National Sexual Assault Conference 2010: Ashley’s Perspective

I spent the last week in Hollywood at the annual Rape Prevention and Education (RPE) grantee meeting and the National Sexual Assault Conference (NSAC).  I came back excited, exhausted, and overwhelmed.

Both the meeting and the conference introduced me to innovative work taking place in other states, nationally, and globally.  It’s so refreshing to see that others are making connections between multiple forms of violence.   For example, I attended a session dealing with gang violence and I learned about Colorado’s Bold Steps initiative that integrates multiple types of violence into their statewide prevention efforts.

I also got the chance to share work that I’m doing here in Oregon and was pleasantly surprised to see that people were on board.  The first session I presented was a panel discussion about engaging musicians in the work to prevention sexual violence.  Panelists included a number of musicians, a record label representative, and two organizations that work with musicians and artists.  Everyone kept telling me that my room was bound to be packed to the brim, but surprisingly there were empty seats.  I think this reflects the very reason I offered this workshop – people are hesitant to engage musicians.  Musicians are very powerful cultural and behavioral influencers yet audience comments and questions reflected a belief that they are untouchable, too big of a deal for us.  Panelists rejected this notion.  Lady Tasz basically said, “We’re here in front of you.  Ask us now,” and Brad Perry urged audience members not to fear failure.  Musicians aren’t all fame monsters – as the passionate panelists demonstrated, many care about social justice and are on our side.

Brad Perry and Sandra Kirkpatrick on the Engaging Musicians Panel
Sandra Kirkpatrick, Lady Tasz, and Bishop Freeze

On Friday at 8:30am, the last day of the conference, 200 people attended a session highlighting sexual health promotion efforts with Brad Perry from VA, Bethany Pombar from VT, and me.  Brad made the case for incorporating a healthy sexuality frame into sexual violence prevention efforts (see the webinar he did for my program) and then we all shared efforts taking place in our states.  While I stuck with the “what” and “how” of Oregon’s efforts, I loved to hear the “why” of VA and VT.   The concept of health promotion is so ingrained that I sometimes forget to make the case for it.  It just makes so much sense.  Numerous conference speakers mentioned that we are really good at articulating what we are against, so now it’s time to define what we are for.  Well, this is it.  A healthy world in which social determinants prevent no individuals from achieving their health potential is a world without sexual violence.

I must have said something funny about sexual health. Or not, Brad.

While I stuck exclusively to the prevention track of the conference, I was pleased to see a range of disciplines represented.  Let’s be honest, we all know that our movement is wrought with “my work is better than your work.”  Enter Annie Lyles from the Prevention Institute, presenting on the primary prevention of child sexual abuse.  Annie mentioned that a number of complimentary perspectives are useful: gender, human rights, criminal justice, and public health.  Who knows, she might honestly believe that one of those perspectives is better than the others.  Yet by honoring them all she built rapport and credibility with the audience and demonstrated a commitment to a truly comprehensive approach.  It’s easy to point your finger at a system or perspective and say it just needs to be thrown away.  It’s quite another to critically examine the merits and weakness of a number of systems and perspectives and work to make them better.

NSAC is well known for being an ideal training for folks who are new to the movement.   There were many of us, however, who have been around for some time.  I guess that’s why I was still shocked to hear the same old tired gender stereotypes.  I mean, seriously, one of my small group exercises in a workshop turned into a discussion of how much women like to shop and how we are all obsessed with shoes.  Come on.  I know, I know, our movement is not immune to internalized oppression and the very things we work to prevent.  To me, this just confirms that we need to do the work within as well as without.

Finally, I can’t leave without giving props to the conference organizers, CALCASA, for their unprecedented attention to technology.  Not only was there a tech lounge to help folks set up social networking accounts and the like, but there was also a tech track and a lot of attention to the tweeters.  In fact, those of us who tweet were given “I tweet, you tweet, retweet!” stickers and when the person at the registration desk asked if I needed one, David Lee said, “If anyone should have one, she should.”  Ha!

Overall, this last week in Hollywood was great.  It challenged me, surprised me, and made me think.  I’m still processing, appreciating, and recovering.  Thank you CDC and CALCASA for a meeting (RPE) and conference  (NSAC) truly worth the travel and time.

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