To tell my story as a date rape survivor and communicate my message in a way that can help the most people.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Start By Believing

'Start By Believing' is part of a unique citywide awareness campaign focused on the public response to sexual assault in addition to the police and health care workers. On March 18th the Denver Police Chief Robert White and Mayor Michael Hancock held a press conference to announce the campaign and what led to its creation. In a rare collaboration the Denver Police Department approached Denver NBC9 News anchor Kyle Clark to take part in the Start By Believing Campaign. Kyle has made the commitment to him and says they were raped or sexually assaulted he will Start By Believing and encourages others to do the same. In the next few weeks he is also sharing survivor stories during the evening newscast in order to spread the campaign's message and create broader public awareness. Survivors will tell what it was like and the positive impact it has when someone did believe them.

As a survivor of date rape I can't express enough how important that first reaction is to a victim when they share their rape or sexual assault with a trusted friend, family member and/or law enforcement. I was very lucky to have support from everyone I told but have heard way too many stories from victims who have gathered the courage to tell someone and received indifferent or negative reactions. I have heard the detective victimizing the accuser during the report or police officers making statements of judgment as to the victims actions before and during the assault or what they may have been wearing. Other victims have told me of family and friends marginalizing the assault or encouraging them not to pursue reporting because it will be shameful for the family or no one will believe them anyway.

The Denver Chief of Police is asking that officers to believe the victim when they come forward to tell their story. The idea behind it being a presumption of belief is the best way to catch rapists because on average a sexual predator attacks 6 times so if the first victim is not believed then the potential for 5 more assaults can occur.  If I hadn't thought my story and the events of that night wasn't so odd or unusual I would have come forward and told someone, most likely a friend but it would have been a start. There were so many more victims my attacker Jeffrey Marsalis assaulted after me that my speaking out may have prevented any number of them. It took a lot of counseling for me to work through that guilt.

Furthermore, Police officers told anchor Kyle Clark that if they start by believing it's simply to treat the claim as any other crime reported then the case has the opportunity for a thorough and fair investigation. Isn't that all a victim really wants anyway which is to be treated fairly? I'll answer that, YES! 

More details and information provided in the links below.

Denver NBC9 News Report

Start By Believing Campaign Information

Friday, March 20, 2015

A Poster Campaign for Project Guardian

In February I learned of London based Project Guardian and connected with one of it's biggest supporters who is working at the grassroots level. It was important to me as a frequent user of public transportation when I lived in NY & NJ and now her in LA that I help in any way I can to promote awareness for a little known or discussed topic. 

Project Guardian is simply stated a 'long-term project involving British Transport Police (BTP), Transport for London (TfL), Metropolitan Police and the City of London Police, which aims to reduce sexual assault and unwanted behavior on public transport in London'. This passionate supporter who's twitter name is UnderreportedSH & address @Underreported22 learned of it in Autumn 2014 on the radio and through her own formal survey research found out that very few people who use London Transport have heard of it. Only 13.8% of survey respondents are aware but know very little about it. She was concerned by the high level of advertising space used for other safety and security issues on London public transport by the TfL i.e. 'report suspicious luggage' or take care on 'slippery stairs' but none for Project Guardian.

As a result this one concerned citizen started a campaign to push for the introduction of a widespread and long term poster campaign for Project Guardian on all forms of public transport with the message that reportable offenses include 'sexual touching, exposure, outraging public decency, lewd comments, leering and harassment'. More importantly perpetrators and those victims of sexual harassment or assault need to know that they will be taken seriously by police and bystanders. She says "as a society, we need to stop ignoring our culture of normalized violence against women and girls in public spaces!"

Although there has been no direct response from TfL to the poster campaign on Twitter and answers to queries via email have been slow they have said that "an integrated communications campaign is in development for launch late Spring". Additional information as to what this will consist of was not provided but on Twitter the British Transport Police said "it's going to be an online-base campaign for London to begin with, we understand" yet no further response when asked if posters would be appearing.

The Poster project has received very good support from the community and public as individuals, organizations and charities have re-tweeted messages. The message here is to show those in charge of Project Guardian that it is a service supported by the public yet equally people want it to be given a higher profile so that women can be empowered to take back their streets and public spaces and to feel safe in them again. anyone can become involved by contacting @Underreported22 on Twitter or Project Guardina directly asking when posters will be seen in public. A goal in the near future is to create a petition so as to make the message even louder.

Ultimately it's about focusing on trying to stop gender based violence against women and girls given the universal lack of recognition for their rights in all aspects of society, public and private lives.

A Message from the poster campaign organizer:

I would like to thank everyone who has supported me so far. Let's keep the campaign positive. Project Guardian is fantastic but more needs to be done so that it can be fully utilized. A purely online campaign is not sufficient to tackle the problem because with 2.3 million journeys made by bus alone in London a widespread poster campaign millions of travelers could be easily informed by Project Guardian. Washington DC has posters telling users of public transportation that harassment will not be tolerated, Taiwan has alarms on public transport for passengers concerned about sexual harassment so now London needs to start leading the way.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Mixed Messages 2.0

In September 2014 I wrote a blog titled "Mixed Messages" the subject of which three law enforcement officials in Oklahoma were sexually assaulting women on the job. At the time the captain of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol offered some valuable advice on how women should protect themselves when getting pulled over but then said "to follow the law in the first place so you don't get pulled over." At the time I read the article I was so outraged as to the mixed messages sexual assault victims receive sometimes that I wrote the blog and shared the article (link above). It has now happened again.

Today, through the UltraViolet organization I learned that the University of Oregon is using a rape survivor's private therapy records against her in a lawsuit. The university is using a loophole in a federal law that covers health services on college campuses. Simply stated most student health centers are subject to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) filled with loopholes that allows schools to access their records without their consent for non-medical reasons.

The mixed message here is that colleges are providing valuable health services to students and then using their medical records when it benefits the college. Mental health services for sexual assault victims is crucial as I can personally attest to and the University of Oregon campus health center offers these services. Most times it's the only option for cash strapped students. In this case the university was preparing a lawsuit against the survivor pertaining to her rape report but the university received pressure from students, faculty and the community so they dropped the suit but the damage was done. Trust has been lost as students were scared off from using the school's therapy center where the staff publicly called the administrations actions unethical. Survivors of rape and sexual assault need counseling to overcome their trauma and eventually lead them on a path to healing. If they think at any time anyone can access their records they will reject much needed therapy.

What is the point of offering medical and mental health services to students and encouraging them to use it only to turn it against them? We can't allow this precedent to continue to spread like a weed throughout colleges and universities across the country. UltraViolet has begun a campaign and drafted a petition that will be submitted to congress to close the FERPA loopholes.

To learn more, get involved and sign the petition follow the link below.