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How DRW Grant Recipient Resilience Empowers Survivors

We sat down with Resilience, a DRW grant recipient, to learn more about their mission to offer advocacy, support, and empowerment. Their work is a testament to the strength found in community and the power of resilience.

What sparked the inception of Resilience and how has it grown?

Resilience, previously known as Rape Victim Advocates (RVA), is an organization founded on the principles of advocacy, support, and empowerment for survivors of sexual violence. The inception of Resilience was sparked by a pressing need to provide specialized support and advocacy for survivors, who often face challenges navigating the aftermath of sexual violence. In 1974, Dr. Natalie Stephens began this work with a pioneering group of 10 medical and nursing students who saw the gaps in comprehensive support systems and the broader societal issues that influenced stigmatization of survivors and our goal was to close that gap.

Focused on advocacy, support, and empowerment, Resilience has broadened its scope and outreach over the years. This growth is attributed to service expansion; active community engagement to raise awareness and facilitate access to services; advocacy for policy changes to protect survivor rights; education and training to prevent sexual violence and support survivors; and creating a strong support network for survivors. Resilience's commitment to its mission and adaptability has been crucial in its ongoing efforts to empower survivors and advocate for systemic change in addressing sexual violence .

What are some common myths about sexual assault and how do they impact survivors?

Below are some prevalent myths and their implications:

Sexual assault only happens to certain people: This myth can lead to victim-blaming and the erroneous belief that only certain behaviors or lifestyles lead to sexual assault. It undermines the fact that sexual violence can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, race or socioeconomic status, creating additional barriers for survivors seeking support and validation.

Perpetrators are usually strangers: The misconception that sexual assault is predominately committed by strangers overlooks the reality that many survivors are harmed by someone they know, including partners, friends, or acquaintances. This can make it more difficult for survivors to come forward or be believed when the perpetrator is a part of their social or familial circle.

If it was really sexual assault, the survivor would have fought back: The myth fails to account for the response, a common reaction to trauma where the survivor may be physically unable to respond or fight back. It invalidates survivors’ experiences and can lead to self-blame and reluctance to report the assault.

False accusations of sexual assault are common: Statics show that false accusations are rare. However, this myth can dominate public discourse, leading to skepticism towards survivors’ accounts, making it even more challenging for them to come forward and seek justice or support.

Men cannot be victims of sexual assault: This stereotype minimizes the experience of male survivors and contributes to a culture of silence around male victimization. It can make it harder for male survivors to seek help or acknowledge their experiences due to fear of stigma or disbelief.

Sexual assault only involves physical violence: Defining sexual assault strictly in terms of physical violence neglect the various forms it can take, including coercion, manipulation, or exploitation of authority. This narrow definition can prevent survivors who did not experience physical harm from recognizing their experiences as valid or seeking help.

Combating these myths is essential for creating a more informed, empathetic society that supports survivors. By debunking these misconceptions, organizations like Resilience aim to reduce the stigma surrounding sexual violence, encourage survivors to come forward, and foster a culture that prioritizes consent and respect.

What programs and support does Resilience provide to help with the spread of this misinformation?

Resilience combats misinformation about sexual assault and supports survivors through a comprehensive suite of programs and initiatives. We host education and awareness workshops in schools, workplaces, and communities to debunk myths and promote a culture of consent and respect. Additionally, Resilience provides specialized training for professionals such as healthcare providers, school professionals and law enforcement, ensuring that survivors receive a knowledgeable and compassionate response. The organization also engages in advocacy for better polices and legislation, improving the systemic response to sexual violence and enhancing protections for survivors. Support services, including trauma therapy, and medical and legal advocacy, are central to the mission, helping survivors navigate their recovery with accurate information.

Resilience extends its reach through community outreach, online resources, and social media, spreading reliable information and resources for survivors and the community. Peer support groups and survivors’ networks further empower survivors, offering spaces to share experiences and counteract misconceptions with real stories. Through these efforts, Resilience plays a vital role in educating the public, supporting survivors, and fostering a more informed and empathetic society.

How can one support someone they know who has been affected by sexual assault?

Supporting someone who has experienced an act of sexual violence is a delicate and crucial aspect of their healing process. Ways you can offer support:

Listen and Believe: The most important thing you can do is listen without judgement and believe their story. Affirm their feelings and let them know it is not their fault. Validation can be incredibly healing.

Offer Emotional Support: Be there for them emotionally. Let them know you are available to talk whenever they are ready, but do NOT push them to share more than they are comfortable with.

Respect Their Choices: Empower them by respecting their decisions about whether to seek medical care, report the assault, or pursue counseling. Support their choices and understand that they know what is best for themselves.

Provide Information, Not Pressure: You can offer information about resources such as Resilience, sexual assault hotlines, trauma therapy services, or support groups, but avoid pressuring them into any actions they are not ready for.

Maintain Confidentiality: Respect their privacy and confidentiality. Let them choose whom they want to tell about the assault.

Check-in Regularly: Periodically check in on them to show you care and are there for support. However, be mindful of their need for space and time to process their experiences.

Educate Yourself: Learn about the effects of sexual assault and the healing process. Understanding what they might be going through can help you provide more empathetic support.

Advocate for Their Needs: Be willing to advocate on their behalf if they ask for help navigating institutions or systems, like medical, legal, or academic services.

Take Care of Yourself: Supporting someone through such a difficult time can be emotionally taxing. Make sure you are also taking care of your emotional and mental health.

Remember, the journey to healing is unique and can be long and challenging. Your steady, patient, and understanding support can make a significant difference in their recovery.

How can communities and institutions create safer environments that deter sexual violence?

Creating safer environments that deter sexual violence involves a collaborative, multifaceted approach where community engagement, institutional policy changes, and educational initiatives come together. It starts with comprehensive education on consent, healthy relationships, and the dynamics of sexual violence, intending to foster a deep understanding of respect and boundaries among community members and institutional stakeholders. A key component of this strategy is promoting bystander intervention training, which empowers individuals to recognize and safely intervene in potentially harmful situations, thereby preventing instances of sexual violence.

Strengthening and enforcing clear policies against sexual violence is crucial for institutions. This involves not only establishing procedures for reporting, investing, and addressing allegations but also ensuring accountability and providing unwavering support for survivors. Alongside policy measures, creating accessible, confidential support services such as trauma therapy, legal assistance and healthcare is vital for survivors’ healing and recovery.

The creation of safe spaces is fundamental. This encompasses both physical safety measures and cultivating a culture of inclusivity and respect that actively discourages harassment and violence. Transparency and accountability in handling sexual violence cases enhance trust, showcasing a commitment to seriously address and prevent such incidents.

Community partnerships extend the reach and effectiveness of prevention efforts, linking institutions with local organizations, law enforcement, healthcare providers, and advocacy groups for a coordinated response. Regular assessments of policies, programs, and practices against sexual violence inform necessary adjustments and improvements, ensuring they meet the community’s needs.

Normalizing conversations about consent, respect, and sexual ethics in various settings, including schools, workplaces, and across social media, is essential for changing social norms and attitudes. Leadership plays a pivotal role in this transformation, as leaders and community members who model respectful behavior and actively promote values of equality, respect, and non-violence can drive cultural and behavioral change. Through these integrated efforts, communities and institutions can not only deter sexual violence but also support survivors and promote a culture of consent and respect.

How can someone work with Resilience to make an impact?

There are numerous avenues for involvement that collectively foster a profound impact. By volunteering time as an on-call medical advocate, a person can offer direct support to survivors, playing a pivotal role in their journey. Additionally, participating in Resilience’s training programs equips people with knowledge to advocate effectively for survivors within communities and beyond.

Financial contributions are crucial, enabling Resilience to sustain and expand its comprehensive range of services for survivors, from trauma therapy and advocacy to educational outreach. Raising awareness about sexual violence and the resources available through Resilience, whether through social media, community events, or personal conversations, amplifies the reach of the message and the availability of support services., community events, or personal conversations, amplifies the reach of the message and the availability of support services.

Advocating for policy changes alongside Resilience strengthens the systemic response to sexual violence, ensuring that survivors’ rights are protected, and their needs are met. Organizations can also make a difference through partnerships, supporting Resilience’s mission through collaborative initiatives or donations. Additionally, attending Resilience’s events not only contributes to the fundraising efforts but also signals a communal commitment to eradicating sexual violence.

Lastly, embodying the principles of support and education in your interactions with survivors in your life extends the ethos of Resilience, making every individual an integral part of the movement towards healing and change. Through these collective actions we not only bolster the essential work of Resilience but also contribute to a cultural shift that prioritizes the safety, dignity, and healing of survivors of sexual violence