The Advocacy Center Steps Up

Kristi Taylor sits at her computer and logs on to Zoom. The education director at the Advocacy Center of Tompkins County smiles about the technical difficulties using the software. She holds up the soft blanket that covers her lap, just one of the little rituals that get her through long video conferences in a changing work environment.

Kristi Taylor, education director at the Advocacy Center of Tompkins County

Putting in endless hours online hasn’t been the only change in Taylor’s routine at the Advocacy Center, an Ithaca nonprofit organization that supports victims of domestic violence. While the Covid-19 pandemic brought a suspected spike in cases of domestic violence, stay-at-home guidelines made it more difficult for victims to reach out for help. In March 2020, the Advocacy Center’s hotline went cold.

“We weren’t able to connect with survivors, and we weren’t hearing from people,” Taylor explained. “And that was really, really concerning for us, because what that told us is that people were trapped with their abusive partners.”

The center moved swiftly to address the new conditions, finding solutions in technology and social media as the center’s work went remote almost entirely (a notable exception being the center’s 24/7 shelter for abuse victims). First, the center significantly increased its use of Instagram to spread awareness and combat any impression that its activities had ceased. It launched an Instagram campaign with the hashtag #wearestillhere. Staff members posted pictures of themselves holding posters with the hashtag message, putting the center’s contact information in the caption. The center also added podcasts and blog posts to its education outreach mix.

By the summer, pandemic restrictions began to ease somewhat and the Advocacy Center’s hotline began buzzing again. The center upgraded its technology to handle multiple hotline calls simultaneously, and introduced a hybrid virtual platform for training additional hotline volunteers to manage the influx.

The Advocacy Center also moved its in-person support groups for domestic violence survivors online, the Survivor Empowerment group and Knowledge is Power group. The groups utilize secure video conferencing software during meetings to give a face-to-face connection while also protecting attendees’ privacy. Group numbers fluctuate due to the center’s “drop-in” policy, but usually seven to 10 people attend the once-a-week meetings lasting an hour or more.

Between July and October, hotline calls increased 55 percent over the same period in 2019. That aligns with a study published in December in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, which indicates that cases of domestic abuse have significantly risen since the start of the pandemic in early 2020.

Pandemic conditions from stay-at-home orders to work-from-home practices meant that abuse victims became more isolated from their support systems, and as a result, more deeply trapped in their abusive relationships. “One of the most powerful tools that abusers have is creating isolation,” said Taylor.

Between July and October, the Advocacy Center provided support to 34 percent more domestic abuse survivors compared to the same period in 2019. Compared to the previous year, in 2020 the center also supported 44 percent more children and teens who had been sexually abused.

The Advocacy Center was founded in 1977 as the Task Force for Battered Women. At the time, its purpose was to provide women who had suffered from domestic abuse and their children a safe place to live. The organization also helps victims of sexual assault and rape, victims of child sexual abuse, family members of survivors, and people of any age and gender who have experienced domestic and sexual violence.

—By Margaret Kent

Margaret Kent, an intern at The Sophie Fund, is a senior at Ithaca College majoring in Communication Management and Design with a concentration in Corporate Communication and a minor in Writing.

Fighting Sexual Assault on Campus

Sexual harassment and assault are worldwide problems. IC Strike is an Ithaca College student organization formed in 2019 and dedicated to education, action, and allyship surrounding sexual assault. We believe it is our duty to inform the Ithaca community because sexual assault and violence is, more often than not, swept under the rug.

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), every 73 seconds an American is sexually assaulted, meaning you regularly interreact with survivors of sexual assault every day.

There are differences in direct and indirect sexual assault prevention. The opportunity to distract people involved in a dangerous situation can be a safer way to provide a friend or a stranger a way out of an uncomfortable encounter. Asking directly or getting help from a figure of authority like a Resident Assistant, campus safety officer, or calling 911 can also save people from potentially traumatic situations.

Additionally, it’s important to create safe spaces to talk about uncomfortable situations. This can help individuals so that they don’t have to take on the big issues alone by helping to create safety and support networks for those that need them. Of course, education is at the core of sexual assault prevention. Education helps to create a safe space where conversations can be held about traditionally taboo topics such as consent and sexual violence.

April 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. There are many campaigns, some with different themes, designed to share information around sexual assault awareness and prevention. These campaigns stem from historical and intersectional branches of activism that continue to show how anyone can be affected by this issue.

IC Strike partnered with The Sophie Fund and the Advocacy Center of Tompkins County to launch an education campaign on social media during Sexual Assault Awareness Month. We are trying to reach as many people as possible to educate them on our core issues.

IC Strike was created as a response to our founder’s experiences navigating the legal and health systems following a assault. Like her, many of our members seek validation and answers to questions surrounding their own experiences. As an organization, we strive to fulfill the needs of survivors and to educate our community to prevent the same trauma from occurring to others.

These issues of sexual violence affect everyone, and we believe that facilitating a safe and respectful space for learning and navigating tough conversations within a college community leads to personal growth and social progress. 

IC Strike adamantly believes in the power of education and communication. Our society struggles to have conversations about sex, trauma, and sexual violence. In breaking the social stigma surrounding these topics, people are able to learn more about themselves and the society they live in. The social gag rule on sexual assault fosters ignorance and perpetuates harmful behavior and values. By equipping students with the facts and the vocabulary to discuss these issues, productive conversations can be had and stigmas can be broken.

By Carmen Enge, Lindsay Sayer, and Julia Siegal

Carmen Enge, Lindsay Sayer, and Julia Siegal are students at Ithaca College and serve, respectively, as treasurer and co-presidents of IC Strike

READ: Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Connect with Sexual Assault Awareness Month!

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, dedicated to raising awareness about the impacts of all forms of sexual violence on survivors and the community while also highlighting the work being done to promote healthy development and practices that work towards preventing these forms of violence from occurring. The Advocacy Center of Tompkins County is offering a variety of events in April to promote sexual assault awareness.

Roll Red Roll Film Screening Thursday April 15

Tompkins County teens are encouraged to join the Advocacy Center for a Netflix Watch Party and post-screening discussion of the film Roll Red Roll. Hosted by its student activism group, ACTion, the event will explore how social media and sports culture can influence sexual violence, as well as how students can challenge toxic social norms that perpetuate rape culture. To register for the screening, please fill out the following form: https://bit.ly/2OAGpJV

Wen-Do Women’s Self Defense Online Workshop April 19 & 20

The Advocacy Center invites college-enrolled women to participate in this four-hour self-defense program offered by the longest running women’s self-defense organization in Canada. This program will run over two sessions and includes frank discussions about violence against women and children along with verbal and physical resistance strategies. This program recognizes and celebrates our diversity, feminist principles, the empowerment of women and children while expressly rejecting victim blaming so often present in society. Follow the Advocacy Center on social media for more details and registration information.

Mighty Yoga Donation Class April 24

Join Mighty Yoga for a smoothly paced vinyasa flow experience. Donations raised through this yoga session will support survivors of sexual assault, as well as preventative education efforts led by the Advocacy Center. To sign up, please visit https://www.mightyyoga.com/livestream-schedule and select April 24 on the calendar. Then click on the “Sign Up” button next to the 1 p.m. donation class. *If you do not have an existing Mighty Yoga account, you will need to create one in order to register for the session.

Denim Day April 28

Wear jeans to raise awareness about the misconceptions that surround sexual assault! Started after an Italian Supreme Court ruling in which a rape conviction was overturned because the victim had been wearing tight jeans: the justices ruled that she must have helped her rapist remove them, thereby implying consent. For denim day materials visit www.denimdayinfo.org and follow the Advocacy Center on Facebook and Instagram for info and updates. Use #ACdenimday2021 so the Advocacy Center can follow your posts!

Clothesline Project Display DeWitt Park April 30 12-1pm

The Advocacy Center is excited to offer a socially distanced opportunity to see this powerful display in person. The project provides a space for domestic and sexual violence survivors to create and unapologetically display the “dirty laundry” that is abuse. The t-shirts, which contain powerful stories, images, and artwork, are hung on a clothesline to show that the people who experience domestic, sexual, or emotional violence aren’t just statistics but people in our communities and neighborhoods. *Social distancing and masks required

Take Back The Night! April 30

March. Rally. Speak Out. Vigil. Keep an eye out for social media posts and website updates as the Advocacy Center plans the 2021 virtual event! Participants are encouraged to join any way that feels comfortable. Marchers are encouraged to make signs, banners or wear clothes that highlight groups and organizations standing in solidarity with survivors or with messages of protest against domestic and sexual violence.

Sexual Assault Awareness Month

The Advocacy Center of Tompkins County, IC Strike, and The Sophie Fund on Wednesday launched an education campaign on social media to mark Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Download Poster: April Is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Each day throughout April, the local organizations are posting infographics on their social media platforms about safety plans, reporting procedures, hotline help, medical and mental health support, and tools to fight sexual assault.

Citing data from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the campaign highlights that sexual violence affects hundreds of thousands of Americans each year. RAINN says that one out of every six American women, and one out of every 33 American men, has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape.

College women are at three times greater risk of assault, according to RAINN; 13 percent of all graduate and undergraduate students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control says that sexual violence impacts health in many ways and can lead to short and long-term physical and mental health problems.

The Advocacy Center is the premier community organization providing support services for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, rape, and child sexual abuse. Besides the social media campaign, the Advocacy Center is organizing a host of activities throughout the month. They include a screening of the film Roll Red Roll, a Wen-Do Women’s Self Defense online workshop, a yoga class fundraiser, a Clothesline Project Display in DeWitt Park, and a “Take Back the Night!” march, rally, speak out, and vigil.

“The Advocacy Center is dedicated to raising awareness about the impacts of all forms of sexual violence on survivors and the community, while also highlighting the work being done to promote healthy development and practices that work towards preventing these forms of violence from occurring,” said Advocacy Center Executive Director Heather Campbell.

IC Strike, a student organization at Ithaca College dedicated to education, action, and allyship surrounding sexual assault, is collaborating in the social media campaign because it believes in the power of education and communication.

“Our society struggles to have conversations about sex, trauma, and sexual violence,” said IC Strike Co-President Julia Siegel. “The social gag rule on sexual assault fosters ignorance and perpetuates harmful behavior and values. By equipping students with the facts and the vocabulary to discuss these issues, productive conversations can be had and stigmas can be broken.”

The social media campaign was designed by Lorelei Horrell and Margaret Kent, Ithaca College students and interns at The Sophie Fund.

“I have enjoyed getting to work with other individuals who are passionate about sexual assault awareness,” said Kent. “As a female college student, the issue of sexual assault is a common worry. I hope that our campaign can help raise awareness about this issue and at the same time, make survivors feel seen.”

Horrell agreed on the importance of supporting survivors of sexual assault.

“There’s a lot of stigma around discussing sexual assault that makes it more difficult for survivors to find information and resources,” said Horrell. “As a young woman and as a college student, fear of sexual assault is constant. Working on this campaign both validated that fear and transformed it into something more. We can be angry, and we can be afraid, but we can also learn how to protect ourselves, practice being able to support our friends, and educate ourselves on all the resources available if something does happen.”

Click any of the links to check out the campaign’s social media posts and share:

https://www.facebook.com/thesophiefund/

https://www.instagram.com/thesophiefund/

The Sophie Fund’s Sexual Assault page: National, state, and local resources to learn about sexual assault and how to deal with it.

Cupcakes 2020: Let’s Pick the Winners!

Thanks to the more than 40 contestants who entered the 5th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest (Virtual Edition)! Now the judging begins! Throughout the week, The Sophie Fund will publish posts here and on social media spotlighting all the cupcake masterpieces. On Saturday October 24, the judges will announce the winners in a Facebook Live Event. Stay tuned!

Contest Producer Mickie Quinn displaying 2019 entries

The Sophie Fund extends its deep thanks to the contest’s sponsors this year, GreenStar Food Co+op, Alternatives Federal Credit Union, and Well Said Media.

Our gratitude also goes to the student organizations supporting the contest: Active Minds at Ithaca College, Active Minds at Ithaca High School, and at Cornell University, Cornell Minds Matter; Alpha Phi Omega Gamma Chapter; Phi Sigma Pi honor fraternity; PATCH (Pre-Professional Association Towards Careers in Health); and Building Ourselves through Sisterhood and Service (BOSS).

Meanwhile, enjoy a slideshow of past Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contests held in the Ithaca Commons—hopefully we’ll be back at the Bernie Milton Pavilion again next October!

Blueberry Bourbon Cupcakes

Pumpkin Cupcakes

Cupcakes, and more cupcakes

The Judges

Have a cupcake?

Kitschy Scofflaw and GreenStar’s Debbie Lazinsky

The Alternatives crew

Alpha Phi Omega

Cornell Minds Matter

CMM’s Chelsea Kiely delivers a mental health message

Lyn Staack of the Advocacy Center of Tompkins County

Advocacy Center’s Lara Hamburger speaks on domestic violence and sexual assault

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Mental Health Association in Tompkins County

Suicide Prevention and Crisis Service

Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Task Force

Nellia Mattson

Joe Gibson

SingTrece and Kenneth McLaurin

Josh Dolan

Hannah Martin

Ginny Maddock

Friend of The Sophie Fund

2019 Grand Prize Winner Zoë Dubrow