BY KARA SHOEMAKER | LEER EN ESPAÑOL
Sexual violence is a widespread issue that affects people of all genders and is a traumatic experience not limited to any demographic or socioeconomic group. Research states that one in three women and one in four men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. At the forefront of efforts to end sexual violence in Santa Barbara County is Standing Together to End Sexual Assault (STESA), formerly known as the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center, which has provided critical services to sexual assault survivors and their families for the past 45 years.
While the mission has remained the same since inception, the agency introduced its new name and logo in 2018 to better reflect the diversity of survivors it supports and services offered. One recurring issue that drove the agency to change its name from the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center was the misconception that the organization only served survivors of rape.
“Sometimes people would call and say ‘I wasn’t raped but’ and then they would go on to describe that they had been sexually violated in some way,” said Elsa Granados, who has served as Executive Director of STESA for the past 22 years, and has been involved in the movement to end violence against women and children for over 30 years. “The other is that people also said ‘well I am not in crisis, this didn’t happen recently – this happened two or three or ten years ago. Is this the right place for me to come?’ Absolutely this is the right place!”
In addition, the ethnically and age ambiguous face on the original logo was generally perceived by the public as a woman, and as a result, men and the transgendered community were left wondering if the agency was a place for them to receive help. By rebranding and utilizing more empowering and inclusive language, STESA hopes more survivors will feel encouraged to connect with the agency.
“With all of that, we felt it was time to make a change. The community has been very welcoming of that change.” Said Granados, “I think it accomplished what we wanted. Number one, people say it feels so much more inclusive. So now, without having a man or a woman in the logo, people of all gender identities feel more comfortable to access the agency’s services.”
STESA serves all survivors, especially those from vulnerable populations in our community. The agency has nearly 100 volunteers, half of whom provide direct services to clients. It is also the only agency in southern Santa Barbara County that fulfills State mandates to certify volunteers and staff as Sexual Assault Counselors, as defined in the California penal code.
STESA’s intervention programs include in-person response and a 24-hour hotline to offer crisis counseling, medical/legal advocacy and accompaniment, and community referrals. Services are offered in English and Spanish, and are available regardless of ability to pay. The agency also serves human trafficking and domestic violence survivors by providing initial support and counseling services, and working with partner agencies that provide survivors with legal services. STESA aims to prevent sexual violence by promoting public awareness and understanding of sexual assault through education and prevention programs, community events, and self-defense workshops.
STESA was a recipient of a Santa Barbara Foundation 2018 Core Support for Basic Needs Grant, which it has utilized to strengthen its Crisis Intervention and Long-Term Counseling Programs to increase and improve the behavioral health of survivors.
“STESA’s critical and timely intervention programs offered to victims of sexual assault focus on an empowerment model that is reflected in their new branding,” said Guille Gil-Reynoso, Community Engagement Officer at the Santa Barbara Foundation. “The new brand is more inclusive and better represents their scope of services, while also drawing in more individuals and organizations to join their efforts.”
In recent years, STESA has seen an unprecedented level of awareness at a local, state and national level about the issue of sexual violence. News stories about high profile rape and sexual harassment cases in the entertainment industry, politics, and news media, along with the #MeToo, #WeSaidEnough and #TimesUp movements, have brought broad-based attention to the issue. While this increased awareness and media attention is encouraging and creating some change in public perception and in legislation, it is important to note that there is still much work to be done to end sexual violence and rape culture.
STESA has received $151,500 in grants from SBF over the past five years. To learn more about STESA and how they help our communities thrive, visit sbstesa.org.