Julia Spann’s Remarks at Start By Believing Press Conference

Julia Spann’s Remarks at Start By Believing Press Conference

The idea behind the Start by Believing campaign is a simple one. Ordinarily when a friend or family member reports that they’ve been robbed, or were injured in a car accident, we respond with sympathy and support. But too often, victims of sexual assault don’t get that same reaction. Instead, they’re met with doubt and suspicion. With questions about their own behavior leading up to the crime.

We wanted to bring this campaign to Austin because let’s be honest – we need it here. According to information provided to our staff from APD and the Sheriff, only 857 rapes were reported to law enforcement in Travis County last year.

Does anyone here believe that in our entire county, with a population of more than 1.1 million people, only 857 people were sexually assaulted last year? I think if we doubled or tripled that number, we might be getting closer.

The involvement of law enforcement in this campaign has been fantastic, and the fact that they made this a priority in their departments speaks to the commitment and leadership that the Travis County Sheriff’s Office, Travis County Constable’s Office, Austin Police Department, and so many other small local forces bring to this issue. We are fortunate to live in a community where the commitment to helping survivors of sexual assault seek justice begins at the very top. Sheriff Hamilton and Chief Acevedo, I thank you for that.

But this campaign isn’t just about law enforcement. It’s aimed at every single one of us. We know that most often, a survivor of sexual assault tells a friend or a family member first, and that person’s reaction has a lot of influence over what the survivor does next. If they’re supportive, then the survivor is much more likely to report the crime.

We live in a country where 97 out of every 100 rapists never serves a day in jail. That is the culture that we’re aiming to change with this campaign. That’s the culture that all of us have the power to change, and it begins with recognizing that the most important thing to say to anyone who tells us they’ve been raped is “I believe you.”

Thanks to a very generous donation from Reagan Advertising, we were able to post Start by Believing billboards in English and Spanish in key locations across the city this month. Those billboards are reaching an average of 25 percent of the Austin market on on a daily basis. Reagan estimates that by the end of our campaign, 77 percent of Austin’s population will have seen the Start by Believing message at least 9 times. That’s incredible.

We also took the Start By Believing message to the campuses of UT, St. Ed’s, Huston Tillotson, Concordia University, and four different ACC locations. You can see some of the photos we collected of the students on those campuses taking the Start By Believing pledge.

And the word spread even further thanks to interest from the media and the efforts of so many other great organizations who were our campaign partners, including the ATC SANE nurses, Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, Texas Advocacy Project, Concordia University, and the Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault at UT.

You know, most rapists are serial offenders. They know that their victims may be reluctant to report their crimes – they RELY on that. Data tells us that rapists attack an average of six times before they’re apprehended. We don’t want one failed response to lead to five more victims in our community. We ask that all of us – law enforcement, victims services organizations, medical personnel, college administration, friends, and family – start by believing whenever anyone says they’ve been sexually assaulted. Thank you so much.

The Start By Believing press conference took place on April 23, 2015 at Travis County Sheriff’s Office

2nd Annual Illuminate Austin Kicks Off to Benefit Safe Families

2nd Annual Illuminate Austin Kicks Off to Benefit Safe Families

On February 21, the community will come together once again to say no to domestic violence and sexual abuse with the 2nd Annual Illuminate Austin event. Mueller Lake Park will be lined with luminarias decorated in memory of those lost to domestic violence and in honor of those who survived while community members come together to support them in a walk to end violence.

We are bringing domestic violence and sexual abuse to the light. We are walking in support; we are walking in remembrance; and we are walking to say ‘no more’. The more time we spend talking about the violence and abuse, the safer it gets to report. The shame and guilt that come along with assault in our culture makes it hard for survivors to speak out, but when we stand in solidarity, we show a united front against violence that survivors can count on.

Each conversation we have about violence becomes a part of a larger conversation, leading to a culture more supportive of violence survivors and more receptive of reports. Last year, our goal was to get 500 Austinites to the walk and we ended up with over 1000; this year, we are hoping to make that conversation even bigger. Sign up with a team or an individual; it’s free to join, but donations are encouraged!

The walk raises essential funds for SafePlace programs, but also helps deliver a message that help is available to the thousands of homes in our city where violence and fear still prevail. Come out to the 2nd Annual Illuminate Austin and join the conversation!

To learn more about this event, visit the Illuminate Austin website.

Meet Ryan, a volunteer sharing his experience at SafePlace

Meet Ryan, a volunteer sharing his experience at SafePlace

In this third installment of our vlogs of male volunteers, Ryan shares with us his personal experience with volunteering at SafePlace.

Male volunteers serve a critical role at SafePlace, and in our community. They lead by the example they set for others. Keep checking back as we post more videos of our male volunteers telling you why they volunteer with SafePlace.

Meet Ravi, a volunteer with a message for men

Meet Ravi, a volunteer with a message for men

As part of our series of vlogs about male volunteers, Ravi tells us why it’s important to see domestic violence as more than just a women’s issue.

Male volunteers serve a critical role at SafePlace, and in our community. They lead by the example they set for others. Keep checking back as we post more videos of our male volunteers telling you why they volunteer with SafePlace.

Meet James. He’s a SafePlace Volunteer.

Meet James. He’s a SafePlace Volunteer.

Male volunteers serve a critical role at SafePlace, and in our community. They lead by the example they set for others. But why take our word for it? Our male volunteers decided to tell you themselves, in a series of “vlogs” that we’ll be sharing with you in the coming weeks.

Here’s our first vlog, by James, a volunteer in our Children’s Programs.

The Resilience of Survivors

The Resilience of Survivors

Everyone knows that housing in Austin is getting more expensive all the time. And for single moms with kids trying to build independent lives, stable housing can seem like a faraway dream.

But earlier this year, two moms who met in the SafePlace shelter decided to pool their resources and get a place, with their kids, together.

“It was a practical decision that also served their emotional needs,” explains Residential Services Director Melinda Cantu. “They’re not just saving money; they’re also making sure that they’ve got the support they’re going to need as they each look for employment, care for their children, and continue to recover from years of abuse and violence.”

Cantu remembers the day the two left shelter. “They were packing up their car and were so excited, planning how they were going to live in a place that was really their own and where they were truly safe for the first time in their lives. It was beautiful to watch.”

Helping Kids by Helping Dads

Helping Kids by Helping Dads

Marcus Griggs was ready for a new challenge when he accepted the position of Fatherhood Specialist at SafePlace, where he has been has been making a difference as a Children’s Advocate since 2001. Marcus’s new role is part of the new Project HOPES initiative, a partnership between SafePlace, Any Baby Can, and Austin Children’s Services that serves families under stress who have children up to the age of five.

“I’ve really seen first-hand how poor choices in parenting affect kids,” says Marcus, “But a lot of dads don’t know where to go when they have questions.”

So Marcus is working with dads enrolled in Project HOPES to learn self-care strategies to manage their stress and meet their own needs, develop positive discipline strategies, and really envision what kind of father they each want to be.

“Sometimes there’s an assumption that fathers are not interested in taking an active role in parenting, but I think a lot of dads just don’t know where to start, or don’t feel invited to participate,” Marcus explains.

Marcus will help these fathers learn how to be a positive part of their kids’ lives. Through in home visits, Marcus and other parent-child specialists can observe how the family interacts and help parents learn specific strategies that will create a healthy home environment, in which parents and kids see their stress levels go down.

Marcus will also work with the fathers on ways that they can bond with their children, like setting aside time to read every night. “Studies actually show that when both parents read to their child, that kid develops even stronger language skills,” he says, “The child really takes different lessons from each parent.”

Many parents enrolled in Project HOPES were abused as kids. This gives these parents a chance to learn how to break that cycle, manage their own stress, and really build a healthy relationship with their children.

When talking to Marcus about his new role, it’s clear that becoming the Project HOPES Fatherhood Specialist is really just a new way for Marcus to continue doing what he has always loved: helping kids.

To enroll in Project HOPES, contact Caitlin Red at referrals@strongstartfamilies.org.

The Company We Keep

The Company We Keep

By Gwenyth Jett

I avoided group therapy for a few years. I don’t really know why. Probably fear of the unknown. I was afraid all the time in those days. Eventually, my need to connect with someone, anyone, overcame my fear of the groups. I couldn’t talk to my family because it upset them too much.

Wow. I liked it so much and felt so good, I tried to go to two sessions a day. I figured the more I went the faster I would get better. I felt so broken, I just wanted to feel whole again. I learned there is a limit to what I could process ……I had to be gentle and thoughtful about my own ability to heal.

What happened was amazing and so healing. The women in the groups became my friends. Girl friends. It had been so long since I’d had a girlfriend. We cared about each other and watched out for each other. We still do.

We are a force of Amazonian proportions……our hearts are that big. We are activists individually and as a group. Our love for each other has moved mountains. And our girlfriend groups just keep growing as we find sisters to add to our sisterhood.

We have healed each other and we are starting to heal our communities….our words and our intentions are powerful. We listen to each other and love each other. It’s just what we do. It’s the way we roll.

The therapy groups at SafePlace gave me a new life and a new way to design my new life. I learned to be supportive and to be supported. I learned to listen and I learned to share. I learned to laugh again.

I learned I need company. I learned to choose my company wisely.

Addressing PTSD Through Acupuncture

Addressing PTSD Through Acupuncture

by Rosa Harper, Supportive Housing Advocate

It’s 10 AM on a Thursday morning at SafePlace. The Reception area slowly fills with people, mostly women, of various ages, races, and demeanors. Several know each other and chat cheerfully in the waiting area. Several others stand nervously around the reception desk. They come from various backgrounds and social circles, but are all here for a similar reason- to receive a form of acupuncture that addresses Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

A few minutes past the hour another woman sweeps through the door; smiling warmly at the room she signs her name in the volunteer book. She smells like rose and sandalwood and the crowd that has gathered begins to stand up and follow her as she walks down the hallway. Her name is Barbara Biro and she is here to serve them.

Joining the group, I gather the forms they’ve signed and  we all file down the hall to settle into a room where soft lighting and soothing music begin to put at ease those whose nerves are on edge. Barbara speaks easily to those with questions, paying special attention to the people who are here for the first time. There are several direct service staff people who have come for the healing benefits of the acupuncture as well and we greet each other and relax into the space, grateful for the opportunity to receive and let go of the stresses we have collected.

The needles go in, five in each ear, and the room begins to quiet. Some people curl up and go to sleep, others close their eyes and seem to disappear into meditation, while others read a book or scroll on their phone. Despite the fact that we are often times piled on top of one another in order to fit into the room, there seems to be spaciousness here and time melts away. Barbara keeps circling the room, responding to the requests of those who want additional healing support with pain. She offers comfort, immediate relief through her healing wisdom, and sound advice to those who are in distress. After about 45 minutes the room starts to wake up and the needles are removed. Most are smiling and speak their gratitude, promising to return next week if their busy lives permit.

Since beginning her service in April of 2014, Barbara has seen over 200 SafePlace clients. She has come dependably, weekly, quietly creating a stream of well being behind her and a happy buzz around the office. The stories clients tell her, and me, about their experience are remarkable. Years of living with panic attacks, suddenly relieved. One woman who stated she was dependent on her anxiety medication in order to even leave her house, now says she is off her medication.  Most results are not so dramatic, but many are noticeable and immediate. Many report that the positive effects last for several days after treatment, some report weeks.

What I find most inspiring is the shift I see in the outlook people have on their own healing. What was once a lifetime diagnosis, what once seemed to be immovable and out of their control- is now something that can be treated within an hour and without medication (and for free!). I see the treatment as having something of a “tuning fork” effect on the body. Acupuncture acknowledges the holistic, holographic nature of the body and seeks to align it with its original state of health and harmony. A traumatic event can create disharmony in the energetic body- it can literally throw you out of tune. Through watching Barbara work, and receiving the treatment myself, I have observed that acupuncture heals the underlying cause of the symptoms by addressing, energetically, the parts of the body that are most affected by traumatic events.

I am hopeful that we will continue to be able to offer this service to the community, since I have seen such powerful results from the short time it has been available here through the loving service of Barbara Biro.

Many Blessings to All,

Rosa

For more information on Acupuncture at SafePlace you can contact Rosa Harper at
(512) 356-1650.
For more information on Barbara Biro, her experience and her offerings, please visit her website

Men need to speak up against violence

Men need to speak up against violence

By Bob May and Mark Mouritsen

The Ray Rice saga will live on – we have the video and it’s not going away. And there have been no limit to the number of available demons to blame: Ray Rice for knocking his then-girlfriend unconscious and pulling her limp body from the elevator; the NFL for punishing this assault with only a two-game suspension; football enthusiasts for turning a blind eye until it became impossible to ignore; the Ravens for continuing to celebrate and support Ray Rice even after the domestic violence became known; the media for showing the appalling video over and over again; the list is endless. A fair share of the blame was even ludicrously cast at Janay Palmer Rice, for “going back” and “standing by her man.”

As men who stand against domestic violence, as fathers of daughters, and men who celebrate family as a place of peace and stability, we note that there is one little person who is a victim in the truest sense of the word. What of Ray and Janay’s two-year old daughter? A little girl who will now grow up watching this horrific video as it plays over and over again into the future.

We find ourselves asking, how could this have been different for her? And it always comes back to her father’s actions. What if Ray Rice had never hit Janay? What if he had held his anger, gotten off the elevator, and walked away?

Or what if, after hitting his fiancée, Ray Rice had acknowledged his actions, approached his team and asked for help? What if he wouldn’t stop asking until real and effective batterer’s intervention treatment was provided?

What if Janay had also been linked to a counseling service, helped in developing a safety plan, and supported as she worked to save her marriage or to create a new life for herself and her daughter?

What if Ray Rice’s subsequent actions made his actions in the elevator into a turning point in his family’s life, rather than a shameful episode that will live on in infamy?

We serve as board members of the LIFT Alliance, SafePlace and Austin Children’s Services. LIFT was formed as a partnership between SafePlace and ACS, because sexual and domestic violence and child abuse are all too often linked in the lives of the people served by these organizations.

We know that violence against women also hurts children. Did the NFL and the Ravens give any thought to the toddler living with this man? Children do watch their mothers being beaten and even killed; 39 Texas children witnessed the murder of their mothers in Texas in 2013 – violence these children will live with for the rest of their lives. The mothers, however, weren’t given the chance to live with the violence. They were murdered by the person who professed to love them.

We are men who are working actively to end violence against women and children, and we believe that it is time to enlist the support of all men in this effort. We stand as fathers of daughters, sons of mothers, husbands of wives, and we stand as men who celebrate family as a place of peace and stability. Most men don’t treat women this way, of course. But all men should be thinking about actions instead of indifference.

As men, we have kept our heads in the sand about violence and abuse for far too long. We have allowed ourselves to believe that simply by being non-violent in our own lives, we are doing enough. It’s time for us to lead the effort to eradicate this silent epidemic. Men who conduct themselves in this way create a stigma for all men. We pledge to make elimination of violence, in all forms, a top priority in the conduct of our daily lives. Who among you will stand with us?

(Originally appeared in the Austin American Statesman)

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