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Doing this work has…made me so much more socially aware about the fact that society doesn’t always work the way we would like it to. Doing this work helped me to see how certain choices will make things better for people who don’t have power, and to really understand what it means to lack power.
– Ann Guedry
I am currently serving on STAR’s Capital Area Regional Council. Prior to this, I was asked to serve as a founding Board member of STAR during the organization’s transition into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
2. You’ve been involved with STAR/Rape Crisis since the beginning. What led you to care about sexual violence as a community problem, and how did you initially get involved with community efforts to address the problem?
My background was in nursing and it actually prepared me very well. I had worked with mental health patients where we did support groups, and I also worked as an emergency room supervisor, which brought me into contact with not only all the usual mayhem but with problems with sexual assault, too, so I was aware of these things.
In 1986, my youngest daughter had just started college and I was looking for something different and interesting to do, so I began working with the District Attorney’s Rape Crisis Center. I started as a Volunteer Advisor after I found out about the job opening from a friend who was leaving her position there, and I fell in love with the work.
After a few years, I began doing crisis counseling and support groups with survivors. The adolescent group was my favorite because you see a lot of change and growth. You see people, after they have been there for several weeks, reaching out to help each other and new people in particular. I also did outreach and community education work, and that was a part of the job that I very much enjoyed.
3. What were the needs of the community in the early days of the Rape Crisis Center? How have you seen the community response to sexual violence change for the better?
Sexual assault at that time was not being discussed openly very much. I think that one of the reasons it wasn’t being discussed was because, in general, people were not reporting because they were afraid of what might happen. Many people felt that it was up to the woman or the victim to put a stop to the behavior and that if she didn’t, then it was her fault. So there was a lot of victim blaming.
In those days, it was a big step forward just to bring this problem to the forefront, and to have people begin to understand that this is a crime, not just an interpersonal disagreement. I remember that Oregon was the first state that made it a crime for a husband to rape their wife. I don’t remember the year, but it was years later when a similar law was passed in Louisiana.
The person who really got behind the early Rape Crisis Center was the East Baton Rouge District Attorney at that time, Ossie Brown. He originally did a lot of outreach to doctors to get them to perform sexual assault forensic exams on a volunteer basis. Then, he got the Junior League of Baton Rouge to do a pilot program. There were probably 10 or 12 Junior Leaguers that spent a lot of time for a few years on this. That is how we ended up having a core of people who had been from the original Junior League pilot program as volunteers. Those Junior League volunteers were some of our most dependable, reliable, long-lasting volunteers, so we will forever be grateful to them. And one of the nice things about Junior League’s involvement was that this made it socially acceptable to women in the community to talk about the issue and to get involved.
From what I have read, we were one of the first Rape Crisis programs in the country. And in the early 1980s, The Baton Rouge Rape Crisis Center was given a national honor as an exemplary program by the United States Department of Justice. That was before I came on board, but the program was very proud of that.
Over the years, we have continued to receive support from the DA’s Office. Current East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore was instrumental in supporting our transition to nonprofit status and remains a positive force for increasing access to services for victims of crime. I do think that the community response has improved and I think that having the Children’s Advocacy Center has been a great improvement because then we can concentrate on what is really the specialty for us—serving teen and adult survivors of sexual assault.
4. What needs do you see in the community today, and what changes do you think are still needed to better address the problem of sexual violence?
One of the things that I think is a big problem is drinking on college campuses. Many guys have the idea that you can’t be held responsible for something that you do if you’re drunk, and ask the question of why they are responsible if you’re drunk and she’s drunk. My response to that was always that rape is actually a violent act, and if you are the actor and the other person is the receiver of the act, it makes a big difference.
I think that we need to do a better job of not only education in the high schools, but it needs to start pretty young. Girls need to know that they don’t have to go along with sex if they’re not okay with it, and guys need to know that they need to get an okay every single time. Another thing that we run into is where people say that “she can’t say no in the middle.” Well, yes, she can.
5. How have you been able to sustain your involvement in these efforts over decades? What motivates you, and what advice do you have for others about getting involved and staying the course?
I’ve seen an awful lot of people get burned out, but I actually think that my particular background doing emergency room work helped me. I learned to be able to close the door and go home and go to bed. I’m very good at compartmentalizing and sometimes that might not be such a good thing, but it’s a good thing to be able to separate your work life from your home life.
A lot of my friends have said to me over the years that they don’t understand how I can do that work and not just be depressed all the time. I tell my friends that I think I never got depressed because this is one of the most rewarding types of work you can do. You don’t do it for the feedback, but it’s very motivating to have someone come in and see the difference between the first appointment and several weeks or months later. For probably 5 years after I retired, I would continue to get notices of high school graduations, college graduations and wedding announcements as time went on. People would write a little note and say, “I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for you.”
6. How has your involvement in these efforts contributed to your life?
I think that doing this work has contributed to me being much more open to people, learning to meet people where they are, and to really hear about other people’s lives. It also made me so much more socially aware about the fact that society doesn’t always work the way we would like it to. Doing this work helped me to see how certain choices will make things better for people who don’t have power, and to really understand what it means to lack power.
I have had the opportunity to develop relationships with incredible people over the years. Early on I was lucky to work with and learn from our volunteers and staff. Later on, I had the opportunity to form relationships with Board members who have done so much for the organization, as well as Racheal, who is just amazing to work with as the leader of STAR.
This work has been a passion for me since I first got involved. I’m not a deeply religious person, but I really feel like this is what I was called to do. I liked working with survivors and their families, I liked working with volunteers, and I loved doing the public speaking part of it. When I came to work for the original Rape Crisis program, I told my husband that I had never worked at a job I didn’t like, but that I felt at home here and just felt like it was a great fit.
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