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VPVA Talks Race: The Makers of a Movement

By: Olivia Rojas (they/them/theirs), Program Coordinator

The anti-violence movement is full of a rich history of Black activists, leaders, grassroots organizers, and healers. These voices are often not included in mainstream activism and anti-violence work despite the critical work provided to the movement. The anti-violence movement wouldn’t have gained the wins it has in recent decades without the work, dedication, innovation, and inspiration of the women that made the movement.

Congressional Testimonies from the Memphis Riots of 1866

The Memphis Riots of 1866 were a three-day riot in which a white mob led a violent attack on a Black neighborhood in Southern Memphis. During the riots, churches, schools, and homes were burned, destroying entire neighborhoods. Forty-six Black people and two white people died during the riots, and at least five African American women were sexually assaulted. There were no arrests made despite the devastating loss of life and community. These five women provided the first congressional testimony of their experiences surviving violent and racialized gang rapes by groups of white men, calling attention to the ways in which political violence has a unique impact on women. The five women who provided testimony took a courageous stand in the face of misogynoir to put their experiences on public record and place them at the heart of the collective American consciousness.

Ida B. Wells

Ida B. Wells’ work was critical in understanding the ways in which the virgin-whore dichotomy was having a violent impact across the American south during the era of American lynching of Black men and women. She publicly pushed against racialized narratives of Black men as inherently sexually violent, the very belief that lead to systemic lynching of over 4,000 Black Americans. In her work, she also uncovered the pervasiveness of white men assaulting Black women. With a historical legacy of Black women being identified solely as property, not human beings, legal precedent had been established that Black women couldn’t be raped because they “weren’t human,”  as the Missouri Supreme Court ruled in the 1855 case Missouri vs. Celia. This essentially provided white men who sexually assaulted Black women with legal immunity, a legacy that still exists in the modern-day criminal justice system. Wells’ work remains a foundation of the anti-violence movement in understanding the ways in which patriarchy and white supremacy intersect in the lived experiences of Black women across American history.

Rosa Parks

Before she was known for her role in the bus boycotts, Rosa Parks had done extensive work supporting Black victims and survivors of sexual violence. Parks, also a survivor of racialized sexual assault, was a sexual assault investigator in the American south. One of her most famous cases was that of Recy Taylor, which led to the Alabama Committee for Equal Justice for Mrs. Recy Taylor. Taylor never received the justice she deserved, despite a confession from one of the perpetrators. In 2011, the Alabama legislature issued a formal apology for the Alabama justice system’s failure to prosecute the perpetrators in this case.

Marsha P. Johnson

Marsha P. Johnson is a founding mother of the modern-day Pride movement, earning this honor through her work both at the community-level among Queer youth, and for leading the charge of the Stonewall Riots which paved the way for our modern-day Pride celebrations. While Marsha P. Johnson’s work historically hasn’t been seen as violence prevention, the work she did was critical in providing safe housing for vulnerable youth targeted for sex trafficking and sexual exploitation. Marsha P. Johnson is a shining star in the work because of her deep love for her community, and the ways in which that love transformed into a movement centering the safety and wellness of Black trans and gender-queer femmes.

Audre Lorde

The opening essay to adrienne marie brown’s collection of works in Pleasure Activism is Audre Lorde’s Use of the Erotic. Lorde presents eroticism as a new pathway to social justice work, stating “Recognizing the pow4e of the erotic within our lives can gives us the energy to pursue genuine change within our world, rather than merely settling for a shift of characters in the same weary drama.” Lorde challenges us to think beyond bare minimum standards in social justice work. That true anti-oppression is in joyful liberation. The book continues with a conversation on the legacy Lorde’s work on the erotic left on the feminist movement. 

This legacy remains relevant to today’s work. We are three years into a global pandemic that is disproportionately impacting Black and Latino communities. In this time, we have seen a rise in interpersonal violence rates, while the programs charged with supporting survivors are struggling to maintain on a day-to-day-basis. It can be easy to fall into a well of despair. Lorde’s work reminds us to dream big. To envision where we are going and dare to work toward that so that we don’t stay trapped in a continual cycle of “pushing back from inside our cages” as Cara Page says.

women standing next to each other in solidarity

The legacy of Black Feminists has laid a transcendent foundation for anti-violence work. Let the lived experiences and words of our movement's founders guide us into creating healing and joy in the ways we engage with this work.

What can one person do help end violence?

One person has the power to change the world around them, and this is even more true when we work as a collective toward the shared goal of safety, equity, and liberation for all people. Here are a few things you can do to support survivors and prevent violence:

This blog was originally published on Rutgers Engage, February 9, 2021. Black History, Feminism, and the Anti-Violence Movement: Centering Survivors at the Intersections - Rutgers University-Camden: Explore. Discover. Connect.

Olivia Rojas (they/them/theirs) is the Program Coordinator with the Office of Violence Prevention & Victim Assistance (VPVA). They provide programmatic support for VPVA’s outreach and awareness raising program, manage the Peer Education Program, and develops and coordinates violence prevention programming across Rutgers-Camden.

Join VPVA this year for a series of conversations on the intersection of race, gender, and power. Check in with Rutgers-Engage for event details.


A Voice of Rutgers-Camden:
A Peer Educator’s Reflections on the Red Sands Project

By: George Gandour, Peer Educator in the Office of Violence Prevention & Victim Assistance

A Voice of Rutgers-Camden is an ongoing blog series hosted by the Office of Violence Prevention & Victim Assistance. Peer Educators create unique content to promote education, outreach, and awareness raising on a variety of issues intersecting with interpersonal violence. While every article is edited by the staff in the Office of Violence Prevention & Victim Assistance, the work and content is wholly reflect of the unique, diverse, and important insights of the students at Rutgers-Camden.

Red Sands Project

The Office of Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance (VPVA) has hosted a Red Sand Project event on-campus for several years. This event is hosted in partnership with the School of Nursing and the New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking. Students, staff, and faculty work individually to make sidewalk art installations to raise awareness of human trafficking. Human trafficking is the act of one person (or multiple people) being forced into making money, or something else of value, for someone else. Fraud, coercion, and other tactics are used when human trafficking occurs. There are different types of trafficking such as labor trafficking, drug trafficking, and sex trafficking.

History of the Red Sand Project

Globally, an estimated 40 million people are victims of human trafficking. Each year, more and more people fall victim to human trafficking. In 2020, there was a 55% increase in child victims and a 45% increase in adult victims of sex trafficking alone in the United States compared to 2019. Human trafficking impacts all people, and among victims, People of Color are disproportionally impacted. This expands the financial, political, and social gap between Communities of Color and White communities, making it harder for quality of life to be equal for everyone.

The Red Sand Project is an initiative working to empower survivors of human trafficking. Red Sand Project was founded by Molly Gochman in 2014 after realizing the similarities between human trafficking and slavery. She focused on raising awareness through art. Participants pour red sand in “sidewalk installations” or “earthworks”. Sidewalk installations are simple: red sand is poured into the cracks of sidewalks. Earthworks are larger trails of red sand, usually placed by significant spots in nature or buildings.

What the Red Sand Project Teaches Us

Red Sand Project is such a fantastic resource because while having fun creating street and landscape art, disproportionately affected communities are given validation and included in the conversation. The act of pouring sand in a crack shows we respect and send our love to victims of human trafficking that have slipped through society’s cracks. In the past few years, the Red Sand Project created earthworks in the shape of the United States-Mexico border to raise awareness for trafficking among immigrants. The border earthwork was displayed at several airports and Tougaloo College, a Historically Black College or University (HBCU). 

The Red Sand Project also provides opportunities for activism  with multiple petitions that can be signed to protect youth from human traffickers and to help stop forced labor of detainees --it’s that simple! They also have information on how to support efforts to end “orphanage child trafficking”- a term used to describe a global practice of removing children from their birth families to adopt them out for profit.

The display brought different communities together, which is important because human trafficking is a global issue.

This blog was originally published on Rutgers Engage, November 9, 2021. Accessible here: Red Sand Project: From Awareness to Action in Ending Human Trafficking - Rutgers University-Camden: Explore. Discover. Connect.

George Gandour is a junior at Rutgers-Camden. He served as a Peer Educator during academic year 2022-2023. He provided integral support to developing and measuring VPVA’s social media strategy to support outreach, awareness, and education across virtual spaces. George is a Nursing major.

Boo’d Up: Three Tips for Healthy Relationships

Dating violence impacts young people across our communities. While it’s a common experience, especially among teens and college students, it doesn’t have to be an inevitable part of the dating experience. When provided tools to help with communication and respectful boundaries, students can engage in healthy relationship behaviors. 

A critical part of healthy dating is understanding personal motivations for starting a relationship. There isn’t any one right reason for dating and relationships. People seek connection, exploration, intimacy, and new experiences through dating. People learn about their personal values, their communication styles, and their relationship styles in dating experiences. Some people choose monogamy, others may want to date or be in relationships with multiple people. Some are seeking serious and committed relationships, while others may be more interested in casual relationships.

All of these reasons and desires are common and normal. Bringing personal awareness to why we want relationships and how we engage in them allows us to reflect on our relationship strengths and where we want to grow as individuals so we can continue engaging in relationships in healthy ways.

Here are some tools we can all use to engage in healthy relationships and prevent dating violence in our communities:

group of friends

Honest and Kind Communication

Effective communication skills are a critical part of healthy relationships. Knowing how to communicate our expectations, needs, wants, and concerns allows us to be upfront and honest with others.. This can prevent misunderstandings about “what we’re doing here,” which can lead to hurt, feelings of betrayal, mistrust, or confusion. When people are able to express themselves in kind and honest ways, and have that received openly, people can make informed decisions about how they wish to engage in a relationship.

couple sitting at edge of water

Know and Express Personal Boundaries

Everyone is entitled to their boundaries, and to have those boundaries respected. Personal boundaries vary from person to person. They often shift as relationships change over time. Taking time to reflect on the boundaries we need and want in relationships helps us be prepared to discuss boundaries with potential partners. Boundaries may include how often we want to see a person, how often we communicate outside of seeing someone, physical and sexual activities we are or aren’t comfortable with, among a variety of other personal, physical, social, and sexual interactions with partners.

group walking down hall

Explore Personal Values

All people have core values that can help us decide what kind of relationships we want to be in and how we engage in those relationships. Reflecting on our personal values and discussing values with partners helps us see where there’s common ground to build a relationship on. We don’t have to have the same values as a partner to be compatible with them. It’s simply a matter of knowing what our values are, choosing relationships in alignment with our values, and working with partners so everyone’s values are honored and respected.

We all deserve to experience love, connection, and affection in safe and joyful ways. Practicing and continually developing the skills required for cultivating healthy relationships is a lifelong journey. Embrace the growth, experience the fun, and practice skills for a lifetime of joyful and rewarding relationships.

This blog was originally published on Rutgers Engage February 21, 2022. The article is available here: Boo'd Up: Three Tips for Healthy Relationships - Rutgers University-Camden: Explore. Discover. Connect.

Olivia Rojas (they/them/theirs) is the Program Coordinator with the Office of Violence Prevention & Victim Assistance (VPVA). They provide programmatic support for VPVA’s outreach and awareness raising program, manage the Peer Education Program, and develops and coordinates violence prevention programming across Rutgers-Camden.

VPVA is committed to preventing dating violence. Our Healthy Relationship Series, Don’t Be Afraid to Catch Feels, is one of the programs we provide to support students developing healthy relationship skills. Check Rutgers Engage for the most up-to-date information on our workshops!

VPVA Zine: Holding Space

View the Inaugural issue of our Spring 2023 Zine: Holding Space.