Local Panel Talks Political Advocacy for Sexual Assault Survivors

Political Advocacy for Change guest speakers | Image by The Turning Point/Facebook

During Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a panel of influential community leaders on Wednesday discussed driving policy change at the state and local level to better assist victims of sexual violence.

The event, called “You Can Make a Difference: Political Advocacy for Change,” was held at the University of Texas at Dallas and sponsored by the Turning Point Rape Crisis Center and Her Campus – UTD.

Moderator Amy Lawrence, senior director of programs at the Turning Point, guided the discussion around local and state-level advocacy while empowering the community to encourage positive change in issues surrounding survivors’ rights, care, and advocacy.

Panelists included Texas Rep. Mihaela Plesa (D-Dallas) of House District 70; Dr. Lavinia Masters, the namesake of House Bill 8: The Lavinia Masters Act of 2019; Wendy Hanna, the executive director of the Turning Point Rape Crisis Center; and Rick Grady, former Plano City Council member and advocate, who represented Place 3 on the council for eight years.

Rep. Plesa expressed that it’s vital to give voice to victims of sexual trauma to ensure their concerns and perspectives are heard and considered in a policy context.

Hanna explained that Turning Point, an organization dedicated to supporting individuals who have been affected by sexual violence, has a primary mission of providing comprehensive counseling, education, and advocacy to those impacted by such trauma. Hanna emphasized that accountability is a crucial aspect of every law and that Turning Point’s efforts are essential in ensuring that survivors of sexual violence receive the support they need to assist in their healing.

“We work with our state representatives to look at laws that impact survivors. We are fortunate to have a coalition against sexual assault in Texas called TAASA, and they have a very strong policy team,” adding that she collaborates with the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault (TAASA) to analyze and understand the various issues and challenges faced by survivors of sexual violence in communities across the state.

TAASA is “the unifying voice to eliminate sexual violence in Texas. As the statewide coalition of survivors, advocates, rape crisis centers, and allied professionals, we are committed to fostering a culture that respects the fundamental rights and dignity of all,” per its website.

“If you’ve been a survivor of sexual violence, you’ve found that it is hard to find people who will carry you through the legal system and help you break down the barriers because there are a lot of barriers,” said Hanna.

One of the most significant barriers to helping survivors of sexual violence is that “our legal system still wants to protect the perpetrator and treat the victim as the criminal,” opined Hanna.

Hanna emphasized that sexual violence is a problem that requires the involvement and support of the entire community. She highlighted the fact that sexual violence is the most commonly committed crime, yet it is also the least prosecuted.

“Why is that?” Hanna asked. “We need to be asking ourselves this.”

Grady noted that it is essential for elected officials to remember who they serve, sharing that he used to tell his fellow council members:

“You may have been elected to this body [by] 8,000–10,000 people, but you’re now responsible for all the things that go on in this city for 280,000 people who live in the city and all the people who come into the city to work, play, whatever it might be. So your responsibility is significantly greater than just the people who voted for you.”

Grady added that he would explain to elected officials that “the only way you’re going to understand what the community is about is to get out in the community. Get out from behind the desk, go out into the community, and get involved.”

Regarding advocacy, Grady stressed that “sometimes you just have to stand your ground and say what is important for the community and not what’s important to your personal or political beliefs.”

Rep. Plesa reinforced Grady’s comments, noting that sometimes good ideas can get overshadowed by political ideologies and polarizing points of view.

“We need to elect people who are not always going to look at everything through a Red or a Blue lens. When you’re being assaulted and attacked, or at any point in your experience, I don’t think anyone asks you if you’re a Republican or Democrat,” she said.

Plesa expressed the importance of lawmakers’ time in Austin, emphasizing that legislators are only present for 140 days every two years. She stressed the need to make the most of their time to ensure desirable outcomes for the people they serve.

“Trauma-informed training should not be political. This is why we have to constantly have advocacy at every level,” she said. “It really does take a village to pass any kind of legislation. This is a community problem.”

Addressing how people in the community can help promote change, Dr. Masters stressed the importance of using our voices to advocate for change regardless of political affiliation.

“I’m for justice,” Dr. Masters said. “Justice for any victim.”

“I recommend anybody who wants to have their voice heard start emailing every elected official — find out who represents you,” Plesa added, advising, “If you don’t hear anything back, email them again. You will get their attention.”

Plesa also recommended going to the Capital during the legislative session and talking to the staff of elected officials.

“Staff is extremely important on the state and federal level,” agreed Grady. “These are the people who write legislation, do research, go into the backgrounds of bills and laws, and try to find all the nuances so they can bring that to the representatives so that a good bill can be written and introduced onto the floor — work with the staff.”

Lawrence encapsulated the overall sentiment of the evening by pointing out that in the state of Texas, less than 10% of sexual assault cases are actually reported to law enforcement, noting that there is a “huge gap between the harm and violence that individuals suffer and their trust in the legal system.”

Collaboration between survivors, communities, crisis centers, hospitals, advocates, law enforcement, attorneys, and judges would help to close this gap, Plesa explained.

Lawrence agreed, noting that sexual violence is a pervasive issue that “has to be addressed at all levels.”

Support our non-profit journalism

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Continue reading on the app
Expand article