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. Continue reading “2016 Teal Ribbon Award Winners”
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?
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.
At the Intersections of Race, Gender, and Mass Incarceration
Over the past couple of years, sexual violence in America has received much more attention as the issue of sexual assault on college campuses has exploded into the mainstream consciousness. As the public, students, and higher education institutions continue to grapple with this epidemic, the Human Rights Project for Girls reminds us with their recently released study, The Sexual Abuse To Prison Pipeline: The Girls’ Story, that sexual violence does not impact only college age youth. It impacts young girls, particularly young girls of color (primarily African-Americans, Latinas, and Native Americans) as well as youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) or gender non-conforming (GNC). Young girls of color and LGBT/GNC girls are at a particularly high risk because the justice system punishes youth of color and youth who do not conform to gender norms much more harshly than their white heterosexual counterparts.
What does sexual abuse have to do with incarceration?
Experiencing sexual abuse puts girls at enormous risk for arrest and incarceration. When girls are arrested, it is rarely because they have committed a violent crime. More often than not, they are arrested because they have become truant, run away, or engage in substance abuse (which are called status offenses for youth under 18). Why did they stop going to school or run away from home? The answer, in many cases, is that girls are running away from abusive situations. They are then arrested and locked up for running away. This is the cycle that is the sexual abuse-to-prison pipeline. At the root of this cycle is sexual violence. The reactions girls have to this violence — which they are punished for — are merely coping behaviors.
Wait, so…they are victims of sexual abuse, and they run away to escape the abuse, but running away is a crime, so they get arrested?