Tag Archives: anti-sexual violence

Standing Together to End Sexual Assault

April is national Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), an annual campaign aimed at raising public consciousness to consider sexual assault as a public health, human rights, and social justice issue as well as educating people about how to prevent it. 

For the nonprofit Standing Together to End Sexual Assault (STESA) based here in Santa Barbara, though, every month, every day, and every hour is devoted to the same goals: providing confidential counseling and support services to survivors of sexual assault while striving to eliminate all forms of sexual violence in our community. 

The organization that was founded back in the 1970s as the Rape Crisis Center and adopted its new name just a little over two years ago still has the core service of being there for rape and sexual assault victims as soon as a call comes into its hotline, with a staff member or volunteer showing up – if only virtually during the pandemic – to offer advice about medical care, legal options, and provide counseling services if desired. The goal is to empower survivors to take back control of their lives and their bodies. 

But the new name, chosen to more accurately represent the scope of services offered by the organization, alludes to the broader goal of actually ending sexual assault at its roots, indeed changing the cultural norms that enable sexual assault to proliferate. That’s where education and the goals of this year’s SAAM events come in. 

“Sexual assault is an umbrella term and there’s many different examples that fall underneath it,” explained Bianca Orozco, STESA’s community education coordinator.  “Any sexual harassment that happens online is an example of sexual assault. Someone commenting in an inappropriate way on a picture that makes that person uncomfortable, anything like that – they’re different examples of sexual assault and can be equally violating and traumatic to (the victim). It might be common online, but it’s still assault if there isn’t consent. Just because we’re not in-person doesn’t mean that sexual assault has stopped, it does adapt and it does occur in those spaces, too.”

Considering online harassment as a lesser form of sexual assault, perhaps further down on a continuum, isn’t a smart approach, Orozco said. 

“It’s like diminishing cat calling as no big deal, telling the woman to just walk a different way or cover up,” she said. “It creates a level of accessibility that not only diminishes the experience of the victim, but eventually leads to excusing or minimizing all forms of sexual assault.”

That take is in line with STESA executive director Elsa Granados’ approach: “They’re all violating and they’re all about power and control,” she said. “People who experience online harassment can be just as traumatized as survivors of in-person and suffer depression and anxiety, especially while we’re all isolated. So we have to set some boundaries around what is acceptable to speak to someone else.”

Create to Prevent

Raising the level of online awareness during the pandemic is what STESA’s focus for the 20th anniversary of SAAM is all about. A virtual campaign called Create to Prevent, launching across several social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, invites local youths to become change agents by tapping into their creative expression to express ideas about cyber sexual harassment. This includes any unwanted behaviors over social media, dating apps, email, Zoom calls, and video chat, whether verbal or through a visual action. 

Accordingly, youths are being encouraged to create multimedia content – art, poetry, skits, infographics – that STESA will collate and choose winners who will see their creations shared on social media and possibly earn a pair of Beats headphones and other prizes. 

“What we’re doing for SAAM this year is asking youth in our community to pick the information that we have been using to educate them, and pass it along by creating something original,” Orozco said. “It could be a painting or a drawing. Maybe poetry, or a TikTok video. Whatever they feel comfortable submitting that focuses on the topic of sexual assault, and counteracting messages they might be seeing on TV or elsewhere that perpetuates it. We want the information to be shared creatively so it reaches people.”

STESA provides education in hopes of preventing and eliminating sexual assault

The outreach efforts are extensions of STESA’s regular education programs that address all aspects of sexual harassment and assault for area youths, STESA youth educator Holly Scala said. The topics have grown out of conversations about the meaning of consent or how so-called “rape culture” gets perpetuated. 

“They experience it mostly online because that’s where they spend a lot of time, especially this last year,” Scala said. “So we’re bringing it closer to home and cultivating a more nuanced understanding of what sexual assault is. And we also focus on cyber sexual harassment because we know that it’s more common in that it can be anonymous, and maybe it seems benign, but it only opens the floodgates to perpetrating future violence. So by educating them it helps to prevent that slippery slope.”

To that end, STESA’s digital SAAM program for 2021 will focus on a different aspect on cyber abuse, through nonconsensual sending of nude images to sexually coercing people online. And the month will also include education on how people can directly intervene to combat online sexual harassment, Scala said. “You can become an upstander instead of a passive bystander.”

April’s awareness activities also include STESA’s first Virtual Book Club on April 9 where participants will be reading Beartown by Fredrik Backman, a novel that explores the consequences and small-town reactions after the town’s star junior hockey player rapes a 15-year-old girl that was also recently adapted into an HBO series. Other activities include Yelp SB County hosting a free comedy show on April 22 with voluntary Venmo tips going to STESA, and a Denim Day that takes place both over social media and in-person at STESA’s socially-distanced self-defense class on April 28. 

The April activities are just a small piece of STESA’s stated goal of making Santa Barbara a community free of all forms of sexual violence. 

“To eliminate it, we need to prevent it and to prevent it we need to educate and to educate, we need to start early,” Scala said. “We would rather give young people the information now so they don’t turn into perpetrators and that’s how you prevent sexual assault for generations to come.” 

That’s a mission that works for April or anytime at all. 

For more information about STESA, visit sbstesa.org.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

This April commemorates the 20th anniversary of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) through several activities. Standing Together to End Sexual Assault (STESA) is launching the virtual campaign, Create to Prevent on social media platforms, including Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Create to Prevent invites youth to become agents of social change by expressing themselves creatively about sexual assault, specifically cyber sexual harassment. 

Cyber sexual harassment is any unwanted sexual behaviors or attention through text, social media, email, dating apps, and video chat. This includes verbal or visual actions that are sexual in nature. Cyber sexual harassment most commonly affects younger populations, especially LGBTQ+ youth, who are four times more likely to experience cyber sexual harassment. Survivors of cyber sexual harassment endure similar trauma as survivors of in-person harassment. Depression, anxiety, isolation, and suicide are some of the most common expressions of this trauma. 

To address these issues, STESA is sponsoring a contest to uplift youth voices on the topic of sexual assault in our community. Youth are encouraged to create multimedia content, such as art, poetry, skits, or infographics. STESA will choose winners in different media categories who will have the opportunity to have their submissions shared on social media. Contest prizes include a pair of Beats headphones, gift cards, and STESA swag. 

STESA is hosting a self-defense workshop in Isla Vista on Denim Day, April 28th. Participants are encouraged to wear denim to make a statement against victim blaming. Registration for this event is open to all community members ages 13+, and interested parties should email bianca@sbstesa.org to register. 

STESA’s Community Education Coordinator, Bianca Orozco, emphasizes, “Even in the midst of the pandemic, sexual assault continues to happen. We’re trying to equip people with the tools to recognize and combat sexual assault from home.”

Standing Together to End Sexual Assault (STESA) provides confidential counseling and support services to survivors of sexual assault and their loved ones. Through education and awareness, STESA is committed to change the cultural norms that enable sexual assault to exist. Our service area extends from Carpinteria to the Santa Ynez Valley.

Visit sbstesa.org for more information about STESA. 

March is Women’s History Month

In 1987, the United States Congress declared the month of March “National Women’s History Month.” This month-long celebration of women and their achievements grew out of a smaller, week-long celebration initiated in 1978 by the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County Commission on the Status of Women. The success of this early celebration reverberated throughout the country and, following various Presidential decrees, evolved into National Women’s History Month.

STESA’s vision for a community free of sexual violence depends closely on freedom, equity, and justice for all genders. Sexual assault is a direct result of systemic injustice, including injustices against women. Therefore, Women’s History Month serves as a time to reflect, celebrate, organize, and continue to raise awareness about issues affecting women.

This year, STESA is celebrating Women’s History Month virtually on our social media, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. STESA will be highlighting various components of women’s history with an emphasis on intersectional feminism. Our social media pages will include information on the history of rape crisis centers throughout the country, STESA’s own history, women’s suffrage, the Equal Rights Amendment, and hidden figures in women’s history. We invite you to follow us on social media to learn and engage with us about these important and interesting topics.

Standing Together to End Sexual Assault (STESA) provides confidential counseling and support services to survivors of sexual assault and their loved ones. Through education and awareness, STESA is committed to change the cultural norms that enable sexual assault to exist. Our service area extends from Carpinteria to the Santa Ynez Valley.

For more information about STESA, visit www.sbstesa.org or call (805) 963-6832.

A Two-Front Battle Against Sexual Assault

How do you end sexual assault across an entire community? 

The answer, according to the leaders of Standing Together to End Sexual Assault (STESA), is rooted at both the individual and community level. The 46-year-old agency, formerly known as the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center, set up the first-ever sexual assault hotline in Santa Barbara in 1974. 

Over the years, the services have grown. Now STESA intervenes with survivors within hours of an assault, counsels those who may have delayed sharing their stories and is engaged in a full-on effort against the cultural norms that have allowed sexual violence to proliferate for so long. 

Executive Director Elsa Granados has been in the movement to end sexual violence since 1985. In 1997, she assumed her role at STESA. What keeps her engaged? 

“Overall what I see is that we really transform people’s lives,” Granados says. “They come to us in a place where they are very vulnerable, feeling pain and trauma. It’s not that transformation comes overnight. But when they make the decision to leave our services, they are in a different place.” 

Amazingly, STESA’s skeleton full-time staff of four hotline responders/case managers and a clutch of dedicated volunteers comprehensively meet the needs of 550 survivors and their significant others all using an empowerment model. Once a call comes into the hotline, STESA staff or volunteers are there within 30 minutes. This could be at a school, hospital or police station. They then walk survivors through their options: medical care, legal reporting, and mental health counseling. “We always ask survivors if they want to work with us,” says STESA Program Director Idalia Gomez. “One decision about their bodies was already taken from them, so we make sure they know they are in charge of their healing.”

Beyond direct services, STESA is actively engaged in educating the community about the prevalence and precursors to sexual assault. They go into Santa Barbara schools, debunking myths about sexual assualt, hold community events – and even teach self-defense.

“We need everyone in our community to be engaged in the issue,” Executive Director Granados says. “Not everyone has to do everything, but everyone has to do something when it comes to sexual assault.”

Guiding Survivors Out of the Woods

On the second day of her freshman year of college, Aspen Matis was raped. 

When “mediation” with her attacker failed, and the school inexplicably moved him into her dorm, Matis was traumatized, scared and left alone. Instead of moving him out, they moved her to a converted motel off campus, where she would sit, alone, staring at the cinder block walls. 

While there, Matis called the National Sexual Assault Hotline – created and operated by RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. 

“The person I spoke with was so amazing,” Matis says. “She told me things that sound so obvious in retrospect, but at the time they were revelations to me: ‘This was not your fault. You didn’t cause this. Short shorts don’t cause rape. Weed doesn’t cause rape. Rapists cause rape.’ Talking with a compassionate professional from RAINN became the first step in my healing process.”

After a handful of more calls with RAINN’s highly trained support specialists, Matis decided to leave college. Her new plan: walk the 2,500 miles from Mexico to Canada along the Pacific Crest Trail to raise money for RAINN.

Beyond operating the hotline and providing other victim services that have touched more than 3.2 million survivors and their loved ones since 1994, RAINN works with national media and the entertainment industry to elevate sexual violence storylines across the country. RAINN also works to expand the use of DNA in unsolved rape kits, reduce the backlog of untested rape kits, reform statute of limitations laws, broaden survivors’ access to appropriate medical care, protect young athletes, and bring perpetrators to justice. 

“We founded RAINN more than 25 years ago based on the belief that no survivor should feel alone,” says Founder and President Scott Berkowitz. “While supporting survivors will always be at the core of what we do, we have become the leading voice educating the public and fighting for survivors’ rights in Congress and the states.” 

In 2015, Matis wrote a memoir, “Girl in the Woods,” about her epic trek and painful recovery, which was propelled into the spotlight as a part of Oprah’s Book Club. As a member of the RAINN Speakers Bureau, Matis travels the country spreading awareness about sexual assault and rape, and its frightening frequency. Nearly one in four young women will have such an experience before leaving college.

“The reality is that sexual assault and rape are happening every day and everywhere,” Matis says. “The most convenient thing to do is to pretend that they are rare, because acknowledging this epidemic is uncomfortable and it’s sad and it’s scary. But by denying reality, averting your eyes and just willing it away, you are denying the validity of the struggles of so many people, and also denying them resources that may help them to heal and live a fulfilling life after.

RAINN is doing a wonderful and admirable service for the people who have been through the trauma of sexual assault and for anyone who knows someone or loves someone who has been raped.”