Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Say Her Name

By Michelle Polek

Charleena Lyles called the police to ask for help. That’s one of the supposedly basic concepts that many of us instill in our children: when you are in danger, call the police. Memorize 911. If you are lost, find a police officer. They will help you. In most horror movies, the arrival of police sirens and lights signify that safety has come at last. Here at SafeChoice, I am currently charging several of our donated phones that we always have on hand to give to survivors. These phones don’t have a messaging plan – their sole purpose to have a way to call 911. Calling the police is an important part of many domestic violence survivors’ safety plans. But calling the police is not a safe option for everyone.

Charleena Lyles called the police because she was in fear that a robbery had taken place. She was a survivor of domestic violence. She had been released from jail a few days prior, having been arrested in early June. She was armed during that previous arrest, too – she was holding a pair of scissors to protect herself from her boyfriend (information which the officers were alerted to upon their arrival at her residence). Her family noted that she had been experiencing mental health issues for the past year. “Worrying about losing her kids and dealing with the craziness of the baby's daddy caused her to have a mental breakdown,” her older sister stated. Charleena was holding a knife when the police came to respond to her call. She was shot by two male police officers after they stated that she brandished the knife at them.

I can’t speak for Charleena, and Charleena is no longer here to speak for herself. Yet her story still resonates with grief, with the fear that communities of color have of basic interactions with law enforcement, with the trauma that permeates our society when it comes to the intersections of domestic violence and racism and disability. We don’t yet have a full picture of Charleena’s experiences, but we do know from our work with domestic violence survivors that a significant amount of survivors end up incarcerated for crimes related to their abuse. We also know that survivors’ interactions are often shaped by trauma, impairing abilities such as reading social cues and emotional regulation We know that Charleena, in addition to navigating difficulties with her own mental health issues, was caring for four children, including one with special needs.

And we know that Charleena was living in Seattle, a city whose police department was called out five years ago by the US Department of Justice for excessive use of force – including the fact that half of incidents of excessive force were perpetuated against minorities. This document also reports that 43% of Seattle residents overall and 56% of Black residents believe that racial profiling by the police is an issue within their city. Charleena’s story fits within the narrative that we see on the news and in our communities, again and again: the story of disproportionate police violence against Black citizens. Charleena’s family has repeated that she was not a threat to the two police officers who responded to her, that she was small in stature and weight. As with other Black victims of police brutality, we very well may see that the media will scrutinize the minutiae of Charleena’s life: the threat her body assumed to present, her education, her choices in clothing. If/when this happens, I want us to remember the many dangerous white perpetrators of violence (such as Dylan Roof, the man who killed nine Black churchgoers in South Carolina in a mass shooting) who have been successfully taken into custody – alive. I need us to think deeper about who we consciously and unconsciously consider to be violent or threatening. Justice cannot exist when we consider some lives to be more valuable than others.

Charleena’s life and death matter to her family and community. And the lives of her children matter, too. As someone who does violence prevention work with children, I was particularly struck by a statement by the Seattle Police Department: “There were several children inside the apartment at the time of the shooting, but they were not injured.” The SPD, of course, meant that the children hadn’t suffered physical injuries. However, before the police entered their home, these children were already being injured by the fact that their mother couldn’t access the supports that she needed. They were additionally injured by (directly or indirectly) witnessing their mother’s death.  They shot my mom,” said one of the 10-year old children. I wonder how likely it is that any of Charleena’s children will call the police if they are in danger.

Charleena’s death comes at a time when Seattle has seemingly made progress in its use of excessive force, yet her story seems to contradict the narrative that progress is inevitable. It isn’t. Seattle isn’t the only place where disproportionate force is used against people of color. It isn’t even the only place where survivors of color experience the violence of incarceration rather than support and hope. We must believe survivors when they honor us with their stories – or when, unable to speak, their communities advocate on their behalf and refuse to let our nation forget that these women exist.

We #SayHerName along with other Black women and girls who have been victimized not only by domestic violence but also by the legal system: Charleena Lyles. Marissa Alexander. Bresha Meadows. We cannot let their stories fade. Because their lives matter.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

"I Am Jane Doe" Screening and Panel Offered Local Insight into Human Trafficking

by Emily Ostrowski

Last month 75 people gathered at Kiggins Theater in Vancouver to watch a free screening of the critically acclaimed documentary “I Am Jane Doe” put on by YWCA Clark County, in partnership with the National Women’s Coalition Against Violence and Exploitation (NWCAVE), and the Clark County Human Trafficking Task Force.

The film, narrated and produced by Academy Award nominee Jessica Chastain examines the crisis of human sex trafficking through the lens of young women who are survivors, as well as their mothers who work to seek justice for their daughters, and the thousands of other families that have been hurt, and left unprotected against human trafficking.

The film is a powerful, sobering, and sometimes graphic look at the horrors young women who are trafficked are forced to endure. It was also frustrating to see the many ways in which our government and our communities are failing to adequately address the issue.

Specifically “I Am Jane Doe” examines how the advertising website Backpage was featuring escort ads with underage girls on their site, and how, through Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act meant to protect internet freedom, they were allowed to do so without facing any liability.

Several viewers left comment cards after the screening with the common refrain of finding the film “eye-opening,” “thought-provoking,” and “informative.” One viewer wrote that the documentary was, “the most current and local film I’ve seen in a long time.”

“I Am Jane Doe” does indeed have local relevance. Not only because Seattle serves as a location for one of the survivors’ stories, but also because the I-5 corridor remains a popular route for human traffickers.

In the past several years, law enforcement has worked with community partners in the area to try and end sexual exploitation and trafficking in Clark County. Five women from several of those organizations came to speak on a panel after the film, and answer questions about the challenges of protecting our community’s children, as well as the difficulties survivors of human trafficking can face, and how best to help them.

Each panelist stressed the idea that it’s never too early to talk with children about issues like consent, and about the potential dangers of meeting strangers on the internet. They also encouraged parents to be as aware as possible of their children’s social media habits. YWCA Clark County has several prevention programs that help both parents and children with exactly these types of concerns.

When it came to discussing how to help those who had been trafficked, the panel noted the limited resources available, including the fact that currently there are no shelters designed specifically for human trafficking victims in the area.

However, a spot of bright news was that Janus Youth Services was recently awarded a grant for $206,101 from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Office of Crime Victims Advocacy to launch a program to address sex trafficking in Clark County. According to an article in The Columbian, the grant will fund two outreach specialists and a case manager to work at Janus’ drop-in center in downtown Vancouver, The Perch.

Increases in funding, along with the advocacy of the Clark County Human Trafficking Task Force and similar organizations will help to continue to shed light on the epidemic of human trafficking in our community, and offer help to those most vulnerable.

YWCA Clark County would like to thank NWCAVE, the Clark County Human Trafficking Task Force, Kiggins Theater, the panelists, and everyone who took part in this event. To learn more about how you can get involved, and what you can do to protect your children, view the links and resources at the bottom of this article.

I Am Jane Doe” is available now on iTunes, and Netflix. It is also still showing in select theaters. 50% of all proceeds the film makes will be donated back to non-profit organizations which serve Jane Doe children.


Learn more about YWCA Clark County’s Prevention Programs here, as well as read our recent post about two of the programs Where We Grow and Where We Thrive here.

Find additional resources on human trafficking in Clark County here.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Classic Wines Auction Continues

by Kate Sacamano

Since 2008, YWCA Clark County has been a proud partner with four regional non-profits and the Classic Wines Auction to raise funds for our five core programs. What makes this event ideal for our organization is that we can almost double the investment of our sponsors and donors through the generosity of all of the attendees.

Clark County has been represented very well with over 100 guests supporting YWCA Clark County annually. Each year the event raises over $3 million for all five non-profits, and this year YWCA Clark County will receive $420,000 from the March 3rd auction. Thank you to everyone who helped make the auction a success, and to those donating their time and treasure every step of the way.

The next Classic Wines Auction will be held on March 3, 2018 but you don't have to wait until next year to enjoy Wine Making Wonders. Seats are still available for our exclusive Headwaters Dinner followed by an after-hours tour of the Portland Art Museum and overnight at the Paramount Hotel on October 27th. Special pricing now available if you call our Philanthropy Department 360-906-9123.

On June 8th, Corks and Forks is the happy hour you don't want to miss, featuring some of the hottest restaurants in Portland, and wines from the Northwest. View photos from last year's event, order your tickets today and reserve some wine to take home.

July 22 and 23rd is the second annual Oregon Polo Classic at the Hidden Creek Polo Club in West Linn. This event draws over 1,000 adults and kids who enjoy delicious food, beverages and activities while watching the unique game of polo among the rolling hills of the Willamette Valley horse-country. Reserve a private cabana, plan a corporate picnic or just grab family and friends for a day in the country. Sunday the 23rd is a 21+ event. Those under 21 are welcome to attend Family Day on the 22nd, and ages 13-20 are free! Purchase your tickets today and be sure to select YWCA as your affiliated nonprofit.

We're also looking for a great number of volunteers to help at the Polo Classic. Since Saturday is a family day, anyone over the age of 12 can volunteer. Sunday volunteers must be 21 year and older. Learn about volunteer responsibilities and sign up by June 15th. Please identify yourself as a YWCA volunteer so we can count your time toward the final donation to our programs.

During the fall and winter seasons, Classic Wines Auction hosts a series of Wine Maker Dinners in Portland and SW Washington. Stay tuned for a listing of restaurants in late October and January so you don’t miss out on a private dinner party with your favorite wine maker. To learn more about how you can get involved, call our Philanthropy Department at 360-906-9123.

Camara Banfield Stands Against Racism

by Sharon Svec

In April, YWCA Clark County joined more than 500 groups across the country to demonstrate solidarity towards a mission to eliminate racism. Hosted by The Women’s Leadership Center of YWCA and the Diversity Council of WSU, this year’s event focused on a very important theme: Women of Color Leading Change. Despite outpacing other groups in college education, leading social progress in their communities, and often being the primary breadwinner in their households, women of color are consistently underrepresented in positions of leadership. But there are tangible steps we can take together.

Camara Banfield, Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecuting Attorney at the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office is a Woman of Color Leading Change right here in Clark County. She spoke to an impassioned audience about addressing racism. Attendees were also invited to sign a pledge against racism, which is now available on our website.

At the event, Camara eloquently addressed the issues that lead to the oppression of black women by sharing personal experiences in which racism was sometimes implicit and other times more explicit. She marked implicit bias as one of the greatest barriers women of color face, and shared meaningful encounters with friends, co-workers, teachers and family to demonstrate the complex feelings a person can feel when bias is at play. She cited moments as early as elementary school, continuing into middle school and beyond, when her mother arrived by her side to challenge implicit bias from teachers, counselors and others. But, even with the best advocate, it can be hard for a person to realize their worth, especially when every other encounter dictates otherwise.

Camara did come to recognize a stronger sense of self. And through the adoption of her mother’s communication style and fortitude, she's now advocating for others. She sited the qualities of grace and respect as tantamount to opening up conversations about racism, and ultimately, to ending it. She then encouraged the audience to also have those difficult conversations, and to do so with grace and respect.

You can read the pledge against racism on our website. The pledge correlates with YWCA USA’s national stand against racism and is no longer available for signing through their site. However, you can send us an email at, and we’ll add your name to our listing. View photos from this year's event at

Young Women Receive Scholarships from YWCA

by Brittini Allen

Four high school seniors have been selected to each receive a $1,500 scholarship from YWCA Clark County in support of their future educational endeavors. Nkem Aduka, Jordan Ledbetter, Sophie Muro, and Elizabeth Rupp consistently demonstrated strong leadership qualities in alignment with YWCA Clark County values throughout their high school careers. Each student has contributed extensive volunteer hours to their schools, local nonprofits, faith-based organizations and their community as a whole.

Nkem Aduka of Camas High School was awarded the Donna Roberge Scholarship and will attend Tufts University to study international relations and community health. Jordan Ledbetter of CAM Academy was awarded the Soroptimist International of Southwest Washington Scholarship and will attend George Fox University to study social work. Sophie Muro of Camas High School was awarded the Soroptimist International of Vancouver Scholarship and will attend University of Washington to study anthropology. Elizabeth Rupp of Skyview High School was awarded the Friends of YWCA Young Woman of Achievement Scholarship and will attend the Oregon State University to study bioengineering.

A special thanks to Donna Roberge, Soroptimist International of Vancouver, Soroptimist International of Southwest Washington and the Friends of YWCA for contributing to the advancement of young women through these scholarships. Learn more about the Young Women of Achievement Awards on our website.

The Cycle of Abuse and Homelessness

by Emily Ostrowski

One of the most important factors in helping survivors of domestic violence escape their abusers is their ability to find safe, affordable housing. Unfortunately, this often proves a difficult task. Not only do abusers frequently exert control of their partner’s finances, but available low-income housing is at historic lows both locally and nationally. Many individuals who seek to escape abuse often find themselves without a place to call home.

Domestic abuse is, in fact, the leading cause of homelessness among women and children. According to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP), more than 90 percent of homeless women are victims of severe physical or sexual abuse. Often times, it is in their attempts to leave their abuser, and having nowhere else to turn, that is the cause of their homelessness.

The decision between staying with an abusive partner or being homeless is a choice that no one should ever have to make, but it is an unfortunate reality for too many victims of abuse. In a 2012 study, 74 percent of survivors cited economic reasons as to why they stayed with their abuser. In 2016 a full 87% of survivors escaping domestic violence could not find safe, affordable housing, greatly diminishing their options for permanently leaving their abusers.

While domestic violence acts as a catalyst to homelessness, many who end up homeless are also still very vulnerable to additional violence. According to a report by the Oregon Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence 32% of women, 27% of men, and 38% of transgender individuals reported experiencing physical or sexual violence within 12 months of homelessness. Homeless youth may be especially vulnerable to violence. The same report references a study indicating that 70% of homeless youth experience violence, with 1 in 3 youth specifically reporting sexual assault.

It is at the core of YWCA Clark County’s mission to empower and advocate for survivors of domestic violence, and help them gain the emotional and financial stability needed to live a life free from violence. To do this work we rely on the vital support of our generous community.

Sarah came to Vancouver pregnant and escaping stalking by her ex-partner.
Funding from YWCA helped Sarah find affordable housing,
 and provide a safe home for herself and her child. 
In 2016, our SafeChoice Domestic Violence Program spent 8,193 hours advocating on behalf of 964 individuals offering support, information and referrals, safety planning, support groups, legal advocacy, and a secure place to stay at our gender inclusive emergency domestic violence shelter, which is the only domestic violence shelter currently in Clark County. In total, 43 adults and 66 children were able to escape violence and find temporary housing at our shelter in 2016.

We not only want to provide survivors with one-on-one support and advocacy while they are staying with us, we want them to feel at home. This is why our shelter is gender inclusive, and even allows pets because we don’t want families to choose between staying at a shelter or staying with their loved ones. We also provide private rooms, so that no one has to share space with a stranger.
 Additionally, there are no set meal times or plans, and those residing at our shelter can choose when to eat and what to prepare based on what feels comfortable to them.

We also want survivors staying at our shelter to feel they are on their own timetable. We have a midnight curfew so residents may come and go during the day as they please. Residents can also choose when to access one-on-one advocacy sessions, legal resources, and our Children's Advocacy Program (CAP), which assists families in dealing with the effects of domestic violence.

Finally residents of our shelter can stay up to 60 days, to allow them the time and flexibility to get the emotional, legal, and financial assistance needed to feel empowered to permanently move on from their abusive partner.

While we are deeply proud of the work we have done, we want to do even more to advocate on behalf of our community, and that is why we need your support. Your donations not only help to offer tangible services to the individuals and families that come to YWCA Clark County looking for assistance, but they also send a message that Clark County is united in our mission to end domestic violence.

Please consider donating today, and continue checking our blog to learn more about the challenges domestic abuse survivors face, and how with your support, YWCA can help.

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Power of Prevention

By Emily Ostrowski

YWCA Clark County is dedicated to empowering and supporting survivors of sexual assault and domestic abuse, but our aim is to also change the pervasive culture of violence that contributes to these issues in the first place. We do this in part by actively engaging our community in prevention programs that seek to stop violence before it starts.

Currently we have four prevention programs. Two of which, Where We Grow and Where We Thrive are aimed at middle school and high school youth because we know that getting young people involved can be a powerful and galvanizing force for change.

Where We Grow is a 10-12 session program designed for middles school students ages 11-14, while Where We Thrive is 8-10 sessions, and geared towards high school students ages 15-18. Participants in each group build knowledge and skills to help support healthy relationships, as well as learn about boundaries, and how to become advocates for themselves as well as others.

In discussing healthy relationships and boundaries with middle and high school aged students, the topic of consent is frequently addressed.

Michelle Polek, prevention specialist for our SafeChoice Domestic Violence Program, facilitates Where We Grow, and notes the importance of discussing consent with her students. “Even if they aren’t sexually active, and I never assume they aren’t, middle school-aged youth absolutely experience or witness sexual abuse and harassment,” said Polek. “I think it’s also important to recognize that consent applies to a wide range of romantic and platonic actions, and everyone has different comfort levels.”
Ariella Frishberg (left) and Michelle Polek at the
Postcards with Purpose event for Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Ariella Frishberg, a prevention specialist for our Sexual Assault Program who runs Where We Thrive, echoed that sentiment, “Consent is just asking for permission or asking for someone to define their boundaries, which is something we should all be thinking about and doing all the time – not just in sexual situations.” As part of those discussions about consent, Frishberg has her students do self-reflections about their own emotional, physical, and sexual boundaries.

Another topic that frequently comes up in both prevention groups is the influence of media on culture and relationship norms. “Now more than ever, media is an intrinsic part of our lives, and the lives of the young people we are working with.” said Polek.

Frishberg explained that when she discusses media and pop culture with her students they often examine how unhealthy or abusive behaviors are portrayed as if they are romantic. “We focus on how popular culture normalizes and romanticizes jealousy, control, stalking, and abusive behavior,” said Frishberg, and noted popular examples like “Twilight”, “Fifty Shades of Grey", and the Eminem and Rhianna song,  “Love the Way You Lie.”

Youth who participate in either Where We Grow or Where We Thrive have an opportunity to be part of the YWCA Clark County Prevention Advisory Board (PAB). The PAB is currently comprised of 6-8 students who get together once or twice a month, and are integral in helping plan for Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Awareness Month events. They’re also very active on social media, finding content to share on YWCA Clark County Prevention’s Facebook and Instagram pages.

When asked what the benefit to having these important and sometimes difficult conversations with students, Frishberg did not mince words,

“There’s no short answer to this. Young adults are not given many opportunities to develop skills around relationship building, communication, setting boundaries, and asking for consent. When we make spaces for these conversations, they are able to develop skills they will end up using throughout the rest of their life. The shorter question is, why wouldn’t we have these kinds of conversations?”

To learn more about these prevention programs, as well as our programs Where We Live and Where We Build you can visit our website, call us at 360-696-0167, or email with the program you are interested in listed in the subject line. To donate to YWCA and support great programs like these, visit