Agents of Change: Derrick Lathan

What is your position at STAR?

I serve as the Youth Development Coordinator. I sometimes tell students I’m their “big brother” for short.

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

A bunch of stuff just kind of happened at the same time to be honest. I don’t recall the order of events, but one day I was having a conversation about getting rid of gender roles during a party; another day I was confronting a couple boys in a program I worked for about sexual harassment, and then boom! Dominique mentioned she saw something in me and wanted me to join the team. I knew it would be more of an educational opportunity for me than for anyone else, but it was exactly what I needed.

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

Being in the classroom is definitely the best part. I want to be a professor after school so this is great practice.

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

I just think about all of the stories I’ve heard and all of the things I’ve seen. Someone has to do something. It may as well be me.

What are some simple, day-to-day ways you promote positive change in our community, outside of your work duties? 

Literally, having conversations go a long way. Addressing things when you hear them sticks with people. It’s far from comfortable sometimes so you should use some form of tact, but speaking up can save lives.

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

“Think about your mama. Think about your sister. Think about yourself. If something happened to any of you, what would you want us to do? Whatever that is (if it’s withing an intervention framework), do that!”

Advertisements

Agents of Change: Jordan Gonzales

2


“It is incredibly rewarding for me to see even the smallest of changes with clients. To be there as clients learn one new way of coping, or experience one tiny change in the way they see themselves, is a huge honor.”

– Jordan Gonzales

1. What is your position at STAR?

I’ve been a counselor at STAR’s Baton Rouge branch since March 2017 and have had the pleasure of providing individual and group counseling to survivors during my time here.

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

While completing an internship at Child Advocacy Services for my undergraduate degree, I was exposed to the reality of sexual trauma. I had a chance to work closely with the program director and observe forensic interviews. There I became passionate about working with survivors and their families, and was inspired to enroll in the graduate counseling program at Southeastern.

I first heard about STAR while beginning my job search after graduating. My cousin, who is an ER nurse, told me about STAR volunteers who accompany survivors at the hospital during their exams. I thought this was a great service for the community, so I was excited to hear about a counseling position opening at the Baton Rouge Branch. I applied as soon as I became aware of the opening.

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

I find a lot of meaning in the work that I do. I know that I can make change at a small scale, moment by moment and person by person. It is incredibly rewarding for me to see even the smallest of changes with clients. To be there as clients learn one new way of coping, or experience one tiny change in the way they see themselves, is a huge honor.

It’s a really special privilege to walk with them on their journey of healing. Knowing that I could be there to provide even one ounce of encouragement makes it worth it to me. It’s rewarding for me to know that someone who has no reason to trust another person because of their traumatic experiences entrusts me with their thoughts and feelings.

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

I work with an amazing team at STAR. Their compassion and encouragement is a major source of joy for me in the sometimes bleak work that I do. We incorporate a lot of humor in our interactions. We support one another and really just help one another understand that “Yes, this is hard work, but I’m here.” Brooke and Dana are both incredible counselors whom I’ve had the privilege of working alongside and learning from for over a year now.

It motivates me to know that there are organizations like STAR that work to help people who have been hurt while simultaneously working to prevent trauma from occuring by changing the culture. I’m faced with some of the harshest realities of human nature in my job, but I’m also daily reminded that there are positive forces for good through my coworkers every day.

5. What are some other ways you promote positive change in your community?

When I’m not at work, I do everything I can to separate myself from counseling. Self-care is my main priority, so I just live my life. I try to have fun and leave work at work. The topic of sexual trauma is everywhere right now though, so when people talk about it, I present the knowledge I have to the best of my ability and try to be a voice for survivors. It’s a small contribution, but I know change happens in the small moments.

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

Becoming a part of a movement looks different for different people. Find out your style and what fits best for you. Use your strengths to do things that matter to you. It doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that.

A great first step is to educate yourself. Whether that means researching local organizations to find out more information, volunteering, or having conversations with people around you, know the facts and follow your intuition from that point on.

 

Get involved and make change with STAR:

Click here for more ways to get involved.

Agents of Change: Mark Primeaux

2


“The essence of ending sexual trauma is to make the world a better place for all people.”

– Mark Primeaux

1. What is your connection to STAR?

My wife, Lisa, has been a longtime volunteer for STAR and got me interested in working with their 3-D Peer Educator program as well as participating in their Hunks in Heels fundraiser.

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

When my wife introduced me to to STAR, I was a little hesitant to get involved because I felt like I did not have a lot to offer. However, I realized that in my day job as an educator, my primary motivation was to improve the lives of young people by equipping them with the tools that help them navigate a complex world. The work that STAR was doing was a perfect extension of that very mission.

For that reason, I wanted to be involved with the 3-D Peer Educator program to equip promising young leaders to be the people who carry on that mission to their peers.

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

Perhaps most rewarding is the feeling that I can make a proactive impact on unhealthy sexuality. STAR provides services to people who are struggling with the results of sexual trauma, but when I can reach a young person in a way that empowers them to make choices that can prevent sexual trauma from happening, then I feel as if I have made a difference. The most rewarding part of STAR is being involved with an organization that hopes to one day rid the world of sexual violence.

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

Thinking about the young people who will or have become the voice of change for their peers motivates me when others seem to have missed the message.

5. What are some other ways you promote positive change in your community?

Voting in local elections and speaking up in-person when I see things that I question are concrete ways to incite change. I also promote positive change by considering the implications that my actions have beyond myself. It’s more than not being selfish, it’s considering things in a global perspective; as in, “Will this action affect someone else in a way that I haven’t considered?” It’s being intentional about the choices I make by considering if they add value to my life, the lives of others, and/or the world.

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

I’d like to direct this statement at other men who are hesitant to become involved. I think that the message of healthy sexuality is sometimes construed as a “slander against men” (as one pundit put it). I’d like all men to distance ourselves from our ideologies, our in-group biases, and even our personal relationships, and consider that the essence of ending sexual trauma is to make the world a better place for all people.

It’s important to realize that even for a man who hasn’t been touched by sexual violence directly, our lives and our relationships are negatively impacted because unhealthy sexuality exists. Making the world a safer and healthier place without sexual violence or trauma has the potential to improve all of our lives.

 

Get involved and make change with STAR:

Click here for more ways to get involved.

Agents of Change: Paulette Thomas

2


Becoming an active member of the movement to end sexual trauma is one of the most rewarding things you can ever do. I would say just do it. Sexual trauma touches all of us — if not directly, we know someone who was touched by it. Be a part of change and help end the silence and the stigma behind not reporting.

– Paulette Thomas

 

1. What is your position at STAR?

I am a medical advocate for STAR. I provide support, resources, and advocacy for survivors of sexual assault before, during, and after the forensic exam at the hospital.

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

In 2002, I was a victim of sexual assault. Going to the hospital alone was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do; the process was so overwhelming. I had thoughts of leaving and not going through with the process, but a hospital advocate from the Rape Crisis Center (now STAR) came, explained the process to me and was there every step of the way.

When I transitioned from victim to survivor with the help of the center’s counselors, the first thing I did was find out how I could give back by being a support for someone else going through the same thing. When I walked into the office to sign up, the first person I saw was the counselor that helped me in 2002. That was 2009 and I have no plans of stopping.

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

There is so much that I find rewarding, but the most rewarding thing is working directly with survivors — being there at the moment that they need someone the most and letting them know that even though they may have come to the hospital alone, they are not alone. It’s such a great feeling to be asked, “Did you come just for me?” It’s a great feeling knowing that I am making a difference in someone’s life, even if they never say a word but I see the look on their face when they realize that I’m not there to ask questions, I’m there to be supportive and listen if they want to talk or just sit quietly.

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

Before I became an advocate, I had no idea how much sexual assault happens because only a small portion makes the news. It’s always a little difficult knowing the reason that there is a need for medical advocates. When I first started, I would get emotional and wanted to cry with everyone who cried, but I can honestly say that it never gets discouraging because I always want to help at the time of need. It can be a little overwhelming, though, if you don’t take some me-time.

I think about the survivors that I have helped and the parents of the survivors who are so grateful that someone was there to give support when they could not be there for whatever reason. STAR is so supportive and makes sure that we are taking care of ourselves and taking time off if needed. Working with STAR is so fulfilling and that alone motivates me and keep me going.

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

Change comes with education. I was at a community event at a college and STAR had an information table set up. Almost all of the young ladies passed by and said, “Oh I don’t need that because it will never happen to me.” I was one of those people who thought the same way before it happened to me. Since that day, I talk to young girls and let them know that it can happen to anyone and the majority of the time it is not a stranger — it’s someone you know.

Most of the time the survivor is told that no one will believe them and that prevents a lot of survivors from reporting. I let them know that they don’t have to be silent. For those who have gone through sexual assault and never got help, I encourage them to get counseling. It is also my goal is to teach men about boundaries and what sexual assault is because change starts with us. I believe that with education, sexual assault won’t be a prevalent as it is today.

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

Becoming an active member of the movement to end sexual trauma is one of the most rewarding things you can ever do. I would say just do it. Sexual trauma touches all of us — if not directly, we know someone who was touched by it. Be a part of change and help end the silence and the stigma behind not reporting. It only takes a desire to make a difference. You choose the days you want to volunteer, so it won’t interfere with your normal schedule. If you don’t think medical advocacy is for you, phone advocacy may be, or you can always make a donation. Everything helps and everyone can make a difference.

 

Get involved and make change with STAR:

Click here for more ways to get involved.

Agents of Change: Collin Wade

2


It is my genuine belief that patently false accusations are incredibly rare, and if someone is speaking up, something problematic happened, regardless of whether it rises to the level of criminal or civil liability.

– Collin Wade

1. What is your connection to STAR?

I’m a lead organizer of Me Too NOLA, a local organization that seeks to join in the national conversation in a local and personalized way. Presently, we hold speak-out events where people who have experienced sexual assault and/or sexual harassment can share their stories in a safe and positive environment.

These speak-outs empower, validate, and bring healing to survivors while also raising awareness that sexual assault and sexual harassment are being experienced by people in our community. They also encourage empathy from witnesses which we believe incites activism.

2. What do you find most rewarding about your involvement in these efforts?

I find it most rewarding to hear from survivors who have found their experiences of sharing at these events helpful in their healing process, and to be able to bring survivors together so that they don’t suffer alone.

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

Every day someone I know, including myself, experiences sexual harassment, assault, abuse or sexism. I don’t even have to look for anecdotes or stats to keep me motivated because the examples are everywhere — it’s completely ingrained in our culture from how young boys are raised to treat women, to how young girls are socialized to be pleasing to men, to how I’m afraid to walk my dog alone after dark.

4. What are some ways you promote positive change in your community, outside of organizing Me Too NOLA?

I try to be vocal about the issues I care about; I call my congresspersons; I vote in all elections. I do pro bono legal work.

As a piano teacher, I teach self-expression through the arts and mindfulness meditation — skills which I believe help people cope with trauma. I hope to one day be able to give free or discounted private lessons because I believe strongly in the value of the one-on-one relationship a piano teacher has with her student.

I try to be a good listener and expose myself to diverse ideas, opinions, and lifestyles, and make sure everyone can participate in the conversation. That is one reason why Me Too NOLA is not just for women who have been sexually assaulted or sexually harassed; it is for people of all genders.

I also try to assume the best about people – even when it’s difficult.

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

My advice would depend upon the person. If you are a survivor, my advice is for you to take it at your own pace and not push yourself. Some days, activism may feel like a good idea and other days, you might need to retreat — and that’s ok. If you want to get involved with Me Too NOLA, there’s big and small ways to help —  you can hang flyers, attend a speak-out, speak out yourself, help organize a speak-out, work on the website, etc.

If you are hesitant to get involved because you are a man, first of all, let me say that sexual assault and sexual harassment are not only happening to women. We need men to speak out and share too, and to support other men who share. We also need allies in this battle. Volunteer to help out with Me Too NOLA or another group working in this space – we are happy to have you.

To people in general: believe survivors. This doesn’t mean forgetting “innocent until proven guilty,” it simply means supporting survivors for speaking out. Do not start off in a place of doubt and skepticism or wondering what the survivor did wrong. It is incredibly difficult to accuse someone of sexual assault or sexual harassment (or to press charges/sue because of it) because suddenly the accuser’s whole life becomes subject to public scrutiny and judgment. Survivors do not make their accusations lightly and most survivors never speak up at all. It is my genuine belief that patently false accusations are incredibly rare, and if someone is speaking up, something problematic happened, regardless of whether it rises to the level of criminal or civil liability.

6. When is the next Me Too NOLA speak-out? 

Our next speak-out event is on Tuesday, March 20th at Twelve Mile Limit. People can find more information here and can sign up to speak at the event here. If people are interested in volunteering with Me Too NOLA, they can sign up here.

People can also follow us on social media: on Facebook @metoonola, on Instagram @me.too.nola and on Twitter @metoonola.

Get involved and make change with STAR:

Click here for more ways to get involved.

Agents of Change: Amelia Ryland

2


The very unfortunate truth is that our society has evolved in many ways, but sexual assault and violence are still so incredibly prevalent. The only way to eliminate sexual violence is to target the pillars that support it.

– Amelia Ryland

1. What is your connection to STAR?

I was fortunate enough to complete a counseling internship at STAR’s Central Louisiana branch. Although the internship concluded in December, I still hope to continue through volunteering in the future.

2. How did you get involved with STAR or the field of sexual assault prevention/response?

I heard about STAR from a friend who had volunteered at the Capital Area branch. When I heard her describe the nature of the agency, I immediately knew I wanted to complete an internship there. The more I learned about STAR, the more I wanted to contribute to their mission.

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

The most rewarding thing about my involvement with STAR has definitely been witnessing the strength and bravery of survivors. I have had the privilege of witnessing survivors reclaim their power, which has been truly life-changing.

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

In our current sociopolitical climate, it is very easy to become discouraged. I frequently struggle with feeling discouraged and questioning the effectiveness of my actions. Yet I ultimately find motivation to keep going at the same place that I decided to begin: the desires to want to help those who feel like they cannot help themselves, to be a part of something bigger than myself, and to leave the world better than when I found it.

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

I firmly believe that community defines its citizens. In that spirit, donating my skills, experiences, and resources to my community have always been a top priority. I feel I have contributed the most through sharing, facilitating, and creating music. I have contributed to the Alexandria community through sharing my singing, playing guitar, and original songwriting. I have seen the powerful, unifying effects of music in a community setting.

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

I think the very unfortunate truth is that our society has evolved in many ways, but sexual assault and violence are still so incredibly prevalent. The only way to eliminate sexual violence is to target the pillars that support it. If left unchallenged, these systems will not only persist, but also strengthen. There must be people fighting to give voice to the voiceless, and empower those who feel disempowered.

 

Get involved and make change with STAR:

Click here for more ways to get involved.

Agents of Change: Amy Noto

2


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.

Agents of Change: Ashley Seaverson

2


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.

Agents of Change: Brooke Allen

2


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

2


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.