Why I Decided to Become a Companion

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men can stop rapeTo start, I am a man — a white heterosexual man to be exact.  I am probably not the first image that comes to mind when talking about an advocate at a rape crisis center.  But here I am, volunteering with the Orange County Rape Crisis Center as a Companion for survivors of sexual violence.  In sharing my story of how I got here, I hope that other men will read this and consider getting involved, either within our community or by taking a firm stand against sexual violence.

When I was finishing my final year of my undergraduate career, I began to take an interest in women’s issues.  To this day I cannot pinpoint what started it, but I do remember reading more blog posts and articles through Facebook about women who had been sexually harassed or assaulted, as well as more generic commentary about the everyday discrimination women encounter.  By the time I was in graduate school, my awareness of the frequency of sexual assault, particularly on college campuses, led me to change my academic focus toward women’s rights and gender equality.  Although my studies focus on the global stage, my conviction that women’s issues needed to be addressed only grew.

I volunteered as a Companion to learn more about sexual violence and how to combat it from a third party perspective.  Reading about instances of rape left me feeling angry that such actions occurred with stunning regularity, and frustrated that people could either brush it off or treat it as “just the way things are.”  While I am grateful for the training provided by the Center and have enjoyed my experience so far, I cannot deny that it has been emotionally trying.  Exposing myself to a subject that I could not personally relate to was difficult.  I certainly cared about what happened, but I understood very quickly that I could never fully comprehend the harassment, the violence, or the subtle discrimination because I was born a man. Read more


Tips for Supporting a Partner in Crisis

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d6eb60bcbd2c14fb8daabc773cd99ffcThe impacts of sexual violence can include a wide array of frustrations and barriers to daily functioning for survivors. Watching from the sidelines as a loved one struggles with those difficulties can bring a similar yet different sense of helplessness and frustration. Secondary survivors — the partners, friends, and family members of survivors — often go through their own trauma response as a result of hearing about the survivor’s experiences and witnessing the negative impacts.

Whether a primary survivor is still reeling in the immediate aftermath of having experienced sexual violence, or whether they are struggling with flashbacks and triggers months or years after the initial incident, it can be painful to watch someone experiencing a crisis. It is important to note that a crisis is different than an emergency. An emergency presents imminent risk of physical harm, whereas a crisis is the mental and emotional response when a situation is too overwhelming to be handled by regular coping methods.

As the person on the outside watching someone suffer, it is a common response to want to do anything you can to make it better, and also common to feel like there is nothing you can do to make it better. While you may not be able to fix the whole situation, your presence and support can be an invaluable benefit to your loved one. Here are a few suggestions for small ways to help someone through a crisis: Read more


5 Tips for Supporting a Survivor of Sexual Assault

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Parents, friends, and others who want to support survivors of sexual assault may not know exactly how to do so. These loved ones may feel helpless and worry about saying the wrong thing or pushing too hard when attempting to offer love and support. We share some of the best tips for supporting survivors so that you can help them feel empowered and start on the road toward healing.

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  1. Accept that you will not have all of the answers or be able to fix it.

It can be especially frustrating to help a loved one who survived sexual assault, because you may feel overwhelmed and struggle with not knowing exactly how to help, even though you wish you could make things better immediately. It is important to keep in mind that just being there for the survivor can make all of the difference in the world. Your loved one does not expect you to have all of the answers, and they know that you cannot repair the damage.

However, you can listen and let them know that you care. Offer unconditional support and believe them. You respond to them in non-judgmental ways and offer support in any way that you can. Do not blame them, question them, or push them for more information. Let them know that you believe in them and will support them for as long as it takes. You also need to validate their feelings and acknowledge them in positive and empowering ways.

  1. Help them feel empowered and regain control over their life.

One of the worst effects of sexual assault is the sense of helplessness that it instills in the victim. They lose power during the assault, so it is critical for you to support their decisions and choices to help them regain a sense of control over their life. Avoid telling them what to do, but offer suggestions and options to help them make decisions that are right for them. Share resources with them for other support systems, such as counselors, sexual assault support groups, and others.

You also could suggest that they ease back into a routine that does not involve a great deal of stress by finding a job that serves a therapeutic purpose. There are many options for working at home or working with their hands that would empower them by allowing them to work as much or as little as they’d like. For example, they could set her own hours and rates by becoming a dog walker. Studies show that petting and playing with dogs reduces stress and alleviates depression and anxiety.

  1. Take a cue from the survivor themselves.

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The Empowerment Model

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Contrary to rape culture and social norms that suggest sexual violence is rooted in sexual desire, lust, or uncontrollable biological urges, rape is a crime deeply embedded in power and control. When a perpetrator commits an act of sexual violence against another person, they deny that person the ability to exert control over their own body, the power to enforce their own boundaries, and the basic necessity of maintaining a sense of safety and well-being.

When a survivor discloses an experience of sexual violence to friends or family, the person hearing the disclosure may respond by trying to fix the situation. That could include things like insisting on going to the hospital, filing a report with the police, moving to a different location, or one of many other actions that prescribe a specific avenue of healing and recovery. Although this response comes from a place of good intentions, these actions often increase the feeling that the survivor has no control over their own life.

Rather than having yet another person impose their will, their concerns, and their priorities on the survivor, it is more beneficial to start from a place of empowerment.

Empowerment means helping the survivor reestablish a sense of control and agency. This may happen by allowing the survivor to recognize their own strengths and capabilities (instead of insisting that they are strong for having gone through something so horrific), helping them find the information necessary to make their own decisions (instead of making decisions without consulting them or against their wishes), and allowing them to take actions they feel comfortable with (instead of pressuring them to do things they don’t want to do).

When we don’t empower survivors to make their own choices within their personal healing process, it can feel re-traumatizing because the survivor is again in a situation beyond their control. Responding from a place of empowerment, however, restores control to the survivor and allows recovery to happen at a pace that feels comfortable.

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Fighting Revenge Porn

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How to Fight Back When Your Sexual Privacy is Compromised Online

screen-shot-2015-02-28-at-8-24-06-amFinally, some good news for people who have been (or who have been anxious about becoming) victims of revenge porn! December 2015 marked the first time that a law specifically referencing and criminalizing revenge porn has been on the books in North Carolina. This addition to our legal system was added after an alarming case of privacy infringement occurred at Hough High School in Cornelius, NC. Authorities say that dozens of students had been blackmailed, and nearly a hundred nude photos were released.

Despite the law’s origins, it doesn’t only apply in cases related to minors. Breaking this law now constitutes as a felony offense, and is defined as “releasing explicit photos or videos of a person without their consent, with intent to harass, extort, or intimidate.” North Carolina is now one of twenty-six states with revenge porn laws, up from a mere sixteen at the start of 2014. We are also one of only six states that classify the non-consensual distribution of explicit materials as a felony. In most states, it is only classified as a misdemeanor (often jumping to a felony for a repeat offender).

Luckily, it’s not only lawmakers who are starting to see the need for these restrictions and ramifications. In the summer of 2014, Microsoft (including Bing, OneDrive, and Xbox Live) and Google created sites specifically dedicated to the anonymous reporting of revenge porn. Many other companies followed their lead during the rest of 2015, and have included privacy and harassment clauses in their community guidelines, as well as created anonymous reporting forms. Participating sites now include Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Pornhub, and Tumblr. This commitment, by some of the largest search engines and social media sites in use today, helps to combat one of the biggest issues that face victims of revenge porn: the daunting and near-impossible task of removing their stolen images from the Web.

By using the links and forms outlined by C. A. Goldberg PLLC, that focuses on Internet privacy and abuse, domestic violence, and sexual consent, victims can anonymously report images that have been posted without their consent. While these companies don’t have the ability to remove images from the Internet entirely, this new reporting system does render reported images unsearchable on their specific sites and search engines, giving some privacy and control back to victims. Read more


2016 Teal Ribbon Award Winners

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Ella Baker, an unsung hero of the Civil Rights movement, once said, “The older I get the better I know that the secret of my going on is when the reins are in the hands of the young, who dare to run against the storm.” As a sexual violence prevention educator and youth co-conspirator, I feel the wisdom in these words every time I have the opportunity to witness young people working toward justice and asking for what they need. In fact, youth have been at the forefront of most of the major social movements of the past century.

In the summer of 2015, Anaja McClinton and Erin Thompson approached the Center for support around creating a sexual violence prevention workshop for her friends and peers at school. Anaja knew young folks who had been directly impacted and she felt like the issue sexual violence was not being addressed at school. When we met with Anaja and Erin, it was clear that they were fired up and ready. They wanted to see change for the benefit of their friends, fellow students, and future students. And they were ready to work for it. Without any hesitation, they approached their parents and caregivers, asking them to support their efforts, and they directly communicated their desires and needs with the principal at their school.

By the end of the fall semester, Anaja and Erin had the full support of their principal. Moreover, they requested that the district consider sexual violence prevention programming at both of the high schools in Orange County Schools. Read more


Mythbusting HB 2

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The Orange County Rape Crisis Center works to end sexual violence and its impact for all people. To this end, we are committed to sexual violence prevention efforts that are informed by research and analysis, not fear and misinformation.

The following is a statement from the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NCCASA) about the recently passed HB 2 legislation. As a member agency of NCCASA and with a commitment to diversity and nondiscrimination, we support their statement.

[HB 2] overrides a recently passed LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance in Charlotte, prevents local governments from enacting a range of nondiscrimination and employment policies, and requires all public facilities, including schools, to allow restroom access only on the basis of “biological sex.” This bill specifically excludes LGBTQ people from legal protections and jeopardizes billions of dollars in federal funds that NC schools receive under Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination, including discrimination against transgender students.

A central argument in this case was about the prevention of sexual violence and the use and safety of public bathrooms. NCCASA is deeply committed to the prevention of all sexual violence, and it is essential that any efforts to do so are rooted in fact. What we know to be true is that the majority of sexual violence is perpetrated by someone the victim knows in a familiar place, rather than by a stranger in a public place. 200 cities across the nation have protections in place similar to the Charlotte ordinance, and none of them have reported an increase in sexual violence related to these protections.

On the other hand, physical and verbal assaults on transgender people in public bathrooms are not rare, and over 50% of transgender people have experienced sexual violence. We cannot end sexual violence unless we are committed to ending sexual violence for all people. What will actually prevent and end sexual violence is for us to create a culture in which respect for the identities and bodily autonomy of others is a deeply held value. Policies prohibiting discrimination based on one’s sexuality and gender identity, like the one passed in Charlotte, are a positive step toward ending sexual violence.

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The Center maintains a commitment to providing excellent and culturally competent services to survivors of all genders, including support for survivors of gender-based or trans-phobic sexual harassment and specialized support groups for LGBTQ survivors of sexual violence.

If you or someone you care about could use some support, please get in touch with us via our 24-Hour Help Line or by coming into our office during business hours. No appointment needed.


7 FAQs about calling the OCRCC 24-Hour Help Line

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Helpline Logo - PhoneAt the Orange County Rape Crisis Center (OCRCC),  we spend a lot of time talking about sexual violence because it’s our job! For others, these conversations may not come so easily. Sexual violence is an uncomfortable and deeply personal topic, and talking about your experience can feel invasive. For many people, though, talking about their experience is exactly what is needed to move forward in the healing process. The Center offers a 24-Hour Help Line (also called a crisis line or hotline) to provide an anonymous, confidential space for these conversations. Here are 7 questions that might help you in deciding whether to call the help line for support.

1. I’m not sure if I this is the right place to talk about my situation. Should I call the help line?

If you have any concerns about unwanted sexual attention or experiences, absolutely call the help line. Even if you aren’t sure if what happened to you would be considered “sexual violence” — call us. If we’re not the best resource for what you are personally experiencing, we can help point you in the right direction. Sexual violence can be hard to talk about and nobody should have to sit alone in an uncertain situation. People can call our help line anytime, immediately after experiencing trauma or even years later. We provide support and resources for survivors, their loved ones, and professionals who support them.

2. I don’t know who I’m talking to. Who is on the other end of the line?

The folks who answer our help line are known as Companions. They have had extensive training on sexual assault, crisis counseling, and community resources so that they can provide a safe space to listen compassionately and confidentially to your concerns and to offer referrals for further assistance.

3. I don’t know what to expect. What happens when I call the help line number? Read more


Guns & Rape Prevention: A Dangerous Myth

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During a national town hall meeting on guns in January, President Obama was confronted by a survivor of rape for his stance on gun control. Kimberley Corban, now a mother of two, argued that the gun restrictions proposed by the Obama administration would prevent families from being able to protect themselves. She contended that it is her “basic responsibility as a parent” and as a survivor to carry a gun so that she and her children would not be victimized again.

This is not the first time that a survivor has come forward in favor of the gun lobby. In 2007 a student from the University of Nevada claimed that “had she been carrying her licensed gun, she would have averted the attack” that happened to her on campus. Unfortunately, we know that this is probably not the case. Many survivors find that their sense of safety is shaken after being assaulted, and it is understandable why an ethos of armed protection could be appealing for someone seeking safety after trauma. However, we believe that survivors deserve to know about all of the ways that their safety may be further compromised by this approach so they can base their decisions on what is known to be true, rather than on inflammatory rhetoric designed increase their anxiety and boost gun sales.

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Black History of the Anti-Violence Movement

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When discussing a timeline of the anti-sexual violence movement, many people refer to second wave feminism and women’s liberation in the 1960s and ‘70s as the beginning of movement. It is true that many hallmarks of the movement occurred during these years, including the founding of early rape crisis centers. It also led to subsequent federal laws and budget allocations that codified the necessity of rape crisis centers as important community resources.

While these decades saw significant milestones in bringing attention to the issue of sexual violence, the roots of the movement extend much further back. Sexual violence has long been recognized as a problem by Black women, and one that intersects inextricably with race. However, due to the structural privileging of white identities and narratives, the intersecting history of race and anti-sexual violence activism often goes untold in mainstream United States history. Read more


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