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Interview with Cornerstone’s Sexual Violence Program Coordinator

Recently, Cornerstone hired a Sexual Violence Program Coordinator to build internal capacity around working with sexual assault survivors, grow the continuum of trauma-informed services to meet the individual needs of sexual assault survivors, and increase awareness about this new programming,

Ellen G. has spent the last two years at Cornerstone working in the school-based services program (link to program on website), providing direct service to students as well as classroom presentations around violence and abuse. She has experience in child development, public health, and sexual assault advocacy. Read on for an in-depth interview with Cornerstone’s new Sexual Violence Program Coordinator.

Why has Cornerstone incorporated sexual violence into our mission? Is there are correlation with domestic violence?

Ellen: Domestic violence and sexual violence have always been intertwined, yet historically they’ve been treated as separate issues. Cornerstone has long acknowledged the relationship and worked with the dynamics of sexual assault, largely within the context of intimate relationship violence. For many, it remains surprising that an individual’s intimate partner is more likely to sexually assault them than anyone else. Stranger assault only accounts for 10-15% of all sexual assault. Within violent romantic relationships, sexual violence is a common tool one partner uses to gain power and control over the other. Cornerstone was informally addressing sexual violence with many survivors.

By formally incorporating it into our mission we can build our programming to include a wider breadth of services and increase staff capacity around the dynamics of sexual violence. The violence people experience in their lives does not happen in a vacuum. And expanding our services to include sexual violence allows us to acknowledge and address the multiple forms of violence a survivor often encounters. Cornerstone’s mission highlights the organization’s dedication to eliminating violence in all forms and working to create communities where safety and peace thrive.

What services does Cornerstone offer for sexual assault survivors?

Ellen: Currently we offer the following:

  • 24-hour crisis line
  • Individual advocacy at any of our locations (Bloomington, Minneapolis and Brooklyn Center)
  • Trauma-informed therapy
  • Legal advocacy (assistance writing Harassment Restraining Orders and Orders for Protection as well as court accompaniment)
  • In-school advocacy in the Bloomington, Richfield, Eden Prairie, Brooklyn Center, and Osseo districts

I also have experience providing advocacy during Forensic Examinations (i.e. rape kits) and can accompany survivors if they alert us before they go to the hospital.

What are Cornerstone’s goals for expanding this work in the future?

Ellen: We plan to establish walk-in hours for advocacy at our Minneapolis office and will offer support groups specific to sexual assault survivors

What can the public do to assist victims of sexual assault?

Ellen: We live in a culture that very often blames victims for their own sexual assault. Statistically, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will experience sexual abuse or assault in their lifetime so chances are everyone will at least know someone who has been sexually assaulted. The most important thing to tell a survivor is that this wasn’t your fault and I believe you. Research has found that the #1 reason survivors do not tell anyone (police, family, friends, etc.) about their experience is because they are worried they won’t be believed. This disbelief runs deep in our society–and is evidenced in the fact that only 2% of people who perpetrate sexual assault will ever spend a day in prison. One step in the direction of making our communities safer for all people is to first, start believing that this is happening to people.

At what age do we see the highest rates of sexual violence?

Ellen: The individuals most affected by sexual violence are our youth. You are four times more likely to experience sexual assault between the ages of 16 and 19 than any other age, and 75% of survivors are assaulted between age 16 and 24–the vast majority (about 85%) are at least acquainted with their perpetrator. Young people may not know what to do if they are assaulted and may not want to confide in their parents or friends. However, they can legally have an evidentiary exam and have an initial meeting with an advocate without parental consent. They may be under 18, but they still have certain rights. Oftentimes we hear of sexual assault occurring while the victim is under the influence. Alcohol is the drug used most often to facilitate sexual assault. Legally, one cannot give consent while under the influence of any drug such an act would qualify as rape.

What’s one myth you’d like to clarify?

Ellen: The majority of sexual assaults involve not brute force, but coercion. Coercion is when one person uses manipulative tactics, such as making threats, begging, whining, verbal pressure, etc., to facilitate a sexual act. Statistics from rape kits show that only about 30% of victims that had an examination also had visible injury from the assault. We expect assault victims to be bruised and beaten. But that is not the norm. It is important that we dispel many of the myths around sexual violence so that we can better support all survivors and hold more perpetrators accountable for their crimes.