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In Light of Mother’s Day: Protecting Our Girls

The article below is a guest piece by Sonoma’s own Stephanie Hiller. It is intended for mothers who want to protect their daughters, but we think that all readers can gain some insight into sexual violence, human trafficking, and more. Read on:

Moms have always worried as their girls enter adolescence that they will be pressured into sex by a boyfriend – because, after all, “boys will be boys.”

But date rape, though common, is not the most violent form of sexual abuse faced by our girls.

Today new threats have left us floundering, pushing us into helplessness and the comforting arms of denial. But there is no safety in those quarters.

The use of the Internet to lure girls into compromising situations, or even into the sex trade, is one of the most insidious instruments of the global threat to young women and girls, and one of the hardest to combat. Says Caitlin Quinn of Verity, “As soon as the police or our advocates have figured out one new lure or app, these guys come up with another one.” And no, there is no place, to her knowledge, that keeps a running list of the latest social media trick. “Snapchat is an app that teens love to use. You can have your location ‘turned on,’ allowing your friends and contacts to see where you physically are, and if you have it set for “public,” then anyone can see where you are.”

Trafficking and the use of underage girls in online sexual videos is so creepy, such an ultimate and cruel violation, that we tend to think it happens to somebody else’s girls.

The image of black and brown girls as more lusty, or loose, persists, a racist projection that feeds our denial while covering up the reality with a slick patina of privilege. These things don’t happen to us.

But they do.

Girls with rough home lives, dysfunctional families, experienced in foster care, or who are otherwise vulnerable due to mental or physical disability, poverty or homelessness are most likely to be preyed upon by traffickers.

Meanwhile, all girls continue to be vulnerable to the many other forms of sexual violence.

Of girls who are trafficked, 86 percent were sexually abused previously, according to Sonoma County Chief Deputy District Attorney Bill Brockley, who serves on the Human Trafficking Task Force.

So what’s a poor mom to do?

Building a solid relationship with your daughters is the way to go, according to Verity’s Caitlin Quinn. “Mothers need to do everything they can to tell their daughters that they can talk to them.

“Sometimes that means mothers being vulnerable with their daughters. A lot of mothers don’t want to share what violence has happened to them but that can help daughters understand why their mother feels the way she does. You don’t want your daughters to think you are weak and something happened to you, but being vulnerable is not necessarily weak.”

Mothers can become familiar with warning signs that a girl is being trafficked, advised Quinn. “They know what she is normally like, and if they aren’t afraid to ask their kid. We’ve seen kids who are living at home and are being trafficked, and parents didn’t even know.”

Sometimes a girl may suddenly have more money to spend, but she doesn’t have a job or an allowance. That can be a red flag.

Every parent’s relationship with their child is different. Preventative work looks different for every mom. According to Quinn, for some people, it’s as straightforward as “setting healthy boundaries for your daughters with social media… if they want to have Facebook on their phone and on the go, you need to know their password. Knowing your mom can check what you’re doing is important. Also knowing who they can date, how late they can stay out.” The basics.

Has the #MeToo movement brought more awareness to the problem of sexual violence?

“It did initially. There was a lot more interest in volunteering, being on the Board. But there hasn’t been a huge uptick in clients.”

A roar has become a whisper. Or perhaps it has only gone underground.

Jan Blalock is the Chair of the Commission on the Status of Women. Asked whether girls are safer now, she said, “No, but it’s safer to talk about things.

“I think we’re in a very dangerous time right now,” citing the power of the Internet and easy access to porn, “especially for boys who may think this is normal or what girls want.”

Empowering girls helps. It’s important to let them know that sexual violence is not their fault. “The onus is on society to see girls and women as equal, intelligent beings worthy of respect rather than objectifying them,” Blalock said.

You can contact the author at hiller.stephanie@gmail.com. Thanks for reading!

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Screening of “The Rape of Recy Taylor” in Sebastopol

The Rape of Recy Taylor

A Benefit for Verity
Thu, Mar 29 7pm

To Purchase Tickets Click HERE

Recy Taylor, a 24-year-old black mother and sharecropper, was gang-raped by six white boys in 1944 Alabama. Common in Jim Crow South, few women spoke up in fear for their lives. Not Recy Taylor, who bravely identified her rapists. The NAACP sent its chief rape investigator Rosa Parks, who rallied support and triggered an unprecedented outcry for justice.

Our film exposes a legacy of physical abuse of black women and reveals Rosa Parks’ intimate role in Recy Taylor’s story. An attempted rape against Parks was but one inspiration for her ongoing work to find justice for countless women like Taylor. The 1955 bus boycott was an end result, not a beginning.

More and more women are now speaking up after rape. Our film tells the story of black women who spoke up when danger was greatest; it was their noble efforts to take back their bodies that led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott and movements that followed. The 2017 Global March by Women is linked to their courage. From sexual aggression on ’40s southern streets to today’s college campuses and to the threatened right to choose, it is control of women’s bodies that powered the movement in Recy Taylor’s day and fuels our outrage today.

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Strong Survival: Student Documentary Film takes on Human Trafficking in Sonoma County

Santa Rosa, CA – March 5, 2018 – In August of 2016, Sonoma County Junior Human Rights Commissioner Shynie Lu began directing the documentary Strong Survival on human trafficking in Sonoma County. The 30-minute film documents local survivor and activist Maya Babow’s experiences from the ages of 12 to 18, exploring the psychological and physical harm human trafficking has on victims. Strong Survival also features interviews with law enforcement members of the Sonoma County Human Trafficking Task Force and sexual assault victims’ advocate organization Verity. The film seeks to spread awareness of human trafficking as a pervasive problem in our own community, and educate young people on ways to protect themselves from traffickers.

“We need to better educate ourselves, learn how traffickers work, and stop the demand. If you can stop the demand, there is no need for supply,” says Babow. She is committed to transforming the trauma of her experience into healing and advocacy, giving presentations at schools and community events and offering her contact info to any young person who seeks help or feels unsafe. Every year, thousands of young women, children, and young men become human trafficking victims. According to Verity, the average age of victims entering human trafficking in Sonoma County is 12 to 14. “The goal of the film is to raise awareness of this highly under-discussed issue,” says director Lu. “We wish to educate not only the adults but also children and teenagers so that they can learn to protect themselves and each other.”

In addition to the film, Human Trafficking Committee members Olivia Kulawiak, Casey Dai and Annapurna Johnson have developed an informative brochure on human trafficking statistics and warning signs, in partnership with sexual assault victims’ advocate organization Verity. It is being distributed to all Sonoma County middle and high schools. As human trafficking can be a sensitive topic to navigate for educators and administrators, the Committee is offering schools a screening and presentation with Maya Babow for students. They can also distribute the film’s website and brochures to parents who can use them in discussion with young people.

The Human Trafficking Committee has been promoting the film at universities, student organizations, and humanitarian organizations in hopes of bringing wider attention to the devastating effects of human trafficking. To date, it has received more than 2000 views and has been screened by the Sonoma County Commission on Human Rights, the Marin County Office of Education, Northwestern University, Wake Forest University, University of Williams & Mary and the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. To watch the film, please visit www.strongsurvivalfilm.com.

The Junior Commission on Human Rights is a project of the Commission on Human Rights, an appointed advisory board to the County Board of Supervisors. The Junior Commission is intended to provide high school students with the opportunity to participate in advocacy, take an active role in the county government, provide education about human rights issues, and empower youth to make a positive impact on their communities.

For more information about the Junior Commission, visit the Commission on Human Rights website at http://www.sonomacountychr.org/ or follow them on Facebook.

Download their materials here:

Human Trafficking Statistics

Film Promotional Poster

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The Cost and Consequences of Sexual Violence in California

 Read CALCASA’s new report The Cost and Consequences of Sexual Violence in California and learn more about the joint budget advocacy effort with the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence. This effort is aimed at increasing the state’s financial commitment, $50 Million, to address and prevent the issues of sexual and domestic violence.
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January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month!

Human trafficking is a violent act against humanity. Traffickers and purchasers of those who are victimized lack a conscience, remorse, or respect for the women, men, children, and youth who are victimized by the atrocities that occur when one is trafficked.  Each day in our Sonoma County community more victims are held hostage and so we take this month of January to honor those survivors of these crimes against humanity that have been dealt them. We use this time to heighten our community’s awareness that Verity and many community partners are committed to ending this crime and to seeing that both traffickers and purchasers are held accountable for what they have done to those they have victimized.

This year Sonoma County’s Human Trafficking Task Force is hosting film events and having billboards placed in strategic parts of our county to both heighten awareness and to bring forth discussion as to how we, as a community, can put an end to this vicious crime and support those survivors to reclaim their lives in dignity and with respect.

Did you know?

Verity  advocates have some important information about trafficking in our county to share with you:

  • Verity worked with over 40 human trafficking victims last year by providing crisis intervention, food, shelter, transportation, referrals and much more.
  • The average age for a victim be forced into the sex industry in Sonoma County is estimated to be between 12-14 years.
  • Victims are usually targeted based on vulnerability. Homelessness, experience in foster care, previous experiences of sexual or domestic violence, and younger age all play a factor in a victim’s susceptibility to being trafficked.
  • Perpetrators or “buyers” come from all walks of life and all sorts of backgrounds. Our advocates have seen engineers, bankers, brew-masters, jewelers, attorneys, photographers, marijuana growers, laborers, and others. We’ve seen married men, fathers, single men, and a son-in-law gifting purchased sex to his father-in-law.

 

See all of our graphics here.

 

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Verity’s office is closed from 12/23/17 – 1/1/18!

Verity’s office will be closed from 5 PM on Friday, December 22nd until Tuesday, January 2nd at 9 AM. 

While our staff will be taking the week off to rest and enjoy the holiday season with their loved ones, that does not mean we are not here for you. As always, our Crisis Line will be up and running, fully staffed by volunteers and staff members.

Whether you just need a person to listen to you or are having a crisis, we are here for you. Please do not hesitate to call. Our hotline is (707) 545-7273. We are here for you.

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Chris Castillo, Verity’s Executive Director, wins Nonprofit Leadership Award

Chris Castillo, of Santa Rosa’s Verity, has won one of North Bay Business Journal’s Nonprofit Leadership Awards. From Chris:

I want to thank you for this tremendous honor. And yet I want to say that yes I lead this organization but we would not be who or where we are without the tremendous current and past staff. So while I personally accept this honor, I do it on behalf of my Team Verity as well as all who have been victimized by rape and sexual violence. They truly are my heroes. Thank you from the depths of my heart.

Read more here.

Check out our pictures and video from the event on Facebook! Thank you for being a part of the Verity community, whether you’re a volunteer, donor, client, or friend of the agency — we couldn’t do it without you!
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2017 Fundraising Breakfast Cancelled

We cannot, in good conscience, devote the time, money, and people-power necessary to putting on a fundraiser when our communities need that time, money, and people-power for far more pressing needs. Thank you so much for standing by us with this decision, which is made on behalf of our entire community of Sonoma County.

We hope to reschedule this event in the spring of 2018, once we know what the long-term impacts of this firestorm will be on our clients and on our community as a whole. In the meantime, please remember if you need absolutely anything from our team, please reach out and ask for help. We are here for you.

Read our letter here.

If you have questions, comments, or concerns, please email us at info@ourverity.org or call us at 707-545-7270. Thank you for making Sonoma County’s community as strong as it is!

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Resources for Fire Volunteers and Evacuees

First of all, we do hope that you and those you love are safe and sound. All Verity staff members and their families are safe as of now, although a few have had to evacuate. Our building on Piner Road is still standing and in good condition, especially considering the wreckage in the area. The rest of our neighborhood is bleak and burnt, and rebuilding isn’t going to be easy. We will not be returning to the office this week, but our staff who are able to are visiting evacuation centers and volunteering all over the county to make sure there is no lapse in services.

Our crisis line is (707) 545-7273. Even if you need to process the trauma of this disaster, unrelated to sexual violence, we are here to listen.

If you would like to request an in-person visit to a specific place, please email us at info@ourverity.org to request an advocate visit. If you know of a specific place that needs more volunteerpower, please also reach out to info@ourverity.org and we will try to get some of our peoplepower out there.

You can check our Facebook page for the most updated resources for volunteering and resources, and please feel free to comment or message us on that platform to get a hold of us.

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The Redwood Empire Food Bank needs a lot of volunteerpower and financial support. If you’d like to volunteer, call 707.523.7900 first to make sure they still need your help.
From their website: 

In order for us to continue meeting the existing need and increase our provision of help, we need your support.

Two ways to help right now:
  1. Make a financial donation. We have the capacity to increase the amount of food we provide to the community – we just need the financial resources to make this possible.
  2. Bring food donations to the REFB right now. We are in dire need of ready-to-eat, non-perishable foods that we can provide to the evacuation centers immediately. These foods should be easy to open and easy to eat – many shelters do not have kitchens for heating and preparing food. Please do not bring glass containers.
    Please note, the off-ramp at Airport Blvd. is currently closed in both directions. To get to our facility, please take the Shiloh Road exit heading west, take a left on Skylane Blvd., until you meet Airport Blvd. again. Our address is 3990 Brickway Blvd., Santa Rosa, CA

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Petaluma People’s Services also needs volunteerpower answering phones and coordinating potential housing for victims of the fire. Their address is at 1500A Petaluma Blvd South, Petaluma, CA 94952.  Please call them at (707) 765-8488 to make sure they still need volunteers before heading over.

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The material needs of the shelters in Petaluma change constantly. If you have things to donate, please hold onto them for another day or so. Supplies are surely going to need to be replenished, but shelters only have so much room. Please continue to check this living Google Document with updating lists of resources available and needs from the community. 

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We have support systems all over the state and country. Rape Trauma Services of San Mateo County is helping staff our crisis line; they have access to the same list of resources that we give our new Crisis Line Volunteers, and are staffing our line 24/7 so that we have more agency to go be out in the field, in evacuation centers, meeting with clients, and going with survivors to the hospital and law enforcement interviews.
The Crisis Call Center in Nevada is also offering to help anyone who is in crisis: they have a 24/7 crisis line that you are welcome to call 775-784-8090. If you’d prefer to text, they have a text line. Text the word “Listen” to 839863 to be connected to someone. From the Center:

“We won’t have access phone numbers to the local services, shelters and such in Santa Rosa but we can help anyone that may be feeling overwhelmed or are feeling heightened levels of anxiety and talk with them through their crisis until they are feeling stronger. We can google services for them if needed. We are a confidential crisis line and a safe place to talk. If our call room staff or volunteers are all on the phones any call that comes in will roll over to the national suicide hotlines which is 1800-273-8255 – they help people experiencing trauma too… not just those feeling suicidal. Sending healing thoughts to everyone at Verity and all of those touched by the fires.”

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Please don’t hesitate to reach out to Verity if there’s anything we can do to support you through this trying time.
We are so thankful for the resilience of this community.

Verity staff has been all over the county connecting with survivors and volunteering to help evacuees.

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Immigrants who face sexual assault are avoiding police and dropping court cases — why?

Everyone who resides in or enters the United States of America has constitutional rights. Victims of crimes, especially victims of crimes committed by U.S. citizens, are entitled to protection under the law. Undocumented immigrants who are victims of sexual or domestic violence can apply for a U-Visa if they cooperate with law enforcement, and many community resources exist for undocumented victims and their families. So, why are immigrants reporting fewer crimes in recent months?

Melissa Jeltsen with Huffpost brings us news of a new survey that explores the answers to that question.

Immigrants are increasingly reluctant to report domestic violence and sexual assault, citing fears of deportation under President Donald Trump, according to a survey released this month of 715 victim advocates and attorneys in 46 states and the District of Columbia.

In April, a coalition of national organizations working to end domestic violence and sexual assault conducted the “2017 Advocate and Legal Service Survey Regarding Immigrant Survivors” to get hard data on how the country’s changing immigration policies were affecting their clients. Nearly 80 percent of advocates reported that survivors had expressed concerns about contacting police. Forty-three percent of advocates said they had personally worked with a survivor who dropped a civil or criminal case because they were too scared to continue. Three-quarters of respondents reported that survivors were worried about going to court.

The survey’s findings offer even more evidence for what advocates and law enforcement leaders predicted: Trump’s immigration crackdown is driving undocumented victims of crime underground.

To read more on this story from Melissa Jeltsen, click here.

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Learn about what's new at Verity, announcements from our partner organizations, and ideas to help you get involved in fighting sexual violence.
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