Activism Violence Against Women

Panel-By-Panel: Recap of the 2013 National Sexual Assault Conference!

I’ll be spending the next three days in Los Angeles learning facts and strategies for combating sexual assault at the National Sexual Assault Conference. And I’m taking you with me! Sort of.


For the next three days, I’ll be live-tweeting the conference from the FMF’s Twitter account, @MajoritySpeaks. Be sure to tune in for updates, quotes, and quips – but don’t worry, I’ll be mindful of your timeline as well. All the stuff I’m not tweeting and most of the notes I’m taking will then be added to this post at the end of each day!

Here’s my itinerary for the next three days. (All times are in PST.) If it changes, I’ll simply update it here. If you’re going to be at any of these panels, workshops, or speeches, be sure to tweet us and let me know!

Wednesday 8/28

+ 9 AM: Opening Plenary

We started off with an inspiring round of speeches from established advocates and professionals in the field of violence prevention. Lynn Rosenthal from the White House sent greetings of appreciation from President Barack Obama himself for the over one thousand participants sitting in the room and recounted recent victories like the passage of VAWA and a new focus on Title IX compliance in activism; Bea Hanson, Director of the Office on Violence Against Women in the Department of Justice spoke about the new standard, all-encompassing definition of rape which is now used for reporting and what that could mean. Mark S. Ghilarducci, Director of California’s Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, recounted the now-infamous story about burglars who returned stolen goods to a rape crisis center and stressed that the work anti-violence educators and activists do is respected and widely valued. Stacy Alamo Mixson, Chief of the California Violence Prevention Unit, stressed the importance of primary prevention strategies.

Faye Washington, the closing speaker, blew everyone out of the water with her inspiring words. “I been in this fight a long time,” she began, recounting how she learned to be an efficient and successful advocate while stressing that she has seen great changes over her work’s lifetime. “Getting where we are today has taken the strength of a whole lot of women,” she added, pushing us all to embrace our passions, find the right tactics, and get down to work.

“You tell me it can’t be done,” Washington said. “It can be done.”

+ 10:45 AM: Making Your Messages Count – Applying the Strategies and Tactics of Advertising to SV Prevention

This session brought together Rebecca from FORCE (the activist/artist movement behind “Pink Loves Consent”) and Brad Perry, a digital media and advertising strategist who works with Hollaback! and other groups to end violence against women. They both stressed the importance of using strategy and taking campaign-building seriously as you would expect from a commercial client even in the nonprofit world.

Advertising works because it appeals to people. That’s the bottom line. And the reason that is so is because it’s calculated, and a lot of work goes in to it on the back end. Perry showed us some good and bad campaigns, pointing out flaws like ugly layouts, overwhelming text content, or poor messaging to show us the basic Do’s and Don’ts of embarking on campaign-building. He spoke too about the “curse of knowledge” – the phenomena in which “we,” as advocates and activists, know so much about an issue and come from it with such a distinct value system that it becomes hard for us to talk about it with “them,” or, really, anyone. Either we get too academic or we step up to the plate armed with information and resources but with no idea how to engage with someone who doesn’t automatically see it from our perspective. To combat this, you come at people from where they are – their place of understanding, their knowledge level, their interest, and their lifestyles have to be a part of our work.

A targeted strategy driven by actual data and insights is key to a successful campaign. Don’t get bogged down in what else you care about – pick a focus, an interesting point of view, and a narrow intended audience and outcome to experience the most success. Your creative concept should be dramatic, humanizing, and tangible – show, don’t tell.

Perry recommended looking at groups like Hollaback!, Men Can Stop Rape, and for examples of campaigns which succeeded for all of the reasons above.

Nagle came to the discussion using her own work as an example – FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, put together the highly successful consent campaign targeted at Victoria’s Secret earlier this year. It went viral not by accident, but because it was planned – important to remember, because often we believe that great things just sort of happen. They don’t. Nagle was prepared to have her final website shared by a large group of friends, and linked her action to the Victoria’s Secret fashion show in order to get her hashtag trending on Twitter.

Nagle’s “Pink Loves Consent” project succeeded because the website accurately imitated a Victoria’s Secret web page, and thus it created an alternative experience for users. “It made people think, ‘what if I lived in this world?'” she explained. “And then they asked – why don’t I?”

“Pink Loves Consent” used a strong entry point to appeal to a broad audience, and they focused on imagery, messages,timing, and their audience to get results. Nagle’s imagery provided a contrast between our rape culture and our alternative – a rape-free world. Her entry point provided millions of women with a space to get excited, then disappointed about Victoria’s Secret’s perpetuation of a rape culture. Inevitably, they would go into it believing the products were real – once they realized they weren’t, it was hard to go back to the ‘normal’ world with the same perspective.

Nagle stressed keeping it positive as a strategy: tell people what they SHOULD do, not what they SHOULDN’T. She also stressed being prepared for backlash and doing all you can in the preparatory stages to avoid it.

“What we’re doing isn’t new,” Perry said as the panel came to a close. “And if you think it is, that’s a problem. Preventing sexual violence isn’t new. It’s an extension of the best parts of our humanity.”

+ 1:45 PM: Sexual Assault in the Military – Data and Research

This presentation, delivered by Nathan Galbreath of the Department of Defense, shed some new light into our understandings and perceptions of military sexual assault. Since it was mostly data- and fact-driven, I’m just gonna give you the same right here.

Military populations differ from the overall civilian population – they’re younger and more male, for starters. Galbreath explained that rates of sexual assault are consistent when evaluated with that difference in mind. In other words, women are just as at risk to face sexual violence in the military as they are on the streets. But after that, differences do begin to pop up, as do distinctions: women veterans are nine times more likely to have PTSD if they’re survivors than civilian women; women who deploy are two-and-a-half times more likely to be sexually harassed or assaulted; and nearly 50 percent of survivors from the military are likely to say that their rape is their leading cause of lasting trauma.

+ 3:30 PM: Achieving a Compliant, Student-Centered Approach to Sexual Assaults on Campus

Four staff members from UC Irvine delivered this presentation: Mandy Mount, Director of Campus Assault Resources and Education (CARE); Anthony Frisbee, Detective Sargeant of the UCIPD; Theresa Gerrior, Title IX coordinator for the campus; and Edgar Dormitorio, Director of Student Conduct. Together, the four of them talked about developing their own successful, community-based solutions to sexual assault and misconduct on campus. And together, they renewed my faith in humanity. (It’s nice, for the record, to see people who actually care at these conferences – it provides a very amazing contrast to the ones you’ve met who didn’t.)

There are a lot of factors that make campus communities unique: a strong focus on drinking and partying, constructed senses of safety, typically rigidly defined age groups, heavy use of social media, and so on. But they’re also unique in that handling an assault on campus encompasses various levels: survivor resources, compliance with the law, and on-campus disciplinary action. Schools struggle to handle all of these elements effectively or well at all, but the UCI team has a three-tier strategy which allows them to show respect to survivors, support victims, comply with various laws and regulations by the state and federal governments, and take disciplinary action.

UCI is a larger campus, and larger campuses struggle with making mass education about sexual assault meaningful. But unorganized systems in place across the nation to handle the epidemic of sexual assault don’t do justice to the survivor, and often re-traumatize them in the process. The three-tier system solves that.

Each tier represents a level of response, and we begin with the trauma-informed response: the response which places the understanding of an experience of trauma at the center of the respondent. This response involves sharing resources, ensuring fast and fair justice, and focusing on culturally appropriate needs and solutions to provide healing for a survivor.

The next tier is a campus-wide response, which takes the shape of actions meant to create safer, more proactive, and nonviolent campus communities. This takes a village: student leaders, administrators, staff, community members, and outside organizations need to be present and engaged in these efforts if they’re going to succeed. Creating a huge network of groups and people who are showing solidarity and support for survivors sends a very clear message.

The third tier is an adminstrative response, which is often the hardest to coordinate. At UCI, staff ready to take action around Title IX compliance, Clery Act compliance, student conduct compliance, and the law-at-large meet regularly to tackle cases of sexual assault and respond to them accordingly and correctly. In some cases, their willingness to work together on these issues saved lives. Coordinating an administrative response is meaningful to survivors because it provides them with a team of support who are making their difficult situation slightly easier by working together to tell appropriate individuals what happened, seek and find resources for survivors, and follow through quickly and efficiently on how they wish to proceed after a traumatic experience.

The bottom line is that sexual assault on campus needs to be everyone’s priority – and that when it is, amazing things can happen.

Thursday 8/29

+ 9 AM: Plenary Session

Thursday’s opening plenary was chock-full of feminist all-stars. David Lee from CALCASA, the organization that dutifully executed this monumentally amazing things, spoke first. It didn’t take long, though, for Michael Kimmel, well-known sociologist and male feminist, to get talking. Kimmel urged the participants in the room to engage with men and work with them, rather than around them, to get this work done. Obviously this is easier said than done, but Kimmel stressed that male entitlement goes hand-in-hand with the inherent invisibility of their gender – privilege is about not seeing a dimension of oppression, and for men it manifests as their cultural inability to see gender as a force in their own lives. Only when we’re broadening discussions to include that element will we see men galvanizing for gender equality, according to him. Dolores Huerta went next, founding member of the Feminist Majority Foundation! “There will be no peace until women take power in the room,” Huerta said. She spoke eloquently about her journey to feminism, the importance of us all working together, and then energized us with her signature chant: “si se puede!” (We also chanted “viva feminism!” which made my heart melt.)

+ 10:45 AM: Harnessing Momentum Surrounding High Profile Cases – Lessons Learned from Steubenville

This workshop brought together Katie Hannah and Becky Perkins of the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence and Tracy Cox of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. They spoke about what it was like to be on the front lines of the Steubenville case, inside the courtroom as well as in Ohio, and how they made sure their messages of survivor support and anti-violence were making it into the media.

The acronym MEDIA was the basis of the workshop: Messaging, Effectiveness, Distribution, Impact, and Advocacy. Each is a vital step to conquering the media landscape of a high-profile case. Their message was simple: an ask for survivor support and support for those support resources. (#Support.) They used existing relationships and built new relationships – even with journalists who often didn’t “agree” with them or wrote in an antithetical framework to theirs – to push that message through. And in the end, they were able to successfully garner media attention and broaden the dialogue surrounding Steubenville to one of preventing it from ever happening again, and pushing forward the idea that sexual assault needs to stop.

+ 3:30 PM: Ending Violence Against Girls and Women – The Three Most Essential Questions for Our Movement

This interactive workshop asked participants to identify, in groups, the landscape of our movement. This involved lots of mapping.

We were assigned areas: issues, actors, strategies. We identified how they related, how they fed one another, and ultimately, strategies for using them or conquering them most effectively. My group focused on the issues surrounding the movement: a struggle for prioritization, too broad of a focus and too much to cover, lack of engagement and support, burnout, short funds – it’s a mess. But other groups found strategies, like ours, to overcome that, and the exercise ultimately helped us all to think differently and with more clarity about our work. Small staffs and urgent situations make the nonprofit realm very unpredictable, but if we keep our strategies specific and keep them in mind, we can achieve every small step of this movement collaboratively.

Friday 8/30

+ 9 AM: SPARK Movement Workshop (I’m delivering this one!)

Ty Slobe and I have activist roots in SPARK, a girl-fueled and -oriented movement putting real girls’ voices and experiences into the media to counter their own sexualization by media industries. Combating sexualization is a key component of ending sexual violence – it’s often what leads boys and girls to grow up into a culture where women are sex objects and masculinity is a rigid, violent social construction.

Ty and I wanted to bring girls’ voices and experiences into the perspectives of people doing this work, so we spoke a bit about SPARK’s reactionary roots, based in the APA’s 2007 report on the sexualization of girls. The APA defined the issue as critical, and connected the hypersexualized girlhoods of young American women to eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression. We then led the group through a SPARKit!, which is a mini-curriculum for a specific exercise put together with SPARK and another group. SPARK’s made kits with THE LINE Campaign, Powered By Girl, and more. We ran through one produced in conjunction with the Media Education Foundation and tackled the concepts of responsible advertising, sexualization, healthy sexuality, and rape culture in small groups.

You can purchase the SPARKit! curriculum online beginning today!

+ 10:45 AM: Closing Plenary (and speaking at this one, too!)

Whew! Three days of thinking and we came to a close with speakers talking the future. Where is the movement going? What does the future look like? Mira Yusef of Monsoon United Asian Women of Iowa spoke about her own experiences that brought her to founding the organization, as well as her cultural background’s impact on her work. Jacob Chevalier, a high-schooler active in STAND & SERVE, spoke about the important youth engagement piece that’s coming together, and why educators need to make sure it continues to come together. “This problem needs to be solved yesterday,” he said, and he used humor and inspirational stories to illustrate how young people can make a difference.

I spoke last, which made me very nervous, and urged everyone to keep going. I told my own story, as an activist, of what it was like to watch the national media circus over Steubenville and push forward despite massive failings by the media and various communities on a local and national level. I also stressed the importance of education and using the Internet to galvanize social change. Ultimately, I talked about unweaving rape culture by putting something else in its place: a rape-free world.

My ideal world is one in which I feel safe walking down the street. My ideal world is one in which rape is seen as being unacceptable in the same way that we collectively agree across various communities and nations that other crimes and forms of violence are unacceptable. My ideal world is one in which rape never happens, and, should it still prove to persist, is not found excusable, justifiable, or okay. My ideal world is one in which all people, of all genders, of all races, of all lifestyles, of all everything, can finally feel free to exist in public space anytime, anywhere, and in private space just the same.
The only way to undo a rape culture is to teach something else. Together, we need to utilize every possible tool and every possible ally to complete that education.
Thank you all for all that you do. Please keep going.

OK! Now that you’re done, check out a tweet-by-tweet recap of #NSAC2013! And thanks for being part of this amazing feminist adventure with me.

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