Rural areas by definition are low in population and in services for survivors of sexual violence. This webinar will feature a community expert, Shayla Ashmore, Child Therapist at Lassen Family Services and member of the faith pilot program in Susanville, California. Guided by her experience and insights from working in a rural community, Shayla Ashmore will share how she helped spark innovative faith-based work in a prison town through collaboration.

Adrienne Spires
Project Coordinator, CALCASA

Jennie A. Hoffman
CASA Program Manager & PREA Coordinator
Pronoun She, Her, Hers
Lassen Family Services

Shayla Ashmore
Director, Child Abuse Treatment Program
Pronoun She, Her, Hers
Lassen Family Services

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According to Google’s search engine, there are several thousand definitions for ‘leadership’ that include, vision, motivation, team building, managing, and risk-taking. In addition, to the numerous definitions and concepts, leadership requires us to hone and practice skills that inspire other to reach common goals. It is the practice of leadership where we see opportunity for growth and advancement. Unfortunately, many advocates of color working in the anti-gender based violence field confront cultural barriers and limitations to their leadership and thus their advancement in the movement.

To this end, the Leadership Education Advancement for Professional (LEAP) Program, developed by California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA) and Women of Color Network (WOCN) Inc. is a year long fellowship program aim at enhancing the skills of sexual assault and domestic violence advocates of color in executive management positions. Given increased attention to issues of gender-based violence in higher education the military, and other entities beyond community based programs, promoting leadership from the field has become that much more significant.

Applications to become a LEAP Fellow for  Cohort 5  are due on January 30, 2019.  You can get more information by watching this LEAP Information Webinar.


In what ways do faith-based communities connect to the movement to end sexual violence?

Faith and religious groups draw upon their own theological doctrines to find a calling to support and elevate the voiceless, hopeless and the homeless. Historically, faith-based communities have played a large role in shifting social norms and have been sites of social justice organizing. Many churches and faith-based communities believe in Frederick Douglass’ ideal of “praying with legs” –taking action to support the vulnerable to help ensure a future without callous for the least of these (Matthew 25:40-45).

Major faith-based communities are transforming their faith into action. Faith-based organizations are addressing social injustice, inequities, and gender-based violence. For example, City Pastors Fellowship (CPF) in Sacramento, California drafted a document called “Sacramento Wins” in support of the LGBTQ victims of the 2016 Orlando, Florida nightclub shooting and denounced a local pastor’s biblical rationalization for the victims’ deaths. Nationally, the president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, Rev. Peter Morales, wrote a letter to Unitarian Universalist (UU) ministers acknowledging the human rights violations and potential violence that marginalized groups (women, the poor, people of color, and transgender people) face. Rev. Morales wants the UU church, which is known for advocacy for vulnerable populations, to provide sanctuaries and challenge human rights abuses.

Like faith-based communities, rape crisis centers and other advocacy agencies have a mission to support vulnerable communities and build spaces for resiliency and healing. These two systems have advocated on behalf of congregants and community members to ensure their safety, wellness, and growth. Theses systems have shown their effectiveness as separate entities, but if they unite their efforts, it could help augment partnerships between the inter-faith community, secular organizations and rape crisis centers (RCCs).

This is a new approach for some anti-gender-based violence agencies and an established practice for others. For example, My Sister’s House co-hosted an annual “High Tea” with the Chinese Community Church to show their solidarity to end gender-based violence. This October will mark the 10th “High Tea” anniversary. In addition, Women’s Center, High Desert Inc. works closely with St. Michael Church in Ridgecrest, CA to assist with resources, in-kind donations and the “Free To Be” support groups for the LGBTA community. Not only do they collaborate with the church but the Women’s Center, High Desert Inc. has a Chaplain from the community as one of their board members. And CALCASA and Samaritan Safe Church are partnering to develop the Faith-Based Collaborative and provide a facilitator training for clergy and advocates.

RCCs can cultivate relationships and initiate collaborations through providing presentations about their services and learning about faith-based organizations’ ministerial services. This will open the lines of communication about shared commonalities, open opportunities for cross-system trainings and learning clusters. This approach will help further strengthen efforts to influence positions and practices related to gender-based violence and community healing.

Picture of Adrienne SpiresWhen I was invited to attend the “High Tea” hosted by My Sister’s House I was honored and excited because I had fond memories of teas that my grandmother’s church hosted decades ago. I was overwhelmed with memories of the tables decorated with pressed linens and fancy china. Being in the presence of women and girls dressed up to fellowship, inspire, and eat scrumptious tea sandwiches and mini cakes made me think of the actual reasons for tea gatherings.


According to history, women established separate tea get-togethers that also posed as a social group because they were shut out of coffeehouses in London where only men were welcome to drink coffee and discuss politics. Tearooms were also the only place where unchaperoned Victorian women were able to go and still be viewed as respectable. Women set the trend for drinking tea and teatime became an organizing strategy. Brilliantly, numerous tearooms became a space for empowerment as women became advocates against the oppressive policies and practices they endured.


My Sister’s House 9th annual High Tea was held at the Chinese Community Church on behalf of women and children who are survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and human trafficking. The co-hosted event provided an opportunity for the faith-based community and sexual violence movement to show their solidarity to end gender-based violence. The program highlighted 10 actions for faith-based institutes to consider in an effort to help prevent gender-based violence. These actions included:

  • Get to know your local domestic violence, sexual assault, elder abuse and child abuse service provider.
  • Give a sermon, a dvar tarah, khtubah, or spiritual teaching.
  • Support the safety and well-being of survivors.


A survivor of domestic violence shared her testimony about the support that My Sister’s House staff and her bible study teacher provided for her and her baby. All the women and men in attendance were moved by her story of strength and hope.


Although the church and rape crisis center appear quite different, they embody similar community-based philosophies and both provide a place of inspiration, and a place of healing and counseling for all who are in need. Once again the sense of enthusiasm came upon me during the High Tea not just because of the history, but because of the potential for a new trend for the faith-based community and gender-based organizations to co-host High Teas. These shared spaces could grow awareness and deepen the discussion of solutions to end gender-based violence for all.




images-for-faith-based-blog“The Medical Chaplain’s role is being a referral agent, safe haven and truth teller “for victim–survivors of domestic and sexual violence.” It was refreshing to hear such a quote from a chaplain.

Reverenced Al Miles, a board certified chaplain and national trainer in adult and teen intimate partner violence awareness, facilitated a webinar hosted by Faith Trust Institute “Medical Chaplaincy: Serving the Needs of Victims of Sexual and Domestic Violence.”

Rev. Miles spoke about his experience working with chaplains who counseled survivors and the person who caused them harm. He came to the conclusion that education and training is a definite need.  He discovered sexual abuse and domestic violence was being addressed through a scriptural interpretation that inquired about the survivor’s commitment to the relationship and if she was responsive to her respective role, which does not take into, consideration the cycle of violence, consent, and the dynamics of power and control.


When these factors are not part of the counseling conversation it can create unsafe outcomes for survivors and their children that feel pressured, unheard, and silenced. Further complicating the dynamic is the religious tenet of forgiveness: there is an expectation that the person who caused the harm will be forgiven by the survivor because it is the moral and spiritual thing.  Rev. Miles cited “truth teller” as a stance for chaplains to hold the persons who cause harm accountable and for survivors to know that “no one has the right to abuse “and that survivors are not to blame for the abuse they suffer”.  This position can help ensure a “safer haven” for people who are seeking help through faith-based services.


Rev. Miles emphasized the importance of faith-based organizations and chaplains to collaborate with other spiritual leaders, anti-gender-based violence advocacy agencies and healthcare organizations to better support survivors of domestic and sexual violence.  This collaborative approach could help chaplains become the referral agents Rev. Miles proposed. As a referral agent chaplains will be able to offer additional resources for the survivors to choose from.


Rev. Miles suggestions were in alignment with the original movement to end violence against women. Truth-telling spaces, community services, and awareness continue to be central to the movement. What is becoming clear is that this must include spiritual sites of healing and support.


I believe Rev. Miles’ declaration about the role of chaplains validates the continued need for anti-sexual violence and anti-domestic violence advocates to invite the faith-based community to collaborate to help address the complexity of gender-based violence. We know that sexual violence impacts our places of worship, and faith community can be a major resource for survivors and partner in promoting healing.

Amid the sexual harassment scandals that have been rocking UC Berkeley, the community recently came together to hold a Survivor’s Symposium. I had the pleasure of attending for CALCASA. The symposium explored the institutional process for undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral students, and campus employees to report sexual violence on campus. At the heart, this was a grassroots event for survivors and allies that focused on the importance and centrality of survivor-led action to counteract the institutional bureaucracy in responding to and preventing sexual assault.

One major topic of discussion was the inherent conflict of interest the institution faces when it is both the employer of the alleged perpetrator and is accountable for student safety. A recurring question throughout the day was whether it is possible to treat all parties in these cases equally and without bias. Also, multiple campus groups and campus allies pointedly expanded their organizing to take into account the intersections—to challenge racial violence, violence based on sexual orientation, and
gender-based violence. As a group we talked about the trauma survivors endure and the array of strategies used to help survivors get on the path of healing. Additionally, the symposium offered self-care and “artivist” (art for activism and social justice) workshops, collective poetry & zine-making, yoga, and self-defense.

I felt honored to be in the presence of survivors and allies whose determination resembled the passion of early activists against sexual violence and institutional oppression. It is vital to keep survivors at the core of the work to help eradicate sexual violence. I look forward to seeing how UC Berkeley keeps survivors in the focus in the future.

Adrienne  N. Spires
Training & Technical Assistance Coordinator

Activism for Institutional Change