Raliance funded support group facilitators project

September 19, 2016

In times of massive social and political change, people often wish for a guide that explains what is happening, why it is happening, and how they are supposed to cope. With Raliance funding, FORGE is setting out to create just that for sexual assault services – specifically, why and how to create gender-integrated support groups.

There is no question that U.S. sexual assault services are currently engaged in massive, paradigm-breaking change. For decades sexual assault has been characterized as “violence against women” or, more recently, “gender-based violence.” Men have been characterized as the “overwhelming majority” of sexual assault perpetrators,[i] and “safe space” for survivors has been operationally defined as a place without men[ii]. Yet even while the U.S. Office on Violence Against Women continues to state that only 1 in 71 men experience sexual assault,[iii] evidence continues to point to the inaccuracy of this statistic. Recent reports on sexual assault in the military have revealed that most military victims are male.[iv] Similarly, 80% of clergy sex abuse victims have been male.[v] The last National Crime Victimization Survey found that 38% of all men are survivors, and a recent study suggests the male/female percentages would be even closer if “sexual assault” was defined to include the acts men are most likely to be forced into.[vi] Female perpetrators are also more common than most believe: A recent study found that 9 of 10 juvenile justice detainees who report sexual assault were male youth assaulted by female staff.[vii]

In sharp contrast to the slowly-dawning awareness of male survivors and female perpetrators is the rapid growth in public awareness of transgender people. Unfortunately, public discussion has not only ignored the greater than 50% sexual assault rate trans men and trans women both experience,[viii] but instead has focused on the utterly unfounded accusation that trans people represent sexual threats to women and children.[ix] [x] As the general public struggles to accept and acknowledge adult transgender men and women as everyday people, many have even greater difficulty with the reality that young people are increasingly identifying their gender as neither female nor male.[xi] Gender non-binary individuals of all ages experience sexual assault, too, but where do they fit in a system that sees victims as female and perpetrators as male? How do sexual assault programs serve emerging male, trans, and non-binary survivors if they are widely viewed not as survivors, but as perpetrators?

Adding to these challenges is a cascade of legal changes and new mandates. An ever-increasing number of federal agencies and courts are interpreting existing sex discrimination prohibitions to cover gender identity, thereby outlawing discrimination against transgender people.[xii] The 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) requires all VAWA-funded agencies to provide “comparable services” to men and transgender survivors if they cannot be served within existing sex-segregated services for women only.[xiii] Providing separate groups based on gender is not only more expensive, but it may be difficult to initially gain enough participants if male or transgender survivors do not step forward because they believe services are not available to them or they are worried about the competence of the facilitators to serve them respectfully. Even where sex-segregated services can be provided, where do gender non-binary survivors fit?

The most effective answer to these challenges is to create gender-integrated groups. Yet this simple solution seems overwhelmingly difficult, if not impossible to many people: society teaches us that men and women are so different from each other they might as well come from separate planets.[xiv] Trans people are so different from non-trans people that some are now calling for separate bathrooms just for them.[xv] As sexual assault survivors, don’t they all have very different needs?[xvi]

Raliance logo (PRNewsFoto/NSVRC)

To help victim service providers, mental health professionals, and others who are committed to creating support groups that are open, welcoming, and healing for sexual assault survivors of all genders, FORGE, with the support of Raliance funding, will:

  • Create an extensive guide for support group facilitators. The guide will include but not be limited to: more accurate and up-to-date statistics about sexual assault survivors and perpetrators; information about the shared and unique needs of female, male, trans, and gender non-binary survivors; gender-neutral language and pronouns; techniques and approaches for reducing and addressing biased remarks and beliefs; tips for trauma-informed facilitating; techniques to address the barriers and concerns of stakeholders (funders, community members), staff, and clients; how to screen clients for gender-integrated groups; new legal requirements affecting traditionally sex-segregated services; and resources for further reading (aimed at both facilitators and survivors).  [The guide will be reviewed by at least five sexual assault support group facilitators to provide feedback prior to finalizing the Guide.]
  • Host a webinar specific to the support group facilitators’ guide. A training webinar will highlight the guide and share some of its contents. We anticipate that some facilitators and agency staff will benefit from this learning modality instead of or in addition to a written Guide. FORGE webinars are always dynamic, engaging, and well attended.  If you aren’t already on our low-volume mailing list, we encourage you to sign up at http://forge-forward.org/about/subscribe/
  • Both the guide and webinar will be informed by a survey of support group facilitators. The survey will focus on support group facilitators’ concerns and challenges to running gender-inclusive groups, as well as best practices and suggestions from those who have had experience with gender-inclusive groups.
  • Interviews with support group facilitators will also shape the guide and webinar. We will conduct in-depth telephone interviews of at least 10 facilitators with extensive experience facilitating gender-inclusive sexual assault support groups, focusing in particular on asking for advice on the issues/barriers identified by facilitators who have only run single-sex groups. These interviews will also solicit examples of support group interactions around gender and sample policies and procedures to be included in the guide and webinar.
  • Even support group facilitators need support! – A forum for facilitators will create an ongoing mechanism to support sexual assault facilitators, focused on encouraging sharing and problem-solving. All webinar participants and anyone downloading the guide will be invited to participate.

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Who is FORGE?

FORGE is a national transgender anti-violence organization, founded in 1994. Since 2009, we have been federally funded to provide direct services to transgender, gender non-conforming and gender non-binary survivors of sexual assault. Since 2011, FORGE has served as the only transgender-focused organization federally funded to provide training and technical assistance to providers around the country who work with transgender survivors of sexual assault, domestic and dating violence, and stalking. Our role as a technical assistance provider has allowed us to directly see key continued and emerging challenges many agencies are experiencing in serving sexual assault survivors of all genders.

Our work is rooted in two foundational principles: Being trauma-informed and empowerment-focused in all the work we do both with survivors and with victim service professionals. We are also guided by research and evidence-based strategies, but are highly aware that when working with marginalized populations sometimes the most successful solutions are charting new territory and creating new best practices.

We have a long history of crafting dynamic in-person, remote-access, and print-based training materials in ways that are highly accessible to many types of victim service providers, as well as many learning levels and styles. To sample some of our training materials, you can:

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[i] See last “fact” on webpage at http://endsexualviolencect.org/resources/get-the-facts/national-statistics-on-sexual-violence/

[ii] See, for example, Rape Crisis Center FAQs: http://www.danecountyrcc.org/services/index.php?category_id=3912&subcategory_id=5348

[iii] For one example, see this 2012 OVW memo: Justice News: Acting Director of the Office on Violence Against Women Bea Hanson Speaks at the Department of Justice Sexual Assault Awareness Month Event. April 2012.  https://www.justice.gov/opa/speech/acting-director-office-violence-against-women-bea-hanson-speaks-department-justice-sexual

[iv] Breaking the silence.  December 2013.  Matthew Hay Brown. http://data.baltimoresun.com/military-sexual-assaults/

[v] Five myths about the Catholic sexual abuse scandal.  April 2010.  David Gibson.  Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/16/AR2010041602026.html

[vi] When Men Are Raped.  April 2014.  Hanna Rosin.  Slate.  http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2014/04/male_rape_in_america_a_new_study_reveals_that_men_are_sexually_assaulted.html

[vii] The Dark Secret of Juvenile Detention Centers. September 2014. Josh Voorhees.  http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2014/09/woodland_hills_youth_development_center_the_dark_secret_of_juvenile_detention.html

[ix]  “15 Experts Debunk Right-Wing Transgender Bathroom Myth” (CARLOS MAZA & LUKE BRINKER. March 20, 2014) retrieved from http://mediamatters.org/research/2014/03/20/15-experts-debunk-right-wing-transgender-bathro/198533

[x]  Macarow, Aron (March 5, 2015) “The Toughest Obstacle for Trans Rights is Fear Mongering,” attn.: retrieved from http://www.attn.com/stories/879/anti-trans-bathroom-attack-video

[xi]  Trans and non-trans millennials do not believe that gender is limited to male and female. For example, see this article from 2015’s Fusion poll: http://fusion.net/story/42216/half-of-young-people-believe-gender-isnt-limited-to-male-and-female/

[xii] Eilperin, Juliet (December 1, 2015) “Obama’s Quiet Transgender Revolution,” Washington Post, retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/obamas-quiet-transgender-revolution/2015/11/30/6879527e-95e4-11e5-b5e4-279b4501e8a6_story.html

[xiii] U.S. Department of Justice. (2014). Frequently Asked Questions: Nondiscrimination Grant Condition in the Violence Against Women Act of 2013, retrieved from https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/ovw/legacy/2014/06/20/faqs-ngc-vawa.pdf.

[xiv] See, for example: Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, a bestselling book from John Gray.

[xv] For information on one proposed bill addressing the need for separate bathrooms for transgender students, see http://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/feb/16/separate-bathroom-bill-transgender-students-south-dakota

[xvi] The Office on Violence Against Women recently commissioned a study of how male survivors could be better served by the VAWA system. Initial drafts of the report (which is still in the approval process) assumed that male survivors of necessity would need different types of services, although no evidence was offered to support this assumption. The report of this effort was scheduled to be published in January 2016.