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Envision an NYC without rape
In the seven years I've lived in Williamsburg, I've never seen such progressive organizing to stop rape. Project ENVISION is mobilizing three carefully chosen communities in NYC - Williamsburg, the Lower East Side, and the South Bronx - to prevent sexual violence.
Project ENVISION is the work of a coalition of organizers under the guidance of the NYC Alliance Against Sexual Assault. They have a five-year strategy for mobilizing communities to eventually end rape. Phase one was to research community members' perceptions about the root causes of sexual violence and how we can prevent it. The information gathered during focus groups, street surveys, and interviews lead ENVISION to their current phase: reporting back to the community the results of the research with the goal of working with community members to develop strategies to prevent sexual violence. Once those strategies are developed, they'll be implemented, and then assessed - the goal being for community groups to continue running the projects. As Chris St. John from the Alliance states, "Project ENVISION is about social change for the long haul. The Alliance's goal is to leave community movements stronger and more sustainable after our role as facilitators ends and see community leaders sustain the process of achieving a world without sexual violence."
The Williamsburg group alone conducted 13 focus groups and 119 street surveys, which gave organizers insight into community members' ideas about the root causes of violence in their neighborhoods. Veronica Green, a rape crisis advocate from St. Vincent's, was surprised to learn that verbal harassment is the top concern in Williamsburg. While catcalling is not the most devastating form of sexual violence, Veronica points out there is potential for preventing more serious crimes by working to address comparatively less harmful behaviors. When we chatted about this, she compared it, somewhat reluctantly, to Giuliani's ripple effect of cracking down on subway graffiti and turnstile jumpers to reduce more violent crime. Veronica completed the Community Activist Training at the Alliance and will now act as a community organizer. The next step, she says, is to host events to introduce the research findings to the neighborhood, potentially by hosting a concert and events in McCarren Park.
According to the people of Williamsburg, the leading root cause of sexual violence is that "people don't know what's ok". While this may seem a rather simplified explanation to the social workers and women's studies majors out there, there is truth to this - many people do not know what is ok and do not think to ask. ENVISION is working to change that. Carrie James, another leader in programming for the Williamsburg Project, says that she interprets this cause as meaning that "people don't want to do the wrong thing but they don't know where the boundaries are." Carrie was quick to point out that boundaries are different for each individual.
The other leading cause of sexual violence, according to the residents of Williamsburg, is alcohol and drugs. Many assaults do occur when one or both parties are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, but if you're like me, you're thinking "drugs and alcohol do not cause rape; people do." Carrie put this well, stating that alcohol can merely be an "amplifier" to violence - never a cause itself. She wonders how to address this concern: "Do we go into the bar scenes? Train bartenders?" The organizers are brainstorming their next steps for awareness campaigns, potentially including trainings for social service providers and faith-based organizations, and the implementation of policies not to tolerate sexual violence in bars. It sounds like some interesting discussion is underway and I'm certain that the resulting programming will be pretty amazing.
Thankfully, about 30% of community respondents brought up gender inequality as a root cause of violence, showing that there are some Williamsburg residents who are already deconstructing social causes of rape. However, there is still a vast web of misconception that needs untangling.
If you'd like to roll up your sleeves and help untangle, contact ENVISION at email@example.com.
Go to this article on Examiner.com »
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