Answering the Call for Every Survivor

Last year, RAINN launched Thrive Together, a major funding initiative to enhance our priority programs to support survivors in order to meet growing demand, shape the conversation around sexual violence, and champion policy change. The campaign initiative, Answering The Call, is our strategic effort to expand our capacity to help every survivor. RAINN recently hosted a panel discussion with a focus on the LGBTQ community ahead of Pride month that focused on how our Victim Services team answers the call by creating safe spaces for all survivors, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation.

The panel was kicked off with a greeting from comedian and author Cameron Esposito, a long-time member of RAINN’s National Leadership Council. In light of Pride, Esposito highlighted how RAINN works with and supports the LGBTQ community.

Noring that RAINN has supported more than 3.6 million survivors, Esposito shared, “For LGBTQ folks, this is especially critical...When we are survivors and we need help, what we also need is an anonymous place to go. We need a place where we are not talked out of our true identity and where we are not looked down upon or where further harm would be caused by obtuse individuals making laws out of bigotry, and that is where RAINN comes in. These are services that I am so glad that RAINN provides and we really need that open, listening ear.”

The panel included actor and model Leyna Bloom, the star of RAINN’s new PSA, “Walk,” which looks at the harrassment transgender women of color face every day. In 2017, Bloom became the first openly trans woman of color to appear in Vogue India. She then went on to be the first trans woman of color to lead a feature film at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019 with her movie, Port Authority. Her next feature film, Asking for It, will premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival. She can currently be seen in the third and final season of Fox’s critically acclaimed series Pose.

Bloom was joined by Lexie Bean, a trans artist, author, and advocate and a member of RAINN’s National Leadership Council. Their storytelling career began in 2012 when they curated and self published their first anthology full of letters that people wrote to their body parts. They have written for and been interviewed by a number of publications including Teen Vogue, Ms. Magazine, and the New York Times. Their book, The Ship We Built, is the first middle grade book centered around a trans boy ((to be written by one with a major publisher)). In addition, they can be seen in the upcoming movie, They, Them, Us and will be making their TV debut in 2021.

Ethan Levine, a member of the RAINN Speakers Bureau, a researcher, and an advocate, rounded out the panel. Levine has a doctorate in sociology and has worked extensively in anti-sexual violence. Much of this work is focused on violence within and against the LGBTQ communities. Having previously published research on the prevalence of same sex and different sexual violence among adolescence, he is presently researching sexual and dating violence among heterosexual and minority youth.

Bloom opened up and began the discussion by sharing why the National Sexual Assault Hotline is so important and why she was a part of the PSA, “Walk.” She shared the power of representation and why seeing herself in the conversation is important.

“One, I am a survivor...and these are lived experiences that I deal with on a daily basis,” she said. ”To have the PSA in the world is important — for people to see people who are going through that and they also need to see what it looks like...This type of messaging is important because it needed to happen and it needed to be a conversation that we have to revisit...Since the PSA has gone live, people around the world can see themselves and see someone very unique in their community.”

RAINN’s clinical director, Ebonique Bethea, described how healing can look different for every survivor.

“Healing is a process,” she said. “It is active and ongoing. Healing is individualized. There is no right way of healing and no wrong way of healing...When we come to our healing journey, we come with our backgrounds, our experiences, our circumstances, and perspectives...We have to honor that and the uniqueness in every survivor. Healing is not linear. There are highs and lows. There are good days and bad days. There are mountains and valleys. The more you heal, the more you move forward.”

Bean spoke to the power of using creative expression as a healing mechanism. “The first creative project was simply for myself,” they said. “It was about writing letters to my body parts because I knew I was in a long distant relationship with myself. I wanted to look at reconnecting back to the body, especially when you don’t see your body as whole. As a trans person and as a survivor, that was my earliest practice.”

Expression through art and through helping others is a powerful way of allowing individuals not to feel alone in their trauma healing journey. Levine has dedicated his career to helping and working with survivors and shares with us what it has been like for him to be a part of anti-sexual violence work.

"Recognizing that sexual violence can happen to you and recognizing that the National Sexual Assault Hotline is a resource available for you is a first step,” he said. “If you don't perceive yourself represented in the conversations happening around sexual violence, then it can take a lot of work to realize that you even count."

Recognizing that you can reach out to the National Sexual Assault Hotline is important. Feeling represented can play a huge role for a survivor when trying to reach out for support. Each panelist shared their own personal experience.

“If I wasn’t going to identify myself as a woman, my experiences weren’t real,” Bean shared about the difficulty they had finding support services. “Or, I would have to mis-gender myself in order to be believed. That is really painful but also a part of the roadblocks of my coming out experience as a childhood survivor which was also the fear of transitioning medically. When it comes down to asking for help, it is gendered. Asking for help can be gendered.”

“We are all growing and being subjected to many things, especially through social media, and we are in this period in our life when we are having conversations around gender identity,” Bloom shared. “Right now, in the world alone, we are developing at a fast rate to have healing conversations...One idea I like is that there is a hotline I can call where no one knows you. It is where you can talk to someone and just heal.”

Levine spoke to how an anonymous service can be helpful. “In terms of trans identity, there is a real concern if hotline workers will acknowledge and accept everyone,” he shared. “People may be worried if they have to explain what transgender means. This kind of invalidation is still happening.”

The National Sexual Assault Hotline takes an individualized, survivor-led approach. It looks at the survivor as an individual and meets them where they are with a strengths-based approach. Jessica Leslie, program director of the the National Sexual Assault Hotline, discussed the hotline and its benefits.

“Our main focus is to meet survivors where they are at,” she said. “Because the hotline is completely anonymous, we only know what the survivor is comfortable sharing with us, which can range from everything about their identity to the violence they experienced. They can tailor what they identify as most important. In addition, we work with survivors to explore how their identity or their intersecting identities can create both opportunities and barriers to healing.”

RAINN is funded in large part by individuals like you in order to continue to answer the call for every survivor. Please click here to learn more about our Thrive Together campaign, and, thank you.

If you or a loved one have experienced sexual violence, the National Sexual Assault Hotline is available 24/7 in English and Spanish at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online at rainn.org. The hotline is free and confidential.

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