Agents of Change: Emily Broussard

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The movement to end sexual trauma needs women and men who are passionate about human rights and justice for all. It needs people who are compassionate, understanding, and empathetic. If you have any of these qualities, then you are right for the job.

– Emily Broussard

1. What is your position at STAR?

I am both a medical advocate and hotline advocate with STAR. I have been a volunteer with STAR since March 2016.

2. How did you come to volunteer with STAR or in the field of sexual assault prevention/response?

As an undergraduate at UL Lafayette, I was a research assistant for the Psychology Department in the Sexual Violence Research Lab. While in the department I spearheaded my own research studies and assisted my professor and graduate students with their research. Through the lab, I learned about being an advocate. Once I graduated from UL, I moved to New Orleans and began volunteering in the child care center at Metropolitan Center for Women and Children. The social workers at Metro Center connected me with STAR.

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

The most rewarding thing about working with STAR is being there in the moment when someone really needs it. Most of the time, the survivors I work with are alone, and it is a very rewarding feeling to be with the survivor when they are in most need even if it is just to listen. STAR is also different than any other volunteer organization I’ve ever worked under. It’s not a one-time thing, and STAR trusts its volunteers by giving them a lot of responsibility. This actually makes me feel like I’m making a difference in the survivors’ lives in the moment.

4. What motivates you to keep going when things get difficult or discouraging, and how do you practice self-care?

I like to reflect every time I visit with a survivor. That reflection time is what motivates me to keep going. I always think about what I will do differently next time to ensure that I make the survivor feel as comfortable as possible. I also think about how the definition of comfort is different for every survivor, and I ponder what that might look like the next time I visit a survivor.

5. What are some ways you promote positive change in your community, outside of your work duties?

I volunteer on weekends because during the weekday I am a full-time/over-time fourth grade English Language Arts teacher here in New Orleans. Many of the students I teach experience extreme poverty and the hardships associated with urban poverty. I have many missions as a teacher of nine- and ten-year-olds. One is to empower them to see school as an option to lift them out of their situation. Another is to provide them with a safe and enriching space to grow as a kind and compassionate human being who thinks critically about the world around them. Lastly, my mission is to help students see their self-worth and to build the confidence and strength that they will need in order to endure the times ahead. My students need to know that they are valuable and that their lives should be celebrated despite what the world around them may say.

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

I know that it seems like a large and scary thing to undertake. But if not you, then who? The movement to end sexual trauma needs women and men who are passionate about human rights and justice for all. It needs people who are compassionate, understanding, and empathetic. If you have any of these qualities, then you are right for the job. These qualities are what outweigh the scariness of it all.

Get involved and make change with STAR:

Click here for more ways to get involved.

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Agents of Change: Rebecca Marchiafava

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I feel connected to a constellation of staff members, volunteers, interns, donors and community partners who recognize the severity of sexual violence and work to make positive impacts from individual to systemic levels. Despite the entrenched challenges we face, it’s motivating to be connected to so many people working for positive change.

– Rebecca Marchiafava

 

1. What is your position at STAR?

I’m currently STAR’s Vice President, which encompasses a lot of things! I support daily operations in our three branches while helping advance our development as an agency and ensure that STAR’s efforts are benefitting survivors and changing our communities for the better.

Victim advocacy and violence prevention work commonly result in vicarious trauma and burnout, so I work to ensure that our organization values our staff, supports their self-care, fosters a positive working environment, and manages our resources and capacity so that we can continue thriving over the long-term.

2. How did you come to work at STAR or in the field of sexual assault prevention/response?

I was hired as STAR’s Community Educator in 2012. I had just finished an Education Policy Master’s program and as someone with previous experience in the classroom, was excited at the prospect of providing community education to a wide variety of people in different settings about an issue that I cared about. Still, at that time I had no idea how much taking this job would change my life.

As Community Educator, I managed STAR’s outreach and youth and adult education. I also performed direct victim advocacy over the hotline and at hospitals. Even though I cared about the issue of sexual violence before working at STAR, sometimes I look back at my pre-STAR life and wonder what I knew at all! I have learned so much through doing this work. It has been challenging and changed the way I see the world, but I found a true passion for bringing the topic of sexual assault into the open and improving the way communities treat survivors and respond to sexual assault.

Throughout my time at STAR, I was promoted into a program director role and ultimately to the position of Vice President. I feel privileged to be a part of STAR’s continued development as an agency and to have the opportunity to do this work.

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

There have been so many rewarding experiences in my time at STAR, and they all have one thing in common—they are instances when I’ve been a participant in and/or a witness to change.

I feel rewarded when survivors share that they have felt empowered by a training I facilitated, or when a male high school student thoughtfully asks during a training, “Is this what people mean when they talk about rape culture?”

Working with fellow STAR staff to solve problems is also rewarding. I am grateful to work for an organization that values accountability and critical self-reflection, and is always seeking to improve the way we operate. In the past five years, we have grown from a staff of 5 serving one region to 23 full-time and 13 part-time staff serving three regions. It’s been a wild, bumpy ride and I’m sure it will continue to be, but at this point I’m able to see the fruits of so many of our labors. It’s rewarding and awe-inspiring.

4. What motivates you to keep going when things get difficult or discouraging, and how do you practice self-care?

There are many difficult aspects to this work.

Client confidentiality is a crucial cornerstone of sexual assault victim advocacy, and we take it very seriously. At the same time, this means we are witnesses to injustices day after day that we cannot speak out about. We watch manipulative offenders and everyone around them avoid the only question that matters: “Did the victim consent?” We repeatedly watch community members give power to offenders of sexual violence at the expense of survivors. We work in a state that allocates $0 to fund sexual assault services and refuses to research the prevalence of sexual abuse, including child sexual abuse. I could go on, but the point is that sexual violence is an ingrained community norm that people and institutions frequently deny and resist confronting.

To deal with this reality, I try to accept the world as it is and work for the world that should be. I try to remember that there will always be barriers and bumps in the road so that I’m not overly discouraged by difficulty. I also find joy in the process! I work with amazing, inspiring colleagues. STAR thrives as much as it does in this environment thanks to the fierce, resourceful, passionate advocates I work with, as well as our many supporters and partners in this work. I feel connected to a constellation of staff members, volunteers, interns, donors and community partners who recognize the severity of sexual violence and work to make positive impacts from individual to systemic levels. Despite the entrenched challenges we face, it’s motivating to be connected to so many people working for positive change.

As for self-care, I firmly believe that by taking care of myself, I’m better able to fulfill my responsibilities to others and to my community. I’m introverted and my job requires me to engage with people a lot, so I practice self-care by taking time for myself on the weekends. Engaging in healthy relationships is critical to my well-being, so I regularly spend time with my friends and loved ones and am incredibly grateful to have people in my life who show me lots of love and support. I practice yoga, swim, read, play games, take personal days, and meet with my therapist as needed. I keep up with the news but resist being manipulated by the daily news cycle, and work to focus my energies in proactive rather than reactive ways. I also love to travel; it’s one of my favorite ways to disconnect from the work and come back to it with renewed energy and creativity. Oh, and I have a pet cat named Luci and she is the best! I give her belly rubs every day when I get home while she meows approvingly and rolls around on the carpet. She’s precious.

5. What are some ways you promote positive change in your community, outside of your work duties?

All sexual violence is an abuse of power and I see many connections between sexual violence and other forms of oppression. This overarching anti-oppression framework drives my efforts in both my paid and volunteer work.

For over a decade I’ve volunteered with various organizations in Baton Rouge, but most recently I’ve begun serving as a volunteer facilitator for Dialogue on Race Louisiana. I love the face-to-face, authentic work of engaging in dialogue that changes people and institutions and I firmly believe all Louisianans have a responsibility to confront and address racism. My involvement with Dialogue on Race has helped me become more informed and equipped to take action toward racial justice in many areas of my life and work.

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

My advice is to be willing to learn and to believe that you have a role to play in making things better. You will not be able to fix the entire problem, but you’ll be able to contribute positively. Don’t focus on where you are powerless—focus on your spheres of influence and where you do have power, and connect with STAR to access resources and information that can help you figure out what action you can take.

I’d also advise that this movement is for everyone. Everyone is affected by sexual violence. Every family, organization, community group, and corporation encounters survivors and offenders of sexual violence. Acknowledging this and making the decision to do something about it is the only way things will get better. And STAR is here to help.

 

Get involved and make change with STAR:

Click here for more ways to get involved.

Agents of Change: Mandy Roberts

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Actively becoming more aware of rape culture and taking a stand to not contribute to or indulge offensive comments, jokes, conversations, and actions that would continue to normalize it can make a much larger difference than you would believe.

– Mandy Roberts

1. What is your connection to STAR?

I am a volunteer hotline and medical advocate for STAR. I basically provide an environment of nonjudgmental emotional support and advocacy, safety planning, resource referrals, and any other assistance I can through the hotline or in person during hospital call outs.

The hours throughout the forensic exam process and potential police interview can seem long, invasive, and uncomfortable for survivors, and many of them can feel alone even when surrounded by others. I try to be someone who can offer a sense of comfort and unity by openly rooting for them and helping them focus on their strengths and any possible positives.

2. How did you come to volunteer with STAR and/or in the field of sexual assault prevention/response?

The topic of sexual assault in general as well as prevention and response has always been something that I considered important. One of the factors that made me aware of the subject even as a child was watching Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, and being able to witness and discuss the injustice so many underwent almost on a daily basis. For so long, talking about sexual assault has been something of a “hush hush” conversation, and almost considered taboo to be open about in public.

The issue is associated with shame, doubt, and victim blaming, all of which are completely unacceptable to me. As a Psychology major at my University, I am provided the opportunity to learn about and discuss it much more openly on a regular basis with those who consider it as important as I do. This has really allowed me to see how unaware many are of the prevalence of sexual assault as well as its various effects, not only on the survivor, but on their families and community as well. When I heard about STAR through a classmate who thought I would be interested, I knew it would be the perfect opportunity for me to do what I can while I am also in school.

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

One of the biggest rewards about doing work with STAR is seeing the overwhelming compassion that many people give to others when they’re down and need it the most, regardless of how unsettling the situation may be for them. That fundamental human to human concern and support is something that comforts me each time I witness it.

While it can be easy to just focus on the ugly parts of this kind of work, which can make you start to accumulate a pessimistic outlook and even feel hopeless, the care that is shown by the SANE nurses, workers at STAR, fellow volunteers, and the community in general continually motivates and reassures me about how much good can really be found in others. Seeing people come together and give of themselves for a cause that so desperately needs it will forever inspire me.

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

There are instances where you see or hear something horrendous and just want to retreat inside of yourself and ask how it can even be possible for someone to begin to recover, but then they do. They learn to cope, persevere, and grow, and their strength and will continually amaze me. I’ve gone on a medical call-out that lasted several hours and I’ll never forget the amount of concern that was shed over my well-being, from inquiries about food to physical comfort within the room, all by someone who had suffered a truly horrifying injustice not half a day earlier. Their courage and determination humbles me, and promotes my own in turn.

In addition, I have a wonderful support system. My friends and family are always here and openly showing their support and willingness to aid me in any way they can, between providing me with activities to keep myself upbeat and positive to simply being an open ear if I ever need to vent out any frustrations. Self-care is extremely important, because I want to give the best of myself I can to someone. I love simply taking drives and singing along to the radio with a friend, and taking fun trips that lighten my spirit and recharge my mind.

5. What are some ways you promote positive change in your community, outside of your work duties?

I always try to be someone who’s openly available for others to reach out to. While I do discuss the seriousness of sexual assault and rape culture with family, friends, and classmates quite often, I also make an effort to be a person others will see as a comfortable and trusted place to go for someone to listen, ask questions to, or simply discuss something with. You never know how a simple conversation and just being there for someone to be heard in that moment can change everything. Training in suicide awareness at my university taught me that the smallest acts of compassion can change someone’s life — a simple “Are you okay? I’m here for you,” can be someone’s lifeline.

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

From a small donation to crisis centers, raising awareness within your family, community, or other organizations, to volunteering or participating in outreach, anything helps. There is nothing you can do, no matter how small, that won’t be appreciated and valued in some way.

Actively becoming more aware of rape culture and taking a stand to not contribute to or indulge offensive comments, jokes, conversations, and actions that would continue to normalize it can make a much larger difference than you would believe. Do what you can and what you are comfortable with, but doing something is all it takes.

 

 

Get involved and make change with STAR:

Click here for more ways to get involved.

Agents of Change: Osha Sempel

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This truly becomes my driving force. I think about the survivors I have worked with throughout the years. In thinking about their courage, strength, and resiliency, I am reminded of my own. This is one powerful reminder that helps me through the difficult times.

– Osha Sempel

1. What is your position at STAR?

I am a medical advocate for STAR. I provide support, resources, and advocacy for survivors of sexual assault before, during, and after the forensic exam at the hospital. The steps involved in collecting evidence for a forensic exam are extensive and often take a few hours. For a survivor, this can be an overwhelming time that they should never have to go through alone. A big part of this job is helping survivors in that moment with whatever they might need, whether it’s navigating the steps of the forensic exam or simply finding a blanket.

2. How did you come to work at STAR and/or in the field of sexual assault prevention/response?

I originally started doing research around sexual assault in grad school and was shocked to find such high numbers of sexual assault occurrences. I couldn’t believe how common sexual assault was in my own community and felt compelled to do something. I started doing this work seven years ago as a work study position and then later as a volunteer. I began with STAR shortly after STAR’s New Orleans office opened, originally as a volunteer before being hired as a part-time medical advocate.

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

This work will inspire and remind you of all the bravery, compassion, and resiliency that exists. I remember the first call-out I ever went on. I was so humbled by the fearlessness of the survivor. Seven years later, I continue to be humbled by survivors of sexual assault. Witnessing their courage and strength is the most rewarding part of my job.

Another rewarding part for me involve others that I work with. Being part of an organization like STAR that provides such thorough follow-up and quality services has been a big part of making this work fulfilling. I am a piece of a larger process that overall is effecting change in this community, and that is very powerful. Additionally, the compassion of the SAFE nurses that I have worked with over the years is another part that keeps me going. Their ability to conduct a thorough, detailed forensic exam while still showing empathy and kindness towards the survivor is so valuable. The good work that is constantly being done is beyond rewarding.

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

This can be really challenging work — at times it can be heart-wrenching. There are times when you feel very discouraged or emotional.  However, there are always moments where compassion, courage, and strength shine through. This truly becomes my driving force. I think about the survivors I have worked with throughout the years. In thinking about their courage, strength, and resiliency, I am reminded of my own. This is one powerful reminder that helps me through the difficult times.

Additionally, having the support of my supervisor and the other STAR staff is crucial for me. They offer encouragement and support that is essential. I also try to practice self-care so that I am able to be physically and emotionally healthy when working with survivors of sexual assault. For me, self-care is about taking the time to regroup and recharge. I do this in various ways, but my favorites are taking walks, spending time with family, and cooking.

5. What are some ways you promote positive change in your community, outside of your work duties?

I am always looking for opportunities to educate others surrounding sexual assault. Challenging myths that promote rape culture, engaging in dialogue around the seriousness of these issues, and promoting survivors coming forward are some of the ways I try to support positive change.

Additionally, I work as a school social worker at an amazing elementary that focuses on using restorative approaches and trauma-informed practices with our students. I have the privilege of working alongside some amazing teachers, administrators, and other mental health workers to effect change with children in our community.

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

I would say to challenge yourself to become part of this important movement to end sexual trauma. Unfortunately, we have all been affected by sexual assault or will be at some point in our lifetime. Your support can help make a difference. There are all kinds of ways to be an active member of this movement and to help. One powerful way is to educate yourself. Gain knowledge from reading articles and books, watching documentaries, attending presentations, and finding out who the local experts and resources are in your community. From this knowledge, you can educate others.

 

 

Get involved and make change with STAR:

Click here for more ways to get involved.

Agents of Change: Dana Rock

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 I have a great amount of respect and awe for survivors and their willingness to be vulnerable with me. I feel privileged to be a witness to their change process. Seeing that I am making a difference, whether that is from a therapeutic breakthrough or a simple “thank you for listening” at the end of a session, is very gratifying.

– Dana Rock

1. What is your position at STAR?

I am currently a Counselor in STAR’s Baton Rouge office. I provide both individual and group counseling to survivors of sexual trauma and their loved ones. I work to help survivors process and learn how to cope with their trauma by providing a supportive, nonjudgmental space.

2. How did you come to work at STAR and/or in the field of sexual assault prevention/response?

I first came in contact with STAR as a Master of Social Work intern during my first year of graduate school. I always had an interest in sex crimes, which at the time meant that I loved to watch Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. My internship showed me how little I really knew about sexual violence. My eyes were opened to the depth and gravity of this issue. I saw the multiple barriers that survivors face when trying to find both justice and healing and realized that this was not just an interpersonal issue, but a problem that affects the entire community.

Serving sexual assault survivors and working with the inspirational staff at STAR awoke a passion in me. I decided I wanted to focus my career on trauma recovery, and I was lucky enough to be hired as a counselor at STAR directly after graduating.

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

There is so much shame and secrecy surrounding sexual assault. Often, clients have held onto this secret for years and suffered in silence. It takes a great amount of courage to come to a stranger and talk about such a painful experience, and I have a great amount of respect and awe for survivors and their willingness to be vulnerable with me. I feel privileged to be a witness to their change process. Seeing that I am making a difference, whether that is from a therapeutic breakthrough or a simple “thank you for listening” at the end of a session, is very gratifying.

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

The work can definitely be difficult, so there are several things I do. First, I try to focus on what I can do for someone with the one hour that they are in my office each week. I focus on giving them a space to feel heard, validated, and believed.

Second, I remember to focus on the positives. I think about the inspiring work that I have seen clients do: the survivor of childhood sexual abuse who finally feels free after 30 years of pain, the survivor of rape that now wants to be an advocate in order to help other survivors, the man who now understands that the abuse he suffered was not his fault. Survivors are constantly reminding me that there is hope for healing.

Finally, and most importantly, I lean on others for support. STAR staff are incredibly supportive and we encourage each other to talk when the job is challenging. Also, I am lucky enough to have an amazing group of family and friends to turn to when I am having a hard time.

5. What are some ways you promote positive change in your community, outside of your work duties?

I think the importance of being kind is often underrated. I am often told that I am too nice, but I see this as a positive thing! I strive to be compassionate with others both inside and outside of work by remembering that you never know what someone else is going through.

Also, I educate my family and friends about sexual assault. There are many myths out there that perpetuate rape culture and further discourage survivors from seeking help. When I hear incorrect information, I gently correct people. I’ve had several friends ask me for advice on how to support someone they knew who was assaulted. Simply being known in my small social circle as a trusted person on this issue can have a positive impact on survivors that might not necessarily come in contact with STAR on their own.

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

I would have to say that your help does matter and it is definitely needed! Every step in the right direction, no matter how small, helps put an end to sexual violence. Whether you are currently aware of it or not, this movement is close to you in some way. Statistics show that sexual assault is, unfortunately, very common. There is someone in your life, possibly a friend, family member, or coworker, who is a survivor.

Many people feel at a loss for how to get involved, but it can be as simple as being available to someone else. Survivors are often afraid that their loves ones will not believe them or understand what they have been through. I have three simple suggestions for you: listen, believe, and don’t judge. You cannot imagine the positive impact you can have on someone’s recovery if you do just those three things.

 

If interested in STAR’s free and confidential counseling services, call 1-855-435-STAR. 

Get involved and make change with STAR:

Click here for more ways to get involved.

Agents of Change: Ann Guedry

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There are many people in the communities we serve who are 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.


Doing this work has…made me so much more socially aware about the fact that society doesn’t always work the way we would like it to. Doing this work helped me to see how certain choices will make things better for people who don’t have power, and to really understand what it means to lack power.

– Ann Guedry

1. What is your current connection to STAR?

I am currently serving on STAR’s Capital Area Regional Council. Prior to this, I was asked to serve as a founding Board member of STAR during the organization’s transition into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

2. You’ve been involved with STAR/Rape Crisis since the beginning. What led you to care about sexual violence as a community problem, and how did you initially get involved with community efforts to address the problem?

My background was in nursing and it actually prepared me very well. I had worked with mental health patients where we did support groups, and I also worked as an emergency room supervisor, which brought me into contact with not only all the usual mayhem but with problems with sexual assault, too, so I was aware of these things.

In 1986, my youngest daughter had just started college and I was looking for something different and interesting to do, so I began working with the District Attorney’s Rape Crisis Center. I started as a Volunteer Advisor after I found out about the job opening from a friend who was leaving her position there, and I fell in love with the work.

After a few years, I began doing crisis counseling and support groups with survivors. The adolescent group was my favorite because you see a lot of change and growth. You see people, after they have been there for several weeks, reaching out to help each other and new people in particular. I also did outreach and community education work, and that was a part of the job that I very much enjoyed.

3. What were the needs of the community in the early days of the Rape Crisis Center? How have you seen the community response to sexual violence change for the better?

Sexual assault at that time was not being discussed openly very much. I think that one of the reasons it wasn’t being discussed was because, in general, people were not reporting because they were afraid of what might happen. Many people felt that it was up to the woman or the victim to put a stop to the behavior and that if she didn’t, then it was her fault. So there was a lot of victim blaming.

In those days, it was a big step forward just to bring this problem to the forefront, and to have people begin to understand that this is a crime, not just an interpersonal disagreement. I remember that Oregon was the first state that made it a crime for a husband to rape their wife. I don’t remember the year, but it was years later when a similar law was passed in Louisiana.

The person who really got behind the early Rape Crisis Center was the East Baton Rouge District Attorney at that time, Ossie Brown. He originally did a lot of outreach to doctors to get them to perform sexual assault forensic exams on a volunteer basis. Then, he got the Junior League of Baton Rouge to do a pilot program. There were probably 10 or 12 Junior Leaguers that spent a lot of time for a few years on this. That is how we ended up having a core of people who had been from the original Junior League pilot program as volunteers. Those Junior League volunteers were some of our most dependable, reliable, long-lasting volunteers, so we will forever be grateful to them. And one of the nice things about Junior League’s involvement was that this made it socially acceptable to women in the community to talk about the issue and to get involved.

From what I have read, we were one of the first Rape Crisis programs in the country. And in the early 1980s, The Baton Rouge Rape Crisis Center was given a national honor as an exemplary program by the United States Department of Justice. That was before I came on board, but the program was very proud of that.

Over the years, we have continued to receive support from the DA’s Office. Current East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore was instrumental in supporting our transition to nonprofit status and remains a positive force for increasing access to services for victims of crime. I do think that the community response has improved and I think that having the Children’s Advocacy Center has been a great improvement because then we can concentrate on what is really the specialty for us—serving teen and adult survivors of sexual assault.

4. What needs do you see in the community today, and what changes do you think are still needed to better address the problem of sexual violence?

One of the things that I think is a big problem is drinking on college campuses. Many guys have the idea that you can’t be held responsible for something that you do if you’re drunk, and ask the question of why they are responsible if you’re drunk and she’s drunk. My response to that was always that rape is actually a violent act, and if you are the actor and the other person is the receiver of the act, it makes a big difference.

I think that we need to do a better job of not only education in the high schools, but it needs to start pretty young. Girls need to know that they don’t have to go along with sex if they’re not okay with it, and guys need to know that they need to get an okay every single time. Another thing that we run into is where people say that “she can’t say no in the middle.” Well, yes, she can.

I think people knowing it’s okay to talk about these things and how to talk about them is really important.

5. How have you been able to sustain your involvement in these efforts over decades? What motivates you, and what advice do you have for others about getting involved and staying the course?

I’ve seen an awful lot of people get burned out, but I actually think that my particular background doing emergency room work helped me. I learned to be able to close the door and go home and go to bed. I’m very good at compartmentalizing and sometimes that might not be such a good thing, but it’s a good thing to be able to separate your work life from your home life.

A lot of my friends have said to me over the years that they don’t understand how I can do that work and not just be depressed all the time. I tell my friends that I think I never got depressed because this is one of the most rewarding types of work you can do. You don’t do it for the feedback, but it’s very motivating to have someone come in and see the difference between the first appointment and several weeks or months later. For probably 5 years after I retired, I would continue to get notices of high school graduations, college graduations and wedding announcements as time went on. People would write a little note and say, “I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for you.”

6. How has your involvement in these efforts contributed to your life?

I think that doing this work has contributed to me being much more open to people, learning to meet people where they are, and to really hear about other people’s lives. It also made me so much more socially aware about the fact that society doesn’t always work the way we would like it to. Doing this work helped me to see how certain choices will make things better for people who don’t have power, and to really understand what it means to lack power.

I have had the opportunity to develop relationships with incredible people over the years. Early on I was lucky to work with and learn from our volunteers and staff. Later on, I had the opportunity to form relationships with Board members who have done so much for the organization, as well as Racheal, who is just amazing to work with as the leader of STAR.

This work has been a passion for me since I first got involved. I’m not a deeply religious person, but I really feel like this is what I was called to do. I liked working with survivors and their families, I liked working with volunteers, and I loved doing the public speaking part of it. When I came to work for the original Rape Crisis program, I told my husband that I had never worked at a job I didn’t like, but that I felt at home here and just felt like it was a great fit.

 

Get involved and make change with STAR:

Click here for more ways to get involved.

Agents of Change: Raven Duncil

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There are many people in the communities we serve who are 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 think that community leaders need to learn more about the ways sexual violence is impacting those around them, and that this will hopefully inspire them to be more vocal supporters and enact change.

– Raven Duncil

1. What is your connection to STAR?

My connection to STAR started with arm wrestling. I was the “Mistress of Ceremonies” for Baton Rouge Arm Wrestling Ladies (BRAWL), hosting tournaments that raised money and awareness for local organizations/charities that benefit women. In April 2013, we held our first event with STAR as the beneficiary.

The STAR staff and volunteers were amazing to work with, and even participated as arm wrestlers! It was amazing to see them become totally immersed in their arm wrestling persona “The Stigma Stomper and her Sirens of Social Change.” Soon after, I became a donor and joined the Prevention Action Coalition (PAC).

2. What led you to get involved in sexual assault prevention and/or response?  

When I started college, I became involved in Spectrum, a LGBTQ+ student organization at LSU. I became interested in getting involved in other groups, and supporting sexual assault survivors and advocating for prevention was a mission I’m passionate about supporting.

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

Since I began volunteering with STAR, I’ve watched the organization grow from one office in Baton Rouge to having additional offices in New Orleans and Alexandria. There is nothing more rewarding than knowing that more survivors have access to support services, and that more communities learn about prevention and response.

Photo Credit: Jared Landry

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

My biggest motivations are the fellow volunteers and staff at STAR. The PAC meetings are such a supportive environment. Each member brings their own perspective and experiences, but we are all there under the common goal of ending sexual violence. I have also greatly appreciated the compassionate, flexible, and understanding staff who place great importance on self-care.

5. What are some ways you promote positive change in the community, and what change do you think is needed? 

I think that I have been most effective in promoting positive change by questioning others when they perpetuate victim blaming and rape culture, and trying to engage in a dialogue about why being aware of those things is important. I also share the things I have learned from STAR in casual conversation with coworkers, friends, family, etc., which is often an opportunity for us to learn from each other.

I think that community leaders need to learn more about the ways sexual violence is impacting those around them, and that this will hopefully inspire them to be more vocal supporters and enact change. I think these are the first steps to a bigger goal of institutional change in schools, businesses, and government to have programs in place to educate people about consent, prevention, support, and response.

6. What advice would you give to someone who is hesitant to get involved in the movement to end sexual violence?

If you don’t know if you are ready to become a volunteer, all it takes to get involved is being supportive of survivors. When I first became interested in volunteering, I was hesitant because I feared that my anxiety and depression meant that I could not be a positive support to others. STAR let me know that any assistance someone gives makes an impact, and during the times when staying involved becomes too difficult, you have a non-judgemental support system surrounding you that all support the same mission.

Just by being supportive and educating others (if you feel comfortable), you are making a difference. Whatever reason you may be hesitant, know that you can reach out to STAR staff for guidance and support in getting involved.

 

Get involved and make change with STAR:

Click here for more ways to get involved.

Agents of Change: Meta Smith

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There are many people in the communities we serve who are 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 believe that if we can get to the root cause for the things that put folks at risk for contracting HIV, we stand a much better chance at getting the community viral load to zero.

– Meta Smith

1. What work do you do, and what is your connection to STAR?

I am currently the Assistant Director of Prevention at HIV/AIDS Alliance for Region Two (HAART). I am also co-chair for the Louisiana Chapter of Positive Women’s Network (PWN-USA), a national organization started by and for women living with HIV, that has the goal of creating leaders in the community.

My connection to STAR is multi-faceted. My organization works closely with STAR on many of the issues surrounding women and violence and I am also a member of STAR’s Prevention Action Coalition (PAC), which I so love being a part of.

2. What led you to become involved with STAR and the fight against sexual assault? How does the issue of sexual assault connect to other issues you are passionate about?

I became interested in getting involved with STAR sometime last year when Rebecca, STAR’s Vice President, did a presentation for our PWN chapter. I was struck by her commitment, dedication, and passion for ensuring that assault survivors’ voices are heard. It was of great interest to me as I am a survivor of sexual assault and know many folks that have survived as well. Here was a chance for me to be a part of getting out not just information, but honest feelings about an issue that has affected so many others.

It also connects to my professional work and my work with women living with HIV. I believe that HIV is like the flower you see on top of the earth, but all the facets of its growth and changes are underground at the root. I believe that if we can get to the root cause for the things that put folks at risk for contracting HIV, we stand a much better chance at getting the community viral load to zero.

3. What do you find most rewarding about your work and community activism?

The most rewarding thing is just being of service to others, especially women. I believe that only in giving can you receive. At one time, I had no voice and did not think learning how to find it was even an option for me. Boy, was I wrong and it got me to thinking that there must be others who felt the same way–disconnected from society and not quite good enough.

When I contracted HIV, what I thought was a voice quickly went away. Having a super support system help me to stand, and I truly feel that I have an obligation to speak for others until they find their voices. It is my gift back to God who thought enough of me to create opportunities for me to be of service to others.

4. What motivates you to keep going when things get difficult or discouraging? How do you practice self-care? 

More than anything, what motivates me to keep going against all challenges is my real and deep desire to work at making sure no one ever has to feel that they are alone in whatever their challenge is. To see the light come on in the eyes of a woman that finally believes in herself and her dreams, well let me just say there has never been a greater feeling for me.

Self-care for me is my “me-time” days. I take a day or two and watch lots of Chris Rock and Katt Williams and laugh uncontrollably.

5. What are some ways you promote positive change in the community? What change do you think is needed? 

I like to think that I promote positive change in my community by speaking up about the changes that I feel strongly about. I encourage others to know that ALL OUR VOICES matter, that we must be involved in the changes we want to see, and that the only way to get things done is collectively. You see, an open palm is just 5 fingers, but when you make a fist out of the fingers, well now you got yourself some power.

I think and feel the change that is most needed is putting the UNITY back into COMMUNITY. Baton Rouge is our city and it is going to take Baton Rouge to UNITE and be the change we want to see.

 

Get involved and make change with STAR:

Agents of Change: Megan Wilson

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There are many people in the communities we serve who are 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.


Our efforts have already made important impacts in the lives of individuals and on our culture and they can continue to do so. Even small steps are moving us forward.

– Megan Wilson

1. What is your position at STAR?

I am a Resource Advocate at STAR. I work one-on-one with primary and secondary survivors to provide emotional support, assistance, and advocacy. I work with survivors in a variety of ways, including accompanying them to court proceedings, helping them fill out the application for crime victims’ reparations, connecting them to housing resources in the community, or helping them develop a safety plan. Every survivor needs something different. I also coordinate our volunteer program and help with outreach.

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

In college at Northwestern State University, I became involved with the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, a feminist group on campus and my first real introduction to social justice. Through this group, I met all types of people in the community fighting to end sexual violence. They helped me educate myself and become more involved in the movement. We eventually formed another social justice group called Demons Support Demons, a student-run organization whose only goals are to end sexual violence and support survivors of sexual trauma. (The campus mascot is Vic the Demon.) Seeing the way our efforts changed the climate on our campus inspired me to pursue a career that would help me combat these and other social injustices.

STAR came to my attention a few years back while attending a conference with the Feminist Majority in Baton Rouge and again at a conference in New Orleans with Demons Support Demons. When I heard STAR was opening a branch in Central Louisiana, I knew I had to be involved. Fortunately, STAR has created many opportunities for community members to be involved in their mission, including by volunteering, interning, and working there. I’m grateful to be working at STAR and encourage everyone to get involved in any way they can.

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

Seeing the way our everyday actions in Central Louisiana have impacted both the individuals we work with and the community has been the most rewarding aspect so far. I get to be involved with such an important organization and get to help further their mission knowing that we’re succeeding in making a difference.

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

Even if things are hard or seem hopeless, I still have the power to affect people. I can see the differences we’ve made in the individuals I help, our culture, and conversations with loved ones. Our efforts have already made important impacts in the lives of individuals and on our culture and they can continue to do so. Even small steps are moving us forward.

5. What are some ways you promote positive change in your community, outside of work?

I try to not let the work stop completely when I’ve clocked out. In my free time, I continue to educate myself and involve myself and others in the movement. Having discussions with family and friends helps me educate others and learn things myself, so I’m always ready to talk to people. Participating in other community events gives me a chance to meet others and find allies.

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

Do what you can! Every little bit is helpful. If volunteering is not something you can handle, you can help organize events or donation drives, you can donate money or items, or you can just start having conversations with people you trust until you’re more comfortable branching out. Educating people and helping survivors is rewarding, so if you want to start now, take a small step!

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

Get involved and make change with STAR:

Trauma is not a small price to pay

On April 12, 2017, Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro publicly responded to requests from Court Watch NOLA Advocates who demanded that Cannizzaro “stop arresting accusers in rape cases as material witnesses.”

According to District Attorney Cannizzaro, arresting material witnesses in violent crime cases is a “small price to pay” to ensure the safety and protection of the community.

While we agree that the rate of violent crime—especially rape and sexual assault—in New Orleans warrants aggressive intervention from law enforcement and the criminal justice system, arresting victims may just further their victimization.

The trauma of rape and sexual assault profoundly affects victims. Victims report physical, emotional, social and mental health consequences as a result of rape. Research shows that the investigative and criminal justice processes can be overwhelming for victims, causing them to experience increased levels of anxiety and stress. Many victims choose to forego criminal justice intervention in their assault because they are unsure if they could endure the pain of reliving the trauma of their assault and facing their offender in court. In fact, according to the crime reports from the U.S. Department of Justice, only 33.6% of rapes were reported to law enforcement in 2014.

There are an overwhelming number of reasons a victim of rape would choose to remain silent and not report their assault to the police; a few of these include:

  • Blaming themselves for the assault
  • Receiving threats of retaliation from the offender or the offender’s family and friends
  • Having endured prior trauma in interactions within the criminal justice system
  • Desiring accountability measures other than jail for their perpetrator
  • Not wanting family, friends and co-workers to find out about the rape

A rape survivor’s perpetrator has already silenced their voice and used force to accomplish goals against their will. There are opportunities for us to simultaneously value the safety of survivors and hold offenders accountable. As a community, we must work together to ensure that survivors are protected and empowered to seek help in whatever way brings them a sense of justice.