Benefits of Blind Reporting

68% of sexual assaults are never reported to law enforcement, making it one of the most under reported violent crimes in the United States.1 While Our VOICE strongly believes that the choice to report to law enforcement is the survivor’s and the survivor’s alone, some victims who are hesitant to report to law enforcement may not be aware that another reporting option exists.

Here in Buncombe County, survivors have the option to file what is called a “blind report”. A blind report is an anonymous report, where a victim can chose to not include any identifying information in the report. They can, however, include details of the assailant and details of the crime. This report does not initiate a formal investigation and the suspect will not be questioned or contacted. Law enforcement uses the report as purely informational means.

Blind reporting can be of great value to survivors of sexual assault. A survivor may not be ready to commit to a full investigation and formal police report. A blind report provides a way for a survivor to document important details should they choose to file a formal report later on. The process of reporting to law enforcement may also empower survivors by allowing them to regain a sense of control and personal autonomy. Victims who are initially hesitant to file a formal report at the time of the assault may change their minds when given the option of supporting or being supported by other victims of the same assailant. The testimony of a prior victim can help with the prosecution of another victim’s case by aiding the district attorney in illustrating a pattern of behavior of the perpetrator.2

Providing a blind report option benefits not only the survivor, but law enforcement and the community as a whole as well. Information given in the blind report can be used to track perpetrator’s MOs, suspect descriptions, and victim demographics. Law enforcement can take note if a similar crimes have been reported against the same person. Blind reporting benefits the community as we can capture a more accurate and comprehensive picture of how many sexual assaults are being committed.

It is important to note that not all law enforcement agencies have an anonymous reporting option. Our VOICE can help you figure out if a particular law enforcement agency outside of Buncombe County allows victims to file blind reports. If you or someone you know is interested in filing a blind report, please contact Our VOICE for more information.

–Stefanie is the Court Advocate at Our VOICE. For more information on court advocacy services, click here.

References
1. Justice Department, National Crime Victimization Survey: 2008-2012
2. Garcia, S. & Henderson, M. Blind Reporting of Sexual Violence. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin Volume:68 Issue:6 Dated:June 1999.

Sexual Violence and Mothering: How Sexual Violence Can Affect a Woman During Pregnancy and Childbirth

Sexual violence affects people differently at different times in their lives. I remember when I found out I was expecting my first child, one of the first questions my midwife asked me was “Have you ever experienced sexual abuse?” and all I could think was “huh…that’s interesting.” I was just a few months away from getting licensed as a counselor, and all I could think was “huh…that’s interesting.” I wasn’t sure why she’d asked me the question!

10 years later, I work with moms, many of whom have experienced sexual violence in their past and I find that question fascinating. As we move through our lives, our experiences, both positive and negative, increase our risks or resiliencies in so many different ways. When I sit with moms as they talk about how sexual violence has impacted their lives, I think back to that question my midwife asked me. Why did she ask? And what does she do when an expecting mom says “yes”? It turns out that sexual violence can impact expecting and new moms in very specific ways. There are several eerie similarities between childhood sexual abuse and pregnancy that can trigger old memories, emotions, interpersonal patterns, and gut responses.

Let’s start with the cognitive. Growing a baby, considering new life, and shifting into the new role of parenthood often brings up memories of one’s own childhood. If one’s childhood included sexual abuse, feelings of guilt and shame, and family conflict, then the plan to bring a child into the world often retriggers these memories. Some moms begin to worry that their child might go through similar traumas. Some fear they won’t be able to protect their child. Some even worry that they themselves, for unknown reasons, attract predators. On the other hand, if the mom experienced family support, healthy boundaries, and a nurturing, validating environment in childhood, the prospect of becoming a parent could be exciting and hopeful.

Prenatal care can share some dynamics with childhood sexual abuse that can re-traumatize an expectant mom. An unequal power dynamic between provider and patient, in which the provider expects unquestioning compliance, and the mom experiences loss of voice and choice, can remind a mom of the relationship dynamic between her childhood self and her adult abuser. On the other hand, a respectful sharing of power between provider and patient can assist in a mom’s healing. Care providers who involve moms in decisions about their care, ask consent before invasive exams, and respond sensitively to anxiety or fear, can help diminish that power imbalance.

Often times, childbirth itself can involve a certain loss of control for moms. And pain. And intrusive interventions. And putting someone else’s needs above their own. Even commands to “relax so it won’t hurt so much.” Imagine what this might be like for someone who was sexually abused as a child! Sensitive preparation before the birth, both for the mom and for her birth attendants, can go a long way toward decreasing triggers at this time.

Once moms get through all that, and go home with their little bundles of joy, they’re home-free, right? Maybe. Maybe not. Postpartum depression strikes after about 20% of births in general, and past depression puts a mom at higher risk. (Note: childhood sexual abuse also increases risk for depression). Not only does postpartum depression feel HORRIBLE, but many moms who get it feel very ashamed and try to hide it. Sound familiar? The secrecy and shame around postpartum depression can mimic the secrecy and shame around childhood sexual abuse, especially if the abuser was a respected member of the family or community, and the child was “not supposed” to be feeling the way they did! Breaking the silence and providing support go a long way to helping the survivor of sexual assault, and a long way to helping the survivor of postpartum depression.

Although there are many ways in which the pain of childhood sexual abuse can resurface during pregnancy, childbirth, and early parenting, there are also ways in which healthy recovery can strengthen a parent’s abilities and confidence. Most of the moms I work with are determined not to ever let this happen to their children. They eagerly soak up information about teaching healthy communication and relationship skills. They ask how they can recognize predators and protect their children. They recognize coercive interpersonal patterns, are willing to entertain suspicions, and encourage their children to talk openly with them. They are ready believe their kids. They tell them “It’s not your fault and I’m here for you.”

Some moms find unexpected healing in strengthening their own children against the risks of sexual abuse. They raise and support their own children in ways they needed when they were small, and for some, this is like healing a little part of themselves. Parents who decide to break intergenerational cycles of abuse have a tough road ahead, but so many of them embrace the task with passion, motivation, and love. They are trailblazers, changing the world one child at a time.

—Rebecca is the bilingual counselor at Our VOICE.

Our VOICE in 2016

Starting over, letting go, setting goals, resolutions and/or intentions… all very common themes for the month of January. Besides big milestones and life changes or events, January is a great time to create positive change and set measurable goals.

Here at Our VOICE, we certainly acknowledge January 1st. How each staff member recognizes the new year may look different: taking vacation/self-care, starting of a new fiscal year, approaching due dates, ending of school break, creating new Fitbit challenges, etc.; however, among all of our different personal goals and thoughts going into the new year, we all unite and share at least one intention: Ending sexual violence.

If you have ever set a goal before, then you know the importance of setting attainable goals. Nobody wants to set themselves up for failure. Right now you might be thinking: “Ending sexual violence? That’s impossible!” I will be honest, there was a time in my life when I too thought ending sexual assault and rape culture was an unreachable dream, but I am here to tell you it is not.

Wearing seatbelts felt like an impossible cultural shift. How can you change a cultural habit? Is it realistic to mandate whether people are going to wear their seatbelts or not? Well, mandates and laws are only a small step towards real change. Our language around car safety and the value we put on human lives is how our culture has shifted in relation to wearing seatbelts. Individuals decided their personal boundaries and values around wearing seatbelts, which mirrored positive behavior for young children. Those children grow up not even seeing another option; the consequences are not worth the risky behavior.

The consequences of not wearing your seatbelt can have traumatic impact on you and others, a trauma that can be prevented. Sexual violence is no different. It is 100% preventable.

Our new year’s intention is something that makes our office culture unique. We have so many dedicated and unique staff, volunteer advocates, and board members but we all share one passion. Ending rape culture and sexual violence is our common motivator, making Our VOICE driven, focused, and unstoppable.

This new space on our website is going to be a place where our staff, volunteers, board members, survivors, and community allies can share specific short-term goals, thoughts, actions, and feelings. We recognize we cannot achieve our long term goal without our community. Our blog will another forum to create thought and dialog, further connecting you to our cause and to the process of shifting our culture. Together we can end sexual violence!

—Caitlin is the Lead Counselor at Our VOICE. To learn more about our counseling services click here.