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Fenway Health launches 'Know Your Rights' palm card campaign

Posted by Roy Greene  May 3, 2011 12:16 PM

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With reports showing that gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals are more likely to report being sexually assaulted or harassed than heterosexual people, Fenway Health is working to address what some victims’ advocates say is a hidden problem.

“There continues to be some invisibility around the issue of sexual assault in the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered] community,” said Jessica Newman, a counselor and advocate in the Violence Recovery Program at Fenway Health.

The Violence Recovery Program works to address this issue through community events, such as health fairs and Boston Pride, and through counseling, support groups and advocacy.

Now, the effort has taken a new turn, with a “Know Your Rights” palm card campaign that offers guidance to the LGBT community on interacting with law enforcement.

The idea for the cards was spurred by reports of intimidation, as well as assaults, by people impersonating police officers. The cards are intended to educate members of the LGBT community about their rights in dealing with police officers because of those past problems.

“If you're approached by someone claiming to be a police officer, we wanted to answer the question, 'What rights do you have?' '' said Amanda Escamilla, a victims advocate at Fenway Health who is helping to lead the campaign. “We wanted to see what we could do, as a community, to respond effectively.”

The Violence Recovery Program is working on the project in collaboration with Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, the AIDS Action Committee's Men's Action Life Empowerment Center, and the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition.

Representatives of Fenway Health and members of the community have met with the Community Disorders Unit of the Boston Police Department, which deals with civil rights’ issues.

“We have a very good working relationship with the police. ... We have a very good understanding that we are here to work together for the community,” Escamilla said. “Together as a group, we've worked around some of these questions, such as, 'How do we do this so it’s respectful to the police that are working the beat?'”

Newman hopes that by putting information into the hands of community members, they will be “more empowered to claim their civil rights.” Fenway Health intends to begin distributing the cards by Boston Pride Week, June 3-12.

In 2009, Governor Deval Patrick’s administration presented a unique plan to address sexual violence. The Massachusetts Sexual Violence Prevention plan included national, state, and local data on sexual assaults, as well as an analysis of how to best approach preventing violence before it occurs. According to the report, 26 percent of gay and lesbian adults, and 37 percent of bisexual adults, reported ever being sexually assaulted -- compared to 13 percent of heterosexual people.

Fenway Health is one of a handful of agencies in the region that offers specialized services to the LGBT community. The Violence Recovery Program includes victim advocacy, counseling and education programs.

In April, the program sponsored a training session with Brookline Psychological Services and the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center that provided mental health and medical professionals with information on male sexual trauma and its implications for providers.

“Since men are often invisible survivors, clinicians may not have been trained to address the unique impact sexual trauma has on them,” Newman said. She said the conference was intended to “help providers start to bridge the gap in meeting the needs of this population.”

This article was reported and written by Northeastern University journalism student Anna Westendorf, under the supervision of journalism instructor Lisa Chedekel (l.chedekel@neu.edu), as part of collaboration between The Boston Globe and Northeastern.

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