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Monday, October 31, 2016

Preserving Evidence, Empowering Survivors

Preserving Evidence, Empowering Survivors image

You may have heard the news about a new Massachusetts law mandating storage of sexual assault evidence for 15 years. The sexual assault evidence system can be confusing, so let’s break down the process, what this new law means, and how it empowers survivors.

The basics of evidence collection for survivors 16 and older

After someone is sexually assaulted, they may visit a local emergency room for medical care and, if they choose and it is within a certain time frame, a sexual assault exam with a sexual assault evidence collection kit (SAECK, often called a “rape kit”) may be conducted. A sexual assault exam serves two goals: providing best immediate care for the survivor and collecting evidence that may be used to investigate or prosecute the crime.

In designated hospitals in Massachusetts, the exam is performed by a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE). If a survivor goes to a Boston-area hospital, they also have the opportunity to connect with a BARCC medical advocate. Our highly trained and supervised volunteer and staff advocates will meet survivors and their significant others at the hospital emergency room 24-7. The advocate’s purpose is to provide comfort to the survivor by sharing knowledge, reinforcing the control the survivor has, facilitating communication as needed, and ensuring the survivor has next steps and referrals.  

A survivor may undergo the sexual assault exam and evidence collection without reporting the assault to law enforcement. The SAECK is stored by a crime lab and is only analyzed if the survivor reports to the police. Toxicology kit results are available to a survivor no matter whether they report.

What the new law does

Up until recently, unreported SAECKs were automatically stored for six months, and the survivor had the option to extend that storage every six months. The new Act Relative to Preservation of Evidence for Victims of Rape and Sexual Assault, signed into law by Governor Charlie Baker on October 19, extends the automatic storage of unreported SAECKs to 15 years, the statute of limitations for rape. The new law takes effect 90 days from signing.

“This is progressive legislation that takes the burden off of survivors, and that’s why BARCC supported this improvement," says Katia Santiago-Taylor, BARCC’s manager of system advocacy. Under this new legislation, survivors no longer have to decide every six months whether they want to extend storage or keep track of making that request; instead, they can take the time they need to decide whether to report the assault or not, with the assurance that their kit will be available as long as the statute of limitations. This legislation increases options for survivors and brings Massachusetts in line with several other states that have passed similar legislation.

"It will be important for the media and the public to understand that this is not creating a ‘backlog’  of untested kits, as has happened in other states," adds Katia. Unreported kits cannot be tested as evidence until a police report is filed.

As the law takes effect

As this new legislation is implemented, BARCC will be paying attention to how agencies involved in the process are addressing two key considerations: appropriate storage and effective tracking. BARCC works in collaboration with many of these agencies—including police, the SANE program, and crime labs—to ensure that policies and procedures are more survivor-centered. BARCC will continue to raise the voices of survivors as all of these changes go into effect. BARCC is also eager to see various parts of the new law clarified, such as whether unreported kits already in the system will be included.

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Posted by Jessica L. Atcheson on 10/31 • (0) CommentsPermalink

Monday, October 03, 2016

Every Survivor Deserves Support—Including Those in Prison

Every Survivor Deserves Support—Including Those in Prison image

BARCC believes that all survivors deserve support in healing from the trauma of sexual violence. We also know that sexual violence affects thousands of people who are in the correctional system. That’s why BARCC established the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) Project in 2015 to provide vital support to survivors of sexual violence who are incarcerated in Massachusetts. The PREA Project is designed around federal regulations released in 2012 aimed at reducing sexual assault in prison.

Survivors in the system

“The rates of sexual violence in prison are very high,” says Dave Rini, BARCC’s PREA Project coordinator. In fact, the Bureau of Justice Statistics found, in its Sexual Victimization in Prisons and Jails Reported by Inmates, 2011–12 report, that about 4% of people in federal and state prison experienced a sexual assault in the past 12 months—that’s approximately 62,000 people. The percentage for survivors in jail was a little lower at 3.2%, which is roughly 20,000 people. Keep in mind that reported numbers are undoubtedly low given the shame and stigma that make sexual violence under-reported across the board.

In addition, people often come into the correctional system already being survivors. Dave explains, “A lot of people end up in the system in the first place because of incidents stemming from unresolved trauma, including sexual violence.” Examples include young survivors who use drugs as a way to cope with what they’ve experienced or survivors of sex trafficking, who may be prosecuted for prostitution. “We know that most people are coming into the system with multiple layers of trauma,” says Katia Santiago-Taylor, BARCC’s manager of system advocacy.

In prisons, jails, and correctional facilities, survivors face a host of challenges:

  • Limited resources: Prisoners can’t use the internet. They have less access to people and materials that will help them process the trauma they’ve experienced, find healing, and explore their options.
  • Lack of control: Being incarcerated significantly limits the choices survivors can make. Regaining a sense of control is a paramount aspect of healing and difficult to have in a correctional facility.
  • Goal of the prison system: The goal of the correctional facility is not to support healing for survivors. While BARCC works to empower survivors, the prison system works to maintain control over them and their activities.

“BARCC cares about supporting all survivors in their healing, and that’s why it’s important for us to be in prisons and jails,” Dave says.

What is PREA?

Thanks to advocacy from the prison reform community, the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) was passed in 2003 and the U.S. Department of Justice released PREA regulations in 2012. “In terms of real implementation of legislation, PREA is still really new, and not many providers are doing this kind of work yet,” shares Dave. “We’re learning about the best ways to do it, which we’ll then be able to share with other advocates to more effectively serve survivors who are incarcerated.”

BARCC’s work is about more than the law, though. “We are working to help prisons not only meet their legal obligations but to help them develop trauma-sensitive ways of interacting with survivors that can work for them,” Katia says. PREA work is about supporting people who have experienced the trauma of sexual violence both before and during the dehumanizing experience of being incarcerated.

What BARCC’s PREA Project offers survivors

BARCC works with three agencies—the Massachusetts Department of Corrections, the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department, and the Norfolk County Sheriff’s Office, to provide support in 21 facilities throughout the state. “For survivors, we are creating a safer space in which they can be believed and supported, where they can confidentially discuss trauma they’ve experienced,” Katia says in describing what the PREA Project provides survivors.

BARCC’s free PREA services include the following:

  • Confidential PREA hotline, 12 hours a day, for survivors to get emotional support, information about making reports, and more
  • Accompaniment at the hospital when a prisoner is there for a sexual assault evidence collection exam
  • A mail program that provides resources, recommendations, and referrals
  • Orientation and education for prisoners on their PREA rights and how to access resources

From August 2015 through July 2016, the PREA hotline answered 108 calls and the mail program responded to 12 letters requesting resources. BARCC also provides training for correctional staff and administrators about the impact of sexual violence. BARCC has conducted multiple trainings for all three agencies on the following topics:

  • Understanding sexual violence
  • Obligations under PREA
  • Impact of trauma
  • How to support survivors by providing safety, offering options, walking through the process, and recognizing needs

Moving forward

BARCC is currently working on improving communication and visibility of our PREA services within the facilities we’re working with. “We are providing the most comprehensive PREA rape crisis services in Massachusetts,” says Katia, “and with additional funding we hope to do more. We are starting to see survivors seek services after being released.” Moving forward, BARCC is exploring ideas for reentry services to help survivors with their healing after their time in prison with solid connections and resources.

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Posted by Jessica L. Atcheson on 10/03 • (0) CommentsPermalink

Monday, September 12, 2016

Survivor Speakers Bureau Training

Do you want to share your experience with sexual violence to inspire change? 

BARCC is hosting a survivor speaker training for people interested in sharing their stories with media, in legislative actions, and elsewhere.

“The Speakers Bureau Training is such a supportive environment where I learned how to share my story in ways that educate others about sexual violence and inspire advocacy and action.” –Sarah, survivor speaker for more than five years

The training will focus on how to tell your story, interact with audiences, and answer questions. This training will give you the tools to do the following: 

  • Speak with the media
  • Be a part of legislative action
  • Speak with schools, colleges, and communities
  • Use your voice to create change

BARCC's Survivor Speakers Bureau is also a great opportunity to connect with other survivor speakers. 

Read more about the Survivor Speakers Bureau. 

Training details

Location: All trainings will be held at BARCC's 99 Bishop Allen Dr. office located in Cambridge, MA.  There is metered parking and the office is easily accessible by public transit near the Central Square stop on the Red Line and several bus routes.

Time: Monday evenings, 6:30–8:00 p.m. 

Dates: October 17-December 5. 

Notes: Speakers must be able to commit to all of the dates of training.  The Survivors Speakers Bureau is open to survivors of all genders.

For more information: Contact Steph Trilling, director of BARCC's Community Awareness and Prevention Services, at 617-492-8306 or via e-mail

Applications due: Friday, September 16

Download the application. 

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Posted by Jessica L. Atcheson on 09/12 • (0) CommentsPermalink

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Webinar on Vicarious Trauma

Calling all providers working with survivors of sexual violence! Do you want to better understand vicarious trauma and explore ways to develop resiliency and healthy coping skills? Tune into a webinar this Thursday featuring Vanessa Siebald, our senior bilingual clinician. 

What: National TeleNursing Center Webinar on Vicarious Trauma

When: Thursday, August 25, 2016, 1:00–2:00 p.m. (EST)

How: Connect online by visiting https://ovcttac.adobeconnect.com/telemedicine/ and selecting "Enter as guest"; connect via phone by calling 866-546-3377 and using pass code: 962739. 

Check out the flyer and spread the word!

 

UPDATE (9/12/16): Missed the webinar? Watch a recording online!

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Posted by Jessica L. Atcheson on 08/23 • (0) CommentsPermalink

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Announcing Teen Drop-In Sessions

Announcing Teen Drop-In Sessions image

Want to connect with other teens and learn more about BARCC? 

Come to one of our teen drop-in sessions this fall! Play games, hang out with friends, have a snack, relax after class, and more.

When

5:00–7:00 p.m. on the following Wednesdays:

  • September 7
  • September 21
  • October 5
  • October 19
  • November 2
  • November 16
  • December 7
  • December 21

Where

BARCC's Cambridge office, 99 Bishop Allen Drive, Cambridge, MA 02139

Questions? 

Call Danielle at 617-649-1284 for more information!

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Posted by Jessica L. Atcheson on 08/16 • (0) CommentsPermalink

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