Back in mid-July, I received an invitation to attend the National Sexual Assault Conference* in Hollywood, California. I felt like Cinderella getting an invitation to the Ball. You are probably thinking that the fact that it was in “Hollywood” was the clincher for me to say yes, but it wasn’t.
You see, traveling is not easy for people with disabilities. There is the issue of finding an attendant to go with you, the money to cover the travel expenses for yourself and the attendant, finding an accessible hotel and ground transportation, getting on and off the plane and the anxiety that comes with leaving your wheelchair in the hands of cargo loaders that you can only hope are careful.
So why did I say yes? As I read the diverse descriptions of the workshops, I knew the conference was going to be a goldmine of information. I also wanted to be a visible presence for a group of people who are often invisible in the community. I hoped to drive home the very real issue of abuse toward people with disabilities, many of whom do not have a voice. That is why I loved the title of the conference workshop given by my SafePlace colleague Cema Mastroleo– Hiding in Plain Sight — Sexual Assault and People with Disabilities.
The theme of the conference, which was held in August and attended by 1,500 people, was Inspire a Movement, Invest in Change and Imagine.
I attended seven workshops during the two-and-half day conference, keeping my primary focus on sexual assault survivors with disabilities. I learned about best practices in reporting abuse and gained a better understanding of how to respond to the sensitive issues surrounding people with disabilities.
I was also very inspired by the keynote speakers:
- Dolores Huerta, co-founder of United Farm Workers, has played a major role in the American Civil Rights Movement and is a founder of the Feminist Majority.
- Faye Washington, chief executive officer of the YWCA Greater Los Angeles, is considered the “rainmaker” in the non-profit world because of her diligence, audacity, creative vision and persistence in utilizing resources.
- Michael Kimmel, author of Guyland and The Guy’s Guide to Feminism, provided insight into masculinity and the effects of sexual assault on men.
I came away from the experience feeling inspired, educated and hopeful, knowing that there are a multitude of options available to help survivors with heal. I leave you with this thought from the conference, “Imagine eliminating sexual violence for ALL persons.” Armed with information and education about healthy relationships and sexuality, we can all be empowered to end sexual assault and violence in our communities.
p.s. Oh and by the way, the trip was as smooth as butter. Some things are just meant to be.
*The conference was hosted by the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA). If you would like more information, go to www.calcasa.org/nsac.