Tuesday, November 17, 2009

For Staff, Interns and Volunteers - What we have done together

from Megan O'Bryan, Executive Director

How Cleveland Rape Crisis Center’s Team has Supported Survivors and Community in Response to Imperial Avenue Tragedy

As the deeply disturbing tragedy on Imperial Avenue has unfolded over the past two and a half weeks, all of us at Cleveland Rape Crisis Center have experienced sadness, disbelief, anger and grief. This tragedy is multi-layered with issues of gender, race, addiction and class linked to the tragic deaths so many women in our community. I know we have all struggled to process this horrible event and have all relied upon and supported one another in many ways.

While the media and others focus on the sensational nature of the story, and seek to place blame on someone or something, the Center seeks ways to RESPOND and SUPPORT. In just two weeks we have rallied our resources in almost countless ways.

To provide services to the Mt. Pleasant community to help them process this violence against women in their neighborhood we held an outstanding Community Forum attended by a diverse audience of 60 people on November 10 at the Mt. Pleasant branch of Cleveland Public Library. What struck me was the repeated and heartfelt “thanks” that was spoken to Cleveland Rape Crisis Center for offering a safe and supportive space to discuss sexual violence and all issues concerning the tragedy. We made many outstanding connections with other agencies serving women and the neighborhood. We facilitated a tough dialogue and so many of our staff and interns were there to support the effort.

Almost immediately following the breaking news, we arranged for an office space for therapy at the Mt. Pleasant location of the Murtis-Taylor Multi-Service Center to serve victims who may have survived an attack by Sowell or any rape survivor in the neighborhood. This collaboration will help us meet victims in their own community within a familiar agency. We are also planning groups in the women’s jail and within practically every women’s residential treatment facility in the city. Through these new programs, we will be putting stimulus funds to critical use, and will try to reach at-risk and vulnerable populations like those targeted by Sowell.

CRCC’s response to media has been almost nonstop since our Op-Ed ran in the Forum Section of The Plain Dealer on November 6. We advocated for the Op-Ed because we were concerned that media coverage was leading to some victim-blaming and was not focusing on this as a gender-targeted crime. We were concerned about news reports reiterating common rape myths to the public. Our phones were relatively silent until the Op-Ed was published. Since then, we have done literally dozens of interviews highlighting why victims might not report or cooperate, what resources exist for all survivors (including the hotline), and the prevalence of rape in our culture.

Yesterday we set up the crisis line that is intended solely for victims who may have survived a rape by Sowell. This crisis line was a result of law enforcement’s concern that there are more victims, but who might be fearful of police. We are using a separate line versus the hotline for reasons including a direct link to a therapist.

Our media response has been very challenging, as we need to maintain a fine balance between advocating for social change without placing blame on someone or something as the media would like. It has been very hard, heartbreaking in fact, to hear reports of victims not taken seriously or deemed “not credible.” But, we simply do not know all the facts. What we do know is that we have tirelessly worked with law enforcement over the years and maintain a strong partnership and relationship built on mutual respect. While we have many questions and wish this tragedy could have been prevented, we know we cannot blame one person or thing when it is our entire society that needs to shift and change.

Our response so far to Imperial Avenue has hugely been a team effort, touched and supported by every program and person at the Center. This has required a lot from all of us; staff, interns and volunteers. We have gone above and beyond our regular duties and have been extremely flexible as we jumped to create new programs, answered increased hotline calls, helped clients who have been re-traumatized by the coverage, and maneuvered many TV cameras coming through our space.

I am writing this because I am really proud of the teamwork that has taken place out of care and concern for survivors. I am also writing this because I recognize this has been hectic, sad, disruptive and plain hard work for the entire Center team. I encourage everyone to participate in self-care, and to find ways to separate from this story if you can. Please come and see me if you need help doing that, or if you need to talk about anything related to Imperial Avenue and our response.

Thank you for displaying the flexibility to work and volunteer at a “crisis center” and stay tuned.

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