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Budget Hearing, Youth Services: Project DOT

 Testimony of Shilpy Chatterjee, Senior Prevention Coordinator
New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault

Submitted to the New York City Council Committee on Youth Services

Oversight Hearing on the Preliminary Budget for Fiscal Year 2024
March 22, 2023

I would like to thank the chair, Council Member Stevens, and each member of this committee for the opportunity to speak with you.  My name is Shilpy Chatterjee.  I work as the senior prevention coordinator for the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault.  I am here today to talk with you about the critical importance of sexual violence prevention for young people in New York City and to ask for $125,000 in support for our Project DOT youth empowerment program through the Young Women’s Initiative.

For over twenty years, the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault has worked to prevent sexual violence and reduce the harm it causes through education, research, and advocacy.  We lead impactful sexual violence prevention programs and are a prominent provider of training and technical assistance to organizations and professionals who support survivors.

Sexual violence prevention programming that focuses on teenage girls is essential in light of escalating violence experienced by youth, which has dramatically risen in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s recently released Youth Risk Behavior Survey: 2011-2021confirmed that the rate of sexual violence experienced by girls have been growing and is at a pace far outstripping the violence experienced by boys.[1] According to this study, 14% of high school-aged girls report having been physically forced at some point to have sexual intercourse when they did not want to (compared with 4% of boys), and, in 2021 alone, 18% of American girls experienced sexual violence (compared with 5% of boys).  Importantly, the rates of girls experiencing sexual assault and sexual violence of any form have been rising, as noted in the 2011 to 2021 period. The trends for sexual violence are moving in the wrong direction; evidence-informed, proven sexual violence prevention initiatives focused on the needs of girls are urgently needed.

To address this need, the Alliance launched Project DOT in 2014 to focus on sexual violence in a way that leverages community strength and prioritizes young girls’ leadership development.  DOT was designed together with youth collaborators, community-based organizations (CBOs) as well as sexual violence prevention experts, to focus on social norm change, healthy relationships, practicing consent, safe bystander engagement techniques and leadership skills.

We work together with several youth-serving community-based organizations and schools to broaden the reach of DOT to a diversity of young women of color and LGBTQIA youth.  For example, during this school year, the Alliance together with the Kingsbridge Heights Community Center (KHCC) launched a new partnership with Bronx Theatre High School to bring Project DOT programming to their LGBTQ-identified students.  DOT participants in that cohort are students between the ages of 14-18 years; 100% of are LGBTQIA- identified. This is a school with an enrollment that is 60% Latino, 34% Black, 2% White. 90% of the student body come from economically disadvantaged homes, and 28% of the students live with a disability.

When we recently asked youth from a Project DOT cohort about the affect the program had on them, one young woman talked about the day her group learned about emotional abuse.  “That impacted me a lot because I guess I experienced that firsthand.  So, hearing that lesson – a switch kind of flipped in my head: ‘Oh!  This person was emotionally abusing me!’  I guess he is considered an abuser in a way.  I went through so much.  It made me more aware.  Now I know what to look out for, so I don’t go through stuff like that again.  I actually went home, and I analyzed my entire life that day.  But it wasn’t in a bad way.  It was more so like…it just made me more aware of my surroundings and the people I let into my life.”

Project DOT runs after school and in the summertime over 8-10-week periods.  Nearing the end of the series, and after the group has built up trust between its members, the young women will make presentations to each other about the sexual violence-related topics that they have learned about.  For most, this is the first time they have been asked to speak in front of a group about a sensitive subject.  Tackling this challenge is an important part of their leadership development.  As a DOT facilitator, I witnessed the impactful presentation of a particular young women during a recent DOT presentation day.  This 17-year-old girl, who had immigrated to the U.S. from an African country, felt safe and supported by her cohort to make a presentation about a subject that was personal for her and relevant to her culture: female genital mutilation.  Though this topic is not part of the DOT curriculum, her presentation focused on something that 20 million women around the world face.  And her lesson opened the eyes of her cohort to a form of abuse most had never heard of.  Working with youth, I know that young people have a fear of how people look at them.  They can be hesitant to do anything that might make them stand out.  For this young lady to feel that she could speak about something most people in the U.S. do not know about, and that is outside of the curriculum, showed real leadership.

After presenting to each other, participants conclude their DOT series by leading community activities and a public awareness campaign.  Past cohorts of youth have launched radio shows, community teach-ins for adult caregivers, and focus groups with parents to foster opportunities for intergenerational dialogue on healthy relationship and dating practices.  This extends the impact of the program beyond the youth participants and positions them as leaders in their communities.

To prevent sexual violence across New York City, it is essential that we train and empower youth. Our Project DOT is a proven program that changes young women’s lives and initiates ripples of impact throughout theircommunities.  We are asking for the Council’s continued support through the Young Women’s Initiative of $125,000 to support this transformational work to prevent sexual violence from reaching New York City’s young people.

The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault works citywide on several initiatives to combat the effect of this form of violence on our city.  Please support our funding request of $500,000 through the Initiative to Combat Sexual Assault that allows us to run our Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner Training Institute, and our funding request of $300,000 for a new initiative to support our OutSmart collaboration with CVTC of sexual violence prevention in nightlife spaces (i.e. bars, restaurants, clubs).

I thank you for your time and attention and will welcome your questions.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. [2011-2021] Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

Testimony: Expanding Abortion Access

Testimony of Sam Skaller
Senior Campus Coordinator
New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault
Before the Committee on Women and Gender Equity
July 1, 2022

Good afternoon, Chair Cabán and the members of the Committee for Women and Gender Equity. I want to thank you for convening this critical hearing to expand reproductive rights access in New York City and for allowing me to testify before you today.

My name is Sam Skaller (she/they), and I am the Senior Campus Coordinator for the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault. The mission of the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault is to prevent sexual violence and reduce the harm it causes through public education, prevention programming, advocacy for survivors, and the pursuit of legal and policy changes. In doing so, the Alliance works to disrupt systems and institutions that, unfortunately, can retraumatize survivors when they most need our support.

I would like to thank Council Member Cabán for her leadership by introducing this package of bills that aim to expand reproductive justice to those in New York City.

I am here today to advocate for the interests of survivors of sexual violence for whom the services and supports offered through this legislative package is critically important.

Bodily autonomy is about power. Power over your own bodies while respecting the power others have over their bodies.

As a sexual violence prevention educator, the entirety of my work revolves around bodily autonomy. I’m invited to colleges and universities all across the city to empower people to understand the right they have to their own bodies and how to respect others’ bodies. I provide educational trainings, student conduct support, and referrals to hundreds of students, faculty, and staff in New York City and beyond. Over the last 7 years working in this field, I’ve spoken with thousands of people who have had their bodily autonomy violated by a spouse, a partner, a stranger, a family member, an employer, a professor, or a politician. The commonality amongst the perpetrators of sexual violence is abusing power.  Without informed consent, those perpetrating sexual violence combine their own power and the power they’ve taken to violate someone’s bodily autonomy. On June 24th, 2022, without the informed consent of the vast majority of Americans, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned Roe v. Wade thus using their power to violate our bodily autonomy. Government institutions spanning from the Supreme Court to this elected body, and everything in between should never replicate the actions of abusers. Eliminating protections for people seeking bodily autonomy after becoming pregnant for whatever reason is an example of an institution abusing its power to violate our bodies. While here in New York State and New York City abortion access remains legal, we should not breathe easy.

According to the CDC almost 3 million women in the U.S have experience rape related pregnancy. Women raped by a current or former intimate partner were more likely to report a rape-related pregnancy. Of women who were raped by an intimate partner, 30% experienced a form of reproductive coercion by the same partner. Specifically, about 20% reported that their partner had tried to forcibly impregnate them when they did not want to or tried to forcibly stop them from using forms of birth control. About 23% reported their partner refused to use a condom. [1]  Reproductive violence is sexual violence.

We at the NYC Alliance Against Sexual Assault know that sexual violence disproportionately impacts people holding historically marginalized identities and intersecting identities. Gender diverse communities, ability diverse communities, Black and Brown communities, AAPI communities, Indigenous communities and every intersection in between have not only historically been purposely excluded from the state’s bodily autonomy rulemaking but have and will continue to experience sexual violence at rates higher than that of their cisgender, able-bodied, white counterparts.

While there are no specific data points for NYC to quantify people’s experiences with reproductive and sexual violation, we at the NYC Alliance Against Sexual Assault can qualitatively, anecdotally, and humanly argue that one instance of reproductive and sexual violation is too many.

We urge the elected officials sitting here today to use the power and platform they have to take any measures necessary to ensure that despite the overturning of Roe v. Wade, that New York City will be a place for bodily autonomy, choice, and freedom.

With that said, we’d like to share our support for this legislative package (Int0458, Int0466, Int0475, and Int0507.) Each of these Introductions align with our values for bodily autonomy, as they ensure equitable access to reproductive health, protect those seeking abortion services, and track the reproductive needs of New York City.

As this committee moves to take action in strengthening access to abortion and reproductive healthcare, we ask that you consider expanding Int0465 to explicitly require all of DOH-MH annual reporting be anonymous as to not breach the confidentiality or identity of any patients seeking medical care.

Thank you so much for your time today. We look forward to working with you and the whole of the City Council to ensure these important pieces of legislation become law.

Albany Updates: Adult Survivors Act and the State Budget

The Alliance was proud to join our friends at Safe Horizon in Albany on Tuesday, April 26th to rally in support of the Adult Survivors Act (ASA), a critical piece of legislation that would create a one year look back window to allow individuals who were 18 or older when they were sexually assaulted to file a civil lawsuit against the person who harmed them and/or the negligent institution.

The ASA unanimously passed the State Senate on Tuesday afternoon. The bill must now pass the Assembly before it can be sent to Governor Hochul for signature. As a reminder, the ASA never came to a vote in the Assembly last year, something we must change this legislative session! We strongly encourage everyone to reach out to Assembly Speaker Heastie to express your support for this bill and call for his support in its passage.

We praise bill sponsors Senator Hoylman and Assemblymember Rosenthal for their unwavering support for adult survivors and send our deepest thanks to Safe Horizon and the many advocates and survivors who have done the work to get this bill where it is today.

FY 23 State Budget

On Thursday, April 7th, an agreement was reached on a $220 billion state budget. Of note for rape crisis programs…

  • A one-year investment of $14.4 million to address the gaps in federal VOCA funding. Many thanks to NSCADV and NYSCASA for their leadership on this issue.
  • $6.341 million in funding to rape crisis programs. This funding is down from last year’s allocation of $6.488 million due to the inability of the legislature to restore $147,000 in funding cuts.
  • $4.5 million to support Enough is Enough (EiE) programming. EiE funding has remained at this level since its passage in 2015. Though we are thankful for the continued investment in EiE programming, the time has come for the state to further invest in this critical work. The Alliance and our partners will be prioritizing an enhanced EiE budget ask for next year’s budget session. More information to come on advocacy opportunities.

We Are Thrilled to Announce the Relaunch of our Campus Program!

A note from Sam Skaller, Senior Campus Coordinator:

I am so excited to be back at the Alliance as the Senior Campus Coordinator! For this momentous day in the Alliance’s history, I wanted to share some thoughts:

As we rebuild this organization, take accountability for the past, and strive to rebuild community trust, I feel grateful to be back aiding these ongoing efforts. In the spirit of new beginnings, it is my absolute pleasure to officially relaunch the Campus Program today!

First, we are now able to offer in-person and virtual trainings and workshops to colleges and universities through our Campus Training Institute (CTI). Our training menus for students, faculty, and staff range in content and can be catered to the specific needs of YOUR campus communities. Second, we are able to help support New York colleges and universities in their creation, promotion, dissemination, and/or analysis of Campus Sexual Violence Climate Surveys compliant with NYS Education Law 129b., “Enough is Enough.” Lastly, we plan to launch our student volunteer programs in the Fall of 2022 for eligible NYC students passionate about getting involved in campus sexual violence prevention. More details about all of this can be found on our website here.

To celebrate the relaunch of the Campus Program and observe Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), we’re thrilled to invite you to one of our upcoming SAAM events dedicated to cyber-sexual violence awareness for students. On April 18th at 5:30 pm EST I will be facilitating a workshop entitled, “Swipe Left On Dating (App) Violence.” Registration is open to everyone, especially high school and college students, parents, school administrators, and advocates. Registration can be found here.

On behalf of the Alliance’s Campus Program, we are so excited to be back supporting campus sexual violence prevention efforts and look forward to all of the good work we can do together!

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