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Women’s History Month / International Women’s Day (Mar. 8th) – spotlight

There’s hardly a better way to celebrate Women’s History Month than celebrating the grass-roots organizers and partners across the nation for their efforts that helped get the Senate version of the Violence Against Women Act re-authorized [link to CNN story]!

But there’s plenty more.

This month, PBS is running a series called Makers: Women Who Make America; check your local listings, or watch episodes online.

Or, check out Beyond the Box’s series Women & Girls Lead Us Into Women’s History Month.

And not last nor least, if you haven’t, visit the Half the Sky movement; check out the book, or watch the film online (scroll down toward bottom of page) [warning: while incredibly insightful, it’s difficult to watch in one sitting; powerful stories of women who have lived through unimaginable violence].


Here at WCASA, we have both the book and DVD of Half the Sky, available to be borrowed by members.

Posted in General, News.

Celebrating African American History Month – a conversation with Dr. Alice Belcher

February is African American History Month. Sexual violence affects many in the African American community, and people of color can face additional barriers to accessing services; they constitute an under-served population in the violence prevention movement.

picture of Dr. Alice Belcher

photo of Dr. Alice Belcher

For some context, we reached out to WCASA Board Member Dr. Alice Belcher, B.A.| M.S.| D.D., herself a woman of color, with both African and Native American ancestry, and long-time member of the movement to end violence. Dr. Belcher is Commissioner for the Milwaukee Commission on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, and a member of the Milwaukee Domestic Violence Homicide Review Commission. She is the founder of the Christian Woman Perspective Ministries, Inc., a volunteer holistic faith-based community outreach program.

Q: How long have you been doing domestic violence and/or sexual assault advocacy and prevention work? What drew you to the movement?

Dr. Belcher: I was drawn to the movement to stop domestic violence and sexual assault, several years ago as a victim seeking help to understand what had happened to me. I remain as a survivor, yet trying to understand what happened to me and how it continues to reverberate and impact my life on a daily basis to this day. I try and help other survivors and the community, in occasionally volunteering, or to share my story or to raise awareness about violence, in the hope to prevent violence and the debilitating and disabling health challenges it causes many women (survivors) and even death for some victims.

I am a Mother, who loves her children fiercely! This is important to be understood, in order to understand the impact violence has had upon my life. Prior to the birth of one of my children, while pregnant, my abuse began at the hands of my spouse. I would be choked while pregnant, thrown into walls while pregnant and violated. When I decided to leave, after the birth of our child, I was beaten in our home, bone broken in my face and I was left there for dead. A family member found me. Fear, kept me from allowing the emergency medical personnel at the hospital to contact the police. I would also become a secondary victim of sexual assault. Abusers seek to maintain their power and control over their victims, especially when the victim leaves or threaten to leave. This is also the most dangerous time for the victim and/or her children, if any. The abuser will seek to maintain their power and control over the victim, even if it means through the victimization of their children: by using custody/placement, sexual assault of the children, minimizing the victim’s parental access to her children, or killing the children, particularly in cases where victims have left the abuser through divorce or separation. These tactics of the abuser, represents the “fear” that grips victims to stay. For many women, they stay because they feel they can protect their children better if they stay, rather than have children taken from them in custody or in shared placements.

When I made attempts to report our abuse, it fell on deaf ears and/or I was not believed. I recall being called a liar and my abuser was believed and not me, by the very “systems” that were designed to protect my children and me. I recall being threatened by law enforcement with arrest when I attempted to defend my child and myself against our abuser. I never told anyone again. Why was I not believed or helped by the systems that I sought out? Why was I actually turned away from some domestic violence agencies when I went there for help, which are funded for the very purpose to help women and children like myself? I guess one would have to ask them. I don’t know. But, what I do know is, Christian Woman Perspective Ministries founded, formed, and operated by volunteers, is committed that no women seeking help will ever be turned away without being helped.


Q: Was this the idea/intention behind the formation of Christian Woman Perspective Ministries, Inc?

Dr. Belcher: I am a Christian Woman of Faith, having served the church for 40 years, faithfully; and within that faith am taught that it is the church that the people turn to in having its need met: Food, clothing, sanctuary, settling of disputes, counseling [individual and family.] However, as a survivor of violence and having turned to the church to meet my need, as a suddenly single parent, a victim of violence, there was no support system for me. I have spent several years analyzing why this has been the case for me and for multiple other women-of-faith; while at the same time, I began to pray. I knew if there was no “man [kind]” I could turn to help and support me, I knew I could turn to my faith [God.] Soon, another woman-of-faith joined me in prayer, then another. Soon, there were multiple women meeting in my home for prayer, Bible study and support. What quickly became apparent as we shared our stories during these meetings, almost every woman present and/or their child [ren] was a survivor of domestic violence and/or sexual assault. Christian Woman Perspective Ministries was born out of the necessity of woman-of- faith first seeking support to meet their own need, which was not being met in the church, and has grown into a non-profit community support organization for communities of faith, for families and for community education in violence prevention in Milwaukee County.


Q: What sort of significance does African American History Month have within the violence awareness and prevention movement?

Dr. Belcher: African American History is a very significant piece of the conversation about violence awareness and the prevention movement. In fact, it was the civil rights movement of the 1960s, which ushered in the women’s movement, which ushered in the domestic violence movement.

Most certainly, one must take into account in the conversation about the enslavement of African-Americans in America. Without taking into account America’s history of being a slave holding nation for 400 years, enslaving an entire race of people, its cultures and traditions, social structure and mores, including the stripping away of the African-American people’s humanity in not even to be considered human under our U.S. Constitution [African-Americans were considered only 3/5 human]; and the continued refusal of our nation to accept any responsibility for this conflagration against the African-American people, nor for the continued impact this continues to have upon African-American descendents today; then we can never get “real awareness” or lay foundations necessary for sustainable change or for violence prevention.

Even today, long after the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, freeing African-American people, African-Americans continue the struggle to be free in their own nation of their own birth, just to receive this country’s basic life axiom which is freely given to immigrants entering our country, that being, access to economic power. Access to economic power would bring with it for the African-American people, finally the freedom to deconstruct from the horrors of the African Diaspora and its continued modern day impact as the major contributor of poverty and violence in African-American families and communities.

To quote Dr. Cornel West [who was quoting Ghandi]: “Poverty is the worse form of violence.” Without economic empowerment, there can be no real freedom or sustainable change in ending violence for the African-American culture in this nation.


Q: How does someone’s identity as a person of color impact the way in which they experience violence? What sort of barriers to accessing services might a person from the African American community face?

Dr. Belcher: How individuals experience violence, based upon research, information, knowledge and belief, will likely be processed through their individual cultural lens, prefaced by their personal experiences. Which is precisely why cultural competency is of key importance in formulating violence advocacy, prevention and education programming.

For some, African-Americans who have faced barriers in accessing services, cultural competency may have been one of the multi-faceted factors. Others could be limited access to services due to lack of transportation. However, when considering cultural competency as a factor, it is important to understand that cultural competency is not an arrival, but rather, a continuum of “becoming.” Unless, one is directly from within a particular culture (not only race, but also culture), one will always be outside that culture and learning and understanding that culture. Being an outsider, one will always have an unknown about the culture, because that culture will never tell you everything, nor will you ever be brought in completely into the inner circle of that culture and that is OK.

One example of what I call “closed cultures,” could be certain Asian cultures in America. The closed nature of such cultures and how it provides services for its culture in violence prevention and accountability, is readily accepted by outside cultures as being OK; and their cultural process is not questioned by the outside cultures, there is no intrusion upon them by outside cultures, but is respected by outside cultures, and rightfully so. However, by contrast and compare, for the African-American culture, the opposite applies. There is not this acceptance by outside cultures that it is OK for African-American cultures to be a closed culture; or that African-American culture knows what is best in the deliverance of violence prevention or accountability services to its own culture.

One significant barrier for African-Americans is the lack of economic empowerment necessary for the African-American culture to establish and provide for violence prevention services to its culture on a mainstream scale, which has not historically existed. Historically, violence advocacy for African-Americans overwhelmingly has been a system, which has told this culture what it needs, rather than being a culturally competent system, which desired to hear what the culture said it needed and advocated fiercely for it on their behalf or empowered them to provide it for themselves.

There is a rebuttable presumption that a blended programming is sufficient to meet the need for the African-American culture as a part of that grouping, such as people of color or underserved populations. I question the likelihood that an entire race of people, who is feared on some level, whose history and present day status in our nation is so severely negatively impacted by the African-Diaspora, 400 years ancestral slavery in America, continued denial to economic empowerment (land or wealth), can adequately have its multifaceted needs addressed, as simply being a part of programming identified for “people of color” or “underserved populations” along with cultures who are not experiencing these same unique barriers. Based upon my own knowledge and integration into the African-American culture as an African-American, I am of the opinion that It is unlikely that this will provide the necessary access to services needed by African-Americans and could in all likelihood, continue to present as a significant barrier to African-Americans being able to access appropriate services for their needs.

The African-American culture is a wonderfully diverse culture. We are cultures within our own culture, made of blended cultures [I myself descend from slaves and Choctaw Indian.] Still, non-African- American cultures fear the African-American culture. This too, represents a significant barrier to African-Americans being able to receive appropriate services. It also begs the question, how can one positively impact a culture of people, if one has a fear of the people, respect and appreciate them little, have little to no understanding of their history or culture and insists upon not recognizing their own personal bias’ in service to this African-American culture? The answer is, one cannot. When this occurs, a program is not culturally competent; it also runs the risk of possibly being labeled as a program that exists for economic purpose and not for sustainable positive change in the culture. In such cases, cultural competency cannot be achieved as trust is not established and information will be withheld by the culture to the service provider, which can likely result in continued miscommunications and unintended consequences by well-meaning service providers, but continues the re-victimization of African-American victims.


Q: How has the AA community responded to violence? Are there things that community should be doing to better address it?

Dr. Belcher: The African-American community response to violence has been in the very best way that it can within the limited resources available directly to our communities. We work with other agencies to attempt to get the needs of our communities met, and with some successes; and most grass roots agencies [most charitable and/or volunteer] continue to serve in the African-American communities to pick up the lack as best they can with no real resources available to them, in service to their communities. Many African-American leaders, community based and faith based, are working very hard to work with individuals and families and educate communities with very limited to no resources. Community meetings are held, one-on-one case mentoring, community education, prayer vigils for the lost and prayers for those who remain. Much more is needed to be done, for the implementation of what we know is needed in African-American communities, but do not have the resources to implement.


Q: What can allies from outside the AA community do to support them in ending violence?

Dr. Belcher: Allies who are outside of the African-American communities can support these communities in ending violence; in first acknowledging their right to exist and that they can support their communities. Acknowledgment and support of the African-American community’s as having the knowledge and understanding as to what is needed to serve its own culture and respect that the same as we do for many other culturally specific domestic violence and/or sexual assault organizations, and support their efforts to do so. Ask them what they need, sincerely and with the expectation to champion their cause and to help bring it to pass for them in service to their community.

During the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference began the civil rights movement in the south, eventually choosing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as its spokesperson. But it was countless others, who were not African-American who joined and also championed the cause of the south which brought about civil rights for African-Americans and the Civil Rights Bill. Many of these individuals like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., were martyred championing the cause for the African-American civil rights in our nation such as Andrew Goodman, Michael Henry Schwerner, who were young white civil rights workers, who were arrested by a deputy sheriff in the south for helping people to register for the vote and then released into the hands of Klansmen who had plotted their murders. They were shot, and their bodies were buried in an earthen dam.

Ally assistance today, may not require laying down their physical lives like martyrs of the past, for African-Americans seeking equal rights today, but it will be necessary for them to stand-up for African-Americans in the African-American pursuit for equal access to services and the capability to provide violence advocacy, prevention and education and support to their communities. Assist them in obtaining resources necessary to make this happen. Share knowledge of information for grants, funding and partnerships and show them (initially at first), how to write for those grants and how to pursue developing relationships for funding, be inclusive of the African-American organizations in proactively providing them the technical assistance they need so that they may provide services to their specialized culture just as other communities of color are championed in their pursuit in providing specialized culturally responsive services to their communities.


For more information, the Women of Color Network has an excellent fact sheet on Domestic Violence focused on the impact on Communities of Color [PDF download].

Posted in Considerations of Identity.

Teen Dating Violence Awareness & Prevention Month – part 2

{this story is the second in a series of submissions to WCASA in response to our call for reflections on themes related to National Teen Dating Violence Awareness & Prevention Month in the form of writing, artwork, or multimedia production; we thank this survivor for sharing her thoughts and experiences honestly and candidly; as difficult as it can be to read her experiences, we know that survivors speaking up is an important part not only of their individual healing process but of our collective ability to increase the visibility of these crimes}



I started dating Jake when I was 14 years old, the summer of eighth grade.  Jake was 15 and in high school, but he didn’t look it.  He was on the swimming team and was 6’ 4”.   He always told me how beautiful I was, but looking back on it now, I still had poor self esteem.  I was always watching what I ate and starving myself.  I look at pictures of me back then and I see a young girl whose face is thin, pale and sunken.  At the age of 14, I was willing to do anything to keep Jake happy.  He was my first boyfriend.  He was a big, strong diver and I wanted to be his beautiful girlfriend.

At the beginning of our relationship everything was okay.  My parents knew Jake’s mom.  His dad passed away when he was six.  My parents even liked Jake.  My older sister wasn’t so sure.  Every time I was with Jake, he always had to be touching me.  He wanted to hold my hand or put his arm around me.  When we walked on the street he insisted I have my arm looped through his.  I found it flattering.  My older sister hated seeing our public displays of affection (PDA).  I always said she was just jealous.

Six months into our relationship, Jake’s mom decided they should move for financial reasons.  Off to the east coast they went to live with family.  I was heartbroken but Jake vowed to keep in touch with me and said our long distance relationship would work.  Jake called me every day and we spoke for hours.  Back then he racked up quite the long distance phone bill.  When we weren’t talking on the phone, we found a way to keep in touch through email.  Before Jake left, the only physical intimacy we engaged in was kissing, holding hands and hugging.  After he moved, he started pressuring me more and more.  Jake was hundreds of miles away but I remember him pressuring me as if he were in the same room.  Both Jake and his mom would be coming back to Wisconsin to visit.  As the days got closer, the more Jake talked about sex.

The first thing Jake asked for were pictures.  At first it was normal pictures- me playing softball or with my family.  Then he wanted pictures of me in my bathing suit.  His demands fueled my starvation.  He eventually asked for intimate pictures- specifically my fully shaven vagina.  I knew I could get in trouble and I was sick to my stomach with worry of what he would think of my most intimate parts.  I did what he asked and sent them anyway.  I loved him, right?  But that wasn’t enough.  Jake started asking me to participate in phone sex.  I was now 15 and although I knew what he was talking about, I still had no idea what to do.  Again, I gave in to Jake’s demands and did what he asked of me.  I loved him, right?  I did it multiple times.  There were times when he would call, ask for phone sex and then hang up shortly afterward.  Our ‘relationship’ no longer resembled a relationship, just a reason for him to get off.  I didn’t even enjoy our phone sex sessions.  It wasn’t about me, it wasn’t about pleasure, it was about Jake.  All of it was about him.  His sexual desires were being fulfilled by a young woman that didn’t feel like she could say no.  I didn’t know my own body then, let alone what to do with it.

I stayed with Jake because I really did feel like he was ‘the one.’  I had no guidance about healthy relationships or healthy sexuality for that matter.  All I knew was I didn’t want to be alone.  Without him I wouldn’t be beautiful, I would be ugly and no one would want me.

The following summer Jake and his mother returned to Wisconsin to visit.  During his two week stay I had every ‘first’ sexual experience taken away from me.  I was coerced into performing oral sex, receiving oral sex and losing my virginity.  There were times when I would try to stop him.  I would say I wasn’t ready or that I was nervous but that didn’t matter.  All Jake could talk about was how we were meant to be together and how much he loved me.  He had me convinced that I was ready for sex too.  If I tried to push him off me while he was attempting to perform oral sex, he would push my hand away or tell me how good it would feel.  For the record, it NEVER felt good.  It never felt right and I never felt ready for any of it.  Jake never left bruises externally, but he had damaged me emotionally.  He said if I loved him I would perform every sexual demand he had.  I remember performing oral sex and him forcing my head down so much I started to choke and gage.  He was so forceful during sex I bled for hours.  This was love… or so I was told.

After Jake returned to the east coast with all of his coercive sexual conquests, he called and said our relationship was no longer working out.  He went on with his life and I checked into an in-patient psychiatric facility.  He left me broken and sexually damaged.  It’s only within this past year, twelve years after the fact, that I have finally started to identify myself as a survivor of sexual abuse.

Posted in Teen Issues.

Teen Dating Violence Awareness & Prevention Month – a survivor’s story

{this story was submitted as part of WCASA’s call for reflections on themes related to National Teen Dating Violence Awareness & Prevention Month in the form of writing, artwork, or multimedia production; we thank this survivor for sharing her thoughts and experiences in an honest and candid way; her experiences are unfortunately all too common…}


If you looked at me, you would see an ambitious, accomplished, and carefree twenty-four year old. I have always excelled in school, had a Master’s Degree by the time I was twenty-three, come from a great family, and have an amazing group of friends. It’s what you don’t know about me that would surprise you: From the time I was sixteen to when I was twenty, I was in an abusive relationship.

I shouldn’t even have dated him. I didn’t want to, and that should have been enough. But, I was sixteen and was tired of waiting around for the boy I actually wanted to be with, so I thought I would give him a shot. Within a week, I knew he wasn’t right for me. I even told him that, but then he got sad, and I agreed to give him a real chance. He moved much more quickly than I was used to, especially when I was still trying to decide if I wanted to be going out with him. Within a few weeks he was saying that he loved me and calling me every day. Some of these things worried me, but his last girlfriend had died in a car accident just a year before, so I guess in my mind that made the behavior acceptable.

He seemed completely enamored with me, and I started to like it. For the most part, things went well during the first year. He was very jealous of my ex-boyfriend, who was a still close friend, and he would tell his family intimate details about our relationship, and even though it bothered me, I let it slide. I figured he was just a guy being a guy.

Things started to take a turn when we went to college. Anytime we weren’t together he was obsessed with what I was doing and who I was with. He would call or text me almost constantly, even though I was in class or working. He eventually became convinced I was cheating on him with the same ex-boyfriend he was jealous of in high school. I wasn’t happy with him anymore, but I just couldn’t break up with him, so we continued in the relationship for another year and a half. Because some of my other plans ended up falling through, we ended up living together during my third year of college. We moved in together in May and were broken up by July, but those few months, and the six months that followed until he actually moved out, were the worst.

He was still convinced that I was seeing my ex-boyfriend, and that he was the reason I wanted to break up. He would take my phone from me and read my messages and check my call log. If there was something from my ex, he would freak out. He would physically stop me from leaving or going to a different room in the apartment, either by pushing me or holding me by my arms. He would sometimes force me to hug him and wouldn’t let go until I would “hug back.”

During the last year or so of our relationship I had become disinterested in any form of sexual interaction, because I honestly could hardly even stand to be around him. I tried telling him I didn’t feel like being intimate, but he wouldn’t leave me alone about it. He would practically beg me for sex, or make me feel guilty until I caved, mostly just so that he would finally leave me alone. I would cry the entire time and he would pretend he didn’t notice.

For financial reasons, and because I was too nice of a person, I let him continue to live with me even after we broke up. His behavior toward me didn’t change even though we were no longer in a relationship. He was still jealous, possessive, and emotionally abusive. I remember we had a huge argument because I wanted him to give me his key back when he finally moved out. He just kept asking if it was because I was going to give it to “him.” By this time he had convinced himself, his family, and most of our mutual friends that I had cheated on him, and that as soon as he was gone we’d make our relationship public. It didn’t happen – because I never cheated in the first place.

Over the next few years I ran into him a few times, usually at the bar. Whenever he would see me, he would come up, put his arm around me, and pretend like we were best friends. Meanwhile, I would be freaking out inside and literally shaking with anger, sadness, and panic. I’d quickly explain to my friends that we needed to go somewhere else, and I would try to avoid seeing him again.

Three years after our break up, he started texting me out of the blue. At first he was nice, saying that he was really proud of me for everything I had accomplished so far. He even once said he felt bad about the way he treated me. A few days later, he told me I was a home wrecking whore and that he was the best thing that would ever happen to me, among other things. That was my final straw. I changed my phone number and haven’t heard from him since.

It’s been four years since we broke up, and I wish I could say I’m completely over it, but I’m not. What happened in that relationship will probably be with me for the rest of my life. It took a very long time for me to be able to be in a room alone with a guy and not be panicking inside. I spent a few years trying to ignore my feelings and emotions by drinking and making poor decisions. I was able to get close to people when I was drunk, so I thought I was over the past. I wasn’t, and I’m still not. I still have breakdowns and flashbacks sometimes, and I still get angry about what happened, and angry with myself for not ending the relationship sooner. Looking back, there were many red flags that I either didn’t notice, or chose to ignore, and that’s difficult to deal with. It’s a daily struggle, but I am hopeful that someday the emotional scars will be gone.

It took me years to share my story with anyone, and even now, few people in my life know the real details of why the relationship ended. It is still very difficult for me to share my story, but I know it is part of my healing process, and I know this experience is influencing my prevention work. I am passionate about working with youth to not only teach them about healthy relationships, but also to empower young women so hopefully if they get into a situation like this, they will feel strong enough to get out, or have the strength and encouragement needed to tell someone about the abuse. I’m hoping the girls I work with can avoid a situation like mine.

Last winter, I got a tattoo of a quote that inspires me to keep moving forward and work toward feeling whole again. This tattoo serves as a constant reminder that things will get better, and that I am not defined by what happened to me.

“I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.” – Carl Jung


[If you or someone you know is experiencing sexual assault, find your local Sexual Assault Service Provider; if you are experiencing physical or emotional abuse in a domestic or intimate partner relationship, find your local Domestic Violence intervention service provider]

Posted in Teen Issues.


More and more we’re working remotely these days – which is to say, we may have an office, but we’re also trying to get work done away from that office – at meetings, on planes or trains in-between meetings, or in our living rooms at home (because we’re that dedicated/crazy).

Well, luckily, we now have help – in the form of Dropbox.

screen shot of Dropbox home page

Dropbox is a cloud-based service. What is that? Basically, it means that files reside on a server (a web-based computer disk) that can be accessed anywhere that you have access to the internet. However, Dropbox takes it a step further: the files in a Dropbox folder reside on your local computer’s hard drive AND on the server – and the magic is that the Dropbox application keeps all of these files in sync.

Dropbox is free for its basic service, which gives you 2GB (gigabytes) of storage; for additional storage you pay a monthly fee (which is how the service stays in business). For our purposes, 2GB will go a long way, so you should not incur any charge for using the service.

You can access Dropbox via a web browser; if all you want to is use it as external, off-site file back up (which is one possible use) this will suffice. However, the real power of Dropbox comes from the application. Download this to your local machine and a Dropbox folder will be created on your desktop (you can control where it’s actually placed; I have mine nested in the Documents folder on my Mac). Any file placed into this folder is automatically and seamlessly uploaded to your account on the Dropbox server.

This means that any device you have linked to the Dropbox account then receives the updated file instantaneously – or the next time it is connected to the world wide web. This means that if you work in more than one location, on more than one machine, you can install Dropbox on both of them and files will automatically be kept in sync.

The Dropbox application is cross platform, so it works on Mac or Windows based PC’s; there is also an application for smart phones and tablets (iOS or Android). It works mostly the same – you have access to everything if you have Wi-fi or cellular access; if you know you’re going to be off the network, you can tell Dropbox on your iPhone or iPad to store certain files locally, and then you would be able to access them while away from a network connection (such as during a long plane flight).

In addition, Dropbox allows a group of people to share a folder full of files. This makes it a useful tool for a collaborative project, or to use as a shared drive space if your agency does not have something like this on-site.

Another use is for sharing materials with a group; for instance, last year WCASA began pushing out training materials electronically; registered participants are asked to create a Dropbox account (which does not cost them anything) and then they are invited to join the folder for the training they are registered for; they instantly have access to all the necessary documents. Furthermore, if a change is made to a PowerPoint or other document prior to a training session, this change is automatically pushed out to all participants sharing the folder.

For a short video overview, or to sign up for the service, head to Dropbox at:

You can also download WCASA’s Dropbox Guide [PDF, 4.8MB] for a step-by-step overview of how we use Dropbox.

Posted in Technology.

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January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month

January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month

January 14, 2013

On December 31, 2012, President Barack Obama proclaimed January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, also a month that coincides with 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. As has been reported in the past few years, human trafficking is in the spotlight as more people become aware that it indeed happens. See the presidential resolution.

Human trafficking is the means by which slavery occurs, or the process of modern day enslavement. This servitude can be for forced labor or sexual exploitation, or both. Victims are trafficked by force, fraud or coercion. And of course, even in the case of labor-related trafficking, sexual, dating or domestic violence can be one of the means by which traffickers intimidate, manipulate, and coerce victims.

A textile worker in Nepal indebted to her employer; a woman brought from the Philippines to be a maid for 20 years in Waukesha County; or an American girl sold into prostitution by family members as collateral against their debts. The situations that lead people to be victims of human trafficking vary greatly. Not only women and girls are affected, but transgendered individuals, as well as boys and men are also victims of labor and sex trafficking. In the beginning, they may have been promised a job with fair wages; a better opportunity for themselves or their family. However, the bottom line is trafficked persons are trapped by threats of abuse, coercion and intimidation for an indefinite amount of time. Sometimes, the burden is passed on to their children.

Human trafficking is the second largest and fastest growing criminal industry in the world, totaling $32 billion each year. It is estimated there are 27 million people in slavery worldwide.

The term human trafficking invokes images of foreign ports and far-off places. But this is a world-wide problem, including our own back yard. Wisconsin sees trafficking as well, where domestic and foreign victims have been identified in both urban and rural communities. In one survey it was reported that 130 out of 179 victims identified in Wisconsin were from within North America and 27 from Latin American, Mexico or the Caribbean.  Trafficking victims originated in communities such as Kenosha, Hales Corners, Sheboygan, Milwaukee, Wautoma and Green Bay. These important statistics revealed by surveys highlighted in Hidden in Plain Sight, a report by the Wisconsin Office of Justice Assistance (2008) that also includes victim phone interviews.

What is Wisconsin doing about it?

In 2008, the Wisconsin legislature passed anti-human trafficking legislation that models the federal law but adds an affirmative defense for adult women charged with prostitution if pimps control them by controlling their access to drugs.  The protections of the 2008 law was broadened in 2012 to add additional investigative tools for law enforcement.  In 2013, advocates hope to further broaden Wisconsin’s law to promote justice for adult and children sex trafficking victims.

Slave Free Madison is a community coalition that raises awareness of human trafficking in the Madison area. See their Status of Human Trafficking in Wisconsin.

Also read the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children: Dane County Needs Assessment (2011), by Project Respect, which conducted interviews with agencies that may come in to contact with commercially sexually exploited children and youth.

  • In March 2012, Project Respect released a baseline assessment of the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC).  This study was funded by the Wisconsin Office of Justice Assistance and is modeled after Hope International’s study of domestic minor sex trafficking victims in the U.S.   Minor sex trafficking victims had been encountered by school teachers and social workers, juvenile justice workers, law enforcement, and youth services providers in Dane County.  Included in the report are survivor narratives of young adult women who are survivors of CSEC.

5 Stones (Appleton and Madison) fights against the social injustice of sex trafficking in Wisconsin

The Thailand Project (Stevens Point) works to end stateless people, who are targets for human traffickers, through education and advocacy

Trafficking Ends with Action (Milwaukee) engages with the community, providing research and education to build networks of effective action to end modern day slavery.

UMOS (Milwaukee) assists and helps potential victims of human trafficking become more self sufficient.

The Office of Justice Assistance Human Trafficking Committee includes some of these groups and meets quarterly to strategically plan for human trafficking intervention in Wisconsin. There is much work to be done and a lot being organized to help. Contact any of these groups and see where you can help!

Check out some resources on human trafficking

What you can do:

  • Educate yourself and your community. Read stories about people in Wisconsin who were involved in the sex and labor trade.
    • Attend the 3rd Annual SlaveFree Madison Film Festival, Saturday, January 26, 2013. Learn more here.
    • Initiate community action. Read about groups addressing human trafficking in Wisconsin. Maybe volunteer for one


Posted in Prevention, Research.

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Spotlight On Prevention: Story writing as part of Awareness Raising Around Identity

I’m going to try to keep this short, because you’ll have rather a long read if you follow the link below; but I’m hoping you will, because I find it very useful.

photo of cover of Summer 2012 issue of Rethinking Schools

Rethinking Schools – issue Vol. 26, No. 4, Summer 2012 issue

If you haven’t discovered the great Rethinking Schools nonprofit, magazine, and web site, do; it’s a rich resource – grown right here in Wisconsin! Among the many insightful pieces is Linda Christensen’s piece: The Danger of a Single Story [Volume 26 No.4 – Summer 2012 ] (like I said, long article, but worth perusing).

In the piece, Christensen describes how she uses writing assignments as part of her dual agenda – to teach students how to write compelling essays and to help students explore aspects of identity. I think her lesson could be a great spring-board into a discussion of gender-based violence, dating violence and sexual assault.

In describing her work with students, she references a TED (technology/entertainment/design) talk by Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie by the same title, “The Danger of a Single Story” (this, too, is worth your time –about 18 min. worth).

Have you used free or structured writing assignments with students or workshop participants to unpack the “ism’s” that pave the way for treating people as less than human? Have any interesting examples of things that participants have uncovered through writing? Any insights? Share in the comments…

Posted in Prevention.

A week in Chicago with 1,200 of our friends…

screen grab image from YouTube video of 1,200 participants at NSAC 2012

An idea of how big a room it takes to fit 1,200 people!

As I write this, the 2012 NSAC (National Sexual Assault Conference) is just wrapping up in Chicago, IL. Over 1,200 participants packed the 5th floor ballroom of the Sheraton on Water Street to participate in three days of plenaries, workshops, and valuable networking and face-to-face contact with survivors, violence prevention educators, advocates, counselors, and community activists from across the country.

This year’s theme, “Revive, Rethink, Reclaim” became the road map for the each of the three days in succession. In Wednesday’s opening ceremony, after Illinois’s Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon serenaded us by banjo (I kid you not), Cassandra Thomas raised the roof calling upon all of us to get angry once again, as we had been when this movement began. She called us out on some of our issues too – dual agencies that shortchange sexual assault work; getting clear about our “isms” – biases that stand in the way of us serving all clients regardless of identity; and our funding issues, and the danger of letting funding alone drive the work. Revived indeed!

At lunch, Attorney Susan Burke challenged the crowd to pressure Congress to change the way sexual assault is handled in the military, citing several cases of clients she has worked with personally as examples of the failure of the current system to provide justice and fairness to victims. This was especially poignant, as this year’s conference had record attendance of military personal from several branches (but an obvious majority from the Air Force; the large patches of blue dotted the ballroom seating).

Thursday’s “Rethink” agenda included an appearance by Illinois Congresswoman Jan Schankowsky, and a rousing, honest, inspiring plenary by political strategist and television commentator Donna Brazile.

Friday, the conference concluded with a rotating series of presentations highlighting creative awareness raising and intervention work, hosted by PAVE (Promoting Awareness/Victim Empowerment) founder Angela Rose (who, although an Illinois native, spent her formative activist years as a student at UW-Madison). The programs highlighted included: Heather Jarvis representing Slutwalk Toronto; Tina Frundt discussing the brutally honest reality of her past as a trafficking victim, her work with Courtney’s House in Washington, D.C., and the hypocrisy of prosecuting victims of trafficking for prostitution; author Jaclyn Friedman discussing sex-positive education and the need for authentic sexual liberation; the founders of A Long Walk Home, a program that uses art therapy to help survivors heal and raise awareness; an inspiring spoken word performance by the Empowered Fe Fes, a peer support and performance group for women with disabilities; and finally an overview of the work of The Angel Band project.

In addition to all of that, there were six break-out sessions where participants could choose among 83 workshops! WCASA folk spread ourselves out as much as we could to try and take in collectively as much as possible. We will be discussing the conference and sharing what we can in the coming months.

If you couldn’t make it this time around, mark your calendars: NSAC 2013 is scheduled for Aug. next year in Los Angeles, CA!

[If you are on Twitter, you can “replay” a bunch of the dialogue and get access to links by searching for the #nsac2012 hashtag!]

Posted in Uncategorized.

on the Podcast train…

A quick note: we’ve begun podcasting! (it’s about time…) – our first episode, looking at Social Media and Facebook is available onYouTube.

In addition, we’re going to make the podcast available via RSS (conveniently, a future podcast will explain exactly what that is). You will find the RSS feed (for those already in the know) on the right-hand side of our blog. We also hope to make it available via iTunes s00n(ish). Details forthcoming.

Please feel free to watch/listen to the podcasts and let us know what you think – your feedback will help shape future episodes.

Posted in General, Technology.

How do you spell S-U-P-E-R-B-O-W-L? How about BINGO!?

A spectacular idea from our allies down in Iowa:

“… The Super Bowl has arrived-along with the year’s most anticipated commercials. These 30 second commercials cost advertisers 3 million dollars. What strategies did they use to sell their products? Why are these scenarios so effective and engaging? How might these concepts contribute to violence?

Riverview Center’s Super Bowl BINGO game can be found on our homepage. Please download the playing card and play along during the game, paying close attention to what is going on during the commercials. Please note that we have some pretty cool prizes, including but not limited to, an iPod, gift certificates, and our very own Riverview Center t-shirts!! And everyone is eligible to win!

Enjoy the game!
Josh M. Jasper, M.S.W.
Riverview Center


Dubuque, IA 52003

Direct link to PDF Bingo sheet (3.5MB)

Posted in News.

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