The NSAC Conference, Philadelphia
When I told friends I was going to a three day conference about sexual violence in the middle of the summer, most people did not think that sounded like very much fun. But I am here to tell you it was fascinating, engaging, and yes, even fun.
Even during our busiest time of year at Speak About It, it’s so important to make time for learning and relationship building. So at the end of August, I hopped on the train to downtown Philly for NSVC's National Sexual Assault Conference. The conference is attended by law enforcement, lawyers, advocates, mental health professionals, and educators like myself, so there were many people and workshops to learn from.
Here are some of the top ideas I took away from my time at the conference:
- There’s so many different ways to build more accessibility and inclusion efforts into learning spaces--even at academic or professional conferences!
- When we talk about rape culture, we need to look into what is said, but also what is silenced.
- Data-driven education programming is only effective if it is also culturally relevant.
Pretty interesting stuff, huh? Learn a little more about my takeaways below:
Diversity and inclusion. NSAC modeled some practical ways to increase accessibility and inclusion. They had ASL and Spanish interpretation and translation at every session, and taught all attendees how to use those services well.
They had a wellness room for folks to stretch and take a break, a safe room or dedicated private space, and a lot of fidgets to help those of us who listen better when we have something to do with our hands. These are accessibility measures because they help everyone get our needs met in a shared venue.
Likewise, the opening program included a land acknowledgement, and a reminder to think about how much space we take up. The presenters and attendees offered a diverse array of experiences and identities, and I was certainly impressed and felt the difference!
I also got to think a lot about how different communities need different forms of prevention and education. I particularly enjoyed hearing case studies from IMPACT Boston and the Guam Coalition Against Sexual & Family Violence.
Staff and participants of IMPACT Boston helped us think about effective sex and relationship education for youth with developmental and intellectual disabilities. They talked frankly about how to have honest and developmentally appropriate conversations about sex and relationships, especially with the understanding that their participants are often desexualized, yet often hunger for touch and intimacy. Following the sessions, I drafted some language that Speak About It can integrate into our work to increase accessibility, which is one of our priorities this year.
Faculty from the University of Guam and the Guam Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Family Violence showed us how they administered their first campus climate survey in order to identify the challenges unique to their environment. The Coalition covers an area larger than the United States, so constituents have a wide range of experiences, cultures, and identities. In many of their student’s native languages there is no word for rape or assault. The team showed some examples of how they adapted curriculum, including a video called, “Do you want to go for a swim?” modeled after the popular “Cup of Tea” consent video. Speak About It will share it when it is public!
Silences. A lot of effort in recent advocacy and activism has been about empowering people to speak up and out. When I think about the outpouring of stories we have heard from survivors in the media in recent years, the phrase “breaking the silence” often comes up. Needless to say, I thought a lot about silence at NSAC.
Silence was at the forefront of my mind when I had the honor of hearing dream hampton speak about her documentary, Surviving R Kelly. dream spoke about the myth of the “perfect” victim and the “perfect” villain that we often seek out when we talk about abuse. The desire for neat and stereotypical victims and perpetrators often silences the very complex and real people affected by sexual violence. dream noted that when she was interviewing women for the documentary, she had to act “as if they would be subpoenaed” because that was a real possibility. She talked about how R. Kelly and others have been protected, particularly by communities that do not want to talk openly about and abuse violence.
The night before, I went to a viewing of Roll Red Roll, a documentary about rape culture in Ohio. Both of these films expertly depicted how rape culture thrives in silence. And those silences, especially when it comes to protecting abusers, can make entire communities complicit.
Data driven education. Everyone wants prevention and response efforts grounded in research and proof of what works. But proof can be a moving target.
For example, in a session from a Department of Justice researcher about recent trauma and recovery studies, I learned that traditional reporting methods create challenges because they sometimes function in direct opposition to what we know about trauma. Fatigue and malaise sets in for most survivors as soon as a few days or week after a trauma as cortisol is flushed out of their systems. At the same time, most support and reporting systems for survivors need to be following up and intervening with them in those crucial first few days. The very systems set up to help survivors seek out justice, often don’t function on a timeline that works for them, and these systems don't give researchers a full story of the impact of violence.
In the session on Prevention in Rural Communities, they had us look up the census data for the communities with whom we work to ensure that we know what they are facing. That data is so valuable. I’m glad to say Speak About It already spends time surveying schools before we bring in programming, but it was a good reminder to do the research.
But I also know that in order to be culturally relevant, we have to look beyond the numbers. It is vital to pair quantitative data with firsthand accounts that we learn from being in the room with students and hearing their experiences. That qualitative data, those feelings and cultural experiences can be hard to describe, but the numbers and the stories create programming that meets participants where they are.
I could go on and on! I got to connect with so many other amazing folks working to end sexual violence in so many different capacities. All in all, a pretty good conference!
Speak About It will be attending and presenting at a number of conferences in the coming months including the Maine Association of Non-profits Opt In and the Association of Title IX Administrators East, and more. Stay tuned to learn with us, and maybe we’ll see some of you there.
Speak About It is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that partners with high schools and colleges to educate, entertain, and empower students to create positive change within their communities, advocate for and practice healthy relationship habits, and prevent sexual violence.
Copyright 2016 Speak About It, Inc. Website by Alexandra Valleau