Smart Investment: Supporting Survivors of Sexual Violence

Learn more about how local nonprofits are supporting victims of sexual violence as the "Me Too" Movement picks up steam across the nation.

Me Too. Two words that have taken the world by storm, sparking a global movement highlighting the commonness of sexual misconduct, especially in the workplace.

The phrase was popularized in 2017 by actress and activist Alyssa Milano, who as a call to action tweeted to her followers "If you've been sexually harassed or assaulted write 'me too' as a reply to this tweet." The response was overwhelming. Within 24 hours, millions took to social media to post the phrase as a hashtag in solidarity and share their stories of sexual misconduct.

Before Milano stood in the foreground of the "Me Too" movement there was Tarana Burke, the original founder. In 1997, Burke was inspired by a conversation with a young girl who had been sexually assaulted according to a New York Times (NYT) article, which left Burke speechless. However, Burke revealed to the NYT that she wished she could have just uttered two words to the young girl - me too.

That conversation never sat right with Burke and because of it, she founded Just Be Me Inc. in 2006 - a nonprofit organization that helps victims of sexual harassment and assault. Her commitment to supporting survivors of sexual misconduct sparked a grassroots movement she dubbed "Me Too."

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), nearly one in two women and one in five men have experienced sexual violence victimization other than rape at some point in their lifetime. Nearly one in five women and one in 71 men in the United States have experienced rape or attempted rape some time in their lives. Too often, sexual violence goes hand-in-hand with domestic violence.

"Perpetrators who are physically violent toward their intimate partners are often sexually abusive as well," the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) reports. "Victims who are both physically and sexually abused are more likely to be injured or killed than victims who experience one form of abuse. Abusers can assault people of all genders, races, ages, social classes and ethnicities. However women who are disabled, pregnant or attempting to leave their abusers are at greatest risk for intimate partner rape."

In the Valley, many preventative and responsive resources are available to survivors of sexual harassment and violence through a number of nonprofits including BHcare, Jane Doe No More, and the Rape Crisis Center of Milford.

"It is our hope that with the recent national media coverage on domestic violence and sexual assault, victims/ survivors will realize that they are not alone; will find their voices and seek services, and no longer suffer in silence," says Esperina Stubblefield, Director of BHcare's Umbrella Center for Domestic Violence Services otherwise known as The Umbrella Program. "Our staff works every day with many women to empower them as they gain control of their lives."

BHcare is a local mental health authority for Valley and Shoreline residents that has a variety of programs providing domestic violence support services for victims and their children. In 2017, according to their® profile, The Umbrella Program provided court-based advocacy for more than 4,000 individuals, emergency shelter for 167 women and 151 children, counseling and support on 3,415 hotline calls and 861 Lethality Assessment Program (LAP) line calls from police officers. The Umbrella Program trainers also reached out by educating more than 1,000 people about the issue through community education workshops and presentations.

The Rape Crisis Center of Milford (RCCM) is another service provider in the Greater New Haven area serving Valley residents, which has been providing free and confidential services to the victims of sexual assault and their families since 1974. Last year the RCCM provided Victim Services to 580 clients. Its goal is to end sexual assault through education and to empower victims to regain control of their lives through high quality, comprehensive and culturally competent sexual assault victim services.

The RCCM takes a holistic approach to care, which includes victims and their families.

The RCCM provides child-friendly and age-appropriate prevention education for students in grades kindergarten through 12th grade. Education covers subjects such as body safety, healthy relationships, what is consent, cyber bullying, internet danger, sexting, preparing for college and more.

School teachers and administrators also receive Minimal Facts Training on how to respond appropriately when a child makes a disclosure of abuse to minimize the trauma, and not to jeopardize an investigation by the Department of Children and Families and/or law enforcement. In 2017, the Center provided prevention education to 6,500 students and additionally more than 1,000 school personnel, police, hospital and community partners throughout the area.

"The #MeToo movement has offered a forum for both women and men to tell the world their experiences have not been forgotten. The abuse could have occurred recently or may have occurred 50 years ago. Their abuse may have included harassment or may have been sexual assault in the first degree, but they have not forgotten," says RCCM's Director of Victim Services Peggy Pisano. "I feel the #MeToo movement continues to be an empowering opportunity to join a chorus of victims who may never have told anyone before or may have indeed reported their experience to authorities. While at the national level, only 20% of sexual assault victims ever make a report to police, The RCCM is here to listen and help."

A third local organization that helps survivors of sexual assault shorten the time from crime to healing is Jane Doe No More. Founder and President, Donna Palomba, knows firsthand what the people coming to her organization seeking help are going through. She too, is also a victim of sexual assault.

"In the weeks and months following my assault, I was re-victimized by the very system put in place to protect and serve me - an innocent victim," Palomba says in a "Message from the Founder" on the organization's website. "On top of the pain and suffering associated with the crime, the abuse afterward rendered my healing all the more difficult." In 2017, Jane Doe No More celebrated 10 years of service to sexual assault survivors.

"To date 46 women and men have gone through Jane Doe No More's Survivors Speak training program," says Palomba. These brave survivors have found their voice and share their personal story to educate others, which in turn empowers victims to come forward, many for the first time. This transformative process has become the cornerstone of our work."

According to the NCADV, one in three women and one in four men have been victims of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime and one in four women and one in seven men have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Rape is the most under-reported crime, 63% of sexual assaults are not reported to police and only 12% of child sexual abuse is reported to the authorities. With the help of the organizations working on this issue in the Valley, across the nation and across the world and the rapid growth of the "Me Too" movement, there is proof that change is on the horizon.