Bold Moves to End Sexual Violence: A Not-So-Live-Blog of the 2018 National Sexual Assault Conference

Ms. is a proud media sponsor of the 2018 National Sexual Assault Conference, co-hosted by the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. This year’s NSAC theme is “Bold Moves: Ending Sexual Violence in One Generation.” Leading up to the event, presenters and major speakers will be expanding on their work to answer that call right here on the Ms. blog.

Carmen here, digital editor at Ms.  (Typing that sounds repetitive, if only because that is the phrase I have said at least five times today alone at the nation’s largest annual convening of advocates, activists and experts dedicated to ending violence.)

Ms. is the proud media sponsor of this year’s National Sexual Assault Conference—which is why I’ll be spending three days in Anaheim, California handing out a million free magazines, streaming sessions and digging deeper into the topics we’re raising at the conference through a marathon of live-streamed conversations with experts and advocates from the Ms. booth in the exhibition hall.

You can follow all the action live on our Facebook page—but I’m also going to collect it right here for you, too! In this not-so-live-blog, which I’ll update sporadically (read: when I’m not arranging magazines in neat rows or holding a microphone) over the next three days, I’ll recap my conversations and the powerful themes emerging at the conference in as-close-to-real-time-as-possible right here!

Day 1: Wednesday, August 29

Setting up the Ms. booth was a labor of love. I’d like to thank coffee for making it possible.

I had come to the conference hotel with hundreds of magazines sealed up in boxes, and spent the early morning unpacking them and doing my best to make piles of our empowering covers into fans, neat rows and clean stacks. (I also may or may not have littered the hotel with copies of Ms. in hopes that wayward travelers would find them there and become members.)

The conference began with a lively plenary session featuring Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement; Anabelle Aguirre, founding member of Ya Basta!, an organization dedicated to lifting up women working as janitors (you can read more about their work right here on the Ms. blog); and Sandra Henriquez, the CEO of the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault—the coalition hosting this year’s conference.

There was a send-off by an all-woman mariachia band, Mariachi Divas de Cindy Shea, but we had to end the stream before they could start for a very exciting reason—Tarana Burke wanted to sit down and talk to Ms.! And so we sat. I chatted with Burke about #MeToo, what it was like watching her movement go viral and where she thinks it needs to go next. (We’ve talked to Burke before—check out her conversation with Ms. about #MeToo in the classroom here.)

Afterward, I reported back to the Ms. booth. I was greeted by David Lee from CALCASA, who wrangled Sandra Henriquez, its CEO, and helped make a conversation between us possible. I was so excited to talk to Henriquez—I was actually supposed to interview her in advance of the conference, but woke up that same day feeling under the weather and had to cancel.

Talking to Henriquez was worth the wait. We discussed how her identity as a Latina immigrant shapes her work, what went into making NSAC 2018 happen and the question she posed in the opening plenary that I couldn’t get off of my mind: What will it take to end sexual violence?

After Henriquez dashed off to her 12:30 appointment, mine arrived. Dozens of farmworker women began congregating at the Ms. booth, and their ferocious energy spilled over during a quick but galvanizing interview about where the fight for justice for farmworker women goes next. (Spoiler Alert: In the case of Lideres Campesinas, it goes right through the heart of California.)

I made sure that all of the campesinas got free memberships to Ms. and took as many magazines home with them as possible, and re-arranged the table just in time to talk to Holly Rider-Milkovich, the senior director of prevention at EVERFI, a group focused on ending violence on campus.

Rider-Milkovich wrote two blogs for the Bold Moves mini-series we published here at Ms. in advance of the conference, and I was excited to dig even deeper by talking to her. We talked about situational prevention, how administrators and campus activists can forge effective—and harmonious—relationships to end campus rape and how we can safeguard the gains survivors made under the Obama administration as we fight on through this one. We also talked about our matching haircuts for a long time, but that was off-the-record.

What actually came next for me was a salad—mixed greens, edamame, tofu, roasted veggies, pickled onion, thank you very much—and a large coffee. But what happened next on the Ms. front was an illuminating conversation with Elise Lopez, a researcher currently working as the assistant director of relationship violence programs at University of Arizona’s College of Public Health.

Lopez pioneered a unique mapping study in Arizona that examined the relationship between liquor licenses and hotspots for sexual and physical violence, and its findings have heady implications for those working in prevention—and for the folks bartending in Arizona’s cities. We talked about the study and Lopez’s work with Mary Koss, who led the first national study on campus rape (in partnership with Ms.!) in the 1980’s.

(Notice the sweater? Right after, I found the thermostat and turned it down.)

Day Two: Thursday, August 30

The second day of the conference started bright and early—but I had just enough time to grab my three cups of morning coffee and put out the last of the Ms. issues at our booth before my first interview of the day. Jen Brockman, the director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Education Center at the University of Kansas, sat down with me at 8 a.m. to talk about the comprehensive sexual assault prevention program offered campus-wide at the college—and the recent structuring of a consistent engagement plan for getting student athletes more involved in the fight to end campus rape. (She wrote about the program as part of our Bold Moves mini-series right here at Ms., too!)

Afterward, we reported to the main ballroom for the opening plenary of the day, which featured young leaders in the movement and honored the trailblazers who lit their path. Inspiring and personal testimonies abounded, and there was a consensus felt in the room that this movement was in good hands moving forward—and that youth leaders would make sure this was the generation that ended sexual violence.

I packed up my selfie-stick-cum-tabletop-tripod immediately after the plenary ended and ran back to the exhibition hall for a day full of interesting and important conversations with advocates doing all they can to reach the most vulnerable women and girls and shift the ideas of the audiences the movement needs to reach to change the world.

First up: Liza Aseballos, the outreach specialist at the Translatin@ Coalition—the only organization in the country offering a unique array of services to trans communities, including a drop-in center in Los Angeles and programs meant to bolster the leadership and visibility of trans folks. We talked about making room in the anti-violence movement for trans and non-binary survivors—and how much hope and empowerment can come from intra-community activism.

Later in the afternoon, I was joined by Lupe Gonzalo, from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. Gonzalo processes claims from farmworker women about the injustices they face in the fields—and gives them a voice as a spokesperson and movement leader organizing for change. With the help of Marley, a CIW colleague who served as a translator, we had a conversation about the fight farmworker women have led for decades against workplace harassment and assault—and how #MeToo can catch up without leaving them behind.

I followed Gonzalo to the marketplace after our interview for the exact same salad as the one I had the day before—and then went back to the exhibition hall and made use of the new three-seat set-up at the Ms. booth in my next double-trouble interview, with Laurens Grant and Dr. Amy Tiemann.

Grant and Tiemann were at the conference to share and discuss the documentary The Rape of Recy Taylor, which screened on Wednesday night—and is absolutely a must-see for anyone reading this not-so-live-blog. I was eager to talk to the two award-winning producers about the central themes that stood out to me in the movie, including the power of our stories and the responsibility media-makers have to tell them in the most empowering way they can. We also hashed out how far we’ve come, lamented how far we have left to go and talked about what’s coming next for the two powerhouses after the conference. (You can learn more about Taylor’s case here.)

After talking to Grant and Tiemann about the systemic racism that denied Taylor justice, I talked to Sameera Qureshi from HEART, an organization that educates Muslim women and girls about their sexual health and rights, about what she’s doing to challenge the biases and cultural barriers that hold anti-violence advocates back from reaching the 5,000 women they serve. We discussed what goes into making culturally competent prevention programs—and what Muslim women need the movement to do better in order to do right by their communities.

Afterward, professional actor turned professional advocate Christian Murphy came by to talk to me about his work with Catharsis Productions, a company that creates and completes non-conventional prevention programs intended to reach key populations for the movement—including military groups and college-aged men. I was told that I could not ask Murphy on camera to make jokes, so instead we had a lively conversation about how to adjust the dialogue on rape prevention to engage the folks at high risk of perpetrating rape culture—and how boring his daughter thinks his job is.

Murphy and I wrapped up just in time for me to dash off to my own workshop—a lecture to a surprisingly packed room about how to effectively use social media for social change. After throwing a bunch of hot pink notecards around and asking the room multiple times whether I was doing alright, I was confident that I had, in fact, not disappointed. (Phew!) I helped the advocates in the room hash out what a social media strategy looks like for small, non-profit organizations—and how they could be harness the power of what they had the resources and capacity to manage to extend their service. Along the way, I even got a photo op in.

A receiving line of business card-hungry folks met me next to the podium after I surrendered my stage, and after I’d introduced myself and run out of tiny pieces of cardstock bearing my name, I headed back to the exhibition hall to close down the booth for the week—and do one last interview!

Sarah Colome had come to NSAC with a big mission: to challenge advocates to look inward at their own biases and prejudices manifesting in their work and help them do better. We talked about how folks fighting to end violence can fight to end white supremacy at the same time—and why they must. (She wrote about the topic for the Ms. Bold Moves mini-series just this week!)

After our conversation, I put the last of the booth supplies—a sparing box of pristine membership postcards, foam-core mounted signs and a SoulCycle tote bag filled with construction paper—onto a cart and headed back to my motel to rest up for the last day of the conference.

Day Three: Friday, August 31

I was literally the first person to get free coffee on day three of the National Sexual Assault Conference.

I rolled up to hotel two hours before sessions began to set up for my last live Q&A with William Tamayo, District Director for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Tamayo, who was featured in a 2005 Ms. article on the rape and egregious harassment of farmworker women for his groundbreaking work, talked to me about the evolution of the fight to end harassment, the impact #MeToo has had on his own department and what role we must all play in ensuring that the most vulnerable women workers remain at the center of our efforts to end violence and harassment.


Carmen Rios is a self-proclaimed feminist superstar and the former digital editor at Ms. Her writing on queerness, gender, race and class has been published in print and online by outlets including BuzzFeed, Bitch, Bust, CityLab, DAME, ElixHER, Feministing, Feminist Formations, GirlBoss, GrokNation, MEL, Mic, the National Women’s History Museum, SIGNS and the Women’s Media Center; and she is a co-founder of Webby-nominated Argot Magazine. @carmenriosss|