and director who has recently received a great deal of attention for his new film The Birth of a Nation, which is based on the Nat Turner slave rebellion.

Given the persistence of racism and white supremacy in America today, Parker’s rising star has been a source of hope for many, especially many black Americans. Then, a few weeks ago, media outlets began reporting on a 1999 trial where Parker and his friend and collaborator Jean Celestin were tried for rape of a fellow college student, a white woman. Parker was found not guilty, reportedly in part because he had a prior consensual sexual interaction with the victim (which does not mean the incident in question was consensual). Celestin was found guilty and served six months in prison.

In 2002, the victim sued Penn State for “deliberate indifference” and failure to protect her from sexual harassment she endured from Parker and Celestin after the rape.

In 2012, the victim committed suicide after reportedly suffering from depression and PTSD in the years since the rape.

Parker was reportedly unaware of her suicide until it was widely publicized two weeks ago. Around this time, he gave interviews that sparked backlash from rape survivors and anti-rape activists. After two weeks of subsequent silence, Ebony published a more extensive interview with Parker last weekend, in which he describes having sought to educate himself more on sexual assault in the past two weeks, consulting with confidantes who are educated in feminism and informed about sexual violence. This essay is a response to that interview.

Sexual violence is often a controversial issue. Individual allegations are typically highly contested, often more so when made by a white woman against a black man. We live in a historical context of hundreds of years of racist violence and oppression, where countless black men have been victims of extrajudicial murder (lynchings) and a racist legal system, often on the basis of false, unproven or unfounded charges of sexual harassment or assault of white women. Case in point, this past Sunday was the 61st anniversary of the murder of Emmitt Till, one of many horrific and unjust instances of this. Meanwhile, white men routinely committed rape but were held much less accountable, a racist legacy that continues to this day.

Our country’s history is also characterized by epidemic levels of rape committed by members of all races against members of all races. All of these things are true and warrant consideration in our conversations about sexual violence. It is with this complexity in mind that we respond to Nate Parker’s Ebony interview.


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Ebony’s recent interview with Nate Parker may be unlike anything that’s been published before. It is the portrait of a man who has maintained his innocence about a rape he was accused of committing years ago, and who is now publicly reckoning with new understanding and information that challenges his self-perception as an innocent man. Here is an excerpt:

NP: I was acting as if I was the victim, and that’s wrong. I was acting as if I was the victim because I felt like, my only thought was I’m innocent and everyone needs to know. I didn’t even think for a second about her, not even for a second.

You asked me why I wasn’t empathetic? Why didn’t it come off more empathetic? Because I wasn’t being empathetic. Why didn’t it come off more contrite? Because I wasn’t being contrite. Maybe I was being even arrogant. And learning about her passing shook me, it really did. It really shook me.

E: Had you thought about her and this incident over the last 17 years?

NP: No, I had not. I hadn’t thought about it at all.

Parker admits that he had not thought about the incident over the last seventeen years; he was able to put it behind him and go on with his life. For his victim, there was no such peace to be found. A brother of the victim was recently interviewed by Variety:

In court, she testified that she had attempted to kill herself twice after the reported rape. Her brother said that she suffered from depression after the incident. Her death certificate, obtained by Variety, stated that she suffered from ‘major depressive disorder with psychotic features, PTSD due to physical and sexual abuse, polysubstance abuse….’

‘If I were to look back at her very short life and point to one moment where I think she changed as a person, it was obviously that point,’ Johnny told Variety. He said that prior to entering college, his sister was an outgoing, popular girl who loved animals and school. He envisioned a career in marketing or media for her. ‘The trial was pretty tough for her,’ he said…

‘It’s hard,’ he said, ‘seeing my sister’s life slowly crumble while these men are by all accounts relatively successful and thriving.’

Part of reducing the prevalence of rape involves valuing the humanity of people who have committed rape, and prioritizing their treatment and rehabilitation. It’s essential, though, that we center the experiences and humanity of the victim or survivor whose life has been forever impacted, and in this case destroyed, by those who committed rape.

Parker is still alive to speak on these events and help shape public perception of them, seventeen years later. His victim is not. Only the public record and her family survive to offer her perspective.

According to these sources, Parker’s victim was sentenced to a lifetime of trauma by those who committed rape, harassment, and institutional negligence against her. It was too much to bear. 

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When I started working at STAR in 2012 (the same year this victim committed suicide), I began immersing myself in survivors’ stories. From the public, I heard tales of misunderstanding and confusion about consent, and of “good guys” being victims of false charges or otherwise undeserving of accountability.

When I listened to survivors’ experiences, however, I found a different, more challenging picture: one of violently disempowering assault, utter disregard for consent, and destructively traumatic impacts. The public perception of rape decidedly did not match survivors’ experiences.

Given this inconsistency, I also wanted to hear from offenders. And in listening to them, I found that their version is usually what the public latches on to and believes, though this makes no sense. People are not traumatized by consensual sex. So how is it that a person may be forever traumatized by a rape and its aftermath, but both the offender and the public treat the incident in question as consensual?

After the high-profile rape charges against Kobe Bryant were dropped, he made an interesting statement:

“Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.”

This is a perfect example of how the offender’s version of the story is viewed as a more credible version of reality, while the survivor’s perspective and observable, documented impacts of trauma are dismissed. This is where we find ourselves: we can acknowledge that an alleged victim didn’t “feel like” she consented, while maintaining that no one is guilty of rape. Repeatedly, we encounter rapes with no rapist.

Part of this is because rape often doesn’t come down to sadism, like we are taught to believe. It is too often rooted in something horrifically mundane: thoughtlessness, self-centeredness, arrogance, and a lack of empathy and consideration for others that thrives in a context of unexamined power and privilege.

That is what is truly upsetting: that committing rape can be done so casually, yet be so destructive.

In the Ebony interview, Nate Parker demonstrates thoughtful self-questioning and self-examination, and this is commendable. He also demonstrates continued denial, which is a problem.

According to Mayo Clinic:

When you’re in denial, you:

  • Refuse to acknowledge a stressful problem or situation
  • Avoid facing the facts of the situation
  • Minimize the consequences of the situation

Denial is a coping mechanism and a form of self-protection, but there is often overlap between self-protection and antisocial, harmful behavior. Parker’s belief in his own innocence is likely how he justified his range of traumatizing actions. Yet now he is having to confront the dissonance between his view of himself and the evidence of the impacts of his behavior on the victim.

It makes sense for anyone who has committed rape to be in denial. The problem is when we as a society automatically believe the accused without considering that they have every incentive to deny the accusation and distort what really happened for the purposes of self-protection.

In the interview, Parker cannot bring himself to label his actions as rape. Sure, it is only a few weeks since he has been made to reckon with this publicly, and only so much growth and developed consciousness is possible in the span of two weeks. And there are possibly liability issues to consider.

Still, it has been seventeen years since he was on trial for rape. He says learning of the victim’s suicide “shook” him. Does being accused of rape not “shake” someone and cause self-reflection on how they may have unthinkingly raped or harmed someone? When there is living, breathing evidence of trauma, is that not enough to shake you?

Parker has recently consulted with survivors, placing the burden of educating him two decades too late on those who have already endured enough. In response to one of his questions, yes, there are notable black men speaking up about toxic masculinity, gender, and sexual violence, many who have been doing so for years. Here are just a few:

To his credit, Parker states: “This is a step of one of many, many, many, many steps I need to take toward a lot of things that will refine me and make me better suited for leading anyone out of any place of injustice to a place of justice. I got work to do. I got a lot of work to do within myself.”

Seventeen years after the fact, perhaps we can take this interview as a sign of progress with regard to increased public awareness and accountability for rape. It is also too little, too late. Sadly, that’s the only kind of progress any oppressed people can hope for.

Here’s hoping that many more revelations lead to acknowledgment, acceptance, and meaningful action to prevent future perpetration of rape. To accomplish this, we must all refuse to sanitize and minimize the violence we and our role models have committed in the past.