NYCAASA Blog

In Conversation With The Light of the Moon Director/Writer Jessica M. Thompson

  Published on October 27, 2017 by Niki Cruz

For the film The Light of the Moon, Director/Writer Jessica M. Thompson has crafted an intimate look into sexual assault. Bonnie (Stephanie Beatriz) is an assertive and confident Latin woman, who has a great career, a stable relationship with her boyfriend Matt (Michael Stahl-David), and strong friendships. In one night, her ground is ripped from underneath her when she’s sexually assaulted while walking home from a club in Brooklyn.

 

This particular depiction of a survivor is one we rarely see portrayed in the media. Unlike other films, this complex portrait doesn’t focus its lens on the rape itself or empowers the victim with a disingenuous revenge story, but instead, brings an awareness of what a victim goes through after she experiences rape, and how it affects her inner perception of herself and the relationships she forged with the people she knows best.

 

This narrative is thoughtfully crafted by Thompson in the way she beautifully constructed the emotional turmoil someone goes through after an assault and the hardships and lack of answers given by various systems in power.

 

The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault spoke with Jessica M. Thompson about this important story.

*****

Jessica M. Thompson directs Michael Stahl-David

With cases like Brock Turner, and now the light shining down on the film industry, it seems like in the last few years the media is ready to provide an outlet for this difficult conversation. When you first started developing this project, was that the case?

 

This is what’s crazy — with every turn of events, I thought, “There’s no better time than right now.” The Brock Turner case came out on day one of production. The cast and crew all sat around and read the victim’s statement and it really affirmed that we were doing this for the right reasons and that this story really needed to be out there.

 

It was Brock Turner, then Donald Trump, and now Harvey Weinstein. It just keeps on getting more and more relevant. Now, I do finally feel that the lid has been taken off and the media is really ready to talk about this issue in a truthful and honest way.

 

There are movies out there that focus on a revenge story after a victim is assaulted. That never feels like a genuine narrative. Your film is incredibly different in the way it approaches trauma. How was your process writing this story in terms of the content? I know this is loosely based on your friend’s own story of sexual assault.

 

I had this idea boiling in the back of my mind. I was also getting really frustrated with the way sexual assault was being portrayed in films and television, including some of my favorite TV shows like Game of Thrones. The way they portray rape on that show is horrifying. For one, it’s gratuitous and it’s way too much and sometimes I feel like they’re filming it for the..

 

The male gaze?

 

Yes! It’s like they’re almost filming it for the male audience to sexualize it and to revictimize these victims. It’s not following the women’s narrative at all. So, I would think about these films and shows written and directed by men and that was in the back of my mind. Then when this happened to my friend I felt compelled to write a story that is written and directed by a woman and that also has cinematography by a woman so that there’s literally no male gaze.

 

In the very beginning of the film, Bonnie is asked, “What did he take away from you?” And then we see in the film just what her attacker takes away in how she’s affected. How was it fleshing that out?

 

So many women I spoke to said the first thing the authorities say to them, sticks with them. Out of all the survivors, I spoke with only one had a positive authority figure. I don’t want to bash the NYPD but it’s alarming to me. Usually, they say the completely wrong thing and that can revictimize someone. It’s exactly what you said, and you picked up on it very well the, “What did he take?” She’s trying so hard to let her attacker take nothing. She’s trying so hard to deny it but we all know that’s not how trauma works. We see that he’s taken her confidence, her relationships, the safety of her house and community. It goes through and through every aspect of her life. I improv’d a lot of the writing so that’s how I would get to those places. I improv around a theme, a topic, or a line, and I’d eventually get to that point.

 

I’ve never seen a film showcase how sexual assault affects relationships. Did you always want to include that aspect?

 

That was always the main impotence. Seeing my friend and her boyfriend and how they tried to renavigate that. Your partner has to navigate this with you, and I couldn’t stop thinking about how those conversations looked. It’s the ripple effect of how this affects the victims and the people around them, their friends, families, partners and work relationships. It doesn’t just affect one person.

 

The scene where Bonnie gets assaulted is, from a technical aspect, done really well. You were able to show the intimacy and the invasion of that moment. It’s really brutal in a way that’s necessary. Were you worried about triggering victims?

 

I was. I went back and forth for a long time about whether I should show it or not. The way the cinematographer [Autumn Eakin] and I spoke about it was that it was always going to be focused on just her face. That it would always zoom in as if we were in her mind. We worked very hard on the sound design to get that effect of her pulling in and out of her mind. From my research, a lot of survivors go through this survival instinct where they kind of pull themselves out of their body. I really wanted to capture that. It wasn’t focused on sexualizing [the rape] in any way.

 

Still, I really went back and forth about showing it because of what you said. We did a lot of test screenings and I felt that people were not being as empathetic. I did want to reach a male audience and I think people wanted to see it in order to empathize with how she reacts to it. She’s in denial and lashes out at her boyfriend. It seemed like people weren’t on her journey as much when they didn’t see that scene.

 

I like how at one point it’s suggested that she could’ve been stalked at the nightclub and then later on attacked. With The Alliance’s program Nightlife, they actually go into clubs and nightlife spaces to train bouncers and bartenders so they’re attuned to this behavior.

 

Yes, I went to one of your events, the September Soiree, and that was the first time I heard about that. I think it’s an incredible initiative. The one time my drink got spiked was by the bartender. I remember blaming myself and saying, “But I held my drink? How did this happen?” But I think it’s incredible to get bartenders and bouncers to be aware of it.

 

With the uptick in the media’s involvement in the conversation about sexual assault and rape, and the social responsibility we have from campaigns like MeToo, what do you hope for the future?

 

Through powerful figures in the media like Harvey Weinstein, they use their power to force silence around the issue. I wanted the film to create dialogue. I feel like we can make a change from the power of film. Art has a big role to play in that. I should say that The Weinstein Company was interested in buying us for distribution but we knew the rumors and we knew that we were never going to go with them.

 

Right now I feel a lot of hope that we are empowering people. I’ve seen 50 women come forward and feel that solidarity in numbers saying, “Even if you judge us, we’re all in this together.” The lid is off and now is our time to stand forward and put a stop to this. I feel like we really turned a corner and I’m excited to see what society does with it.

 

The Light of the Moon opens November 1st.

Project DOT: The Breakdown Of Our Youth Messages Part 3

  Published on October 17, 2017 by Teri Rosenberg

Youth messages

As part of Project DOT’s prevention initiative, mentors set out to underserved communities in New York City to discuss important topics that older children and teens aren’t talking about enough at home and in formal settings. In order to engage in language and ideas that children and teens are thinking about and actively dealing with on a day to day basis, youth leaders focused on healthy relationships, the bystander intervention, and consent.

 

During a series of workshops, the kids expressed their thoughts through artwork and various other activities on situations they’ve encountered. Below kids and teens in the South Asian community detailed the messages they want people to know they’re actively thinking about.

 

 

Consent

 

The message:

 

#Everybodytoldme that henny get the body flowing, but #nobodytoldme that trying to have sex when my date is drunk and cannot consent is rape.

 

The Breakdown:

 

Consent should be cut and dry. If your partner doesn’t say “yes” to sex, then you shouldn’t have sex, right? Right. However, did you know if you still get a verbal confirmation from the other person that doesn’t mean they gave you their consent?

 

If there’s alcohol involved, the person you’re having sex with may not be cognizant enough to consent to sex, which means, if you hear your lover or “friend” mumble what might sound like consent it doesn’t count. In fact, going forward with sex despite your partner’s inebriation is a violation of their rights and privacy.

 

If someone does decide to go forward despite their partner’s state of mind, it’s considered rape and as we know, that comes with huge repercussions.

 

 

Bystander

 

 The message:

 

#Everybodytoldme to mind my own business, but #Nobodytoldme that as a young person my voice matters when I see someone getting abused

 

The Breakdown:

 

As kids, we’re told by adults to mind our own business. If you’re lucky, there will be one person that tells you to ask questions and to intervene when you see fit, and that’s only part of what it takes to be a bystander.

 

The first part is recognizing a potentially dangerous situation. This might prove to be particularly difficult because a bystander isn’t usually directly involved until they act, so it’s important to have skills that will allow you to analyze a situation from afar before you intervene. The next step is identifying whether or not you will need more people behind you to intervene. If getting involved is beyond your capabilities, whether that’s because it’s too dangerous of a situation or you’re simply not comfortable, there are always alternative options such as calling for help. Just that simple action may de-escalate a situation completely.

 

 

Healthy Relationships

 

The message:

 

#Everybodytoldme apologizing was key but #NobodyToldMe told me that threats of leaving aren’t the same as love

 

The Breakdown:

 

One of the key signs you’re in a healthy relationship is that there’s strong communication on both sides. That way, when it comes to apologizing, neither you nor your loved one will have a problem with owning up to your mistakes and/or flaws. That said, sometimes apologizing isn’t a cure all. Apologizing just isn’t enough if you’re in a dangerous situation.

If you’re being abused whether it’s physically or verbally, you can’t take your partner’s apology as confirmation that this won’t happen again. Any form of abuse is a cycle that continues in some form, even if you don’t recognize it as abuse. Threats of leaving are just one way a partner can manipulate their lover into staying with them. It’s also a huge power play that solidifies that person as someone who has dominance in the relationship. This isn’t a sign that your partner loves you, it’s a sign that they want to own you.

 

Project DOT: What The Program Means To The Youth

  Published on October 16, 2017 by Teri Rosenberg

We spoke about the Project DOT program. Here’s what the program means to the youth.

South Asian Youth Talk About Project DOT from NYCAASA on Vimeo.

Project DOT: What Adults Should Know

  Published on by Teri Rosenberg

The Alliance asked the South-Asian youth what they want adults to know. Here’s what they had to say:

 

What Adults Should Know From Kids & Teens from NYCAASA on Vimeo.

For more about Project DOT check us out on social media.

Project DOT: The Do’s And The Don’ts Of A Healthy Relationship

  Published on by Teri Rosenberg

As part of one of the workshops that the Alliance started through Project DOT, the
kids and teens from the South Asian community created art around messaging
behind healthy relationships. Here are a few sentiments the kids came up with on
what a healthy relationship looks like VS an unhealthy relationship.

 

 

Healthy Relationships:

– “I feel SAFE around my partner.”
– “My partner RESPECTS me.”
– “My partner LISTENS to what I have to say.”
– “My partner takes good CARE of me.”
– “My Partner ACCEPTS me for who I am.”
– “I feel COMFORTABLE around my partner.”

 

 

Unhealthy Relationship:

– “My partner INVADES my privacy.”
– “My partner PHYSICALLY ABUSES me.”
– “My partner VERBALLY ABUSES me.”
– “I feel NERVOUS around my partner.
– “I feel SCARED around my partner
– “My partner IGNORES my need
– “My partner has MOOD SWINGS and yells at me
– “My partner BLAMES me for their problems.”

 

 

You can see some more youth created messages around consent, bystander
intervention, and healthy relationships on our social media pages.

For more about Project DOT check us out on social media.

Project DOT: The Breakdown Of Our Youth Messages Part 2

  Published on October 10, 2017 by Teri Rosenberg

Youth Messages

 

As part of Project DOT’s prevention initiative, mentors set out to underserved communities in New York City to discuss important topics that older children and teens aren’t talking about enough at home and in formal settings. In order to engage in language and ideas that children and teens are thinking about and actively dealing with on a day to day basis, youth leaders focused on healthy relationships, the bystander effect, and consent.

 

During a series of workshops the kids expressed their thoughts through artwork, and various other activities on situations they’ve encountered. Below kids and teens in the Latinx community detailed the messages they want people to know they’re actively thinking about.

 

Consent

 

The Message:

 

#Everybodytoldme rough sex is wavy, but #nobodytoldme to check in with my baby. #Communicationiskey

 

The Breakdown

 

Rough sex may be talked up in pop songs as the best thing about sex but everyone doesn’t like it rough. Rough sex might be your thing but it might not be your partner’s. Keep in mind that sex feels and looks different on everyone. Even if your partner doesn’t vocalize that they don’t like rough sex, doesn’t mean they’re enjoying it. Try to be perceptive and read body language during sex. Most importantly, check in verbally so you know for sure what they like before, during and after.

 

 

Bystander

 

The Message:

 

#Everybodytoldme to mind my business but #Nobodytoldme that I can distract my friend and take them out of a situation where they’re facing public abuse

 

The Breakdown

 

There’s only one “d” in the bystander effect but did you know there’s actually three d’s? In order to overcome being a bystander in a potentially dangerous situation and provide support in an intervention you should keep in mind the three d’s:

 

  1. Direct – Give commands or orders
  2. Distract – Divert a friend’s attention from a harmful situation
  3. Delegate – Get the attention of someone else to intervene in a situation.

 

This message created by the youth identifies with the second “d” — distract. For instance, if you’re walking down the street and realize your friend is being catcalled by a someone this should immediately raise a red flag in your mind as a potentially abusive situation as they’re being harassed by someone.

 

Some might still think this behavior is accepted as a form of a compliment but today we recognize this as abusive behavior, especially if these comments aren’t received well by the person they’re directed at. It’s important to know you can use your voice to distract your friend from the cat caller by starting up a conversation which would drown out the abusive voice.

 

Pro-tip: It doesn’t even have to be your friend. If you see someone in need of rescuing from cat calls, you can step in and pretend as though you know the person just so they’re saved from the situation.

 

 

 

Healthy Relationships

 

The Message:

 

#Everybodytoldme jealousy isn’t the same as love but #nobodytoldme. your apology doesn’t count if you keep doing the same thing to me.

 

The Breakdown

 

Some people may think because their partner is possessive over them that means their boyfriend or girlfriend “loves harder” or that their love/bond is stronger because of it. This particular exhibit of controlling behavior is actually a form of abuse and someone who’s on the receiving end of it may not have a clue.

 

What most people don’t realize is after time they get so conditioned to receiving one type of emotional response that their brain rationalizes this behavior. What outsiders may define as jealousy or a possessive nature, those who are in a relationship sometimes don’t have the ability to recognize that they’re in an unhealthy relationship until they feel trapped.

 

The Alliance teaches the youth signs to recognize and identify by engaging them in conversation and community mobilization efforts. Remember, having the tools and know-all is just half the battle of getting out of an unhealthy relationship. The other half is having the courage to ask for help.

 

For more about Project DOT check us out on social media.

Project DOT: WHAT DOES A HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP LOOK LIKE?

  Published on by Teri Rosenberg

As part of our Project DOT campaign, Denys Salas, the Assistant Director for Voces Latina gave our youth some tips about what it looks like to be in a healthy relationship.

 

 

Denys Talks About Healthy Relationships For The Latinx Community from NYCAASA on Vimeo.

For more about Project DOT check us out on social media.

Project DOT: In Conversation With Adriana Lopez

  Published on October 9, 2017 by Teri Rosenberg

Adriana LopezProject DOT (Dream. Own. Tell.) is a sexual assault prevention program for kids and teens that aims to engage youth in discussions about healthy relationships, consent, and the importance of being an active bystander to end sexual violence.

 

The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault has worked in partnership with community-based organizations to ensure children and teens from underserved communities have a safe space to talk about healthy relationships and healthy sexuality. Through workshops and community mobilization activities, youth mentors instill positive messages about sexuality, gender roles, self-esteem, etc. as a way of counteracting the culture of violence we are exposed to in our daily lives.

 

As part of our social media campaign for the Latinx week, we sat down with Adriana Lopez to get an inside look of how Project DOT served the Latinx community. Ms. Lopez is the New York City Alliance’s Senior Prevention Coordinator and has a big role in the development area of this particular program.

 

SVFREE: In your words, how would you describe Project DOT?

 

LOPEZ: It’s a program that focuses on helping youth learn skills to develop healthy relationships and have a healthy sexuality.

 

SVFREE: Can you give us a background with how this program began?

 

LOPEZ: Sure! The program itself started three years ago. There’s been, so far, three groups that went on last year a Latinx, Black and a South Asian youth group. A lot of the feedback we received from youth [is that] this information needed to go beyond the people who were attending the workshops. So, we decided to add another component, which was the community mobilization activities. This year we’ve completed another three groups in the same communities, and we are excited to see how youth have mobilized and taken these activities to their own communities.

 

SVFREE: What’s a theme that Project DOT represents that doesn’t get enough attention in these communities? Whether it’s establishing healthy relationships, bystander effect, or misconceptions about rape.

 

LOPEZ: It depends on the group. In terms of the Latinx youth group I worked with this year – we discussed how we learn in school about science, math, and history but we don’t really learn how to resolve conflict, or how to recognize the red flags in abusive relationships, or how to build healthy ones. We know part of it is about communicating well, building healthy identities and a healthy self-esteem. Youth really appreciated that these topics were a part of the conversation.

 

We also discussed how part of how we build our expectations about what relationships should look like, is based on the messages we receive from our immediate community, and the role media plays a role in perpetuating a culture of violence. Thinking critically about this was a very important part of the process and something that youth enjoyed because they realize we are all always engaging with popular culture. They found it cool to sit down and look at some of the songs that they’ve been listening to and think about what the lyrics actually meant.

 

SVFREE: Where do you fit into Project DOT as a Senior Prevention Coordinator?

 

LOPEZ: Part of it has been to help develop and enhance the curriculum we use in our workshops and include content that reflects the needs of our youth groups. We learned a lot from the first round we did last year and we incorporated more information that focused on intersectionality. We broke down gender roles, [specifically] how rigid gender roles might contribute to gender-based violence.

 

We also expanded our sections, which focused on media analysis and how that impacts or promotes gender race violence; and I spend a lot of time nurturing our partnerships with community-based organizations, so we can co-facilitate workshops, and help plan community mobilization activities with youth.

 

SVFREE: In terms of Project DOT, what do the prevention and community mobilization activities look like with youth?

 

LOPEZ: That’s a really good question. There’s a lot of knowledge building and skill building that focuses on communication, leadership and analytical thinking. One activity youth completed was a radio interview through the Just As I Am youth group. [While on the radio show, youth] talked about healthy relationships and healthy sexuality and what that looks like in the Black community.

 

Our Latinx youth group from Voces Latinas in Queens [completed] a presentation to parents and community leaders about the importance of engaging adults in a conversation about healthy relationships and healthy sexuality. [During the presentation] youth [discussed] a lot of the information they’ve learned during the workshops. Through a community mapping activity they did in our workshops, they discussed the strengths they saw in their community that could help them overcome violence and the places that they felt they could go to find support if they are experiencing teen dating violence and sexual violence.

 

SVFREE: What about Project DOT are you particularly impressed by?

 

LOPEZ: One of the things I am taking away from doing several of these workshops is that often as adults we underestimate how much youth know about their own needs and their ideas about how to resolve the issues that we’re talking about in our workshops. As adults, we forget at times to create a space to be able to have these conversations with youth. However, when we engage them it’s in a genuine and authentic way. They’re very open about how they think we should be solving these issues.

 

During our workshops, youth shared with us that sometimes adults will say to them “what do you know about sex and dating, you’re not even supposed to be in a relationship in the first place.” but they’re much more aware than we give them credit for. They are not passive agents and shouldn’t be seen as one in this conversation.

 

SVFREE: What kind of an impact do you hope will Project DOT create within these communities?

 

LOPEZ: At the end of the day, much of what we talked about with the youth we are working with, was about developing a healthy self-esteem and learning about how to resolve conflict in a healthy way. In our discussions, we realized that sometimes youth aren’t able to recognize behaviors that are unhealthy. So it’s important to talk about what that looks like, and empower youth to know and voice boundaries, so that it can help them build healthier relationships in the long term.

For more about Project DOT check us out on social media.

In Conversation With The Rape of Recy Taylor’s Director Nancy Buirski

  Published on October 4, 2017 by Niki Cruz

The Rape of Recy Taylor

 

Many victims of rape are painfully silenced after their assault but for Black women, young and old, the ties of systemic racism in our country run parallel to their silence. It dates back to slavery where white men had “their pick” of black women and had sex with them against their will. Many Black women were seen as an “other” to the human race in the eyes of men who had power. This ideology of owning someone and the implications of what this meant, permeates our culture today.

 

The documentary, The Rape of Recy Taylor by director Nancy Buirski, which is playing at the New York Film Festival, examines the important role race has in rape and one woman’s courage to voice the violent act that occurred when six white boys surrounded her like vultures and gang-raped her. Taylor never received any justice, and despite identifying her assailants and the boys fessing up to the egregious attack, nothing was done. Despite this injustice, Ms. Taylor’s legacy and her will to be outspoken about this six-decade crime endures.

 

The Alliance sat down with director Nancy Buirski to speak about Recy’s courage and how we can better intervene in healing victims of assault.

 

****

The Rape of Recy Taylor

SVFREE: I heard a social worker who works with the Alliance is coming to one of the screenings. 
Yes. We’re going to try to set that up for every screening where it’s possible. We hope that this film will be comforting in some ways to people who have gone through this experience, and who might be inspired by Recy Taylor’s courage. We also know that this is a heavy subject for many, and some people may need to talk about it so that’s how we felt going into it.
SVFREE: It’s a very important time to have this discussion given how rampant assault is and the conversation the film industry is having about sexism and abuse that’s going on.
That’s a great point. I’ve kind of been thinking about rape on college campuses and the incredible ubiquity of it around the world as a form of terrorism. I’ve been reading about what’s been going on in the industry but somehow I wasn’t making the kind of connection I should have, and I’m glad you brought that up.
SVFREE: Throughout your career, the through line has been dedicated to social injustices. There’s a lack of exposure to most of these injustices. Is that part of your interest? 
Yes. The fact that both The Loving Story and Loving the feature film that came out, they all represent hidden stories. Stories that have been really important to the African American community but not as widely known as I thought they should be.  Also, it’s the kind of woman that’s at the center of these stories. They were not activists, and their lives were not set up to change the world. They found themselves in these terrible situations where they felt like they had no choice but to speak up and be honest and forthright. I consider them very noble for that reason. We are even seeing this today from people who find themselves being called on to behave in ways where they never thought they had to.
SVFREE: At the Alliance, we work with minority groups, especially the youth, with a series of programs geared towards prevention. Our most recent is called Project DOT. Your film highlights how high the rate is for women of color. We know that  40% of Black women report coercive contact of a sexual nature by age 18. Were you surprised with how common this is for women of color? 
As soon as I began to realize the connection to slavery and plantation life, it was no longer a surprise. I was just very sad because I recognize that this is the legacy, with the way our country felt that it was okay to treat Black women. To a certain extent that continues today. I think it’s very important to address it and understand what the roots are.
SVFREE: What would you like to see happen in working with victims
First of all, for them to feel support, love, and safety that comes from a community that cares about them. I think it takes the very active resistance from this kind of behavior. Anybody that commits this type of act needs to be not only be prosecuted but there has to be shame that goes along with it so our community supports women who survive it and we criminalize this action across the board.
There’s this kind of “attacking the victim” syndrome that we go through. Women feel like they have to defend themselves and “prove” that they were sober or “wearing the right clothes.” You don’t ask someone whose home has been burglarized or if they’ve been assaulted on the street, whether they’ve been drinking. Why is this crime any different? There needs to be a more public conversation about the way rape is treated. It’s one of the reasons why we use rape in our title. Recy Taylor called it what it was. She accused her attacker and we felt it was really important to get this out and to have a conversation.
SVFREE: Recy had the courage to be vocal which in and of itself can leave a victim and their family re-traumatized. With that in mind, were you at all hesitant about interviewing her family?
No, because they wanted us to do this. Robert Corbitt has tried to draw attention to this crime since he was a young child. He was nine years old when it happened. Recy was not only his sister but she was a mother to him. He knew full well what happened to her and he wanted it to get out in the open so she could have justice.
One of the points we make in the film is that men, in general, have their own set of problems that surround the rape of women they love.  They internalize it and they’re so limited in what they could do particular back in that day. The father wanted to take a shotgun and kill people. They had to stop him from doing that because he would’ve been lynched.
SVFREE: How was the experience interviewing Recy herself?  
Recy was proud to stand up and say, “what they did to me was wrong.” We were in her room and it was very emotional for us as well. I remember my heart was pounding. She seemed to be very gratified that we were there. She knows that the movie is coming out and she is excited about it.
SVFREE: And we see how race plays into these injustices. We see this today with the lack of indictments for police brutality. With the way movements are started on social media, do you see this as a new way to hold perpetrators accountable? 
Unfortunately, our justice system is going to be the key in that. Ideally, movies like this will awaken people to how serious these offenses are and make them put more pressure on legislators to hold people accountable. We just saw what happened with Betsy DeVos and how that was a big step back in terms of campus crimes.
We need a populace that will push back on that. I think women understand how important we were to the movements that we can appreciate now. Women are continuing to be resistant and persistent — all of those movements go towards the awakening of the people who change the law. Let’s hope that things change in the midterm election. We have to move forward.
SVFREE:  As your film says, where there are women, there’s hope. 
Thank you for saying that, I think that’s exactly what it says.
You can catch The Rape of Recy Taylor at the New York Film Festival.
[Images by Augusta Films]

Project DOT: The Breakdown Of Our Youth Messages Part 1

  Published on October 3, 2017 by Teri Rosenberg

Breakdown

 

As part of Project DOT’s prevention initiative, mentors set out to underserved communities in New York City to discuss important topics that older children and teens aren’t talking about enough at home and in formal settings. In order to engage in language and ideas that children and teens are thinking about and actively dealing with on a day to day basis, youth leaders focused on healthy relationships, bystander intervention, and consent.

 

During a series of workshops the kids expressed their thoughts through artwork, and various other activities on situations they’ve encountered and the language around prevention. Below kids and teens in the Black community detailed the messages they want people to know they’re actively thinking about.

 

 

Healthy Relationships

 

The Message:

 

#Everybodytoldme I should tell my friends I’m being abused, but #Nobodytoldme My friend should support me with whatever decision I choose. #Communicationiskey

 

The Breakdown:

 

When a victim comes forward to tell their friend they’ve been experiencing abuse, it can be a nuanced situation from the start. It’s not the easiest thing in the world for a victim to reach out. First, they have to inwardly reflect about the abuse they’ve endured and recognize it as abuse before they even come forward. As a friend, this means you have to be receptive to their words, and sometimes that involves being supportive even if the victim chooses to stay with the person abusing them.

 

You shouldn’t champion them staying with the person but you should support the victim, letting them know that you’re open to being someone they can come to if another situation of abuse arises. While staying is not a healthy decision, it’s a choice that comes with many working parts of their acceptance and healing. A true friend may not understand the emotional turmoil that occurs if they look down on the victim for staying.

 

Some victims of abuse stay for economical reasons, as they’re financially dependent on their abuser, who has dominated their life in every way. While others simply believe their abusers will change because it’s something they’ve been promised.

 

What many don’t realize is healing and acceptance looks different on every victim, and because of that, it can take weeks, months, even years before a victim leaves their abuser.

 

 

Bystander

 

The Message:

 

#Everybodytoldme to mind my own business, but #nobodytoldme that as a young person my voice matters when I see an ex is spreading rumors about their partner

 

The Breakdown:

 

Plenty of young people feel underestimated and as if their voice doesn’t matter. The one thing the Alliance teaches to teens through workshops is that they should feel empowered by their voice and recognize situations where they could use their voice in a productive way if they feel comfortable in doing so.

 

A person who doesn’t speak up when they witness a potentially dangerous or damaging situation comes under the umbrella of the bystander effect. If a young person doesn’t speak up, more often than not, it’s because they don’t recognize that they can utilize their voice as an agent to directly affect the outcome of a situation. To further complicate the situation, many young people conflate the advice to mind their own business with staying silent when a voice is so desperately needed.

 

By recognizing the power of their voice, this makes it a bit easier for a young person to critically think about how they want to react to a situation as it’s happening. The Alliance tries its best to give these tools to teens, along with powerful statements they can utilize if a situation comes up.

 

 

Consent

 

Consent Message:

 

#Everybodytoldme to use a rubber, but #nobodytoldme to ask my lover. #Communicationiskey

 

The Breakdown:

 

There’s an array of misconceptions about consent depending on the situation. It’s a nuanced subject that the Alliance works hard to breakdown for youth. This particular message resonated with the youth.

 

In school, there’s a lot of attention on using contraceptives in the form of condoms (which is a good idea to follow) but that shouldn’t be the only focus when it comes to creating a lasting healthy relationship with your partner. There are more working parts in establishing a healthy communicative relationship than what’s taught in a formal setting. The message of using a rubber may relate back to practicing good sexual health but the discussion around contraceptives usually eliminates a huge component of a healthy relationship.

 

For one, it isn’t just one person’s responsibility to bring up contraceptives — both partners should have a conversation about it. The message of using a condom without any explanation afterward skips over the talking point that both partners need to communicate with each other. It’s not a one-sided conversation as it’s so often portrayed as.

 

Stay tuned for next week’s breakdown.

For more about Project DOT check us out on social media.

Project DOT: Inside Bystander Intervention And Healthy Relationships

  Published on October 2, 2017 by Teri Rosenberg

As part of our social media campaign for Project DOT, staff from the Alliance as well as our youth-led partners have released videos discussing the important themes that run throughout the many workshops and activities that youth participate in. For this week Youth Consultant Deria Matthews and JAIA’s youth Damian Dacius discuss bystander intervention and healthy relationships, respectively.

Take a look at their informative tips below:

Tips on Healthy Relationships from NYCAASA on Vimeo.

Tips on Bystander Intervention from NYCAASA on Vimeo.

For more about Project DOT check us out on social media.

Project DOT: In Conversation With Deria Matthews

  Published on by Teri Rosenberg

Deria MatthewsA big component of Project DOT is getting the Alliance’s young partners involved in the host of activities, which take place while kids and teens are enrolled in the program. Not only does this make it easier for the kids to connect to an adult but parents can rest assured all of the information they’re receiving comes from a reputable source who won’t talk down to the children. Instead, that person, much like Youth Consultant Deria Matthews, will act as a leader the kids can look up to as an example of being a young and successful individual.

 

 

We sat down with Deria Matthews to discuss her reflections on Project DOT now that she’s worked in a series of workshops with the Black youth and the South Asian youth. Deria had a lot to share about the youth’s experience and how the Alliance successfully deconstructs harmful messaging related to sexuality and gender.

 

 

SVFREE: In your words, how would you describe Project DOT?

 

MATTHEWS: It’s a youth-led program that’s specific to communities of color that have a need for education on healthy relationships and sexuality.

 

SVFREE: Where do you fit with your role within Project DOT?

 

MATTHEWS: I’m the youth consultant. I work specifically with the curriculum and the model development for the South Asian and Black communities.

 

SVFREE:In terms of Project Dot what do the activities with the youth look like within these workshops?

 

MATTHEWS: They’re really hands-on and discussion based. Our prevention strategy is us talking about awareness and having young people sharing their experiences. We give them the language on a broader scale around sexual assault.

 

SVFREE: What kind of interactive activities do you hold with the youth?

 

MATTHEWS: A big part of it is looking at lyrics, digital campaigns, advertisements and discussing messages on gender. We also look at memes, too. We do alphabet relays, we talk about love languages where everyone speaks and shares what their love languages look like. We do something called a “human barometer.” People walk to one side of the room or another to talk about healthy relationships. One side of the room would discuss “healthy” and the other side of the room is “unhealthy” relationships. The middle of the room is the “not sure” side. So we’ll read a statement or a behavior that might show up in a relationship, and then the youth have to decide whether they think it’s healthy or unhealthy.

 

SVFREE: How do you guys dissect other campaigns?

 

MATTHEWS: We look at the ones that target sexual relationships and assault. We see who their audience is and use a critical eye to think about who they’re trying to talk to and what their message is. We discuss if it’s targeting people of color, men and/or women. When it comes to [the content], the youth look at the messages and what they say about dating, sex, and the roles that certain genders are supposed to perform.

 

SVFREE: What about the workshops are you particularly impressed by?

 

MATTHEWS: Even though adults aren’t having these conversations with young people, they still are creating their own understandings despite what might have been given to them. They’re having these important discussions outside of what their parents and schools are telling them. Sometimes, it’s healthier than what has been given to them.

 

SVFREE: Have you received feedback from the parents?

 

MATTHEWS: We haven’t but when the kids did a radio show about what they’re learning, the parents were extremely supportive, but when you deal with things around what girls can wear, there’s a lot of resistance. Parents are especially trying to police what young women wear. The parents aren’t really recognizing the harm and abuse that’s done to them when they’re shaming them for what they’re wearing or sending a nude picture. They say, “You shouldn’t have done that.” Instead of saying, “Someone shouldn’t have shared your picture if you trusted them.” Or “Someone shouldn’t have touched you just because you have on a short skirt.” There’s a lot of that kind of response and pressure being put on young girls.

 

SVFREE: Have the kids brought up any kind of stereotypes they’re dealing with or trying to escape when it comes to age, race, and gender?

 

MATTHEWS: There are stereotypes around what girls are expected to do or should do. A lot of times girls will be told that they’re supposed to be the cleaners of the household or that they want to get married or they’re supposed to get married. They’re told that these are things that girls should want for themselves. They’re also told through advertisements that girls aren’t sexual even though they’re told that teens are overtly sexual. They’re only exposed to one angle that boys want to have sex with girls rather than the other way around.

 

SVFREE: How do you think the media could do better in terms of speaking to youth?

 

MATTHEWS: It’s important to have young people represented. How To Get Away With Murder is a show that’s doing a good job. They’re showing young people in college and their sexual lives and it’s racially diverse. They have an Asian person who’s gay and has HIV and he’s with a white male partner. They have these very real conversations about having HIV and what that’s like. I think having more conversations and moments around consent is necessary. HTGAWM shows a more intimate exchange as opposed to an SVU formula.

 

SVFREE: What’s a theme that Project DOT represents that doesn’t enough attention in these communities?

 

MATTHEWS: Young people have an awareness now about sexuality and gender fluidity. The young people are with us in this change. Some of the youth identity as gender non-conforming. Some of them have trans partners. Young people aren’t outside of these conversations that we’re having as adults.

 

SVFREE: What kind of an impact do you hope will Project DOT create within these communities?

 

MATTHEWS: I hope it starts to change the norm. I hope it ends the silence around sex and young people’s sexual bodies. I hope it starts conversations because young people are sexual beings. By not talking to them it really opens them up to sexual assault.

For more about Project DOT check us out on social media.

Why Rescinding the Dear Colleague Letter is Harmful to Students

  Published on September 22, 2017 by Rebecca Baron

In light of the Department of Education’s recension of the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter (DCL), the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault (the Alliance) reaffirms its commitment to creating a safe space on universities for all students and to protect the rights of survivors of sexual assault. We do not support the lowering of standards for universities. Best practice for all, complainants and accused, would be improving on existing guidelines rather than taking away protections.

 

We find the Department of Education’s abrupt decision to rescind the 2011 and 2014 Dear Colleague Letters appalling, and are concerned about the 20 million college students nationwide now subject to unequitable standards and limited protections. Undermining the use of the preponderance of evidence standard will reverse progress towards fair due process. The letter released today claims that many institutions relied on a clear and convincing standard prior to 2011. However, according to Title IX & The Preponderance of the Evidence: A White Paper, a 2011 survey and several corroborating studies prove that claim false. The survey showed that out of 191 colleges surveyed, 168 specified a standard and 136 of those (80%) already used preponderance of evidence. In suggesting a preponderance of evidence standard, the 2011 DCL did not require universities to adopt an unconventional or unproven method. It in fact enforced a method that had seen success both in higher education and in civil court. Additionally, preponderance of evidence is in line with the American Bar’s Association (ABA) Criminal Justice Task Force recommendations. Universities can ensure due process for all sides without resorting to standards that place the entire burden on complainants.

 

It’s exceedingly frustrating that this latest guidance fails to understand that students suing a school for discrimination regarding sexual assault- based misconduct are allowed the civil standard of a preponderance of evidence. If students found guilty of sexual assault are allowed the preponderance standard to prove a false finding, then complainants deserve the same treatment when proving an allegation true.

 

We would like to highlight the following three areas as additional problems. For one, contrary to the department’s current belief, disallowing cross examination does not prevent questioning, it redirects questions to a panel head in order to spare the complainant potential trauma and to maintain order in an emotionally rife setting.

 

Second, the letter of recension speaks of equity, but there is no equity in allowing respondents to appeal a decision but not complainants. Both complainants and respondents deserve equal opportunity to appeal a decision they find unfair and unjust. Finally, allowing universities to rely solely or predominantly on police investigations is antithetical to a university’s responsibility to enforce students’ rights and adjudicate rights violations.  Students must have the right to pursue their case on the collegiate level only, and even still, there is stark difference between finding someone guilty of student misconduct and finding them guilty of a felony. Criminal investigations have standards and intent that conflict with those of universities, such as a higher burden of proof and district offices whose discretion in choosing cases does not indicate a false accusation.

 

Above is just a sampling of areas where the 2017 DCL ignores the reality of sexual assault adjudication on college campuses. The solution to a lack of due process is modeling additional and clarifying guidelines, (like ABA Task Force Recommendations or New York State’s Enough is Enough Legislation,) not rescinding basic protections.

 

The Alliance implores the Department of Education not to return us to a time where survivors of sexual assault on college campuses had to fight to be heard. Improve upon existing guidance instead of reversing progress in favor of the tipped scales of the past.

 

Today is a difficult day for survivors of sexual violence, particularly those who were victimized on their college campuses. The college campus should be a place safe from violence and hostility. The Alliance will continue to advocate for students and survivors across New York and nationwide.

 

We urge our supporters to take today to reach out to the survivors in your life, validate the importance of this continued fight, and take care of those around you.

Project DOT: Talking About Consent With Saswati Sarkar

  Published on September 18, 2017 by Teri Rosenberg

As part of our campaign for Project DOT, Saswati Sarkar the Assistant Director of Prevention Programs sat down to give some tips on what consent looks like in a healthy relationship.

 

If you’re a parent, you can use these talking points to discuss this difficult subject with your child/teen.

 

If you’re a young person in a relationship, you could keep these tips in your back pocket.

 

The New York City Alliance Talks About Consent from NYCAASA on Vimeo.

 

Some helpful links:

 

Ted Talk: Sex Needs A New Metaphor

 

Tea and Consent

 

For more about Project DOT check us out on social media.

Introducing Project DOT With Mary Haviland

  Published on by Teri Rosenberg

Project DOT This week the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault officially launched its social media campaign around Project DOT (Dream. Own. Tell.) Project DOT is a program that’s part of the Alliance’s prevention initiative that engages with approx. 15,000 disenfranchised youths (ages 13-21) from LGBTQI, African-American, Latinx, and South Asian communities in New York City. Its main goal is engaging youth from underserved communities who lack traditional prevention programming when it comes to positive messaging and self-empowerment about healthy relationships, prevention of sexual violence, and sexual education.

 

 

Due to the program’s creativity and its strategic innovative ways of connecting with the youth, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) has picked up Project DOT to be upscaled. This way, the program and its existing model can be expanded, in an effort to disseminate the powerful tools given to the youth on a national scale.

 

 

To keep in line with the CDC’s practices, the Alliance is now collaborating with the center to measure attitudes, knowledge, and will conduct a post-workshop for an eventual evaluation of the model via interviews and focus groups.

 

 

As part of our social media campaign, the Alliance will share the impactful messages made by the youth for the youth, adults, and their community at large. To kick off the campaign, the Alliance’s Executive Director, Mary Haviland, sat down to speak about the inception of Project DOT and its hopes for how we as a people will come to understand and speak about sexual assault.

*****

 

SVFREENYC: As executive director, what’s your role in Project DOT?

 

MARY HAVILAND: Every year we convene with the rape crisis centers and ask them what they think the priorities are for survivors of sexual assault. One of the themes that always comes up is the media and the extent to which survivors get blamed for their own assault. Also, people went deeper into the discussion of the media and the hypersexualized messages around women and kids so we put it front and center on our agenda to do a media campaign for New York City among youth ages 18-21. There have been several domestic violence campaigns that have been put up by the city or other non-for-profit organizations but there hasn’t been one, to our knowledge, that targets specifically sexual violence.

 

SVFREENYC: In terms of the media, do you see a shift in how they portray women and sexuality in general because we have millennials that are paving the way in the digital age?

 

HAVILAND: I do see some shift but I also see some shift backward in some sectors of the media. There definitely has been some sophistication and understanding of sexual assault promoted by some media outlets but there’s still this lack of education and a deeper awareness of the issue and the impact it has on communities. I still think there’s not enough messaging out there about sexual assault. There’s particularly not enough material out there on sexual assault that’s sensitive to the diversity of New York City. This campaign was really meant to dig deeply into the cultural and racial context.

 

SVFREENYC: How was Project DOT started and how has it transformed from its inception?

 

HAVILAND: We found that the kids knew less than we thought about the issue and that they wanted to talk more than we thought. Initially, we thought of “five sessions” or “six sessions” but now it’s almost doubled in terms of the work we take the kids through before we get to the messaging and community mobilization part. We’ve established firmer relationships with our community-based partners. We’ve had to have them in there fifty percent with us otherwise we find that the youths don’t resonate, as they should. One of the outcomes was how much the kids want parents to understand what they’re learning.

 

SVFREENYC: There does seem to be a huge disconnect between parents and the kids.

 

HAVILAND: Right, especially in communities where there’s not only an age divide but there’s a cultural divide. Kids are really trying to fit into American society and some grown-ups are just trying to make their lives here. They’re really struggling with their own cultural identity and trying to find a place that’s comfortable for them to fit. Even in communities that aren’t necessarily immigrant communities, that’s still going on to a certain extent. In the Black community, the kids are joining things that the older generation doesn’t necessarily agree with so I think that the messaging to parents by kids is just a really powerful tool for communities to listen to.

 

SVFREENYC: Have you received any feedback from the parents?

 

HAVILAND: This program was designed to end with the kids engaging in community mobilization activities. The idea is to take the messages away and disseminate the messages back to the community and so during those activities there’s been some feedback from parents. We also got feedback from them because the kids had their consent to participate in these groups. We tried to make the argument that parents would rather [their children] get accurate information from this program rather than some underground source that could pull them into danger. I think that argument won out with a good number of parents.

 

SVFREENYC: Can you think of a success story?

 

HAVILAND: I think about the kids who are in these groups. There are a number of them who have really blossomed. I’m often here when the groups are going on because they’re in the evening. The sounds that I hear coming from the rooms is so heartening. The kids are super engaged and sometimes with laughter and a lot of movement. We developed some really cool exercises for them. I’m really proud of the groups. I think they’ve really helped kids cope with the onslaught of media and their social networking pressures.

 

SVFREENYC: Where did you get the slogan Dream. Own. Tell from and what does that represent to you?

 

HAVILAND: I think it encapsulates what we hope the kids will do in this program. The “dream” part is to really think outside the box, to dream of a world where sexual violence is much less frequent and less tolerated, where survivors can get assistance that helps them heal as quickly as possible. Also, a world where survivors can have access to justice. The “own” part is based on the youth-centered effort in the messaging. It’s really a kids campaign. The “tell” part is getting the message out there so that’s what we’re hoping to do.

 

*****

 

For more about Project DOT check us out on social media.

Enough is Enough Audit

  Published on September 11, 2017 by Teri Rosenberg

The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault applauds Governor Cuomo for his commitment to protecting students on campus. It began with his support for passage of the “Enough is Enough” law in July, 2015  that requires all NYS colleges and universities to adopt policies to respond to and prevent sexual assault.  The governor has followed up by auditing all 244 colleges state-wide to ensure that they are complying with the law.  Given the uncertainty around such policies on the national level, we are extremely grateful for continued focus by the Governor on the issue of campus sexual assault.

 

At the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault, we have been part of the effort to help colleges and universities meet the state and federal requirements. The Alliance leads a state-wide Working Group which issued written recommendations on responding and preventing sexual assault on campuses that has gone out to all Title IX Coordinators in New York State.  Secondly, the Alliance launched its campus program including the Campus Training Institute (CTI), which provides training programs designed to address sexual violence from an intersectional and trauma-informed perspective. In the first year of this program ending April 2017, Alliance staff conducted 53 trainings at 12 campuses, a student summit, and major presentations reaching over 3,000 campus staff, administrators, students, and rape crisis counselors.

 

The Alliance looks forward to continue working with institutions around the city who would like to improve their processes around addressing and preventing sexual violence on their campuses.

Our Joint Statement with the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault on Potential Rollbacks to Title IX

  Published on September 7, 2017 by Mary Haviland & Joanne Zannoni

The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault (the Alliance) and the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NYSCASA) are alarmed by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s directive to review guidance that protects students’ rights.

 

This review process, called notice-and-comment, is directed at a 2011 guidance called the Dear Colleague Letter (DCL).  The DCL prioritized and re-stated the obligation of institutions of education to commit to non-discrimination in their policies and practices on college campuses.  It specifically laid out duties with regard to sexual harassment and violence under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.  The DCL did not add requirements to the applicable law but provided guidance to policies that had long been in place at the Department of Education under both Democratic and Republican presidencies.  The DCL reaffirmed the following Title IX requirements:  the designation of Title IX coordinators in all institutions of education; prompt and equitable grievance procedures for complaining and accused students; training for staff, as well as education and prevention for students; and finally, remedies for findings of discrimination.  The DCL requires a transparent and enforceable method of providing non-discriminatory education in the U.S.

 

Under this current administration, transparency and accountability measures for universities have already been rolled back.  Recently, the Department of Education discontinued an Office of Civil Rights directive issued under President Obama that required a review of three years’ worth of Title IX complaints upon the filing of an individual Title IX complaint.  This directive enabled the office to investigate and identify systemic injustices on campus. The Alliance has addressed concerns over this rollback in an Op-Ed in the Hechinger Report.  The Alliance and NYSCASA are looking at legislative measures to protect New York State students under state law.

 

In addition to this rollback, the Department of Education held a series of roundtables earlier this summer. Due to the scheduling of these roundtables, the Department of Education seemed to heavily weight the concerns of those who oppose the application of Title IX to the campus context. DeVos’s comments and examples used today downplayed the recent successes in fair adjudication of sexual violence cases on campus and lay the stage for further rollbacks of student protections. DeVos’s continual reference to wrongfully accused students as victims dishonors student victims and survivors who bravely reported their victimization. We also vehemently challenge DeVos’s understanding of sexual harassment. We do not believe that “if everything is harassment, nothing is harassment,” and we will stand with victims against such tone deaf remarks.

 

We believe it is imperative that the notice-and-comment review be conducted in a fashion that allows for the inclusion of the lived expertise of survivors, advocates and legal experts in the field.  Just as the DCL demanded transparency and accountability of universities, we ask the same of any potential Title IX changes made by the Department of Education.

 

Secretary DeVos Takes Aim at Civil Rights Protections for Survivors of Campus Sexual Assault

  Published on July 28, 2017 by Teri Rosenberg

By Mary Haviland and Michael Fagan

 

The events of the past weeks at the U.S. Department of Education are very troubling for those of us who have worked to reduce the number of sexual assaults on college campuses.  Last Thursday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos met privately with survivors of sexual assault, representatives of educational institutions, as well as students accused of sexual assault and their families, as part of an effort to re-examine the Education Department’s policies to combat sexual assault on campus – protections strengthened during the Obama Administration.  Those protections under Title IX, the federal law that prohibits discrimination in education based on gender, required colleges to better respond to survivors and do more to protect students against campus sexual assault.

 

More troubling has been the words and actions of Candice Jackson, the Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education, who was named to her position in April by President Donald Trump.  She made the jaw dropping statement that of the Department of Education’s nearly 500 open Title IX sexual assault complaint investigations, “90 percent of them — fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk,’ ‘we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation…”  She provided no data to back up this claim, and was forced later to apologize.

 

According to a survey conducted by the Association of American Universities in 2015, nearly one in four female undergraduates reported experiencing an incidence of sexual assault or misconduct during their college years.  As an indication that campus sexual assaults are significantly underreported, the same survey found that between five and twenty-eight percent actually report the assault to campus officials or law enforcement.

 

One of the ways for a student to make a report is to the school’s Title IX office.  Among other things, under Title IX, the school is required to have an established procedure for handling these reports, conduct a prompt and fair investigation for the reporting and accused students, and provide interim safety measures for the reporting individual if requested.

 

Only if the reporting student believes the school has failed to uphold the rights under Title IX, and then files a Title IX complaint, does it actually reach the U.S. Department of Education as a Title IX complaint, representing a miniscule fraction of the sexual assaults taking place on campus.

 

Under policies implemented during the Obama Administration, when a Title IX complaint did reach the Department, as part of their investigation, staff of the Office of Civil Rights required the school under investigation to submit three years of past complaint data/files to determine whether the college or university was complying with Title IX and taking seriously its obligation to thoroughly investigate allegations of sexual assault and protect the survivor.  This data provided the Department with a window into possible patterns of neglect by schools – what better way to see how schools are handling these issues than to look at actual data.  And importantly, it gave the Department a vehicle for requiring schools to take corrective measures and more broadly, protect future survivors and possibly implement preventive measures to reduce sexual assaults on campus.

 

These policies put in place a powerful accountability tool that made colleges and universities sit up and take notice. At stake are millions of dollars of aid that they receive from the federal government each year. Not to mention that they are entrusted with the education and safety of our young people.

 

With a stroke of pen, Ms. Jackson struck down the ability of Office of Civil Rights staff to hold colleges accountable by looking at three years of data. In a memo to staff, the Office of Civil Rights will only apply a systemic approach when “the individual complaint allegations themselves raise systemic or class action issues,” or the investigative team determines that there may be a systemic issue through conversations with the complainant. So instead of relying upon a data driven approach to understand what is happening on a given college campus, Ms. Jackson will require the complainant, who has allegedly experienced a sexual assault, to make the case for systemic problems on campus.  The same complainants she disparaged and dismissed in her comments this past week.

 

In New York, we are fortunate to have one of the most aggressive policies in the country to combat campus sexual assault.  Governor Andrew Cuomo signed “Enough is Enough” into law in July 2015.  The law requires all colleges and universities across New York to adopt a set of comprehensive procedures and guidelines that includes a uniform definition of affirmative consent and expanded access to law enforcement.  Acknowledging the importance of data and follow through, in May of this year, Governor Cuomo ordered a comprehensive review of compliance under the “Enough Is Enough” law.  The evaluation will include a review of the policies and procedures of colleges and universities across the state to ensure compliance with the law.

 

At the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault, we have been part of the effort to help colleges and universities meet the state and federal requirements. The Alliance leads a state-wide Working Group which issued written recommendations on responding and preventing sexual assault on campuses that has gone out to all Title IX Coordinators in New York State.  Secondly, the Alliance launched its campus program including the Campus Training Institute (CTI), which provides training programs designed to address sexual violence from an intersectional and trauma-informed perspective. In the first year of this program ending April 2017, Alliance staff conducted 53 trainings at 12 campuses, a student summit, and major presentations reaching over 3,000 campus staff, administrators, students, and rape crisis counselors.

 

We applaud the more than 30 Senators who sent a letter to Secretary Betsy DeVos condemning the limitations placed on the enforcement of civil rights laws.  In an era where Twitter seems to be the preferred mode of communication, we encourage the use of hashtag #DearBetsy, which was launched and popularized by the groups Know Your IX and End Rape On Campus, to share personal stories about campus sexual assault and the importance of Title IX.

 

Too much has been accomplished to address campus sexual violence to go back now.  There are constructive ways policies can be improved, but they should be data driven and draw upon best practices like those taking place in New York.

 

(Mary Haviland is the Executive Director of the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault, and Michael Fagan, Communications Committee Chair of its Board, is a former Communications Officer for Sexual Exploitation and Abuse at the United Nations and former Deputy Commissioner at the New York City Administration for Children’s Services.)

Understanding Our Reactions to the Cosby Case

  Published on June 21, 2017 by Teri Rosenberg

By Lia Hagen

 

This month, after more than a decade of waiting, Andrea Constand sat at a witness stand and publicly accused Bill Cosby of drugging and assaulting her. After a period of deliberation that took longer than the arguments of both the prosecution and the defense, she received the jury’s conclusion. They were hopelessly deadlocked, and the case ended in a mistrial.

 

To many, this was a stumbling block on the path to justice. To others, it was a glimmer of hope for a wrongly prosecuted man. Cosby’s case will be retried and his fate decided. But his and Constand’s story isn’t just about the courts. It’s about us, too.

 

As dozens of women came forward to echo Constand’s accusations, members of the public were forced to choose a side. Was Cosby a beloved entertainer or a rapist? A celebrated figure who worked to advance the lives of black people, or an abuser of women? Like his actual court case, this trial of public opinion has been filled with grandstanding, misdirected nostalgia, and touching testimonies from accusers. And like Cosby’s jury, the public is currently unable to come to a conclusive decision about who this man really is.

 

But maybe that just means we’re asking the wrong questions.

 

We shouldn’t waste time debating the merits of Cosby’s body of work. We can never erase his legacy, and there’s no use in digging through his illustrious past, searching for the moment when the man became a monster. That’s something we’ll never find.

 

There is no “type” of person who becomes a rapist. Rapists aren’t just balding men on barstools. They don’t spend their evenings lurking in dimly lit alleys, waiting for a girl to totter over in her stilettos. Rapists are all around us. They have families and feelings. They take the subway to the restaurant and say please and thank you to the waiter. They’re not supervillains. More often than not, they’re a lot like Dr. Huxtable: likable, well-known, and seemingly normal.

 

Maybe that’s what’s so frightening about this case. In discussions about Cosby, I often find that people are desperate to understand how Cosby lied to the American people about who he was. But he didn’t, not really. On TV, Cosby was the father that many people didn’t have, the friend who we always wanted. He made us smile and laugh, made entire communities feel stronger. 

 

Cosby never had to lie about who he was. In fact, he publicly admitted to giving drugs to women over a decade ago. Yet somehow, he’s still received the benefit of the doubt for all these years. People can’t believe that someone they care for would do things they can’t condone. But he has. He is a charming, talented entertainer, and he is an abuser of women. It’s not an either/or situation. He is both, and he always has been both.

 

Once you learn that, Constand’s trial becomes easier to understand. It’s believed that the inconsistencies in Constand’s testimony were the reason for the jury’s split decision. At first, Constand misreported the date of her assault and claimed that she had no further contact with Cosby after the incident. Many people who have not been sexually abused believe this means she’s a liar. They have never experienced how trauma alters memory, and they don’t understand why anyone would keep in contact with a rapist. But a rapist is not all that Bill Cosby was. He was someone who claimed to be Constand’s friend, someone Constand saw as a mentor. He was one of the most famous men in America and a crucial donor to her place of employment. The power dynamics in this situation are almost impossible to navigate, and, quite frankly, Constand doesn’t have to explain the way she kept herself afloat. Not if we all agree that she was drowning.

 

It’s difficult to understand how to engage with rapists, particularly rapists that we care about. That’s part of the reason why celebrities like Casey Affleck, Nate Parker, and Sean Penn keep receiving our love and critical acclaim. No one really knows how to reform a rapist, especially in a society where their behavior is frequently condoned or even encouraged. But that doesn’t mean we can just ignore their actions. If we don’t recognize abuse while it’s happening, we have a responsibility to address it in the after. It isn’t easy. It is, in fact, excruciatingly hard.

 

But we must learn to understand how someone who appears so good can do something so evil. We must understand that rapists are not caricatures. They are real people, living among us, shaped by the same culture that has shaped each of us.

 

If we don’t learn to see that, we’ll never be able to take an honest look at sexual violence. And we’ll never be able to tackle the issues that turned the man in the bright sweater into something considerably more sinister.

 

Lia Hagen is a 20-year-old creative from the cosmopolitan metropolis of Omaha, Nebraska. She is a long-time poet and President of NYU’s slam poetry organization, SLAM! At NYU. She also works as an intern at the Bowery Poetry Club and the NYC Alliance Against Sexual Assault. Her passions include writing fiction, creating newfangled content for the internet, and taking selfies she’ll never post.

So You Want to Interview a Survivor

  Published on January 11, 2017 by Jeenie Yoon

Working at a rape crisis program means that I and my colleagues receive weekly requests from journalists and students to interact with survivors of sexual assault. I’ve received requests about interviewing survivors, filming survivors, photographing survivors during their sessions or group work, and following them around in their day-to-day lives for the purposes of a documentary, final project, article, or paper.

 

All of these requests come from kind-hearted individuals who are interested in highlighting survivor voices in whatever project they are working on. The intent is generally very positive.

 

Unfortunately, sometimes this intent doesn’t translate into the impact that these requests have. At times we have had reporters or writers who are working under a strict deadline and suddenly find themselves in need of a survivor, stat!

 

Journalists and similar media professionals adhere to a code of ethics that aim to preserve the integrity of the profession while seeking truth and reducing harm. The Society of Professional Journalists outline several major ethical codes that journalists and journalists-in-training should be adhering to, including the minimization of harm. The code states, “Journalists should show compassion for those who may be affected by news coverage. Use heightened sensitivity when dealing with juveniles, victims of sex crimes, and sources or subjects who are inexperienced or unable to give consent.”¹

 

It says something that victims of sex crimes are specifically highlighted in this code of ethics.

 

More often than not, these well-intentioned requests end up having more of an exploitative impact.

 

Think about it this way: if rape crisis professionals are actively working with survivors of sexual violence, it is more often than not because that survivor is still healing and processing through their trauma. They are likely still working through feelings of self-blame, shame, pain, anger, and may be struggling with being believed by others. When considering these factors along with the fact that many high-profile sexual assault cases result in public abuse of the victim online, it is easy to understand the hesitancy a survivor may have in sharing their story with a wider audience.

 

I say none of this to shame those who are interested in highlighting these very important stories and experiences. Rather, I want to help minimize harm while still getting the information out there. So here are some basic tips on being more trauma-informed when working with survivors of sexual violence:

 

  1. First things first—ask yourself if you really NEED survivor interviews or video. Can you get the information you need from other sources? Various newspaper articles, blogs, and academic articles cover the effects of sexual violence thoroughly. If the answer to this question is no, remind yourself that your request may end up being more exploitative than originally intended.
  2. Ask yourself if you are starting from a point of belief—meaning, will you believe the survivor you end up working with? Or are you operating from a place of suspicion?
    • Remember only 2-8% of officially reported sexual violence cases are false reports, and this includes recants from those who feel scared or intimidated by lawyers and police (this rate, by the way, is no higher than the rate of false reports for all other crimes)
    • When someone is asking you to share the most traumatic experience in your life over and over again, in front of multiple people, and having your integrity, personality, and story questioned ruthlessly by attorneys or the public, it is understandable why some original reports may be withdrawn later.
  3. Do your research beforehand.
    • It is so important to know that crimes of sexual violence are rooted in power, control, and patriarchal beliefs. Sexual violence does not stem from consumption of alcohol, has nothing to do with the victim’s behavior or outfit, and is not about sexual gratification.
    • Not all sexual violence victims are women, and not all perpetrators are men.
    • Start here, here, or here for your preliminary research²
  4. Cast a net into your own social circles first. When you consider the statistics, it is almost impossible for you to not know a survivor of sexual violence.
    • Anywhere from 20-33% of female identified individuals experience an attempted or completed sexual assault in their lifetime and 10% of survivors of sexual violence are male identified. You very likely know someone who has experienced sexual violence.
    • Putting out an open request on social media platforms will likely draw people who are more ready emotionally and mentally to talk about their experiences on a public forum.
  5. Always ask the survivor if something is okay with them first.
    • Whenever possible, send the survivor the questions you plan to ask and be ready to share with them the reason and goals behind your project.
    • Give them permission to not answer the questions they are uncomfortable with.
    • Ask them when and where they would like to talk with you—give them control over how, where, and when the conversation goes down.
    • Ask them permission if you can film/record them first!
  6. Don’t be pushy.
    • You should never guilt a survivor who isn’t okay with a certain question or aspect of your interview or project (i.e., If they don’t want you to film them in a counseling session you should not ask again).
    • Learn to be okay with whatever boundaries the survivor sets up—just because you had your heart set on recording a session does not mean you’ll get that from a survivor
  7. Offer to keep the survivor anonymous by giving them a fake name (and note that in your project whenever possible).

Overall, just be respectful and non-judgmental about whatever the survivor may need. Work with rape crisis professionals whenever it is appropriate and please understand that we cannot hand out survivor information as it is our responsibility to maintain confidentiality and protect the identities of our clients. If ever you are not sure whether something you want to say or do is appropriate, reach out to a rape crisis professional and ask! We are happy to help raise awareness in a sensitive and trauma-informed way.

Hopefully this helps keep you trauma-informed while completing your interviews, articles, and projects.


¹http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp

²https://www.rainn.org/types-sexual-violencehttp://www.pcar.org/about-sexual-violence/oppression-sexual-violencehttp://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/violence/global_campaign/en/chap6.pdf