Click the image above to watch the full interview! Animations by Alice McGillicuddy.
Alix Tarnowsky, Advocacy Director at STAR (Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response), is a licensed clinal social worker with an MBA from Tulane University. STAR’s mission is to support survivors of sexual violence, improve systems response and create social change to end sexual violence.
GB: How does your organization promote the education and empowerment of womxn in New Orleans? Can you give specific examples?
Alix: STAR focuses on an empowerment model when we are working with our survivors. In that way we view ourselves as partners with the client we are working with. They are the experts in their lives. We’re just there to provide that extra support and help them as they are navigating their healing process. Additionally STAR works to empower and support the growth of the people who work with the agency. A lot of people have been with the agency for a fair amount of time. I’ve been with them for about 3.5 years. The agency as a whole is focusing on growth and sustainability. So I think specifically about our counseling director in New Orleans, Portia, who started as an advocate in BR, got her masters in counseling, came down to help open the New Orleans office, was a counselor, and then was promoted to counseling director, and just really growing her skills and her self as an individual and professional. And finally, one of the things we hear from a lot of survivors is that they oftentimes didn’t realize what happened to them was sexual assault, because they didn’t fully understand consent. And so we’re using our community education program to increase knowledge and awareness about what consent is, what healthy relationships look like and what autonomy means to each individual.
GB: What are some of the biggest challenges to the mission? What is the assistance/support you or your organization needs most?
Alix: There are a lot of challenges to doing this work, and when I was talking to my colleagues about this question in particular, the thing that kept coming up was this idea that, ‘Ok, we want to stop sexual violence in the community’ - but people often want to stop a very specific idea of sexual violence and don’t realize that sexual violence is a continuum. Everything from street-based harassment to forced sex work. When people think about sexual violence they often are just thinking about rape, attempted rape or child molestation. At STAR we look at the whole picture and we know that when we allow people to get away with street harassment or unwanted groping/touching, then that encourages those perpetrators to increase their violence and move down the continuum. So that’s a huge challenge: letting people know that sexual violence isn’t just one thing. It’s all these things. And our society in general can find it really hard to change, especially when it’s going to be difficult and uncomfortable. We’re slowly seeing that happen, as more survivors are coming forward and speaking out, but for every survivor that has the courage to speak out and is believed, we have a perpetrator who is not sentenced to jail time or given probation for being a ‘good citizen’ or for having ‘made a mistake’. Working to fight against that and lifting up survivors is a huge challenge. And if you ask any non-profit, the answer to what we need is money. It’s always money. Louisiana as a state does not provide any funding for sexual assault agencies. There is funding for domestic violence agencies, which is great, but nothing specifically for sexual assault agencies. So our funding comes from federal funds, local grants and foundations, donors and volunteers.
GB: What is your vision for the future of womxn/what does an equitable and just future look like to you?
Alix: I always say that - and my friends and colleagues are tired of me saying it but - all politics are local. Womxn make up 51% of our population and unfortunately, we do not make up 51% of who represents us, at all levels of government. Once we get more womxn in places of power - and when I say womxn I’m thinking about progressive individuals who are focused on the empowerment and betterment of womxn - we’re going to see greater changes. Womxn are paid much less than men in this state and across the country. And unfortunately our legislators were unable to pass the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment), which is frustrating. For me an equitable and just future looks like a place where womxn, female-identifying folks, and non-binary folks are able to live their lives they way they want to. Where they are comfortable and safe, and don’t fear certain areas or going out after dark, and know that their jobs are dependent on their skills and not how they present themselves.
GB: Any new programs/events launching soon that you want to talk about?
Alix: We are starting a consulting arm of STAR to help bring in funds - focused on helping businesses with their sexual harassment policies and workplace policies to make them a safer more just place for all employees.
GB: Who is your favorite local artist/musician/maker?
Alix: B Mike, I love pretty much everything he does. Kelsey of Fringe & Co - her headwraps, her shirts, everything about it is amazing. And when I think about activists in our community, I really think about Women With A Vision and the work they are doing, especially Deon Haywood, their executive director, and then Nia Weeks, a community member who has been doing so much work to lift the voices of women of color through Citizen She. I could keep listing them - New Orleans is amazing!
To learn more about STAR and its services, please visit their website: https://star.ngo/
5% of all proceeds from Glitter Box N.O. sales from June - September 2019 go directly to supporting STAR and their work eliminating sexual assault in Louisiana. Shop our online shop HERE to support the cause (plus get rad stuff).