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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.

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