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April: A Month of Healing, Education and Advocacy
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and National Child Abuse Prevention Month. For many of us, it will be marked by awareness-raising efforts, days of remembrance and calls to action. It will be a month, though, unchanged by the staggering facts:
- Every two minutes in the United States, someone is sexually assaulted.
- One in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college.
- One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old
- More than five children die every day in this country as a result of child abuse and neglect, and up to 15 million children witness domestic violence in their homes each year.
As we and our community mobilize with the renewed commitment to change these statistics—and create a world free of this violence—I wanted to share with you some of the exciting, hopeful, important work that’s happening at Joyful Heart this month:
If you’ve been following our healing work closely, you know that Joyful Heart is in the middle of a project to study the effectiveness of our retreat program for survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse. Every day, we face the reality that the demand for our retreat program continually exceeds its availability. For this reason, we have undertaken this project in partnership with researchers from Georgetown University with the goal of making a replicable retreat model available to survivors and partnering organizations across the country.
As I write this, we are privileged to be hosting two dozen survivors from the Los Angeles area on a retreat. With the great care and compassion, our healing program staff members have been sharing our holistic approach to healing on retreat, integrating traditional healing methods, like talk therapy and psychoeducation, with modalities such as creative expression, breathwork, yoga, movement, experiencing nature and more—all in the nurturing environment of community.
Last month marked the beginning of an exciting, and deeply meaningful new phase of Joyful Heart’s NO MORE PSA campaign—one that has been a long-time coming.
In partnership with 1in6 and Viacom, and with the continued talent and creativity of Y&R’s Rachel Howald, photographer Timothy White, and our Founder & President, Mariska Hargitay, we released a new video and print series that speaks directly to the 1 in 6 male survivors of childhood sexual abuse. And, although this campaign was created specifically with male survivors of unwanted or abusive sexual experiences of childhood in mind, we know that men experience sexual and domestic violence in all its forms. The beliefs—that boys and men can’t be sexually used or abused—are woven deeply into our collective consciousness. The myth that males don’t experience sexual or domestic violence is central to cultural ideals of masculinity that focus on physical strength and sexual desire. Maybe you can even recall thinking or saying something similar yourself. Many men who’ve experienced abuse have too: internalizing those harmful misunderstandings themselves, imagining they must be the only one. This campaign is designed to alter these cultural norms.
The video 1in6 made speaks for itself:
In the four weeks since they launched, these groundbreaking PSAs are airing on 30 TV stations and have been seen by an audience of more than 16 million. 1in6 has reported twice the normal traffic to its Online SupportLine, and a consistent increase to its website visitors. You can see the spots on Viacom’s networks, USA Network and Altitude Sports, as well as on TV stations across the country. We are working with our distribution partner, Boom Broadcasting, to roll out the campaign on more and more stations every week. I couldn’t be more proud that we are turning up the volume and offering support and resources to the 21 million men across this country who are survivors.
To mark Sexual assault Awareness month, Joyful Heart released our new report, Navigating Notification: A Guide to Re-engaging Sexual Assault Survivors Affected by the Untested Rape Kit Backlog. This report, generously supported by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, will help communities working to eliminate their backlogs of untested rape kits create survivor-centered, trauma-informed policies and protocols for victim notification. Since 2010, the Joyful Heart Foundation has made the elimination of the rape kit backlog—hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits across the country—a top priority. As state and local jurisdictions have begun to process their untested rape kits, they are faced with many complex questions about how to re-engage survivors whose kits have languished untested for years or even decades. Notifying survivors after so many years have passed is a crucial choice point along the journey toward comprehensive rape kit reform. Survivors must be at the heart of these choices. This groundbreaking research, in partnership with Dr. Courtney Ahrens of California State University Long Beach, was a labor of love for all of us. I am grateful to the survivors who courageously and generously shared their experiences with notification, the professionals who offered their expertise and suggestions, and the invaluable leadership of jurisdictions such as Manhattan, Detroit, Cleveland and others as they work to eliminate the backlog of untested kits in their communities and beyond.
As Joyful Heart’s CEO, I am blessed to be surrounded by inspiration and hope every day. Nowhere—and in no one—is that more powerful than our dedicated staff, who make the impossible possible every day. Thank you.
And to all who share our vision of a world without sexual assault, domestic violence or child abuse, and who support our efforts in every way—big and small—thank you.
Finally, I urge you to make a tax-deductible donation to Joyful Heart in honor of this meaningful month. Today and tomorrow only, Mariska Hargitay, Joyful Heart's Founder & President, is 3-TO-1 matching all online donations, up to $10,000! That means any gift you make will have four times the impact. Our programs—and the survivors we serve—need your support. Right now is a pivotal time to add yours.