"Vulnerability"

It’s a word that often enters our dialogue about ending sexual violence, as we recognize that some populations are more vulnerable than others to exploitation and harm. This acknowledgement should be part of our dialogue: if we want to end sexual violence, we have to acknowledge disparities in rates of harm, access to services, and sensitivity of care. We have to think about making sure our message is inclusive, and develop messaging and protocols with the most marginalized people in our communities in mind.

And yet, if all we do is change our wording and service provision to shift our focus to who is most vulnerable, we may run the risk of forgetting how vulnerability happens.

Recently, I was on a Prevention Town Hall video meeting, and one presenter noted that the way we sometimes talk about vulnerability risks veering into systems-level victim blaming. “People aren’t typically inherently vulnerable,” they said. “Systems make people vulnerable.”

Vulnerability is created when communities leave people (or groups of people) to fall through the cracks, or when they create “solutions” that are inaccessible to or inappropriate for those who need them most. Vulnerability is created when systems have glaring gaps we’ve yet to identify, take seriously, or fill. Vulnerability is created when we fail to educate our stakeholders, collaborators, and potential funders about community and society level risk factors that are out of the control of the survivors we serve, or about the community level protective supports that change narratives, lives, and outcomes.

Sexual violence occurs not because of an inherent predisposition to being abused or assaulted, but because someone chooses to abuse or assault. Without that choice to harm another or deprive them of wellness, vulnerabilities would cease to be vulnerabilities.

In fact, many of the risk and protective factors for experiencing sexual violence are the same risk and protective factors that influence the incidence of perpetrating sexual violence. When we engage in systems advocacy and community or society level work to fill gaps and support marginalized communities, we reduce sexual violence by coming at prevention from all angles. When we create our direct services with those gaps (and an intention to mitigate their harm) in mind, we reduce revictimization and create healthier communities — communities that are less tolerant of violence and more responsive to the needs of survivors.

We have to remember that reduction of vulnerability begins with addressing the systems and community norms that leave people vulnerable. We have to remember that prevention of sexual violence starts with prevention of perpetration. 

A person’s race is not the risk factor; racism in the person’s community is.

A person’s gender identity or orientation is not the risk factor; bias against women and LGBTQ people is.

A person’s mental health status is not the risk factor; lack of community supports or protections for people with mental illness is.

Programming to provide support at the individual level is essential, which may include crisis intervention, support groups, advocacy, and therapy. Prevention education should reduce bias and adherence to oppressive norms. Prevention education should teach setting boundaries, but also receiving, respecting, and normalizing boundaries, and not taking them personally. When we teach about healthy relationships, we are educating those who might be harmed as well as those who might harm others. Healthy relationships and boundaries are for everyone! Healthy communities reduce vulnerability.

Want to do a “vulnerability check,” and find out how your agency is doing?

This editorial is by Christy Croft, NCCASA’s Prevention Education Program Manager.

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January is not only the month for New Beginnings, it is also Human Trafficking Awareness Month, and so it is a fitting time to introduce myself as NCCASA’s new Anti-Human Trafficking Specialist. It is a particular honor for me to bring what I have learned from direct services and advocacy from the local “micro” level into statewide work.

I began “HT” work as a result of a coffee shop discussion with friends and colleagues about the growing problem of human trafficking, and how it was showing up in North Carolina. This discussion led to grassroots organizing to bring HT awareness and advocacy to our community.  For the next six years, I served as Alamance For Freedom’s co-founder, Program Coordinator, and eventually Executive Director.

Alamance For Freedom was a response to the specific need in our community based on a lot of listening and a lot of learning: we heard from local agency leaders who recognized HT as a growing problem with a significant gap of awareness that existed in Alamance County at the time. We compiled data on North Carolina arrests and investigations, talked to stakeholders, and met with people doing the direct service work. It was at this time we connected with NCCASA and other state-wide organizations that provided support and collaborative learning environments. We took what we learned in these spaces and began training agency staff and community organizations to recognize and respond to human trafficking.

The nature of direct services and crisis protocols requires a multidisciplinary approach, so we began the work among the county victim service providers. We were given office space at our rape crisis and child advocacy center, and a second office at the Family Justice Center, where we worked closely with the domestic violence program. We sat on three separate review teams with these programs, cross-trained agency staff and volunteers, and created protocols and referral networks. A grant from the Governor’s Crime Commission funded a victim assistance program that provided direct services to HT survivors.

My work from this time included developing all programmatic materials for crisis response and victim assistance, training, and mentoring at-risk youth. I convened community dialogues, served as a conference speaker and panelist, and joined other voices in the anti-HT movement in North Carolina, collaborating with UNC-SSW, HTC, NCCASA , and NCCAHT on projects that brought to light the unique challenges and barriers to services of trafficked survivors.

The longer I did this work, the more I saw how systemic racism and oppression impacted survivors and their access to services and assistance. It became clear that a stand-alone organization that focused only on HT intervention and awareness wasn’t the best use of resources. A stand alone organization was also unequipped to get to the root of the problem. Joining with a rape crisis program, whose foundational work is addressing sexual violence through an anti-oppression lens, more clearly aligned with our original vision to end human trafficking.

So in 2018, to achieve collective impact,  Alamance For Freedom as a human trafficking program was added to CrossRoads’ existing rape crisis and child advocacy programs, enabling clients and their families had easier access to services across the three programs. At this time I co-authored a manual with Christy Croft, who was then the Anti-Human Trafficking Specialist with NCCASA, entitled Expanding Our Reach: Equipping North Carolina’s Rape Crisis Centers to Serve Survivors of Human Trafficking. The month I began my new position at NCCASA, we jumped into a series of webinars that covered different sections of the manual. With this idea of collective impact in mind, the project was intended to build capacity with existing rape crisis programs to do human trafficking advocacy work.

Moving into 2020, I am excited to continue this project, hosting webinars and in-person trainings. I am proud that NCCASA has been, and continues to be, at the forefront of the anti-human trafficking movement in North Carolina. I am also excited to build on my current expertise of human trafficking advocacy and technical assistance, so that I can bring that expertise to local programs and community partners.

It is my wish that you all enjoy a wonderful new year, and I look forward to working with you in 2020!

Courtney Dunkerton is NCCASA’s new Anti-Human Trafficking Specialist.

Sign up for her upcoming webinar on ” Expanding Our Reach: Building a Multidisciplinary Response in Human Trafficking” here.

 

It’s a word that often enters our dialogue about ending sexual violence, as we recognize that some populations are more vulnerable than others to exploitation and harm. This acknowledgement should be part of our dialogue: if we want to end sexual violence, we have to acknowledge disparities in rates of harm, access to services, and sensitivity of care. We have to think about making sure our message is inclusive, and develop messaging and protocols with the most marginalized people in our communities in mind.

And yet, if all we do is change our wording and service provision to shift our focus to who is most vulnerable, we may run the risk of forgetting how vulnerability happens.

Recently, I was on a Prevention Town Hall video meeting, and one presenter noted that the way we sometimes talk about vulnerability risks veering into systems-level victim blaming. “People aren’t typically inherently vulnerable,” they said. “Systems make people vulnerable.”

Vulnerability is created when communities leave people (or groups of people) to fall through the cracks, or when they create “solutions” that are inaccessible to or inappropriate for those who need them most. Vulnerability is created when systems have glaring gaps we’ve yet to identify, take seriously, or fill. Vulnerability is created when we fail to educate our stakeholders, collaborators, and potential funders about community and society level risk factors that are out of the control of the survivors we serve, or about the community level protective supports that change narratives, lives, and outcomes.

Sexual violence occurs not because of an inherent predisposition to being abused or assaulted, but because someone chooses to abuse or assault. Without that choice to harm another or deprive them of wellness, vulnerabilities would cease to be vulnerabilities.

In fact, many of the risk and protective factors for experiencing sexual violence are the same risk and protective factors that influence the incidence of perpetrating sexual violence. When we engage in systems advocacy and community or society level work to fill gaps and support marginalized communities, we reduce sexual violence by coming at prevention from all angles. When we create our direct services with those gaps (and an intention to mitigate their harm) in mind, we reduce revictimization and create healthier communities — communities that are less tolerant of violence and more responsive to the needs of survivors.

We have to remember that reduction of vulnerability begins with addressing the systems and community norms that leave people vulnerable. We have to remember that prevention of sexual violence starts with prevention of perpetration.

A person’s race is not the risk factor; racism in the person’s community is.

A person’s gender identity or orientation is not the risk factor; bias against women and LGBTQ people is.

A person’s mental health status is not the risk factor; lack of community supports or protections for people with mental illness is.

Programming to provide support at the individual level is essential, which may include crisis intervention, support groups, advocacy, and therapy. Prevention education should reduce bias and adherence to oppressive norms. Prevention education should teach setting boundaries, but also receiving, respecting, and normalizing boundaries, and not taking them personally. When we teach about healthy relationships, we are educating those who might be harmed as well as those who might harm others. Healthy relationships and boundaries are for everyone! Healthy communities reduce vulnerability.

Want to do a “vulnerability check,” and find out how your agency is doing?

  • Check your website, promotional material, and curricula. How do you phrase references to vulnerability? Words matter, as they have the power to shape perception of an issue. We can still talk about vulnerability, but take note of the context and framing. How are you addressing systems in your outreach, awareness, promotional, and educational materials? How are you emphasizing a reduction in the perpetration of harm as a goal?
  • Check your internal documents, training materials, and protocols, both for language around vulnerability as well as attention to community gaps and the impacts of marginalization. How are you working at the community and society level to prevent perpetration and improve conditions for survivors?
  • Check your collaborative processes with other community stakeholders. Who else is working to fill the gaps that impact sexual violence prevention and response in your community? How are you working together on the shared risk and protective factors that impact both of your organizations?
  • Take a look at your agency’s leadership (board and staff). Do they reflect your community? Do they reflect the marginalized communities you hope to serve, or have lived experience navigating some of those gaps to help inform your approach? If there is a population you hope to build capacity to serve, are they reflected in your leadership? Having people in leadership who reflect the communities you serve (in terms of past or present lived experience of specific vulnerabilities) increases the likelihood that your language, framing, and programs will serve them sensitively.
This editorial is by Christy Croft, NCCASA’s Prevention Education Program Manager.

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NCCASA is seeking a full-time SADI Specialist to work as a member of the NCCASA Member Services Team to provide support and training around general advocacy issues, such as legal, medical, crisis responses and general issues related to sexual assault to member agencies. This position will play a key role in the implementation of the NC Sexual Assault Demonstration Initiative.

For more information, click here.

NCCASA is seeking a full time Rural Sexual Assault Services Specialist to work as a member of the NCCASA Member Services Team to provide support and training around general advocacy issues, such as legal, medical, crisis responses and general issues related to sexual assault to rural member agencies.

For more information, click here.

NCCASA is seeking a part-time Program Evaluator to create processes, tools, methodologies, and products for use in the evaluation, analysis, and reporting of all activities that fall under NCCASA’s Sexual Violence Prevention Program. This is an hourly position, with salary range of $32-$42 per hour, and does not include benefits.

Full Description

Recently we celebrated a major legislative victory! Since 2017 the media has aggressively covered the case of the “consent loophole” and the tides have turned with the outcome of that reporting. We can now successfully say that NC is no longer the only state with a regressive law that says a person cannot legally withdraw their consent after sex is initiated. What we would consider common sense is now codified in legislation. If things turn violent or aggressive or you are simply no longer enjoying the experience you have every right to say no and the other person must respect your wish and comply. It is not a ridiculously hard concept to grasp, yet this has been on our law books for 40 years, until now.


Other loopholes in this decades old case law made it permissible to have sex with a person who was incapacitated by drugs or alcohol, if that person was responsible for their own state of incapacitation. Along with this bill fixing consent and incapacitation issues, the bill makes it illegal to drug someone’s food or drink, expands the requirement to report child abuse, extends the statute of limitations for a civil action for child sexual abuse, and tightens bans on online conduct by high-risk sex offenders that endangers children. For example, the bill makes it a misdemeanor for anyone 18 years old or older not to report child sexual abuse.

This bill will be signed today by Governor Cooper.

For more information on all the sections of Senate Bill 199, read here.