April 25, 2019

It’s More Than Hope: Do We Really Believe Prevention of Sexual and Gender Based Violence is Possible

Ann Brandon, OAESV Director of Prevention

I received a most treasured piece of art a couple months ago, it was a gift from a lovely friend whom I rarely see in person. I commented on a post when she was showcasing her work. She wasn't selling or promoting her pieces, she was teaching us how she was healing through her art. She reached out to me via messenger after my comment and said she felt inclined to recreate the piece I commented on. I had actually forgotten about her message, and then low and behold a few weeks later, a heavy box was delivered to my door. It's a hand painted stone with the lyrics to John Lennon's song, Imagine.

I can't even explain the overwhelming feeling of love I felt when I opened the package. The tears would not stop flowing and as I think about that moment again, my face is drenched with those same joyful and grateful tears.

I put it in my kitchen window. I see it every morning as I pour a cup of coffee...To me it symbolizes everything I AM. It motivates me to be a leader who can help people see that it is possible to stop people from being hurt. It's not a pipe dream. I am not just relying on passion and hope, or thinking that I can create some utopia by rallying all the other unicorns out there like me. I HAVE EVIDENCE!

I AM a preventionist at heart. I assist other prevention staff around the State of Ohio. If you do not know what Prevention folks do, here's a glimpse of a Prevention Practitioner job description: Teacher, Speaker, Advocate, Event Planner, Outreach Coordinator, Grant Coordinator, Salesperson, Ambassador, Babysitter, Stand-in School Counselor, Mandatory Reporter, the Rape Lady or Rape Dude...The Uh-Oh Lady or Dude. The Sex Educator...

And...the unsupported staff member. Yes, I know, that hurts. I don't mean it to be hurtful, but it can be the truth.

Investing in primary prevention is a low priority, and that's reasonably understandable. Crisis intervention and immediate response for survivors is the core of the work we do. 24/7 hotlines, responding to hospitals, those in immediate physical danger who need shelter, are WHY we exist. Our field is way underfunded; I get it. I mean, the field barely pays a living wage to those who respond and hold the stories of survivors for the valuable healing work they do.

But I want to shift for a bit. If we really truly BELIEVE we can reduce the number of people hurt by sexual and gender-based violence, would we not prioritize primary prevention as more than an afterthought?

Or maybe I've hit the nail on the head. Maybe we as a field do not actually believe prevention is possible?

Sure, we allocate a couple of prevention positions; we send them out to schools with a pat on the back and a "good luck". We tell them to go sell our program to the gym or health teacher, so we can get in the side door of the school to do presentations. We walk out of internal meetings when the prevention piece is discussed. That's not our lane...we stay in our lane...

What if...you were part of a strategic plan that prioritized Primary Prevention? One that wasn't just based on the "number of students trained" but rather the number of individuals and communities who wanted to actively support the idea of reducing violence?

What if...your center stopped just collecting numbers and started a whole new way of changing the culture, and within that new structure, your community supported your efforts and said, "heck yes, we want to be part of this!"

I've experienced this. My former state coalition created a plan that said in order to get different results (actually measurably reduce the perpetration of violence) we have to change from the inside out. And believe me, CHANGING is really hard!!!

I am summarizing six years of tears and sweat, hard work, and hope. I still can't put this experience into words, but here's the deal, we had to change first and make Primary Prevention a priority.

My former center went from educating 40,000 students and community members a year, to a couple schools and the surrounding community. The results showed the statewide plan and pilot project, after implemented, actually measurably reduced the perpetration of three types of violence. A project that large has never been done before. WE planned well, we made mistakes, we course-corrected, but first we imagined the potential outcome.

So, you may say I am a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. Maybe someday you'll join me?