In January, BARCC staffers and friends held a Facebook Live panel to discuss ending sexual violence in the age of #MeToo. Executive Director Gina Scaramella, Youth Clinical Outreach Coordinator Ashley Slay, and one of BARCC’s founders, Janet Yassen, talked about how the narrative around ending sexual violence and supporting survivors has changed recently and over the past 45 years.
Below are some highlights from that conversation. Watch the entire panel here, and stay tuned for more Facebook Live panels (exact dates to be announced!):
- April: Embracing Your Voice during Sexual Assault Awareness Month
- June: Preventing Sexual Violence
- September: Talking about Title IX
This conversation has been condensed for clarity and length.
Ashley Slay (AS): In regards to how youth are talking about [the #MeToo movement], I find that they’re talking about it in a similar way to how adults are talking about it. I think part of that has to do with how there’s so much ease of access to information now and youth are able to engage with adults in this conversation on more or less the same level when there’s social media involved.
What I find really inspiring is that when I think about who I was as a young person and my access to language in talking about sexual violence, I don’t think I had the same capacity to talk about it in such an eloquent way.
Janet Yassen (JY): There is just this amazing, wonderful, powerful groundswell of, “not me, I’m not shutting up,” so that’s really been exciting. But I guess I would want this a little bit to translate into “what now?”
I really think there needs to be some additional conversation about linking the voices to “now what?”
AS: I would say, similarly, I’d also like to see what’s happening in terms of conversation translated into action. I think that’s due time. BARCC’s been around for 45 years, so we’ve already been doing a lot of active work in making sure we’re engaged with this.
On the other side, I see the conversation around sexual violence progressing so fast in public discourse, so people are just now talking about sexual assault, and now they’re moving on to talking about sexual coercion, and I think . . . things are getting a little bit muddled in the mainstream conversation.
And we really need to look at who’s leading these conversations and how they’re being digested, so it’s not in a way that’s harming survivors.
Gina Scaramella (GS): I think one of the important pieces organizations like BARCC around the country contribute is having a very broad perspective. We know that sexual violence isn’t one thing or one type of assault, it’s a whole range of different types of sexual violence.
AS: One of our coworkers, Sharon Imperato, has been pushing for this change of language from thinking about sexual violence as something that happens to thinking about sexual violence as something that’s done.
This isn’t something that just sprouted up, no, this is something that’s a product of rape culture, and a product of people actively violating someone’s boundaries, and recognizing that. In order to support survivors, we need to hold accountability for people who are doing the harm.
GS: One of the things that is so powerful about BARCC is the ability for people to meaningfully contribute through volunteerism. We have over 200 amazing folks who answer the hotline, go to the hospital, go out in the community and help us educate others, and survivor speakers, and office support volunteers . . . I think that an incredibly important piece is inviting people to be part of the solution.
AS: Do you want to be a community that enables and supports rape culture? We know that if you’re letting people catcall, or violate someone’s boundaries, then you’re supporting rape culture . . . It’s kind of a test of “what else can I get away with? What else is possible?”
We know that it can balloon out, and that it impacts the way people decide whether or not people are going to do these other more violent and aggressive behaviors.
GS: The temptation to hierarchize the level of trauma that somebody “should” be feeling or experiencing is really something that is so damaging to survivors. We see it all the time on our hotline, for example, where a survivor will call and say, “I don’t even want to take up your time, this was not what I heard about in the news, I just have a question.”
People can only be themselves. Their experience is just what it was for them, and we really try to invite people to call and validate whatever experience someone is having, and it doesn’t have to meet someone else’s definition of “was it bad enough?”
JY: We don’t know whether someone has experienced a catcall and is distressed and minimizing the impact . . . we don’t know who that person is on the other end. Maybe they have a whole story about why this particular event triggered this particular reaction.
That’s why it’s so important to treat each disclosure with the respect that it deserves to be treated.