Stand-Alone Doesn’t Mean Standing Alone

By Alix Tarnowsky, LCSW, MBA
Advocacy Director, STAR New Orleans

Alix DRCC

Alix Tarnowsky (center) with members of the Dane County Rape Crisis Center in Madison, Wisconsin. 

As the Advocacy Director of STAR’s New Orleans office, I feel fortunate to work with survivors of sexual violence each day. This past January, the New Orleans office celebrated its two-year anniversary in the community. Our office provides services to hundreds of survivors in the Greater New Orleans area through our 24/7 hotline, accompaniment and advocacy services, and counseling.

As a staff member of STAR for the past two years, I have witnessed the organization steadily increase its impact in the communities we serve. STAR is a unique organization in many ways. We are one of only two stand-alone sexual assault centers in Louisiana, meaning our organization’s sole focus is on serving survivors sexual violence. By and large, most sexual assault services available in communities are provided by collaborative or multi-focused centers. These centers often provide a multitude of services to the community, which typically include domestic violence intervention, transitional housing, emergency shelter, or other targeted mental health services. While the benefit of these centers is the range of services that can be acquired at one time, there is often a lack of focus on sexual trauma services.

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center recently dedicated resources to studying this trend of sexual assault services being provided by large, multi-function agencies. The findings from this project, the Sexual Assault Demonstration Initiative, indicate that in many of these agencies, sexual assault services were given the least attention and dedicated resources of the agency. This is reflective of the funding for sexual assault services across the nation and in our state. At this time, STAR receives only a fraction of our funding from dedicated Federal dollars—less than $200,000 per year. In addition, no sexual assault service provider in Louisiana receives state funding for sexual assault services. No wonder we are unable to sustain specialized centers.

While this work is rewarding in many ways, working for a stand-alone sexual assault center can often feel isolating due to the consistent trauma staff members are exposed to and the inability to connect with other stand-alone centers to share ideas with. With the recent increase in media attention on sexual violence, our organization’s capacity to continue providing free services to those in need has been stretched more than ever. We are finally seeing decades of silence and shame being shattered by the many brave voices are speaking up about their experiences; however, the infrastructure of services and support in our communities is severely lacking and is ill-equipped to handle disclosures of this magnitude.

Part of my self-care includes traveling and visiting friends and family to reconnect and return to my roots. While not originally from Wisconsin, I was lucky enough to spend 4 amazing years living in Madison and attending the University of Wisconsin. The school has over 40,000 students enrolled between undergraduate and graduate programs, compared to LSU’s 30,000 students and Tulane’s 13,000 students. Having friends that still live in the area, I try to make it back to UW every year, and was lucky to schedule my 2017 trip the same weekend as the Wisconsin/Michigan football game (U-Rah-Rah, Wis-Con-Sin!).

Knowing I had a free day in Madison while friends were at work, I reached out to the Rape Crisis Center (RCC) in Madison to see if I could get a tour, learn about their organization, and share how we each support survivors in our communities. Jaime, RCC’s Director of Client Programming, was able to take time to meet with me to share information about their program. The experience of connecting with colleagues from across the country was incredible, and it reminded me why we do this work for our community.

RCC, just like STAR, is a stand-alone sexual assault center that provides 24/7 hospital accompaniment, runs a 24/7 crisis hotline, as well as provides free counseling and advocacy services to survivors of sexual violence. Unlike STAR, the RCC has a space located on UW’s campus where students can enter a nondescript building and receive services without having to leave campus. During our time, we discussed the campus satellite office as well as our volunteer trainings, ways we support clients and staff members, fundraising ideas, and the importance of connecting with other sexual assault centers to build a network. We shared outreach material and provided feedback on ideas we had for our programs.

While it was great to meet with Jaime about the work our agencies were doing, it was even better to connect with someone fighting the same battles in a different city, whether it’s in America’s Heartland or down in the French Quarter. We were able to share similar experiences about navigating relationships with community partners and ways we support our teams when facing vicarious trauma.

Even though I was only able to spend a couple hours with Jaime at the RCC, it dawned on me that advocates often feel parallel experiences to survivors. While at times we can feel lonely and isolated, in reality, we are not alone – we just need to reach out and connect. We need more support from our government and our communities to do this work well.

Sexual violence impacts all of our communities and it’s with the support of agencies like the Rape Crisis Center and STAR, we can work to create a community free of sexual violence.

Do you work outside of Louisiana for a stand-alone sexual assault center? Let us know and maybe I’ll stop by for a visit — you never know where my next trip will take me!

 

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Consent-Supportive Valentine’s Day Cards for Kids

Our Legal Director, Morgan Lamandre, shares her experience about using Valentine’s Day as a way to discuss consent with her sons.

Valentine’s Day is not a holiday I look forward to when it comes to my sons’ class parties because I always have to provide commentary when reading the cards they receive. Although they are both very young, I think it’s very important to talk to them about consent. So when they get cards that demand hugs and kisses, we have a conversation about consent. In the past couple of years I have seen Valentine’s Day cards about consent, but nothing that would be age appropriate for my sons, so I became inspired to make some Valentine’s Day cards about consent that are age appropriate for kids. I thought I might not be the only one with this feeling, so I thought I would share them so more people could use them.

Agents of Change: Amy Noto

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I have had so many survivors express how grateful they are that an organization like STAR exists. Being able to support someone during one of the most traumatic moments in their life is both a privilege and an honor.

– Amy Noto

1. What is your position at STAR?

I am a Resource Advocate at STAR’s New Orleans branch.

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

As an undergrad at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette, I was interested in applying for counseling graduate programs but wanted some real world experience, so I applied to volunteer with a local sexual assault center. I became a crisis line advocate and really found a passion for working with survivors. I volunteered with that organization for three years.

Fast forward a couple of years and I found myself back in New Orleans. I was enrolled in a counseling graduate program and decided that I wanted to specialize in working with survivors of trauma. I was excited to find out about STAR and applied to be an intern. Through my internship, I was able to become a part-time medical advocate, where I gained a lot of experience working one-on-one with survivors and their loved ones. About a month after I graduated with my Masters in Counseling, I was offered a full-time position as a Resource Advocate.

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

Working directly with survivors is what I find to be the most rewarding. I started out as a medical advocate providing accompaniment to survivors during their forensic medical exams. Every time I would leave a call-out, I would be reminded of why I continue to do this work. I have had so many survivors express how grateful they are that an organization like STAR exists. Being able to support someone during one of the most traumatic moments in their life is both a privilege and an honor.

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

I think about the process survivors go through and their resiliency. I always remind myself that if survivors can get through tough times, so can I. When I start to feel defeated, I think back to a time when a survivor thanked me for being there when no one else was or taking the time to listen to their story. Their strength is a huge inspiration to me and why I am able to do this work.

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

Before I worked at STAR, I worked in the restaurant industry. Since the allegations against John Besh and his restaurant group became public, people are finally starting to realize that this is a major problem that needs to be addressed. Since then, I have started attending community meetings and am working with a group, Shift Change, to bring about awareness and prevention of sexual violence in the restaurant industry.

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

I’ll be honest, this work can be challenging and I was definitely hesitant when I decided to start volunteering. However, it is the most important and rewarding work I have ever done. My advice would be to start by educating yourself about what’s going on in the movement.

Read books or articles about rape culture, have conversations with your peers and share your knowledge. It may seem like a huge undertaking but you can start by making small adjustments in your life. A good place to start is by believing survivors! Calling out people who victim blame or spread misinformation and bringing about awareness in your community are other ways to promote change. These everyday actions may seem small but will build the foundation to create major changes in the way society views survivors of sexual trauma.

 

Get involved and make change with STAR:

Click here for more ways to get involved.

Why Children Don’t Tell

CSA Stats

Media outlets continue to cover the horrifying sexual abuse former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar committed against young athletes that sought his care. At his trial, 156 victims spoke, recounting similar stories of how they went to Nassar to receive his care for sports injuries only to be sexually assaulted and told it was a form of treatment. One of the survivors, 17-year-old Jessica Thomashow, told the court: “He first molested me when I was nine (…) before I had braces, and when I still played with my American Girl dolls. Larry Nassar preyed on us for his own pleasure, leaving in his wake traumatized and broken girls.”

Reports of Nassar’s abuse of 256 girls over the past two decades has caused many to wonder why don’t children disclose sexual abuse to a trusted adult when the abuse is happening?

There are a number of reasons why children stay quiet about abuse. These can include the following:

  • They don’t understand what is happening to them
  • They are ashamed
  • The believe what is happening is their fault and that they deserve it
  • They are afraid you won’t believe them
  • They are afraid that they will get in trouble

It is important to keep in mind that sexual abuse is a form of power-based violence, meaning that perpetrators intentionally prey upon those with less power. This is a reason why abuse against children is so pervasive. We live in a culture where children are expected to submit to the authority of adults in their lives. When children experience abuse, they are often confused and uncomfortable with what is happening; however, they are taught to obey adults. In addition, perpetrators often control children with the threat of violence (against the child or someone they love), or the threat of shame by telling them that if people find out they will lose the love, affection, or praise of others.

The sad truth is also that often when children do tell someone, they are not believed. This could be because the parent is afraid of the reality that someone could be hurting their child, or because the child is accusing someone the parent doesn’t believe could do such a thing.

There are ways that parents can be proactive about protecting their children from abuse, and we encourage you to consider the following:

  1. Teach children about boundaries and body autonomy
  2. Pay attention when a child tells you about an adult that makes them uncomfortable
  3. Believe them if they tell you something harmful is happening to them
  4. Remind your child often that you love and support them no matter what, and that there is nothing they could tell you to change that

In addition to parents, it is also the responsibility of institutional representatives who receive disclosures to take the disclosure seriously and act on it. Our first concern must be to protect children, even if it requires us confronting hard truths about a friend, colleague, or loved one. It is not a safe bet to excuse sexual abuse and sweep it under the rug. Doing so allows people like Nassar to continue abusing countless children. We have a choice between protecting children and protecting sexual abusers; which choice will we make moving forward?

 

Agents of Change: Ashley Seaverson

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If I see something that’s inappropriate and involves rape culture in any way, I speak up and say something. I try to educate others about things like consent and how to treat survivors of sexual assault.

– Ashley Seaverson

1. What is your position at STAR?

I am a part-time Medical Advocate for STAR, so I provide advocacy and support to survivors at the hospital during the forensic exam process.

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

I first volunteered at the Crisis Intervention Center where a co-worker spoke of her work with STAR. Her description sparked my interest and even though I didn’t have the time to be part of STAR at that moment, I told myself that when I did, I would.

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

Being a support system for someone who might not have that is a powerful enough reason to work or volunteer for STAR. I also love that we inform survivors of their rights and what services are available to them.

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

Whenever I feel discouraged, that feeling doesn’t last long. When I have a call-out to assist a survivor, I get the same reaction every time. They’re so grateful for the work STAR does and the services that they never knew were available to survivors. Survivors immediately respond, “This is an amazing organization and I thank God you all are helping.”

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

I try to promote positive changes in my community by being an example. If I see something that’s inappropriate and involves rape culture in any way, I speak up and say something. I try to educate others about things like consent and how to treat survivors of sexual assault.

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 tell anyone considering joining this movement to start somewhere. If you can’t actively participate at STAR, begin somewhere! Correct someone If you hear shaming or questioning of a survivor. If possible, donate to organizations like STAR where there are people who are currently putting in the legwork to end sexual trauma.

 

Get involved and make change with STAR:

Click here for more ways to get involved.

Confronting Our Fears as Parents: The Reality of False Accusations Against Our Sons

By Morgan Lamandre, Esq., STAR’s Legal Director

Morgan and Fam

I had my first child, a son, in September 2012. As most people do these days, I found out the sex of my child before I gave birth. I will never forget the reactions I would get when I would tell people that I was going to have a boy. The most common responses were the following:

“Boys are fun.”

“Boys love their mamas.”

“Boys aren’t as expensive as girls.”

“Boys are easier than girls.”

“You don’t have to worry about boys the way you have to worry about girls.”

At the time, I did not question these statements, but when I began working at STAR in January 2013, this idea of it being “easier” to raise a boy than a girl was challenged as my entire worldview was confronted with the realities of sexual violence.

I came to learn that perpetrators of sexual assault believe they are sexually entitled to others. They disregard consent in sexual interactions and rationalize their behaviors by minimizing their conduct and dismissing the harm they have caused. They rarely view their behaviors as sexual assault. Instead of considering their actions as sexual assault, they characterize their actions as simply helping women “relax.” Forcing women to “relax” for sexual acts is always seen as consensual by perpetrators. They will claim these types of sexual interactions are consensual despite their victims’ claims to the contrary.

Around the time that I started working at STAR, many survivors and victim advocates were beginning to challenge sexual assault prevention efforts that are geared at teaching potential victims how “not to get sexually assaulted.” Instead, they advocated for teaching potential perpetrators to not commit sexual assault. This changed my whole way of thinking about sexual assault prevention and it strongly affected my approach to being a parent.

Recently, a friend commented on one of my social media posts. She wrote, “While I always believe an accuser, I’m starting to struggle internally now that I have a son. I will raise him to respect all people and their boundaries, especially women, but the idea of an untrue accusation ruining his life terrifies me.”[1] She asked me what I thought, as someone who works at STAR and as a mother of sons.

I appreciated her expressing this concern because I know it is shared by many parents and it is something we need to talk about and address. Here are things that I practice to help prepare my sons for life in an era where people are held accountable for committing sexual assault.

  1. I accept the possibility of a sexual assault accusation.

Before talking about the possibility of false accusations, we need to think about the possibility of true accusations, because the truth is that false accusations are rare. False reports of sexual assault are somewhere between 2-8%, which is consistent with false reports of other crimes. In many of these false reports, a perpetrator is not named or identified.

It’s devastating when false accusations do happen, but in society we have used the fear of false accusations to systematically shut down survivors. As a result, rape is the most underreported crime. There are vast numbers of survivors of sexual trauma whose lives have been devastated and who have not received justice. There are much smaller numbers of people whose lives have been impacted by false accusations.  

Do false accusations happen? Yes. Are they as common as people believe them to be? No. That does not mean we should take accusations lightly, but we should not assume an accusation is false until the facts prove there was no sexual assault.

I have noticed that there are parents who do not want to believe their children have done bad things, especially when they are seemingly upstanding people, but we have to accept that people we love sometimes do bad things. Jerry Sandusky, Darren Sharper and Bill Cosby were known to have donated to many charities, to have done “good work” and to be “good people,” and as perpetrators they were able to use their “good citizenship” to get away with sexual abuse and assault for far too long.

False accusations are rare, but sexual assault is not. And for every sexual assault that occurs, there is a person who perpetrated it. I have to accept the possibility that someone I know and love, including my sons, could commit a sexual assault. By accepting this possibility, I am motivated to take steps to make this less likely to occur.

  1. I teach my sons about consent.

How do we prevent our boys from being perpetrators? Well, we start teaching them about consent and boundaries at an early age. Here are examples of things I have said to my son to reinforce the importance of respecting boundaries and practicing consent:

“Brendyn, I know you want to play with Millie right now, but she said she didn’t want to play with you right now.”

“No, I’m not going to make Avery share her toys with you.”

“Brendyn, you don’t have to give Grandma a hug if you don’t want to.”

This leads to conversations with other adults and family members about consent, too: “I’m sorry if your feelings are hurt because he doesn’t want to give you a hug and kiss. He will likely warm up to you soon, but we do not force him to do something with his body that he doesn’t want to do.”

I want my sons to know that they are not entitled to anyone else’s body and that the absence of a “no” does not make a “yes.” I want them to know that a “yes” to one act is not a “yes” to everything. I want them to know that consent is a process, not an event.

Starting to teach our sons about consent early makes it less likely that they will become perpetrators. They will learn that they are not entitled to others’ bodies–and that others are not entitled to theirs.

  1. I recognize that my sons are more likely to experience sexual abuse and assault than to be falsely accused of committing it.

Here are some statistics that may surprise you:

  • 1 in 6 boys will experience sexual abuse by the age of 18.
  • An estimated 1.7% of men (or almost 2 million men) have experienced rape or attempted rape during their lifetimes. [2]
  • Nearly 1 in 5 men (23.4%) experienced sexual violence victimization other than rape at some point in their lives.[3]
  • An estimated 6.8 million men were made to penetrate[4] another person in their lifetime. [5]

Our sons are more likely to be sexually assaulted than they are to be falsely accused of rape. And by teaching them about consent, their bodies, and boundaries, we are not only protecting others from sexual abuse and assault. We are protecting them from harm, too.

As a mother of two sons, I understand that raising boys is not, and should not be, easier than raising girls. While society teaches boys one thing—to be strong, dominant, forceful, and rooted in their single perspective, my husband and I work to teach our sons something different: to be respectful and considerate, to take others’ perspectives, and to practice consent in relationships. If enough of us do this, we will change society.

If we do not teach our sons to practice consent, we are putting them at risk of being accused of sexual assault and having it be true. False accusations can happen, but accusations are far more likely to occur. This is the thing we should actually fear, and the good news is we have the power to do something about it.

 

Endnotes:

[1] My friend, Brittany, gave permission for her quote to be used in this essay and I appreciate that she engages me in productive dialogue on Facebook. I also appreciate her support to STAR and to me, and am grateful that she teaches her own son about consent.

[2]Prevalence and Characteristics of Sexual Violence, Stalking, and Intimate Partner Violence Victimization — National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey.” United States, 2011

[3]Prevalence and Characteristics of Sexual Violence, Stalking, and Intimate Partner Violence Victimization — National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey.” United States, 2011

[4] Being made to penetrate someone else includes times when the victim was made to, or there was an attempt to make them, sexually penetrate someone without the victim’s consent because the victim was physically forced or threatened with physical harm, or when the victim was drunk, high, drugged, or passed out and unable to consent.

Agents of Change: Brooke Allen

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Becoming a member of this movement is life changing and you will learn so much about yourself during the process. Growth and change are essential parts of being alive.

– Brooke Allen

1. What is your position at STAR?

I am the Counseling Director at STAR’s Capital Area branch.

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

I’ve always been attracted to not-for-profit work, as well as to organizations that make a difference in a community. I first learned about STAR during graduate school after meeting Racheal Hebert, STAR’s President & CEO. I immediately became fascinated by learning more about the dynamics of sexual violence and how acts of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and other forms of harmful sexual acts affect a community.

As Racheal and I became friends, she would often talk about the work she and other staff members were engaged in, and I realized then that I wanted to be a part of this movement to end sexual violence and help spread awareness. I don’t regret my decision!

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

SO MANY THINGS! Wow, it’s hard to narrow it down. First and foremost, witnessing brave and courageous survivors come forward to access support services is amazing. Survivors of sexual assault have a tremendous amount of resiliency and the clients I serve help me to be a better person every day; I’m constantly learning from them.

Working for STAR has changed my life. I look forward to coming to work and offering a supportive environment for survivors to heal. I’m also fortunate to work with a group of people who are passionate about change and who always go the extra mile to support their colleagues and survivors. It is truly an honor to work for STAR.

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

When things get difficult or I feel discouraged, I simply remember that it’s a process. Every survivor is different, so being flexible and adaptive is imperative. I also try to remember that I’m not the only one who feels discouraged at times. I do my best to learn from challenging situations so that there’s a takeaway; and no matter what my day is like, I make time for myself and practice self-care regularly.

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

I talk a lot and when I feel comfortable I challenge people. I’d like to do better at challenging others who I don’t feel so comfortable with, but I’m working on it. I also co-facilitate a support group for survivors of domestic violence. I believe promoting positive change starts within and that you must practice self-awareness to better understand your own values, morals, etc., before you can positively influence others.

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

You’re not alone in your hesitation. I was hesitant, too, but am so proud of myself for making the leap into new territory. Becoming a member of this movement is life changing and you will learn so much about yourself during the process. Growth and change are essential parts of being alive. If this movement seems too scary and overwhelming to engage in, just know that your feelings are natural and there are wonderful, supportive, encouraging people to help you along the way.

 

Get involved and make change with STAR:

Click here for more ways to get involved.

Agents of Change: Stephanie Jacque

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You don’t have to have a degree in social work or psychology. Basically, you just need to have empathy and STAR’s training is going to give you all the basic skills that you need to be able to help someone when they call.

– Stephanie Jacque

1. What is your current connection to STAR?

I am a hotline volunteer and also a member of STAR’s Capital Area Regional Council.

2. You’ve been involved with STAR for a long time, from the early days when we were the Stop Rape Crisis Center. How did you initially get involved with community efforts to address sexual violence?

I got involved with Stop Rape Crisis Center through a friend who was a volunteer. She invited me to one of the volunteer appreciation banquets one year. That was when Ossie Brown was the DA, so probably around 1980. At that time, it was just something I wanted to get involved in because I always felt a need to volunteer and because there were very few African-American women involved in the program.

At that time, the organization was very small and basically only had three staff members. They always made you feel so welcomed and were very helpful in getting me started by training and mentoring me along the way in my volunteer experience.

When I started volunteering, I didn’t realize how prevalent sexual violence was. I think we all know about sexual trauma and people who’ve been assaulted. But unlike now, back then people were very hush-hush about it. After I became a volunteer, there were multiple instances where people I knew told me that they had been assaulted sexually. The only reason that they felt able to open up to me was because they found out that I was volunteering for the rape crisis hotline.

3. How have you seen the community response to sexual violence change for the better over the past few decades?

When I was training to be in the Army Reserves, I was told to not go out alone at night, and to always have two or three people together if you were going out at night. Nobody said, “You may be assaulted.” You were just told never to be alone at night on this base. There was also an officer I could not be caught in the copy room with by myself. It got to a point where I would ask another guy to come with me when I needed to go make copies, because if I was alone in the copy room, this major lieutenant colonel would put his hands all over you. So I can understand what these women today are talking about when they tell their stories of harassment and assault. And back then, when you told people about something like this, the first thing they said was, “What did you do to provoke this?” I was in my unit making copies. What could I possibly be doing to be responsible for that?

So, years ago when I started volunteering, people’s perspective was that it was always the victim’s fault. The whole responsibility for that act was put on the victim as it being her fault. From being a volunteer, I learned that it had nothing to do with the victim — with how she looked or what she had on — it was that the person who committed rape and sexual assault wanted to overpower someone. We were always told to make it absolutely clear to the victim that this was not your fault. And that is something that we still need to emphasize because victims still blame themselves.

I also think people who’ve been victimized are more open now to seeking out assistance from law enforcement. As people have more positive experiences with law enforcement or with people at STAR, when the community sees positive and caring responses, that makes a big difference.

I think the culture has changed drastically, but I think we still have a long ways to go.

4. What changes do you think are still needed to better address the problem of sexual violence?

Education. And my big thing is we want to educate young people, but then parents need to be educated also. If you hear of a mother who is 28 and who has a 14 year old daughter, she may not be informed about what constitutes rape or sexual abuse. So in addition to educating adolescents and teenagers, I think we also need to go into the home because really the parents should be educated and they should be talking to the kids.

Also, children need an advocate. If a child doesn’t feel comfortable going to their parent if they are being sexually abused, then another adult in their family, school system, place of worship or community center needs to be available for that child to go to.

I think that we have a community right now here in Baton Rouge that is just thirsty for help. In the Bible it says, “My people perish for lack of knowledge.” And so many people here are not knowledgeable about services that are available to them. So many people are hurting and they need someone to talk to.

5. What motivates you to continue your victim advocacy after decades of volunteering? What advice do you have for others about getting involved?

I believe that if we want to live in a community that is a certain way, we have to make it that way. We have to work to make it like that. I never saw myself doing this in a million years, but what motivates me is the call that you get from the young woman who’s crying because her best friend’s boyfriend assaulted her. Or the lady in her 40s or 50s that was molested when she was 20 and something happened that triggered her, and she woke up at night and can’t sleep, so she calls. It really just tugs at my heart.

My advice for others is that you have something to give that someone else needs. When you have the hotline overnight, you may never get a call but then one night you’re going to get a call and that person has nobody else to talk to.

Also, I think a lot of African-American women feel inadequate or like they don’t have the skills to do this work. And like I was telling one friend of mine, you don’t have to have a degree in social work or psychology. Basically, you just need to have empathy and STAR’s training is going to give you all the basic skills that you need to be able to help someone when they call.

6. How has your involvement with STAR contributed to your life?

I feel rewarded in doing it. I think ultimately, my involvement with STAR has made me be more patient, long-suffering and compassionate toward people—not only toward people who’ve been assaulted but towards people in general. It has made me feel more empathy for people. I’m not married and I don’t have kids, and it really has made my life fulfilling and has been a blessing in my life.

 

Get involved and make change with STAR:

Click here for more ways to get involved.

STAR Reflects on #MeToo

For decades, staff and volunteers at centers like STAR have witnessed the many and varied injustices survivors of sexual abuse, harassment and assault face each day. We have intimate knowledge of the ways in which our systems and communities fail to hold perpetrators accountable and stigmatize survivors for speaking out about the violence committed against them.

In addition, many of us have also personally experienced sexual trauma, which can help us to better relate to the survivors we serve and fuel our passion for STAR’s mission; however, it also puts us at a greater risk for being triggered by others and feeling re-traumatized by this work.

The #MeToo movement is now shedding light on the issue of sexual violence and the recent outcry among the public is long overdue. Each day, our staff and volunteers work tirelessly to carryout STAR’s mission to support survivors of sexual trauma, improve systems response, and create social change to end sexual violence. Below, members of STAR reflect on the past year and share how #MeToo has affected their lives and their work with survivors.

 

Every time I log onto Facebook I am reminded of my former trauma. Although this is painful, I feel empowered and proud of everyone who shared #MeToo. I didn’t want my loved ones and family to be traumatized by a #metoo from me, so I didn’t post. I was anticipating the inevitable backlash from those who feel compelled to ridicule these survivors, and was not surprised to find a few outspoken individuals to do so. I think the movement helped to break the ice for verbal, social, and political conversion around sexual violence.  

Nicole, Volunteer

 

The avalanche of stories being publicly shared has made me feel more comforted and optimistic than ever before. People accused of committing sexual harassment and assault usually get to dominate the narrative and be believed by the public, so it’s been amazing to watch the power shift in some high profile contexts. Still, it’s caused me to reflect on how survivors continue to be silenced, blamed, and disbelieved where I live, and what needs to happen to change that.

Rebecca, Vice President

STAR staff showing off our Denim Day
support, April 2017

 

I’ve had mixed reactions to the recent #MeToo movement. On one hand, I find the movement to be inspiring because it reminds me of the importance of the work I do. It makes me feel proud to be a part of an organization that is fighting to create necessary change. It also shows me that the issue is being considered with the seriousness it deserves, and that people are listening to survivors now more than ever.

On the other hand, this movement has made it more difficult for me to “leave work at work” since sexual trauma seems to be everywhere I look. It has increasingly crept its way into my home-life whether on television, Facebook, magazines, or in conversations with those around me. For my own self-care, I’ve had to create boundaries to limit that when necessary. I’ve changed my habits by reducing time on social media to give myself a break, and have had to limit conversations about it when necessary during my off hours.

However, when I am ready to have those conversations, I feel confident because of my training and experience with STAR. I’m armed with facts and statistics, and I can answer questions from friends and family members when the issue comes up. I can also gently provide them with the correct information when I am confronted with societal myths.

More than anything, I’m thankful that this has created a cultural shift that makes it more socially acceptable to talk about sexual trauma. It’s part of the conversation now, and I think that’s important. We always knew it was happening before, but now survivors can feel more empowered to share their stories with others if they choose to, and people seem to be ready to listen. This gives me hope.  

Jordan, Baton Rouge Counselor

 

All of us have a story to tell. Each of us have been affected by sexual harassment in one form or another. I can’t count the times men have whistled, then when you don’t acknowledge them, you are a called “stuck up Bitch”…. the list goes on and on.  

Alicia, Development Director

Baton Rouge staff participated in some much-needed downtime at
Painting With a Purpose, July 2017

 

As an individual, I’ve struggled with my feelings as a result of the #MeToo movement. I believe in it wholeheartedly in the sense that it tangibly breaks the silence that surrounds sexual violence. It starts conversations. It allows us to find our allies. It shows that we are each even more than survivors; we are a united force for change. A change that is not coming some day, but today. My critique is that while it has empowered so many, it has divided others who want to remain anonymous or do not want to #MeToo into feelings of guilt or confusion. There is so much to sift through to type out such a simple phrase. With this, I feel defeated that we must bear our own souls and secrets for the chance to be believed and feel validated. I work to advocate for those who have come forward, but it’s caused me to call myself into question when I choose not to do the same, despite knowing that choosing to speak out is an immensely personal process. You are cross examined, you are labeled, you are now deemed a political controversy, but you are free.

As an advocate, I personally have chosen not to write or speak #MeToo for the public eye at this time, though sexual violence has made a large imprint on my life. All of us that choose not to share our stories have our reasons, all of which are valid, as they are OUR stories. And while it has been stated that there is no obligation to share your story, the reality is that is a loaded statement- for if not us, who?- and if not now, when? #MeToo is a community to build strength, but still it is not without sacrifice. The hardest part for many, including myself, is feeling like we owe an explanation if we write #MeToo. To explain if it was “just” sexual harassment or rape. Then to call out our accuser, answer our critics, and bear ourselves for those hiding behind a cyber curtain who seem to be able to have all the time in the world to taunt us. And if we do all this- what are the ramifications? Could we be sued, physically attacked, or bullied? If friends and family have questions, do we answer? Can we answer some, but not others? Then the questions we call ourselves into-Why do we want to answer some but not others? Is it because we are ashamed of something that is not our fault or is it because we feel it is too much for them to bear, so we must carry the load on our own? Who are we really protecting? Maybe we have placed the memories on our shelf and can’t take them down right now. Maybe we don’t have the words right now.

This is not a Pandora’s box I chose to open lightly, but the #MeToo stories have inspired me to find a way to tell my own story on my own terms.

Kaeli, Volunteer

Dominique Dunbar was honored with the
Golden Apple Award from VIPS, May 2017

 

I am happy that the shame is now on the perpetrator. I am delighted that people are taking the initiative to increase the dialogue regarding sexual violence. The empowerment and support expressed make my heart smile! However, I am negatively impacted by it. As a black woman, I feel silenced, drowned out. The grassroots vision of this movement is to empower underprivileged women to shatter their silence. Now that women of high privilege have come forward, the campaign has taken root in a gated community of which I do not live nor have access. It appears as if people of color are not entitled to that same compassion. Black voices do not count, once again.

Dominique, Baton Rouge Community Education Director

 

STAR staff at the End Violence Against Women
International Conference, April 2017

 

The #MeToo movement has given me even more opportunities to talk with my friends and peers about the problem of sexual violence. I’ve been able to discuss the impact of sexual violence and how power dynamics silence survivors. I’ve been able to help many of my peers realize the importance of believing survivors and standing up with them. Most of all, the movement has helped me to show people how prevalent sexual violence can be and help people realize that it is a problem that affects everyone.

Endya, Volunteer

 

I experience several emotions when I think of the #MeToo movement. It is inspiring to see so many people coming forward publicly about their experiences. Sexual assault thrives in silence, and I believe this movement is a huge step toward changing our culture. America seems to be finally acknowledging what sexual assault centers like STAR have known for years. However, I also want to recognize that sharing such a deeply vulnerable part of yourself is a personal choice. To the survivors who do not want to come forward: you are still strong, valid, and worthy. I believe it is unfair of us as a society to put all of the weight on eradicating sexual assault in the hands of the survivors. They survived. They have already done enough. Believing survivors who speak out is vital to ending sexual violence, but there is so much more that needs to be done. Until we start holding offenders accountable, there will always be the need for another #MeToo movement.
Dana, Baton Rouge Counselor

 

Black Women’s Advocacy Day at the Capitol, May 2017

 

I wish I could say that the sheer amount of #MeToo stories shocked me, but unfortunately the campaign solidified what I knew as a woman, a social worker, and now an employee of STAR. Despite my lack of surprise, I have been encouraged by the movement’s ability to cross political, racial, and socioeconomic lines. In this time of divisiveness, a campaign that reminds us of our commonalities as humans, while heartbreaking, is a unifying force. Most women from all walks of life have experienced some form of sexual assault, and seeing their display of bravery and vulnerability on social media is nothing less than inspiring. While the disclosures on platforms such as Facebook may lessen due to the fleeting nature of social media, there has been a culture shift. This is more than a trend; there is a new resolve among survivors to take their power back.

Amy, Greater New Orleans Regional Director

 

I think it wonderful how people have felt moved to share their stories. However, I do not feel that a person’s choice not to share their personal story makes them less brave. There are many reasons a person may not wish to share their story at all, much less on social media.

I do have concerns that the #MeToo movement seems to use gender biased words, focusing on women. I feel that as long as we keep sexual violence a “women’s issue” it will continue to contain built in barriers to survivors and potential partners in ending sexual violence. Sexual violence is a community issue.

The #MeToo movement has started a much needed conversation about sexual violence. It has also empowered some people to come forward. I feel that it is only a starting point in moving the conversation into an inclusive conversation. Most of these seem focused on work place violence. I think this has opened up good conversations about what agencies and companies can do to not just check the completed box off the training requirements, but to make sure that the information is absorbed and the consequences are consistently enforced within companies, political parties/offices, and communities.

I also worry that the nature of the relationships between the abuser and the survivors that are featured in the #MeToo movement may alienate some survivors that experienced sexual violence not like those we are seeing in the media. I would like to see this open up a greater conversation about what sexual violence is and how to get support and help – not just for justice but emotional support as well.

Lisa, Central Louisiana Counselor

 


Central Louisiana Staff at our
Alexandria Open House, March 2017

 

I stay active on multiple social media platforms, so I started to see the #MeToo statuses start coming up immediately. I want thank those very first people who were brave enough to put up the hashtag because I don’t doubt they feared the backlash that comes from challenging rape culture. Their courage empowered so many others, including myself to share their #MeToo stories. I saw complete strangers come together to defend and uplift one another, including acknowledging and embracing the survivors who decided not to share their #MeToo stories. In this short period of time, so many have learned that their stories matter, that they have power over their lives, and that they have a bigger community of support than they may have been able to find before. #MeToo reaffirmed my choice to always, unabashedly disclose the story of my trauma to those who can benefit from hearing it and remain open about my journey in order to be an advocate for survivors and fight to create a society free from sexual violence.

Azriela, Baton Rouge Advocate

 

Coming forward to speak about sexual violence takes a tremendous amount of courage. Even if you have not experienced sexual violence firsthand, you know someone who has or who will; it begins with believing survivors when they disclose. Witnessing the #MeToo movement has been incredible, empowering, uplifting, and scary. So many feelings are entangled in this conversation, however, hearing survivors tell their truth and actually receive support on a national level gives me hope. To all survivors of sexual trauma, thanks for being brave to break the silence; I stand with you.

Brooke, Baton Rouge Counseling Director

 

STAR’s Legal Team was honored with the Legal Service Innovation Award from
the Louisiana Bar Foundation, October 2017

 

Get involved and make change with STAR:

Click here for more ways to get involved.

Agents of Change: Emily Broussard

2


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.