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OCRCC Pushes for the Reauthorization of VAWA

In April, Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the Orange County Rape Crisis Center (OCRCC) launched its Policy Initiative. The OCRCC hosted a meeting with the office of Senator Thom Tillis to advocate for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), increased funding for the Rape Prevention and Education (RPE) program, and to lift the cap on the Victims of Crimes Act (VOCA) Fund. In June, the OCRCC’s Policy Fellow, Abby Cooper, continued this legislative work by meeting with the offices of Senator Richard Burr and Representative David Price in Washington D.C. The OCRCC relies on federal funding through VAWA, VOCA, and RPE to serve survivors of sexual violence and provide violence prevention programming to the community. Support from our elected policymakers is crucial to show survivors that we see them, believe them, and want to support them throughout their healing process.

This past year, the OCRCC served 658 survivors, a number that has significantly increased over the past 10 years. Furthermore, the OCRCC has expanded the types of services offered to clients to go beyond one-time crisis intervention. A growing staff now provides therapy, support groups, legal and medical advocacy, and case management services in both English and Spanish. Not only is the OCRCC serving more clients, but clients are returning for support and assistance at higher rates than in previous years; the average client receives OCRCC services on over five different occasions. At a time when the OCRCC and other rape crisis centers across North Carolina and the country are experiencing increased demand for services, support from the federal government is critical. Yet, Congress has not yet reauthorized the expired VAWA. In order to provide the highest standard of care to all clients who seek OCRCC services or educational programming, VAWA must be reauthorized, appropriations for RPE must increase, and the spending cap on VOCA must be lifted.

VAWA was authorized in 1994 as the first federal legislation to address sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking (the four crimes). VAWA provides critical legal protections, authorizes multiple grant programs to transform law enforcement and the legal system’s response to the four crimes, and funds organizations that provide direct services to survivors of the four crimes. The authorization of VAWA brought sexual violence into the public conversation and facilitated a shift in societal norms around issues of sexual violence. Twenty-five years later, VAWA has been reauthorized three times to integrate updated research and best practices related to sexual violence prevention and intervention. VAWA has drastically improved the criminal justice system’s response to sexual violence and expanded the capacity of direct service providers to support a greater number of survivors.

However, VAWA’s work is not complete – sexual violence still permeates our society and is far too common. The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) estimates that someone in the United States is sexually assaulted every 92 seconds. Yet, only five out of every 1,000 perpetrators ends up behind bars. VAWA, with comprehensive updates, is necessary to increase perpetrator accountability, protect vulnerable populations, and support survivors of the four crimes.

While VAWA has expired, grant programs will remain funded for the remainder of the fiscal year. H.R. 1585, or the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2019, passed in the House on April 4 (NC District 4 Congressman David Price voted YES), but has not yet been introduced in the Senate. The 2019 reauthorization bill is based on extensive research and outreach to direct service providers, experts in the field, survivors, and other stakeholders, and contains new provisions which are crucial to address gaps in coverage and expand funding for services and primary prevention.

VAWA must be reauthorized in order to ensure survivors can access necessary care in a timely manner. Rolling back protections is not acceptable, and neither is maintaining the status quo; the new provisions in H.R. 1585 are essential to protect all survivors of sexual violence and increase the capacity of rape crisis centers and other direct service providers to serve survivors. The #MeToo movement encouraged more survivors to speak out about their experiences and seek help, which has been reflected by the increased demand for OCRCC services. Every survivor who comes to the OCRCC for support has a unique story and requires customized care. VAWA makes it possible for OCRCC staff to respond to each client and offer the type of care survivors need to heal.

You can help advocate for the reauthorization of VAWA too! Call the offices of Senator Burr and Senator Tillis and tell them why you support the reauthorization of VAWA. You can also send letters or tweet. Contact information and sample scripts/tweets are below:

Senator Richard Burr @SenatorBurr
Winston-Salem, NC Office: 2000 West First Street Suite 508, Winston-Salem, NC 27104
Washington, DC Office: 217 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510

Senator Thom Tillis @SenThomTillis
Raleigh, NC Office: 310 New Bern Ave, Suite 122, Raleigh, NC 27601
Washington, DC Office: 113 Dirksen Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510

*Sample call script:

My name is [your name] and I am calling from [your location and, if you are affiliated with a domestic violence or sexual assault program, the name of your program]. I urge [Senator Burr/Tillis, depending on which office you called] to support the bipartisan H.R. 1585, the Violence Against Women Act of 2019. The Violence Against Women Act is one of the pillars of the federal response to domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking. [Tell your Senator why VAWA has been important to your community. If you are from Orange County, cite the OCRCC’s work in the community. Otherwise, cite a local domestic violence or rape crisis center’s work, or, if you have a story you feel comfortable sharing, share your experience]. Every time VAWA has been reauthorized, it has been strengthened based on our increased understanding of gender-based violence. The Me Too era, when survivors are demanding change and stronger protections, is not the time to roll back essential protections or even to maintain the status quo. H.R. 1585 maintains protections for all victims, makes vital investments in sexual assault prevention, ensures sexual predators who prey on Native women are held accountable, protects victims of domestic violence from intimate partner homicide, and increases victims’ access to safe housing and economic stability.

*Sample tweets:

  • The bipartisan VAWA (#HR1585), introduced by @RepKarenBass & @RepBrianFitz, includes key enhancements for all survivors of domestic and sexual violence. @Senhandle can I count on you to help get this bill across the finish line?! #VAWA19 #VAWA4ALL
  • The Violence Against Women Act (#HR1585) is a bipartisan bill. @Senatorhandle can I count on you to co-sponsor this #VAWA4ALL survivors? #VAWA19
  • The Violence Against Women Act (#HR1585) is a critical bill that enhances protections for survivors of sexual and domestic violence. @Senatorhandle can I could on you to support this bill?
  • The Orange County Rape Crisis Center supports the reauthorization of #VAWA. @Senatorhandle, will you stand up for survivors of sexual violence too?

*Adapted from the National Task Force to End Sexual & Domestic Violence

Abby Cooper is OCRCC’s Policy Fellow doing important work on the ground.

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Day of Giving

Join Orange County Rape Crisis Center for our 1st Annual Day of Giving On Tuesday, June 25!

Q: What is the DAY OF GIVING?

A: I’m glad you asked! It’s our first annual, 24-hour online fundraising extravaganza when your gift can go further to support the expanding needs for survivors and prevention services in our community. Our fiscal year is ending June 30th, and we’re still about $5,000 away from reaching our Annual Appeal goal for the year. For one day only, your gift will have twice the impact and will be matched up to $1,000 by a generous donor.

This Day of Giving will take place Tuesday, June 25, from 12 AM to 11:59 PM. You can make donations during this 24‐hour period through, Facebook, or PayPal. Our ability to keep breaking the silence around sexual violence depends on generous donors like you.

We need you to help us spread the word and make a direct difference in the lives of the survivors, schools, businesses, and loved ones we serve.

Q: Remind me why you need my money?

A: Sure! As the #MeToo movement has picked up steam, we’ve risen to meet our community needs with additional support, education, and advocacy. In the last year, our numbers for walk-in clients and medical accompaniments have increased by over 400%, and we’re managing more active cases right now than we’ve ever had at one time before. Additionally, our average contact time with each client has more than doubled, showing that the needs for long term case management and care are only growing day by day.

Though the conversation about sexual violence has gained momentum over the last couple of years, funding for local rape crisis centers doing the work on the ground remains as sparse as ever. Our services depend on individual donations from regular folks like you to provide stability, when government funds aren’t guaranteed, and to fill in gaps for unrestricted funding on things grants can’t cover.

By helping us reach our end of year goal, you’ll help us start the new fiscal year strong and give us the momentum to continue to support survivors with new initiatives like our new online helpline that will launch this July.

Q: I don’t have a lot to give. Should I just skip the DAY OF GIVING?

A: No way! Even a small gift goes a long way in reaching our goal since it will be matched dollar for dollar (up to $1,000) by a generous donor. On this day your $15 gift becomes $30, which can cover transportation costs to and from our free bilingual therapy program for one of our clients.

Q: Okay, I’ll donate. What do I do now?

A: You’re incredible! We’ve tried to make giving as easy as possible. You can make tax-deductible contributions during this 24‐hour period through our website, Facebook, or PayPal.

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For Singer Jess Klein, the Power of the Voice Benefit Concert is Just Another Way to Give Back to OCRCC

Hillsborough singer-songwriter Jess Klein has a voice that Mojo magazine calls “one of those voices you want to crawl up close to the speakers to listen to.”   Fresh off of a 4-week tour through England and Ireland, Jess returns to North Carolina to perform at the Orange County Rape Crisis Center’s first annual “Power of the Voice Benefit Concert” On Saturday, June 1, along with Lydia Loveless and Reese McHenry.   For Jess, this is just another way that to give to an organization whose mission and values align so closely with her own.

“After the 2016 election I felt a need to get involved,” recalls Jess. “In my music I talk about personal and political things. I wanted to be with people who were taking action to create a better world in a more day-to-day way, not just for art. So I started volunteering once a week as a receptionist at OCRCC.”

Jess spent a year as on “office volunteer” at OCRCC, coming in weekly to do whatever tasks the staff needed help with.  She greeted clients, made copies, put together brochures, and helped craft pins for the Punk Cuts fundraiser. While the tasks may seem less than glamorous, having volunteers is crucial to the organization’s work and often uplifting for volunteers like Jess.

“For me it was one of the highlights of my week to be around the people who work there,” said Jess. “Everyone is very open and communicative and listens to each other. It felt like whatever I was feeling there was space for it there. I remember thinking, ‘if the world could be run like this organization is run, the world would be in a much better place.’”

Jess hopes that the “Power of the Voice” raises funds for the organization’s prevention work, including the SafeTouch and StartStrong programs at local schools.  She also wants people to know how much respect she has for OCRCC and it’s approach.

There’s a lot of places that people can donate their money, but from my personal experience having been inside the organization, it’s very well run, their objectives are very clear and they’re very holistic about reaching them,” she said.  “I’m thrilled to be able to be part of the benefit and I’m really grateful to the rape crisis center for all that they do. It’s so important for people to feel safe and empowered with their body and with their voices.

“Power of the Voice” takes place on June 1 at the Local 506. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. The show starts at 8:00 p.m. Visit etix to buy tickets and donate in advance.

To learn more about Jess Klein’s new album “Back to My Green” visit her official website.


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Incarcerated Survivors of Sexual Assault Face Retraumatization and Barriers to Healing

Students and community members stopped by the Orange County Rape Crisis Center in Chapel Hill on April 23 to write letters to incarcerated survivors with messages of caring and support during Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

On April 23rd, we hosted a letter writing event directed to incarcerated survivors of sexual violence here at the OCRCC office. It was an evening to hold and care for survivors who, due to the combined tragedies of incarceration and sexual violence, could not be in the room with us. Noname’s music underscored conversations about the logistics of supervised and unsupervised probation (we were trying to understand what Cyntoia Brown, the sex trafficking survivor who recently had a successful campaign to commute her sentence, would experience when she is finally out of prison this August). People drew pictures and wrote messages of love and support inside beautifully hand-printed cards. Each survivor on our list got at least three cards!

We held this event because we know that there are particular barriers to paths of healing and recovery to survivors who are incarcerated. Survivors of sexual violence can be arrested for actions they took to navigate their survival in dangerous and abusive situations, for racist criminalization of their trauma processing, or on charges that are not directly related to their survivor status. Once incarcerated, survivors may have difficulty accessing services that are available to survivors on the outside. Access to mental and physical health services is limited, if truly available at all, in prisons and detention centers, and opportunities to speak with a trained professional or companion are limited. Phone services and letters all cost money, and are monitored, meaning that disclosing survivor status in a private letter to a friend or companion may mean inadvertently disclosing survivor status to all prison staff, prompting an investigation the survivor may not be ready for. Simply the barriers to movement can be another difficulty: survivors who are incarcerated can’t simply take a walk or go get a cup of tea when they experience triggers or crises.

The experience of being incarcerated can be traumatizing in itself, and particularly so for survivors of sexual violence. The loss of privacy, lack of control over what happens to their body, prevention from having their own resources, and prevailing culture of disbelief and suspicion that incarcerated people face can mimic some characteristics of abusive relationships. Survivors may be made vulnerable to triggers or flashbacks, or first-time victimization during routine pat-downs, strip searches, and monitored showers. Additionally, we know that sexual violence can be perpetrated in prisons and detention centers, and in North Carolina, it is extremely rare for a survivor of sexual violence in prison to receive institutional assistance after reporting sexual violence.

Thousands of incarcerated people are impacted by sexual violence: 2012 study by the Bureau of Statistics (BJS) found that 86% of incarcerated women are survivors of sexual violence. Another 2012 survey found that 10% of formerly incarcerated people had been sexually abused during their most recent period of incarceration, which, due to the BJS’ survey methods, is likely to be an underrepresentation of the actual rate. Thousands of people are being retraumatized and denied access to services through the cycles of sexual violence and incarceration.

Surveys show that 86% of incarcerated women are survivors of sexual violence. Sometimes, survivors are re-traumatized. The prevailing culture of disbelief and suspicion that incarcerated people face can mimic some characteristics of abusive relationships. Writing letters and signing petitions are two ways that allies can show survivors that they are not alone.

So, what can we do? Like with any survivor of sexual violence, offering a believing and supportive presence can be a powerful step on the path to recovery. Often, the least expensive and most accessible method of communication with incarcerated people is by mail. Through letters, we can let survivors know that they are heard, and provide crisis counseling and safety planning that we could offer to clients on the phone. If you would like the list of survivors we used on April 23rd to send a message of support, email me and I’ll send it along!

Another action we can take is signing petitions! Several of the survivors we wrote on the 23rd have petitions to the governor to commute, or decrease, their sentences. One incarcerated survivor, Brandy Scott, is a Black transgender woman who has organized support and advocacy for other incarcerated queer and trans people, and has written an after-school curriculum for gang members. You can sign Brandy’s petition here, and find other petitions for survivors here.

Finally, I’d like to highlight that incarcerated people are the ones taking the lead in fighting for their right to heal and be free from traumatizing conditions. One of my favorite zines, Queer Fire, shows a history of incarcerated queer people organizing against sexual violence in the 1970s, and this blog post from prisoner Michael Kimble describes organizing against sexual violence in Alabama prisons today. I’d encourage you to check out these readings!  The conditions of sexual violence and incarceration may seem daunting, but there are strong communities of survivors, incarcerated people, and allies, who are working together to create a world that is safer for survivors and free from sexual violence.

By Online Help Assistant
Orange County Rape Crisis Center

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Cardinal Track Club Donates $9,400 to Benefit Sexual Violence Prevention Education

On April 30, the Cardinal Track Club presented the Orange County Rape Crisis Center and five other nonprofits with checks to support their work. Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle (bottom right) acknowledged how valuable Cardinal Track Club’s contribution is both to the organizations and community of Carrboro

One in four girls and 1 in six boys will be sexually violated before they turn 18. As many as 93% of victims under the age of 18 know their abuser. That’s why prevention education to children is a critical part of the Orange County Rape Crisis Center’s work.  Our SafeTouch and StartStrong programs teach children how to recognize inappropriate behavior and react when someone makes them uncomfortable.  This work is primarily funded through donations, not grants. We could not do it without the support of donors and community partners like the Cardinal Track Club.

For the past 10 years, the Cardinal Track Club has been supporting our work. They host three races in Carrboro every year and donate the registration fees to our organization as well as five other community partners.  On April 30th, they presented the Center with a check for $9,400. This donation means 7,000 children in will receive sexual abuse prevention education in school across Greater Orange County.

The Orange County Rape Crisis Center Executive Director Rachel Valentine received the donation from the Cardinal Track Club and plans to use the donation to fund staff to provide prevention education trainings in schools.

Cardinal Track Club events are staples for runners of all skill levels in the Carrboro-Chapel Hill community thanks to their shorter distances (10-miles or less) and family-friendly atmosphere. As Carrboro is the  “Paris of the Pidemont,” the Cardinal Track Clubs races are collectively known as “Le Tour de Carrboro” and include the “Carrboro 10K” in October, the “Gallop and Gorge 8K” on Thanksgiving, and the “Four on the Fourth” race on July 4.  In addition to creating inclusive, memorable community experiences, the races help foster stronger and healthier community through the money they raise for nonprofits.

“I’m so glad the funds are being used for prevention programs in the schools. My kids attended the Chapel Hill/Carrboro City Schools and participated in those programs, so I know how valuable they are,” said Sandra Padden, Chair of the Cardinal Track Club. “A big part of the reason the club has chosen OCRCC as a community partner is that not only does the organization provide resources for survivors of sexual abuse but it also works to end sexual violence and its impact in our community.”

To learn more about the Orange County Rape Crisis Center’s SafeTouch and StartStrong programs, click on the corresponding links.

Registration for the Cardinal Track Club’s  Four on the Fourth event is open on their website.