Collaboration is the Key!
A guest blog by Jennifer Boteilho, Family Serivces Supporting Tulare County
A couple of years ago I remember feeling surprised that we weren’t seeing more survivors of military sexual assault at Family Services, especially given the publicity of the topic in the media including the popularity of the Academy Award nominated documentary The Invisible War. While we don’t have a military base in Tulare County, Lemoore Naval Air Station is only about a half hour drive in neighboring Kings County and I would have thought we’d at least be receiving more hotline calls as we often get calls from people in neighboring counties. So, what was the problem?
I remember when I first started working for Family Services over 16 years ago and being surprised at the extremely low number of Latino/Hispanic survivors on our case load. Tulare County is over 50% Hispanic, so this was confusing to me, until I really examined our outreach efforts. At the time very little outreach efforts were aimed at the Spanish-speaking population, and when they were, the presentations weren’t necessarily culturally informed. “When you build it, they will come” rang true for us. As we developed a stronger outreach program, our numbers grew. People need to be educated regarding their rights, to know who we are, where we are and to feel comfortable accessing services. I believe our numbers are now much more representative of the population.
This brings me back to the issue at hand, military sexual assault survivors. For us, the first steps were to visit the base in Lemoore, start developing a relationship and educating ourselves on military culture. We were a little afraid we’d be met with resistance, but it was quite the contrary. They appeared to be starving for this partnership as well, and we were welcomed with open arms. In the last two years we’ve mutually supported one another at various events, including a screening of The Invisible War. Just this last Saturday, I participated in my first 5k, an event coordinated by a survivor of military sexual assault and supported by the Lemoore Naval Air Station. Most of the staff of the bases’ Fleet and Family Support Program will be attending a reception for our sexual assault survivor art exhibit later in the month. Best of all, we’ve received numerous referrals from them and survivors are getting help from both of our programs.
You may not have a military base in your community, but you do have survivors of military sexual assault. I hope you will consider actively reaching out to this population and supporting CALCASA sponsored AB 2545-Victim’s Compensation Benefits for Survivors of Military Sexual Assault.