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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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

 

Get involved and make change with STAR:

Click here for more ways to get involved.

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?

javonda-6

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.

javonda-2

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.

javonda-5

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.

javonda-4

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.

tercel-2

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.

tercel-3

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.

tercel-4

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!

Agents of Change: Lisa Mount

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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 love when people ask me what I do. It may be awkward at first, but it is usually a great opportunity to talk about STAR and the important services we provide. It also brings attention to the fact that these services are needed in our community – this is not something that only happens somewhere else.

– Lisa Mount    

1. What is your position at STAR? 

lisa-mount-bio

I am the counselor at STAR’s Central Louisiana Branch. I provide individual and group trauma-informed therapy to adults and adolescents of all genders who are survivors of sexual abuse or assault. Because the support system is a vital part of the recovery of survivors, I also provide individual and group therapy for the support persons of survivors. This may include parents, grandparents, friends, significant others or spouses. The CenLa branch is brand new and I am also helping with program development activities so that we can get the word out about the services that STAR is now providing to this area of Louisiana.

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

I became interested in learning more about responding to the needs of survivors early in my career. In every setting where I provided Social Work services, I was encountering people who had experienced some sort of sexual violence, or who had a loved one who had. I took steps to educate myself, then in 2007 I had the opportunity to work at a sexual assault center named Stuller Place, now Hearts of Hope, in Lafayette, Louisiana.

I continued to grow and learn through that experience and through my experiences as a board member for LAFASA, the Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault. Even after I left Hearts of Hope, I continued to provide counseling to survivors in community-based and mental health settings. I was very excited when I got the opportunity to work with STAR to provide counseling and support to survivors in my home region of Central Louisiana.

lisa-mount-with-husband-jon

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

It’s the little things — the accomplishments that we see among survivors and their families as they move along in their journey towards healing. It’s the moment in counseling when the person realizes something that is important to their recovery — it is like a light comes on and you can see a little bit of the weight lift from their shoulders. It’s the day someone shows up for their first session, despite their fear of starting counseling. It’s when a person expresses a feeling of empowerment or the day someone lets you know they were able to do something they were not able to do before, like go grocery shopping or sleep through the night. It’s when parents of a child that was abused start healing and showing that they are more confident in their ability to help their child.

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

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Although everyone at STAR is working different angles of the mission, we are all working toward the same things. The culture of the agency supports growth and provides an environment where we learn from and support each other. This teamwork and support helps me to keep going even when things are difficult or discouraging.

Still, this is hard work. Support and self-care are important. My family and friends are supportive. I also make sure to do fun things like spending time with family and friends, getting my nails done, or hiking and kayaking every chance I get so that I can take care of myself. The passion I have for working in this field is also great fuel that keeps me going. That passion, compassion, and desire to help others helps me turn setbacks and roadblocks into hurdles to be overcome and problems to be solved.

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

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It is important to live the change you want to see in your day to day life.  This is something I have found impacts others by setting an example and helping them feel like they have permission to stand up against things in our culture that normalize or justify rape, assault, sexual harassment and other forms of sexual abuse.

I am always educating others. I love when people ask me what I do. It may be awkward at first, but it is usually a great opportunity to talk about STAR and the important services we provide. It also brings attention to the fact that these services are needed in our community – this is not something that only happens somewhere else.

Many times the people I’m talking to disclose that they are survivors or know someone that was abused.  When I hear someone say something uninformed about sexual abuse or rape, I immediately speak up in an effort to dispel the myth and educate the person. These little steps are witnessed and repeated within my social circle.

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

Anybody can be part of the movement to end sexual trauma.  Everyone has their own unique strengths and skill sets.  The most effective way for someone to get involved is to find their own personal way to contribute to the effort. There are no small actions. You can make a difference by doing things as simple as educating yourself, talking to those in your social circles, reporting and not spreading posts on social media that promote rape culture or myths about sexual trauma, and choosing not to listen to music or watch movies that normalize sexual violence. Everyone can make a difference.

To learn more about STAR’s Counseling services in Central Louisiana, call (855) 435-7827. 

Get involved and make change with STAR!

Emerging Together

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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.

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STAR NOLA Staff (July 2016)

 

Get involved and make change with STAR!

State Task Force to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse

On August 11, just before unprecedented flooding began to devastate many areas of South Louisiana, Prevent Child Abuse Louisiana sent out a call for testimonials to inform the work of Louisiana’s Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Children. This task force was created by the Louisiana Legislature in 2014 pursuant to Senate Concurrent Resolution 69 and further provided for in the 2015 Regular Session in Senate Concurrent Resolution 14.

Below is a slightly edited version of what STAR® submitted to the Task Force. If you are a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, or have other expertise on the topic, please consider contributing your testimony to the Task Force by responding to this questionnaire.

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Current State of the Problem

As an agency that serves individuals aged 12 and older who experience sexual trauma, STAR sees many clients who have been affected by child sexual abuse. The majority of our counseling clients are now adults and they are seeking services for abuse they experienced as a child. We also see that it is common for adults who are assaulted to have histories of childhood sexual abuse, which is consistent with national research that indicates that children who are sexually abused are at a greater risk for being assaulted again.

Child sexual abuse is an adverse childhood experience, and there is a significant connection between abuse at a young age and poor mental, physical and behavioral health outcomes later in life. We also see this in our clients at STAR—many of whom struggle with substance abuse, mental illness and other health problems.

What is Working?

In the Capital Region, STAR works with the Baton Rouge Children’s Advocacy Center to ensure that children and adults who experience sexual trauma have resources and support from our agencies. We collaborate formally through our Sexual Assault Response Team (SART), and have co-hosted support groups for children, teen and non-offending parents to address sexual abuse within families.

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What is Not Working?

Resources for prevention are incredibly limited. Many health care workers, educators and representatives of partner organization are not provided with the necessary information and knowledge to adequately and effectively address sexual abuse.

In addition to these issues with adults, there is very limited prevention information disseminated to children through school or after school programming. STAR has several curricula available to teach youth about boundaries, healthy relationships and violence prevention; however, many schools do not take advantage of this free service due to academic achievement and testing demands, despite that we know trauma can have negative impacts on students’ academic achievement. Additionally, with funding for only one prevention educator, our organization does not have nearly enough resources to address this need alone. To address the issue of sexual violence, all state and community institutions must make it a priority.

Finally, there is limited funding for services to survivors of child sexual abuse. At STAR, we receive no state funding, nor do any other sexual assault centers in the state. We rely heavily on competitive Federal grants to allow us to provide our advocacy, counseling and legal services to survivors and their loved ones free of charge.

Throughout the state, there are only 13 sexual assault service providers, while the numbers of those affected are staggering. There are many parishes in our state that are entirely unserved. Given this need, STAR currently serves the Capital, Central Louisiana and Greater New Orleans Areas (covering 14 parishes total), with 20 full-time and 6 part-time staff members. Given that sexual violence is experienced at epidemic levels, and given the often long-term and far-reaching impacts of this hidden epidemic, Louisiana survivors of sexual violence deserve much better access to resources.

What is Needed

  • Resources to train and inform mandatory reporters so that they have the skills and knowledge to report sexual abuse of minors
  • Increased funding for child sexual abuse services and prevention education
  • State leaders to make services for all survivors of sexual violence (children and adults) a priority
  • State leaders to make sexual violence prevention programming and awareness a priority
  • State leaders to recognize and understand the distinction between sexual violence and domestic violence, and why specialized services for sexual trauma are important
  • More research into sex offenders; including identifying risk factors for perpetration, intervention for low-risk offenders (prior to jail time), and management and treatment of offenders (both in prison and re-entry services)

your voice matters

To submit your own experience or expertise of child sexual abuse to the task force, fill out this questionnaire.