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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Let’s Focus on Healing, Prevention, and Accountability

The following post was written by Stephanie Trilling, director of BARCC’s community awareness and prevention services.

In a recent Boston Globe op-ed entitled “Don’t encourage young women to feel traumatized,” Wendy Kaminer derides the work of activists working to end sexual violence. Kaminer’s piece unfairly judges activists and survivors, ignores survivors’ realities, and only distracts from the vital work needed to end sexual violence. Our take at BARCC is that survivors are courageous for coming forward about any kind of sexual violence, that each survivor experience and response is unique and valid, and that we need to focus on supporting all survivors, on prevention, and on institutional accountability.

Strength in coming forward

First off, no matter what kind of sexual violence they have experienced, survivors show strength and resilience in coming forward and acknowledging how they've been affected. This is especially true in a culture that, on the whole, blames survivors, excuses offenders, and minimizes sexual violence.

At BARCC, day in and day out, we work with clients who have been deeply affected by their experiences. Most of these survivors tell us that no one has ever acknowledged their pain, that they feel “crazy,” that they think they should be stronger. We work with survivors of all genders who struggle to get out of bed and go to work or to school each day, who are in jeopardy of losing or who have already lost their housing, who cannot sleep through the night without waking in fear from nightmares. All of these are common experiences for someone who has survived the trauma of sexual violence. Acknowledging the impact of sexual abuse and harassment takes great strength and asking for help is a courageous act, not a weakness.

Comparing forms of sexual violence: not helpful

When it comes to sexual violence, it is not helpful to compare experiences or to judge how people react to them. When referring to the assault of a student at Phillips Exeter Academy covered by the Globe, Kaminer wrote, “Many older women endured similar encounters over the years . . . and many of us emerged unscathed.” What women have survived in the past is no reason to excuse such violations in the present. Even more importantly, every survivor experiences the trauma of sexual violence uniquely and will respond differently; we must not dismiss anyone’s trauma based on someone else’s experience. And judging an individual’s response based on the experience they have had is neither productive nor helpful to survivors—or to institutions that are being called on to change how they respond to and prevent abuse.

How can anyone say what is more traumatic? It’s unfair to compare the various forms of sexual violence and their effects. We refuse to make such comparisons. There is, however, a lot to be gained from the solidarity that comes from acknowledging the impact of rape culture on women, LGBTQ folks, non-binary people, children, communities of color, people with disabilities, sex workers, immigrants, and all people who are targeted for being a part of a vulnerable population.  

Institutional response and betrayal

It’s important to note, too, that institutional response and betrayal can be just as traumatic for people as the initial event. When a survivor comes forward and is not believed, when an offender is not held accountable, when a survivor is mistreated in the process—that causes harm. And it makes it more difficult for others to come forward when they experience sexual violence.  

Kaminer argues that offenders are unfairly subject to the overcriminalization of sexual misconduct. Her response is dangerously close to the “boys will be boys” mentality. People who choose to exert their power over others and sexually violate them must be held accountable in order for their behavior—and the societal attitudes that enabled it—to change. The criminal justice system is far from perfect, and yes, we do need more robust treatment options for child and adult offenders, but to argue that society overcriminalizes sexual misconduct is gravely misguided (see “Criminal justice system ill-prepared to tackle cases of sexual violence,” a letter to the editor from Gina Scaramella, BARCC’s executive director, published by the Boston Globe).  

Healing, prevention, and institutional accountability

Ultimately, focusing on how survivors should or shouldn't react distracts from the work of healing sexual trauma, holding offenders and institutions accountable, and advancing work to prevent sexual violence.

In her closing, Kaminer claims that activists are “imposing . . . expectations of trauma” and “stigmatizing resilience.” This is far from the truth. What is more resilient than a young person coming forward and speaking out, not just against her assailant’s behaviors, but an entire system that has been set up to repeatedly excuse and minimize the behaviors of offenders and to question, ridicule, and place blame on survivors? At BARCC, we believe that there is no act more resilient than a person speaking out against a broken system that excuses offenders and puts the burden on survivors.

We are in solidarity with all survivors who take great risks in sharing their stories and demanding systemic change to address sexual violence. And we are deeply committed to preventing sexual violence in the first place. The more we educate people of all ages to understand consent, respect others’ bodies, and take action as bystanders, the more we move toward ending all forms of sexual violence.

Find out more about BARCC’s community awareness and prevention services.

Stephanie Trilling is the director of BARCC’s community awareness and prevention services.

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Posted by Jessica L. Atcheson on 07/27 • (0) CommentsPermalink

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Urgent Support for Youth Survivors: Call Your Legislators!

We need your urgent help to support youth survivors of sexual violence. We just learned that in Massachusetts state budget negotiations, vital funding for Youth at Risk Programs has been cut. What this means to us: fewer resources for youth survivors of sexual violence. Please contact your legislators (find them here) to demand that this funding be restored!

The proposed cuts, to line item 4590-1507, would eliminate procured services to 41 community organizations, serving more than 21,000 youth across the Commonwealth. Funding for Youth at Risk Programs enables BARCC to help youth survivors across the state get the support they need to heal from trauma. We use some of these funds to train youth outreach workers—often the first folks who young people disclose having experienced sexual violence to—in the skills they need to effectively support youth with a trauma-informed approach.

These programs specifically serve youth who are often facing multiple barriers to accessing resources, such as homelessness, recent immigration, or identifying as LGBTQ. They may also be showing up in systems (school discipline, social services, etc.) as a result of the violence they’ve experienced and common trauma responses. It is essential that youth outreach workers have the information they need to respond with care and skill to the youth they are working with.

Please call your Massachusetts legislators today! Tell them the following:

  1. I am a constituent.
  2. Please restore funding for Youth at Risk Programs, budget line item 4590-1507.
  3. These funds support youth survivors of sexual violence.

Not sure who your legislators are? Use the Open:States website to look them up and find their contact info.

Once you’ve called, ask your friends, family, and networks to call, too! Share our posts on Facebook and Twitter

Is this really the time to be cutting funding for youth sexual assault prevention and response? Our answer: no. Together, we can make sure that youth survivors get the support they need! 

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Posted by Jessica L. Atcheson on 06/30 • (0) CommentsPermalink

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 on 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

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