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Friday, February 07, 2014

Blog under construction

The blog is under construction.  Please send any feedback to engagements@barcc.org.  Thank you for reading! In the meantime, you can follow us Twitter  (@barcc) or like us on Facebook (Boston Area Rape Crisis Center)!

 

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Posted by stacey on 02/07 • (0) CommentsPermalink

Friday, January 24, 2014

Protecting Legal Rights of Survivors

On the morning of January 9th 2014, victim rights attorneys from various agencies and law firms gathered downtown at the Supreme Judicial Court, Massachusetts’ highest court, to hear oral arguments in a case called Commonwealth v. Sealy. Why did these legal advocates take time out of their hectic schedules to listen to what was happening in this case, and why does this matter to the rest of us?  The story begins back in 2006, when a survivor of sexual assault consulted with a lawyer at BARCC.


The survivor, like many, was hesitant to go to the police, concerned about how reporting would affect her life and her healing process.  She consulted with a BARCC attorney, and ultimately decided to report the crime.  As a result, Mr. Sealy, her perpetrator, was charged and eventually convicted of rape.  Mr. Sealy is now challenging the conviction, arguing that the trial process was unfair to him because he was denied access to the survivor’s attorney records at BARCC.  He knows the survivor applied for immigration status after reporting the rape, and his theory is that there might be information in BARCC’s file indicating the survivor, upon consulting an attorney, fabricated the rape for immigration purposes.  (Congress created a type of immigration status for immigrant victims of crime, with the goal of encouraging immigrants who might otherwise be fearful of law enforcement to report violent crime).  Never mind that she had already reported the rape to a third party before consulting BARCC; never mind that he sent her incriminating messages, apologizing for the rape; never mind that the victim provided compelling testimony about the rape at trial, and never mind that the jury already knew about the immigration status the victim had sought.  The defense argued that BARCC’s otherwise confidential records should have been released to the perpetrator.


So why does the outcome of this case matter to survivors of sexual violence, and to those of us working to eradicate such violence?  Consultations with attorneys are covered by attorney-client privilege, meaning they are strictly confidential and cannot be released to others without the client’s permission.  This legal right to privacy is crucial, because it provides survivors who are scared to disclose an assault with a safe space to do so and learn about their legal rights and options.  To contrast, survivor’s communications with police are not confidential, and information given to the police can be passed along to the perpetrator as part of the criminal process.  If Mr. Sealy wins, survivors across Massachusetts will lose the assurance of that safe space when consulting with attorneys.  It would likely have a chilling effect, keeping survivors from seeking services, and ultimately keeping them from reporting crimes they otherwise might report to the police.


Along with other victim service agencies, we strongly opposed Mr. Sealy’s arguments.*  Now we just have to wait, along with victim attorneys, survivors, and supporters across the Commonwealth, for the Supreme Judicial Court’s decision…


*BARCC is grateful to the dedicated attorneys from the law firm of Mintz Levin for representing us in this case.

 

WRITTEN BY: Jacqueline Anchondo, Legal Advocacy Coordinator

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Posted by stacey on 01/24 • (0) CommentsPermalink

Friday, January 03, 2014

Weathering the Storm

There’s a new layer of snow blanketing the city of Boston and much of Massachusetts.  I always love a fresh fallen snow.  The beauty and crispness of it.  The serene and quiet that follow as so many people huddle indoors. The community that is created as other people flock to coffee shops and bars to wait out the hours of cold and snow together. 

However the snow doesn’t just bring beauty and community; a lot of precautions need to be taken in order to make sure everyone is as safe as possible.  I was walking to the T this morning and had to make the short walk on the side of the street as the sidewalks had not yet been shoveled. Several cars passed me but not nearly the number that pass me on a typical morning as so many people had decided to either work from home or take the T wherever they needed to go.  I appreciated the fact that many cars were already going slow and slowed down even more as they passed me.  We all saw the need to co-exist during these conditions, well almost all of us.  One driver yelled at me as he passed by, obviously upset at the fact that I was on the road.  I realized that being on the road was dangerous but as a pedestrian it was essentially the only option as trudging through snow 8 inches deep where I couldn’t see potholes or curbs also seemed a poor idea. 

We live in New England so wishing away the snow and horrible weather conditions is a completely unrealistic solution to the above situation.  We don’t have any control over the weather, how much snow we get, or when it decides to descend upon us.  Therefore our solutions and responses have to revolve around what we can control.  This is why we see so many rules, regulations, and informal protocols around storms.  They create safety and help to prevent many of the accidents that could be happen. 

Residents are required to shovel and salt/sand the sidewalk in front of their residence so that pedestrians can still utilize the sidewalks to get around and avoid being on the road.  Plows remove the snow from the street so that cars can move around.  Cars slow down in order to avoid fishtailing, landing in a snowbank, or hitting another car or pedestrian.  People are advised to take public transit so there are fewer vehicles on the road and therefore fewer chances of accidents. There are parking bans in order to make streets wider which are great for driving safety and for the plows to have somewhere to deposit the snot that is not the sidewalk. 

Some actions are done as preemptively, for instance, Mayor Menino issued a snow emergency even before the storm really picked up.  He didn’t wait to see how much snow we’d get before declaring a parking ban.  If he had, it would have been too late. Cars would have been buried under snow and it would have taken much longer to move them.  It would have been more dangerous to drive because of the increased numbers of cars on the road, pedestrians shoveling, and the fact that plows would have had fewer spots to deposit the snow.  Additionally it would have been increasingly difficult to find a parking spot because of the snowfall.  Calling for a snow emergency before the bigger part of the storm helps to alleviate many of those problems.

The mayor wasn’t the only one to make preemptive calls in the name of safety.  Boston Public Schools and many other school systems cancelled school for both Thursday and Friday on Wednesday.  This keeps young kids and adolescents at home rather than driving to school, waiting on the corner for a bus, or walking to school.  It also removes school buses from the road which reduces traffic.  Parents also have the chance to arrange for childcare or take time off work rather than scrambling to leave the office and pick up their schools after an early dismissal or unexpected cancellation. 

BARCC, like many other organizations, decided to close early on Thursday and to remain closed on Friday.  This again helped to clear traffic off the road earlier than on traditional work days and to keep them off the road on Friday.  It also enabled parents to stay home with children, hopefully without a penalty in pay. 

If this past storm had been a mere dusting, we would have moved our cars back to their regular spaces, switched out our snow gear for winter gear, and maybe still enjoyed a day out of the office.  Youth would have still celebrated having the day off from school.  And life would have continued as normal until an actual storm hit and the next round of precautions were instated.

When we think about prevention for sexual violence, we should reflect on the amount of prevention that we use in other aspects of our life: such as winter weather preparation.  There are steps that can directly precede the violence, much like the drivers who slowed even more as they drove by me this morning.  There are also steps that can prevent violence days, weeks, or months before it happens just like establishing a snow emergency protocol before it’s needed or closing schools preemptively. 

Sexual violence is something that impacts each and every person either directly through experience or through knowing someone who has been assaulted or through the risk-reduction behaviors so many of us engage in. Unlike this storm, it can be hard for many to recognize the impact that sexual violence has on them as an individual and on their communities. It frequently occurs in isolated areas and many survivors are afraid to disclose because of self-blame and fear of being blamed by friends/family/community.  Therefore we can’t visibly see the trauma and impact that it creates on a daily basis.  But it’s always there.

Much like the weather response, preventing sexual violence requires a multi-faceted response.  We need to have support from local, state, and federal governments and legislation that addresses both prevention and proper resources for survivors.  We need communities to recognize the prevalence of sexual violence and to allow resources to be allocated towards prevention services, education, and programming.  We need for messages to be a regular part of school curriculum that youth receive and for educators to have the skills to respond to the behaviors they see in the school environment.  We need parents to know about healthy sexual development and to respond appropriately to any behaviors they are seeing in any of the youth they interact with. We need community members to create safe spaces and to call out any inappropriate or boundary-crossing behaviors.  We need media that consistently covers and discusses sexual violence.  We need specific services to assist survivors and to help communities to go about creating safe spaces. 

Winter doesn’t pass overnight but rather in stages as the green and new life of Spring pushes through. Much like the New England winter, there is no quick fix or solution to sexual violence.  We need think on a variety of levels, be ready for the unexpected, remain flexible, and continue to work for and with each other. 

Until then, shovel your sidewalks.

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Posted by stacey on 01/03 • (0) CommentsPermalink

Friday, December 06, 2013

Lessons Learned from Nelson Mandela

The world lost a powerful advocate for social change and equality yesterday: Nelson Mandela of South Africa.  Mandela was a constant advocate for progressive policies and addressed controversial and difficult topics headon.  His messages and activism have been a source of inspiration to many movements, organizations, and communities.  Mandela will be greatly missed but we can continue to learn from his life and his actions.  This week’s blog is dedicated to the great work that he has done and inspired through his life.  Below are some of his quotes that I find to be both inspirational and related to the work that anti-sexual violence advocates do on a daily basis and the journey that many survivors take to heal. 

 


Some of the most powerful moments I have had while doing this work is interacting with people on the hotline or in the hospital or accompanying survivor speakers to share their stories with audiences.  Seeing the resilience and strength that people have is inspiring and fuels me to continue to do this work.  Many of them have told me that they weren’t sure if anyone still cared or that they thought for sure they would never regain trust in people.  However, many baby steps eventually turns into a long journey and I like to remind people to look at how far they’ve come when they are feeling discouraged.  It is so easy to focus on the negative and setbacks that will certainly occur.  Recovery and healing isn’t perfect and we shouldn’t expect for it to look that way.  There will be errors and behaviors that are counterproductive towards healing. That’s perfectly okay.  It doesn’t mean that survivors don’t deserve support from friends or family members or access to services.  In fact it means the opposite; we should lend them greater support during the times they are struggling.  We all need to be reminded every once and a while about our achievements, how they are inspiring, and how we can continue on and accomplish even greater things. 

 

I was particularly struck by this quote when I ran across it considering the fact that so much information has come out about the abhorrent conditions in US prisons and the rates of sexual violence that exist both between inmates and perpetrated by the guards.  The Prison Rape Elimination Act was created in 2003 in a way to address the high prevalence rates and lack of services that survivors were receiving. Since its creation, there have been more reports and studies done around this topic and an increase in organizations who are seeking to better the conditions. According to a study by US Department of Justice, 4% of federal and state prison inmates experienced sexual violence in the past years.  About half of those incidents were perpetrated by other inmates and the other half were perpetrated by a staff member.  Much like in greater society, inmates who identify as LGBTQ experience violence, sexual and otherwise, at greater rates than their heterosexual and cis peers.  A recent report about immigrant detention centers also highlight the high rates of sexual violence that occur and the fact that LGBTQ detainees are victimized at a rate 15x higher than their peers.  Our ability to look past or justify the violence that happens to people in prisons and detention centers shows a major flaw in our society and ability to show compassion to all the people in this country.

 

 

Working to end sexual violence means addressing the structural systems of racism, in addition to the other systems of oppression that exist.  A recent trending hashtag, #FastTailedGirls, started by @HoodFeminism was meant to create discussion around the stereotypes that young black girls and women are hypersexual and therefore deserve or want the sexual violence they experience.  This is not just the experience of a handful of individuals but something that many black women and girls remembering hearing about either their or others behaviors.  Children learn that they bring on sexualized violence by the clothes they wear, dancing, being ‘seductive’, etc rather than learning that adults are responsible for their own behaviors.  Studies have shown that 40-60% of black girls experience sexual violence before they turn 18, which is a staggeringly high number.  People of color are also much less likely to report the violence to police or to seek support services through agencies, such as rape crisis centers. 

Our society frequently minimizes the impacts that violence has on people of color   Making the needed changes to make services more accessible will require more than a change in policy.  It requires a cultural shift so that we view violence as unacceptable regardless of who is affected and how they identify.  It requires looking at systems of oppression, our own privileges, and working with communities to provide better services, lower barriers, and address the inequalities that exist.

It is telling that Mandela has picked education as the most powerful weapon.  By giving people the knowledge they need in order to better themselves and question the inequalities that exist, we can hope to create a better world and society.  Rape crisis work started with a focus on serving female survivors and educating about male perpetrators and female survivors.  This has shifted greatly in the recent decades to recognize the vast impact that sexual violence has on male, trans*, and genderqueer survivors as well.  This was not an easy shift for all anti-sexual violence advocates and there is still much needed work to truly make services better accessible.  With greater education and advocacy work, we can create these services and encourage members of society to recognize the impact that sexual violence can have on people of any gender. 

We also need to look towards education and prevention in order to reduce and bring an end to sexual violence.  Our messaging has dramatically shifted from ones that tell women not to engage in certain behaviors and to avoid being rape to ones that tell men not to rape to telling individuals what they can do to end sexual violence.  We need to move away from a society of victim-blaming and move towards one that focuses on controlling the actions of those who perpetrate sexual violence.  Only by making it more and more difficult for people to get away with being sexually aggressive will we truly start to reduce sexual violence.  This means looking to each community and community member to play a part.  The more we are able to educate people about the impacts of sexual violence and the change that each person is able to have on their community, the more change we will be able to create.

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Posted by stacey on 12/06 • (1) CommentsPermalink

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Prevention tips

I received an e-mail the other day telling me how to avoid being raped.  At first, I found this to be a bit ironic, as my work involves raising awareness about primary prevention of sexual violence every day.   But then I thought about what is at stake in circulating “tips” for “rape prevention.”  If those reading believe the tips are helpful and actually apply them, what is the impact of that message? To answer that question, I wrote this post.


First, what is the definition of prevention? According to Dictionary.com it is the ‘act of preventing.’  Thank you, Dictionary.com, for using the word I am trying to define in the definition! Isn’t that the first thing children learn not to do when defining words?  Redundancy aside, another definition I found for “prevent” is ‘to keep from occurring; avert; hinder.’  According to this definition, the tips emailed to me should keep rape from occurring.  That leads me to the conclusion that if we follow these directives correctly, we won’t be subjected to rape or sexual assault. 


Here are some of the most popular tips I’ve seen in high schools, colleges, in bar bathrooms, on police websites, on flyers, and in e-mail format:

  1. Don’t walk by yourself at night and stay away from isolated areas at all hours.
  2. Walk confidently and with a steady pace. A rapist often looks for someone who appears vulnerable.
  3. Avoid carrying objects requiring use of both arms.
  4. Install effective locks on all doors and windows.  Never leave your door unlocked, even for a moment.
  5. Install a peephole viewer in your door and never open your door without knowing who is on the other side.
  6. Don’t accept drinks from other people, except someone you trust.
  7. Stay sober while on a date.  Remember, alcohol impairs judgment and memory.
  8. Be aware of locations and situations where rape might occur and avoid them.
  9. Avoid putting music headphones in both ears, especially if you are walking alone.

Obviously this list could carry on forever, but I am sure that many of you have read these tips before and I don’t need to write each one.   


These tips, while not mentioning any specific genders, are certainly focused around male perpetrators and female survivors.  They also mainly focus on a 18-30 age demographic. Target audiences are blatantly evidenced by where these tip lists are posted (female bathrooms), the subject lines they are given in e-mails, and when they crop up (after a female has been attacked).  Therefore their use is already excluding a large percentage of other people who experience sexual violence: children, the elderly, trans* folk, and men.


These tips also focus solely on the actions of those who are at risk of being raped or sexually assaulted, rather than the actions of the community or of those who will assault.  Therefore survivors and society are getting the message that the responsibility for the crime is with the survivor; she needs to engage in certain proper behaviors to avoid being raped, and if she doesn’t, then it is partly her fault for not being careful enough.  Instead, the message we should be sending is that a survivor is never to blame, and that both the community and the perpetrator are responsible for the behaviors. 


These tips also focus almost exclusively on incidents of stranger rape.  Many admonish women to never be alone and advise them to take appropriate safety precautions when around strangers.  Stranger rape only accounts for approximately 20-25% of rape and sexual assault.  So why do so many of these tips focus on how to watch out for that ‘man behind the bushes’ or the one who is trying to break into your house? In fact, many survivors who take the usual prescribed safety precautions are still assaulted because of the perpetrator was a friend, family member, or other trusted individual.  Where are the tips for how to watch out for an impending attack from an acquaintance, friend, or family member that represent the other 75% of incidents?    For many it is easier to talk about stranger assaults.  For us to confront the fact that survivors most likely know their perpetrators is to also confront the fact that sexual violence and those who perpetrate it are people we know as well and operate within our communities. Children or people with disabilities are at even greater risk of being raped or sexually assaulted by someone they know, thanks to their social vulnerability and dependence on others.  Most people are taught stranger-danger from a young age--it is certainly an important lesson. Yet it is also important to note that it does not apply to the overwhelming numbers of people who are raped or sexually assaulted by people they know.


The tips about alcohol are also problematic.  One specifies to only take drinks from people you know and trust, again focusing on how strangers will ply you with alcohol in order to commit rape or sexual assault.  While alcohol is a factor in many incidents of rape and sexual assault, these incidents are still typically occurring in settings where the perpetrator is known to the survivor.  These tips also specify that alcohol will impair judgment and memory, which is a thinly-veiled attempt at victim-blaming.   On the contrary, we know that alcohol is used as a tool to facilitate sexual violence.  Perpetrators are aware that a survivor who had been drinking is less likely to be believed, whether by law enforcement, courts, or other powers that be, and therefore purposefully use it as a way to make a person more vulnerable and to make the crime more difficult to report. 

I think my personal favorite is ‘be aware of places where rape may occur and avoid them.’  Seriously?!  Is there a special feature on Google Maps where I can pinpoint all of these dangerous locations? Is there an app for that?  It would be awesome if you could plan a route with no tolls and no rape areas, especially if you were travelling alone.  All sarcasm aside, the majority of rapes and sexual assaults (2/3) occur in the home of the survivor or in the home of a friend or family member.  Are people really expected to avoid their homes and the homes of those they love?   

I think it’s safe to say that these tips are not actually preventative in nature.  I think that they could be called risk reduction techniques but only insofar as stranger rape is concerned.  It is time that these tips are replaced with information that correlates to the actual statistics and incident rates of rape and sexual assault.  Further, it is crucial that this information focus less on the behavior of the potential survivor but rather the behavior of the perpetrator or even the societal norms that encourage rape culture

What do you think could be included on future lists or tips that focus on prevention?

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Posted by stacey on 10/31 • (1) CommentsPermalink

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