The theme of the 2019 National Sexual Assault Conference—Beyond the Breakthrough—sought to inspire the collective movement to end sexual violence and build on the momentum of the #MeToo movement. Ms. was the media sponsor for the conference—and expanded the discussions happening on-site with this dedicated series. Click here to read more posts. You can also watch interviews and conference sessions from #NSAC2019 on the Ms. Facebook!
The explosion of the #MeToo movement in 2017 was a breakthrough. We are now having conversations about prevention on a national scale—thanks largely to the sheer number of those who came forward, demonstrating the reality of the prevalence of sexual harassment, abuse and assault.
Nearly two years after the viral tweets about #MeToo, we are now at an ideal time to take stock of the progress we’ve made and what breakthrough moments are yet to come. That’s why this year at the National Sexual Assault Conference (NSAC), a conference for those working in the field of sexual violence prevention, we’ll be reflecting on the changes we’ve seen and taking stock to prepare for the future.
The #MeToo movement expanded society’s understanding of what sexual violence really looks like, and the diversity of who it impacts. While sexual violence can happen to anyone, regardless of income, status or privilege, identity groups pushed to the margins often experience it at higher rates. The #MeToo movement has made it possible for survivors from all walks of life—including and especially women of color, people with disabilities, the LGBTQ+ community and men—to become visible and a part of the national dialogue. It’s important for those of us in the field to focus on these communities and disparities in order to serve all survivors.
This year’s NSAC workshops highlight and focus on ways to best serve survivors who have often been overlooked by mainstream services—including incarcerated or detained survivors, transgender or gender non-conforming survivors, Indigenous communities, survivors with autism spectrum disorder, homeless youth, the Deaf community and many others.
Women of color—particularly Black women and girls, for whom Tarana Burke launched the ‘me too.’ movement—are more likely to experience rape, physical violence or stalking by apartner than white women.
The challenges that Black women face when reporting were made clear in dream hampton’s Emmy-nominated docuseries Surviving R. Kelly, which showed how countless Black girls and women were discounted by authorities and how Kelly was not held accountable, in large part due to the community his victims are in. At the conference, hampton will discuss reframing the narrative and giving voice to the experiences of Black women and girls in a conversation with Ms. Managing Digital Editor Carmen Rios. (You can submit a question for dream here!)
We’ll also hear from survivors with intellectual disabilities, who are seven times more likely to experience sexual violence. Advocates Carolyn Morgan and Debra Robinson will speak about the barriers that survivors with disabilities face, and NPR reporter Joe Shapiro will share about his work collecting testimonies of survivors with disabilities.
Something else we already see emerging from the #MeToo movement is a broader focus and greater understanding of the connectedness of all forms of oppression, including sexual violence. Sexual violence has historically been used as a tool of oppression. While intersectionality is not a new concept in the field of sexual violence prevention, we are seeing a renewed effort to address the inequities in our society that contribute to all types of violence.
Recognizing how racism, transphobia, homophobia and ableism are interconnected is imperative. But in order to reach a world free of violence, organizations and individuals must do the work of examining how their current systems maintain inequality, making changes and committing to fighting not just sexual violence, but all forms of oppression.
There are more breakthroughs still to come in this movement. They begin when we decide to talk about them. This year, the conference will feature many sessions to help participants do just that—including workshops on applying anti-oppression frameworks to prevention efforts, eliminating outreach barriers in underserved communities and how we can build cultural humility into this movement.
Sexual violence prevention work also cannot happen in a vacuum; it must extend into all parts of our communities. This year’s conference will feature workshop sessions that showcase how institutions including corrections facilities, legislation, schools and universities, the military and sports teams can get involved in prevention work.
The #MeToo movement was spurred on by pervasive sexual harassment in the entertainment industry, leading to the formation of organizations like Time’s Up. At this year’s conference, Tina Tchen, co-founder of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, will speak about addressing systemic inequality and injustice in all workplaces.
Some corporations, acknowledging the cultural change that has resulted from the #MeToo movement and Time’s Up, are taking the initiative to amend policies and fill in the gaps when it comes to sexual violence prevention. Uber has demonstrated their commitment to change by overhauling their policies, including removing arbitration that blocks individual victims from seeking justice and producing a taxonomy for categorizing sexual harassment and assault claims. To highlight Uber as an example of a corporation committed to change, Chief Legal Officer Tony West will also be speaking at this year’s conference.
Change is happening in the field of sexual violence prevention and in our wider culture. This year at the National Sexual Assault Conference, our hope is to recognize and amplify all the work that’s being done beyond the breakthrough—and pave the way for breakthroughs yet to come.