‘Changing the Narrative on Sexual Harms’

Professor Carolyn Stauffer, pictured with students in an SPI course, is working with colleagues on a grant-funded project to develop a new STAR curriculum focused on sexual harms.

Eastern Mennonite University professor Carolyn Stauffer is leading the development of a new Strategies for Trauma and Resilience (STAR) curriculum focused on sexual harms.

The “Changing the Narrative on Sexual Harms” (CTN) project, which is funded by a JustPax Fund grant, is housed in the STAR program under the leadership of trainer Katie Mansfield and program director Hannah Kelley. Project contributors include Richmond Public Schools manager of school climate and culture Ram Bhagat GC ‘19 and neuroscientist and practitioner Joy Kreider. EMU’s Title IX coordinator Rachel Roth Sawatsky and the Collins Center crisis response coordinator Rhoda Miller, a CJP grad student, are also key contributors.

STAR has facilitated trauma and resilience trainings with thousands of participants from more than 60 countries. The curriculum will deepen the program’s work addressing sexual trauma specifically and will engage all affected parties – from individuals to institutions – in proactive, preventative and restorative approaches.

“Worldwide there is a growing admission that the topic of sexual harms is quickly moving from invisible peripheries to conspicuous center stage,” Stauffer said. “The CTN project provides a viable way to be visibly present at a critical time in this important conversation. This proactive approach frames the paradigm shift opportunity offered by CTN.”

The grant includes funding for assembling focus groups in local and international settings, interviewing global practice leaders, and accessing expertise at institutions such as Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand.

The project is collecting input from survivors across diverse communities, thereby ensuring the inclusion of voices from marginalized and underrepresented communities. In addition to the harmful impacts of sexual violence on individuals, the curriculum will address how power disequilibria can foster cultures of violence in communities and organizations.

“Many organizations do not have processes in place to support individuals in a trauma-sensitive manner nor the impetus to push for proactive policies that prevent sexual violence in the first place,” Stauffer wrote. “Daily we hear of ‘sexual misconduct’ that gains notoriety precisely because institutions are non-compliant with current legislation and ignorant of trauma-sensitive intervention protocols. Such gaps not only compound the profound harms already done to victims, but they also put the integrity, legality and legitimacy of organizations at risk.”

The JustPax Fund focuses on individuals and organizations working for effective change through innovative approaches to societal challenges relating to gender, environmental and/or economic justice. It is administered by Everence Charitable Services through the Everence affiliate Mennonite Foundation.

“This project is the heart of what JustPax is all about,” said Teresa Boshart Yoder, managing director for Everence in Harrisonburg. “We want to reach out to the underserved or vulnerable and begin programs that will bring about effective change.”

This $6,600 grant is the second Stauffer has received from JustPax. A 2016 grant of $10,200 supported a project called “Silent Violence,” which studied strategies of resilience among domestic violence survivors from within communities of homeless women, undocumented Latinas, and Mennonite women from Old Order or conservative church communities.