Fairfield County Nonprofits Join Forces To Fight Sexual Violence

Sep 20, 2018

Fairfield County’s Community Foundation Fund for Women & Girls is collaborating with five local non-profits to develop a program designed to fight sexual violence in Fairfield County.  

Tricia Hyacinth, director of the Fund for Women & Girls, and Mendi Blue-Paca, vice president of Community Impact, spoke with WSHU’s Bill Buchner on Wednesday about the project. Below is a transcript of their conversation.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, in the U.S. 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men have experienced some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime. And just this week news broke about accusations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh [and possible sexual misconduct by him when he was a teenager]. This is a very timely subject. Trisha, could you tell us about this collaboration, how it all came together?

TRISHA: Absolutely. We are on the cusp of the one-year anniversary of the Me Too movement. And in the late 2017 timeframe, the news was dominated by sexual misconduct. And the Fund for Women and Girls has prioritized safety for women and girls for about ten years or so. And so we recognized the need to do something. We reached out to our grantee partners. We have four strong organizations that are in the Fairfield County area doing work in the sexual assault/domestic violence area and we asked them what is it that you can do, collectively, collaboratively that you cannot accomplish operating in parallel silos. And they embraced the idea of forming this collaborative.

Mendi, you say the fund has a renewable grant totaling $100,000. Does that mean you expect to continue this project for several years?

MENDI: Big picture we expect to continue this project and many similar projects in the years to come. For the Fund and for the Foundation as a whole, this way of making a grant, i.e., bring organizations together to partner so deliberately and collaboratively, is really a new initiative for us. And I think, as Tricia referenced, we really believe in the power of collaboration at the Foundation and we believe that we can accomplish more together, and also that our grantees can accomplish more together. Going forward, we do anticipate hopefully these FOUR groups in particular continuing working together, collaboratively, but we envision additional cohorts in other areas that are really pertinent where we feel there are some really social challenges that need to be addressed.    

Your collaboration identified youth sports as a prime area of focus for the sexual violence prevention education program. Why is that?

TRISHA: The reason is because student athletes spend an exorbitant amount of time with their coaches and athletic directors. And they wield a great amount of influence over these youth. Research actually shows that athletes can often spend more hours per week in the presence of a coach than interacting with family. We see that coaches have the ability to model pro-social behavior for youth and again they spend a great deal amount of time so we think that would be a great way for them to accomplish that.

Changing culture is tough. Can an educational program change the culture of sports to keep students and athletes safe from sexual violence?

MENDI: It’s not something that happens overnight. But, as we think about the collaborative nature of this work, you know there’s an African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” And I think because we’re not necessarily trying to move the needle and change the culture quickly, but we are trying to change it profoundly. So I think our goal is to go far and I think overtime, if we continue to invest, if the organizations continue to work together, if we continue to touch the key influencers in the community, I think over time we can go far to change culture.

When will the educational program be available?  

TRISHA: So presently, the Center for Sexual Assault Crisis Counseling and Education, the Center for Family Justice, Triangle Community Center, Women Center of Greater Danbury, and YWCA Greenwich, they’re working on developing the curriculum and the curriculum will probably roll out probably over the next several months. They do anticipate doing a soft launch of the curriculum. So there’ll be a beta version where they’ll have an opportunity to get input from a select number of athletic coaches and directors. And then they’ll have an opportunity to recalibrate the curriculum and roll it out to a broader audience, both online and via in person trainings.

How do you plan to get the program into the institutions you’re targeting?

TRICIA: So these organizations, they all bring unique relationships to the cohort. And so they’re currently working with a number of public schools and private schools. And they have relationships with a number of coaches and athletic directors. So they plan to bring them in early on and use them as champions to get them to spread the message about the curriculum and so forth. I think it’s important to note that we gave those organizations, it was originally four organizations, the opportunity to determine what they wanted to focus their efforts on, and that’s where they landed in terms of scholastic youth sports. But while they were determining what areas they thought would have the most impact, they decided they need to include a fifth organization. Because they realized that there are certain populations that are more impacted by sexual assaults – that being the elderly, the developmentally disabled and the LGBTQ community. And so they decided to be very inclusive, which is also one of our values. They brought in this additional organization, Triangle Community Center, into the fold so that they could have the LGBTQ identity into the mix.