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!

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? 

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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.

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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.

Agents of Change: George Godfrey

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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.


Historically, this is an issue that affects everyone, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, age, or any other category you can think of. This is an all-inclusive issue and the only solution is an all-inclusive one.

– George Godfrey

1. What is your relationship with STAR? 

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I am the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) Coordinator for STAR’s Capital Area branch. As the SART Coordinator, I assist survivors of sexual trauma by communicating with community partners about issues facing survivors and also by coordinating quarterly SART meetings.

The SART is comprised of representatives of local and state agencies that systemically have dealings with survivors of sexual trauma and have taken an active role in improving the way the system interacts with survivors. These include representatives of law enforcement, non-profit agencies, the BR Children’s Advocacy Center, the EBR District Attorney’s Office, area hospitals, the EBR Coroner’s Office, educational institutions, and the State Police Crime Lab.

As a team, we work together to provide collective solutions to the problems that face survivors of sexual trauma, with the goal of improving reporting and prosecution rates.

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

I first learned about STAR while a student at LSU, when STAR was a service-learning site for one of my English classes. Once I came to STAR, I became engaged in some intense and meaningful conversations with STAR’s Vice President, Rebecca Marchiafava, which challenged me to become more involved and to take a more active role in acknowledging that sexual violence is more prevalent than is often portrayed in today’s society. Upon graduating from LSU, I applied for the SART Coordinator position at STAR, which has allowed me the opportunity to challenge others’ ways of thinking about sexual violence and effect positive change within my community.

3. What do you find most rewarding about your work at STAR, and what motivates you to keep going when things get difficult or discouraging?

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The most rewarding part of my job is being able to help people resolve issues in a way that makes their life better or assists them in their efforts to participate in the criminal justice system.

In times of crisis, when multiple problems pile up, we as human beings have a tendency to become defeatist because obstacles may seem insurmountable. It is incredibly rewarding to be able to take some of that weight off of someone’s shoulders by providing them with the encouragement and resources necessary to empower them to tackle the obstacles in their way, and as a result I am able to see the joy and change when these issues are resolved. As a by-product, this gives me the energy and motivation to power through the difficult times we face in this line of work.

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

One of the main ways I promote positive change is through my interactions with people, by challenging how they think about issues related to sexual violence. I feel this is one of the more effective ways of promoting change because this was how I became more informed and started to look at these issues through a different lens.

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

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There really isn’t a reason to be hesitant about being vocal toward ending sexual violence. Historically, this is an issue that affects everyone regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, age, or any other category you can think of. This is an all-inclusive issue and the only solution is an all-inclusive one.

Whether people realize it or not, we are all affected by sexual violence, directly or indirectly. This issue doesn’t need just certain groups speaking out against it, this issue needs all groups involved in the conversation to bring awareness to the topic and ultimately solve the issue.

 

To learn more about George’s efforts at STAR® to improve systems response to sexual violence, contact info@star.ngo

Agents of Change: Angela Schifani

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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.


What motivates me to keep going are the people in my community who are actively trying to create positive social change. Look around, they are everywhere.

– Angela Schifani

 

1. What is your position at STAR? 

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I have the immense pleasure of working as a Resource Advocate at STAR’s Capital Area branch, along with my incredible co-workers, Laneceya, Florence, and George. We call ourselves the A-Team because we truly are amazing at what we do.

You may be asking yourself, “What exactly is it that they do?” Well, as Resource Advocates, we work directly with primary and secondary survivors of sexual trauma. We provide services and resources that can assist them along their paths to recovery, healing, and justice. The journeys that survivors face are often the most difficult circumstances they will meet in their lifetime. Our job can be hard, but it doesn’t hold a candle to what our clients often experience.

2. How did you come to work at STAR?

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In 2014, I entered into my last semester of undergrad in the field of Mass Communication with a focus in public relations, and was scrambling to find an internship to help boost my resume. I had only one previous internship, so I was looking for the perfect position to impress potential future employers. At the time, I was a brazen feminist (I still am) and was very interested in initiatives that addressed oppression against women. Soon this interest would expand to a much broader scope of marginalized populations, but at the time I had only heard whispers of intersectional feminism.

I reached out to an acquaintance of mine who worked at STAR. She spoke highly of the organization and encouraged me to apply for an internship there. After applying, I was quickly interviewed and offered the position. I expressed that I needed time to weigh my options, but after less than 24 hours of deliberation, I realized that this was potentially something that could really broaden myself as a human being, not just as a member of the workforce, so I accepted the position at STAR.

After that semester-long internship, I accepted a full-time position as the Administrative Coordinator, which included communications-based job duties. Eventually I joined the Social Change team as the Community Engagement Coordinator, but more and more I felt myself becoming interested in and passionate about direct services. I started answering the crisis line more frequently and initiated conversations with the resource advocates and counselors about their jobs. Now I’m here as a Resource Advocate, and it’s been the most rewarding part of my journey at STAR thus far.

Me and Courtney

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

There’s a lot about my job that brings me joy, but I think the most rewarding part is witnessing clients benefit from the services I offer them. Most often that entails connecting them with a free resource that they really need, but didn’t know about. Sometimes it’s offering a supportive presence during a difficult forensic exam. Other times it’s providing a listening ear and comforting voice on the other end of a crisis call. Big or small, the relief a client feels from their burden is a triumph for me.

However, I cannot answer this question without expressing the most discouraging part of my job: having to participate in a system that overwhelming fails survivors means that I, too, sometimes fail survivors. The times when I am powerless against the barriers that stop survivors in their tracks are devastating. These are the times when I need my own advocates.

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

MY CATS

My advocates! I am truly privileged to have so many of them. When I am having a difficult time navigating a case, the A-Team is always there with a wealth of knowledge and experience to assist me. When I question whether I’ve done enough for my clients, my wonderful, beautiful partner willingly reminds me that yes, I am doing a good job. When I feel tired and burned out, my family and friends are there to express their gratitude for the work I do. Even though it may not impact them directly, they know how much my services are needed in this community. Oh, and I can’t forget about my cats. When I wonder if there is anything good left in this world, my sweet little angels can be found purring and playing and just being all around adorable.

Most importantly, what motivates me to keep going are the people in my community who are actively trying to create positive social change. Look around, they are everywhere.

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

One of the most common things I do is try to meet people where they are during conversations about difficult topics. Not everybody is “woke,” and calling someone out by getting angry and raising my voice might not help them get there. I stay calm when someone just doesn’t seem to get it. If you’re compassionate and deliberate, you both may learn something from each other.

The most important thing I do outside of my work duties, however, is hold myself accountable when I am in the wrong. How can I create positive change within my community without first examining myself?

Sara and Denee

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

It’s actually not all doom and gloom! When meeting people for the first time, they often get uncomfortable when I tell them about my job. It’s hard to talk about, I know, but it’s also full of light and hope. The strength and courage that survivors have often outweigh the darkness of the issue itself.

I recommend starting by getting comfortable just talking about sexual violence. Then you can look to your community to see what actions you can take from there. Baby steps are fine. You don’t have to start out of the gate doing the work that we do at STAR! Trust me, we didn’t wake up one day and decide to start working at a rape crisis center. We listened, we talked, we researched, we explored. We tried and failed, and tried again. Have patience and lean on others for support when you need it. We all have the same goal to end violence and oppression in our community. We’re here for each other.

What the Stanford Rape Case Teaches Us

 

Over the past few weeks, news of the Stanford Rape Case has bombarded our news feeds and social media sites. Many people are outraged after learning that 20-year-old Brock Turner, a student at Stanford University, was only sentenced to 6 months in prison after being found guilty of 3 counts of sexual assault against an unconscious woman.  The powerful and courageous letter written by the survivor sheds light on the countless injustices survivors face, not only in the assault itself, but with the community response to these cases.

Widespread misunderstanding of the motivations of perpetrators continue to perpetuate the epidemic levels of sexual violence that plague our communities. Time after time, our communities fail to hold perpetrators accountable for their violent actions by prioritizing their needs or desires over those that would help survivors find a sense of justice and improve the safety of our communities.

What we all need to understand is that rape is a calculated act of violence and a tool of oppression that is used by perpetrators to violate, humiliate and rob individuals of their sense of safety and wellbeing.

Rape is not a mistake or a misunderstanding; it is a crime.

By giving leniency to rapists, we are making a clear statement that rape isn’t that bad. That this one action shouldn’t define the rest of the rapist’s life, as Brock Turner’s father wrote in a letter to the judge.

However, what research shows is that the overwhelming majority of rapes are committed by repeat offenders. And that a more concerted community effort to support survivors through the reporting and investigative process, and to have law enforcement and the criminal justice process respond timely and effectively to deliver harsher penalties, will lead to fewer rapes.

Unfortunately, the most sobering fact of this case is that it is far from uncommon. In fact, 97% of rapists face no jail time at all.

updated-reporting-matrix

 

This case sheds light on the ugly truth that we as a society are reluctant to accept: that perpetrators exist in our communities and are often those with power and credibility.

We cannot stand by and allow those who perpetuate sexual violence to continue to face little to no consequences. We must take action and show our support for survivors.

STAR’s presence in our community is vital to providing immediate support to survivors who have experienced a sexual assault. Our advocates and counselors provide survivors with knowledge of the dynamics of violence and options about how to ensure their safety and wellbeing after an assault. We also provide assistance with navigating the investigative and reporting process, and stay by the survivors’ side throughout the trial process when needed.

According to testimonials from our clients, our work has dramatically impacted their lives:

  • My counselor was amazing. She took a terrible, potentially life-ruining situation and made it bearable. I don’t know if I can ever thank her enough.
  • STAR has helped me so much that it has been unbelievable.
  • My self-esteem has greatly increased! I am so thankful for all this place has to offer!
  • The free service was immensely helpful because of my financial situation but more importantly every staff person was understanding and always ready to help. They really care.
  • STAR was the calm among the chaos helping to guide me through my own personal storm.

The need for these services is always increasing. It takes more additional support to ensure that survivors receive STAR’s supportive services after experiencing such a traumatic and life-altering event.

Donate today and help us continue this important work.

Additional ways you can help today include:

  • Volunteering your time as a phone or hospital advocate
  • Sharing our message with others
  • Giving information about STAR to survivors

 

It Takes More

The increased need for STAR® services affects all of us

Sexual trauma is a reality in our community that we cannot shy away from. Thriving sexual assault centers like STAR help make our communities healthier, safer and stronger; however, due to the lack of dedicated state funding for these services and the limited resources in local communities, centers like STAR continue to struggle to meet the steadily increasing demand from survivors and families.

Survivors of rape make up 1 in 5 women and 1 In 71 men in the communities we serve. Increased media attention along with the significant strides we are making to uplift survivors’ voices and experiences within the local community have contributed to an increased demand in sexual assault support services. These services—such as hotline support, counseling, individual advocacy and accompaniment, and systems advocacy—are provided by organizations like STAR at no cost to the survivor or their family.

We know that immediate intervention is critical to helping survivors recover from sexual trauma, and providing support services improves survivors’ participation in the criminal justice process, increases satisfaction with medical and legal responses, and decreases trauma symptoms.

To address survivor’s immediate needs, STAR provides our response services on a 24/7 basis. This equates to roughly 730 hours per month of our staff and volunteers being immediately available to respond to a sexual assault survivor.  In a given month, with a small staff of 12 and an active volunteer base of 35 at our Baton Rouge branch, we provide these critical services to upwards of 200 survivors each month. In addition to the sheer number of survivors we serve, the time spent with each survivor ranges from 30 minutes to 8 hours.

These numbers combined, if averaged, would equate to services being provided to a survivor every second of the day, 365 days per year in Baton Rouge.

To illustrate the increase demand for our services, we compared the services numbers from last fiscal year to our current year.

Between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015, STAR advocates provided 1,099 direct response services to survivors; this includes:

  • 843 callers assisted on our hotline
  • 118 survivors accompanied to the hospital
  • 138 survivors assisted through the criminal justice process

For our current year the number of survivors served through these services has already exceeded last year’s numbers; see the following chart for an illustration of the increasing number of services provided since July 1, 2015:

Chart_June 2016

As the chart shows, there has been a consistent increase in demand for our 24/7 hotline, hospital accompaniment and criminal justice advocacy services.

From July 1, 2015 to April 30, 2016, STAR advocates have responded to:

  • 1,203 hotline calls
  • 154 requests for hospital accompaniment
  • 228 requests for criminal justice advocacy

The number of services provided during July 2015 through April 2016 already surpasses the annual number in our last fiscal year by 500.

It is important to note that these service numbers only illustrate what we are currently able to provide with our limited capacity. We receive new requests for services each day, and we know that one day soon we will not be able to meet the immediate needs of every survivor that comes to us for help.

This is a reality we refuse to accept. To continue these services, it takes more.

We need your support to ensure that we meet the needs of every survivor. With an increase in funding of $15,000 by 6/30/16, STAR can increase our base of advocates available 24/7 to answer the hotline or meet a survivor at the hospital.

The availability of these services is critical to repairing individual survivors’ sense of self and improving the safety and quality of life of all members of our community. Without these services, individual survivors and their families would face emotional, social and economic hardships with no one to advocate on their behalf. Systems that interact with survivors—such as the medical and legal systems—would lack accountability because there is no organization to intervene and advocate on behalf of survivors. And, finally, without organizations like STAR promoting the message that prevention is possible and that with community support we can end sexual violence, we would continue to accept sexual violence as a normal part of our society that cannot be overcome.

Help us do more. And to do more, it takes more.

We urge you to get involved and give back today to ensure that we maintain these critical services. Visit www.star.ngo to make a secure online donation and for details on how to get involved today.