Kris Hege: Survivor-Centric Resiliency Support for Sexual Assault Survivors

KrisHPhotoWoCGoddard is more than a school or an institution, it is more than a campus and faculty and staff. It is a garden where seeds of passion and inspiration are planted, nourished, and grow, sometimes wildly, into extraordinary forces of healing, empowerment, and justice for ourselves, our communities, and the world.

I came to Goddard (for Individualized MA study) with a deep sensitivity to the ubiquity of rape culture in the United States and the resulting pervasive message that sexual violence is encouraged, normalized, and ultimately the survivor’s fault. Knowing that technology has played a significant role in the dissemination of these violent and oppressive messages in our society, I hoped that I might find a way to use my experience from nearly 20 years as a computer programmer and data analyst to employ technology to do something in opposition to rape culture; perhaps through discussion groups, online activism networks, or some educational platform.

At the same time that I started at Goddard I also started doing some alternative (restorative) justice volunteer work on a Circle of Support and Accountability (CoSA) through the Brattleboro Community Justice Center. In that capacity I became very interested in questions surrounding justice. What is justice? How is justice created? What are the strengths and limitations on traditional justice criminal justice models? How are punishment and justice related? What are some alternative justice models? Do any of these models serve sexual assault survivors? What kind of model might better serve sexual assault survivors? To answer these questions I surveyed several theories of justice and examined a wide range of criminal justice practices both traditional State-run systems and alternative community-based options. I also continued my engagement and critically examined the CoSA work I was doing. I began to question the victim-centric philosophy of the restorative justice model in cases like murder or sexual violence where what has been taken or destroyed can never truly be restored. I began to envision what justice might look like from a truly survivor-centered community-based perspective. This raised a new question: Can a new victim support service for battered women be developed that engenders the political, philosophical, and grassroots spirit of feminist-run rape crisis centers; provides individualized long-term support and care like restorative justice Circles of Support and Accountability; and maintains itself in a volunteer run, non-professionalized, and self-sustaining model like Alcoholics Anonymous and other peer-support networks?

Through all of this I have envisioned and am in the earliest stages of implementing a self-sustaining, volunteer-run, community-based, survivor-centric resiliency support network for sexual assault survivors in my local community. This network will work closely with and extend the services of local crisis intervention organizations to add long-term peer-support to their catalog of survivor resource options.  The network will work with survivors in direct opposition to the inherent injustice of rape culture to provide a more just and compassionate community response to sexual and domestic violence. Additionally it will draw on the tremendous emotional, spiritual, and psychological healing power that comes from women supporting women.

As excited and hopeful as I am about this project, I am equally excited and passionate about the Goddard model of adult education. Each semester I am inspired by students and faculty who are true visionaries doing amazing work in the world. As a representative on student and academic councils I have also had a unique opportunity to get more deeply involved in this institution founded on the idea that self-directed education can help build a more civil and just society. I have seen this community that sometimes seems so dispersed live up to that philosophy by pulling together with tremendous compassion and courage in the face of injustice.

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This entry was posted in Activism, Community Building, Feminism, Women's & Gender Studies and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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