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.

Panelists:


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 info@ywcaclarkcounty.org, and we’ll add your name to our listing. View photos from this year's event at flickr.com/ywcacc.

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 prevention@ywcaclarkcounty.org with the program you are interested in listed in the subject line. To donate to YWCA and support great programs like these, visit ywcaclarkcounty.org/donate.


Friday, April 14, 2017

CASA: Giving a Voice to Children in Need

By Emily Ostrowski

YWCA Clark County is driven by the desire to help those most vulnerable in our community. Our Clark County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) Program is one of the many ways we do that.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and CASA is designed to advocate for the best interest of Clark County children in the dependency system, and be their voice in the court system.

Blue and silver pinwheels are displayed in communities
nationwide to recognize Child Abuse Prevention Month
Fueled by the hard work and dedication of our volunteers, CASA typically advocates for over 600 children each year. Sheryl Thierry, YWCA Clark County’s Director of CASA, has noted an increase in the number of dependencies filed in the county.

In fact, the numbers of cases of child abuse or neglect reported in Clark County, as well as Washington State on whole have been increasing over the last few years. Thierry discussed two factors contributing to the rise: substance use and mental health issues.

The United States is the middle of an opioid epidemic, with over 33,000 people dying of opioid overdose in 2015 alone. Neither Washington State or Clark County have been immune to the crisis.  “It has impacted the county, and led to an increase in neglect cases that are filed,” said Thierry.  “Untreated substance abuse has led to homelessness for families, and unsafe living conditions for children” in our community.

Mental health issues in parents and caregivers can also be a factor in child abuse and neglect. Unfortunately, Washington State is currently ranked 48th in the country in providing access to mental health services. “Mental health is a major factor in many of our cases, and the lack of resources in Clark County creates delays, and often acts as a permanent barrier for parents who cannot get the specific type of help they need,” said Thierry. “There are also lack of mental health resources for children with significant, and often violent behavioral issues.”

Despite these hurdles CASA volunteers tirelessly pursue the best interests of the children and families they work with. “We collaborate with social workers, teachers, therapists, and other team members to assess each child’s needs, and what changes parents need to make to provide a safe and stable home for their children.” said Thierry.

If a reunion with their parents isn’t an option, CASA works to monitor placements, makes recommendations to the courts, and ensures the child’s specific needs are met in their placement home. Advocates also visit children at least once a month in various settings to get to know the child personally.

Above all, CASA volunteers stay vigilant in their support for the children they advocate for, and remain a constant and stable adult presence in their lives.

There are numerous ways you can support CASA and the growing numbers of children needing advocacy. Join YWCA Clark County for a CASA Open House on Wednesday, April 19th from 4-6pm to learn more about our program, and to discover how you can help.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

I just don’t have what it takes to volunteer

Rachel Pinskey, Volunteer with Nichole Peppers, Director of Volunteer Development.

Of course you do! You believe in the mission of YWCA Clark County and you have some skill or another at which you excel, and which you enjoy doing. Now, how do those skills line up with the needs of YWCA?

Did you love learning Spanish in school, then followed up by travelling in Spanish speaking countries, but here in Washington, you have limited opportunities to use your skill? Or, are you a native Spanish speaking individual, who would like to use your native language more?

Here’s a way to use your Spanish to benefit others-- YWCA Clark County has a need for volunteers who can provide Spanish speaking advocacy for victims of domestic violence. You can help victims understand their rights and resources as they navigate through the legal and social services relevant to their particular situations.

Suppose you are really concerned about supporting victims of domestic violence, but only speak English? Good news for you. English speaking volunteers are also needed to answer hotlines, assist with shelter facilities support, and provide information to those in crisis.

Do you like researching things and ideas? Have you ever considered what it might be like to be an investigator? A CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) is responsible for advocating for the best interests of a child who is involved in legal proceedings. As part of this responsibility, you will be trained to, and expected to, investigate the facts of the case, and make recommendations to the court system on behalf of the child.

Are you a good listener with daytime availability? As a sexual assault victim and survival advocate, you may help a victim and their family to navigate the medical and legal system, as well as provide ongoing support as they try to put their life back together.

Suppose you really want to volunteer…to do good…but are still a little hesitant? We still need you! Take baby steps.

Apply online by March 30th to make it into the spring training cycle starting April 6th. You can also contact Nichole Peppers, Director of Volunteer Development at 360-906-9112 or npeppers@ywcaclarkcounty.org for more information.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

2017 Classic Wines Auction Raised Record Revenue

Thank you to our sponsors, guests and donors who helped make this our best year yet at Classic Wines Auction. Along with our four nonprofit partners, we raised $3.5 Million to support our programs which serve thousands of women, children and families in the Vancouver/Portland area.

It is not too late to support YWCA Clark County!

We have limited seating available for private wine dinners hosted by our generous supporters.

Register by March 27th for a special gourmet dinner at Janis and Dan Wyatt’s on May 18th featuring Ledson Winery, or for an overnight package in downtown Portland with dinner at Headwaters, wine from Basel Cellars Winery and a special after-hours tour of the Wyeth Collection at the Portland Art Museum on October 27th.

If you have any questions, please call Kate at 360-906-9123.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Survivor Jailed After Filing Protection Order

By Michelle Polek

A woman who is also an undocumented immigrant was recently arrested in El Paso, Texas. The impetus for her arrest? She had been seeking a protection order to keep herself safe from her abuser. The survivor’s lawyer noted that it was very possible that the woman’s abuser had provided the tip to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that she would be in the courtroom that day.

When I read about this for the first time, the words swirled in front of me. My stomach dropped. Anger and helplessness swelled on behalf of all the program participants we work with: the survivors who are navigating fear of the immigration system on top of the daily trauma that violence brings.      
Domestic violence is an issue that affects all communities. The intersection of domestic violence and immigration status, however, creates additional obstacles for survivors – and more tools for abusers
to exploit.

Threats and intimidation around deportation are ugly but coldly effective ways that abusers hold power over survivors. If the abuser has legal status and is a survivor’s only means to obtaining status, abusers may withdraw or threaten to withdraw that support. Survivors are often isolated in their new country without a support network, and other immigrants in the community may fear becoming involved with helping survivors – threats of deportation can extend to them and their families, too. Regardless of their own legal status, abusers may threaten to report undocumented survivors to ICE, creating a climate of fear that at any moment, the survivor might be arrested and deported. And abusers often triumphantly keep their children.

The children of survivors also suffer when the threat of deportation is so tangible. They may themselves be undocumented and included in the abuser’s threats of deportation. They may be living daily with the anxiety that at any moment, their parent will be taken away.

There’s no reference to children in the El Paso arrest. However, this survivor has another important layer of oppression to her experience: she is a transgender woman. I mention this aspect of her identity because it is important to recognize that transgender women (particularly transgender women of color) experience violence at a disproportionate rate, including in their relationships. In 2012, 14 percent of all victims of domestic violence homicides were transgender women of color.

I am grieving the fact that, in this moment, I feel that I can’t ethically encourage undocumented survivors to seek protection orders as a way to stay safer. This arrest has created a wave of fear that is echoing across families and networks of survivors and communities with undocumented loved ones. When we make conditions unsafe for survivors to report violence, we are empowering the people who are perpetrating that violence. We are sending a clear message to survivors that their safety is not a priority to us.
This is unacceptable.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, SafeChoice is here to help. Our hotline is available 24/7 at 360-695-0501. You can walk into our community office (located at 3609 Main Street) to meet with an advocate from Monday-Friday, 9am-3pm. All of our advocates have immediate access to translators over the phone. We also have a Spanish bilingual advocate, Beatriz Velasquez, who can be reached at 360-906-9148.

Decline to Sign on I-1552

by De Stewart

Community wellness and safety depends on us protecting the most vulnerable members of our society, those who experience the highest levels of discrimination. For this reason, Washington state has had anti-discrimination laws in place for over 10 years.

A vocal minority wants to overturn our anti-discrimination laws, claiming people will “pose” as transgender to attack women in public restrooms, yet there has never been a reported instance of this happening. However, there are many documented instances of transgender individuals being bullied
and physically harmed in public restrooms.

It is already illegal to use a public restroom for the purpose of peeping, stalking or sexual assault. YWCA Clark County, Washington State Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, and the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence oppose the initiative, stating it will make restrooms less safe for all.

Privacy is another concern. Privacy is important to everyone, and it can be obtained by closing the door to a stall or installing curtains on showers. Opponents of equality prey on fear to justify discrimination against transgender community members; our family members, classmates, friends, and co-workers.

Action: You can reject I-1552 when you sign petitions such as the one at http://action.wawont.org/page/s/I1552 stating that you decline to support any measure that would threaten anti-discrimination laws.

Accepting Nominations

Nominations are being accepted until May 5th, 2017 for the  Val Joshua Racial Justice Award and Youth Social Justice Award. These awards are presented annually to those who have demonstrated leadership working toward eliminating racism and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all people.

The Val Joshua Award was originally given to Val Joshua in 1989 to recognize her life-long commitment and work toward eliminating racism. Honorees will receive a distinguished award and the Youth Social Justice Award recipient will be given a $500 scholarship. A community celebration will be held to honor the recipients on June 7th, 2017.

For more information and to nominate someone today, visit: ywcaclarkcounty.org/vj-awards or call Stephanie at 360-906-9143.