Thursday, April 2, 2009

Sexual Assault Awareness Month

So, April is is National Sexual Assault Month. It's a very important and busy month for sexual assault centers across the nation. When awareness months like this come along people often want to know what they are for. SAAM The goal of SAAM is to raise public awareness about sexual violence (focusing on sexual assault and rape) and to educate communities and individuals on how to prevent sexual violence. This is the single month where people are seeing how state and federal agencies are tackling the problem of sexual assault.

Our office continues to see an influx of clients and that may not be entirely because people are being assaulted more often. They could just finally feel ready to report their assault. But, it has been proven by many sociologists that in times of economic hardship crime rates tend to rise. But, before we can look at the present workings of Sexual Assault centers I think it's important to look back at the history of the movement.

Women's protests for right began in the 1920's when we were struggling to have rights. Once we received those rights we became an automatic target for violence. Why? Because we were asking to be seen equal to that of men, and some of them have been pissed about it ever since that moment. Women's organized protests against violence began in the late 1970's in England with Take Back the Night Marches. These were formed as a way to educate people about the violence women were receiving as they walked the streets at night. Eventually, the women of England began to coordinate with the women of the United States. The first Take Back the Night Marches took place in 1978 in New York City and San Francisco. SAAM initially was held in October along with Domestic Violence Month, but eventually sexual assault awareness groups wanted to have month focuses it's entirety on Sexual Assault. So it was moved to the month of April.

Which Brings us back to this month. We have a variety of activities we are assisting with during this month. Here's a list in case anyone wants to come check it out.

4/4/09 UMW Multicultural Fair @ University of Mary Washington 9am-5pm
4/6/09 Anarcha-Feminist Workshop @ University of Mary Washington Monroe 203 7pm
4/8/09 Take Back the Night Ralley @ University of Mary Washington 7pm-9pm
4/25/09 Caroline Family Fun Day 9am-3pm Caroline Middle School Bowling Green, VA
4/26/09 Stafford Family Fun Day 9am-4pm McDuff Park Fredericksburg, VA

Monday, March 16, 2009

Objectification of women

Women have had many thing to contend with throughout the course of history. One of the most prevalent issues that women must still deal with today is objectification. There are many reasons why objectification has been taken up by society such as constructing gender through female bodies, the male gaze, and the objectification of women in popular culture. Along with these methods of objectification there are also numerous consequences of objectification for girls and women to deal with. However, there is hope for girls and women everywhere if they learn to move from the objectified woman to the embodied woman.

Women are often seen in the position of being an object. It was Simone de Beauvoir that first brought attention to the fact women's objectified status in society has much to do with their bodies. One of the first instances of women in the United States trying to break out of society's objectification would be the public demonstration against the Miss America pageant.

When we talk about objectification, we are saying that a woman is being perceived not in terms of her own individuality but in a way that dehumanizes her. It takes away her identity along with her agency and depersonalizes her to being simply a body, or even parts of her body. For example, comments made about a woman's hair color could be seen as objectification, or when a person comments on a woman's clothing, and the one that is most prevalent for today's society is advertisements featuring women's bodies in order to sell certain products.

Objectification of women has drawn on the fact that gender can be constructed through the female body. We have learned a lot about the fact that gender is socially constructed through actions, roles, verbal, and non-verbal language as well as our thought processes. In terms of women our gender has been socially constructed in terms of our bodies and physical appearance. Femininity is ruled by media and the representations of females. Women are expected to maintain certain hairstyles, body weight, and clothing styles.

Another issue that women often have to deal with is the concept of power and objectification also known as the male gaze. When we discuss the male gaze we are talking about the idea of women being observed, on display, or under scrutiny as being projected by men as the observers. Women are constantly being put on display in terms of their bodies. For example, in Pretty Woman the opening scene begins with a camera scan of Julia Robert's body without ever showing her face. That would be a way in which her body is being viewed through the male gaze. it is also very clear that women's bodies are seen in terms of sexual entertainment. Our society lives and breathes the concept of "sex sells." And, at the center of this concept are women's bodies. This is not even delving into the world of adult entertainment. We can look at any magazine rack in the country and find numerous examples of women's body image and tips. Victoria's Secret ads alone could pave the way for sexual exploitation of women. All of these images make it very hard to be a woman. If you look at the surrounding images of idealized, sexualized, distorted, and dehumanized versions of women it begins to take a psychological toll on women in general. Women often start comparing themselves to these representations. Wanting to have better legs, a more appealing butt, needing to look like their favorite celebrity.

It is because of this that there can be many consequences for girls and women when dealing with objectification. One example would be negative views of their body image. Body image refers to the mental picture each person has about their bodily appearance as well as the associated feelings we have about perception of size, shape, and attractiveness. These negative views occur because of the media's representation of the "ideal" woman that women often have far lower self-esteem than that of men. Something else that ties in with this is beauty trends, and it is definite that women have had more to uphold in this arena. There have been certain beauty trends that women are to achieve such as the voluptuous curves of a corseted look, the waif build, bodies without cellulite, etc.

There are certain ideas that girls and women have about themselves. And, often women internalize an observer's perspective as the primary view of their physical traits. This can often lead to women monitoring their bodies and can increase anxiety. The objectification theory explains, "that in a sexually objectifying culture, girls and women learn to perceive themselves as objects and to adopt an observer's perspective on their own bodies." This basically discusses the way in which women internalize their views of their bodies. This is also where the concept of self-objectification begins. Self-objectification is an idea that involves a habitual and chronic preoccupation with self-surveillance that disrupts a woman's connection to her subjective experiences and divides her attention. It is this constant internalization that often leads women down a very dangerous path to eating disorders, negative self-esteem, and plastic surgery. "Women's self-loathing paves the way for beauty maintenance behaviors that are actually self-destructive.

The best way for women to move past this harmful idea of body image is learning to take control of themselves and embodying their actions. It is this concept that women should learn to live in their bodies as opposed to monitoring one's body from the perspective of the observer.

I know this isn't exactly on the topic of sexual assault. But, I spent a lot of time watching movies over the weekend from major blockbusters to trashy Lifetime movies. And, it was while watching Lifetime a network FOR women that I began to see even they do not have a realistic portrayal of female beauty. They followed the same script of putting women in an objectified gaze. In my office I see so many women who suffer from self-esteem issues, eating disorders, trust issues. It just brought up all my concerns for women in this idea that we struggle to be what society views we should be.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A small group of people can make a difference

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
-Margaret Mead

Sometimes it seems that we face an insurmountable task. I have taken hope from this quote and the truth behind it. Would it not be great to live in a world where sexual assault was a rarity instead of a plague? Is it true that small groups such as ours can really initiate lasting change? History says it not only can, but does.

Mental Illness at one time was considered a spiritual curse upon the person inflicted. The “insane” were treated like criminals or worse. A handful of people such as Dorthea Dix decided to do something about it and our society today may still have unfortunate stigmas attached to mental illness, but we certainly have come a long way in the treatment of both the disorders themselves and the people affected.

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) began with 24 members in 1824 in England. Today almost every city has an SPCA and the consensus of most Americans is to treat animals humanly.

The NAACP was born in a tiny room of an apartment in New York City in 1908.It now had over half a million registered members and widespread influence in the world. In one generation the civil rights movement has gone from outlawing segregation to having an African American become the leader of the free world.

RCASA began with the vision and determination of 4 women in 1986. Since then as a society we have seen great advances such as marital rape being recognized as a crime in all fifty states, the strengthening of rape shield laws, the advent of the sex offender registry, the campus security act, and many more advances for the cause. Within our agency we are advancing in leaps and bounds as well.

The counseling program has grown both in numbers and services. We have a state of the art trauma program as well as art therapy, group, supportive and of course, crisis counseling. In fiscal year 2008 we served 253 counseling clients. In the first two quarters this year we have served 665. Our crisis response team is really responding, fewer victims are “falling through the cracks. Last fiscal year we responded 500 crises, the first half of this year we have responded to 983. Our court advocacy program is gaining momentum and we are getting referrals from victim witness in unprecedented numbers. Our education outreach is exceeding expectations and we are getting out a lot of information on prevention, healthy relationships, coercion, and services. Basically, we are growing fast and keeping pace.

We are changing the way our community deals with sexual assault. Other communities are watching us to see how we fare. We are committed. While we all have different reasons, backgrounds, and roles in our quest for change, we all have the same goal. To help victims become survivors and change the old attitudes and stigmas attached to sexual assault. We are here, we are working hard, we care, and we will persevere.

By: Corey Creswell

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Work overload

Something about the holiday season makes work seem busier. In our case this is actually true. The entire office has been busy. And, that's not necessarily because there have been more sexual assaults, but more people reporting. Our office is doing some amazing work with keeping up with our clients and making sure their needs are being met. Our counseling center is booming. We are working out all our kinks and getting our procedures in order to make the office run as efficiently as possible. Corey, Janet, and I have been trying to get more public awareness going. Corey has recently taken over our volunteer program. She is currently working up a volunteer brochure to explain what we do here at RCASA and then plans on reaching out to the University kids in the area as well as local churches. Janet has taken over keeping track of court advocacy. Making sure we all stay on target with what it means to be a court advocate. She's like the mom of our office. I'm currently trying to make contact with a couple of local high school to start up a Teens Against Sexual Assault program. It would be similar to a peer group. They would help contribute to public awareness efforts on campus as well as maintain some of our agency information in case anyone ever needs a way of getting in touch with us.

We recently held a training at the Rappahannock Regional Justice Academy on the Prison Rape Elimination Act. It was a lengthy training lasting about 8 hours. While it was a difficult topic I really learned a lot in observing the presentation. Prison guards have a very difficult job. My co-workers and I also saw that when doing a training like this people show up with their own personal history or knowledge of sexual assault. Which, automatically gives them an opinion. And, while we as a sexual assault center look at something one way they may come at it from a completely different angle. So, it was nice kind of hearing their thought process and comparing it to my own.

The month of December brings up several projects in the office. December 13, 2008 is our offices annual Cookie Connection. It's one of our big fund raising events. It's being held at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library in downtown Fredericksburg. We sell baked goods to raise money. And, the office gets to hangout together. Which, we are all about. The following week December 18, 2008 is our annual open house. It's a chance for the community to come by our office. See the new space. Find out what we're all about. Well, that's all for now. I'm hoping my other co-workers will get on and post soon.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Non-profit funding

According to Wikipedia, a non-profit is "a legally constituted organization whose objective is to support or engage in activities of public or private interest without any commercial or monetary profit." But, the thing is non-profits need some profit in order to run. There are specific ways that NPO's go about getting money whether it's from private lenders or the government. And, there's only one way for us to prove that we are achieving what we want to achieve. Some of you out there may no what that is and some of you only think you know. But, I can say that I fully appreciate anyone who has to do quarterly reports and budgets and set up grant goals for their employees. This is a recent promotion in my job responsibilities. The last two weeks have been solidly devoted to tracking down our stats and client demographics so we can prove to our board and the community that we are doing something so important. And, that there is a need for our services. People can hear that, "1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men will be a victim of sexual assault in their lifetime," yet it still is not resonating with the world at large that those statistic are on the rise. And, will continue to go up every day with more and more people reporting. Sexual assault is still one of the most under-reported crimes that a person can go through. But, as someone who has been doing nothing but staring at numbers I can tell you in our town of Fredericksburg the numbers have increases significantly just within the last 3 months. This isn't a plea for money only but it's a plea for people to start becoming more aware of what is going on in your own town. Get involved. Volunteer. Find out how to be safe in your town. And, for people who want to see our numbers I am hoping to help generate a percentage report for the year and show what we have been doing with our money and our time in providing this valuable service. I hope to one day not need something entirely devoted to Sexual Assault/Trauma but until that day my office will continue to come in and help provide prevention to the communities and help change the numbers.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Letter from a concerned individual

So, I came into the office this morning and found an e-mail from a concerned female. I am posting her e-mail here in hopes to shed light on the media's portray of rape in television, films, etc. This e-mail is an opinion and does not reflect the opinion of RCASA.

I do not even know how to begin this email because I have never done this before. I have never been the type of person to write or call someone just to complain, but I think that this is an issue that should be put out in the open. I am writing as many organizations as possible to help fix the situation.

TV, music, internet, etc. all had a way of influencing young adults minds. Sadly, not everyone takes responsibility in what they are putting out there.

One of the most popular tv shows among young adults/college students is Family Guy. I myself have been a fan for years. One of the great things about Family Guy is that they push their jokes to the edge, but I believe that they are starting to go overboard on the matter of rape. It has lately bothered me with its several comments about rape, but it is out of hand now. They even had a short segment where a women was being raped screaming for help.

I am worried that by joking on this issue they are making it less serious and even hinting that it is ok to do. Family Guy has even hypocritically stated in their show that certain comments, even if they are joking, lead to others carrying them out. I am sure that Family Guy has to realize that a large portion of their viewers are young adults or college students that are still developing their minds and opinions. This really is disturbing since a great number of rapes happen in college settings by young men. With Family Guy putting an image out there that rape is a laughable matter, are they telling young men that this is a funny thing to do? I am truly scared that the numbers of rape will increase with all of these jokes on one of young mens favorite TV shows.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I just wanted to get the issue out there.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Conferences conferences everywhere

I know it's been awhile since my first post. And, trust me it's not for my lack of things to say. It has been a busy month here in the non-profit world. I have been in the office every day of during the month of October except for when I was busy traveling to conferences. The first conference I attended was October 17th and 18th. It was a Women's studies conference held in New Haven, CT. The topic of the conference was "Girl Culture and Girl Studies." It had a huge span of speakers from other colleges, non-profit organizations, Riot Grrrls, young women, girl scouts, college students, authors, etc. It was basically an entire weekend covering different aspects of how the media influences girls and how trauma can have a lasting effect. It was one of the best weekends I've ever had. And, not because I'm a women's studies nerd, but because it really helped show that I would has a purpose.

The next conference I attended was in Dallas, TX and it was about addressing Domestic Violence in the Muslim Community. This conference was a completely different facet to domestic/sexual assault. And, what I learned is that I really didn't know anything about the Muslim community and what I had been told was wrong. This conference was very in depth in the different aspects of the Muslim culture and how it has been mis-represented through media outlets. We discussed at length what culture is and how we identify to certain cultures. We went through several presentations on why it is so difficult for women in the Muslim community to have access to services. Which there were a multitude of things from fear of relying on services outside the community, language barrier, religious barriers, among others. I also learned that there are a lot of great women doing a lot of great things for their community whether it's educating outside of their community, being mentors, providing different public awareness trainings. Really regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and age we all are just trying to provide services to people who need it. We may pick passions that move us, but we know coming into non-profit that you will have to push your own boundaries and get outside of the comfort zone.

I like to think that because I am a child of a military family that all the moving around I did was preparation for my career at this moment. I know that regardless of what culture or environment I am in I can adapt and overcome adversity to bring services with ease to anyone. It's about giving up our comfort zone for the sake of another person. I really don't think I could imagine my life at this moment being any other way. As long as there continues to be an unheard voice there will be a non-profit group ready to speak on the behalf of them.