As our final installment of this series (see the other segments below) we hear from Polly Poskin who heads the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault, which represents rape crisis centers across the state. Poskin tells us about their approach to dealing with survivors and offering emotional support - as well as what people can do to address the issue of sexual harassment within the workplace.
On when to believe alleged victims
Anybody should know that if you have been sexually harmed in a way that is deeply disturbing, painful, hurtful, maybe compromising your relationships - whether they be personal, at work, school, or whatever - that there are going to be resources to help. Many of those resources, it needs to be known, are there for emotional support, which is a distinction from fact-finding.
A rape crisis center is about emotional support. We are not fact finders, we're not there to determine whether the fact of it lines up with each person's account of the experience. We're there to believe and support the person based on the experience that they have related to us. That should be available and it should be separate from the fact-finding.
That's what historically we've done as rape crisis centers, and as good people in the world who aren't necessarily working at a rape crisis centers. And that goes so much further in helping people either stay in the process or understand the process. Then the process has to be about the fact-finding, coming to terms with who's accountable here, and what are the consequences. That should all be on a spectrum. Most rape victims just want the behavior to stop.
On what it really means to "change the culture"
The culture is the environment in which you work. It's the tone, it's the temper, it's the expectation that is set by the leadership in collaboration with the people who work there. Hopefully, there's some way collectively people sit down and define what constitutes a safe culture for them. Leadership has to know it's not on their shoulders alone. We can all sit down and define this together.
So creating culture is involving everybody, and it's also leadership taking responsibility for saying there will be accountability in this workplace for any behavior that harms another individual.
On supporting survivors
My plea to the new Attorney General, whoever he or she is, is that they continue the work that our current Attorney General has set in place regarding institutions, and in particular hospitals and police responding to reports of sexual assault. There have been some monumental changes. And now we're going to call on our friends at the hospitals and the hospital associations to implement these changes.
One of our new statutes says that by 2022, there will have to be sexual assault nurse examiners in our hospitals responding to rape victims. And this sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) has specialized education in collecting forensic evidence, which is so important in a sexual assault case, should the case go to trial.
So our nurses in our hospitals provide terrific first response medical care to a victim who arrives. The expertise that's needed in collecting that forensic evidence is just another layer of education.
We need as a society to prioritize identifying rape, and stopping rape and holding individuals accountable. All these specialized services cost money - whether you're providing victim support, whether you're hiring the best prosecutors, whether you have great SANES in your hospitals. So we do need our society to accept the fact that when you're creating change that promotes freedom and safety in a democracy, which should be our ultimate goal for our democracy, it takes resources - and "resources" sometimes is euphemistic for: it takes money.
Interview segments have been edited for length and clarity.