Agents of Change: Jordan Gonzales

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“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.

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In Mixed Company: Surviving Beyond Gender

Written by Dana Rock, LMSW, Jordan Gonzales, PLPC, NCC, and Sarah Baniahmad

Many people see sexual assault as a women’s issue. When men are included in the conversation, it normally centers on what they can do to protect or support women. With 1 in 5 women being raped in their lifetime, it is easy to see how this idea came to fruition1. In reality, sexual violence can happen to anyone, including men and transgender individuals. In fact, statistics show that 1 in 71 men have been raped1. A 2015 survey showed that 47% of transgender people were sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime2. These statistics are likely an underestimate, due to the barriers that men and transgender individuals face when coming forward about their assaults.

Our culture holds many myths that make it difficult for male survivors to disclose sexual assault. Our society portrays the image that all men want sex at all times; therefore, unwanted sexual encounters do not exist. If a man has received sex in any form, he should be thankful for it. Men are viewed as strong and able to fight off anything; thus, people believe that men can and will stop sexual interactions from occurring if they choose. In addition, our culture holds males to an impossible standard with regards to emotional vulnerability. In an effort to never appear weak, men are discouraged from talking about their feelings or outwardly displaying vulnerable parts of themselves. All of these factors are part of the seemingly insurmountable mountain male survivors must climb when thinking about coming forward.

At STAR, we serve all survivors of sexual assault, regardless of gender. It is normal for survivors to experience feelings of shame and guilt following a sexual trauma, and group therapy has been proven to be highly effective in helping survivors work through those feelings. Men often face feelings of shame and guilt to an even higher degree due to the myths surrounding male sexual trauma. In the past, groups at STAR were only open to female survivors. To our knowledge, similar sexual assault centers around the country were separating their groups out by gender. However, we did not have quite enough interest to host an all male group, which led to the idea of starting an all gender inclusive group to meet the need.

Several concerns arose as we discussed the possibility of a mixed gender group. Men and women are both more likely to be assaulted by men, which can cause a great fear and distrust of men. Would women be reluctant to join a group that included men? Would men be comfortable enough to discuss their trauma with women? Would these two genders be able to find common ground among their experiences? Would gender-specific concerns go unaddressed with an all-inclusive group?

We talked through our potential concerns and received guidance from a webinar on hosting all-gender groups provided by FORGE, a transgender anti-violence group. Through this training we realized that we were not being fully inclusive to transgender survivors with our current group model. In addition, STAR as an agency has been seeking out ways to become more accessible to male survivors in the community. We ultimately decided that all survivors, regardless of gender, deserved a chance to experience the healing that can come from group. This was an opportunity to show men that we believed them and wanted to serve them just as much as we wanted to serve women. By expanding our current group model to include males as well as transgender survivors, we created more access to services for our entire community.

To date we have completed two all gender support groups in the Baton Rouge branch. We were very upfront about the makeup of the group from the start with all potential participants. To our surprise, group members expressed few concerns about having a mixed gender group and were open to the idea. At our initial meeting, group members discussed concerns of not being able to relate to one another across genders. As co-facilitators, we used this as an opportunity to talk through the many differences that can appear in any support group: different ages, races, ethnicities, religious affiliations, types of trauma, etc. While survivors always bring their unique personalities and experiences to group, the power lies in finding common ground with one another. Sexual assault causes real pain and affects so many aspects of a survivor’s life. Group participants connected on their shared experiences and feelings, such as experiencing shame, guilt, trust issues, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The survivors were able to see that they were not alone in their struggles.

During group sessions, several female members shared that simply having males present helped them shift their perspective of men from a negative light to a positive one. This was reflected throughout group as well as in feedback we received from an anonymous survey given at the end of group. One group member stated, “It is important to have all genders participate in group therapy because sexual assaults happen to all genders.” Another group member shared, “It was very difficult at first, but I think it was helpful to know that men go through the same things.” Experiences and lessons learned in group therapy can help one apply those concepts to the outside world. By allowing all genders, especially males, to participate in groups we are ultimately providing the opportunity for healing to occur on newer and deeper levels for all participants.

As counselors, watching the group experience unfold the same way with different genders, as it had with one gender, reinforces what we have always known about survivors. While their traumas and their backgrounds might be completely different, sexual assault in any form can cause the same lasting effects. At their core, male and female survivors do not have as many differences as one might think. We are continuing to see interest in support groups from male survivors and we are excited about continuing the mixed gender model for our groups in Baton Rouge.

 

Citations:

The Difference Between Self-Defense and Rape Prevention

The idea of having girls and women participate in self-defense classes to reduce their risk of rape is highly debated. “Teach men not to rape” is a common response from survivors and advocates who feel that the burden of rape prevention is unfairly placed on the victims.

Writing in The Guardian, Jessica Valenti echoed this concern: “In a world where rape victims are routinely blamed for violence perpetrated against them, sending the message that stopping rape is women’s work is a slippery slope.” In this post, we dissect how promoting self-defense classes as rape prevention can be harmful and problematic.

 

Self-defense is not rape prevention

Self-defense classes are considered risk reduction, not prevention. Risk reduction programs focus on helping individuals gain skills to reduce their risk for being victims of sexual violence and changing behaviors that might put them at risk.

Additional examples of risk reduction programs include:

  • “Watch your drink” campaigns
  • Teaching “Good Touch/Bad Touch to children
  • Internet safety classes
  • Rape avoidance devices, such as whistles, mace and Tasers
  • Teaching bystander intervention strategies to interrupt a potential assault

Primary prevention is about getting to the root of the problem and changing our culture to one that promotes safety, equality and respect.

Although risk reduction programs have some benefit for helping increase an individual’s safety in certain situations, these programs are not considered primary prevention for the following reasons:

  1. They are not focused on addressing the root causes or the risk factors of sexual violence.
  2. They make the potential victim responsible for their own safety without making the community responsible for changing the factors that lead to sexual violence and without helping potential perpetrators change. This perpetuates victim-blaming, stigma, and shame which further harms victims and does nothing to prevent or reduce rates of sexual violence.
  3. They may help reduce the likelihood that someone at the party can slip a drug into someone else’s drink and sexually assault them; however, a person who is looking to commit a drug facilitated sexual assault that night would be likely to target someone else. The probability of any sexual assault being committed has not necessarily changed.

Do self-defense classes work?

It is important to note that some individuals feel more empowered to navigate their daily lives after having completed self-defense training. Nonetheless, there are psychological and neurobiological impacts of trauma that may affect the victim’s ability to physically “fight back” during an assault. Traumatic experiences cause responses of fight, flight or freeze, which often override self-defense skills. For every news story about a woman fighting off her attacker, there are thousands of survivors who didn’t have that option. The best self-defense classes respect the philosophy that, regardless of whether a person chooses to use force to fight back, they are never to blame for being assaulted.

 

The benefits of self-defense classes

At STAR, many sexual assault survivors that we work with often express interest in learning self-defense skills. Self-defense classes can help survivors regain a sense of power and control over their own bodies after an assault. Attending a class given by an instructor who is sensitive to the needs of people who have experienced sexual violence can be an empowering experience that helps to restore a sense of real and perceived safety and play a part in the healing process in the aftermath of sexual trauma.

Research indicates certain positive outcomes resulting from self-defense training; these include[1]:

  • Increased assertiveness
  • Improved self-esteem
  • Decreased anxiety
  • Increased sense of perceived control
  • Decreased fear of sexual assault
  • Enhanced self-efficacy
  • Improved physical competence/skills in self-defense
  • Decreased avoidance behaviors (restricting activities such as walking alone)
  • Increased participatory behaviors (behaviors demonstrating freedom of action)

There is also some preliminary evidence to suggest that self-defense programs can decrease symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and increase self-efficacy among those who have already been sexually assaulted.[2]

 

Suggestions for choosing a self-defense course[3]

If you are interested in participating in a self-defense course, consider doing the following:

  • Before choosing a self-defense course, research the program carefully. Programs vary in their approach, duration and cost. To research a course you may be able to observe a class, ask for written materials on the course content and philosophy, and possibly interview former students if it does not impede with confidentiality considerations.
  • Find out a program’s philosophy. Questions might include: How does the program address violence against women? What is its perspective on non-stranger sexual assault? What is the program’s history? What are the standards for instructor training and background? How are emotions handled in the course – do instructors have training or background in working with assault survivors? What procedures are in place for student safety? What precautionary measures are taken to reduce chance of injury? Does the instructor allow participation and contribution at the level to which students are comfortable?
  • Understand the program’s method. Many sexual assault perpetrators work by disrespecting non-physical boundaries first. Therefore, a strong self-defense program will focus on defining and protecting personal boundaries on multiple levels – not just physical. It will also help build mental and verbal skills in addition to physical techniques for averting assault. These subtleties are very important in the context of sexual assault.
  • Look for an instructor who respects your right to choose. It’s important to remember that decisions about personal safety are just that…personal. Only that individual can decide what strategies will work best in any given situation. It is best-practice for an instructor to provide a viable set of options to choose from, not instruct what should be done in any particular situation.

 

References:

[1] Brecklin, L.R. (2007). Evaluation outcomes of self-defense training for women: A review. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 13, 60-76

[2] David, Wendy S., et al. “Taking Charge.” Journal of Interpersonal Violence, vol. 21, no. 4, 2006, pp. 555–565., doi:10.1177/0886260505285723.

[3] Sexual Assault Advocacy & Crisis Line Training Guide developed by the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Retrieved from: http://www.ccasa.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/sexual-assault-advocacy-and-crisis-line-training-guide.pdf

 

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!

 

Why Children Don’t Tell

CSA Stats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Agents of Change: Ashley Seaverson

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

– Ashley Seaverson

1. What is your position at STAR?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Get involved and make change with STAR:

Click here for more ways to get involved.

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

 

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Trauma is not a small price to pay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Agents of Change: Javonda Nix

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There are many people in our community working to create positive change to end sexual violence. We want to feature as many of them as possible. If you would like to submit a recommendation, please email prevention@star.ngo.


I knew I had to be doing something right when a friend disclosed to me and she had never disclosed to anyone else before. That situation alone validated that just having the conversation about sexual violence can be another person’s breakthrough and the start of their healing.

– Javonda Nix    

1. What is your position at STAR?

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I am a Resource Advocate at STAR’s Greater New Orleans Branch. I serve survivors directly by providing resources, hospital advocacy, answering the crisis line and supporting them in any way that will assist in their healing process.

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

There has always been a spot in my heart to serve the community since the age of 14. The beginning of my journey in community work started as a Summer Youth Leadership Team member. At that point, I learned that community work would be the most fulfilling job and where I would find much of my happiness.

Even though I didn’t go into a trauma-focused field when initially coming out of college, I have realized that STAR is giving me the satisfaction of serving my very own community in a way I could have never imagined, which is supporting survivors of sexual trauma and finding ways to prevent sexual violence in my community.

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

Every day when I wake, I get to witness something GREAT and that is witnessing survivors heal in their very own way. Seeing them regain strength and take back their life in different ways is breathtaking and rewarding.

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

Being that I am from New Orleans, I have seen different levels of trauma, so it has always been instilled in me to pray and ask God to lead me when things get rough. I am motivated to give back, and what better way to give back to my community than to educate and make people aware of this issue? I am motivated to help people realize that we can put an end to sexual violence.

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

Day to day, I fight for this issue and make others aware everywhere I go. I knew I had to be doing something right when a friend disclosed to me and she had never disclosed to anyone else before. That situation alone validated that just having the conversation about sexual violence can be another person’s breakthrough and the start of their healing.

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

I would tell people that this is not at all easy work and your heart has to be in it to continue to fight to end sexual violence, however it is rewarding when you see one survivor jump over that hurdle they thought they couldn’t accomplish.

 

Get involved and make change with STAR!

Agents of Change: Tercel Harris

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There are many people in our community working to create positive change to end sexual violence. We want to feature as many of them as possible. If you would like to submit a recommendation, please email prevention@star.ngo.


More men are needed to join the movement against sexual violence and honestly I feel it is our fight first and foremost. We carry on the ideas that boys are just boys and what happens to women is their fault. We need to change our mindsets to help those in need.

– Tercel Harris    

1. What is your relationship with STAR? tercel-1

I joined STAR as an intern in their Capital Area branch back in August 2014. After my internship ended, I continued an active role with STAR as a volunteer hotline advocate.

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

A number of close female friends in my life are survivors of some form of sexual violence. The stories they told me made me feel angry and also powerless because I didn’t know what to do to help, or what to say to make it better. It was then that I knew I had to take a stand against sexual violence and the rape culture that makes those sort of actions seem okay.

I came to realize that men need to rise up and challenge rape culture, not condone locker room talk. We as men need to take a more proactive role to address this issue.

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

The most rewarding aspect is knowing that I am actually making a difference in lives of those that have been hurt before. Through the hotline, I can provide hope to those that feel hopeless and be a resource to survivors that feel no one is there to listen to them. It is also rewarding to hear about the role STAR has played in the lives of survivors when I table for STAR in the community.

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

Now that I know what to say and do to help, talking to friends is my motivation because of the impact I have had on their lives. They can finally open up about the trauma and handle it in a healthier way. Another reason I don’t lose focus and push on to make a differences is because a person very close to me was a victim of sexual violence at a young age. So in the back of my mind, I always think about that when times get difficult. I know that I can’t give up because there is so much left to do.

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

I promote positive change in my daily life by educating others on the issue of sexual violence. Being a man, I point out the offensive ways my male friends make jokes or do anything else that promotes negative views and rape culture. I also try to bring the issue into my school life by joining organizations that stand with the movement and educating my fraternity about the issues so it starts a trend for other chapters around the world to join the movement.

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

My advice to men is to stand for something or fall for anything. More men are needed to join the movement against sexual violence and honestly I feel it is our fight first and foremost. We carry on the ideas that boys are just boys and what happens to women is their fault. We need to change our mindsets to help those in need.

If men out there don’t want to do it for others, at least do it for your loved ones that may be affected by sexual violence. I couldn’t live in a world where I condone the violence that is being done to someone else or my loved ones. Men, we are needed in this fight to challenge the men that create rape culture. Just doing simple things like educating other men is a step forward in the right direction.

 

Get involved and make change with STAR!