The Power of Sharing Your Story With the World

In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness month, we’re teaming up with Bloom Journal to showcase inspiring stories of incredible changemakers that are making the world more just, equitable and inclusive. This story is part of a new series of blogs, Bloom Stories, featuring different and diverse perspectivesfrom survivors and advocates to entrepreneurs and academics to yogis and writers. First up, a Q&A with Laura McGinnis, NYC-based entrepreneur and founder of Bloom Journal, on overcoming obstacles and her commitment to empowering women and girls. 

How did Bloom Journal get started?

After college, I received a Fulbright scholarship to go to Uruguay where I started a girls’ soccer program to teach English through sport. That experience was incredible for me because I got to see blooming firsthand, in a different country and in a different context. The best part was that the experience was mutual—they helped me, I helped them, and we all learned so much from one another. Since then, I’ve always been enamored with the idea of blooming, the “hustle”, and personal growth.  After moving to New York City a few years ago, I realized that I wanted to take the next step in my growth through turning the hurt that I had from a sexual assault from college into healing. I knew that I needed to do something sooner rather than later because I was at risk of losing myself because I was thinking about this negative energy all the time.

For me, the best way to overcome my hurt, was to create a community of supportive and radiant people. So I started to reach out to my most ambitious, change making, and entrepreneurial friends to interview them about their stories of blooming and personal growth. Now Bloom Journal features badass, blooming women entrepreneurs, artists, and start-up founders to discuss their hustle. On top of that, I knew I wanted Bloom to be a community committed to authenticity, inclusion, and intersectional feminism and those values stay with me as we continue to expand.

You mentioned your sexual assault, which you shared publicly when you launched Bloom. What was it like opening up about your sexual assault like that with the world? How did that impact you?

Publicly speaking about my sexual assault was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. When I first started talking about Bloom’s origins privately with people, I got some mixed reactions and feedback. It was really painful. I thought that everyone would be incredibly supportive but many people were maybe a little bit afraid and ill-equipped to talk about it. The topic was, and still is, very taboo.

So when I launched Bloom Journal I wanted to share my own journey, and how I got to where I am today, which meant detailing my sexual assault and how it affected me. I was shaking and crying because I didn’t know how people would react. But I launched and received an overwhelmingly positive response, which I think speaks to the fact that we’re living in a very different time now. My assault happened seven years ago and at the time, not that many people were talking about it and now we’re in a place where this topic is dominating headlines and therefore more top of mind.

Over time, it has become easier for me to talk about it with others. At the same time, it also became a lot more difficult because I started to see how many people were affected by sexual assault and domestic violence and it’s still just astonishing.

I can imagine that is overwhelming, especially with sexual violence dominating the headlines. How do you take care of yourself?

When I first launched Bloom and started interacting with more and more survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, I had to take more moments than I do now to check in with myself. I would meditate or do yoga and try to eat the right foods. I would also reach out to my best friends and family, as well as, check in with my therapist when I started Bloom, just because it was so new for me to talk about this so openly. What I can say is that now, I’m at a point right where I am strong and feel that I personally have a moral obligation to speak out about this issue on behalf of other survivors or victims. I feel it’s important, at least for me, to speak out on other people’s behalf because of how pervasive sexual assault truly is. I don’t think I need to feel that way but I do—I have this voice in my head always telling me to do more.

What do you wish people knew about sexual assault?

I wish people knew that sexual assault is extremely common and that it’s a societal problem, not just a personal hardship. Some people can think or say, “I can’t believe that happened to her”, and talk about it at arm’s length, instead of realizing that it affects us all directly or indirectly. I wish more people knew how to support one another and talk about it without pushing any stigma, asking the wrong questions, or being uncomfortable. I wish that there was more heightened sensitivity around “locker room talk” and language that trivializes rape. I also wish that more men understood the lasting impact they can make by integrating respectful verbiage into their daily lives. For example, I’ve had friends jokingly use the word “rapey”—as in “don’t be rapey, bro!”— and I think a lot of people don’t know yet that using that language can be very upsetting or triggering.

After my assault, I was sensitive and hearing a lot of the wrong questions like: “What were you wearing?” or “Were you horny?” or “Did you ever flirt with him before?” or “Why were you wearing shorts like that around the house? Your legs are very curvy!” I wish that people knew how impactful language can be to a survivor and how based on statistics alone, you are quite frequently in the presence of someone affected. If we adjusted our vocabulary slightly and started asking the right questions, it could make such a difference.

Can you talk more about the process of coming to terms with what happened to you, in the immediate aftermath of your sexual assault?

Initially, I didn’t fully understand. I’m naturally someone who likes to take a lot of ownership in life, so if mistakes happen, I often first ask myself what I could’ve done differently. I know now that this was a situation where I couldn’t have done anything differently. But it was really difficult at the time. I like to consider myself a very independent woman; I definitely didn’t want to be a victim!

Immediately after, I remember walking a couple of miles in shock, not thinking about anything. And eventually I reached out to my friend to hang out. I started to explain what happened and she helped me realize that what had happened was serious and not okay. I started to understand, replay the events in my head, and acknowledge that this thing that I never ever wanted to happen actually did happen. It took me six years before I was ready to speak about it publicly, when I started Bloom. For me this has been a journey of forgiveness, wellness, and regaining control over my life whether through the Fulbright where I was working with girls to empower and inspire confidence, despite what I was dealing with emotionally, or through becoming more of myself again. Through time, the pursuit of growth, and a lot of self-care, I’ve regained my confidence and I’m happy! I’ve been working hard and it feels so good that things are working out.

So speaking of blooming, what’s is your goal for Bloom?

I’m really excited because I’m in the process of rewriting our mission statement to hyper focus on the “Bloom”—the hustle and the steps we take to achieve our goals and grow! This fall we are launching more events called ‘Bloom Chats’ where we gather women to share information on topics of interest like entrepreneurship, current events, relationships, wellness, and more. I love bringing my favorite people together and learning, I know we can take it further.

We’ve also launched this new section of Bloom Journal, called Bloom Stories, where women submit their stories and it’s become this unique space for women to share and discuss empowering and authentic narratives on growth, entrepreneurship, and driving goals. It’s very confidence driven and inspirational. Long term, I hope to build more partnerships with charities and add a microfinance piece to the brand.

I love that! So, how can people get involved and support Bloom?

Gosh! There are so many different ways to get involved! New Yorkers can attend our charity yoga session in October, benefitting Exhale to Inhale. In the winter, we will host a more intimate event for entrepreneurs and business minded women to idea share. I’m also looking for an intern to help with journalism, editing, and event planning.

You can also always get cozy, read, and share stories of change making, entrepreneurial, and intersectional feminists on Bloom Journal. If you or someone you know is interested in sharing your story of your hustle or blooming process, please reach out! Follow @bloom_journal to learn more about our upcoming events. And if you’re feeling really inspired, you can back a Bloom event by donating or contacting us as we are very open to help.

NEED MORE INSPIRATION? CHECK OUT MORE BLOOM STORIES.

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Now is the Time for Moral Leadership in Addressing Campus Sexual Violence

“We’re not going backward in the importance of emphasizing and continuing to address (sexual violence) as an issue on college campuses,” said Carlow University President Suzanne Mellon at a mid-September Southwest PA Says NO MORE event in Pittsburgh.

This statement was met with enthusiastic applause by a standing-room only crowd of university personnel, law enforcement, state and local officials, advocates, students, concerned community members and media. They had joined together to celebrate an impressive collaboration between 13 college and university presidents in the Greater Pittsburgh area to prevent sexual violence. Even as we anticipated changes in US Department of Education guidance to colleges on investigating campus sexual violence, we unveiled a new video series featuring all 13 presidents delivering powerful messages of support to victims and encouragement to come forward, report and ask for assistance.

“Change starts with leadership from the top. In Southwestern Pennsylvania, college and community leaders are stepping forward in bold new ways to work together with a focus on prevention.”

This collaboration first launched in February 2015 when the presidents of 10 Pittsburgh colleges and universities (Carlow University; Carnegie Mellon University; Chatham University; Community College of Allegheny County; Duquesne University; La Roche College; Point Park University; Robert Morris University; Pittsburgh Theological Seminary; University of Pittsburgh) declared campus sexual assault to be a shared priority across the city’s campuses. They committed to work with rape crisis centers, law enforcement, sexual assault nurse examiners (SANEs) from several hospitals, researchers and funders to ensure that victims of sexual violence are met with support and to focus on preventing assault from happening in the first place.

Thus far, these schools have hosted an in-depth training for their teams and community partners on Title IX, held a training for all first responders, worked closely with Pittsburgh Action Against Rape (PAAR) to ensure that every victim who reports is offered an advocate from PAAR as well as support from Title IX staff. Now, every victim is offered medical care by teams of specially trained SANEs. Title IX coordinators, campus police and municipal police now work closely with the District Attorney to ensure that all victims are responded to promptly and effectively. Last spring, the schools worked together to train 100 staff across 10 universities in the Green Dot model of bystander intervention, an evidence-based model to prevent domestic and sexual violence. More information about these activities is available here.

Leadership in addressing campus sexual violence started a decade ago in Westmoreland County, a suburban and rural area east of Pittsburgh. In 2007, Seton Hill University joined Blackburn Center, a local domestic and sexual violence program in Westmoreland County, to form an institutional partnership aimed at addressing the root causes of sexual assault and domestic violence and preventing these crimes. In addition to a range of campus programming, prevention messages are now embedded in curricula and changes are being measured and evaluated by campus researchers. Since then, the program has been institutionalized and expanded to other area schools—the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg joined the effort in 2014, and initial efforts are underway at Saint Vincent College and Westmoreland County Community College. More information about these efforts is available here.

Change starts with leadership from the top. In Southwestern Pennsylvania, college and community leaders are stepping forward in bold new ways to work together with a focus on prevention. The progress we’ve made gives me hope that, one day, students will be able to learn in an environment free from fear of sexual assault. We’re not there yet, but collaborations such as these bring us closer to the day when we will finally end sexual violence.

Kristy Trautmann is the executive director of FISA Foundation, a charitable grantmaking organization devoted to improving the lives of women, girls and people with disabilities in Southwestern Pennsylvania. FISA, along with The Heinz Endowments and United Way of Southwestern PA, founded Southwest PA Says NO MORE, a regional movement to end domestic violence and sexual assault.

Photography by Brian Cohen.

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Three Women Rising: A Journey to End Childhood Sexual Abuse

THREE WOMEN RISING on their journey to end childhood sexual abuse – that’s what you’ll see in this video. Rythea Lee, Producer/Director/Writer, brought me and Filmmaker/Writer/Activist  Aishah Shahidah Simmons into THREE WOMEN RISING, her 19th Episode of Advice from a Loving Bitch. What a privilege and delight to be included in Rythea’s groundbreaking work. We all survived childhood sexual abuse and we all spoke to the same questions about healing and activism.

Here are the questions we spoke to:

  1. What is a glimpse into your story that you feel is worth sharing? 
  2. What is your activism around the subject? 
  3. What can you say about Joy? 
  4. Please talk about why engaging in a conscious healing process is worth it.
  5. What do you think about self-love and healing from sexual abuse?

I encourage all the survivors reading this posting to ask your own self these questions, maybe not all of them, maybe only one or two – the ones that jump off the page to you. Go one step further – write out the answers and then read them back to yourself out loud. Hearing our own voices saying what is true for us is incredibly empowering.

I am deeply grateful to be connected to these two women. What a jungle of feelings I’ve macheted through to get to this clearing – this place of feeling my wholeness, my not-so-aloneness in a circle of survivor sisters. Hearing each other’s experience helps shed the shame. Witnessing each other breaking the silence adds up to a collective shattering.

The experience of making Episode #19 was a great one for me – to join with two sister survivors in breaking the silence. The months long process of making the video was a lesson in collaborative power – each one supporting and getting supported, all three becoming a chorus for justice. I hope you are as touched by viewing it as I was in the making of it.

Thank you for reading and watching.

Author Bio: In 2009 Donna founded Time To Tell with a mission to spark stories from lives affected by incest and sexual abuse to be told and heard. She wrote and performs her one-woman play, What She Knows: One Woman’s Way Through Incest to Joy, which is based on her own experience of surviving incest and what she did to make her life worth living. Her book, Healing My Life from Incest to Joy, a narrative of the choices she made and experiences she had that helped her heal from her childhood trauma, will be released by Levellers Press in Fall of 2017. For more information, go to www.timetotell.org.

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Join the Purple Purse Challenge: Help Domestic Violence Nonprofits Win $700,000 from The Allstate Foundation

One in four1 American women experiences domestic violence in her lifetime. While most people think only of cuts and bruises when they think of domestic violence, 99 percent2 of all domestic violence cases involve financial abuse. Financial abuse can include abusers preventing victims from accessing money, ruining their credit, harassing them at work so they lose their jobs and more.

That’s why The Allstate Foundation has invested more than $55 million through their Purple Purse campaign, helping women obtain their financial independence and break free from abuse. In June, Serena Williams, tennis champion, entrepreneur and philanthropist, joined Allstate Foundation Purple Purse as the program’s new ambassador. Williams will raise awareness of the often invisible role financial abuse plays in keeping women trapped in abusive relationships and urge the public to help break the cycle of domestic violence.

“Standing up for women’s rights has long been a passion of mine,” said Serena Williams. “I am honored to join Allstate Foundation Purple Purse to bring financial abuse and domestic violence out of the shadows and into the public conversation. I hope people will join the Purple Purse movement and work with us to end abuse against women.”

Each year, The Allstate Foundation hosts the Purple Purse Challenge to support hundreds of organizations that help victims of domestic violence. This year, up to 250 national, state, and local nonprofit organizations will compete for a total of $700,000 in grants and get access to fundraising resources, including an exclusive purple purse. The friendly fundraising competition begins October 2nd, during Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Join tennis champion and Purple Purse program ambassador, Serena Williams, to help nonprofits serving domestic violence survivors.

DONATE NOW

Learn more about The Allstate Foundation Purple Purse® Challenge here.

Find a domestic violence shelter in your area at www.domesticshelters.org.

If you or someone you know is in a domestic violence situation, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY 1-800-787-3224.

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Launched last year, UK Says NO MORE is hosting UK Says NO MORE Week! In the UK, an estimated 4.5 million women and 2.2 million men have experienced domestic abuse since the age of 16, and nearly half a million adults are sexually assaulted in England and Wales each year (ONS). Domestic violence and sexual assault can affect anyone, of any age, gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity or religion.

During UK SAYS NO MORE Week (May 15th-21st 2017) we invite you to join us and others nationwide who are saying “NO MORE”. The theme of this year’s week of activism is #TogetherWeCan – as it is only by working together that we can begin to make real change.

We can all make a difference when it comes to ending domestic violence and sexual assault. Let’s unite during UK SAYS NO MORE Week and take action!

Getting Started

Download the UK SAYS NO MORE Week Guide for inspiration, activity ideas, plus downloadable images to make a statement on social media.


Make a difference 

Whether it’s adding your photo and comment to the Gallery, holding an event, or joining the Thunderclap to get the conversation started, you can make a difference during UK SAYS NO MORE Week.

Here are the three key action areas of the week:

TALK: Let’s end the silence around these issues and say “NO MORE” to the excuses so often made. We can start conversations and spread vital awareness and resources.

ACT: Set up an event to raise awareness during UK SAYS NO MORE Week (no matter how small!) Get inspired with our ideas in the UK SAYS NO MORE Week Guide.

GIVE: Whether money or time, you can make a huge difference by donating to a non-profit organization, enabling them to continue their work year-round.

We’d love to hear from you about how you are making a difference during UK SAYS NO MORE Week – email us here!

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Let’s Be Real: Young People are the Future

WHEN I SEE THE NO MORE SYMBOL…

I see the 1 in 3 young people experiencing dating abuse1. I see the couple at the mall who look happy, but in reality he is gripping her hand so tight that her rings cut into her fingers;  the young trans boy whose partner needs to know where they are at all times; the young college student who is “not allowed” to hang out with his friends anymore because it means that he doesn’t love his girlfriend; and the girl whose hookup buddy is threatening to ‘out’ her if she doesn’t have sex. 

When I see the No More symbol, I see the 57% of young people who wait over 6 months before getting help2. I envision our clients at Break the Cycle, coming to us for safety plans, protection orders, and divorce cases; the friend groups at a loss of what to do when they figure out their friend’s partner is beating them; the Facebook and Twitter users who summon the courage to ask us for resources and referrals.

I see youth voices unified and amplified for the causes of domestic violence and sexual assault prevention. I hear their shouts for inclusion, equality, and peace. I feel their ambition, persistence, and passion for change.

When I see the No More symbol, I see the 70,000+ people that have chosen resistance. I see the people who refuse to accept the status quo of a culture that normalizes abuse; men putting aside their learned attitudes of toxic masculinity; women who will no longer sit down and be quiet; non-binary, genderqueer, and trans individuals who know they deserve inclusion in the movement; people of every culture, religion, social class, ethnicity, and identity coming together to create change.

When I see the No More symbol, I see hope. I visualize the young people across the nation talking about dating abuse through the national youth-led movement Let’s Be Real; the survivors who become emboldened to share their stories; the activists who discover strength and community online; the parents and caring adults from the Love Is Not Abuse coalition who find the promise of a bright future for their children in its circle.

Most importantly, when I see the No More symbol, I see youth voices unified and amplified for the causes of domestic violence and sexual assault prevention. I hear their shouts for inclusion, equality, and peace. I feel their ambition, persistence, and passion for change. I see their decisions not to stand by while someone is getting hurt, to share their stories so others can be safe, and to wear additional symbols, like orange, to signify that everyone deserves a healthy relationship.

Help young people say NO MORE to teen dating abuse during the month of February for Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (#teenDVmonth) and beyond. Be inspired by and learn from them; because young people are not only our future, they are today. Learn more about how you can get involved at www.breakthecycle.org.

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​Jasmine Ceja Uribe is the Leadership & Engagement Manager at the Break the Cycle.


1 Vagi, K. J., Olsen, E. O. M., Basile, K. C., & Vivolo-Kantor, A. M. (2015). Teen dating violence (physical and sexual) among US high school students: findings from the 2013 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey. JAMA Pediatrics, 169 (5), 474-482.

2 K, Mary (2014). “2014 Mary Kay Truth About Abuse Survey.”

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This week’s roundup of news and inspiring stories!

Local health teacher Andrew Horne creates this awesome scholarly rap to educate his high school students about consent and healthy relationships. Mr. H, as his students call him, says his goal is to help students develop feelings of self-confidence and self-worth and to provide them the tools to make healthy decisions.

Non-profits serving survivors in Portland, Oregon join together to launch a local NO MORE campaign. Learn more and join PDX Says NO MORE. Plus, PA Says NO MORE launched a new statewide billboard campaign inviting men to initiate conversations with children, especially boys, about healthy relationships. portland-says-nomore

This app could change the way domestic violence victims seek help. Hestia’s UK Says NO MORE campaign launched a new domestic violence app that allows users to securely record and catalogue all of their personal incidents of abuse so that the abuser cannot find it and so that the user can safely share that information with the authorities. The app even allows users to locate the nearest support for themselves or another loved one using GPS. Many thanks to Newton Enterprise Consulting for helping UK Says NO MORE develop the innovative app.

Survivor writes a must-read letter to Brock Turner. Channeling the national outrage following Brock Turner’s recent release after serving only half of his already short sentence for rape, activist and survivor Savannah Badalich shared a powerful letter to Turner and others like him.

Powerful film about teen sexual assault and bullying, Audrie & Daisy, premieres on Netflix on September 23. Want to raise awareness of these issues and bring the film to your community? Host a screening by filling out this form today!

A Colorado college student convicted of  sexual assault of a fellow student will not serve any prison time. Read the survivor’s letter detailing the impact of her sexual assault – these are important words we can all learn from. These experiences hit close to home for too many. Learn how to support a friend or family member who has experienced violence.

Collaborative effort dedicated to ending sexual violence in one generation releases first progress report on the state of the movement. Learn more about Raliance at www.raliance.org and read their below.

Read Raliance’s report here

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Memphis Says NO MORE Unveils New Bus PSAs

 

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In Memphis, locals can now see NO MORE PSAs on 20 city buses, thanks to the work of Memphis Says NO MORE and the Memphis Sexual Assault Kit Task Force (SAKT).

Four Memphis Grizzlies players – Tony Allen, Mike Conley, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph – are shown saying “NO MORE It’s Not My Problem” – on five MATA buses. Zach Randolph also appears on overhead signs inside all 20 buses. The bus signs also guide viewers to the Memphis Says NO MORE website, where survivors can find local resources, as well as other campaign materials and videos.

Memphis Says NO MORE, a project of the Memphis Sexual Assault Kit Task Force, also shines a spotlight on a larger issue: untested sexual assault kits are a national problem. In 2013, the Memphis task force was created to oversee testing of all untested sexual assault kits and to establish policies for prompt testing of new kits. The task force includes representatives of multiple state, county and city offices, as well as community advocates, including the Memphis Area Women’s Council.

Since its creation, the task force has already accomplished a great deal, including:

  • 13055183_459203864273616_8024190080007810600_oraising $6 million
  • analyzing or shipping 5,986 kits to four labs
  • holding public meetings to update the community, training law enforcement on rape investigation, and advocating for additional investigators and compassionate victim notification

READ MORE LEARN MORE ABOUT MEMPHIS SAYS NO MORE

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How these Young Men Became Allies in Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Prevention

In the first week of July, the NFL piloted a peer ambassador program in conjunction with the second year of its ‘On and Off the Field’ football camp, led by NFL alumni and players and in partnership with London-based charity, Hestia, and UK Says No More.

The peer ambassador program was built with Hestia to facilitate more Photo-10-07-2016-11-21-32-1-1024x850long term, in-community support, by empowering young college players with domestic violence and sexual assault (DVSA) and leadership training. Football coaches from local and college teams were asked to nominate players for the peer program. Players were then interviewed and screened. Over three days, the chosen 15 young men, aged 16-24, received DV/SA training structured around the NFL’s four core values of resiliency, respect, integrity and responsibility to team.

With incredible dedication from Lyndsey Dearlove, Hestia’s Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) Partnership Manager, the DV/SA program grew into an innovative and interactive training program which not only fostered participation, discussion and engagement, but sparked a flame in many of the young men. A light was shone on issues which are commonly left undiscussed and in the dark, such as the pressures of contemporary masculinity, stereotypes and privileges. The young men were keen to engage in discussions around bystander challenges and how to recognize abuse and victims of abuse.

“I’ve learnt things about domestic violence and sexual assault that otherwise I may never have known. It has also opened my eyes further to the stresses experienced as a male, which I have been molded by – but not always knowingly. It has also interested me in learning more about male privilege…[and] how to lessen the stresses experienced by other men by being available for talking without judgement.”
– Peer Ambassador

The newly-trained peer ambassadors then utilized their DV/SA training at the two-day NFL On and Off the Field football camp in the heart of the English countryside, at Royal Holloway University. The camp was designed as a safe space for more than 130 young men aged 16-24 to develop themselves both on and off the field, combining the football skills and personality necessary to be a great player and teammate.


Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 4.03.59 PMOff the field
, camp participants had breakout sessions with NFL players and alumni, such as Indianapolis Colts Andrew Luck, in order to learn from their experiences as pro players. They shared important insights on community and character. This reinforced the message of the DV/SA session where, with the support of Hestia and UK Says No More, the peer ambassadors created awareness around domestic violence and sexual assault amongst 130 of their peers. Alongside Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee, Dwayne Allen and NFL free agent, Efe Obada, the peer ambassadors led intimate and animated conversations.

On the field, participants solidified the team spirit and trust they had built, taking to the field in high intensity drills, skills and combines with NFL coaches and players.

Following the camp, peer ambassadors will take leadership and DV/SA learnings back to their teams and facilitate peer support groups for their team mates. They will act as points of initial contact and support, with access to the Hestia DV/SA app, Bright Sky, and knowledge of who their peers can turn to for further support.

Jessica Boyd is the head of Gender and Community Development at NFL UK and worked with Hestia and UK SAYS NO MORE to build the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault programme.

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The Vice President of the United States writes an open letter to a sexual assault survivor at Stanford. A California judge’s lenient verdict in her case sparks backlash nationwide.  The survivor’s searing statement about her experience of rape is read verbatim on national television by a news anchor and on the floor of the Congress.

And that’s just our inbox from last week.

Slowly but seemingly all at once, we have reached a new threshold in our struggle to change the culture around sexual assault.  Wherever we go from here, we know that the stigma and shame that long shrouded the issue are finally beginning to lift.  That’s good news…and of course it is not nearly enough if your goal is, as ours is, to end sexual assault and domestic violence once and for all.  But the change has begun, and it is palpable everywhere you look.

What’s changing?  Three very big things.

First, the silence around sexual assault is ending.  As recently as 2013, the national NO MORE study by Avon Foundation for Women found that an overwhelming majority of Americans (73%) had not discussed sexual assault with their friends or even their own kids.  Yet Stanford historian Estelle Freedman writes of the sexual assault controversy in a New York Times op-ed: “The energies unleashed by this case present a potential to reframe the issue of rape.”  From the Oscars to politics to the military, the new normal is to talk about sexual assault – in fact, it is burning up social media like few other social issues today.

Second, the excuses for sexual assault are dying, and we say good riddance.  “But he’s such a nice guy.”  “Well, he was drunk.”  “Well, she was drunk.”  Lame excuses for predatory, criminal behavior that have been around forever may actually have begun to fade.  As the Vice President, a great champion of this cause, put it clearly in addressing the survivor: “What you endured is never, never, never, NEVER, a woman’s fault.”

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Third, and most hopefully, bystanders are stepping up.  The Stanford survivor keeps an image of a bicycle nearby to remind her of the two courageous cyclists who intervened in her assault.  The symbolism “reminds me that there are heroes in the story.  That we are looking out for each other,” the survivor wrote in the statement she read in court.  When people begin to see that they must get off the sidelines and take a stand, we will finally be on our way to NO MORE sexual assault and domestic violence.

While the recent progress is heartening, there is so much more to the story.  The Stanford sexual assault has also surfaced important and complicated questions about social justice.  There is a shocking contrast between the six-month jail sentence for the white Stanford perpetrator, and the 15-25 year mandatory minimum sentencing of an African-American Vanderbilt student convicted of rape this spring. Silence and stigma are not truly over until we hear all the voices – those of the LGBTI community, racial and ethnic minorities, male survivors and others whose pain is often overlooked.

But as we continue to struggle, it’s important to look up every now and then from our work and see where change has brought us.  Now is one of those moments.

Monika Johnson Hostler is President of the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence.  Virginia Witt is Director and co-founder of NO MORE, a public awareness and engagement campaign.

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