The Alliance has compiled a number of resources available for survivors, their friends and families, and professionals assisting survivors in New York City.
Q&A: Mary Haviland
According to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, nearly one in five women in the United States have been raped or experienced an attempted rape at some point in their lives. More than one in three have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner, the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey found.
Mary Haviland, the new executive director at New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault, has dedicated her professional life to advocating for these victims, starting in 1978 at Brooklyn Legal Services.
A 1994 graduate of New York University School of Law and a former member of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's Domestic Violence Advisory Board, Ms. Haviland joins the Alliance after serving as a commissioner of the New York State Crime Victims Board and deputy director for victim advocacy. She brings experience designing victim's assistance programs and conducting research on the effects of mandatory arrest in domestic violence crimes to the Alliance, at www.svfreenyc.org, which works to prevent sexual violence, trains health care providers and advocates for policy changes to benefit victims of these crimes.
Q: Did you ever practice law? If so, why did you stop and what attracted you to the field of violence against women?
A: I had already been working in domestic violence for 12 years when I went to law school. Through my personal experience as a domestic violence advocate at Brooklyn Legal Services and then at the Park Slope Safe Homes Project, I witnessed first hand the dismissive and sometimes punitive treatment of victims of domestic violence in Family and Criminal courts. I got to know these women's lives intimately and saw the traps that kept them in violent relationships. It made me furious that the courts were not acting to stop the violence by perpetrators and I vowed to use law school as a vehicle for learning how to motivate reforms. I never intended to do this through litigation, but rather through law and policy reform.
Q: Can you provide a brief overview of what the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault does and why the work is important?
A: Founded by New York City rape crisis programs in 2000, the Alliance spearheads citywide efforts to prevent sexual violence and ensure all survivors have access to quality care. Our mission is to build the capacity of communities, organizations, and institutions to advance the right to live free from sexual violence and reduce the harm it causes individuals, families and society. The Alliance is at the forefront of sexual violence intervention and prevention, and supports the anti-sexual violence community with research, technical assistance, training and advocacy.
Our work is important because sexual violence is still shrouded in fear, shame and silence. Sexual violence is a public health crisis and human rights issue with serious consequences and costs to individuals, families, communities and society. According to the CDC's recently released National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS), nearly one in five women and one in 71 men have been raped in their lifetime. Research shows that two-thirds of sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the survivor. The NISVS survey found that men and women who experienced these forms of violence were more likely to report frequent headaches, chronic pain, difficulty sleeping, activity limitations, poor physical health and poor mental health than men and women who did not experience these forms of violence.
Q: What kind of legal work does the organization do and how many lawyers are on staff? Do you work with any outside counsel?
A: The Alliance has historically worked on policy and legislative reform. It played a major role in the passage of historic legislation, the Sexual Assault Reform Act, a 52-point bill that became law in February 2001. Since then, it has played a role in amendments to this law, as well as participated in numerous coalition efforts to ensure proper implementation of what is known as SARA. The Alliance also collaborates with several district attorneys' offices to offer a mock trial course designed to build the capacity of forensic examiners to give expert testimony.
At the moment, I am the only attorney on staff, however the Alliance is aiming to expand its role in legislative and policy efforts and hopes to build its legal staff in the future.
Q: A key goal of the Alliance is to help prevent sexual violence. What kind of outreach does the organization do to help stop sexual assault before it happens?
A: The Alliance believes that stopping sexual violence before it occurs requires changing the social norms that are at the root of our culture and our communities, and which cause sexual violence to occur.
The Alliance works with communities to identify the ways that these harmful norms manifest and to develop prevention activities that are relevant to the community. This process of community mobilization requires investigating community perceptions; understanding a community's needs, building from existing strengths and assets; and most importantly, building local leadership and investment in primary prevention. In 2007, the Alliance initiated Project Envision, a multi-year community mobilization pilot in three New York City communities—the South Bronx, the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and Williamsburg, Brooklyn—as an opportunity for the city's rape crisis programs to pool resources and collaborate on primary prevention efforts. While the long-term goal of Project Envision is to decrease perpetration of sexual violence, progress that we can measure in the short term will be around increases to positive behaviors and positive norms, being modeled by the participants of each of the three community coalitions. These include healthy group dynamics, such as consensus-building, shared leadership and open communication; increasing community participation in prevention activities, forming partnerships and networks with community groups; and building the skills of professionals to incorporate primary prevention principles into their work.
Through training and technical assistance, the Alliance works to build the capacity of New York City rape crisis programs—and other allies throughout the city, state and country—to take a norms-change approach to preventing sexual violence, by mobilizing communities as experts and leaders in the process.
Q: How does the organization's Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner Training Institute (SAFETI) assist medical professionals who work with sexual assault victims?
A: First, we start by building a foundation for specialty care— a 40-hour course for advanced practitioners and registered nurses, which seeks to develop a thorough understanding of the dynamics of sexual assault and intimate partner violence, skillful assessment techniques and the mechanics of injury caused by violence. In order to receive a "passing" grade for the course, students are required to demonstrate their competency through a series of tests, as well as a clinical skills session.
SAFETI also offers a number of different continuing medical education courses and our Skills Lab offers an opportunity to practice and improve technique by working along side an experienced SAFE examiner.
SAFETI trains upwards of 100 medical providers each year; we rely on the expertise of our partner allies from the multidisciplinary team when creating curricula, reviewing standards and providing instruction. SAFETI is jointly sponsored by the New York Academy of Medicine and the Medical Society of the State of New York to provide continuing medical education.
Q: Are laws related to sexual assault stringent enough in New York state? Does the Alliance lobby for tougher laws or more protections for victims?
A: The Alliance is a long-time participant in the Downstate Coalition for Crime Victims, which has an active legislative agenda every year including several initiatives aimed at expanding options for justice to victims of sexual assault. For several years, there have been proposals to lengthen the statute of limitations in civil cases in New York state. Currently, the statute of limitations is only five years from the date of the sexual assault, or, in the case of child sexual assault, from the age of majority. Current legislative proposals would allow a window of opportunity to survivors of any age to bring civil actions, irrespective of the amount of time that has passed since the assault occurred, and once that window is closed, would permanently lengthen the statute of limitations (the proposals range from a 10-year to 30-year extension). The Alliance generally supports the extension of the statute of limitations so that victims have meaningful civil recourse.
Q: What research projects do you plan to take on?
A: The Alliance has conducted several important studies on sexual assault in the last five years, including research on the prevalence of sexual violence and dating violence in four large high schools in New York City, a report about survivor perspective on their experiences with services and sexual violence within immigrant communities.
The Alliance will continue to pursue these types of research studies to explore gaps in data and inform policies and interventions that provide quality services to victims of sexual violence. We will also use research methods to explore themes of prevention in sexual assault, a special focus of the Alliance.
Q: What lessons can we draw from the recent allegations of coaches sexually assaulting children at Penn State and Syracuse University?
A: The Alliance just hosted a very successful panel on the perpetration of crimes in institutional settings such as the church, institutionalized care of children and schools. The panelists, all experts in sexual assault, cited several lessons learned from revelations of sexual abuse associated with these institutions. The first is that these institutions cannot police themselves. Stronger reporting requirements and punishments for a failure to report are necessary.
Secondly, the culture of secrecy that protects perpetrators must be broken through requirements that institutions release records and document steps taken when disclosure of abuse is made. Strong measures taken by authorities in these institutions (such as the firing of the staff at Penn State) serves to stop the abuse as well as encourage others to come forward. A direct service provider pointed out that much of our education of children about sexual assault focuses on the myth of stranger rape, while 74 percent of first rapes of women are perpetrated by someone they know and 84 percent of rapes of male victims are by someone they know. Much more preventive education needs to be done with children regarding sexual assault. Preventive-oriented education can help young people challenge conditions that can contribute to sexual assault and create leaders who disrupt patterns of violence.
Q: What can the Alliance do to help address sexual assault on college campuses?
A: Campus life in New York City is unlike that of most college students in the country: life outside the classroom is life in New York City. Because students' homes, jobs and social lives are primarily outside of the physical campus setting, notions of safety, risk and response must be considered in the greater New York City context. The Alliance's citywide informational campaign, Be SAFE NYC, provides young survivors with information about their rights and the best care available in the city, and our Teen Health Map combines a pocket-sized map of the city transit system with a listing of free, confidential services available to young survivors in need of counseling, health care or violence intervention.
Colleges must demonstrate accountability for student safety through policies and enforcement, and promote a healthy, non-violent culture through education and equitable practices.
Organizations like Students Active for Ending Rape (SAFER) have shown leadership in this movement by training, mobilizing and supporting students to advocate for stronger campus sexual assault policies (www.safercampus.org).
@|Laura Haring can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Go to this article on New York Law Journal »
← previous article | next article →