By Andrea Chapman  

In my role at Sierra Community House, I oversee our 24-hour Helpline and Non-Residential Advocacy Program dedicated to serving victims of domestic violence, sexual violence, and child abuse. Recently, I had the privilege of attending the 2023 National Sexual Assault Conference in San Francisco, an opportunity aimed at honing skills, fostering strategic partnerships, and strengthening our efforts to combat sexual violence.

It’s always enlightening to take a step back from the important work we do every day to meet with others working in this space. Here are two key takeaways from the conference and what Sierra Community House is doing to address unique challenges in our community:

1. A person-centered approach can help break the sexual assault and substance abuse cycle: Survivors of sexual violence often resort to substances as a coping mechanism, and in turn face increased risk of experiencing sexual violence, perpetuating a troubling cycle. These experiences are burdened with stigma and shame, adding to the challenges survivors face in seeking assistance. By integrating harm reduction principles into our daily anti-violence efforts, we can enhance our ability to support survivors dealing with substance use and provide a more holistic, person-centered approach to their care.

At Sierra Community House, we have secured funding to ensure sexual violence survivors can access substance abuse resources. Moreover, all our offices are equipped with Naloxone, and our staff is trained in identifying and responding to opioid overdoses. We remain committed to expanding our capacity to incorporate further harm reduction principles into our work. 

2. Immigrant survivors face outsized hurdles; we are uniquely positioned to help them: It’s clear that sexual violence survivors from all backgrounds can encounter skepticism and neglect when seeking assistance, but immigrant survivors often confront additional layers of oppression, such as xenophobia and racism. Immigrant survivors of sexual violence grapple with a multitude of challenges, including immigration status, limited language access, histories of trauma, unmet mental health needs, and cultural differences. They may also contend with isolation in resource-limited areas and a lack of knowledge about laws, rights, resources, and support systems.

At Sierra Community House, we are committed to ensuring that our services are inclusive and accessible to survivors with limited English proficiency. To achieve this, we provide access to bilingual crisis advocates that offer interpretation services and translated materials. In addition, we provide trauma-informed care that respects cultural differences and values, acknowledging the diverse backgrounds of immigrant survivors. We collaborate closely with our on-staff immigration specialist to create comprehensive safety plans tailored to the specific needs and circumstances of each survivor, further enhancing their sense of security and well-being.  

We are dedicated to incorporating the insights from the 2023 National Sexual Assault Conference into our advocacy work, aiming to enhance support for survivors and promote a more inclusive and compassionate approach in addressing sexual violence.