AWARE is now a gender-inclusive shelter. Please read the following “A letter to our partners” or read the FAQ’s below to find out more.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Gender-Inclusive Sheltering may be a new concept for AWARE and Juneau, but it is a successful practice in other areas of our country and around the world. The following questions were asked by staff as we were determining viability for this idea, and have also been asked by our kind and curious community. Thanks for your thoughtfulness as we bring this change to fruition.
Is gender-inclusive sheltering a big change? Haven’t you always served all survivors of abuse?
AWARE serves all survivors of domestic or sexual abuse. We check in with any person requesting services (shelter, legal help, counseling, etc.) and determine what we can offer that person at that time. If a person identifies as male and needs residential services, staff has traditionally worked to find alternative options to our safe shelter program. Our move to gender-inclusive sheltering means that we would have the option to shelter everyone, identifying as female, male, or gender non-conforming, in our emergency safe shelter facility.
Don’t women deserve advocacy just for them? I thought of AWARE as a feminist organization.
Women have experienced the brunt of inequity and violence throughout history. Women have risen to confront that inequity countless times and in countless ways. One important way was to establish a movement that prioritized safety and autonomy in relationships, and out of this idea, many organizations like AWARE were born. AWARE’s mission remains: Providing safe shelter and supportive services for women and children who have been subject to domestic or sexual violence, while also effecting the social, political, and legal changes needed to eliminate oppression of and violence against women and children. We recognize that, while oppression against women and children persists, nothing less than fully confronting the intersectional forces of oppression will bring lasting change. We understand the ways in which racism, heterosexism, and heteronormative culture perpetuate violence, specifically violence against women. Advocacy for women is a rich, complex, and consuming endeavor that cannot be reduced to simply reducing men’s access to women or services. We believe efforts to include our queer and transgender communities will strengthen our advocacy efforts on behalf of women and children, because we are stronger as allies and families than we are as individuals.
Will abusers try to gain access to their victims by pretending to need services?
Safety and empowerment for survivors are AWARE’s top priorities. We created and follow procedures that minimize the opportunity for abusers to manipulate our process, and we are very good at screening people who contact us for services for their actual need. Many decades of listening to survivors has expanded our hearts and sharpened our perception. We also consider ourselves stewards of a precious resource, and work to preserve that resource for those in greatest need. Our strategy is to prevent the vast majority of emergencies before they happen with strict screening practices, heightened oversight of shelter admission, and a wider array of referral options when shelter does not appear to be a good fit. We have experience screening women in same sex relationships for shelter services. Our procedures are designed to identify and serve the abused partner, and make referrals to other services if the offending partner requests services.
What happens if abusers DO find a way into the shelter?
AWARE staff are well-trained on a variety of emergency interventions, with continuing education and refresher training mandated each year. We utilize a combination of common-sense precautions and technology to safeguard our building and our residents, and can alert security/law enforcement with the touch of a button. We also understand that in any congregate setting, including female-only sheltering, staff will spend a large portion of their day facilitating communal living, including problem-solving and de-escalating conflict. We provide on-going crisis intervention training to our staff and other agencies in Juneau.
What if women feel triggered or threatened by people who identify as male in shelter? Or women who expect a woman-only safe space?
While it is true that anyone who has been abused can be re-traumatized by a wide variety of triggering events, we find that triggers are more likely to be behavioral rather than based on a person’s gender expression. Survivors are often triggered by threats, bullying, manipulation, shifting blame and coercion, and other behaviors. Part of our job as advocates is to help survivors understand and contextualize their trauma, and work toward healing. Survivors of abuse interact with men in many situations, including our current shelter environment where men are working. Our commitment is to meet survivors where they are without judgment, and facilitate working through any trauma that limits their ability to live full, empowered lives.
Why are you making this change now?
We are making this change based on the need we have seen within the queer and transgender community. Offering sex-specific services means that we are forcing participants to identify as a particular gender when they might otherwise not make that choice. For participants who identify as gender fluid or gender non-conforming, we are perpetuating a system that says you must identify as man or woman, and the services you receive are based on that identification. We see the hypocrisy inherent in forcing that choice as we work to build self-esteem and autonomy. We are all about freedom from violence; requiring someone to present in a way that makes them uncomfortable in order to access services is much like the oppression we are committed to fighting.
What was your process in making this decision? How were stakeholders involved?
We have been considering, planning and creating our gender inclusive programming for over a year. We have received training on enhanced screening techniques, technical assistance from experts, and have followed a path proven successful in other communities. We began this journey with a desire to help underserved communities. We learned throughout this process that men’s violence against women is in many ways sustained and perpetuated by men’s violence against queer and transgender individuals. Truly, there is no ending domestic and sexual violence against women without looking at the ways controlling and abusive beliefs are developed, maintained and expanded. Time and time again, examination of these beliefs leads back to toxic masculinity, which in turn feeds violence against women as well as those who identify as male, but do not act the way men are stereotypically “supposed” to act. We also met with our current residents to share the idea of a gender integrated shelter with them, and get their feedback and perspective. They wholeheartedly supported sheltering victims of abuse, whatever their gender identity or expression. Additionally, we invited community partner agency personnel to a “Lunch and Learn,” where they too could provide feedback and their unique perspectives.
Will men and women share the same bedrooms?
People who identify as male will not share bedrooms with women or families. Shelter participants have always been open to re-configuring our shelter rooms based on special needs, size of family, and compatibility. We do not expect this openness to change. Shelter residents all recognize the need for safety and stability, for themselves, their families, and others who require our services.
Will AWARE change its name?
AWARE stands for Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies. AWARE has spent 40 years in this community building a strong reputation for whole-hearted service for survivors of domestic and sexual abuse. We are not about to change that! Serving women and children is our privilege, and we intend to continue that service until every person is safe and empowered to live their best lives in their relationships and in our community. Join us in AWAREness, and please continue to support our work with individuals and families in need.