We want you to be safe. Safe to be with your family, to work, to travel – to go about your daily life after you or a loved one has experienced sexual violence. And, equally important: safe to speak about that experience. What better time to observe YWCA’s annual global Week Without Violence, October 16 through 20, than in the wake of the latest scandal surrounding a powerful figure who wielded his influence to assault and subjugate women?
Harvey Weinstein is just the latest titan – in the entertainment industry and across a broad spectrum of our culture – to be accused of physical and psychological abuse of female subordinates. By the term “subordinates,” I mean those whose degree of authority is less than the individual who abused them. Whether Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes or a private citizen who uses controlling behavior in a personal or professional relationship, the abuse of power to perpetuate sexual violence cannot be tolerated.
When an abuser preys on the vulnerabilities of others, society as a whole suffers. This is the case when gender-based abuse prevails in the workplace, in family or in any association. The very fact that Harvey Weinstein’s activities were allowed to continue unchecked for so many years, covertly, is one of the strongest arguments yet for speaking out. The women he has preyed on have formed an instantaneous community whose members did not, until now, know of the unfortunate bond they shared.
At the community that is healingSPACE, we take our mission seriously; SPACE means Support, Prevention, Advocacy, Counseling, and Empowerment. We are proud to be one of YWCA Bergen County’s longest-running programs, with our origins dating back to the 1970s as a grassroots organization of women who wanted to create a haven for survivors of this kind of abuse. We have grown enormously since those days more than four decades ago in a church meeting room in Englewood.
Today, our Confidential Sexual Violence Advocates and Licensed Clinicians provide programming for survivors of gender-based violence who are children, individuals with disabilities, LGBTQ individuals, and military veterans. healingSPACE’s direct services include one-on-one counseling and housing, as well as advocacy and issues education. We also understand that survivors of gender-based violence are in particularly great need of health care services, and we support the infrastructure currently provided by the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), Medicaid, Medicare, state health insurance programs, and reproductive health service providers.
YWCA is one of the largest networks of domestic violence service providers in this country, helping more than 530,000 survivors each year. And in Bergen County, YWCA fulfills the role of helping our residents conquer this scourge. From July 2016 through May 2017 alone, healingSPACE has accomplished the following:
- Provided 2,079 services through our 24/7 crisis intervention to callers on our crisis hotline, serving 220 new survivors and 73 significant others
- Counselors served 75 clients with more 1982 individual counseling sessions, and provided 12 men and 16 women with 77 group sessions
- Advocates accompanied 59 individuals who were sexually assaulted or abused to hospitals, emergency rooms, law enforcement agencies, and/or legal proceedings
- Completed 104 sexual violence prevention and education presentations to 4,075 youth and college students throughout Bergen County
- Displayed 59 Traveling Clothesline Projects
That’s strength in numbers. But in this Week Without Violence, we reiterate our fervent belief that having even one person come forward to speak out, to request services or to seek shelter, is a victory. We have several events planned throughout the week to introduce the community to our programming.
In raising awareness of gender-based violence, we fully recognize there’s a lot more work to be done. We are also keenly aware that changes in technology have led to newer avenues for sexual predators, in cyber-abuse where gaining access to justice can be even tougher because laws are still catching up with these technological shifts. But we are encouraged by the increasing awareness these recent high-profile cases have brought, and by the strengthening judicial infrastructure around this violence. For example, New Jersey is among the growing number of states that do not set a statute of limitations on prosecutions for sexual assault. That’s certainly progress.
By his pattern of action dating back many years, Harvey Weinstein demonstrated a complete lack of empathy for others – for the women he coerced and violated, and whose careers he threatened. The many individuals around him who enabled his behavior will be held to task, one way or another, for their complicity. That’s also progress, however delayed.
The healing starts now — here at YWCA Bergen County, and everywhere that survivors of gender-based violence can feel safe. We welcome you.
Dr. Stephen Oreski, LCSW has been involved in the Sexual Violence movement for over 20 years. His professional background includes leadership in social movements, policy, advocacy, and community organization. Currently, Dr. Oreski is the clinical supervisor for YWCA Bergen County healingSPACE, Bergen County’s Sexual Violence program, and maintains a private practice in Paramus, NJ, specializing in long-term counseling for survivors of sexual violence and their families.