2020 Building the Bench Cohort Resolution
Building the Bench is a leadership development program created by the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NJCASA) for staff at New Jersey’s county-based sexual violence programs. The goal of this program is to help build the next generation of leaders in the anti-sexual violence movement in our home state. The 2020 cohort, while meeting remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was tasked with writing a resolution representative of the changes we would like to enact in our organizations, communities, and in society at large.
The resulting document embodies a bold call to action that is at once rooted in our organizational values but is intentional and forward-thinking in its demand for disrupting systems of oppression, all with the goal of promoting a holistic approach to serving survivors with an emphasis on primary prevention as we fully seek to eradicate sexual violence once and for all.
Whereas sexual violence impacts people of all races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, abilities, religions, and classes, and harms those both native and foreign born, those who reside in rural, urban, and suburban communities, and those who speak any number of the more than 155 languages spoken in New Jersey;
Whereas sexual violence is disproportionately experienced by people of color, particularly Black and indigenous people, those who identify as LGBTQ+, particularly bisexual, transgender, and gender non-conforming people, those who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing, those who are incarcerated, those who are immigrants, particularly undocumented immigrants, those with mental health disorders, and those with dis/abilities, particularly those with cognitive and intellectual dis/abilities;
Whereas all Black Lives Matter;
Whereas racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, sexism, and other oppressive forms of hate persist and contribute to sexual violence; and
Whereas primary-prevention education, systems reform, and dismantling toxic social norms can help foster new values and end sexual violence and other forms of abuse and oppression, therefore we will:
- Center the voices and perspectives of oppressed, marginalized communities;
- Denounce hate and intolerance whenever and wherever it is witnessed;
- Oppose apathy, complacency, and a bystander mentality that turns a blind eye to cruelty and injustice of any kind;
- Stand against police brutality and other forms of systematic oppression; and
- Promote widespread, substantive reform that is survivor-centered, data-driven, and born out of a genuine, authentic desire to help all communities, particularly ones that bear the greatest burden of harm and injustice.
Whereas current program statistics demonstrate that many marginalized groups face disproportionate barriers to accessing services;
Whereas initial results from Ending Sexual Violence in New Jersey: A Report from the New Jersey Statewide Sexual Violence Needs Assessment reveal that the majority of respondents did not seek formal support services after experiencing sexual violence, including from sexual violence programs and law enforcement;
Whereas the current makeup of our programs often does not reflect the full diversity of communities served;
Whereas improving accessibility and building a stronger rapport with diverse communities across the state will ensure that we reach more survivors and have a greater impact on all communities we serve; and
Whereas community activists, organizations, and members must be centered and engaged in the effort to provide services to those communities; therefore we will:
- Promote strong community engagement efforts to create programs and services organically and based on the lived experiences and unique needs of different communities rather than from a top-down approach;
- Improve outreach efforts to ensure community members and organizations are aware of available services;
- Collaborate and build strong partnerships with other leaders and diverse groups across intersecting sectors to advance our goals, hold systems accountable, and promote our vision of a safer, more equitable Garden State;
- Move away from choosing increased policing, prosecution, and imprisonment as the primary solution to gender-based violence, and instead provide safe community-based solutions that support healing and liberation, such as by creating a statewide restorative justice program for sexual violence survivors to serve as an alternative to the criminal justice system; and
- Establish a framework for supporting the state’s diverse communities under the organizational changes outlined below.
Whereas in 2019 we served nearly 20,000 New Jerseyans but there are 1.8 million survivors of contact sexual violence in our state, meaning that there is still much to be done to increase our reach and improve our ability to serve a greater number of survivors;
Whereas in 2019 almost half of all New Jersey’s sexual violence programs had a waiting list for services nine months out of the year;
Whereas the anti-sexual violence field is characterized by frequent staff burnout and attrition;
Whereas sexual violence affects people of all genders, with disproportionate impact on transgender and gender non-conforming people; and
Whereas New Jersey is one of the most diverse states in the country, requiring services for survivors that are reflective of their unique values and perspectives, therefore we will:
- Promote diversity across all organizational levels, including leadership roles, reflective of our state’s rich diversity and the diversity of those we serve by:
- Collecting data on diversity in leadership and overall staffing at agencies;
- Creating a three-year plan to implement substantive changes in hiring and diversifying staff in all positions across all agencies to be more reflective of communities served, such as by increasing the number of transgender and gender non-conforming employees, Black employees and other employees of color, employees with dis/abilities, multilingual employees, and employees from other underrepresented groups, with recognition that many of these identities intersect
- Prioritize care and development of employees and work against oppressive and toxic work environments that damage the sustainability of and services provided by the programs, such as by:
- Providing staff with fair, competitive salaries and comprehensive benefits, including affordable health insurance and generous family leave and PTO benefits
- Providing staff with continuing education opportunities and placing value on professional development practices
- Supporting staff who are survivors of sexual violence and treating them with the same respect and compassion offered to clients
- Establish practical, real-life applications of inclusivity rather than paying lip service to the needs of diverse and vulnerable communities—such as by:
- Expanding partnerships with external organizations who provide services specific to vulnerable communities, such as sex workers, survivors of human trafficking, those with addictions and/or mental health disorders, and those experiencing homelessness;
- Ensuring that research-informed practices and clinical interventions are culturally sensitive and reflect the client’s needs, such as by reviewing studies to ensure participant demographics match the diversity of the community;
- Ensuring use of inclusive language and imagery within all community organizations, including in the name of the organization, materials distributed, and services offered, to demonstrate support for all survivors (i.e. non-gendered language, diversity in photos used, etc.);
- Collecting SOGI (Sexual Orientation Gender Identity) data in accordance with best practices from all counseling clients;
- Equipping all agencies to provide ASL translation for all major services and/or creating a Statewide program for Deaf/Hard of Hearing survivors staffed by Deaf/Hard of Hearing advocates;
- Creating and sustaining relationships between sexual violence programs and correctional facilities to ensure incarcerated survivors receive services and prevention programming; and
- Creating and implementing a language justice program at each sexual violence program that includes outreach, prevention, and direct service in the top five languages spoken in each county as well a plan to serve all survivors, regardless of language spoken.
- Offer rich cultural humility and responsiveness education that is community-centered and community-driven, to infuse greater awareness and promote best practices in all services offered while holding providers accountable to the highest possible standards, such as by:
- Creating a demographically and professionally diverse oversight committee tasked with comprehensively evaluating and reviewing staff competencies and practices on an annual basis; and
- Conducting program evaluations and gathering more robust client satisfaction feedback with questions that speak to our goal of ensuring diversity is valued and that services reflect the true diversity of our communities, such as by including a list of available services and asking clients which were offered.
- Incorporate a transparent, learning-focused, forward-thinking, data-driven, social justice-centered, and innovative approach to the work with an emphasis on eradicating barriers to services and improving outcomes for all.
To conclude, the 2020 Building the Bench Cohort extends our thanks for the opportunity to hone our leadership skills and build a deeper rapport with one another while focusing on a vision for the future of our programs and for building a safer, more equitable Garden State. The goals delineated in this resolution build upon our rich organizational history and motivate us to be agents for meaningful, lasting change in our programs, communities, and society at large.
2020 Building the Bench Cohort