Passion to Action to Advocacy
By Jaycie Hricak
Trigger warning: This article mentions sexual assault and violence.
In high school, I was branded as a “feminazi” for caring about women-centered issues like our economic advancement and greater representation in spaces which have been historically dominated by men. So radical, I know.
I was particularly interested in combatting sexual assault and abuse — as a young teenager, I was sexually harassed and assaulted for the first time. Though a jarring experience that is unfortunately a sick rite of passage into adulthood for many, I am fortunate enough to have had a great counselor and a passionate mother who both pushed me to take the situation to court.
That experience shaped my teenage years. I started fighting the forces that I felt crush me. I knew that my time on Earth was meant to be something big, so I became focused on the realm of women’s rights and advocacy. As a result, I initially declared gender, sexuality, and women’s studies as one of my majors. I may have switched out to pursue criminal justice, but my actions have always been rooted in putting myself in a path, as well as in spaces, to advocate for all women, especially those who may not be able to do it for themselves.
Towards the end of my sophomore year, I knew I wanted to do more in the Temple and North Philadelphia community. Through a career fair, I found North Central Victim Services, which immediately caught my attention because it promotes safe neighborhoods, fights to empower women, and advocates for victims and witnesses of crimes in the community. I felt like I had finally found a space where I could do good.
NCVS provides a number of services to those in need and plays a major role in informing victims of their rights, and they even offer accompaniment to court. They also offer non-monetary compensation, such as a resource window in the office for community members and counseling for victims of crimes and their family members through the NewView Institute.
A majority of my work with North Central includes assisting Johnathan Davis, the executive director, with research projects on potential programs to implement within the community. I have helped assess potential youth development programs intended to reduce and prevent violence in the community. I am currently working on researching a workplace violence prevention initiative. These different projects are meant to build up and empower members of the community by exposing them to information and programming.
I have grown very fond of the organization and the various experiences I’ve had. Whether it be working on research projects, volunteering at events, or helping around the office, every second has helped me refine my career goals and pour my passion into action.
Shanice Cowins, a victim advocate I have known since the beginning of my volunteer experience, has played a large role in planning events for the community, particularly to support and empower women. For October, Domestic Abuse Awareness month, Cowins organized a workshop entitled “Fearless,” held on Oct. 17. It included a self-defense course and a panel of powerful and uplifting women. This event addressed sexual assault, domestic violence, ways we can protect ourselves, how to report an instance, and how to heal.
The self-defense workshop was led by Maggie Szeder, a prevention coordinator from Women in Transition, and she highlighted different steps we can take to protect ourselves in case we ever are in a dangerous situation.
Szeder’s plan of action includes five key points:
Think: Szeder made it clear during the self-defense workshop and panel that it is never our fault if we are victimized, but because of the society that we live in, it is always important to be aware of our surroundings. This involves knowing exits, being aware in the moment, and assessing potential items that can be used in the name of self-defense.
Yell: If you find yourself in a situation where you cannot immediately escape a threat, your voice is powerful! If you find yourself frozen, wiggle your toes, tap your thighs, breathe, and get yourself in a protective stance. To do this, squat a little with your dominant leg slightly behind you for leverage, tilt your hands in a 90-degree angle at chest level, and scream “No!” (or any similar phrase).
Run: In some cases, yelling may work in deterring an attack. If this is not the case, and you are able to run: RUN. Do not resort to fighting unless you absolutely have to.
Fight: If you find yourself in a position where you have to defend yourself, remember the six most sensitive and debilitating body parts to target: eyes, nose, neck, groin, knees, and feet. If you are tall enough, attempt to poke at the eyes by connecting your fingers together and forming a “bird beak.” If you are not able to reach, use your lower palm and push up into their nose or chin. Finally, if all else fails, use your lower thigh (right above the knee) and kick up into their groin area.
Tell: Telling does not necessarily involve turning to law enforcement (unless you want it to!). Szeder, as well as members of the panel later on, suggested that once comfortable, confiding in someone, so that you do not have to go through a traumatic event alone, is a good step toward finding peace. Reporting can be a scary thing to do, and it is not necessary unless you want to take that step.
A panel followed the self-defense workshop made up of five experts. Maggie Szeder, Brittany Broaddus-Smith, founder of The Intimacy Firm and a comprehensive sex educator in the Philadelphia School District, Catresa Meyers, a Temple criminal justice professor, and two Allied Universal security guards, who must remain anonymous for policy purposes.
“We are told not to talk about [sexual assault],” said Catresa Meyers, a Temple criminal justice professor on the panel. “But the more we talk, the more we find out we are not alone. If you choose to report, you speak up for people who may not have the courage to do so.”
The panel shared different steps you can take if you do want to report. Outside of the Temple or Philadelphia police departments, you can report any incidents to our security service here, Allied Universal, Temple’s Student Health Services, or any hospital.
If you want to report an incident without necessarily prosecuting, you can call (or visit) North Central Victims Services, Women Organized Against Rape, the National Sexual Assault Hotline*, or Temple’s Title IX Coordinator.
Domestic abuse, sexual harassment and assault, rape, and rape culture are deeply rooted in society. Experts on the panel further discussed what we can do to address these in our everyday lives:
Recognize and confront microaggressions we see on a daily basis, such as catcalling, sexist themed frat parties, or shut down the problematic behavior of friends and family members.
Recognize that advocacy needs to dismantle the patriarchy and white supremacy. Black women are disproportionately impacted by sexual abuse and our advocacy needs to address this.
Stop viewing sexual assault, harassment, and rape as a women’s issue. Women are not the only survivors. Everybody is impacted by rape culture or knows somebody who has been. We need to break down mindsets, stop blaming the victims, and view the issue as a world problem.
As a country, and as a university, we have a lot of work to do. Growing, healing, and surviving is not easy in a culture obsessed with exploiting and sexualizing women, but through connecting with community organizations and groups, we can build networks, find people to lean on, and start to make changes in our daily lives to positively impact our community.
I encourage everybody to involve themselves with organizations that have missions relevant to your passions. Through NCVS, I am able to work with a subject-matter I feel passionate about changing while picking up important skills such as self-defense, research methods, and knowledge on community resources I previously was not aware of. With my experience volunteering and attending events with NCVS, I feel as though I am a more informed, empowered individual who is able to better help others through my knowledge and advocacy.
Follow NCVS on social media to hear about all future events or to get involved in volunteer opportunities! @ncvs_ on Instagram or “North Central Victims Services - NCVS” on Facebook.
*The National Sexual Assault number is 1-800-656-4673