API Chaya’s bus ad campaign. Courtesy of API Chaya.

When I first came into my work at API Chaya in my early 20s, I was aware of the statistics around sexual violence: 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men have experienced sexual violence in their lifetimes. What I was not yet able to comprehend was the impact of this violence, the proximity of this violence, or the generations of harm associated with this violence.

As people came to know me as an employee of API Chaya, disclosures from friends, family, and acquaintances became a regular experience. There was a moment, about five years into rape crisis and advocacy work, where I broke down. Everywhere I looked, there was sexual violence. In my family, in our history of survival in the Philippines, among my high school friends, my college friends, our clients, and the new people I was meeting doing community organizing. I remember telling my friend, “Everywhere I look is rape.” As a survivor supporting survivors, I found myself overwhelmed and had to take a step back.

In this moment, as record numbers of survivors are sharing their experiences of harm, we are having a collective cultural experience which reminds me of this personal moment many years ago. For those of us who have been part of the anti-violence movement, this moment is a long time coming. For many in immigrant communities, #metoo has not yet crossed the language or cultural barriers that support and uphold silence about sexual violence. For others, there is a new awakening coming to life through the testimonies of survivors from around the country and beyond.

API Chaya launched a bus ad campaign this past winter as a signal to our communities that we have and we will continue to believe survivors, that they are not alone, that help and support is available. Experiences of sexual violence are so rampant in our communities, however, that we wanted the messaging to also support skill building within friend, family, and neighborhood networks. We Believe Survivors is a simple message. For a survivor revealing their experience for the first time, being listened to, being believed is life changing. It is healing and powerful.

Too often individuals who have been harmed by someone in their families never disclose the harm out of fear of shaming the family, causing rifts in the social fabric of our communities, and being isolated from the support networks that they do have. Our families and communities are complex, as the majority of sexual assault survivors know the person who harmed them and, at some point, cared for them. For folks that are disabled, sometimes the person who sexually abused them is also the person that they rely on for daily care. For women who are incarcerated, over 90% are survivors of domestic and/or sexual violence and also face the high risk of ongoing sexual violence while imprisoned. Violence has been interwoven with our survival in dangerous ways.

However, API Chaya deeply believes that a cultural shift is possible. People who cause harm in our communities are people who have also been harmed. Our communities are in deep need of healing and transformation. This is why API Chaya is working on creating healing spaces: support groups for sexual assault survivors, a HEAL curriculum in Monroe Prison, prevention work with youth, skill building around accountability, and promoting skills around consent and bodily autonomy.

We invite you to take action at a personal level by believing the experiences of survivors in your lives and at a policy level by following and taking action on the following bills:

1. Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2019 (Federal)
HR 1585, VAWA was introduced with bipartisan support and provides for grants for services related to sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking, and sex trafficking. It improves access to housing, health care, and basic needs support for survivors of violence. The 2019 VAWA end impunity of non-Native perpetrators of sexual assault and child abuse on tribal lands. In the United States, the only racial group more likely to be sexually assaulted by members outside of their race are Native women. Take action today: Call your members of Congress to ask them to support HR 1585. https://whoismyrepresentative.com/
Follow: National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, www.ncadv.org

2. Assistance for Victims of Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Washington state)
SB 5164 and HB 1971: Assistance for victims of trafficking and other serious crimes
This bill expands access to critical services and support benefits for immigrants harmed by human trafficking and other serious crimes. Immigrant victims of trafficking and abuse are frequently trapped in dangerous situations and vulnerable to further exploitation because they struggle to meet basic needs. Increasing access to state food, medical, and economic supports while these survivors apply for federal assistance can improve lives, promote community safety, and reduce further victimization.

3. Comprehensive Sex Education (Washington state)
SB 5395: This bill increases statewide uniformity in the teaching of age-appropriate comprehensive sexual health education for public school students, including information about healthy relationships and consent. Current law allows school districts to opt-in to teaching comprehensive health education, and requires them to meet certain standards if they do. This bill would require that all districts teach such health education, preserving the right of individual parents to opt-out their children. More policy updates are available at www.WSCADV.org.

For more opinions, click here