My SAAY 5: We need you in the Movement to End Sexual Violence

Since 2005, Trace Fleming has been actively involved as an advocate against sexual violence.  In more recent years, she has been an active proponent for the vicarious trauma mitigation and self-care. Trace has served as President of the Board of Directors for the Alabama Coalition Against Rape (ACAR) as well as various other roles on the Executive, Public Relations, Legislative, and Membership Committees. Trace created the successful Self-Care for Advocates, a vicarious trauma and burnout support group for anti-violence advocates on Facebook and is responsible for its moderation. She is a founding member and holds the position of Community Leader of the longest running feminist organization at Jacksonville State University, Women’s Issues, Support and Empowerment (WISE) and was a partner in the creation of the WISE Legacy Scholarship. Trace has served as a member of the National Take Back the Night Foundation Advisory Board, has been recognized as an Emerging Southern Leader by the Emerging Change Makers Network and has been featured on the international anti-violence against women website, the Pixel Project.  Currently, Trace is the Sexual Violence Program Director at 2nd Chance, Inc. in Anniston, Alabama.

This was originally written in 2016- but since anti-violence advocacy work is an art and a practice, I’ve updated it to include a few more thoughts and insights that I’ve learned along the way during the past year.

If Brock Turner’s rape of a woman, his subsequent pathetic prison sentence, and his father’s callous and terrible response have pissed you off, enraged you, horrified you- GOOD. If you’ve been sickened by the Bill Cosby defense team and his mistrial- even though 60 women have come forward to accuse him- GOOD. If President Trump’s continued displays of toxic masculinity and misogyny fill you with a need to do- something… GOOD.

They should. It is way past time for these types acts of aggression stop. Each one of us can be a part of working towards a better community for survivors of sexual violence, our children, and ourselves. Knowing where to start can really feel overwhelming, so here are some immediate ways, in no particular order, to help you get into the anti-sexual violence movement:

  1. Look up your local rape crisis program, call them, and ask if you can have a meeting with an advocate to discuss volunteer possibilities. When you meet, really listen. You may have some great ideas or services that you can offer and they may fit into what the advocates already have in motion- but they may not. It is not personal if they say no to your idea. They may not have the capacity to bring your idea to fruition. Do at least one of the things that the advocate says that they need done. I promise it will make a world of difference.
  2. Like your local rape crisis center’s Facebook page. Follow them on Twitter or Instagram. These are some of the fastest ways to connect with us. Share our posts. Comment on them. Doing this boosts our signal- it also shows those in your network that you care about sexual violence survivors and ending sexual violence in your community.
  3. Start looking at  feminist websites that encourage intersectional feminist approaches (Everyday Feminism and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center are good places to begin) and start educating yourself as much as possible about sexual violence and its root cause: oppression. Learn everything that you can about white supremacy, privilege, patriarchy, and the anti-oppression work that historically has been done by People of Color and get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Growth comes from being challenged. Defensiveness often comes from fear. Remember also that intent is less than impact. When you have questions- and you will have them- remember that it’s best to do as much homework as you can about the subject before you ask a member of a marginalized population. Keep in mind too, that they may not be interested in helping you in this area of your growth and development and that’s perfectly ok! If the person is willing to talk to you over lunch or coffee or what-have-you, be sure that you really listen to their experience (that’s why you’re there), be respectful, non-combative (your emotional work shouldn’t be heavy lifting for anyone else), and don’t forget to pay for their coffee, lunch, or whatnot. You are paying for an educational experience and someone else’s time.
  4. Show up to your local rape crisis center events whenever you can. Bring your partner(s) and your kids; bring your church family, your neighbors, your co-workers… Bring as many folks as you can. You will never know how much that will mean to the survivors who are there to see their community supporting them and to the advocates who work with them, it’s a pretty big deal too.
  5. Send money. Seriously, sometimes a few hundred dollars can mean the difference between the lights and phones being on and a program being able to be there another night. Plus, every little bit you send can be used for most programs as an “in kind donation” for matching grant funds. Also, sometimes unrestricted funds can be helpful for the odd things that come up- like a tank of gas for a survivor to get to work that week or to purchase supplies for a support group.
  6. If you can’t send money, but can offer a service like a free yoga class or another healing arts activity do so. Things like gift cards to get a free hair cut for a survivor that could be really helpful. Movie tickets, gift cards from various stores, art supplies, computer paper, tote bags, and brand new gender neutral clothing can be great donations too. Most rape crisis programs have a list of items or services that their clients have let them know that they need. If you have a question about the list- please give them a call.
  7. Ask an advocate from your local rape crisis center to come to your work, church, sewing circle, wherever! We will go pretty much anywhere that we are asked to go. Gather up people you know and have us over in your back yard to hear about the dynamics of sexual violence and about what can be done in our communities. Ask us for our brochures and handout materials and think about where you could put them for us. Keep a few of our business cards handy in your car or wallet.
  8. If you see something- SAY SOMETHING. It takes a village. We have to be our brother and sister’s keeper. IT IS YOUR BUSINESS. Something doesn’t feel right to you, check in on that situation. If it doesn’t feel safe to do that, if you can, call the police- or call your local program and an advocate can call the police for you.
  9. Talk to the kids in your life. Every day talk to them about how you love them, how they can come to you about anything because you will always, always, always believe them. Talk to them about empathy, respect, consent, about how people need to be valued, no matter what, because they are human beings. Keep talking. Talk to your boys so that they know that being a “real man” has absolutely nothing to do with taking power from others or using violence. Tell them that real strength comes from what you build- not by what you can tear down.
  10. Demand more from our elected officials. WAY too often, sentences like those handed down to Brock Turner are pathetically light. Demand that there be reviews of our criminal codes by legislators, advocates, law enforcement, survivors, prosecutors and judges. Demand that changes be made. Demand that our elected officials actively support legislation like the Reauthorized Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA)- because sexual violence is not a partisan issue. Tell your elected officials who say harmful and uneducated things about rape and gender based violence that you want them to have meetings with local and national sexual violence advocates so that they can have a better understanding of what the facts and realities are about these issues. Changing laws can take time- but don’t stop till things *are* changed.
  11. When you hear someone telling a rape joke or saying something misogynistic, racist, homophobic, or transphobic- speak up about it. Ask them to explain exactly why they think that something that is so harmful is funny. We especially need men and White people to do this. It can be scary to speak up and challenge someone else, but remember that allyship must be active and on-going. It does not have to be perfect. Accept the fact that you will make mistakes. When you do, apologize if you need to and do better the next time.
  12. Believe survivors. Their accounts are real. Stop Monday-Morning Quarterbacking. Don’t ask about what they were wearing; where they were or what they did, or what you would have done in their place. You weren’t there. Tell them that you believe them and that you are so damn sorry for what happened to them. Tell them that NOTHING that happened to them is their fault. They weren’t the ones who did something wrong. Ask them if there is any way that you can support them, any way you can help. Respect what they say. Do as they ask to the best of your ability. If you hear of a situation from the media- speak out about how you believe the survivor and how you hate what happened to them. You never know who is listening and what impact that will have towards someone disclosing to you about what happened to them.
  13. Additionally, because I’m on a roll- men, LISTEN to women. Ask a question, and then really, truly listen- without interrupting, without offering solutions, without telling us what you think women should do. Just listen. This is a critical step- and you will be really surprised by what you hear.

There’s so much more- but this is a really good start. Please. Help us stop this epidemic. We really need you.