From Our Resource Library: The Body Keeps the Score

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51o19FK0TKL._AA300_Survivors of sexual violence often struggle with anxiety, depression, symptoms of PTSD, or sleep disorders, which are sometimes dismissed as being “all in your head.” Based on decades of practice and research, Bessel van der Kolk shows how traumatic experiences leave a physical imprint in his book The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. Despite the somewhat intimidating small print and large number of pages, this book is an invaluable resource for anyone working through trauma or supporting survivors of trauma.

Kolk begins by explaining how the brain processes traumatic incidents. The threat of danger triggers the fight, flight, or freeze response, which changes how somebody interprets, processes, and remembers a traumatic experience. Due to the different ways people interpret trauma, survivors exhibit a range of responses when dealing with the aftermath of an assault. Some may express intense emotions, like rage or hopelessness, while others may seem shut down or disconnected. Many survivors experience all of these responses at different times during their healing process.

Traumatic experiences are also stored in the memory differently than day-to-day experiences. They are fragmented memories, which increases the likelihood of experiencing ongoing difficulties after an assault. This often manifests through flashbacks during which a survivor might feel as though they are reliving an assault, shattering any sense of safety and causing survivors to feel frustrated with a slow healing process. Read more


Sexual Assault and Teenagers

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teendepression2013Sexual violence affects all communities, even ours. Recent events and conversations about sexual assault at East Chapel Hill High School remind us of this.

The increased attention on campus sexual assault in the past few years has been a crucial conversation for a university town like ours. Yet the story that has largely been missed is the enormous risk faced by high school teens.

Girls ages 16-19 face four times more risk of being sexually assaulted than the general population (RAINN.org). Boys, too, face an increased risk of sexual assault in childhood and adolescence.

When allegations of sexual assault involving teens surface in the news, it leaves parents, students and teachers scrambling for answers. How do we make sense of this? How can we respond? And what can be done to prevent this? Our community deserves an opportunity to come together for healing and learning. Read more


Activism Against Gender Violence

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orangeAccording to the UN, 35 percent of women and girls worldwide experience some form of physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime. In some countries, this number goes up to 70 percent. This violence against women impacts on and impedes progress in many areas including poverty eradication, combating HIV/AIDS, and peace and security.  This violence is preventable but often is a consequence of discrimination against women and persisting inequalities between men and women.

The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women was on November 25, marking the beginning of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. These 16 days, which end with Human Rights Day on December 10, are meant to symbolically link violence against women with human rights, and to emphasize that such violence is the worst form of violation of women’s human rights. This campaign aims to raise awareness of gender-based violence and to rouse people around the world to bring this violence to an end. Read more


It Will Take More Than 16 Days: We Need Culture Change

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Dr. Anu Kumar

When I think of sexual violence, I think immediately of the horrific cases that are featured in the media: the rapes that occurred on the UNC campus, in the military, the Steubenville case that was captured in film and social media. And then I also think of the case of Rosa, a 9-year-old girl who was raped in Central America, or the girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria and held for hundreds of days, or the Yazidi women who were captured and held as sex slaves by ISIS. I think of the Democratic Republic on the Congo and Sierra Leone where rape is an act of war, and I think of my own country, India, and the horrible sexual assault of a college student on a bus in New Delhi. And then I think just how common an experience this is, how universal it is, and how women’s bodies are used and violated by a host of criminals, from individuals to terrorist organizations, religious organizations, and governments. The UN estimates that one-third of women around the world have experienced some form of sexual violence or harassment.

Because I work at Ipas, a global organization that works to improve access to safe abortion care and advance women’s reproductive rights, I also think about the consequences of sexual violence for the individual woman and those who love her: the emotional trauma, disease, unwanted pregnancy. Will the girls kidnapped in Northern Nigeria be able to access reproductive health services? Will the student health services at UNC provide comprehensive care to students who are sexually assaulted? Read more


Transgender Day of Remembrance

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Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) is an annual event, during which members of the LGBTQ community and allies across the country gather and hold vigils to honor the memories of transgender men and women whose lives have been taken by acts of violence. This will be a big year for the TDOR vigil because since the first of the year, it’s estimated that 20 transgender individuals have been murdered in the United States… that we know of.

So what does this have to do with sexual violence?

Everything.

The violence inflicted on transgender individuals includes rape and sexual assault. In fact, transgender individuals are at extremely high risk of becoming victims of sexual violence. The statistics are startling. It’s estimated that one in two transgender individuals have experienced sexual abuse or assault. The rates of sexual violence only increase when you take a deeper look at the transgender community. Those who are at the greatest risk of victimization are also the most marginalized members of the LGBTQ community and society at large:

  • Transgender youth – 12%
  • Transgender individuals of color – 13%
  • Transgender individuals who are homeless – 22%

 
Ok, that’s pretty rough, but that’s why we have rape crisis centers, right?

Yes, to an extent, that is true. However, transgender survivors face significant barriers when attempting to access support services. It is well known that the majority of all sexual assaults – 68% – are not reported to the police. Survivors have many valid reasons to not make a report, such as fear of retaliation, not wanting the offender to get in trouble (especially if the survivor knows them), fear of getting in trouble if they were using drugs or drinking underage when they were assaulted, fear of facing deportation if they are undocumented, and more. A major reason that sexual assaults go unreported is that survivors often feel re-victimized in the process, a type of trauma known as secondary victimization. Victim-blaming attitudes and insensitivity on the part of service providers further traumatizes survivors, especially those who identify as transgender or gender non-conforming.  In the case of transgender individuals, the perpetrators of sexual violence are sometimes service providers, institutions, and “helping” professionals themselves. Many transgender survivors have reported being sexually assaulted by police officers and health care professionals.

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In Appreciation of SANE Nurses

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In honor of International Forensic Nurse’s Week, we acknowledge the effort and dedication of the highly trained cadre of SANE nurses that provide sensitive and skillful medical attention to survivors of sexual assault. SANE stands for Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, a specialization that is necessary, beneficial, and valuable. SANE nurses receive extensive training to fulfill two equally important roles: collecting forensic evidence and providing trauma-informed medical care to survivors.

The forensic exam, also called an evidence collection kit or a rape kit, is a medical procedure that not only provides basic medical attention and care, but also systematically gathers, documents, and records signs of a crime. This may include DNA evidence from hair, saliva, semen, or other bodily fluids as well as documentation of physical injuries. If called for, it may also include drug testing for the presence of “date rape drugs” like GHB or rohypnol (although most SANE nurses are well aware that the majority of drug-facilitated sexual assaults occur through the use of alcohol instead of other drugs). In addition to a physical medical exam, SANEs may also collect clothing or other personal items as part of evidence. Above and beyond their medical duties, SANEs may be called to testify in court if evidence from a forensic exam makes it to trial. Read more


“This thing… it’s gonna follow you”

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An Exploration of Rape Trauma Syndrome in It Follows

Horror films have a complicated and long history of depictions of rape. As many people have pointed out before me (most famously in Carol J. Clover’s Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film), the violence in horror movies tends to be undeniably gendered, sexualized, and unabashedly voyeuristic. Also, let’s not forget rape/revenge films: a cult subgenre of horror in which an assault survivor creatively dismembers her (often multiple) attackers after being similarly brutalized herself on screen.

At first glance, it may seem that the rape/revenge subgenre might be empowering for survivors. However, it nearly always simply serves as a vehicle for more and more sensational and gratuitous violence and, ultimately, a reinforcement of the status quo for our society’s understanding of survivorship. While these movies include sexual assault as a direct part of the plot, others feature story lines that present allegories for survivorship — intentionally or not.

One such movie is It Follows, an independent film released last March that was described to me as a story about “a sexually-transmitted haunting.” This phrasing immediately made me think of STI prevention and safe sex cautionary tales. As a lover of horror and sex education, I was on board immediately. I expected images and metaphors of disease transmission, condom use, or the plague fear-mongering so commonly seen in modern zombie films. But instead, the visuals and set-up of this film immediately brought trauma response to mind.

Admittedly, it is not uncommon for me to see symptoms of trauma when they are not intentionally being depicted. I work one-on-one with sexual assault survivors as a Companion, and I am a rape survivor myself who experienced a case of Rape Trauma Syndrome which lasted for years, so it’s not unnatural for me to read my own experiences and training into the media I’m consuming. By the director’s own admission of the inspiration for the film – a recurring dream he has had since childhood – I sincerely doubt the meaning I took from the film was intentional on his part. However, I saw it with a friend of mine, also a survivor, who saw the same metaphors that I did. Maybe the intentions of media aren’t quite as important as the messages the audience can take from it. I believe this is especially true for survivors of sexual assault, who often never feel safe or comfortable publicly identifying as a survivor. In such an isolated state, it’s common for survivors to feel like they are ‘crazy’ or overreacting. Without honest, accurate, and sympathetic depictions of the toll of sexual assault, survivors will continue to feel like they are damaged and alone in their trauma symptoms.

Rape trauma syndrome (RTS), a form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is a stress response very commonly experienced by survivors of sexual assault and rape. Symptoms can occur immediately after an assault and may continue for months or even years afterwards. It is characterized by disruptions to normal physical, emotional, and social functionality. Physical symptoms can include shock, sleep and eating disturbances, and fatigue. Behavioral and emotional symptoms cover many issues including disorientation, purposefully isolating oneself, fear of being alone, crying more than usual, feeling restless or agitated, emotional numbness, hypersexuality, increased anxiety, feelings of guilt, feeling alone, and more.

Every survivor’s emotional experiences after an assault are uniquely personal, and symptoms can be as varied as they can be damaging. The symptoms I’ve listed here are only a few of those possible, and I chose to only include symptoms that I saw depicted in the film, which should give you some indication of the scope and variety of RTS experiences.

It Follows focuses on the story of Jay, a girl in her late teens or early twenties living with her inattentive mother and sister. The horror portion of the film doesn’t really start until Jay goes on a third date with a guy named Hugh, who seems to be roughly her age. After having consensual sex with Jay, he then chooses to chloroform her and tie her to a wheelchair in an abandoned parking garage. He does this in order to have an opportunity to force her to listen to some very unbelievable and time-sensitive warnings. He tells her:

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Legislative Updates from NCCASA

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The following are legislative updates from the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NCCASA), provided by Executive Director Monika Johnston-Hostler and Staff Attorney Joe Polich.

New Laws Passed – Long Session 2015

Women and Children’s Protection Act of 2015 – Session Law 2015- 62

Signed by Governor on June 5, 2015

  • Increases wait times and administrative burdens for those seeking and providing abortion services
  • Provides for electronic filing of all 50B and 50C proceedings in all counties in North Carolina
  • Changes the age definitions for statutory rape crimes in NC from “13, 14, or 15 years old” to “15 years old or younger.”

Joe’s take: Electronic filing is a huge success in pilot counties in North Carolina – including Alamance and Guilford counties. Electronic filing increases access to the civil legal system and streamlines the court proceedings in general. In counties with electronic filing, all parties will leave the hearing with copies of any pertinent orders and those orders will already be filed with the Clerk of Court.

No-Contact Order/No ExpirationSession Law 2015-91

Signed by Governor on June 19, 2015

  • Creates Chapter 50D, which provides a non-expiring civil no-contact order for victims of sex offenses that resulted in a criminal conviction
  • Violation of a 50D order is an A1 misdemeanor (the most serious misdemeanor charge)
  • There are increased penalties for the commission of a felony that violates the order

Joe’s take: the 50D order does not require victims of sexual assault to re-live the experience in open court every year to renew their order. However, the major shortcoming to the new 50D order is that it requires a criminal conviction of the perpetrator, which we know is difficult at best to obtain. On the plus side, these orders “have teeth,” violations carry serious consequences.

Protect Our Students Act – Session Law 2015-44

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From the Director’s Desk

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Shamecca BryantDear Friends,

With so many great memories and friendships developed, it is bittersweet for me to share with all of you that I will be leaving the Center at the end of this year.

These last eight years have been an incredible ride. The Center is truly a special place, driven by its mission and commitment to ending violence in our community. Working on behalf of survivors has been so rewarding, and I have all of you to thank for that. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to do this important work.

You are the reason that the Center exists and continues to serve as a safe space for survivors. Each year, we have the privilege of impacting thousands of lives. The support and healing that happens within and beyond our walls is bigger than all of us.

I have expressed my admiration to my colleagues, and I also want to recognize all of you as you advocate in this movement to end violence. All of us are keeping survivors’ stories alive so that the silence does not continue.

Know that our Board of Directors is working diligently to ensure a seamless transition for the agency. Updates on the search process will be posted to our website.

My very best wishes to everyone as we continue to move boldly into a future without violence.

With much appreciation,

Shamecca Q. Bryant
Executive Director

Press Release: Executive Director Transition, Oct 15


Consent Under the Influence?

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Alcohol and sex are commonly tied to one another. We see it intermingled in headlines, advertisements, and rape myths. Media saturates seduction with booze everywhere you turn, but why is drunk sex considered a socially acceptable thing?

rape-time-to-stopI want to start an honest conversation about drinking and sex. I don’t want to say that drunken sex is always wrong and, most importantly, I do not want to victim blame. There is absolutely no question that affirmative consent should always be clear, constant, and coherent. If someone is intoxicated, they cannot give legal consent to a number of things, not just sex. After all, even in Vegas, you have to be sober to get married. Entering into any contractual agreement while incapacitated is usually voidable in the eyes of the law. This is because drinking is proven to decrease cognitive ability and awareness of risk. If you proposition someone while they are drunk, you are entering into dangerous territory, because this person may not be capable of assessing the situation.

Unfortunately, this is not common sense for many people. Many assume that if a person is not completely passed out, then they are accountable for their actions. In reality, the scientific evidence shows a wide spectrum of behaviors when someone is incapacitated. The appearance of being “blackout drunk” can be very different from one person to the next. Therefore, that “drunken escapade” may actually be rape. Read more


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