Checking the Pulse on Youth Advocacy and Prevention Education Work

by Matt Renaud, Youth Advocate & Prevention Educator at AWARE

I’ve been the Youth Advocate & Prevention Educator at AWARE for a little over two years now and I’m finally starting to feel grounded in what this job is all about.  That being said, I also feel that the field of youth advocacy (and advocacy in general) has been shifting during the course of my time at AWARE and that it continues to shift.  Maybe this is the way it has always been – the only thing that stays the same is that everything changes.  After all, in order to best meet the needs of the people we serve, we need to be constantly evolving.  I got curious about how other Youth Advocates and/or Prevention Educators have experienced change, success, and challenge in their role, so I sent out a set of questions to my colleagues across the state.  Responses came from people who have been in this work anywhere from one year to over a decade.  Here is a picture of where youth advocacy in Vermont is headed, straight from the horse’s mouth.

 Where do you see our work as Youth Advocates and/or Prevention Educators headed in the future?

Savannah Williams from Umbrella North in Newport explained, “Schools used to be really hesitant [about working with advocacy programs] before Act One was passed, but now Youth Advocates & Prevention Educators are seen more as allies than as strangers in certain communities.”

Bobbi Gagne from the Sexual Assault Crisis Team (SACT) in Barre describes the future of advocacy as “Learning from youth what they see as issues they face rather than us deciding what issues they see as important.”

What’s your favorite part about being a Youth Advocate and/or Prevention Educator?

Laura Young from Umbrella South in St. Johnsbury says, “My favorite part of being a Youth Advocate and Prevention Educator is all of the relationships that I have been able to build Continue reading

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What Teens Really Need from Us

By Amy Torchia, Children’s Advocacy Coordinator, Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence

My personal lesson this month has been about adolescent development and the responsibilities that adults have in the lives of teens.

At a training this week, I heard a scenario of a middle school relationship.  The boy sent abusive accusing jealous texts to his girlfriend.  The boy had lots of unhealthy relationships to watch and model, transition and trauma to contend with – not to mention the experience of racism and a culture dominated by male privilege telling him that he had the right to exert this kind of control over his partner.  The girl was from a home with lots of healthy models but nonetheless a girl hearing from the larger world to be strong and stand up for herself and, at the same time, take care of her boyfriend’s needs and watch the length of her shorts.  How confusing is all that to figure out?  We adults want them both to succeed, be safe and happy, and learn about and engage in healthy relationships.  But, they can’t do it without us.  They are only 14.

We lost a teen boy in our community last night.  He was swimming with friends in the pond, went under and didn’t resurface.  We don’t know what happened yet.  Most likely he was dehydrated or had a cramp.  This beautiful young man’s life was cut short and his family, friends and community are devastated.  He was only 17.

I have been watching his friends on facebook.  They are sharing stories, expressing their love for him, their love for each other and offering to spend time together and talk.  They have created a beautiful safe forum to grieve together and support one another.  I have a worry, though.  I have seen a few invitations to go out and get blasted together in honor of him and a few stories of reckless and unsafe behavior.  In the wake of the death of a friend, Continue reading

Exposed and Uncovered – Child Sexual Abuse in Your Community: How it Happens, How to Respond Part II

 

By Laura Young, Youth Advocate, Umbrella

On Friday, June 9th a local St. Johnsbury counselor was arrested for sexual assault of a child (a 14 year old young man) and recording a sex act of a minor. Many of our community members have been left reeling and angry. In my role as the Youth Advocate at Umbrella in St. Johnsbury, I would like to continue to share my thoughts on how this happens and what to do if your community has been affected by child sexual abuse.

  1.  Child sexual abuse is common and a person who sexually abuses a child could have multiple if not many children that they are abusing.

According to the organization Child Lures Prevention: “Male offenders who abused girls had an average of 52 victims each, men who molested boys had an astonishing average of 150 victims each, and only 3% of these crimes had ever been detected.” These statistics only reflect men who perpetrate sexual violence.  Although offenders are overwhelmingly male, it is estimated that women are the abusers in about 14% of cases reported among boys and 6% of cases reported among girls (Statistics on Perpetrators of Child Sexual Abuse, National Victims of Crime).

  1.  It’s not easy to know how to respond to child sexual abuse, especially when it’s someone well known in the community.

Knowing “how” child sexual abuse can occur can be helpful but, when an incident happens, the information on “how” is often less important to the community affected by Continue reading

Exposed and Uncovered – Child Sexual Abuse in Your Community: How it Happens, How to Respond Part I

 

By Laura Young, Youth Advocate, Umbrella

On Friday, June 9th a local St. Johnsbury counselor was arrested for sexual assault of a child (a 14 year old young man) and recording a sex act of a minor. Many of our community members have been left reeling and angry. How can a man with that level of trust in the community rape a young boy? Not to mention the question lying in the back of our heads as advocates and concerned community members-how many more children did he violate?

I recently watched the movie Spotlight which covered the way that the Boston Globe brought to light the sexual violence occurring within the Catholic Church in the early 2000’s. I couldn’t help but think of this movie as I think of the actions of the counselor in St. Johnsbury. In both situations, the priests and, in this case the counselor, used their standing in the community to cover up their actions.

At this point, when I think of those in authority who abuse children there’s so much I could say. I could keep you reading for days but I will try and sum up just a few (okay, seven) of my thoughts on how this happens and what to do if your community has been affected by child sexual abuse.  Here are three of my thoughts…watch for Part II for the rest!

  1.  An abusive person from outside of the family is generally a trusted, well liked member of a community and of a child’s life.

First, it is important to note that, according to the National Sex Offender Public Website, 30% of perpetrators of child sexual abuse are members of the child’s family.

Of the 70% that are not family members, we tend to have this image in our minds of a perpetrator of a man in a white van offering candy to small children. Although sexual abuse by strangers does happen (10%), the truth is that 60% of perpetrators of child sexual abuse are people well known in the victim’s family or the surrounding community. Someone with the communities’ trust and respect. Perhaps we like to think of the man offering candy as a way to protect ourselves from thinking that we may give our trust to someone who could violate our child but this is not the (horrible) truth. Taking a look at the National Center for Victims of Crime’s website we learn that “3 out of 4 adolescents who have been sexually assaulted were victimized by someone they knew well.” This includes individuals that their family and community knew well too.

Often, perpetrators look for places to work or volunteer where they will be around children. They will make an effort to get close to the child’s caregiver and earn their trust or look for a child who does not have actively involved adults. They may intentionally be a friend to families who are having family difficulties and they may hang out in places where children frequent, they may offer to coach or mentor children etc.

Also, people who are seeking to abuse children may use their ties to religious organizations, sports or schools (or in St. Johnsbury’s case their work in a counseling office) to their advantage. Within these organizations, children are taught to trust and respect whomever their authority is (as they should be able to do). Additionally, by being involved in the community, especially in religious organizations the perpetrator has established themselves as someone who shares certain values which causes some parents and some community members to naturally be more trusting of this individual because they hold them to a higher moral standard.

  1.  A sexual predator will groom their victim and their victim’s family as well as the surrounding community

Grooming is an action that a sexual predator takes in order to earn the trust of a child and Continue reading

The Last Girl

By Amy Torchia, Children’s Advocacy Coordinator, Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence

(Excerpted from the Spring 2016 Vermont Network Newsletter)

A world where every last girl is valued, safe and able to reach her full potential

As the Network moves forward to actualize our purpose to create a world free of oppression, we envision a world where every last girl is valued, safe and able to reach her full potential. The “last girl” is a helpful metaphor that we use to understand the complexity of oppression and focus our efforts.  Where the last girl thrives, so too will her entire community because she is the most marginalized of them.  As a child advocate who has worked in the violence against women’s movement for many years, I feel hopeful.  I see that we now have an opportunity to talk about and engage young people in a way that we have not before – all because we have said that we want the last girl to thrive.

The Network is committed to examining how multiple forms of oppression compound to impact individuals and communities.  This path leads us right to the last girl.  She is oppressed because of her gender, further oppressed if she is a person of color or may be oppressed because of her ability or class.  She is also oppressed because she is a child.  Although her status as a child is a part of her identity that she will outgrow, it is connected to her other identities – and together they can create a deep rooted set of barriers.

Ultimately, we cannot make the world a better place for the last girl unless we look at all that oppresses her including the power that adults have over children – adultism.  On one hand, it is the hardest form of oppression to confront because it is us who are the Continue reading

Praise My Journey, Not My Intelligence

By “Tabitha”, Age 16

My mom always tells me that I’m doing a good job at home and school. She would surprise me by placing small motivational notes in my lunchbox when I was in elementary school. They would always say how she loved me and to keep up the good work.

Her notes stopped once I got to middle school. I guess she feels they would embarrass me. She is so right!  But, she has never stopped praising me for doing my work. My teachers do the same. They tell me how smart I am. I believe them…sometimes. Secretly, I think what they are saying is a joke. I hate to disappoint the adults in my life, so I play it safe. At home and school, I take on easy projects and assignments. Also, I do my best to look smart. What is this? Where is my confidence?

Educationalist, Carol Dweck, says the problem maybe with how the adults in my life are praising me. In Carol Dweck’s TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) Talk, she explains her theory on Mindsets and how they are relevant to developing a child’s potential. Ms. Dweck explains how children view their intellect and abilities by what Mindset they hold. Her research concluded that two types of Mindsets exist in children, Fixed and Growth.

Children with Fixed Mindsets believe they have limited intelligence and abilities. They tend to be afraid to try new things and take risk. They are fearful of looking dumb and stupid in front of their peers. Looking smart is very high on their list of importance and they will go out their way to hold on to this image. They also believe setbacks and failures Continue reading

High School College Transition

By Megan Fariel, Senior at Hartford High School and Intern at WISE

As a high school senior, I have been thinking a lot about the transition from high school to college. It’s a huge transition, really. A switch from dependence to independence, from childhood to adulthood, and so on. However, one change not talked about very often is the transition to a new environment where sex is treated very differently.

In high school, there aren’t really forums to discuss sex and sexual violence other than health class. This gives the impression that sex is not something high schoolers should be doing, but suddenly, in college, conversations about sex are much more frequent, and people may feel like something is wrong if they haven’t had sex yet. That is a big and confusing transition.

This difference struck me as I took the Dartmouth class Sex, Gender, and Society this fall. It could be time-warp-ish at times: one hour I was in band and the bell rang to go to lunch and the next I was on the Dartmouth campus, talking about race and sex and how Continue reading

Empathy Books: Big Emotions in Little Bodies

By Savannah Williams, Youth Advocate, The Advocacy Program of Umbrella

I have been an advocate for a little over 11 years, but I’m not only an advocate I’m a mommy too, as I may have mentioned in past blog posts. Since I became a mommy I feel like I have one foot in each world. Sometimes the two worlds will mesh together, but there a times when I want to keep them apart. There are things that I’m not ready to teach my son about yet. People told me that parenting was going to be hard, but I guess I never really believed them until now.

I feel like with the experience and tools that I have learned throughout the years to share with other parents have helped me be the mom that I am today. By no means am I perfect. Nope, not at all. There are days when I think, “Is this going to bite me in the butt when my son is a teenager?” I guess we will see.

I’ve learned the importance of teaching children the right names for their private parts to enhance sexual violence prevention. Ever since my son was born I made sure to teach him the correct terminology. When he was three he decided to tell the cashier that he had a penis and asked her if she had a vagina. The cashier looked at me in horror, and I was having this internal debate on whether I should tell him to hush or use this as a teaching moment. So, I looked at her and asked her, “Well, do you?” Hoping she would be kind enough to share the moment with me, and she did. She was pretty great about actually after she too got over the initial embarrassment.

Which brings me to another tool that I found very useful, making empathy books.

We know that children learn about their emotions, behavior, relationships and how to develop empathy from the adults in their lives. As adults in children’s lives we need to Continue reading

All Aboard the Allyship

By Taylor S., guest youth writer from Outright Vermont

 What is an ally?

An ally is someone who actively and consistently works to unlearn and re-evaluate the systems of oppression within our society, and uses their position of privilege to work with and for a marginalized group of people. Allyship is neither self-assigned nor a form of identity, but rather a continuous process of creating and maintaining relationships based on mutual trust and accountability with marginalized persons or groups of people. The focus of allyship is on the marginalized group or individual because of the lack of needed awareness and recognition within our society, regarding marginalized and subordinated identities.

 But what does that mean…

Allyship can be broken down into three main concepts: Respect, Empathy, and Activism.

Respect

The easiest way to think about respect, is in terms of the Golden Rule: treat others the way that you would like to be treated. Respect is the ability to be wrong. It is accepting people for who they are, in an effort to promote and create a more inclusive community. For example, we all have pronouns that we use on a daily basis, whether they are she/her, he/him, they/them, ze/zir, etc. Respect is asking someone’s pronouns, instead of assuming, and then continuing to use these specified pronouns in future interactions.

 Empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. When thinking about allyship, empathy is taking that moment to connect with another person and both recognize and understand what they are feeling. Though you may not be able to connect with their direct experiences, you are able to conceptualize the feelings of loss, sadness, or anger. For example, if a child discloses to you that they lost a friend during their coming out process and are now depressed; you may not know what it’s like to come out, Continue reading

Book review: Sex is a Funny Word

By Brittany Lafirira, Youth Advocate, HOPE Works

One thing I will always be thankful for is my love of reading. This is something that my parents have encouraged from a very young age and something that follows me today. I read a variety of different things and enjoy when I can share my love of books with other people. One book that I have read recently and enjoyed is the book called Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth.

sex is a funny word

The very first page of the book is a letter to the grown up reader. It talks about how this book is meant to be read over time and that it is meant to be inclusive and non judgmental.  Each section starts with a comic that Continue reading