Laura Morris: Research Project 2 (Section 2)- Victim Advocacy Training at RCASA

Laura Morris

Community Power Research Project 2


Throughout the Fall 2015 semester I have been interning at the Rappahannock Council Against Sexual Assault (RCASA). At the internship, I complete various tasks such as reading grant applications, helping collect data to create surveys, and training to be a crisis responder and victim advocate for those survivors of sexual assault. This training consists of online modules, on-site hospital training, and lectures from RCASA staff on topics relevant to advocacy. Thus far, I have completed the majority of this training including the online portion, two lectures, and the on-site hospital visit. As I was reflecting on the training I have completed in an online journal for my internship class, I realized the great service I was doing for the greater Fredericksburg community by attending these trainings. Not only am I furthering my own education to help reduce the social stigma around sexual assault, but I am learning how to empower others and help them deal with the wrongful things that have been done to them.

RCASA provides the sole source of hospital accompaniment to the Mary Washington and Spotsylvania Regional Hospitals to assist victims of sexual assault not related to domestic violence. The most recent part of my training involved visiting the hospital and learning about the evidence collection and examination process so that I can be prepared to assist in hospital accompaniment as a crisis responder or advocate. During this training I learned about victim rights, forensic exams, evidence collection, court processes and much more. A forensic nurse from the hospital gave a tour of the emergency room and showed all of the equipment in the sexual assault examination rooms used to collect evidence or give an examination. Absorbing all of this information was overwhelming to say the least, but the most shocking part of this training was seeing reports of cases of sexual assault that have come through the hospital in the last year. Seeing the exceedingly high numbers, well over 500, pushed me to consider how overwhelming it must be for those 500-plus men and women to take in this information. These individuals must attempt to make sense of legalities while also trying to make sense of the horrible event they have just experienced.

Sexual assaults are typically executed by someone close to or known by the victim in an attempt to execute any and all sense of power over them. During a sexual assault a victim’s body often goes into a state of shock where survival is the only goal, the only option. Because of this natural response the victim has no power to try and overcome their attacker, nor do they have power to try and stop the assault by crying out for help for they are often physically unable to speak or move. In fact, such forceful execution of power over another individual strips any and all power away from the victim. It is not until after the assault, when the victim is often emotionally and/or physically damaged, that a survivor can attempt to regain some of that power by visiting a hospital, asking others for help, seeking therapy, pressing charges, or simply reminding themselves that the attack was not their fault. The recovery period is where hospital accompaniment or advocacy comes in to play. The job of the advocate is to help ground the survivor and to remind them that they are in control and have the power to press charges, to take care of themselves, and to recover. Without victim advocacy, survivors would often be left to seek help on their own and because of the social stigma towards sexual assault survivors, many would most likely choose not to speak out and admit their hurt.

Not only do advocates help with personal feelings of power, but they also help with power on a community or legal level. Victim-blaming has become a huge issue in today’s society. This term refers to blaming a victim for something that has happened to them and making them feel as if they did not do enough to prevent the situation. Statements like this do nothing more than convince the affected parties that they are to blame. This is especially relevant to sexual assault survivors who are often told they should have dressed more conservatively, known they were in a dangerous situation, or fought back against the perpetrator. Statements such as these further strip the power from survivors by convincing them that they are at fault and would be naive to report, press charges, or speak out about wrongdoings against them. During hospital accompaniment, advocates remind survivors of their rights and talk them through the typical process of reporting or pressing charges. They are also there to ensure that survivors are treated with respect by all persons involved such as police and hospital nurses and that no victim-blaming takes place. Without advocates there are many individuals who would not know how to move further, what their options are, or how to ignore the hurtful judgements of society.

Without individuals who are willing to stand up against social norms, such as victim blaming of sexual assault survivors, there will never be power or justice for those who have been wronged. Each report filed has the potential to lead to another perpetrator of sexual assault being punished for wrongfully taking advantage of another human being and stripping them of their power. With more reports and less perpetrators comes a safer community for all. However, if advocates are not trained and sent out to better the community the likelihood of survivors being notified of their rights and responsibilities becomes exceedingly less. My taking part in this training helps to ensure that there is at least one more person working to do everything in her power to ensure that survivors of sexual assault have their personal power restored and have the potential to remove perpetrators from the area and empower the entire community as a whole.

Just Some Thoughts.. Media Power?

I came across this article when researching some ideas to support my argument for my last reaction paper. I thought it might be an interesting read for some of you. I want to suggest that we all take a step back and think about the role that the media plays in our knowledge of issues such as riots and police brutality that we have discussed in class. The media tells us countless stories and shows us images of violence by law enforcement, but do we ever stop to think about how much POWER the media truly has? The majority of us get all of our information from the news or social media, but with media often comes clear bias which not all members of the public are able to account for. These are just some thoughts I have been wrestling with as we have discussed these topics over the past few weeks. (:

Laura Morris (Reaction 3, section 2): Media Influence on Public Judgements

Laura Morris

Community Power

Reaction Paper 3


Any person who has access to the media, be it via Facebook, Twitter, television, or the radio, has heard about the recent uprisings and riots throughout the United States sparked by instances of police brutality. We’ve all heard the names of those killed, seen their faces, and listened to their stories as they have been blasted across social media for the world to see and interpret however they wish. As a general rule of thumb, we are cautioned to take care in believing everything we see on social media or the news. There is often a great deal of bias associated with stories which are presented to us and it takes a sharp and knowing audience to differentiate between what should be taken with a grain of salt and what should be taken at face value. For the most part, the general public does an adequate job of accessing facts and drawing inferences; however, in the case of police brutality the word of the media is often taken as gold. It has been my understanding that the media often portrays one perspective, that of the victim, when airing stories involving instances of violence by police officers. Any perspectives that are shared from the point of view of police are often devalued and portrayed as unsustainable. However, it is my argument that the general public should take in to account both sides of the story and refrain from lumping together all members of the nation-wide police forces as one unit with the same beliefs and values.

The first thing I will say is that I am by no means excusing the killing of innocent people, nor am I trying to argue that police officers should not be subject to general laws and consequences. In fact, the very individuals who are trained to enforce rules and regulations should probably be held accountable to even higher standards than the general public. However, I am arguing that solely listening to media portrayals of violence by police is not the best way to ensure you have heard all sides of the story.

We have heard numerous stories of young, black youth being killed by white law enforcement. From Freddie Gray to Michael Brown we hear the same story about how unarmed, black youth are mauled by police officers because of their race. While I do not discount that these young men and women were killed for little to no reason, I do wonder where I can find media coverage of white youth being killed by law enforcement for very similar and unnecessary reasons. My fear is that because the media does not broadcast stories of police brutality towards white individuals with the same emphasis as those involving black youth that the general public may assume that it does not take place. This is where knowing the facts and taking the media with a grain of salt become great skills. Where was the media coverage when 19-year-old Zachary Hammond was killed by police during a drug investigation this past July? Where was the media when Dillon Taylor, a 20-year-old white male, was shot and killed by a black police officer? Because our society has become so reliant on the media to display the facts, the lack of media coverage following these events served to suppress public knowledge. Many shootings involving white persons are either only touched on briefly or omitted completely by most national news sources. Without all of the facts and views from multiple sides of a story to make inferences, the general public must be self-sufficient and do their own research; however, as a member of today’s society, I have a hunch that it would be overoptimistic to assume that would actually happen.

I am fully aware that news stations and social media outlets are businesses and need to show stories which ‘sell’ and make for ‘good television’, and for this I do not fault them. I do, however, fault them for not giving the public the opportunity to make their own judgments. For example, when displaying instances of police brutality it is rare that the public get to hear sides of the story from those who are in support of the local police force or the opinions of those who are not utterly outraged by the violence. In addition, it is a rare occurrence that viewers get to hear from police officers who are upset by the actions of their fellow service members and wish to assure the public that not all members of a police force are the same. Should the public be exposed to the views of more law enforcement personnel it may be easier for them to draw their own conclusions about police officers as not only a general unit, but also as individual people. The reality of the matter is that police officers must enter the workforce each and every day with a clear mind in order to effectively serve, protect, and do their jobs; however, I would imagine this would be almost impossible to do should you have to start every day thinking that the majority of the general public has a genuine hatred and disrespect for police officers. I understand that it can be difficult to continue to trust law enforcement when you are also afraid that you may be hurt or killed by them. However, if the media does not give the public the opportunity to make that decision for themselves, given information from both law enforcement and victims, then we will continue to be trapped in a cycle of never ending mistrust and hatred from which we cannot escape.

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”  ― Marie Curie

My ultimate hope is that we may all live in a society where we do not fear those who protect us. I also hope that those who protect us do not have to do so in fear of those they protect. If we all take the time to understand and make judgments based on facts we can move closer to a world of understanding and respect rather than fear. I encourage you take the media with a grain of salt. Listen carefully. And always remember that there are three sides to every story, yours, mine, and the truth.


Laura Morris(Section 2; Reaction Paper 2): Public Housing Renovations in San Francisco

Laura Morris

Reaction Paper 2


As you stroll through the hustle and bustle of busy streets in the great city of San Francisco you look to your left and see the Golden Gate Bridge off in the distance. You look to your right and see a cable car wiz past carrying tourists anxious to see the sights. You look behind you and see downtown and all its glory. Okay, your perceptual field probably isn’t that large, but really, you can’t go near downtown in San Francisco without noticing some of its distinct characteristics. One of those main qualities, quite possibly the most well-known in any city, is the eye-sore of public housing developments scattered between run-down businesses and construction. Downtown areas leave a bad taste in the mouth of the elites who barely acknowledge the existence of those parts of the city long enough to remember they are still, in fact, a part of the city. However, San Francisco said, “Enough is enough!” and finally developed a plan to update public housing once and for all.

But how bad can public housing really be? Is it really in such dire need of renovation or destruction as some tend to make it seem? Those living in the public housing system in San Francisco would argue that it might even be worse than you can see strolling by on the sidewalk. From faulty lights to pest infestations, the reality is that public housing in San Francisco isn’t taken care of, nor is it valued by anyone who doesn’t live there. In fact, many residents might even say that it’s time to tell the city what they need and not stop until their voices are heard. Well, on October 14, 2015 the city must have finally decided to listen. On this day, Mayor Edwin M. Lee, U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Democratic leader of the House Nancy Pelosi, and the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco came together to celebrate a plan that was finally enacted to renovate public housing San Francisco once and for all (City of San Francisco 2015). This plan not only helps the tenants but takes into consideration their points of view and what they truly want and need.

The plan was designed to help those who are living in low-income households, well below the poverty line, and in distressed conditions by renovating their homes within public housing. According to the Mayor an important part of this project is that it can be done “without displacing existing tenants” (City of San Francisco 2015). How’s that for an idea? Let’s help people fix their homes without taking them away from them or destroying them completely. We have seen too many times the negative repercussions of empty promises from housing developers who claim they want to help residents, but truly want to help themselves by making money at the expense of thousands of people. Situations of this nature can be seen time and time again in places like St. Thomas, a public housing development in New Orleans, which was destroyed to make room for new developments leaving current residents stranded or crowded into other public housing developments (Arena 2012). Those developments then become the next ‘project’ to be taken on by the next developer. We’ve even seen it on the other side of the country in Brooklyn where Atlantic Yards, a new development, was planned and enacted despite the thousands of residents currently living in housing that stood in the place where the new development was set to take root (Hill 2007). However, with this current plan, San Francisco finally got it right.

The inclusion of a Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) makes this plan different from others who have failed in the past. Rental Assistance Demonstrations, administered under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), requires that residents are entered into a long-term contract that ensures the housing units will remain affordable to those who are currently living in low-income residences. By law, this contract must be renewed (Castro 2015). It even has a policy that protects the homes of tenants who may temporarily have to move during rehabilitation of their units and guarantees they will move back in to their homes following renovation (Castro 2015). In addition, clear rules are set regarding ownership, rights, and payments and are agreed upon by all parties involved. The RAD program also helps HUD and the city because it allows for leverage of many different funds towards one project (City of San Francisco 2015). The current project is estimated to cost 1.692 billion dollars by the end and funds for the project are coming from investors, city funding, and debt financing. This leveraging makes it possible to reinvest public and private equity into revamping public housing and stocks. The initial revamping is said to include pest extermination, improved security, general maintenance of elevators and other technologies, and more. However, in addition to those general improvements, RAD included a list of 18 housing facilities in extreme need of renovation and the plan seeks to assist those developments first giving the residents some much needed relief (City of San Francisco 2015).

The idea of a private-public partnership has proven worrisome in the past when it comes to revamping public housing; however, with RAD on the side of the residents in San Francisco it seems like their cries will finally be answered and answered effectively. While it is still necessary to err on the side of caution, I would argue that as long as promises and contracts don’t lose their value the residents just might get what they have been deserving of for so long. Maybe if the developers in Brooklyn and New Orleans would have enacted plans with more emphasis on respecting the residents instead of feeding their wallets they might not have faced so much push-back from the community. Maybe they should have included a safeguard for residents or provided them with options and allowed them to make their own decisions regarding their homes instead of telling them what was best for them. We will never know what might have happened; however, the moral of the story is that the people that matter are the people that care. The residents care about their homes. The developers, elites, and city officials care about their money and their plans. When these two groups care about each other, things truly start to fall into place.

County of San Francisco,. 2015. Mayor Lee Celebrates Milestone In U.S. Department Of Housing & Urban Development Partnership To Re-Envision, Revitalize & Rebuild City’S Public Housing. Retrieved October 15, 2015 (

Arena, John. 2012. Driven From New Orleans: How Non-profits Betray Public Housing and Promote Privatization. University of Minnesota Press. 

Hill, Isabel. 2002. Brooklyn Matters. DVD. New York: Isabel Hill.

Castro, Julian. 2015. “U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development”. Washington DC: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Retrieved October 15, 2015.

Laura Morris; Section 2: Do You Vote?

Ding- ding! There’s another email from SAE telling you it’s not too late to cast your vote in the next election at UMW. What’s that playing in the background? It’s a presidential debate on TV where the candidates are going on and on about popular issues. If you are like most students at UMW, you are probably consumed with work and have little to no time to think about political issues and how they affect you. However, the reality of the matter is that our generation is affected significantly by the leaders who are chosen to represent us at the national, local, and university levels. In order to see how people around me handle themselves in terms of voting in elections, I administered an online survey asking participants about their socioeconomic status, political affiliation, and voting history. You might not be surprised to find that participants voted most often in presidential elections and least often in UMW elections with local elections falling somewhere in between. This paper suggests some possible causes for this discrepancy in voter turnout and analyzes the details of Winders’ argument in his article about the roller coaster of class conflict we read in class.

Community Power Research Project 1

Laura Morris (SOCG 371,Section 2): Making Connections Between Power and Low Resources

A Critical Synthesis
So far this semester we have laid out a general framework to help us understand the concepts of community and power and how they relate. We have now reached the time where we need to expand on those ideas and increase our knowledge of how to apply this information to the real world outside of hypothetical classroom discussion. However, before we move too far ahead, I think we should step back and draw some connections between a few of our readings and analyze the connections or disconnections that may exist between them. In order to analyze some of these things, I have chosen to focus on Warren “Older and Newer Approaches to Community”, Sadan “Empowerment Spreads/Theories of Community” and Winders “Roller Coaster of Class Conflict”.
Warren outlines the various aspects that make up a community such as people, space, shared institutions and values, and distribution of power. In addition to talking about what physically makes up your community, this article discusses what makes up your sense of community. A sense of community can involve things such as comfort, ownership, and racial and gender patterns. The Sadan article takes a more focused approach and outlines the different dimensions of power within these communities. The author differentiates these dimensions by discussing who the main power players are and who is affected by those in power. The last article, Winders, outlines the various things that affect voter turnout such as social movements, conflict and consolidation between classes, and individual characteristics.
The Warren article stresses the idea that reliance on community differs from person to person. As a general rule of thumb, individuals with less personal resources tend to rely on their community more than others. If the community does not provide for these individuals, they often do not have personal or financial means to get the resources for themselves. When comparing this piece of writing to the Sadan article I found myself drawing an unfortunate connection. Individuals with less resources are generally categorized under Sadan’s second or third dimensions of power. The second dimension is more of a covert power dynamic where individuals do not realize power is being exerted over them. The power dynamic in the third dimension involves group A being dominated by group B, but group B is accepting of this domination because they are convinced it is in their best interests. Individuals with lower resources within a community are members of group B in the previous example. The unfortunate connection I drew was that individuals with less resources are taken advantage of by those in higher power and their lack of resources is used against them. These individuals are, in a sense, punished for having less personal means to survive by elite groups exerting power over them and using that power to make decisions that are in the best interests of the elites and not those who are not in power. As unfortunate as this cycle is, it is almost inevitable that it will occur. Although those with less resources can band together with their shared interests and values or their social system, even a combined effort will never give them enough power to overthrow the elites using this current system.
I drew another connection when reading the Winders article and thinking about all of the things that can affect voter turnout in an area. Upon reading the previous paragraph, one might propose that voter turnout should be higher for groups with less resources because voting is one source of power the group can exert and therefore should use it to their advantage. However, this is not the case. In general, individuals with higher SES and greater mobility are more likely to vote, neither of which are characteristics of lower resource groups. In addition, lower resource groups are often lower class individuals and low class individuals tend to vote less on average. The low voter turnout for low resource groups leads me to draw a connection between the power that is executed over them and the will to vote. Because these groups are subject to a great deal of power from other groups they are not accustomed to using their own voices and votes to gain control. This lack of confidence in your ability to make change leads to non-involvement because of fear or weakness. Being afraid to attempt to make change does nothing but strengthen the cycle that already exists and leave lower resource groups to fend for themselves in a world where elites hold the power.
These articles lack information or advice on how to change these established connections. While they may suggest general guidelines to help more equally distribute power, there is still work to be done to establish a plan that can easily be put into action. Winders gives some suggestions as to how to voter turnout could be affected by changes to policies and regulations, but the problem is there is no universal answer. There is no universal solution. Much more thought and research needs to be put into analyzing these arguments in order to make substantial change.
In order to stop the inevitable, you have to do the unthinkable. To stop the current cycle and more evenly distribute power to all groups, lower resource groups need to reestablish their voices. However, they cannot accomplish this goal alone. Those who hold more power and have greater control over a community need to step back and acknowledge that individuals within communities are becoming more and more reliant on the resources the community provides and that these individuals need to be treated with respect. We should not punish those with less power by taking away what little power they do have. Instead we should help them by reestablishing some of their power and treating them as equal community members.