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.

Agents of Change: George Godfrey

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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.


Historically, this is an issue that affects everyone, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, age, or any other category you can think of. This is an all-inclusive issue and the only solution is an all-inclusive one.

– George Godfrey

1. What is your relationship with STAR? 

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I am the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) Coordinator for STAR’s Capital Area branch. As the SART Coordinator, I assist survivors of sexual trauma by communicating with community partners about issues facing survivors and also by coordinating quarterly SART meetings.

The SART is comprised of representatives of local and state agencies that systemically have dealings with survivors of sexual trauma and have taken an active role in improving the way the system interacts with survivors. These include representatives of law enforcement, non-profit agencies, the BR Children’s Advocacy Center, the EBR District Attorney’s Office, area hospitals, the EBR Coroner’s Office, educational institutions, and the State Police Crime Lab.

As a team, we work together to provide collective solutions to the problems that face survivors of sexual trauma, with the goal of improving reporting and prosecution rates.

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

I first learned about STAR while a student at LSU, when STAR was a service-learning site for one of my English classes. Once I came to STAR, I became engaged in some intense and meaningful conversations with STAR’s Vice President, Rebecca Marchiafava, which challenged me to become more involved and to take a more active role in acknowledging that sexual violence is more prevalent than is often portrayed in today’s society. Upon graduating from LSU, I applied for the SART Coordinator position at STAR, which has allowed me the opportunity to challenge others’ ways of thinking about sexual violence and effect positive change within my community.

3. What do you find most rewarding about your work at STAR, and what motivates you to keep going when things get difficult or discouraging?

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The most rewarding part of my job is being able to help people resolve issues in a way that makes their life better or assists them in their efforts to participate in the criminal justice system.

In times of crisis, when multiple problems pile up, we as human beings have a tendency to become defeatist because obstacles may seem insurmountable. It is incredibly rewarding to be able to take some of that weight off of someone’s shoulders by providing them with the encouragement and resources necessary to empower them to tackle the obstacles in their way, and as a result I am able to see the joy and change when these issues are resolved. As a by-product, this gives me the energy and motivation to power through the difficult times we face in this line of work.

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

One of the main ways I promote positive change is through my interactions with people, by challenging how they think about issues related to sexual violence. I feel this is one of the more effective ways of promoting change because this was how I became more informed and started to look at these issues through a different lens.

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

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There really isn’t a reason to be hesitant about being vocal toward ending sexual violence. Historically, this is an issue that affects everyone regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, age, or any other category you can think of. This is an all-inclusive issue and the only solution is an all-inclusive one.

Whether people realize it or not, we are all affected by sexual violence, directly or indirectly. This issue doesn’t need just certain groups speaking out against it, this issue needs all groups involved in the conversation to bring awareness to the topic and ultimately solve the issue.

 

To learn more about George’s efforts at STAR® to improve systems response to sexual violence, contact info@star.ngo

Agents of Change: Meredith Vizzini

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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 am often surprised at how many incorrect assumptions people make about sexual assault. I hope that in sharing correct information, it will help people to be more understanding of others.

– Meredith Vizzini

1. What is your relationship with STAR? 

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I am a clinical mental health counselor who hopes to specialize in working with individuals who have experienced trauma. I started volunteering with STAR as a hotline advocate in November 2015.

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

Like many people, someone close to me is a survivor of sexual assault. I heard secondhand how traumatic her experience was and I saw what it took away from her. I also learned that the system that is put in place to protect us is nowhere near where it needs to be in regards to helping survivors of sexual assault. I can only imagine how many others out there have had similar or worse experiences. I learned about STAR through this same friend of mine, and as soon as I heard they were opening a branch in NOLA, I knew I needed to be a part of it.

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

The most rewarding part of my involvement has been getting the chance to act as a support for someone during a horrific time in their life. While the hotline is anonymous, I know that whoever I am talking to has survived something horrible. To be able to be present for them and help them in any way is an incredible opportunity.

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

I am motivated by the possibility that what I do or say could help someone or make their life easier. Life in general can be a challenge, so it’s important to take care of yourself and remember what you value. I value helping others, and volunteering for STAR gives me a greater opportunity to be of help.

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

I simply try to be mindful of my behavior and the effects my actions have on others. I always try to set a good example for others around me by acting and treating others the way I would want to be treated. Also, I make it a point to be respectful of others’ views even when they differ from my own.

Additionally, thanks to my training at STAR, I have a gained a lot of knowledge about sexual assault and the myths surrounding it. When the opportunity presents itself at my job or elsewhere, I like to share that knowledge with others. I am often surprised at how many incorrect assumptions people make about sexual assault. I hope that in sharing correct information, it will help people to be more understanding of others. Also, due to the training, I am better able to recognize when some form of sexual assault has occurred, which helps me to be a better clinician in the mental health field.

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

I would tell them not to hesitate! What are you waiting for? Anything you can do or contribute matters. Furthermore, how can there ever be a wrong time to do something, even something small, to help someone else? People will be surprised by how easy it is to integrate volunteering into your weekly routine.

STAR® is looking for highly motivated and passionate women and men interested in working with sexual trauma survivors in our community. Click here for more information about our volunteer opportunities. Click here to submit a volunteer application.

Agents of Change: Treva Parolli-Barnes

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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 always think, what if it were me or my daughter?  What would happen after the assault? If the answer you come up with isn’t a positive one for the victim, then change is needed.

– Treva Parolli-Barnes

1. What is your relationship with STAR, and what led to your work in sexual assault prevention and/or response? 

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My first experience with STAR was as an intern while attending LSU School of Social Work, while also working as Chief of Operations at the East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner’s Office (EBRPCO). Once I graduated, my relationship with STAR became critical in my work at the coroner’s office.

As soon as I started at EBRPCO, Coroner Beau Clark and Chief of Investigations Shane Evans let me know that one of their goals was to have a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program for our parish, and so it began. Every research project, every paper, and every discussion was on the topic of sexual assault. From that point on, I have taken every opportunity that I have to educate myself on this subject.

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

The most rewarding thing is helping survivors of sexual assault. I am extremely happy that there is now a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program in East Baton Rouge Parish and DHH Region 2. This is the national standard and the most victim-centered approach, so I feel that by successfully implementing the SANE program, we have helped survivors of sexual assault.

Even though the process of creating this program was extremely difficult and frustrating at times, the members of the EBR Sexual Assault Response Team found a way to work together to create this change which ultimately helps survivors. I found that I love working with people and finding solutions through compromise.

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

The two-year process of trying to get everyone on the same page toward establishing the SANE program was sometimes extremely discouraging and difficult. However, as a two-time breast cancer survivor, I have faced much greater adversity. It is just not in my nature to give up, especially when I truly believe in something. By persevering, I also want to be a good example for my daughter.

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

I strive to communicate, listen to another person’s point of view, look at the big picture and get all of the facts before jumping to conclusions. I do not always do these things, but just trying to do them daily promotes change.

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

Unfortunately, sexual violence is prevalent. Whether sexual assaults are reported or not, they are happening. Someone you know could become or has been a victim. I always think, what if it were me or my daughter? What would happen after the assault? If the answer you come up with isn’t a positive one for the victim, then change is needed. It is not acceptable to say, “She was drunk,” “She wore a short skirt,” “She flirted,” “She shouldn’t have been on that street,” etc. We have to shift society’s way of thinking. Even being involved on a small level can create big changes. I know this saying is trite, but a small pebble makes a large ripple.

Agents of Change: Angela Schifani

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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.


What motivates me to keep going are the people in my community who are actively trying to create positive social change. Look around, they are everywhere.

– Angela Schifani

 

1. What is your position at STAR? 

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I have the immense pleasure of working as a Resource Advocate at STAR’s Capital Area branch, along with my incredible co-workers, Laneceya, Florence, and George. We call ourselves the A-Team because we truly are amazing at what we do.

You may be asking yourself, “What exactly is it that they do?” Well, as Resource Advocates, we work directly with primary and secondary survivors of sexual trauma. We provide services and resources that can assist them along their paths to recovery, healing, and justice. The journeys that survivors face are often the most difficult circumstances they will meet in their lifetime. Our job can be hard, but it doesn’t hold a candle to what our clients often experience.

2. How did you come to work at STAR?

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In 2014, I entered into my last semester of undergrad in the field of Mass Communication with a focus in public relations, and was scrambling to find an internship to help boost my resume. I had only one previous internship, so I was looking for the perfect position to impress potential future employers. At the time, I was a brazen feminist (I still am) and was very interested in initiatives that addressed oppression against women. Soon this interest would expand to a much broader scope of marginalized populations, but at the time I had only heard whispers of intersectional feminism.

I reached out to an acquaintance of mine who worked at STAR. She spoke highly of the organization and encouraged me to apply for an internship there. After applying, I was quickly interviewed and offered the position. I expressed that I needed time to weigh my options, but after less than 24 hours of deliberation, I realized that this was potentially something that could really broaden myself as a human being, not just as a member of the workforce, so I accepted the position at STAR.

After that semester-long internship, I accepted a full-time position as the Administrative Coordinator, which included communications-based job duties. Eventually I joined the Social Change team as the Community Engagement Coordinator, but more and more I felt myself becoming interested in and passionate about direct services. I started answering the crisis line more frequently and initiated conversations with the resource advocates and counselors about their jobs. Now I’m here as a Resource Advocate, and it’s been the most rewarding part of my journey at STAR thus far.

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

There’s a lot about my job that brings me joy, but I think the most rewarding part is witnessing clients benefit from the services I offer them. Most often that entails connecting them with a free resource that they really need, but didn’t know about. Sometimes it’s offering a supportive presence during a difficult forensic exam. Other times it’s providing a listening ear and comforting voice on the other end of a crisis call. Big or small, the relief a client feels from their burden is a triumph for me.

However, I cannot answer this question without expressing the most discouraging part of my job: having to participate in a system that overwhelming fails survivors means that I, too, sometimes fail survivors. The times when I am powerless against the barriers that stop survivors in their tracks are devastating. These are the times when I need my own advocates.

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

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My advocates! I am truly privileged to have so many of them. When I am having a difficult time navigating a case, the A-Team is always there with a wealth of knowledge and experience to assist me. When I question whether I’ve done enough for my clients, my wonderful, beautiful partner willingly reminds me that yes, I am doing a good job. When I feel tired and burned out, my family and friends are there to express their gratitude for the work I do. Even though it may not impact them directly, they know how much my services are needed in this community. Oh, and I can’t forget about my cats. When I wonder if there is anything good left in this world, my sweet little angels can be found purring and playing and just being all around adorable.

Most importantly, what motivates me to keep going are the people in my community who are actively trying to create positive social change. Look around, they are everywhere.

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

One of the most common things I do is try to meet people where they are during conversations about difficult topics. Not everybody is “woke,” and calling someone out by getting angry and raising my voice might not help them get there. I stay calm when someone just doesn’t seem to get it. If you’re compassionate and deliberate, you both may learn something from each other.

The most important thing I do outside of my work duties, however, is hold myself accountable when I am in the wrong. How can I create positive change within my community without first examining myself?

Sara and Denee

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

It’s actually not all doom and gloom! When meeting people for the first time, they often get uncomfortable when I tell them about my job. It’s hard to talk about, I know, but it’s also full of light and hope. The strength and courage that survivors have often outweigh the darkness of the issue itself.

I recommend starting by getting comfortable just talking about sexual violence. Then you can look to your community to see what actions you can take from there. Baby steps are fine. You don’t have to start out of the gate doing the work that we do at STAR! Trust me, we didn’t wake up one day and decide to start working at a rape crisis center. We listened, we talked, we researched, we explored. We tried and failed, and tried again. Have patience and lean on others for support when you need it. We all have the same goal to end violence and oppression in our community. We’re here for each other.

Agents of Change: Ginesse Barrett

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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.


Rape culture exists because many myths about sexual violence persist. I use any opportunity to teach and find that misinformed people aren’t bad—they just don’t know better. Knowledge is the best weapon we have.

– Ginesse Barrett

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1. What is your relationship with STAR? 

I am the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Program Coordinator at University Medical Center, which serves adult and adolescent survivors in Orleans Parish. We perform forensic exams, offer medical treatment and prophylaxis, and testify in court as expert witnesses for male, female, and transgender survivors. STAR provides our patients with medical advocacy services and ensures they will always have a connection to community resources as they go through the healing process.

2. What led you to your work in sexual assault response?

The first decade of my nursing career, I worked as an Emergency Department (ED) nurse. I saw first-hand how most hospitals in our state were not equipped to properly handle all the complex needs of patients who had been sexually assaulted. I became a SANE so I could ensure the best care to my patients in the ED, but I couldn’t stop there — I joined the SANE program at Interim LSU Hospital in 2010 on an on-call basis. When the previous Program Coordinator left to go back for her Master’s degree, I took the reins and left the ED to focus on SANE full-time. I enjoy working in a field of nursing where I compassionately care for patients and also assist in creating a stronger justice system and safer city. I truly love New Orleans.

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3. What do you find most rewarding about your involvement in sexual assault response, and/or the movement to end sexual violence?

I have so much admiration for our patients. It takes an incredible amount of strength to walk into an emergency department and request a SANE exam. Many patients enter our space traumatized from an assault and terrified that the hospital experience could be even worse. My goal is that every person leaves better off than they came. We focus on giving the patient autonomy with each piece of the exam so they can start to feel back in control of their life and make the transition from victim to survivor. I find it extremely rewarding to have helped make their experience better in any way.

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

My husband is my biggest supporter — there is absolutely no way I could do my job without him being such a great father and understanding partner. Not many spouses would be so tolerant when I leave in the middle of the night for a case or spend a week away for a conference while he juggles our day-to-day lives including a five-year-old and his own job. My daughters are amazing as well! Having a family that believes in me and the work that I do is priceless.

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

I love educating the community about sexual assault and SANE. Mostly I lecture to nursing and medical students, advocates, law enforcement, and healthcare professionals, but I try my best to never turn down a speaking opportunity with any group because I see everyone as a potential juror or perhaps the first person to whom a survivor trusts to disclose an assault. Rape culture exists because many myths about sexual violence persist. I use any opportunity to teach and find that misinformed people aren’t bad—they just don’t know better. Knowledge is the best weapon we have.

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

I think people tend to be intimidated by the thought of getting more involved. Sexual assault has been a taboo, uncomfortable topic which is avoided by most, but you don’t have to actually work in the field to make a difference. Something as simple as getting more educated yourself and being able to speak up when you hear myths being perpetuated, or looking for opportunities as a bystander to intervene and prevent a sexual assault can truly change our society for the better. Statistically, we know everyone has a friend or family member who was sexually assaulted, so it should be a cause that makes us all passionate.

 

STAR’s NOLA office is training volunteer advocates this summer to perform phone and medical advocacy. To learn how to get involved, visit our website!

What the Stanford Rape Case Teaches Us

 

Over the past few weeks, news of the Stanford Rape Case has bombarded our news feeds and social media sites. Many people are outraged after learning that 20-year-old Brock Turner, a student at Stanford University, was only sentenced to 6 months in prison after being found guilty of 3 counts of sexual assault against an unconscious woman.  The powerful and courageous letter written by the survivor sheds light on the countless injustices survivors face, not only in the assault itself, but with the community response to these cases.

Widespread misunderstanding of the motivations of perpetrators continue to perpetuate the epidemic levels of sexual violence that plague our communities. Time after time, our communities fail to hold perpetrators accountable for their violent actions by prioritizing their needs or desires over those that would help survivors find a sense of justice and improve the safety of our communities.

What we all need to understand is that rape is a calculated act of violence and a tool of oppression that is used by perpetrators to violate, humiliate and rob individuals of their sense of safety and wellbeing.

Rape is not a mistake or a misunderstanding; it is a crime.

By giving leniency to rapists, we are making a clear statement that rape isn’t that bad. That this one action shouldn’t define the rest of the rapist’s life, as Brock Turner’s father wrote in a letter to the judge.

However, what research shows is that the overwhelming majority of rapes are committed by repeat offenders. And that a more concerted community effort to support survivors through the reporting and investigative process, and to have law enforcement and the criminal justice process respond timely and effectively to deliver harsher penalties, will lead to fewer rapes.

Unfortunately, the most sobering fact of this case is that it is far from uncommon. In fact, 97% of rapists face no jail time at all.

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This case sheds light on the ugly truth that we as a society are reluctant to accept: that perpetrators exist in our communities and are often those with power and credibility.

We cannot stand by and allow those who perpetuate sexual violence to continue to face little to no consequences. We must take action and show our support for survivors.

STAR’s presence in our community is vital to providing immediate support to survivors who have experienced a sexual assault. Our advocates and counselors provide survivors with knowledge of the dynamics of violence and options about how to ensure their safety and wellbeing after an assault. We also provide assistance with navigating the investigative and reporting process, and stay by the survivors’ side throughout the trial process when needed.

According to testimonials from our clients, our work has dramatically impacted their lives:

  • My counselor was amazing. She took a terrible, potentially life-ruining situation and made it bearable. I don’t know if I can ever thank her enough.
  • STAR has helped me so much that it has been unbelievable.
  • My self-esteem has greatly increased! I am so thankful for all this place has to offer!
  • The free service was immensely helpful because of my financial situation but more importantly every staff person was understanding and always ready to help. They really care.
  • STAR was the calm among the chaos helping to guide me through my own personal storm.

The need for these services is always increasing. It takes more additional support to ensure that survivors receive STAR’s supportive services after experiencing such a traumatic and life-altering event.

Donate today and help us continue this important work.

Additional ways you can help today include:

  • Volunteering your time as a phone or hospital advocate
  • Sharing our message with others
  • Giving information about STAR to survivors

 

It Takes More

The increased need for STAR® services affects all of us

Sexual trauma is a reality in our community that we cannot shy away from. Thriving sexual assault centers like STAR help make our communities healthier, safer and stronger; however, due to the lack of dedicated state funding for these services and the limited resources in local communities, centers like STAR continue to struggle to meet the steadily increasing demand from survivors and families.

Survivors of rape make up 1 in 5 women and 1 In 71 men in the communities we serve. Increased media attention along with the significant strides we are making to uplift survivors’ voices and experiences within the local community have contributed to an increased demand in sexual assault support services. These services—such as hotline support, counseling, individual advocacy and accompaniment, and systems advocacy—are provided by organizations like STAR at no cost to the survivor or their family.

We know that immediate intervention is critical to helping survivors recover from sexual trauma, and providing support services improves survivors’ participation in the criminal justice process, increases satisfaction with medical and legal responses, and decreases trauma symptoms.

To address survivor’s immediate needs, STAR provides our response services on a 24/7 basis. This equates to roughly 730 hours per month of our staff and volunteers being immediately available to respond to a sexual assault survivor.  In a given month, with a small staff of 12 and an active volunteer base of 35 at our Baton Rouge branch, we provide these critical services to upwards of 200 survivors each month. In addition to the sheer number of survivors we serve, the time spent with each survivor ranges from 30 minutes to 8 hours.

These numbers combined, if averaged, would equate to services being provided to a survivor every second of the day, 365 days per year in Baton Rouge.

To illustrate the increase demand for our services, we compared the services numbers from last fiscal year to our current year.

Between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015, STAR advocates provided 1,099 direct response services to survivors; this includes:

  • 843 callers assisted on our hotline
  • 118 survivors accompanied to the hospital
  • 138 survivors assisted through the criminal justice process

For our current year the number of survivors served through these services has already exceeded last year’s numbers; see the following chart for an illustration of the increasing number of services provided since July 1, 2015:

Chart_June 2016

As the chart shows, there has been a consistent increase in demand for our 24/7 hotline, hospital accompaniment and criminal justice advocacy services.

From July 1, 2015 to April 30, 2016, STAR advocates have responded to:

  • 1,203 hotline calls
  • 154 requests for hospital accompaniment
  • 228 requests for criminal justice advocacy

The number of services provided during July 2015 through April 2016 already surpasses the annual number in our last fiscal year by 500.

It is important to note that these service numbers only illustrate what we are currently able to provide with our limited capacity. We receive new requests for services each day, and we know that one day soon we will not be able to meet the immediate needs of every survivor that comes to us for help.

This is a reality we refuse to accept. To continue these services, it takes more.

We need your support to ensure that we meet the needs of every survivor. With an increase in funding of $15,000 by 6/30/16, STAR can increase our base of advocates available 24/7 to answer the hotline or meet a survivor at the hospital.

The availability of these services is critical to repairing individual survivors’ sense of self and improving the safety and quality of life of all members of our community. Without these services, individual survivors and their families would face emotional, social and economic hardships with no one to advocate on their behalf. Systems that interact with survivors—such as the medical and legal systems—would lack accountability because there is no organization to intervene and advocate on behalf of survivors. And, finally, without organizations like STAR promoting the message that prevention is possible and that with community support we can end sexual violence, we would continue to accept sexual violence as a normal part of our society that cannot be overcome.

Help us do more. And to do more, it takes more.

We urge you to get involved and give back today to ensure that we maintain these critical services. Visit www.star.ngo to make a secure online donation and for details on how to get involved today.