Supporting Survivors in the RGV: Resources for Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Year-Round

Words by Sammy Jo Cienfuegos

Edited by Abigail Vela

Trigger Warning: This article contains potentially triggering content relating to sexual violence. Local and national resources are listed at the bottom of this article for your reference.

 

Every 68 seconds, a person in America is sexually assaulted. In just one minute, a person experiences a trauma so severe that it may cause detrimental harm to one’s physical, emotional, and psychological being. Sexual assault is a crisis that is dreadfully much too common. One out of every six women and one out of every 33 men experience sexual assault at least once in their life, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN). However, it is essential to remember that numbers like these are often underreported due to shame, stigma, and intimidation.

 

Twenty-two years ago, April was established as Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) to spread awareness and prevent sexual violence. While declaring April as SAAM was a big step towards ending gender-based violence, it is crucial to fight against sexual violence within the community and support survivors year-round by fighting against machismo and sharing vital resources with those in need in the Rio Grande Valley.

Dark teal graphic that contains information that reads, “Twenty-two years ago, April was established as Sexual Assault Awareness Month to spread awareness and prevent sexual violence.”

Strategies for Supporting Survivors

 

Listening to their story is the most important thing to do when supporting survivors. You do not have to be an expert to be there for someone, but it’s important to give them the floor without offering advice unless prompted. When listening, you should use validating language and remind them that what happened is not their fault, as oftentimes, survivors place blame on themselves. 

 

A tip that was shared with me a few years ago that I often like to repeat is that you have to avoid going into crisis mode yourself, although this is hard to do. When listening to a survivor share difficult details, holding your own and staying calm is vital. Avoid swaying and maintain eye contact (if the person is comfortable with it) to communicate that you’re actively listening with plenty of empathy and support.

 

Other ways to support survivors include educating the public on consent and bystander intervention. 

 

Consent and Bystander Intervention

 

RAINN defines consent as an agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity that should be clearly and freely communicated. It is a verbal and affirmative expression of consent that can help you and your partner understand and respect each other’s boundaries. Consent must be freely given, enthusiastic, and ongoing, as it can be taken back at any time. Consent cannot be given by individuals who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, those who are underage, or those experiencing unequal power dynamics. It is also important to note that consent must also be given in romantic relationships. Just because you’re in a relationship with your partner(s) does not mean that consent is automatically granted. Additionally, just because consent is given for one thing does not mean it’s offered for another. Consent is an ongoing conversation.

 

Practicing consent and educating your communities on it is a huge component in supporting survivors and creating a world free from sexual violence. 

 

Being active bystanders is also an essential step in the fight against sexual violence. It is easy to assume that someone else will take the necessary steps to prevent or stop something from happening, but it is vital to take personal responsibility.

In being an active bystander, you can use one of three strategies: direct, indirect, and distract. With the direct strategy, you can speak directly to the perpetrator and let them know their actions are inappropriate. The indirect strategy can include delegating responsibility to others that may have more authority than you. The last strategy can be done by creating a diversion to diffuse the situation. 

 

Another way to support survivors often overlooked is changing our language to be more survivor-friendly, avoiding victim blaming at all costs.

Fighting Against Machismo 

 

Machismo and victim-blaming language are unfortunately rampant across the Valley. 

 

Machismo is a pattern of toxic masculinity that is heavily influenced by our culture. It includes enforcing traditional gender norms and gender inequality, dominance over women, and emotional detachment; a certain level of masculinity is perpetuated in an unhealthy and increasingly common way. It is the mentality that people have that makes them think they can take what they want, when they want, regardless of permission, which feeds into “rape culture” in our community.

 

According to the National Latin@ Network, one in three Latinas will experience intimate partner violence (IPV) in their lifetime, and one in 12 have experienced IPV in the past 12 months.

 

Survivors are subject to scrutiny in the face of sexual abuse. Additionally, the machismo complex within Latinx culture is partly to blame for survivors of sexual violence having no outlet to discuss what has happened to them safely. 

 

Dark teal graphic that contains information that reads, “According to the National Latin@ Network, one in three Latinas will experience intimate partner violence in their lifetime, and one in 12 have experienced IPV in the past 12 months.”

Facilitating conversations with our families and communities is the first step in correcting machismo ideals.

 

Offering resources may also help aid a survivor’s healing journey. Continue reading below to learn about various local organizations doing great work in the fight against sexual violence. 

RGV Organizations Work to Support Survivors

Friendship of Women, Inc.

Address: 95 E. Price Road, Bldg. C, Brownsville, Texas 78521

24/7 Crisis Hotline: (956) 544-7412

Friendship of Women has been working to empower survivors and strengthen communities since 1977. Their mission is to “provide leadership and comprehensive services to empower and promote safety, health, and the overall well-being of adults and children impacted by family and sexual violence.” They “seek social change through advocacy, education, prevention, and provide a safe home for victims and their families.”

Friendship of Women’s headquarters, which is a white building with orange rooftop tiles and its empty parking lot on a cloudy day.
Friendship of Women, Inc. provides a safe haven for survivors of sexual violence, domestic violence, and abuse. Photo courtesy of Google Maps.

Friendship of Women provides services such as an emergency shelter, crisis intervention, and legal advocacy to survivors. All services are free and confidential. 

Their services include the following:

  • Community Outreach Center, where anyone experiencing a crisis can seek services focused on healing and empowerment;
  • Sexual Assault Program (available 24/7) for all survivors of sexual violence; 
  • Supportive Housing, including assistance with deposits and rental assistance;
  • Community Education and Prevention Program; and
  • Battering Intervention and Prevention Program, which works to prevent family violence and all other forms of abuse.

Mujeres Unidas/Women Together (Family Justice Center)

Address: 511 N Cynthia St, McAllen, TX 78501

24/7 Crisis Hotline: (956) 630-HURT/4878

Mujeres Unidas/Women Together has been in operation since 1978. Their mission is to provide shelter and support services to victims of domestic violence and survivors of sexual assault and their families.” They provide community education, awareness, and prevention programs in order to fulfill their vision of ending violence so that individuals may live without fear, abuse, or oppression.


Their services include the following:

front of a white building with the words “Women Together Family Justice Center” at the top of the entrance.
Since 1978, Mujeres Unidas/Women Together has been working towards creating a world where people can live without fear, abuse, or oppression. Photos courtesy of Mujeres Unidas/Women Together.
  • Children’s Program, which includes daily activities for youth who have experienced family violence that will allow them to express themselves in a safe and supportive environment;
  • Sexual Assault Crisis Intervention Services, which include counseling, emergency shelter, legal advocacy, and accompaniment to the court, hospital, or police stations;
  • Nueva Vida Transitional Supportive Housing (only in the McAllen area);
  • Legal Advocacy (excluding legal representation and legal counsel;
  • Community Education & Outreach; and
  • Frida’s Boutique Resale Shop and Free Clothing for Clients.

 

Family Crisis Center

Harlingen Address: 616 W. Taylor, Harlingen, Texas 78550

Harlingen Phone: (956) 423-9305, (956) 423-9306

Raymondville Address: 192 N 3rd Street, Raymondville, Texas 78580

Raymondville Phone: (956) 689-5150

24/7 Hotline: 1-866-423-9304

The Family Crisis Center was established in 1981 by volunteers working to provide services to survivors of abuse, sexual assault, and family violence. The center also provides educational and violence prevention programs to the communities it serves. 

The organization’s mission is to “empower adults and children experiencing domestic violence and/or sexual assault and increase community awareness and responsiveness in Northern Cameron County and Willacy County through prevention, education, outreach, and advocacy.”

Their vision is to empower survivors, promote healthy relationships, engage the community, and stop violence.

All services are free and confidential. 

The organization’s services include:

  • 24/7 Emergency Shelter for survivors and their children, crisis intervention, advocacy, and hospital accompaniment

  • Transportation to a safe place;

  • Counseling Services, including support groups;

  • Legal Advocacy, including protective orders, court accompaniment, and law enforcement; and

  • Educational Programs for schools and community/professional groups.

Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA)

Address: 301 South Texas Avenue,Mercedes, TX 78570

Phone: (956) 996-8752

Texas RioGrande Legal Aid was founded in 1970 to represent Texas farmworkers, and has grown into the nation’s second-largest legal aid provider and the largest in Texas since then. Texas RioGrande Legal Aid’s attorneys specialize in more than 45 practice areas, including civil rights, juvenile justice, survivor-centered economic advocacy, domestic violence, and legal aid for survivors of sexual assault. 

TRLA has offices across the Rio Grande Valley. View their office listings here.

The Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA) has been offering free legal services to low-income Texans since 1970. Photo courtesy of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Inc.

Additional Resources

 

**If you are in immediate danger, please call 911. 

 

 

More Articles

A front view of stores along a city’s main street. A car wash, seemingly out of place, is sandwiched in between a flower shop and a bookstore.
Uncategorized

Car Wash Boom in the RGV

Cruising through the RGV, you may notice new businesses springing up, but there is one industry that is taking the lead in these developments: car washes. Explore the unexpected rise of these facilities in our small towns, their impact on urban development, and the questions they raise about sustainability and community space.

Six people dressed in black posing for a photo at an art exhibition.
Art & Culture

Empowering Communities: Art & Activism in the RGV

Art is a powerful medium and can be used to aid activist movements, especially here in the RGV. Learn how community organizations are using art to explore some of the issues facing our communities.

Historical black and white photo showing thousands of National Guardsmen marching in the streets of Brownsville, Texas.
Social Justice

Massacre of Border Rage: A History of Racial Violence in the RGV

The Rio Grande Valley’s complex identity is shaped by events like La Matanza of 1915, a period characterized by racial violence against Mexican-Americans and Hispanics. This was a period of persecution, brutality, and discrimination, leaving a legacy that still echoes to this day.