It’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) – the time of year when advocates in the anti-sexual violence movement are usually deeply involved in local prevention and awareness events to increase community-wide knowledge of resources and building our collective capacity to create a violence-free society.

Obviously, this year is very different. As New Jerseyans continue to respond to the massive impact of COVID-19, our SAAM plans have shifted – but our commitment to supporting survivors has not.

From offering virtual counseling to hosting community-based awareness events on online platforms, our colleagues have ensured that there is no gap in the comprehensive services available to support survivors and their loved ones. Advocates are being impacted by COVID-19 in their personal and professional lives, yet they move forward, fueled by their commitment to the mission. And this week, we at NJCASA want to take a moment to THANK THEM!

Every day this week, we’ll share gratitude for our colleagues working on the front line of New Jersey’s anti-sexual violence movement.

We’re thankful for the frontline providers who continue to provide 24/7 access to New Jersey’s sexual violence hotlines.

The Confidential Sexual Violence Advocates (CSVAs) responding to hotlines throughout the state provide survivors and their loved ones with affirmation, support, referrals to trauma-informed services, and access to the crisis services of a Sexual Assault Response Team. While New Jerseyans are complying with social distancing requirements in light of COVID-19, crisis hotlines are a critical source of support. Thank you to our colleagues making sure that no survivor’s call goes unanswered during this challenging time.  

We’re thankful for the clinicians and social workers who have adjusted their service-delivery models to support remote counseling sessions.

Counselors provide support for survivors and their loved ones as they process the trauma of victimization. For many survivors, continuity of these essential services is an important lifeline, as the trauma of their previous victimization is compounded by the community-wide trauma created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Thank you to our colleagues who are ensuring that the emotional and mental health needs of survivors continue to be a priority at this time.

We’re thankful for the prevention experts, who know that sexual violence is 100 percent preventable and who continue to think creatively about ways to create safer, more equitable communities.

Sexual violence preventionists work to address and reduce the prevalence of the social norms that lead to the perpetration of sexual violence. They’re continuing to think outside-the-box and reach communities during this challenging time. Community trainings scheduled for school auditoriums have been rescheduled to webinar formats. Youth engagement campaigns have been shifted to take place on various social media platforms. We know that community stress increases interpersonal violence and now, more than ever, preventionists are focused on ways to share the principles of safety and equity throughout the state.

We’re thankful for our multi-disciplinary colleagues working as part of our Sexual Assault Response Teams (SART).

Responding to hotlines, hospitals, and police stations 24/7, day or night, New Jersey’s county-based Sexual Assault Response Teams are comprised of Confidential Sexual Violence Advocates (CSVA), Forensic Nurse Examiners (FNE), and law enforcement officers. This coordinated community response team ensures that survivors have access to all of the critical resources available in the immediate aftermath of victimization. Even in the midst of a global pandemic, SARTs remain functioning and are putting  safety protocols in place to ensure they can continue to support survivors with collecting evidence in a rape kit, or filing police reports, or accessing trauma-informed counseling services.

We’ve all heard the saying, “not all heroes wear capes,” and the last few weeks have shown us it’s truer than we ever imagined. Some heroes answer hotlines at 2 a.m. Others spring into action to re-imagine how to continue providing counseling and education services virtually. Some heroes help those who are impacted by trauma navigate complicated systems and provide the confidential support they need to navigate their path to a brighter future. This week, we thank New Jersey’s heroes.

With appreciation,