How are you? We hope this newsletter finds you and your loved ones well, as we navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time we remember essential workers on the frontlines every day, putting themselves at risk for the safety and well being of others. We thank them for their service and care. Remember to check on family, friends, neighbors, the elderly and those who are in danger. Reach out and let them know you care.
The staff at VIBS are beginning to adjust to our new "norm" as professionals providing services to those in need during the uncertainty of the Coronavirus. Like many of you, we have heard the reports of the uptick in violence and abuse during this time. I think of the young woman I met recently, a VIBS client, who still lives with her abuser and her children in a small home in Suffolk County. I think about her safety during this time, and the fear she must endure for herself and her children during this time of uncertainty. We are here for her and for others in need during the COVID crisis. Now more than ever, when state and county funding is so uncertain and our services are at risk, I ask you to consider making a gift today. Any amount helps and every donation is important to us.
April is a busy month at VIBS. We celebrate our volunteers during National Volunteer Month. Learn more about our Volunteer Rape Crisis Counselor program and meet one of our volunteers in this issue. It is also Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). Did you know that 79.6% of female rape victims in the U.S. experience rape before the age of 25, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center?Be sure to check out our social media pages for daily updates, resources and information. Take Back the Night,an international event with the mission of ending sexual, relationship, and domestic violence in all forms is set for April 24 with a fun and exciting virtual experience. In addition, Denim Day will be celebrated on April 29. Denim Day is an inspiring and powerful opportunity to practice solidarity and support survivors by renewing our commitment to exposing harmful behaviors and attitudes surrounding sexual violence. We hope you will join us. We also recognize National Child Abuse Prevention Month in April. In this issue, you can read more about the many different ways that child abuse can take place and what you should do if you suspect a child is being abused.
I hope you enjoy this issue of our newsletter. Stay home. Stay safe. Stay well.
Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM)
Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) kicks off this month. Sexual violence happens in every community and affects people of all genders and ages. Sexual violence is any type of unwanted sexual contact. This includes words and actions of a sexual nature against a person’s will and without their consent. A person may use force, threats, manipulation, or coercion to commit sexual violence.
The impact of sexual violence extends beyond the individual survivor and reaches all of society. An assault may impact a survivor’s daily life no matter when it happened. Each survivor reacts to sexual violence in their own way. Common emotional reactions include guilt, shame, fear, numbness, shock, and feelings of isolation.
We spoke to a client and sexual assault survivor recently who shared her experience and how VIBS helped her. Read Cindy's story below.
Surviving Sexual Assault — Cindy's Story
As I sit here in my room contemplating what to write I'm reminded of a picture of myself as a little girl. Wearing a blue dress with bangs and a bow in my hair. I was two years old. That is my favorite picture of myself because it was a time of pure innocence.
Two years later, I was molested by my uncle. A few years after that, I was molested by my babysitter's husband. For some reason, I never told my mother. I felt shame. Shame for something that happened to me. Like many victims, I felt blame for something that happened to me. I tucked it all away and went on with life. Years later, I was married with two daughters. My oldest, from a previous relationship, was 15 years old and my youngest was five years old. The day was March 7, 2011 when I found out that my husband had raped my oldest daughter. It was every mother's nightmare. The next year and a half was filled with monthly court visits — until he was convicted.
My daughter and I were in counseling at VIBS. It was the best thing and the hardest thing I ever had to do. After two years of therapy, things seemed much better and I made the decision to leave therapy. Then, in 2018, my youngest daughter started cutting. She was in pain over her father's actions. She felt so much guilt, and so we returned to VIBS as a family once again. I discovered she had been molested as well. She suffered from panic disorder and her counselor gave her technique to deal with her attacks. For me, this was the beginning of my world unraveling. I had been strong for so long and had not dealt with my own issues that I fell into a deep depression. I was in counseling at VIBS as well [with Roxinia] and it changed my life. Roxinia is the best! She taught me new life skills — how to set boundaries and how to reframe the way I see things. She taught me to have true love for myself.
I have come so far. I know I am a good person and mother. When I'm better, my girls are better. VIBS has helped me realize I am worthy of peace and happiness. My past is now a part of my history and no longer has power over my life.
I am a survivor.
This story was submitted by Cindy, a VIBS client, with permission to edit and publish.
What is consent?
Consent must be freely given and informed, and a person can change their mind at any time. Consent is more than a yes or no. It is a dialogue about desires, needs, and level of comfort with different sexual interactions. Learn more from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
National Child Abuse Prevention Month Child Abuse is any intention to cause harm or maltreatment of a child under 18 years old. As we face this current pandemic and children are forced to stay home, abused children may be at an increased risk to their safety and well-being Like in many abuse cases, the abuser is someone known to the victims. In child abuse cases, many times the abuser is the child’s parent(s), caregiver or family member. Therefore, it is important that other family members, friends and neighbors be aware of the signs and keep contact with those families.
The following are designated as mandated reporters: medical and hospital personnel; school officials; social service workers; child care workers; residential care workers and volunteers; and law enforcement personnel.
Child abuse can occur in many different ways, such as:
Physical Abuse: includes unexplained bruises, burns, injuries and/or fractures
Sexual Abuse: inappropriate sexual behavior or knowledge, statements of sexual abuse, inappropriate contact with other children or blood in their underwear
Emotional Abuse: consists of rejection, not returning affection, shaming and belittling
Neglect: includes poor hygiene, poor school attendance/grades, lack of medical attention (dental, medical, psychological, etc), weight loss or weight gain, hiding food for later or stealing food
Pictured above is RCC Sam Graviano with her fur child, Cody.
National Volunteer Appreciation Month
National Volunteer month in the United States takes place in the month of April. This month is dedicated to honoring all of the volunteers in our communities, as well as encouraging volunteerism throughout the month. Did you know that the United States has the highest percentage of volunteers in the world? According to a 2018 article by CNN, 25% of Americans take the time to volunteer on an annual basis. We are grateful to the volunteers that work with us at VIBS.
An Inspirational Afternoon with Volunteer RCC Sam Graviano
Our Community Education Manager, Taryn Kutujian, LMSW had the opportunity to speak to one of our volunteer rape crisis counselors (RCC) — Samantha (Sam) Graviano — to learn more about her involvement. Sam brings joy to those around her with Zoom-based dance lessons for children so that anyone can move and groove with her no matter whether they are. She is currently finishing up her criminal justice degree and will be graduating from Suffolk County Community College in May 2020. She has been a volunteer RCC since 2018.
Sam always dreamed of becoming a police officer with the Special Victims Unit and has a deep passion for community work. What started out as an internship at the Suffolk County Police Department turned into a three-year tenure, with Sam ultimately being asked to oversee the internship program for the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department.
Sam has also been dancing since she was three years old; she turned that passion into her own non-profit organization that aims to raise funds for organizations supporting services for those affected by domestic violence and sexual abuse. They plan to have their first event this summer.
When asked, what drives our volunteers to seek out and stay committed to the RCC program? Sam felt the answer was simple, "if we weren’t there, who else would be? It’s important for survivors to have someone, and I always try to take extra calls if I can.The reward is helping the survivor in the end, and although it can be hard to detach, I’ve never had anything but amazing interactions and I could not be more grateful for this program.”
"During this time I am blessed and lucky to still be able to work when so many have lost their jobs because of the Coronavirus outbreak. I want to give back to organizations in need. I have seen families benefit from the services they received at VIBS. I know they rely on donations and support from the community and I am proud to give to VIBS." -Anne, VIBS Supporter