Improving Community Response

Although everyone heals differently, the healing journey often begins with and continues to be affected by the response of the community. That community includes the police and members of the criminal justice system who are the first responders to a report of violence and who work to bring perpetrators to justice day after day. It includes the nurses and forensic examiners who perform the rape kit examination in the hospital in the aftermath of a sexual assault, as well as the nurses and doctors who treat injuries that result from domestic violence. It includes members of the media whose words have such an impact on the way violence is perceived and survivors are portrayed. It includes all of us—from elected officials, members of the criminal justice system and medical personnel to educators, parents and philanthropists. 

Over the years, we have witnessed—and indeed, together, have helped to usher in—great improvements in our society’s response to these crimes by meeting survivors with more compassion and greater access to justice and by having the necessary conversations to prevent violence and abuse from happening in the first place. Even in light of these improvements, turning the tide of public awareness to lift the isolation and shame placed on survivors is still a work in progress. A work that requires all of our attention.

"The response of the police, and even my friends and family, in many ways was worse that the rape itself."

- Survivor

Our response as a community is also a reflection of the myths surrounding these issues that blame victims. Frequently, we hear or read about them: that because survivor dressed a certain way, she was "asking for it." That because a victim of domestic violence didn't leave her abusive partner, that she wasn't doing everything she knew how to do to be safe. Or that because a survivor didn't fight, or run away, or tell anyone, that it was her fault. That blame belongs with the perpetrators of these crimes. Every single one of us is a part of the community that can help dispel these myths and ensure that survivors are met with a better response—from all of us. Simply taking the time to learn about the issues of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse is a big step. Sharing this information with your community is an even bigger one. These issues are difficult to talk about—we ask you to talk about them anyway. 

“If we are able to communicate only one thing about your role in a survivor’s journey, it is this: never ever underestimate your power to affect its course.”  

- Maile Zambuto, Joyful Heart CEO

In our own programs, we seek to improve the community response to sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse. Our goal is to change attitudes, improve systems to lessen the trauma survivors experience and ensure greater access to healing and justice for survivors.

Through our Heal the Healers program, we work with the front-line professionals who care for survivors and offer them information and resources to do their work sustainably. Our work to end the backlog of untested rape kits is a national effort to engage with and improve a criminal justice system that has failed to adequately respond to sexual violence. We’re an active and vocal supporter of NO MORE, a movement that, for the first time, is bringing together nearly every organization working to end violence and abuse under the same goal, the same symbol and the same message: together we can end domestic violence and sexual assault. Because we know we cannot do it alone.

In addition to these programs, we provide the criminal justice community with tools and best practices for responding to these crimes and caring for survivors through these initiatives:

  • Victim NotificationOur research and advocacy to ensure that as the rape kit backlog is ended in jurisdictions across the United Sates, survivors whose kits have been part of the backlog receive information about the status of their cases in a way that is empowering and that will minimize re-traumatization.  
  • A Body of Evidence.  A film produced in partnership with the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services designed for medical professionals to ensure that the inherently intrusive sexual assault evidence exam is less traumatic for victims and more productive for law enforcement.
  • SAFE Handbook. A step-by-step handbook that outlines many of the scenarios sexual assault forensic examiners encounter when responding to survivors of sexual assault and a guide to best practices around evidence collection, issues of consent and confidentiality, documentation, interfacing with the criminal justice system and more.
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