Agents of Change: Rebecca Marchiafava

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I feel connected to a constellation of staff members, volunteers, interns, donors and community partners who recognize the severity of sexual violence and work to make positive impacts from individual to systemic levels. Despite the entrenched challenges we face, it’s motivating to be connected to so many people working for positive change.

– Rebecca Marchiafava

 

1. What is your position at STAR?

I’m currently STAR’s Vice President, which encompasses a lot of things! I support daily operations in our three branches while helping advance our development as an agency and ensure that STAR’s efforts are benefitting survivors and changing our communities for the better.

Victim advocacy and violence prevention work commonly result in vicarious trauma and burnout, so I work to ensure that our organization values our staff, supports their self-care, fosters a positive working environment, and manages our resources and capacity so that we can continue thriving over the long-term.

2. How did you come to work at STAR or in the field of sexual assault prevention/response?

I was hired as STAR’s Community Educator in 2012. I had just finished an Education Policy Master’s program and as someone with previous experience in the classroom, was excited at the prospect of providing community education to a wide variety of people in different settings about an issue that I cared about. Still, at that time I had no idea how much taking this job would change my life.

As Community Educator, I managed STAR’s outreach and youth and adult education. I also performed direct victim advocacy over the hotline and at hospitals. Even though I cared about the issue of sexual violence before working at STAR, sometimes I look back at my pre-STAR life and wonder what I knew at all! I have learned so much through doing this work. It has been challenging and changed the way I see the world, but I found a true passion for bringing the topic of sexual assault into the open and improving the way communities treat survivors and respond to sexual assault.

Throughout my time at STAR, I was promoted into a program director role and ultimately to the position of Vice President. I feel privileged to be a part of STAR’s continued development as an agency and to have the opportunity to do this work.

3. What do you find most rewarding about your work at STAR?

There have been so many rewarding experiences in my time at STAR, and they all have one thing in common—they are instances when I’ve been a participant in and/or a witness to change.

I feel rewarded when survivors share that they have felt empowered by a training I facilitated, or when a male high school student thoughtfully asks during a training, “Is this what people mean when they talk about rape culture?”

Working with fellow STAR staff to solve problems is also rewarding. I am grateful to work for an organization that values accountability and critical self-reflection, and is always seeking to improve the way we operate. In the past five years, we have grown from a staff of 5 serving one region to 23 full-time and 13 part-time staff serving three regions. It’s been a wild, bumpy ride and I’m sure it will continue to be, but at this point I’m able to see the fruits of so many of our labors. It’s rewarding and awe-inspiring.

4. What motivates you to keep going when things get difficult or discouraging, and how do you practice self-care?

There are many difficult aspects to this work.

Client confidentiality is a crucial cornerstone of sexual assault victim advocacy, and we take it very seriously. At the same time, this means we are witnesses to injustices day after day that we cannot speak out about. We watch manipulative offenders and everyone around them avoid the only question that matters: “Did the victim consent?” We repeatedly watch community members give power to offenders of sexual violence at the expense of survivors. We work in a state that allocates $0 to fund sexual assault services and refuses to research the prevalence of sexual abuse, including child sexual abuse. I could go on, but the point is that sexual violence is an ingrained community norm that people and institutions frequently deny and resist confronting.

To deal with this reality, I try to accept the world as it is and work for the world that should be. I try to remember that there will always be barriers and bumps in the road so that I’m not overly discouraged by difficulty. I also find joy in the process! I work with amazing, inspiring colleagues. STAR thrives as much as it does in this environment thanks to the fierce, resourceful, passionate advocates I work with, as well as our many supporters and partners in this work. I feel connected to a constellation of staff members, volunteers, interns, donors and community partners who recognize the severity of sexual violence and work to make positive impacts from individual to systemic levels. Despite the entrenched challenges we face, it’s motivating to be connected to so many people working for positive change.

As for self-care, I firmly believe that by taking care of myself, I’m better able to fulfill my responsibilities to others and to my community. I’m introverted and my job requires me to engage with people a lot, so I practice self-care by taking time for myself on the weekends. Engaging in healthy relationships is critical to my well-being, so I regularly spend time with my friends and loved ones and am incredibly grateful to have people in my life who show me lots of love and support. I practice yoga, swim, read, play games, take personal days, and meet with my therapist as needed. I keep up with the news but resist being manipulated by the daily news cycle, and work to focus my energies in proactive rather than reactive ways. I also love to travel; it’s one of my favorite ways to disconnect from the work and come back to it with renewed energy and creativity. Oh, and I have a pet cat named Luci and she is the best! I give her belly rubs every day when I get home while she meows approvingly and rolls around on the carpet. She’s precious.

5. What are some ways you promote positive change in your community, outside of your work duties?

All sexual violence is an abuse of power and I see many connections between sexual violence and other forms of oppression. This overarching anti-oppression framework drives my efforts in both my paid and volunteer work.

For over a decade I’ve volunteered with various organizations in Baton Rouge, but most recently I’ve begun serving as a volunteer facilitator for Dialogue on Race Louisiana. I love the face-to-face, authentic work of engaging in dialogue that changes people and institutions and I firmly believe all Louisianans have a responsibility to confront and address racism. My involvement with Dialogue on Race has helped me become more informed and equipped to take action toward racial justice in many areas of my life and work.

6. What advice would you give to someone who is hesitant about becoming an active member of the movement to end sexual trauma?

My advice is to be willing to learn and to believe that you have a role to play in making things better. You will not be able to fix the entire problem, but you’ll be able to contribute positively. Don’t focus on where you are powerless—focus on your spheres of influence and where you do have power, and connect with STAR to access resources and information that can help you figure out what action you can take.

I’d also advise that this movement is for everyone. Everyone is affected by sexual violence. Every family, organization, community group, and corporation encounters survivors and offenders of sexual violence. Acknowledging this and making the decision to do something about it is the only way things will get better. And STAR is here to help.

 

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