It’s important for victims of sexual violence to have a place where they can get the support they need to process their experience and gradually heal.
But just as important is the need for prevention strategies, to stop sexual violence before it can occur.
SARA, short for the Sexual Assault Resource Agency, aims to create cultures that prevent sexual violence through education and a change in social norms. SARA serves individuals and communities in the City of Charlottesville and the counties of Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa, and Nelson. Its staff work with child and adult survivors of all genders, as well as non-offending friends and family of survivors of any kind of sexual violence.
The program also provides programs to prevent anyone in the community from becoming a perpetrator of sexual violence. SARA works primarily with schools, faith communities, parents, and organizations (local businesses, restaurants, community groups, etc.).
Preventing sexual violence from happening in the first place is a foundational strategy in its approach to eliminating sexual violence.
“Traditionally, the focus has always been on victims. And while that’s of course valuable, it does not help prevent a future harm from happening. It’s a good place to start, but if we had never moved past victimization, then what are we really accomplishing?” asks Laurie Jean Seaman, Director of Prevention programming for SARA.
The organization’s focus when it was founded in the 1970s was on supporting survivors of sexual violence. It was more than 20 years later that its mission shifted more toward prevention strategies, says Seaman.
Today, Seaman and her team of three focus on examining ways to shift social norms that make sexual violence untenable and unacceptable. “How do we shift the environment, policy practices, any sort of community level, factors that can either make it more likely that someone will try to commit sexual assault or make it less likely that someone will try to commit sexual assault within that community. So, specifically, we’re talking about identifying the protective factors, the things that make it less likely that someone would commit sexual assault in a specific context,” explains Seaman.
Protective factors are many and varied. Seaman names a few: building a sense of inclusive belonging, having norms and practices in place around emotional and mental health, and bringing in a sense of community responsibility for prevention. An example of a community responsibility would be bystander intervention.
How does SARA translate its ideas into beneficial actions for a community?
“We may select a target audience or community and we go in and we get to know people in that community or that industry or that institution. And we just do a lot of listening sessions. We kind of get to know like, how are they doing? Like what’s important to them. What are their experiences, not only of incidents of sexual violence, but of prevention efforts or social norms in that environment We get a broad scope impression of that audience or community,” says Seaman.
It’s in that process of listening that the folks at SARA have the opportunity offer resources and information whenever relevant or appropriate. By working together with the people in that community, healthy prevention strategies can be arrived at together. Working together increases the likelihood that the users, or key stakeholders, will be committed to the prevention strategies.
“How, for example, can we help create a workplace culture in the first place where people might start their careers, and many of them stay for many, many years, maybe their whole career, because it is a safe, healthy environment in which to work,” says Seaman.
For more information about SARA, visit their website at https://www.saracville.org/ . Go to the Prevention tab to learn about how you, your workplace or your community can take action to prevent sexual violence.
The new On the Fly program developed for Charlottesville area restaurants is already proving to be an effective means for protecting employees, says Richard Ridge, Owner and Manager, Fitzroy Restaurant.
Participating restaurants worked with the prevention-focused team at the Sexual Assault Resource Agency, or SARA. For decades, SARA has been doing important work helping sexual assault survivors. In recent years, the agency has strengthened its focus on preventing sexual assault from happening in the first place.
On the Fly is a color-system that allows staff to report quickly to their management or leadership teams if something inappropriate occurred in order for those intervention strategies to be applied, explains Jada Cox, Bystander Empowerment Specialist, SARA.
“There’s a value to the immediate communication, at the time it’s happening. Managers are not finding out the next day, when it’s too late,” notes SARA Agency Director of Prevention Laurie Jean Talun.
A code yellow means the manager is alerted to monitor the situation. The action might be as simple as the manager approaching the table and greeting the patrons. This can send a subtle message that the manager is aware and is keeping an eye out and is often all that it takes for a situation to immediately diffuse.
An orange might require a stronger intervention, such as switching servers for a particular table. And if the situation has escalated to Red, it’s usually time to remove the person from the restaurant.
Says Ridge, “It gives staff an opportunity to speak with me. If they’re feeling unsafe and it, as a manager, it gives me the opportunity to quickly address the issue.”
He adds, “We like having something in place like On the Fly to be able to work with incidences when they happen, and help our staff work through the situation and make sure that everybody’s feeling okay.”
The On the Fly program is a system that’s been built to respond to situations. It’s not primary prevention, and that’s where the SARA Prevention team really comes to the forefront: doing leadership training for restaurant management as well as training for the front of house and back of house.
“We want things to feel normalized that it is not normal to be spoken to a certain way or harassed a certain type of way. It’s not normal to experience some type of sexual violence in your place of work, a place where you should feel protected that you go to earn a living, to provide for your family,” says Carley Wilson, Community Prevention Specialist, SARA.
“It’s a critical process of setting new norms for working in restaurants. For some who’ve worked in them for years, being sexually harassed and putting up with it in the hopes of earning bigger tips has become expected, just part of the job. Setting new norms, where this kind of thing is not acceptable, is what we help to make happen,” says Talun.
As the On the Fly program gains traction in Charlottesville, SARA and the Restaurant Coalition are hoping to share this sexual assault prevention strategy with other restaurants statewide.
For more information about SARA and the On the Fly program for restaurants, you can also visit https://www.saracville.org/restaurants.
Members of a local restaurant coalition located in Charlottesville have worked with a local agency to develop a program designed to make workers feel safer on the job.
On the Fly was developed by the Sexual Assault Resource Agency, or SARA, a nonprofit with a mission to eliminate sexual violence and its impacts in communities through advocacy, prevention education, and outreach. SARA serves the city of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Louisa, Nelson, Fluvanna and Greene Counties.
It was a collaborative process with local restaurants that came together to seek solutions for creating safer workplace environments, explains Laurie Jean Talun, Director of Prevention, Sexual Assault Resource Agency (SARA).
Says Richard Ridge, Owner and Manager, The Fitzroy Restaurant, “We care about our people. And in an environment like a restaurant where it’s fast paced, I want people to know that we have their back. I was approached by the SARA folks who wanted to know how they could better serve us as a business in the community.
“And one thing that we started to talk about was the health and safety of our employees. And that’s something that’s always been really important to me and the more I learned about their organization, I thought we could really have a chance to work together on a project that could help our employees and our managers. “
Like many small cities, Charlottesville has an active grapevine and it was the first place where SARA staff heard there was interest among some restaurant staffs, particularly bartenders, in finding a way to discourage unpleasant or downright sexually inappropriate behavior among patrons toward staff.
The Prevention staff at SARA started visiting restaurants, including the Fitzroy, during off peak hours, introducing themselves and having casual conversations about what might work to shift the restaurant culture.
“When we introduced ourselves as being from the local Sexual Assault Resource Agency, it sparked interest. For a lot of the people we spoke with, we were able to kind of shape the conversation to explain the kinds of things we have been able to do in other types of institutions. We just want to support people. We wanted to know what some ways were we could that, so that they would feel safe coming to work,” explains Talun.
What rose to the surface during these informal conversations was that there were a number of managers of local restaurants who really care about the safety and wellbeing of their staff. And they would find out the next day that one of their staff members had experienced some sort of really problematic harassment from a customer. They wanted to find a way to prevent this from happening,” says Talun.
The result was the formation of a small coalition of restaurant owners and managers who started meeting with SARA staff to discuss options and develop solutions. From there, the On the Fly program was developed.
The program is a system of color coding, in which a server can let their manager know, on the fly, that there is a potential or current problem with a customer. The restaurant managers determined what would be a yellow, an orange, or a red incident, and what would be the appropriate action that management would take to address the situation.
Part Two discusses the On the Fly program in more detail.
For more information about SARA and the On the Fly program for restaurants, you can also visit https://www.saracville.org/restaurants.
There are 30 trauma informed community networks throughout the state of Virginia. What does this mean exactly?
Trauma informed community networks are a powerful means for people to work together to address violence, substance misuse, mental health issues and other challenges that may permeate a community.
The networks are typically comprised of community members, social workers, educators, clinicians, and other key stakeholders, getting together to examine things happening in each respective community, explains Amanda Lynch of Greater Richmond SCAN (Stop Child Abuse Now).
For example, in central Virginia, the greater Richmond trauma-informed community network has been looking at mental health among young people, the uptick in community violence, and recognizing and understanding how these things permeate all of our systems, she says.
Coalitions have developed and grown organically in each community. “The purpose is to look and see what’s happening in the community, to talk about what community trauma, maybe generational trauma looks like to define what trauma even means in each community. And then to brainstorm some strategies, offer resources and training where appropriate, and look for opportunities for advocacy to support what’s happening in each community,” says Lynch.
Why is building a more resilient community important?
Explains Lynch, “Building a more resilient community is really important because first it’s important to understand that we all possess an inner resilience both individually and collectively. And so it’s important to recognize where our strengths lie, but then also acknowledging that there are some areas that might need to be polished. That’s where our community networks and Greater Richmond SCAN come in, to provide training opportunities and resources to support efforts to build community resiliency.”
“Trauma Informed” has become something of a buzzword over the past few years but it addresses serious issues such as the ways that past trauma can manifest itself in our bodies and our overall health. And, by extension, how we cope with these things: by acting out violently, or by learning how to deal with the trauma in healthier ways.
“I don’t think that many of us recognize the ways that adverse childhood experiences, community and domestic violence, even things like racism or historic trauma show up in our bodies. When we think about trauma informed practices, we want to make sure that people understand what toxic stress does to you physically and emotionally, and how those things can spill over in terms of relationships or employment. In order to be trauma informed, you first have to have that working definition of what trauma is, and then start to dig a little deeper to understand how this might be showing up for you,” says Lynch.
Trauma is the response to a deeply distressing or disturbing event that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope, causes feelings of helplessness, diminishes their sense of self and their ability to feel a full range of emotions and experiences. It is pervasive throughout the world.
An example of trauma’s impact on a child might be something as simple as the child having stomach aches on a regular basis, which could be code for stress and anxiety. They just don’t have the communication skills to express it. It can be the same for adults. “If you find you’re not sleeping well, or you’re not eating, or maybe you’re not engaging in the physical or mind body activities that you once were. Maybe there is some stress or underlying trauma that is happening, and you might want to explore that,” says Lynch.
Why is being trauma-informed important to building caring communities?
Being trauma-informed means having the tools available to identify the source of that stress and underlying trauma, and then having the ability to respond in a healthy way rather than reacting negatively, or violently, says Lynch.
The Greater Richmond Trauma Informed Community Network (GRTICN) was formed in the fall of 2012, and is currently comprised of over 500 members from more than 160 different organizations. The GRTICN aims to build a more equitable, safe, trauma-informed, and resilient community by informing, supporting, and elevating the Greater Richmond (VA) region.
GRTICN’s mission is driven by the following priorities: preventing and mitigating the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs); advancing trauma-informed practice and policies; and advocating for trauma-informed system change.
For more information, visit: https://grscan.com/trauma-informed-community-network/.