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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Survivors as Caregivers

By Brittany Lafirira, Youth Advocate, H.O.P.E. Works

Being a survivor of sexual violence is hard. You go through times where your assault or abuse doesn’t cross your mind and then, suddenly something happens and it’s all you think about. Becoming a parent or caregiver is sometimes the thing that triggers past thoughts or feelings. While we often hear that being pregnant and starting a family is the best thing that can happen to someone, there isn’t a lot of talk about how scary and harmful that process can be.

A lot of research has been done on how becoming pregnant can impact survivors. It changes your hormone levels and can be a painful feeling like you have less control over your body. Once the baby is born the risk of post-partum depression increases with being a survivor. If you are a survivor and are thinking about starting a family there are many resources available. Often times Midwives will be more trauma informed and can help make check-ups and the birthing process as comfortable as possible for you. Talking to them about your past trauma will help you get the care you need. For some reading and other resources check out:

For resources on pregnancy and surviving trauma see here and here.

Something that isn’t often talked about is what happens once the baby is born. How trauma can manifest in different ways. Adoptive and Step-Parents are also often left out 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

Much Doo-Doo About Nothing

By Amanda Rohdenburg – she/her, Director of Advocacy, Outright Vermont

There has been a lot of talk about bathrooms lately.  In the Outright office, in our state, and across the country.  If you haven’t been following: North Carolina—along with some other states—have proposed or passed legislation that forbids transgender people from using public restrooms that correspond to their gender identity.  On a local level, a similar conversation has been going on at Green Mountain Union High School.  Then the federal Departments of Justice and Education published a statement of support for transgender youth to use facilities that correspond to their gender identity in accordance with Title IX.

With transgender rights and bathroom debates gaining such broad attention, a lot of questions have been coming up for folks.  So let’s have a bit of a Q&A!

Q: What does transgender even mean?

A: Transgender describes a person who does not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth.  If a person still identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth, that person is called cisgender.  It’s okay to shorten those words to ‘trans’ and ‘cis,’ so I’ll do that from here on out.

Q: So someone with a different body than mine could be using the same bathroom??

A: Yes! And they do, all the time! All bodies are different, encompass such a huge variety—in size, shape, color, and genitalia.  In fact, the reasons for gender segregated bathrooms Continue reading

Clarina Happenings!

Part II

Engaging Kids by Getting Outside

By Allyson Scanlon, Family & Youth Advocacy Specialist, Clarina Howard Nichols Center

It is that time again… school is coming to an end for the year and the weather in VT is actually pretty GREAT! It also means that it is a wonderful opportunity to get the time and attention of kids who may be significantly struggling with any number of things. For lots of kids, school may actually be preferable than spending every day at home this summer.

That’s why I feel one of the most important programs we offer through Clarina is our Summer Youth Program. Writing this blog, I’m realizing I should probably try to come up with a more exciting name for it, but the good news is that I have been coordinating and facilitating the program for the past four years and kids keep coming so we must be doing something right!

As an individual who is passionate about the outdoors and physical activity, I just see so many links to positivity, friendship strengthening and growth, self-esteem, team-building and confidence-boosting that can be formed simply by engaging in outdoor activity. Not to mention, here we are blessed to be nestled in the beauty of the Green Mountains. That beauty, especially in summer, is something impossible to ignore. I have witnessed kids bonding simply due to the need to walk single file on a narrow mountain trail. Kids who normally tend to follow begin taking the lead because they may be older and feel they finally have a reason to take on a leadership role. Simply meeting a group of new friends, and the feeling of a clean slate that comes along with that – combined with going places they have never been before and/or doing things they simply haven’t done, such as swimming in a pool at the bottom of a natural mountain waterfall – can coax out pieces of a child’s personality that are typically guarded; and not lightly.

Last year we were extremely fortunate to connect with a local horse farm, Hope Grows. Their mission is to encourage personal growth in children and families. They also strive to Continue reading

Clarina Happenings!

 

Part I  

WINGS – We Inspire Girls to Succeed!!

By Ana Cimino, Albert Schweitzer Follow, Clarina Howard Nichols Center

Through the sponsorship of the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship and Clarina Howard Nichols Center, Ana Cimino has spent the year hosting a youth empowerment group that focused on breaking the cycle of gender-based violence. The kids who participate in the group entitled it WINGS – We Inspire Girls to Succeed.

Working with the Clarina Howard Nichols Center, a Vermont agency that serves survivors of domestic violence and their children, Cimino has implemented a program that fosters an empowering and safe environment for kids to heal and grow. The program delivers its curriculum through various modalities, including art, dance, and writing. This program is not a support group, but rather an advocacy program empowering local youth to find their own space to heal, and to open the dialogue on healthy relationships and body image.

Cimino divided the year into two focus areas: defining and developing healthy 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

Get Out the (Youth) Vote: Millennials are Making Their Voices Heard

by Matt Renaud, Youth Advocate & Prevention Educator at AWARE in Hardwick, VT

It’s been a whirlwind election cycle so far, and it can only get even more interesting from here on out.  If you’ve been devoting any attention to the presidential race – even just on a peripheral level – you’ve probably heard something about how crucial youth voters will be in this year’s election.  As a Youth Advocate, and as someone who was politically involved in my earlier years, I find this really exciting (and long overdue).  We heard this same emphasis on the importance of youth voters in the last two election cycles, with then-Senator and now-President Obama running for office in 2008 and 2012, respectively.  According to Matthew Segal, who is the co-founder of OurTime.org, between 22 and 23 million millennials voted in the 2012 general election, making up 19% of the American electorate.  This was a 1% increase from the amount of youth voters in the 2008 election and there is no doubt the number of youth voters is still growing and also happens to be the most diverse group of any voters in the United States.  You can check out Matthew Segal’s article here.

By the way, I had been wondering this for a while and just in case you had been wondering, too, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a “millennial” as someone born in the 1980s or 1990s (or anyone who is, or will be, between the ages of 17 and 36 during this calendar year).

Check out this short PSA about Youth Voters in this election year from OurTime.org:

It’s easy to say we need to get more youth involved in politics, but many youth may be wondering where and how to voice their ideas, concerns, hopes, and dreams regarding Continue reading