It’s time to dive a bit deeper into the nuances of sexual violence and how it differentially affects certain groups of people. Although I’ve been involved in the anti-violence movement for about 5 years, something you may not know is that I’ve also done a lot of work to support folks in our community who have developmental and/or intellectual disabilities. Having the opportunity to work with folks with an array of different levels of ability, both cognitively and physically, has only increased my passion for raising awareness about the intersection of sexual violence and disability status. Based on extensive research, we know that people with disabilities are at heightened risk to be sexually victimized. I hope to highlight some of what we know about this issue.
Many of us have heard the line “sexual violence does not discriminate,” and it affects people of all races, ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds, genders, sexual orientations, religious affiliations, and other forms of identity. However, though this violence affects us all, it does not do so equally. Research consistently shows that people with developmental and/or intellectual disabilities are at increased risk to experience sexual violence in their lifetimes.
A year ago on a warm night in June 2012, folks assembled into the house of the bold and brave Rachel Valentine to donate to the Orange County Rape Crisis Center. When the number of donors reached a total of 50, Rachel’s friends brought out the clippers and gave Rachel a punk cut to remember. This past weekend, the tradition lived on.
Arriving at Orange County Social Club on Saturday night, I was taken aback at how many people had gathered inside to support the Center. I pulled out my camera just in time to capture the first cut: the brave Amado, the son of Board Secretary Lydia Perez. Others joined in and soon, the room filled with applause and punk spikes supported by hair gel. The amazing stylists from Mina’s Studio provided an array of fresh styles to our team, including Rape Prevention Education Coordinator Rachel Valentine, Rebecca Honeycutt (wife of Crisis Response Coordinator Joey Honeycutt), Education & Finance Coordinator Alexis Kralic’s family, StartStrong Intern Amanda Baldiga, the Ruiz-Perez family, and Heather Wegerzyn.
In accordance with the punk DIY mentality, the night became more unceremonious as the gifted stylists left, leaving Rachel and myself with a pair of buzzing clippers and a flock of nervous volunteers. Community members began an impromptu “live auction,” offering to shave their heads for funds raised on the spot for the Center. The punk cuts performed by yours truly turned out “just fine” even if a little sloppy, and I was even able to get my own hair all punked out by Rachel. It felt incredible, not only to feel the summer breeze on the sides of my head, but also to feel the overflowing sense of love and gratitude among all the folks involved.
Update: SB 664 was withdrawn in committee. Thank you for all your calls and emails to your representatives asking them to stand against this bill! However, the budget committee removed funding for displaced homemakers programs from the NC budget, which was one piece of SB 664. This would impact local agencies such as the Compass Center. Visit their website for more information about this issue.
Urgent call to action: contact your representatives today to urge them to protect the Center, our sister organizations, and survivors of sexual and relationship violence across North Carolina by opposing SB 664!
SB 664 threatens to severely undermine services to survivors in our state by restructuring state funding to victim services agencies and establishing impractical eligibility requirements for that funding. For example, under the new requirements, the Orange County Rape Crisis Center and the Compass Center would be ineligible for funding because Orange County does not have a domestic violence shelter. And we are not alone.
Each year, we recognize individuals and organizations that have made substantial contributions to our cause of ending sexual violence. Because we did not have a ceremony in 2012, we presented awards for both 2012 and 2013 during our Gratitude Gala in April:
As a thank you for all the work they’ve done to further our cause, we’d like to share the speeches that staff members gave recognizing each recipient’s contributions.
Did you know that today in North Carolina, children who are victims of human trafficking can be prosecuted? It’s true. In our state, the commercial sexual exploitation of children is legally viewed in many cases as prostitution, a crime committed by the minor in question rather than against him or her.
The US Department of Justice estimates that the most frequent age of entry into the commercial sex industry in the United States is 12-14 years. And what’s more, GEMS reports that 70-90% of commercially sexually exploited children have a history of child sexual abuse. Current practice is to treat these already vulnerable and traumatized children as criminals — despite the fact that they are not choosing prostitution themselves but are being forced or coerced into it (i.e. trafficked) by their pimps/boyfriends. But, as of this week, change is on the horizon!
In 2001, April was first declared Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). The goal of SAAM is to raise public awareness about sexual violence and to educate communities and individuals on how to prevent sexual violence. Sexual assault is defined by the Department of Justice as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” Read below to learn more about sexual assault, what you can do to prevent it, and how the Center can help.
Back in January, Programs Director Laurie Graham contributed a blog post about human trafficking in honor of Human Trafficking Awareness Month. While the official month of awareness may be over, the reality of human trafficking is not.
In February, actress Anne Hathaway won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Fantine in Les Miserables. In the story, Fantine is a single mother forced by economic necessity into prostitution. In interviews promoting the film, Hathaway spoke frequently of finding inspiration for the role by researching the reality of modern-day sex slavery. As she told Word & Film’s Tony Phillips, “[…] I came to the realization that I had been thinking about Fantine as someone who lived in the past – but she doesn’t. She’s living in New York City right now. She’s probably less than a block away.” Hathaway’s words, and her portrayal of Fantine, speak not only to the reality of contemporary human trafficking, but also to its insidious presence right in all of our own backyards. In fact, North Carolina ranks among the top 8 states for human trafficking in the United States.
Human trafficking is often misunderstood as an issue that exclusively impacts foreign nationals. While international trafficking and trafficking of foreign nationals is undeniably a huge issue, it’s only one piece of the puzzle. Trafficking victims are very often U.S. citizens who are forced into sex slavery by economic necessity, abusive home situations, or any number of other circumstances. In order for a situation to be legally classified as “human trafficking,” it does not need to involve movement across borders, smuggling, or movement of any kind. Rather, human trafficking is defined as any commercial exchange of sex or labor that involves force, fraud, or coercion (though in the case of sex trafficking of minors, force, fraud, and coercion are not necessary). This definition includes pimp-controlled prostitution.
The winner of the Love Your Body campaign’s 2012 poster contest.
On a daily basis we are inundated with media messages that make not-so-subtle suggestions on how we should live our lives: how we should look, what we should eat, who we should surround ourselves with, and more. More often than not, these messages are harmful by promoting unattainable standards. And if they are harmful for adults, can you imagine what the effects these messages have on our youth, especially young girls?
Here at the Center, we believe in helping young girls foster a healthy and positive sexual identity because in doing so, they are empowered to expect and demand relationships free from coercion, disrespect, and violence. But, in order to encourage this, we need to help our girls build resilience against harmful media messages that promote the objectification and sexualization of young girls.
It is no easy task to just ignore the media and all the pressures that come with it. But if we want our society to change, and if we want our girls to believe they are wonderful just as they are, then we need to provide women and girls with skills to recognize and reject harmful media messages.
About-Face and the NOW Foundation’s Love Your Body campaign provide great ways to tackle harmful media consumption. Here are a few of my personal favorites: