A new study that hopes to examine and address the root causes of rape will use Williamsburg as one of its laboratories, along with the Lower East Side and the South Bronx.
Overseen by New York City Alliance against Sexual Assault and funded by the Centers for Disease Control via the New York State Department of Health, the six-year study — dubbed Project ENVISION — seeks to break new ground by examining rape with a focus on neighborhoods.
As Meghan O’Connor of the Alliance explained, “What we’re trying to do is mobilize and organize communities to change the social conditions that allow for sexual violence to exist from a neighborhood-based approach.
“We kind of know in society at-large what some of the root causes are, and we know about it from an individual perspective. We’re looking at what can be done in specific communities.”
Pointing to larger societal factors like gender inequality, poverty, and racism, O’Connor said: “In every community, these factors will interplay differently. We’re not ignoring the societal or individual factors, but we want know how these play out in a distinct community.”
According to the Alliance, around one out of every six women in the United States has experienced attempted or completed rape at one point in their lives. Approximately 80 percent of them know their assailants.
Williamsburg was chosen because of what O’Connor termed its “community readiness,” or the degree to which it is prepared to take action on. She said that Williamsburg has a history of awareness and action in combating sexual violence, pointing to RightRides — the program that offers women free late night rides home — as an example of the area’s resources to combat rape.
The study actually began in 2007, with its first two years devoted to selecting the communities in which it will take place.
The next phase — which launched in late 2008 — is devoted to research, “the purpose of which is to find out from community members what they think the problems are in terms of sexual violence, and how they think they can prevent them,” O’Connor said.
To this end, the study will employ graduate students in public health and social work to conduct 200 field surveys per community. In addition, researchers will conduct focus groups and extended interviews with community members.
After that, a group of around 15 neighborhood residents will synthesize the data and design what O’Connor calls an “intervention” for the community, or a set of specific initiatives designed to combat the problems that emerge from the research.
“We’re trying to get a sense of the landscape of the problems in these neighborhoods and then appropriately respond,” O’Connor said.
“People might want to focus on educating teens, or involving parents, or pushing for pieces of legislation,” she offered as examples.
Williamsburg resident Veronica Green, one of the 15 volunteers on the Williamsburg task force, said Williamsburg is a good place to study because of its extraordinary diversity.
Pointing to its large Latino, Italian, Hasidic, and “hipster” populations, Green said:
“That diversity is representative of different kinds of values and traditions. It gives you a mix of people so you can kind of attack different issues that each community brings.”
Green, who volunteers as a rape crisis counselor at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan, acknowledged that “though there’s not a super-clear plan yet and it’s kind of a lofty goal, it’s amazing how receptive people have been toward this.”
She said she has already enlisted the support of Councilman David Yassky, RightRides, Automotive High School, and Neighbors Allied for Good Growth. She hopes to reach out to other elected officials and community groups in the future.
As both women pointed out, the study itself has inherent value because it sparks dialogue about a tragically an under-discussed subject.
“Part of the purpose of the study is about breaking the silence around the issue of sexual violence,” O’Connor said.
“The more you talk to community members, just by having that conversation, it’s kind of an intervention in itself because it’s starting to break that silence around the issue. The more people we talk to, the more we create a community-owned and generated response.”
Project ENVISION is looking for volunteers to participate in focus groups, regardless of their familiarity with sexual assault. Those interested should contact Veronica Green at: veronicakg