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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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:

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Emerging Together

nola-office

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Margaret Reynolds, STAR’s Greater New Orleans Regional Director

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

nola-staff-march-2016

STAR NOLA Staff (July 2016)

 

Get involved and make change with STAR!

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.

updated-reporting-matrix

 

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.

Serving survivors from the HAART

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Sometimes, you just have to brag. We at STAR are doing amazing things, and we want to share our progress and positive experiences with you.


Sexual violence occurs at epidemic levels, with someone in the U.S. sexually assaulted every 2 minutes, and Baton Rouge is not exempt. Supporting survivors in our community is a big task, and while we at STAR work tirelessly to assist survivors the best that we can, we can’t do it alone.

For this month’s Services Spotlight, we’d like to spotlight a local organization whose partnership is vital to our goal of supporting survivors: HIV/AIDS Alliance for Region Two (HAART).

 

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HAART supports survivors

HAART’s mission is to provide affordable quality health care to our community. HAART offers a complete continuum of care to people living with HIV/AIDS, including housing, primary care, medications, case management, and an array of supportive services. HAART also provides HIV prevention education and free testing to the Baton Rouge area.

In addition to this wide array of services, HAART also collaborates with STAR to help survivors reduce the risk of acquiring HIV after a sexual assault by providing free access to prophylaxis medications. Not only is this beneficial to survivors’ physical health, but it can also provide comfort and ease of mind—giving survivors one less source of anxiety as they begin their healing journey.

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Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP)

Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is an anti-HIV medication taken within three days after exposure to HIV in order to reduce the chance of becoming HIV positive. Survivors who are at risk of acquiring HIV from their assailant can opt to take this medication in order to prevent the virus from spreading and infecting them. Survivors are not required to take a forensic exam or report to law enforcement in order to access this medication. They can contact STAR or HAART directly, within 72 hours of their assault, if they believe they have been exposed to HIV.

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)

While PEP medication can be used as an emergency medication once someone has been exposed to HIV, community members who are more at-risk of acquiring this virus may benefit from taking PREP. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PREP) is a daily medication that prevents the acquisition of HIV. HAART has recently launched an outreach campaign to bring community awareness to this revolutionary drug.

HIV and AIDS

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the virus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). A person is diagnosed with AIDS when their immune system is too weak to fight off infections. It is the final stage of HIV infection. While HIV/AIDS is treatable, there is currently no official cure.

In the United States, more than 1.2 million people are living with HIV infection, and almost 1 in 8 (12.8%) are unaware of their infection.

The city of Baton Rouge is ranked second highest in AIDS cases and fourth highest rates of HIV. New Orleans has the fifth highest rates of HIV in the U.S. Knowing this, it is important to be educated on this issue.

High-risk and disproportionately affected populations include:

  • Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men
  • Heterosexual African American men and women
  • Heterosexual Hispanic/Latino(a) men and women
  • Heterosexual white women
  • Injection drug users
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Image Source: www.aids.gov

 

Ways that community members can protect themselves from contracting and spreading HIV include:

  • Speak openly with partners about safer sex techniques and HIV status.
  • If you don’t know your status, get an HIV test to protect yourself and others.
  • Use a latex condom with each oral, anal or vaginal sexual encounter. Those with latex allergies should use latex-free condoms.
  • Do not share needles or syringes if you inject drugs.
  • HIV infected pregnant women should practice regular prenatal care.
  • HIV infected women should not breast feed.

Knowledge is power

HIV/AIDS and sexual trauma are public health and safety concerns. In order to create a safer and healthier community, we must actively work to educate ourselves and support our community members affected by these issues. Contact HAART to access their services, to learn more information on HIV/AIDS, and to get involved in their mission to provide affordable, quality health care to our community. If you are a survivor of sexual trauma and need assistance, call our 24/7 hotline at 1-888-435-STAR.

Looking back as we move forward

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Sometimes, you just have to brag. We at STAR are doing amazing things, and we want to share our progress and positive experiences with you.


 

At STAR, we pride ourselves on accomplishing a lot with limited resources, which means most of the time we’re working hard and looking ahead. On a daily basis, we dedicate ourselves to improving outcomes for survivors of sexual trauma through direct and community services and to reducing levels of sexual violence in our service area.

For this month’s Services Spotlight, though, we want to pause and look back on some of our momentous developments from 2015.

Agency Expansion

  • We opened an office and established a 24/7 hotline in New Orleans to enhance services to survivors of sexual trauma in the area.
  • We hosted our most successful Hunks in Heels fundraiser yet, with over $66,000 raised.
  • We partnered with Clay Young Enterprises to develop our agency’s first promotional video.
  • We expanded our impact by hiring for seven additional positions in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

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Survivor Services

  • We launched our legal services program, which is the only program in Louisiana to offer legal services exclusively to sexual assault survivors at no cost.
  • We launched the Sexual Assault Legal Clinic with LSU Law, which was the first of its kind in the nation.
  • With greater awareness, reports of rape continue to increase. To meet this ever-expanding need, we continued providing counseling and advocacy services at no cost to survivors.

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Systems Advocacy

  • We assisted in the development of a new rape kit that was adopted by the Louisiana State Crime Lab as the statewide recommended rape kit.

Social Change

  • Our Creating Change prevention workshop was selected as Louisiana’s 2015 Rape Prevention Education Success Story by the Louisiana Dept. of Health and Hospitals’ Office of Public Health in their annual report to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • We recruited and trained our 4th cohort of 3-D Peer Educators (funded by the Louisiana Children’s Trust Fund).
  • We presented our first ever Social Change Impact Award to Amy Dellinger at our annual Evening of Appreciation for her in-kind assistance with data analysis and program evaluation.
  • We continued to provide education to youth to prevent sexual violence and strengthen their abilities to engage in healthy relationships.

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Our growth and development over the past year would not have been possible without the generous support of our funders and community partners. With your continued support, we look forward to another year of positive developments that will allow us to continue growing our capacity to serve survivors and reduce levels of sexual violence in South Louisiana. Thank you for your involvement in building a community free from oppression and sexual trauma!

Services Spotlight: Volunteers needed in NOLA!

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Sometimes, you just have to brag. We at STAR are doing amazing things, and we want to share our progress and positive experiences with you.


This past year has been a big one for STAR! In the past six months, we have begun to expand services to New Orleans, recently launching a 24/7, sexual assault-specific hotline for the New Orleans area.

NOLA Volunteer

What YOU can do

To fulfill our mission of supporting survivors, improving systems response, and creating social change to end sexual violence, we at STAR rely on committed volunteer advocates to provide support to survivors.

Our next volunteer advocate training will take place in March 2016, so we are currently recruiting volunteers from the New Orleans area to apply! Volunteers undergo a 40-hour training consisting of online and in-person hours. In addition to this initial training, monthly volunteer meetings will be held to provide additional, follow-up support for your role as a hotline and/or medical advocate.

To become a sexual assault victim advocate and STAR volunteer in New Orleans, we ask that you fill out our online application or visit our website to find out more information. You may also contact Michaela Lovejoy, our Volunteer Coordinator, at (504) 407-0711 or advocacynola@star.ngo to learn more.

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Apply now! And share to spread the word.

Want to hear from current STAR volunteers? Here’s what Mary Helen, Jacki, and Stefanie have to say about their experience.

In addition to recruiting volunteers, we are also hiring for an Advocacy Coordinator and Resource Advocate at STAR NOLA! Visit our website to learn more about these available positions.

 

Services Spotlight: Awareness and action at TBTN

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Sometimes, you just have to brag. We at STAR are doing amazing things, and we want to share our progress and positive experiences with you.


Take Back the Night

Beginning in the early 1970s, Take Back the Night has served as an awareness event, held across many different communities and countries, to focus on various forms of interpersonal violence. LSU Women’s Center and LSU Health Center hosted Baton Rouge’s 29th annual Take Back the Night event on Sunday, October 11. The event included a candlelight vigil to honor the lives lost to domestic and sexual violence, as well as a march to empower the community to take action.

STAR joined more than 30 partnering organizations to offer information about our services to the community and to encourage the social change necessary to end oppression and violence throughout our city.

2015 Final Poster

Call to Action 

During the program, our Vice President of Social Change, Rebecca Marchiafava, gave an official Call to Action speech to motivate our community to unite, mobilize, and create change. Here are her words:

Tonight we are here to acknowledge victims and survivors of forms of violence that have, for too long, been too normal and too silenced in our communities. And something that I have learned in my life and my work so far is that the most effective way to ensure violence will continue is to regard it as normal. When we view something as normal, we are saying that it is an inevitable, unavoidable fact of life. That nothing we do will change the current reality.

But we are all here because we don’t buy that. And to begin—or continue—taking action, we must always remember that sexual and intimate partner violence are not inevitable.

It is possible to make sexual harm a relic of the past. It is possible to eradicate intimate partner violence.

When working with survivors, we know to start by believing. Just the same, when working for social change to end sexual and intimate partner violence, we must start by believing as well. We must start by believing that positive change is possible. Only then can we take action to create the change that all of us so desire and desperately need.

Tonight, it is time to march and shout. It is time to make noise. It is time to disrupt disruptive violence, to make a scene about too many crime scenes, to object to objectifying violence, to take power back from those who wield deadly and traumatizing tactics of power and control.

And tomorrow? It will still be time for action. What kind of action? If we’re going act, we need to make an impact. We need to act strategically, effectively, and meaningfully to create change.

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Reading is action. 

Researching is action.

Sharing resources and information is action.

Posting on social media about these issues is action.

Posting comments on news articles is action.

Sending a letter to the editor is action.

Connecting with relevant local organizations is action.

Volunteering and donating is action.

Listening to survivors’ stories is action.

Sharing our stories is action.

Supporting survivors and their right to vulnerability is action.

Holding offenders accountable for committing violence is action.

Talk is action.

Asking questions is action.

Facilitating and attending meetings, and sending meeting notes, is action.

Attending community trainings and workshops is action.

Empathizing is action.

Learning from the experiences and perspectives of those who differ from us is action.

Knowing and doing better than we did yesterday is action.

Knowing and showing that “love is respect” is action.

Becoming informed about trauma and oppression is action.

Committing to trauma-informed practice is action.

Recognizing and challenging warning signs of violence is action.

Refusing to rationalize and justify violence is action.

Seeking to understand is action.

Embracing complexity is action.

Being inclusive is action.

Recognizing the connections between all forms of violence is action.

Care and self-care is action.

Exercise is action.

Spending time with loved ones is action.

Taking a break and getting rest is action.

Promoting the positive is action.

Being visionary is action.

Talking consistently with the children in our lives to reduce their risk of being perpetrators is action.

Allowing the men and boys in our lives to be authentic and vulnerable human beings is action.

Advocating and lobbying is action.

Investing in and implementing evidence-informed solutions is action.

Demanding institutional and political change is action.

Using institutional and political power to create positive change is action.

Making healthy relationships the norm is action.

Making healthy sexuality the norm is action.

So tonight, we are taking action together. We are strengthening connections that already exist and forming new connections. Tomorrow, let us follow up with a phone call or email. Let us build on decades of action and activism. Let us appreciate our momentum and recognize that there has been no greater time to continue in this work. Let us learn from our elders and mentor the up-and-coming generation. Let us recognize how far we have come and use it to motivate us to do the work that is required to replace violence, fear and intimidation with respect for boundaries and each other’s humanity, and with healthy, positive connections with one another.

Let us take action tonight and let it lead to taking action tomorrow. Thank you.

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STAR staff pictured: Community Engagement Coordinator Angela Schifani and President & CEO Racheal Hebert

Moving Forward

Our thoughts are with the families who have lost loved ones to domestic, sexual, and intimate partner violence. We are devoted to support survivors to best of our abilities, and we will continue to advocate for supportive systems response. We ask you to consciously implement social change in your everyday lives and to encourage those around you to do the same. We know that together, we are more than capable to make a positive, substantial impact in our community.

Services Spotlight: The Sexual Assault Legal Clinic

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Sometimes, you just have to brag. We at STAR are doing amazing things, and we want to share our progress and positive experiences with you.


Learning—one of six core values here at STAR—is very important in the work that we do. We believe that through expanding our knowledge about ourselves, others, and systems, we become more capable to serve our community. Unfortunately, there are not enough individuals and organizations that serve survivors of sexual trauma. This is why we offer various opportunities for community partners to become trauma informed and to develop a survivor-centered focus in their respective fields.
Students in front of STAR logo1STAR has partnered with LSU Paul M. Hebert Law Center to create a clinical education program where students can gain practical legal experience and serve survivors of sexual trauma. This program, the Sexual Assault Legal Clinic, is the first of its kind in the nation.

Rule XX of the Louisiana Supreme Court permits third year law students to have limited practice of law under the supervision of a licensed Louisiana attorney.

Our Vice President of Survivor Services, a licensed Louisiana attorney, Morgan Lamandre is supervising four law students, or “student attorneys,” from the LSU Law Center as they practice law and learn how to meet the legal needs of sexual assault survivors.

These student attorneys are not just learning how to be good lawyers; they are learning how to be good advocates.

Before they begin seeing their own clients, they must complete extensive trauma-informed training—including the training our advocates go through.

“They are learning information about trauma like all advocates do, because attorneys are advocates too,” Lamandre said.

“Lawyers who provide legal representation to sexual assault survivors need to be experts in various fields of law and trauma-informed,” she said.

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When asked why they selected this legal clinic over other opportunities, what they hope to gain, and what they have learned so far, the student attorneys had much to say:

“The fight for justice for victims of sexual assault is not as easy as some may think,”

–Kiara Taite

“I’ve learned how to think creatively using civil remedies to provide each individual survivor with a solution that both fits their own definition of justice and gives them hope to move forward.”

—Brittanie Wagnon

“I felt that this was a great opportunity to work in an area of the law that continues to expand and develop as there is more research and awareness regarding sexual assault. I also saw this as unique opportunity as a student attorney to be part of the survivors’ healing process and growth, and further to advocate for survivors who perhaps do not know of the legal remedies available to them.”

–Elisa Samaniego

“In my short time at STAR, I have learned that the problems involved for sexual assault survivors are often far more complex than one might think. Given the complications that many survivors face, I’ve learned just how much of an active advocate you have to be to properly represent a survivor.”

—Jeffery “Beau” Wheeler

Because survivors’ needs are vast, our student attorneys will be providing legal representation on numerous legal matters, including (but not limited to):

  • Obtaining civil orders of protection for survivors regardless of their decision to report their assault to law enforcement.
  • Representation as the “advisor of choice” during Title IX hearings on college campuses and/or enforcing Title IX or other education rights on other educational institutions and administrators (i.e. properly handling the bullying or harassment of student survivors, securing academic assistance or accommodations)
  • Housing issues (i.e. securing transfer or terminate lease in public housing)
  • Consumer finance issues (i.e. negotiating gym membership termination for survivors who attend the same gym as their offenders)
  • Public benefit issues (appeal denials of disability benefits or crime victims’ reparations claims, etc.)
  • Custody/parental rights termination, when a child is conceived through a rape
  • Victim rights issues (ensure the rights and privacy of survivors are upheld within the criminal justice system)

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Lamandre says that much of what she does for survivors requires “creative lawyering.”

 “Justice may not be jail for all survivors, so we help survivors obtain justice in ways that may be outside the criminal justice system.”

Even if a survivor is unsure whether their problem is a legal issue or not, we recommend that they call for a consultation with one of our attorneys at (225) 615-7093. If we can’t help you, we will provide referrals.