Agents of Change: Dana Rock

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 I have a great amount of respect and awe for survivors and their willingness to be vulnerable with me. I feel privileged to be a witness to their change process. Seeing that I am making a difference, whether that is from a therapeutic breakthrough or a simple “thank you for listening” at the end of a session, is very gratifying.

– Dana Rock

1. What is your position at STAR?

I am currently a Counselor in STAR’s Baton Rouge office. I provide both individual and group counseling to survivors of sexual trauma and their loved ones. I work to help survivors process and learn how to cope with their trauma by providing a supportive, nonjudgmental space.

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

I first came in contact with STAR as a Master of Social Work intern during my first year of graduate school. I always had an interest in sex crimes, which at the time meant that I loved to watch Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. My internship showed me how little I really knew about sexual violence. My eyes were opened to the depth and gravity of this issue. I saw the multiple barriers that survivors face when trying to find both justice and healing and realized that this was not just an interpersonal issue, but a problem that affects the entire community.

Serving sexual assault survivors and working with the inspirational staff at STAR awoke a passion in me. I decided I wanted to focus my career on trauma recovery, and I was lucky enough to be hired as a counselor at STAR directly after graduating.

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

There is so much shame and secrecy surrounding sexual assault. Often, clients have held onto this secret for years and suffered in silence. It takes a great amount of courage to come to a stranger and talk about such a painful experience, and I have a great amount of respect and awe for survivors and their willingness to be vulnerable with me. I feel privileged to be a witness to their change process. Seeing that I am making a difference, whether that is from a therapeutic breakthrough or a simple “thank you for listening” at the end of a session, is very gratifying.

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

The work can definitely be difficult, so there are several things I do. First, I try to focus on what I can do for someone with the one hour that they are in my office each week. I focus on giving them a space to feel heard, validated, and believed.

Second, I remember to focus on the positives. I think about the inspiring work that I have seen clients do: the survivor of childhood sexual abuse who finally feels free after 30 years of pain, the survivor of rape that now wants to be an advocate in order to help other survivors, the man who now understands that the abuse he suffered was not his fault. Survivors are constantly reminding me that there is hope for healing.

Finally, and most importantly, I lean on others for support. STAR staff are incredibly supportive and we encourage each other to talk when the job is challenging. Also, I am lucky enough to have an amazing group of family and friends to turn to when I am having a hard time.

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

I think the importance of being kind is often underrated. I am often told that I am too nice, but I see this as a positive thing! I strive to be compassionate with others both inside and outside of work by remembering that you never know what someone else is going through.

Also, I educate my family and friends about sexual assault. There are many myths out there that perpetuate rape culture and further discourage survivors from seeking help. When I hear incorrect information, I gently correct people. I’ve had several friends ask me for advice on how to support someone they knew who was assaulted. Simply being known in my small social circle as a trusted person on this issue can have a positive impact on survivors that might not necessarily come in contact with STAR on their own.

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 have to say that your help does matter and it is definitely needed! Every step in the right direction, no matter how small, helps put an end to sexual violence. Whether you are currently aware of it or not, this movement is close to you in some way. Statistics show that sexual assault is, unfortunately, very common. There is someone in your life, possibly a friend, family member, or coworker, who is a survivor.

Many people feel at a loss for how to get involved, but it can be as simple as being available to someone else. Survivors are often afraid that their loves ones will not believe them or understand what they have been through. I have three simple suggestions for you: listen, believe, and don’t judge. You cannot imagine the positive impact you can have on someone’s recovery if you do just those three things.

 

If interested in STAR’s free and confidential counseling services, call 1-855-435-STAR. 

Get involved and make change with STAR:

Click here for more ways to get involved.

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Agents of Change: La’Shantlen Russ

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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 talk about difficult issues like sexual assault and HIV with my family and friends. I hope that by communicating with others about these issues, we can work toward reducing stigma and shame.

– La’Shantlen Russ

1. What is your relationship with STAR? 

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I am the Prevention Coordinator in the Prevention Department at HAART (HIV/AIDS Alliance Region Two). STAR is one of our amazing community partners.

HAART offers a complete continuum of care to people living with HIV/AIDS including housing, primary care, medications, case management, and an array of supportive services. In addition, HAART provides HIV prevention education and free testing to the Baton Rouge area.

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

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I didn’t know much about sexual assault prevention or response until my sister, Laneceya, started working at STAR. I would ask her questions about the agency and was astounded at the statistics in our area. I wanted to learn more so I started attending STAR events and have since joined their Prevention Action Coalition (PAC).

In 2014, our prevention department formed a partnership with STAR to provide assistance in accessing post-exposure prophylaxis, PEP, for survivors of sexual assault. PEP is an emergency prevention method available to individuals that may have been exposed to HIV during sex, through sharing needles, occupational exposure, or sexual assault to reduce their risk of contracting HIV.

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

Making a difference in someone’s health, improving their quality of life is why I work in public health. Knowing that we have lessened a survivor’s burden is the reward!

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

My awesome coworkers and our clients are what motivate me to keep going when things get difficult. I know that we provide a much needed service to survivors and the broader community. Working in this field can be challenging and discouraging at times, but I can always find the help and strength to keep moving forward from my coworkers, family, and friends.

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

I promote positive change in my community by treating everyone I encounter with kindness and respect. You never know what kind of impact a simple smile or hello may have on someone.

I also talk about difficult issues like sexual assault and HIV with my family and friends. I hope that by communicating with others about these issues, we can work toward reducing stigma and shame.

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

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I would say just go for it! I was new to the issues of HIV and sexual assault but I didn’t let that stop me from learning more and joining the fight to end them. Join the PAC, go to events sponsored by STAR, or become a volunteer advocate. These are all good ways to get involved in the movement to end sexual violence.

 

 

Get involved and make change with STAR!

Agents of Change: Alix Tarnowsky

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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.


Being able to provide the survivor a safe space in which to process their feelings and not be judged is important to me. Knowing that a survivor feels supported and believed after leaving the hospital makes me proud to represent STAR.

– Alix Tarnowsky

1. What is your position at STAR? 

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I am the Advocacy Director for the Greater New Orleans office. As the AD, I manage and support our Resource Advocates, part-time Medical Advocates, and dedicated volunteers as they work with survivors. Additionally, I work in the community to establish partnerships, recruit volunteers, and help raise awareness for STAR and the work that we do.

2. How did you come to work at STAR?

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be Olivia Benson [of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit] when I grew up. The way she supported and championed all survivors impacted the way I viewed sexual assault. At one point, I even considered joining the NOPD to become a Sex Crimes Detective.

Prior to joining STAR, I was running a program focused on developing healthy relationship and conflict resolution skills for teens and young adults. Through this work, I found myself being drawn towards working with survivors of sexual trauma but didn’t have the capacity to do so at my agency. When I saw that STAR was hiring for its New Orleans office, I immediately applied and provided an offering to the goddess of dream jobs.

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

The most rewarding aspect of my job is being able to offer support and assistance to survivors. Too often, survivors are ashamed about the assault and arrive at the hospital alone and nervous.

Being able to provide the survivor a safe space in which to process their feelings and not be judged is important to me. Knowing that a survivor feels supported and believed after leaving the hospital makes me proud to represent STAR.

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

When the crisis line is ringing non-stop or I’ve spent countless hours at the hospital with a survivor, I try to take a moment and think back to one of the first survivors I helped. When she was leaving the hospital, she turned to me and said, “Thank you so much for being here, you made this bearable. I wish you had been there when I was raped the first time.”

On the rare occasion that doesn’t work, I look in a mirror and tell myself, “Make Olivia proud,” which usually does the trick.

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

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It can be difficult to confront a friend or family member when they make comments or jokes that are offensive or inappropriate. I’ve found that the easiest way to address their bad joke is to tell them, with a straight face, that I don’t understand it. When I challenge the joke, it often provides a space for us to discuss the ideas perpetuated by the joke. If that doesn’t work, it at least sends the signal that I don’t tolerate that type of humor in my presence.

Also, I hold the door for others and hope that they pass it on.

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

Start with something small, such as thanking a friend when they disclose and telling them that you believe them. Acknowledging and accepting a survivor’s experience helps challenge rape culture while working towards ending sexual trauma.

And once you’re ready to be more involved in working directly with survivors, give me a call and I can set you up in our volunteer training! We are always looking for dedicated individuals who want to provide support to survivors.

 

Get involved and make change with STAR!

The Intersection: Nate Parker, Denial and the Damage Done

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The Intersection is a regular, in-depth segment in which we examine the many layers of oppression, violence, and trauma that we encounter in our survivor-focused and community-based work at STAR.

The Background

Nate Parker is an actor, writer and director who has recently received a great deal of attention for his new film The Birth of a Nation, which is based on the Nat Turner slave rebellion.

Given the persistence of racism and white supremacy in America today, Parker’s rising star has been a source of hope for many, especially many black Americans. Then, a few weeks ago, media outlets began reporting on a 1999 trial where Parker and his friend and collaborator Jean Celestin were tried for rape of a fellow college student, a white woman. Parker was found not guilty, reportedly in part because he had a prior consensual sexual interaction with the victim (which does not mean the incident in question was consensual). Celestin was found guilty and served six months in prison.

In 2002, the victim sued Penn State for “deliberate indifference” and failure to protect her from sexual harassment she endured from Parker and Celestin after the rape.

In 2012, the victim committed suicide after reportedly suffering from depression and PTSD in the years since the rape.

Parker was reportedly unaware of her suicide until it was widely publicized two weeks ago. Around this time, he gave interviews that sparked backlash from rape survivors and anti-rape activists. After two weeks of subsequent silence, Ebony published a more extensive interview with Parker last weekend, in which he describes having sought to educate himself more on sexual assault in the past two weeks, consulting with confidantes who are educated in feminism and informed about sexual violence. This essay is a response to that interview.

Sexual violence is often a controversial issue. Individual allegations are typically highly contested, often more so when made by a white woman against a black man. We live in a historical context of hundreds of years of racist violence and oppression, where countless black men have been victims of extrajudicial murder (lynchings) and a racist legal system, often on the basis of false, unproven or unfounded charges of sexual harassment or assault of white women. Case in point, this past Sunday was the 61st anniversary of the murder of Emmitt Till, one of many horrific and unjust instances of this. Meanwhile, white men routinely committed rape but were held much less accountable, a racist legacy that continues to this day.

Our country’s history is also characterized by epidemic levels of rape committed by members of all races against members of all races. All of these things are true and warrant consideration in our conversations about sexual violence. It is with this complexity in mind that we respond to Nate Parker’s Ebony interview.


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Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images (Image converted to black and white)

Ebony’s recent interview with Nate Parker may be unlike anything that’s been published before. It is the portrait of a man who has maintained his innocence about a rape he was accused of committing years ago, and who is now publicly reckoning with new understanding and information that challenges his self-perception as an innocent man. Here is an excerpt:

NP: I was acting as if I was the victim, and that’s wrong. I was acting as if I was the victim because I felt like, my only thought was I’m innocent and everyone needs to know. I didn’t even think for a second about her, not even for a second.

You asked me why I wasn’t empathetic? Why didn’t it come off more empathetic? Because I wasn’t being empathetic. Why didn’t it come off more contrite? Because I wasn’t being contrite. Maybe I was being even arrogant. And learning about her passing shook me, it really did. It really shook me.

E: Had you thought about her and this incident over the last 17 years?

NP: No, I had not. I hadn’t thought about it at all.

Parker admits that he had not thought about the incident over the last seventeen years; he was able to put it behind him and go on with his life. For his victim, there was no such peace to be found. A brother of the victim was recently interviewed by Variety:

In court, she testified that she had attempted to kill herself twice after the reported rape. Her brother said that she suffered from depression after the incident. Her death certificate, obtained by Variety, stated that she suffered from ‘major depressive disorder with psychotic features, PTSD due to physical and sexual abuse, polysubstance abuse….’

‘If I were to look back at her very short life and point to one moment where I think she changed as a person, it was obviously that point,’ Johnny told Variety. He said that prior to entering college, his sister was an outgoing, popular girl who loved animals and school. He envisioned a career in marketing or media for her. ‘The trial was pretty tough for her,’ he said…

‘It’s hard,’ he said, ‘seeing my sister’s life slowly crumble while these men are by all accounts relatively successful and thriving.’

Part of reducing the prevalence of rape involves valuing the humanity of people who have committed rape, and prioritizing their treatment and rehabilitation. It’s essential, though, that we center the experiences and humanity of the victim or survivor whose life has been forever impacted, and in this case destroyed, by those who committed rape.

Parker is still alive to speak on these events and help shape public perception of them, seventeen years later. His victim is not. Only the public record and her family survive to offer her perspective.

According to these sources, Parker’s victim was sentenced to a lifetime of trauma by those who committed rape, harassment, and institutional negligence against her. It was too much to bear. 

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When I started working at STAR in 2012 (the same year this victim committed suicide), I began immersing myself in survivors’ stories. From the public, I heard tales of misunderstanding and confusion about consent, and of “good guys” being victims of false charges or otherwise undeserving of accountability.

When I listened to survivors’ experiences, however, I found a different, more challenging picture: one of violently disempowering assault, utter disregard for consent, and destructively traumatic impacts. The public perception of rape decidedly did not match survivors’ experiences.

Given this inconsistency, I also wanted to hear from offenders. And in listening to them, I found that their version is usually what the public latches on to and believes, though this makes no sense. People are not traumatized by consensual sex. So how is it that a person may be forever traumatized by a rape and its aftermath, but both the offender and the public treat the incident in question as consensual?

After the high-profile rape charges against Kobe Bryant were dropped, he made an interesting statement:

“Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.”

This is a perfect example of how the offender’s version of the story is viewed as a more credible version of reality, while the survivor’s perspective and observable, documented impacts of trauma are dismissed. This is where we find ourselves: we can acknowledge that an alleged victim didn’t “feel like” she consented, while maintaining that no one is guilty of rape. Repeatedly, we encounter rapes with no rapist.

Part of this is because rape often doesn’t come down to sadism, like we are taught to believe. It is too often rooted in something horrifically mundane: thoughtlessness, self-centeredness, arrogance, and a lack of empathy and consideration for others that thrives in a context of unexamined power and privilege.

That is what is truly upsetting: that committing rape can be done so casually, yet be so destructive.

In the Ebony interview, Nate Parker demonstrates thoughtful self-questioning and self-examination, and this is commendable. He also demonstrates continued denial, which is a problem.

According to Mayo Clinic:

When you’re in denial, you:

  • Refuse to acknowledge a stressful problem or situation
  • Avoid facing the facts of the situation
  • Minimize the consequences of the situation

Denial is a coping mechanism and a form of self-protection, but there is often overlap between self-protection and antisocial, harmful behavior. Parker’s belief in his own innocence is likely how he justified his range of traumatizing actions. Yet now he is having to confront the dissonance between his view of himself and the evidence of the impacts of his behavior on the victim.

It makes sense for anyone who has committed rape to be in denial. The problem is when we as a society automatically believe the accused without considering that they have every incentive to deny the accusation and distort what really happened for the purposes of self-protection.

In the interview, Parker cannot bring himself to label his actions as rape. Sure, it is only a few weeks since he has been made to reckon with this publicly, and only so much growth and developed consciousness is possible in the span of two weeks. And there are possibly liability issues to consider.

Still, it has been seventeen years since he was on trial for rape. He says learning of the victim’s suicide “shook” him. Does being accused of rape not “shake” someone and cause self-reflection on how they may have unthinkingly raped or harmed someone? When there is living, breathing evidence of trauma, is that not enough to shake you?

Parker has recently consulted with survivors, placing the burden of educating him two decades too late on those who have already endured enough. In response to one of his questions, yes, there are notable black men speaking up about toxic masculinity, gender, and sexual violence, many who have been doing so for years. Here are just a few:

To his credit, Parker states: “This is a step of one of many, many, many, many steps I need to take toward a lot of things that will refine me and make me better suited for leading anyone out of any place of injustice to a place of justice. I got work to do. I got a lot of work to do within myself.”

Seventeen years after the fact, perhaps we can take this interview as a sign of progress with regard to increased public awareness and accountability for rape. It is also too little, too late. Sadly, that’s the only kind of progress any oppressed people can hope for.

Here’s hoping that many more revelations lead to acknowledgment, acceptance, and meaningful action to prevent future perpetration of rape. To accomplish this, we must all refuse to sanitize and minimize the violence we and our role models have committed in the past.

Agents of Change: Meredith Vizzini

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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 am often surprised at how many incorrect assumptions people make about sexual assault. I hope that in sharing correct information, it will help people to be more understanding of others.

– Meredith Vizzini

1. What is your relationship with STAR? 

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I am a clinical mental health counselor who hopes to specialize in working with individuals who have experienced trauma. I started volunteering with STAR as a hotline advocate in November 2015.

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

Like many people, someone close to me is a survivor of sexual assault. I heard secondhand how traumatic her experience was and I saw what it took away from her. I also learned that the system that is put in place to protect us is nowhere near where it needs to be in regards to helping survivors of sexual assault. I can only imagine how many others out there have had similar or worse experiences. I learned about STAR through this same friend of mine, and as soon as I heard they were opening a branch in NOLA, I knew I needed to be a part of it.

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

The most rewarding part of my involvement has been getting the chance to act as a support for someone during a horrific time in their life. While the hotline is anonymous, I know that whoever I am talking to has survived something horrible. To be able to be present for them and help them in any way is an incredible opportunity.

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

I am motivated by the possibility that what I do or say could help someone or make their life easier. Life in general can be a challenge, so it’s important to take care of yourself and remember what you value. I value helping others, and volunteering for STAR gives me a greater opportunity to be of help.

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

I simply try to be mindful of my behavior and the effects my actions have on others. I always try to set a good example for others around me by acting and treating others the way I would want to be treated. Also, I make it a point to be respectful of others’ views even when they differ from my own.

Additionally, thanks to my training at STAR, I have a gained a lot of knowledge about sexual assault and the myths surrounding it. When the opportunity presents itself at my job or elsewhere, I like to share that knowledge with others. I am often surprised at how many incorrect assumptions people make about sexual assault. I hope that in sharing correct information, it will help people to be more understanding of others. Also, due to the training, I am better able to recognize when some form of sexual assault has occurred, which helps me to be a better clinician in the mental health field.

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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 them not to hesitate! What are you waiting for? Anything you can do or contribute matters. Furthermore, how can there ever be a wrong time to do something, even something small, to help someone else? People will be surprised by how easy it is to integrate volunteering into your weekly routine.

STAR® is looking for highly motivated and passionate women and men interested in working with sexual trauma survivors in our community. Click here for more information about our volunteer opportunities. Click here to submit a volunteer application.

Agents of Change: Treva Parolli-Barnes

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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 always think, what if it were me or my daughter?  What would happen after the assault? If the answer you come up with isn’t a positive one for the victim, then change is needed.

– Treva Parolli-Barnes

1. What is your relationship with STAR, and what led to your work in sexual assault prevention and/or response? 

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My first experience with STAR was as an intern while attending LSU School of Social Work, while also working as Chief of Operations at the East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner’s Office (EBRPCO). Once I graduated, my relationship with STAR became critical in my work at the coroner’s office.

As soon as I started at EBRPCO, Coroner Beau Clark and Chief of Investigations Shane Evans let me know that one of their goals was to have a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program for our parish, and so it began. Every research project, every paper, and every discussion was on the topic of sexual assault. From that point on, I have taken every opportunity that I have to educate myself on this subject.

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

The most rewarding thing is helping survivors of sexual assault. I am extremely happy that there is now a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program in East Baton Rouge Parish and DHH Region 2. This is the national standard and the most victim-centered approach, so I feel that by successfully implementing the SANE program, we have helped survivors of sexual assault.

Even though the process of creating this program was extremely difficult and frustrating at times, the members of the EBR Sexual Assault Response Team found a way to work together to create this change which ultimately helps survivors. I found that I love working with people and finding solutions through compromise.

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

The two-year process of trying to get everyone on the same page toward establishing the SANE program was sometimes extremely discouraging and difficult. However, as a two-time breast cancer survivor, I have faced much greater adversity. It is just not in my nature to give up, especially when I truly believe in something. By persevering, I also want to be a good example for my daughter.

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

I strive to communicate, listen to another person’s point of view, look at the big picture and get all of the facts before jumping to conclusions. I do not always do these things, but just trying to do them daily promotes change.

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

Unfortunately, sexual violence is prevalent. Whether sexual assaults are reported or not, they are happening. Someone you know could become or has been a victim. I always think, what if it were me or my daughter? What would happen after the assault? If the answer you come up with isn’t a positive one for the victim, then change is needed. It is not acceptable to say, “She was drunk,” “She wore a short skirt,” “She flirted,” “She shouldn’t have been on that street,” etc. We have to shift society’s way of thinking. Even being involved on a small level can create big changes. I know this saying is trite, but a small pebble makes a large ripple.

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.

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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?

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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.

Agents of Change: Ginesse Barrett

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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.


Rape culture exists because many myths about sexual violence persist. I use any opportunity to teach and find that misinformed people aren’t bad—they just don’t know better. Knowledge is the best weapon we have.

– Ginesse Barrett

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1. What is your relationship with STAR? 

I am the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Program Coordinator at University Medical Center, which serves adult and adolescent survivors in Orleans Parish. We perform forensic exams, offer medical treatment and prophylaxis, and testify in court as expert witnesses for male, female, and transgender survivors. STAR provides our patients with medical advocacy services and ensures they will always have a connection to community resources as they go through the healing process.

2. What led you to your work in sexual assault response?

The first decade of my nursing career, I worked as an Emergency Department (ED) nurse. I saw first-hand how most hospitals in our state were not equipped to properly handle all the complex needs of patients who had been sexually assaulted. I became a SANE so I could ensure the best care to my patients in the ED, but I couldn’t stop there — I joined the SANE program at Interim LSU Hospital in 2010 on an on-call basis. When the previous Program Coordinator left to go back for her Master’s degree, I took the reins and left the ED to focus on SANE full-time. I enjoy working in a field of nursing where I compassionately care for patients and also assist in creating a stronger justice system and safer city. I truly love New Orleans.

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3. What do you find most rewarding about your involvement in sexual assault response, and/or the movement to end sexual violence?

I have so much admiration for our patients. It takes an incredible amount of strength to walk into an emergency department and request a SANE exam. Many patients enter our space traumatized from an assault and terrified that the hospital experience could be even worse. My goal is that every person leaves better off than they came. We focus on giving the patient autonomy with each piece of the exam so they can start to feel back in control of their life and make the transition from victim to survivor. I find it extremely rewarding to have helped make their experience better in any way.

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

My husband is my biggest supporter — there is absolutely no way I could do my job without him being such a great father and understanding partner. Not many spouses would be so tolerant when I leave in the middle of the night for a case or spend a week away for a conference while he juggles our day-to-day lives including a five-year-old and his own job. My daughters are amazing as well! Having a family that believes in me and the work that I do is priceless.

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

I love educating the community about sexual assault and SANE. Mostly I lecture to nursing and medical students, advocates, law enforcement, and healthcare professionals, but I try my best to never turn down a speaking opportunity with any group because I see everyone as a potential juror or perhaps the first person to whom a survivor trusts to disclose an assault. Rape culture exists because many myths about sexual violence persist. I use any opportunity to teach and find that misinformed people aren’t bad—they just don’t know better. Knowledge is the best weapon we have.

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

I think people tend to be intimidated by the thought of getting more involved. Sexual assault has been a taboo, uncomfortable topic which is avoided by most, but you don’t have to actually work in the field to make a difference. Something as simple as getting more educated yourself and being able to speak up when you hear myths being perpetuated, or looking for opportunities as a bystander to intervene and prevent a sexual assault can truly change our society for the better. Statistically, we know everyone has a friend or family member who was sexually assaulted, so it should be a cause that makes us all passionate.

 

STAR’s NOLA office is training volunteer advocates this summer to perform phone and medical advocacy. To learn how to get involved, visit our website!

Agents of Change: Tiffany Bush

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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.


You can become an instrument of change, no matter how big or small, by becoming more knowledgeable, facilitating more open dialogue about the issues surrounding sexual violence, and being more empathetic to people in general.

-Tiffany Bush

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1. What is your relationship with STAR? 

LSU Law’s Public Interest Law Society has a Pro-Bono program in which they give law students various opportunities to donate their time and legal knowledge to various local organizations. I decided I wanted to work with STAR and began volunteering January 2016.

2. What led you to get involved with STAR and/or join the movement to end sexual violence?

I have always had a passion for using the skills that I have to help others, specifically those who are often marginalized in our courts. I have a few friends who volunteered with STAR in various capacities and I loved the fact that STAR was working for victims of sexual trauma from every angle–including on behalf of victims as both attorneys and advocates in front of the legislature. I knew working with STAR would allow me to impact survivors’ lives in a meaningful way, so when the opportunity presented itself, I had to get involved.

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3. What do you find most rewarding about your participation in this movement?

The most rewarding part of participating in this movement is doing work that will have a direct, positive impact on the lives of others. While working with STAR, I had the opportunity to work on legislation that was ultimately passed. Survivors of sexual trauma go through so much, internally and externally, and are often re-victimized many times when they seek justice through the courts against their assailant.

This has been an ongoing problem for survivors for decades, and it is very rewarding to be able to help change some of the laws that have made it so hard for survivors in the past, so that in the future, they may have one less hurdle to be concerned about when seeking the justice they deserve.

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

I have always been perseverant. I believe that anything worth having is worth working for and most things worth working for are not going to come easy. So when things get difficult or discouraging, I often remind myself that I wouldn’t be here, doing the work that I do, if I were not able to do it. Life never gives you more than you can handle; so when life throws something at me that makes me uncomfortable or challenges my belief in my abilities, then it does not becomes a matter of figuring out whether I can rise to the challenge, but rather, how I will do so.

When working on behalf of those whose rights and interests weren’t historically represented at all and who have even been stigmatized for what has been done to them, I think it is important to expect opposition to the work being done, and rather than being discouraged by the challenges that come up along the way, relish in the fact that life decided that you were tough enough to handle the difficulties and rise to the challenge.

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

I promote positive change in the community just by informing others. There are many times where someone may express an ignorant view on something, and rather than informing the person of how they are wrong, we may simply pass judgment on that person for their ignorance. But the truth is, that other person may not know any better for many different reasons.

While I was a kindergarten teacher, one of the ideals emphasized to us was to “meet students where they are,” which basically meant that we should avoid forming expectations of where the kids should be, and focus more on where they are, so we could be more effective teachers. I keep this ideal in mind when interacting with adults. Instead of judging others for what they don’t know, I always try to inform them so that they can know and hopefully create a ripple effect of positive information sharing.

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

The only reason I can imagine that a person may be apprehensive about becoming an active member of this movement is that they may be concerned with what others might think of them. I would just have to tell them that this movement is all about positive changes that will hopefully lead to the end of sexual violence all together.

If you are around people who would think negatively of you for wanting to end sexual violence, that is all the more reason to join the movement so that you can help crush the stigmas and stereotypes, and so that you can become an instrument of change, no matter how big or small, by becoming more knowledgeable, facilitating more open dialogue about the issues surrounding sexual violence, and being more empathetic to people in general.

Tiffany is graduating from LSU Law School this semester and returning back home to Atlanta, GA to take the Georgia Bar Exam. She is currently seeking various public employment opportunities in both Atlanta and Washington, D.C. She would like to do litigation, on either the state or federal government level, as a district attorney/prosecutor, and also has interests in civil rights litigation, regulation of domestic drone usage, death penalty work and post-conviction procedure. We wish Tiffany the best of luck in her next steps!

To learn how to get involved with STAR, visit our website or email prevention@star.ngo!

Agents of Change: Katy Drazba

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


Sexual violence is often referred to as a “silent” epidemic, so it is very important for organizations like STAR and its advocates to not only help survivors on a one-on-one basis, but also represent survivors’ needs in the greater community.

-Katy Drazba

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1. What is your relationship with STAR? 

I began volunteering with STAR as a phone and hospital advocate in July 2013. I have continued as a phone advocate since fall 2014, when I moved to Alabama for graduate school.

2. What led you to get involved with STAR and/or join the movement to end sexual violence?

I have been an advocate for women’s rights and women’s health issues since I was in high school, but I was not very familiar with STAR or the movement to promote healthier relationships and end sexual violence until I was looking into volunteer opportunities in Baton Rouge.

I used to work in public health, and the word “epidemic” holds a lot of weight in the public health world. When I read more about how sexual violence was an epidemic in the United States and globally, I knew I needed to join the movement. Sexual violence is often referred to as a “silent” epidemic, so it is very important for organizations like STAR and its advocates to not only help survivors on a one-on-one basis, but also represent survivors’ needs in the greater community.

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3. What do you find most rewarding about your participation in this movement?

I feel like I am able to give survivors a few minutes of acceptance and understanding while talking to them on the phone line. I feel like many survivors regularly confront resistance and judgment, so I approach each encounter with unconditional positive regard and complete acceptance. When I hear something like, “Thank you for just listening to me,” I feel like I did a good job actively listening to the caller and helping them get through the tough time they were having.

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

I know that many women and men have been through very difficult situations, and that is the main thing that motivates me to volunteer – I want to help. I feel like my difficult times pale in comparison, but when times are tough, I always remember the support I have from my partner, Mark, and my own family and friends. I have an amazing support network, so whenever I am feeling discouraged, I can always call or text someone, and everyone I love knows how to bring my spirits back up.

Also, I love being out in nature – whether I’m gardening or riding my bike around town – just being outside in the sunshine makes me feel wonderful, and much happier. I always try and help people try and remember what makes them happy, even if they are small things.

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

I will be graduating from my graduate program in genetic counseling in a few weeks, and as a genetic counselor, I work with families who are trying to determine if genetic testing is appropriate to determine if there is a genetic basis for their child’s symptoms.

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There are a lot of psychological issues that accompany genetic testing decisions, and I do my best with every family to help them feel comfortable with their decisions and to connect them to appropriate resources. I feel like I use a lot of the same skills as a genetic counselor that I use as an advocate on the phone line, and these skills are always directed at promoting positive change in families and/or the greater community.

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

I think some people may hesitate to join the movement because they have not had personal experience with sexual violence, but that does not mean they cannot help someone who has experienced it. Being an advocate requires passion and some education, not solely a personal experience, and advocates are very needed to combat the epidemic of sexual violence.

 

To learn how to get involved with STAR, visit our website or email prevention@star.ngo