Ramona Charland visits SASS , getting back to her roots.

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Founder of the Women's Resource Center in Portsmouth (which later evolved into SASS) Ramona Charland stops by the office to share her perspective on our shared history.

Founder of the Women’s Resource Center in Portsmouth (which later evolved into SASS) Ramona Charland stops by the office to share her perspective on our shared history.

Ramona Charland visits SASS 2015 staff photo #6

Thank you Ramona Charland for joining us on a chilly January morning! We look forward to having you back! L-R: Debra Altschiller, Rhiannon Duke, Emily Murphy, Ramona Charland, Joi Smith, Jennifer McCann, Christiana Amesquita

 

Portsmouth native Ramona Charland shares her stories of the struggles sexual assault survivors faced in the mid seventies.

Portsmouth native Ramona Charland shares her stories of the struggles sexual assault survivors faced in the mid seventies.

We spent over an hour  to Ramona Charland's first hand account of our history beginning with the Women's Resourse Center & then SASS. We could have gone another hour!

We spent over an hour to Ramona Charland’s first hand account of our history beginning with the Women’s Resource Center & then SASS. We could have gone another hour!

On the morning of Jan. 16, 2015 the staff at Sexual Assault Support Services (SASS) had a special visitor, Ramona Charland. Ms. Charland was a founding member of the Women’s Resource Center of Portsmouth in 1975. The groundbreaking organization sowed the seeds for what was to grow into what we know today as SASS.

Ms. Charland was born at The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. She lived in New Hampshire with her family for a short time and like most military families of the day picked up and moved a bit. Just before Ramona was due to begin High School, her brother fell ill. The military moved her family back to New Hampshire so her brother could receive medical care.

She attended Portsmouth High School where she sat in an alphabetically ordered row, across from her future prom date and husband, Mark Brighton. She graduated from Portsmouth High School, then the University of New Hampshire, and went on to pursue a master’s degree in psychology. She was volunteering for the Portsmouth YWCA when began to see a need for women in the community who had been out of the workforce and through divorce and separation now found themselves as displaced homemakers with families to support and no community resources. This is where the women’s resource center was born.
They were originally housed on the second floor of a horse barn on Merrimack Street in Portsmouth. In 1975

Ramona went to defend her application to the New Hampshire Charitable Trust for seed money for the Women’s Resource Center. Her application had been met with skepticism as other women’s help centers in the state of New Hampshire had not had great success.

Ramona had already set up programs, had get-togethers with other women in the community and she knew this would not be a fly-by-night operation. The organization had been growing through word of mouth, newspaper articles and person-to-person referrals. She refused to leave without the support of the New Hampshire Charitable Trust. Her steely resolve would be to the benefit of the Portsmouth community, she got the funding.

One early test of Ramona’s resolve was her participation in a class action suit giving the power of free agency for women in banking, finance and loans in New Hampshire. She had been engaged to be married to Mark and went to a local department store to change her credit card name to read: “Mrs. Ramona Charland” from “Miss Ramona Charland.” The finance manager refused her request and told her when she married her line of credit would be canceled and she would be issued a new card under her husband’s name and he would be the primary account holder. This was unacceptable discrimination and Ramona spent two years in litigation before emerging victorious. She also postponed her wedding until the case was resolved.

More and more women started coming to talk to Ramona and the two volunteers at the Resource Center and the theme of common consent came up repeatedly. A woman could not claim rape within the bounds of marriage. Legally, rape didn’t really exist. “I knew I was on the cusp of something and I was in it,” she said.
She and her husband protested together for women’s health rights.
In 1977 Ramona hired Liz Day,” a tall, striking white haired woman who walked aggressively leaning forward.” The metamorphosis of the Women’s Resource Center into SASS had began. SASS incorporated in 1979.

“Liz was a very strong advocate and persistent force in getting the Portsmouth Police force to use SASS’s services for victims,” Ramona said. “We didn’t have anyplace to go when I was young and we couldn’t tell our mothers. Women needed somewhere to go and someone to talk to.”
When Liz came on board she began analyzing where the greatest need existed and sexual assault support services rose to the top.

After leaving the Women’s Resource Center Ramona went on to work in respite services for Mental Health Services of New Hampshire, creating programs of support for parents of children with mental illnesses and mentors for these children. She and her husband protested together for women’s health rights. Currently Ramona is a home provider for Easter Seals.

Ramona told the SASS staff that she is extremely happy to see the growth of the agency and the excellent relationships the organization has with local police departments.
“The improvements in this community are because we have homegrown organizations like SASS,” she said. “When I hear about the work you do it’s all positive. People say to me thank God they’re there.”

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Holiday Hellos: Hugs & Kisses or Hand Shakes & High Fives?

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no kisses

The holidays are here and it’s a time when many families reconnect. For a child, seeing distant relatives can be exciting or frightening. They look to their parents for guidance and protection as they navigate through meeting new relatives or seeing older ones again. Some families insist on perfunctory hugs and kisses and lots of physical affection. For a child who spends days at school or in play dates absorbing the message of keeping their hands to themselves, honoring personal space and maintaining a safe distance from strangers, the sudden onslaught of physical affection from people the child doesn’t know very well can be intimidating and scary.

Grandparents want to hug and cuddle their grandchildren, aunts, uncles, cousins, family friends, all tousling a child’s hair, pinching cheeks, kissing faces, it’s a lot to absorb. Not every child is comfortable with these kinds of displays of physical affection. How do parents navigate the tricky waters of family members expressing affection and a child who is not comfortable? Does forcing a child to hug & kiss hello or goodbye teach them about loving their relatives or set up confusing boundaries regarding who should be allowed to touch them?

“I believe learning about consent starts from age zero. Much is learn(ed) by young children from everyday experiences about whether or not their opinion is valued and if they have any control over physical contact with others,” says Lucy Emerson, coordinator of the Sex Education Forum in England. “If we can’t manage to create a culture of consent for everyday physical contact, it will be surely be a tall order for sexual situations.”

American statistics tell us that one in three girls and one in six boys will be sexually assaulted before the age of 18. Emphasizing consent and empowerment at a young age can help children establish healthy boundaries about their own bodies. Sexual assault is a crime of power, control and opportunity. 93% of child sexual assault victims personally know their perpetrator. When a child feels uncomfortable with someone, honoring their feelings and teaching them how to shake hands or high five empowers the child. “I used to be the parent to tell my daughter to hug people,” says local mom Whitney Blethen, “ But then I realized it’s her body. It’s her choice.”

So how are parents who formerly told their children to give relatives a hug or kiss goodbye making the change? Having a conversation with your children a day or two before a big family gathering is an easier way to approach the topic than in the car on the way to Grampa’s. Ask them how they feel about the way they are most comfortable saying hello and good bye. Practice a way that feels comfortable to them and explain that greeting people and saying good bye are good manners. Pick an approach and stick with it. Parents can consider sending and email to family members ahead of time explaining “We are all looking forward to reconnecting with all of you. (Child’s name here) is learning how to say hello and good bye in a way that is comfortable for him/her. We want to be sending a clear message to him/her that their body is their own and how they express affection for someone else has to be their choice, always. We think that that is a healthy message to learn early and reinforce often, we hope you will support us and shake hands or high five with love.”

Holiday Hellos Hugs & Kisses or Hand Shakes & High Fives?

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The holidays are here and it’s a time when many families reconnect. For a child, seeing distant relatives can be exciting or frightening. They look to their parents for guidance and protection as they navigate through meeting new relatives or seeing older ones again. Some families insist on perfunctory hugs and kisses and lots of physical affection. For a child who spends days at school or in playdates absorbing the message of keeping their hands to themselves, honoring personal space and maintaining a safe distance from strangers, the sudden onslaught of physical affection from people the child doesn’t know very well can be intimidating and scary.

Grandparents want to hug and cuddle their grandchildren, aunts, uncles, cousins, family friends, all tousling a child’s hair, pinching cheeks, kissing faces, it’s a lot to absorb. Not every child is comfortable with these kinds of displays of physical affection. How do parents navigate the tricky waters of family members expressing affection and a child who is not comfortable? Does forcing a child to hug & kiss hello or goodbye teach them about loving their relatives or set up confusing boundaries regarding who should be allowed to touch them?

“I believe learning about consent starts from age zero. Much is learn(ed) by young children from everyday experiences about whether or not their opinion is valued and if they have any control over physical contact with others,” says Lucy Emmerson, coordinator of the Sex Education Forum in England. “If we can’t manage to create a culture of consent for everyday physical contact, it will be surely be a tall order for sexual situations.”

American statistics tell us that one in three girls and one in six boys will be sexually assaulted before the age of 18. Emphasizing consent and empowerment at a young age can help children establish healthy boundaries about their own bodies. Sexual assault is a crime of power, control and opportunity.

93% of child sexual assault victims personally know their perpetrator. When a child feels uncomfortable with someone, honoring their feelings and teaching them how to shake hands or high five empowers the child. “I used to be the parent to tell my daughter to hug people,” says local mom Whitney Blethen, “ But then I realized it’s her body. It’s her choice.”

So how are parents who formerly told their children to give relatives a hug or kiss goodbye making the change? Having a conversation with your children a day or two before a big family gathering is an easier way to approach the topic than in the car on the way to Grampa’s. Ask them how they feel about the way they are most comfortable saying hello and good bye. Practice a way that feels comfortable to them and explain that greeting people and saying good bye are good manners. Pick an approach and stick with it. Parents can consider sending and email to family members ahead of time explaining “We are all looking forward to reconnecting with all of you. (Child’s name here) is learning how to say hello and good bye in a way that is comfortable for him/her. We want to be sending a clear message to him/her that their body is their own and how they express affection for someone else has to be their choice, always. We think that that is a healthy message to learn early and reinforce often, we hope you will support us and shake hands or high five with love.”

What practices or techniques do you use to talk to your child about personal body safety?

SASS Half Marathon Team ’14 – Joi Smith

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Joi Smith is one of the most proactive, caring and committed people we know and we are lucky enough to call her a staff member of SASS! Joi, who recently celebrated her one year anniversary as the Client Services Coordinator, has long been involved with the agency as an advocate for three years. In her “spare” time she enjoys cuddling with her adorable kittys, rising with the sun for Bikram Yoga and lending her expertise to the performing arts. Joi is a board member of The Player’s Ring Theatre in Portsmouth and is the Co-founder of Back Alley Productions which is currently producing and directing the 10th anniversary of V-Day Portsmouth: The Vagina Monologues at The Music Hall on Saturday, February 21, 2015!

Why continue to run and represent SASS?

Because I am so passionate not only about the extensive client services we provide at SASS, but I am also passionate about the amazing programs that our Safe Kids Strong Teens Educators bring into our local schools each year and I will continue to raise awareness about this incredible programming until every child, adolescent & teen has the opportunity to take part in it. I truly believe that we can eliminate sexual violence through prevention education.

Have you run a half marathon before?

This will be my third time walking the Seacoast Half Marathon for SASS!

How do you motivate yourself on tough run days?

First and foremost, I am inspired by the beautiful scenery I am lucky enough to enjoy throughout the training in Portsmouth, Newcastle & Rye. Secondly, it’s all about the music that you listen to – I love to dance while I walk and rock it out on the island, it keeps me motivated to get it done!

Is there someone you are running/walking in honor of?

For the next generations of vibrant and passionate young women & men who will hopefully live in a better, less violent world.

What’s one fun/quirky fact someone wouldn’t know about you?

Occasionally, I like to make up and sing songs to my three kitties Tink, Suki & Smudge, when no one is around.

Joi is still accepting donations! You can contribute easily online here.

The Seacoast Half Marathon takes place on Sunday, November 9th starting at the Portsmouth High School. The team includes 7 runners and walkers who have been committed to training since July. Proceeds raised support the SASS “Safe Kids Strong Teens” violence prevention education program.

Halloween Madness

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Normalizing horrific acts of domestic and sexual violence; just stop.

Halloween 2014 is upon us like flies on month old fruit, and it’s leaving us here at SASS with that same gut churning and nauseating feeling. Days before the official holiday plenty of good time havers have already begun donning elaborate, and more often than anyone would like, offensive costumes. The most astonishingly brazen costumes with zero acknowledgment of sensitivity or normal human boundaries are, of course, the “Ray Rice” costumes.

So far there have been three well circulated photos of different Rice costumes that can be found here. You know these partiers are off to a bad start when the least heinous costume involves a man in a Rice Jersey dragging a blowup doll. When a full grown couple dons black face (just…. Stop) and the female draws on a black eye you can’t imagine it could possibly get worse. But alas, the third picture features a child in black face (shocker) carrying a doll by its hair. A child. Meaning the child’s parents bought and designed this costume for what appears to be an 8 year old at most, and not only thought it was appropriate, but funny.

And that’s the main point here. This tragedy is not funny. And it’s not too soon, it will NEVER be funny.

Unfortunately, this isn’t as shocking as it should be considering how this incident was handled all around. If there could be a guide book on how NOT to react to a high profile domestic violence case the Rice incident would hit every single check mark. In fact, let’s go through the events together:

The whole incident was brought to public attention through two videos leaked by TMZ. These videos have been seen millions of times and were posted all around the internet and news outlets. The public has used the videos as a tool to speculate about things they really have no right to speculate about; their marriage, her sanity in staying with him, and how much blame she deserves. Denying a victim privacy and using her assault as entertainment and a ratings boost: Check.

It took the NFL three disciplinary meetings, multiple press conferences and an official change to their domestic violence policy for the public to be even mildly okay with how they handled this incident. Teammates supported Rice the entire duration of the incident claiming he has a standup character and that both Rice and Palmer have things to work on. Teammates, team management, and NFL rally to defend perpetrator to protect their investment; Check.

During a press conference Rice apologizes for letting the public down but not to his wife. Palmer sits beside him dutifully and the Ravens PR tweets “Janay Rice says she deeply regrets the role she played the night of the incident.” On the day of the press conference and throughout this incident Palmer receives death threats and attacks from the public with reasons ranging from “she ruined my fantasy football league” to “she deserves it for marrying him anyway.” Minimizing the victims pain and adding to it by assigning culpability and extreme victim blaming; Check.

Rice’s charges are elevated from simple assault to felony Aggravated Assault in the third degree. This is actually an example of the law understanding domestic violence and taking the case more seriously. His lawyers get a plea deal to reduce severity of charges if he completes a year of anger management (not an effective tool to reduce domestic violence). Rice rejects a plea deal that would have spared him jail time and petitions instead for a pretrial intervention program, which is a program typically designed for non violent and victimless crimes. Rice was accepted. In New Jersey, his state of residence less than one percent of Domestic Violence cases are accepted into the program. The law failing to recognize how serious domestic violence is and minimizing it to a victimless crime; Check.

Almost two-months later Palmer is once again reliving “the worst moment of [her] life” in tacky and horrible Halloween costumes. Astonishingly, this is just one costume idea out of quite a few that are amazingly inappropriate. Both serious tragedies (Boston bombing) and everyday acts of oppression (sexual assault) have been featured as “clever” gags. It’s not clever. When hundreds of people lose their lives, its not funny. When a high profile incident exemplifies something that happens to one in four American women, it’s not funny. Domestic Violence, terrorism, sexual assault, rape, black face, cultural appropriation, are not funny. When will it stop? Honestly we aren’t even setting the bar very high. All we are asking is that we not make light of tragedy.

SASS Half Marathon Team ’14 – Andrea Vibbert

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Amtrak retiree Andrea Vibbert is all about the running life. She may be the oldest member on the team (67 and proud) but she is far from done with her 15 pairs of running shoes! Andrea spends her days volunteering at Families First, Webster at Rye and Partridge House when she isn’t gardening and creating crocheted shawls and cross stitch items. She is also an avid crossword game and scrabble enthusiast!

Why continue to run and represent SASS?

I run for SASS because I believe in the good work that you do.  (I also run in your 5K every year).

Have you run a half marathon before?

I have run a Half before…in 1994 and 2010.  (the one in 2010 was a complete disaster due to the travel situation and also the logistics of the run).  This is why I am looking forward to this event on the local streets “in my own backyard”.

How do you motivate yourself on tough run days?

I motivate myself on a tough day by promising myself a new pair of running shoes or going out to eat at a favorite restaurant.

Is there someone/something you are running/walking in honor of?

No, I’m not running in honor of anyone.

What’s one fun/quirky fact someone wouldn’t know about you?

I used to live in NJ (because that is where my job was) and whenever I’d go out for a run, my route took me alongside the Amtrak tracks.  It seems no matter when I’d go out, I’d always see the locomotive #913.  And that is why whenever I do a really long run, I ask if it is possible that I can get that Running Number.

Andrea has successfully reached her goal of $500 which provides a classroom of 25 students the opportunity to participate in the SASS Safe Kids Strong Teens education program for free. Read more about Safe Kids Strong Teens!

SASS Half Marathon Team ’14 – Brigit Feeney

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Brigit Feeney is a victim/witness advocate for the NH Department of Justice. She provides resources, information and support to victims and witnesses of crimes. In her spare time she enjoys reading, doing bikram yoga, and hiking.

Why continue to run and represent SASS?

I continue to run and represent SASS because they are a great agency! I have seen how much they care about their community and how much time and effort they put in to making their community a safer place to live and work.

Have you run a half marathon before?

No, only 5ks so we will see how this goes…

How do you motivate yourself on tough run days?

I remember the people that will never have that opportunity and run for them.

Is there someone you are running/walking in honor of?

Not anyone specifically, I am running to raise awareness about issues of violence that effect everyone.

What’s one fun/quirky fact someone wouldn’t know about you?

I like to run in bright outfits to help motivate me to continue running when I just want to collapse.

Brigit is still accepting donations! You can contribute easily online here.

The Seacoast Half Marathon takes place on Sunday, November 9th starting at the Portsmouth High School. The team includes 7 runners and walkers who have been committed to training since July. Proceeds raised support the SASS “Safe Kids Strong Teens” violence prevention education program.