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Asheville Sex Worker Outreach Project

Asheville Sex Worker Outreach Project:

What is it?

The Asheville Sex Worker Outreach Project (ASWOP) is a community coalition that stands for the rights and health of sex workers by facilitating the needs of this population through connecting them to services and support.

This coalition includes a variety of community partners that come into contact with sex workers including Helpmate, Pisgah Legal Services, WNCAP, Mission Health, Homeward Bound, RHA, the Asheville Period Project, and several more including general community members.

What are the group’s goals?

Some of the goals of this collaboration include facilitating regular outreach events that create a safe space for sex workers to access services, and creating an online medium to facilitate communication with other sex workers to promote safety and well-being within the community and prevent violence.

Other goals include creating a network of service providers who can assist sex workers to fill this service gap, and educating the community about sex work to reduce stigma and biases.  We also hope to ensure that active and former sex workers become more actively involved in the planning and implementation process, so that this project can truly be peer-driven.

The Asheville Sex Worker Outreach Project follows a harm reduction model, and believes that all individuals deserve to be safe. In that vein, we seek to work with individuals at a high risk for sexual violence, who are also a part of a stigmatized group in society.

What does ‘harm reduction’ mean?

Harm reduction is a public health strategy designed to lessen the negative health consequences associated with different human behaviors.  It is frequently discussed when referring to substance use.  Harm reduction strategies for this include needle exchange programs and supervised injection sites.

Sometimes abstinence is not a feasible option for individuals, and harm reduction helps us to meet people where they are at.  It also promotes decreasing risk factors while promoting protective factors.  For example, in the context of sex work, at outreach events condoms, hygiene products, and free, rapid HIV testing will be available.  This promotes health and safety within the community, while potentially connecting sex workers to resources they may not have been familiar with.

How is Our VOICE involved?

Our VOICE is involved in the planning and organization of the group, and is present at outreach events to provide support and services to any sex workers who have experienced violence.

We also have Kelly’s Line, 1-855-4kellys, which is an anonymous reporting line sex workers can use to report dangerous customers and access services that we provide.  Sex workers can also utilize our textline to report an unsafe customer by texting VOICE or VOZ to 85511.

SoulCollage for helping professionals

 

Free and confidential SoulCollage® workshop
for helping professionals

May 5, 2017
12:20-2:30 pm:
Buncombe County Family Justice Center
35 Woodfin St., Asheville, NC 28801

OurVoice offers regular free SoulCollage® workshop to survivors  of sexual violence. But this workshop is geared toward the helping professionals who support our community.

Participants will learn to use collage as a process for self-care, healing, discovery, and self-acceptance. We will work in a small group to create our own collage cards, journal from them, and witness one another. We will create an environment that supports creativity, and is safe for each of us to access our individual Truth.

Workshop will be led by Rebecca L. Withrow, Ph.D, LPC, bilingual counselor at Our Voice and certified SoulCollage® facilitator.

Free & confidential; all materials provided.

Spaces are limited. Please RSVP to Rebecca at (828) 252-0562 ext 110 or rebeccaw@ourvoicenc.org by May 5, 2017.

Our VOICE now offers SoulCollage groups!

 

 

 

Free & confidential workshops for survivors of sexual violence and their support people

Access and empower your creative self.

Protector archetypes

an arts-based support group for female survivors of sexual violence

During this 4-week SoulCollage® group, we will work with the archetypes of protector, nurturer, and wise one. Each participant will create a personalized team of supports, and learn to engage the team in the journey of healing. We will be using imagery and journaling, as well as group support to facilitate this process.
                                                     
Tuesday afternoons starting January 30, 2018
Group runs for 4 weeks

Free. Confidential. All materials provided.
Group led by a licensed professional counselor/SoulCollage® facilitator.
Please plan to attend all 4 sessions.

Contact Rebecca at 252-0562 ext 110 for more information and to sign up. A brief orientation/screening meeting is required for all potential participants.

 

Guías protectores

Un grupo basado en los artes, para mujeres/sobrevivientes de la violencia sexual

Durante este grupo de 4 semanas, basado en el proceso de SoulCollage®, participantes trabajarán con arquetipos de protector, madre, y guía sabia. Utilizaremos un proceso de collage, escribir, e apoyo de grupo para creer un equipo personalizado que nos  apoye durante el viaje de sanación de la violencia sexual.

Empezando el 30 de enero 2018
El grupo corre 4 semanas

Gratis. Confidencial. Todos los materiales son previstos.
Grupo facilitado por una consejera licensiada/facilitatora certificada de SoulCollage®
Favor de asistir a todas las 4 sesiones.

Contacta a Rebecca at 252-0562 ext 110 para más información y para maricular. Se Se requiere una corta orientación para todos participantes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dating Sites and Sexual Assault

Online dating is becoming a normal part of daily life for many Americans. Statistics say that 1 in 5 new dating relationships begin online. One UK study also reported that sexual assault through online dating sites increased 600% in just 5 years, from 2009 – 2014. After an Our Voice client reported a sexual assault while on a date through an online dating site, I began investigating how these sites handle sexual offenders and rapists.

Most have a section titled something like “online dating tips” which place the burden of safety on the dater. They suggest things like having dates in public places, and refraining from drinking alcohol. They warn about requests for money or personal information. So far, none of the major sites I have explored state that they screen for sexual offenders or do background checks on their members.

It takes some digging through their FAQ sections to find information on how to report a member for sexual assault, and it is not explicitly stated. Instead reports can be filed for “fake” profiles or “inappropriate behavior.” The prevalence of sexual assault, and even using those terms, are largely bypassed on most dating sites.

I started with OK Cupid, and had trouble initially finding a way to contact customer service. Once I emailed, I received an automated reply. However, upon responding to that reply, I received a personal email from a “Moderation Response Coordinator” that was very thoughtful and considerate. They stated that they are making changes to their system to directly report a sexual assault, and for now, any report could be submitted to customer service and the perpetrator would be immediately banned and told only that they had violated the site’s terms. The Coordinator assured me that a report was confidential, that I could report on the behalf of a client, or if the client chose (which was not an obligation) they could report as well.

These questions remain, for the next installment of this blog:

What is to stop a banned perpetrator from just creating another profile? How do other dating sites respond to reports of sexual assault?

What if part of creating a profile on a dating site included viewing a mandatory video and passing a quiz on consent?

Getting Moving: Our VOICE Partners with Wheels4Hope

For many people in Buncombe County, transportation is a major barrier to accessing social services and getting daily tasks done, like getting to and from work.  For almost two-thirds (63 percent) of all people who utilize the ‘Asheville Redefines Transit’ (ART) bus system, this is their only option for transportation.  Most of these people (60 percent) also have to use the bus five to six days per week.  Many people use the bus to get to and from work, but have to take multiple bus lines and sometimes have to wait an hour or more for each bus.  The buses also do not run to more rural areas or run late at night, and only have limited Sunday routes, which creates further barriers to transportation, particularly for people who work at night such as the many hospitality employees in our community.  Even though ART helps to get people around, it does not have the capacity to support the high level of transportation needs that currently exist in our community.

That is why Our VOICE is extremely excited to now be partnering with Wheels4Hope!  Wheels4Hope is “a non-profit, faith-based car donation program that turns donated cars into local blessings.”  Their mission is “to provide affordable, reliable transportation to economically vulnerable families and individuals.”  Wheels4Hope repairs donated vehicles and sells them as ‘Program Cars’ to individuals and families referred to them by partner agencies.  The person pays $500 and is responsible for title and transfer fees, but the car is in good mechanical condition, worth $2,000-$4,000, and comes with a 6-month warranty.  All other vehicles that cannot be repaired into a program car are sold for parts or to the general public with all of the proceeds going directly back to Wheels4Hope’s mission.  The organization started in Raleigh in 2000, and since then they have expanded to the Greensboro and Asheville area, and have provided 2,786 program cars so far!

As a new partner agency, Our VOICE will now be able to refer survivors directly to Wheels4Hope for program cars.  This will greatly support the work that I do as a case manager here at Our VOICE.  The survivors we work with who are eligible for the program will now have access to a financially sustainable transportation resource that has the potential to make a dramatic positive impact on their daily lives.  Our goal is to empower survivors and help them to regain control after trauma, and Wheels4Hope will help Our VOICE do this in a very meaningful way for survivors who face transportation barriers.

Having the ability to go where you need to, when you need to get there, is something that a lot of us take for granted, but many of the survivors we work with struggle with transportation on a regular basis.  Wheels4Hope allows us to empower survivors in a new way, and connect them to a resource that helps establish a level of independence and control that could be a major part of their healing process.  We look forward to working with Wheels4Hope, and want to take this opportunity to say a big THANK YOU for everything that they do in our community!

Resources:

http://wheels4hope.org/asheville/

http://justeconomicswnc.org/transportation-campaign/

Good girls and bad girls: Looking more closely at one rape myth

“That’s just a myth.”
Oh really. Just a myth? Just a myth? How many times have I heard those words used to dismiss an idea, opinion, story or concern?
I’m not going to actually answer that. But I am going to take a slightly closer look at how rape myths influence attitudes toward sexual violence.

The Oxford English Dictionary offers several definitions for the word myth, which include:
1. “A traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a people or explaining a natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events…
2. A widely held but false belief or idea…
3. An exaggerated or idealized conception of a person or thing…”

How easily we use that 2nd definition to dismiss a statement or a story, without fully realizing the power of the 1st and 3rd definitions of myth. Let me give you an example from the world of sexual assault. One “rape myth” we consider “a widely held but false belief or idea” is the idea that “certain kinds of women tend to get raped.” Once labeled a myth, the idea is dismissed. Now, don’t get me wrong. It is a myth. The statement is a widely held false idea. Yet, is it enough to say “Oh, that’s just a myth.”? I think we need to go a step further, and acknowledge that, being a myth, this story may also be part of a traditional story, and it may contain an “exaggerated or idealized conception of a person or a thing.” Why acknowledge this? Because if we simply dismiss the statement as untrue without looking at its underpinnings, we may leave deeper roots of this story unchallenged somewhere deep within ourselves. And if we do that, we may eventually meet and slightly discredit a rape survivor who appears to be “a certain kind of woman.”

A popular mythology in our culture… and in many cultures… is a “good girl/bad girl” dichotomy whose dividing line is usually sexuality. In our folklore— our stories, songs, movies, etc.— we often associate good girls with passivity, sweetness, and sexual chasteness. The good girls of Disney don’t chase their men; or if they do, they do so with severe handicaps that render them vulnerable and powerless (think of voiceless Ariel, sweetly, not assertively, trying to win Prince Eric’s love). The bad girls, on the other hand, speak out, wield their power, and shamelessly chase the object of their sexual desire. When a woman is sexually assaulted, the first thing many people wonder (including the survivor who was raised with the “good girl/bad girl” mythology) is “What kind of woman is she?” which tends to lead to the next question, “What did she do to prompt/encourage/deserve to be raped?” Say the questions race through our minds, but we don’t say them out loud. No, that would be victim-blaming, and none of us want to do that! But did we think them? At some level?

Let’s assume for a moment that the survivor thought them. Or that she thought someone in her world might think them. If a survivor worries that someone will view her as the “bad girl” who might have somehow invited or encouraged the assault, how likely is she to report or seek help? How many obstacles must she overcome, how much courage must she muster, to report a rape, tell her family and friends, and seek support? The stakes are pretty high here. Survivors who feel heard, believed, loved and supported following a sexual assault are less likely to develop PTSD and other mental disorders down the road, such as depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, a survivor living with this type of a “good girl/bad girl” mythology must overcome a lot to access this support.

There are cultures and subcultures where the “good girl/bad girl” ideology is taken to more extreme levels. Sometimes referred to as the “Madonna and the whore” split, there are belief systems that tend to define/categorize women and girls as pure or spoiled, according to their sexual experiences. “Pure” and “spoiled” seem somehow like more enduring traits than “good” and “bad”, and once a girl’s “purity” is “lost”, she may be forever deemed “spoiled goods”.

The “Madonna/whore” mythology can seal the lips of sexually abused children and their caregivers, who consider the social stigma, the label of “ruined” worse than the abuse itself. This silence can prevent survivors from telling, seeking help, and asking for justice. It can reassure the abusers that their victims are unlikely to tell, because the cost of telling is so high. In some subcultures, there is even a belief that a girl who has already been raped cannot be raped again. In extreme cases, the girl or woman who has already been abused, categorized as “spoiled”, may be considered by others as deserving of more abuse.

So, while we may refrain from victim-blaming and spreading of rape myths, we need to go further, and consume/create our “mythology” thoughtfully. When we consume and promote the “good girl/bad girl” dichotomy without questioning, we strengthen a culture in which survivors feel unsafe seeking help, and perpetrators feel justified and immune. On the other hand, when we promote images of women that defy that dichotomy, we create just that much more space for women to believe “this was not my fault, and I deserve support.”

So think for a moment about the archetypical women and girls you want to surround yourselves (and your daughters) with. Which images will you promote, and which will you question? As a “gringa” counselor who works with many Latina clients, I have witnessed a very common myth among many of my clients who were raised in Mexico. There are 2 women who figure prominently in many Mexican stories, whose archetypal images inform norms about femininity.

The first is La Malinche… also known as Malinalli, the mistress of Hernan Cortez and mother of the first mestizo (part Indian, part Spanish) born in Mexico. La Malinche has figured so strongly into the story of the Mexican conquest, and she is so widely viewed as a traitor who assisted Cortez in conquering Mexico, that there is a synonym for “traitor” in Mexico, called “malinchista”. La Malinche was transferred repeatedly during her early life as a slave, and finally became the… what’s the right word, the assistant? companion? slave? mistress? to Hernan Cortez. Through her brilliant linguistic and diplomatic skills, she probably was key to assisting the Spanish conquest of the powerful Aztec Empire.

Today she is viewed by many as a very bad woman. A traitor, a sexualized, promiscuous and dangerous woman who failed to protect her people. She was raped by Cortez, as the entire people were metaphorically raped by the Spanish people, and she symbolizes to many “a certain type of woman.” The type who gets raped.

The second woman is “La Virgen de Guadalupe.” The Virgin Mary, who through no sexual act of her own, bore a deity-son who offered his people salvation. La Virgin is widely viewed in Mexico as a source of strength and spirituality. She symbolizes purity, wifeliness, and motherhood. She is not the type of woman who could be raped.

Now, what happens when a culture of people being to identify women with either la Malinche or la Virgin? Sexuality can become a significant dividing line among women, defining what kind of woman they are… or people see them to be. Little girls are often brought up to resemble, as closely as possible, La Virgen, and deviations from this archetype could mean shame for a girl’s family, “stained” reputations, and potential reductions in chances at marriage and financial stability. The stakes are high. When the stakes are this high, consider the plight of the survivor or rape or sexual abuse. Will she tell? Will she seek support?

Archetypes are the unknowable basic forms personified or concretized in recurring images, symbols, or patterns which may include motifs such as the quest or the heavenly ascent, recognizable character types such as the trickster or the hero, symbols such as the apple or snake, or images such as crucifixion…all laden with meaning already when employed in a particular work. (Delahoide, M. accessed 9/13/16 at http://public.wsu.edu/~delahoyd/archetypal.crit.html