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    More Common Than Not: Sexual Violence Among LGBTQ Persons

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    Photo Credit: Buzzfeed

    In a first-of-its-kind national report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a comprehensive set of data on intimate partner violence, titled “The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey.” This data provides insight into the prevalence of sexual violence, categorized by factors such as gender, sexual orientation, frequency and age at first victimization. The intent of such a report is to serve as a benchmark for prevention, education, and social service efforts at reducing sexual violence.

    While reviewing the data, I was struck by the astronomical rates of sexual violence against individuals identifying as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. According to the report, 46.4% of lesbian women, 74.9% of bisexual women, 40.2% of gay men and 47.4% of bisexual men report being victims of sexual violence, respectively. These numbers highlight the frightening reality of sexual violence facing individuals identifying as LGBT.

    To help shine some light on what factors may be driving this data, I sat down with Alicia Allen, of Spectrum Recovery Solutions. Allen, a relationship counselor and sex researcher, answered some of the questions I had and offered her unique perspective on this staggering problem.

    1. According to the study, the rates of sexual violence among individuals within the LGBT community are significantly higher than in the heterosexual community. What are your thoughts when you see these statistics?

    I find it incredibly tragic when I hear about sexual violence against any individual, but especially against those who are marginalized by society because they don’t fit the mold. For me, these statistics show how we, as a society, have not done our part to protect all our members. While the Violence Against Women Act of 2013 was extended to include the LGBTQ community in helping those affected by domestic and sexual violence access resources, this is not enough. We have failed to create a safe space for those who have been assaulted and to provide adequate outreach and education to those who are at risk. We need to have these programs starting in the schools and going into the communities. Bottom line is that we are not providing protective factors or practicing harm reduction.

    2. It is interesting to note that the rates of sexual violence among bisexual men and women are much higher than in gay men and lesbian women. What might be a reason for this?

    This is a very important question that needs to be addressed. As for why this is, I have to say that we need further research before we can start speculating on causation. As the study shows, almost half of the bisexual women who responded experienced their first rape between 11 and 17 years old, as opposed to only 17.4% of the heterosexual women surveyed. Not only that, but both bisexual and heterosexual women reported that their perpetrators were exclusively male. So, people are taking those two statistics to try to say that women become bisexual because they were raped by a man. This simply is not true. Unfortunately, we as a society do not accept the natural fluidity of female sexuality over the lifespan. Regardless, we have no concrete answers as to why bisexuals are at the greatest risk for abuse. However, we do know what is needed is prevention and education. We need to be proactive to help combat intimate partner violence and sexual assault.

    3. What role, if any, do factors such as discrimination, social norms, and policy play on the rates of violence against members of the LGBT community?

    This is a really good question. As I stated before, society plays a large role. It’s a dialectical role. The LBGTQ community has gained momentous rights in the past couple of years through advocacy, education, and rallying of the public. However, there are still big pockets of our society that hold onto antiquated and inaccurate notions about sex, sexuality, and gender. We are still struggling with the “blame the victim” mentality. “She was dressed like a slut.” “What was he doing out that late at night in that guy’s apartment?” Things like that. Then there’s policy. In the same year where the US Supreme Court upheld marriage equality, they also shot down The Student Non-Discrimination Act that was created to protect LBGTQ children from bullies. The wonderful organization dedicated to advocating for the LGTBQ, Give A Damn Campaign, has reported that almost 90% of LGBTQ youth have experienced verbal and physical abuse AT SCHOOL. What message are we sending when we do not protect the most vulnerable among us, our children?

    4. How can social workers and mental health professionals be more sensitive to the needs of LGBT clients who may have a history of sexual or physical violence?

    With this study, we as clinicians know that the possibility of a trauma history is increased when working with our LGBTQ clients. The first thing we have to do as clinicians is understand our own value system. Do we hold even the most benign of prejudices? Then we need to use a systems perspective to look at how well informed we are of the environment of our clients. Do we know what our clients face on a day-to-day basis in their homes, workplaces, school, etc… And finally, and I cannot stress this enough, we need to have a trauma-informed practice. When we use the trauma informed approach to therapy, we appreciate how intrusive the trauma is on our clients’ lives and how it can be an obstacle to both physical and mental wellbeing. Having a trauma informed practice means integrating this knowledge into our policies and procedures. With this approach, we are saying that from first contact we will create a safe place for growth and healing for our clients.

    5. Is there anything social workers and mental health professionals could be doing better to help reduce the rates of sexual violence among members of the LGBT community?

    There are three things that we can start with:First, know the community. That means be aware of what the LGBTQ community experiences from both a macro and a micro level. Keep yourself educated on laws, practices, and policies that are discriminatory in nature. Know what resources are out there to help combat this. If there aren’t any or they are not enough…then get involved.

    Second, educate the community on what bulling, intimate partner violence, and the bystander effect looks like in our everyday lives and strategies to combat these.

    Finally, advocate. Advocate for equal protection. Advocate for effective and accessible resources. Advocate for change.

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    Paul C. Milford, MSW is a social worker specializing in the assessment and treatment of children, adolescents, and families. Milford has a passion for helping others find the keys to their own success and draws from a variety of therapeutic modalities to help them do so. Milford received his Master of Social Work degree from the University of South Florida. Milford's clinical areas of interest include behavior management, depression, chronic disease management, relationship issues, school performance, and anxiety within the individual and family systems.

    Justice

    In A New World, Social Work Leads the Way

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    This is a sponsored article by California State University at Northridge

    How Cal State Northridge is doing its part.

    The pandemic, if nothing else, exacerbated the unequal distribution of resources in society. For millions of people, access to food, shelter, and health care is now more uncertain than ever.

    What’s emerging is a new, somewhat dire need for experienced social workers – professionals able to compassionately address a disparate and evolving set of issues. Not only here in Los Angeles, but all over the world.

    For much of the pandemic, the field has championed relief efforts, such as the rent moratorium. This provided a necessary, if temporary, reprieve from the daily fear of eviction. Outside of California, however, this moratorium is over. As are federal unemployment benefits.

    And the impact is tragically visible. In California alone, the homeless population is over 151,000, with 41,000 of that in Los Angeles. And that’s just according to official estimates. The true number, allege some experts, may be much higher.

    This is the sad, beautiful truth of social work. No matter where a client is, whether it’s in the classroom, at home, or on the streets, the field will be there.

    But the field itself is evolving, too.

    Following the death of George Floyd, social workers are increasingly involved in policing, augmenting first responders with a new option: one aiming to mitigate crisis and, as importantly, prevent the use of force.

    As cities and states consider policing alternatives, social workers can help to ensure each community’s voice is heard, especially communities of color. Gaining popularity, the idea is to offer a more compassionate approach to law enforcement. Rather than responding with aggression, an arriving unit could instead respond with care, assessing the situation from a mental health standpoint, not one of criminality.

    Likewise, opportunity youth – sometimes referred to as “at-risk” – now face many new challenges (among them, a skills gap from a year of remote learning). On top of food scarcity and uncertain housing, there’s also the real risk of contracting COVID. And for these youth, who often lack access to health care, this can be especially dangerous.

    In all these cases, a humane approach is needed. Many social work programs incorporate hands-on experience, giving students access to the communities they’ll serve. One such program is the Master of Social Work (MSW) at California State University, Northridge (CSUN).

    Unlike many social work programs, CSUN’s MSW expands participants’ career possibilities by offering a generalist approach. This enables graduates to work at ALL levels of the field: individual/family (micro); group/community (mezzo); and societal/policy (macro).

    The program is offered fully online in two- and three-year formats. The two-year option is a full-time program with an intensive curriculum designed to help students complete their degrees and enter the field in as little time as possible. The three-year option, on the other hand, is an excellent choice for those who would prefer the same curriculum at a less intensive pace.

    The master’s degree, which is often ranked among the best in the country, promotes the well-being of urban communities. Through its curriculum, participants learn how to assess a community’s needs from the inside, in large part through active listening.

    As the field continues to evolve, those who comprise it must evolve too. That begins with knowledge of the new world, but ends, as it always has, with the people who need us most – the ones for whom we care.

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    Health

    Poverty, Racism and the Public Health Crisis in America

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    Although extreme poverty in the United States is low by global standards, the U.S. has the worst index of health and social problems as a function of income inequality. In a newly published article, Bettina Beech, clinical professor of population health in the Department of Health Systems and Population Health Sciences at the University of Houston College of Medicine and chief population health officer at UH, examines poverty and racism as factors influencing health.

    “A common narrative for the relatively high prevalence of poverty among marginalized minority communities is predicated on racist notions of racial inferiority and frequent denial of the structural forms of racism and classism that have contributed to public health crises in the United States and across the globe,” Beech reports in Frontiers in Public Health. “Racism contributes to and perpetuates the economic and financial inequality that diminishes prospects for population health improvement among marginalized racial and ethnic groups. The U.S. has one of the highest rates of poverty in the developed world, but despite its collective wealth, the burden falls disproportionately on communities of color.” The goal of population health is to achieve health equity, so that every person can reach their full potential.

    Though overall wealth has risen in recent years, growth in economic and financial resources has not been equally distributed. Black families in the U.S. have about one-twentieth the wealth of their white peers on average. For every dollar of wealth in white families, the corresponding wealth in Black households is five cents.

    “Wealth inequality is not a function of work ethic or work hour difference between groups. Rather, the widening gap between the affluent and the poor can be linked to unjust policies and practices that favor the wealthy,” said Beech. “The impact of this form of inequality on health has come into sharp focus during the COVID-19 pandemic as the economically disadvantaged were more likely to get infected with SARS CoV-2 and die.”

    A Very Old Problem 

    In the mid-1800’s, Dr. James McCune Smith wrote one of the earliest descriptions of racism as the cause of health inequities and ultimately health disparities in America. He explained the health of a person “was not primarily a consequence of their innate constitution, but instead reflected their intrinsic membership in groups created by a race structured society.”

    Over 100 years later, the Heckler Report, the first government-sanctioned assessment of racial health disparities, was published. It noted mortality inequity was linked to six leading causes of preventable excess deaths for the Black compared to the white population (cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, infant mortality, chemical dependency and homicide/unintentional injury).

    It and other reports led to a more robust focus on population health over the last few decades that has included a renewed interest in the impact of racism and social factors, such as poverty, on clinical outcomes.

    The Myth of Meritocracy

    Beech contends that structural racism harms marginalized populations at the expense of affording greater resources, opportunities and other privileges to the dominant white society.

    “Public discourse has been largely shaped by a narrative of meritocracy which is laced with ideals of opportunity without any consideration of the realities of racism and race-based inequities in structures and systems that have locked individuals, families and communities into poverty-stricken lives for generations,” she said. “Coupled with a lack of a national health program this condemns oppressed populations such as Black and Hispanic Americans, American Indians, and disproportionately non-English speaking immigrants and refugees to remain in poverty and suffer from suboptimal health.”

    Keys to Improvement

    The World Health Organization identified three keys to improving health at a global level that each reinforces the impact of socioeconomic factors: (1) improve the conditions of daily life; (2) tackle the inequitable distribution of power, money and resources; and (3) develop a workforce trained in and public awareness of the social determinants of health.

    The report’s findings highlight the need to implement health policies to increase access to care for lower-income individuals and highlight the need to ensure such policies and associated programs are reaching those in need.

    “Health care providers can directly address many of the factors crucial for closing the health disparities gap by recognizing and trying to mitigate the race-based implicit biases many physicians carry, as well as leveraging their privilege to address the elements of institutionalized racism entrenched within the fabric of our society, starting with social injustice and human indifference,” said Beech.

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    Environmental Justice

    How American Cities Can Promote Urban Agriculture

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    In his original plan for the city of Philadelphia, William Penn declared that every home should have ample space “for gardens or orchards or fields, that it may be a green country that will never be burnt and always be wholesome.” Before militiamen or throngs of protestors, the Boston Common nourished grazing cattle. Urban agriculture has cropped up again and again in cities throughout American history – from “relief gardens” for the poor in the 19th century, to “victory gardens” of World War II – and for good reason. If embraced and encouraged, urban agriculture can create economic, cultural, environmental and educational benefits. In recent years, various cities have developed good urban agriculture programs. By distilling their successes and struggles, my colleagues and I identify a series of best practices in this area.

    Tailoring Programs for Varied Communities

    “Urban agriculture” is an umbrella term encompassing a wide array of practices. Good programs take account from the start of community preferences that vary. Beekeeping or backyard chickens, for example, might be considered progress in Portland but backwardness in Baltimore. Controversies often arise, but they offer opportunities for dialogue. When disputes erupted about the 140-acre Hantz Farms proposal in Detroit, for example, officials convened public meetings to fashion a vision of urban agriculture. Cities like Portland and Vancouver have formed urban agriculture task forces composed of private citizens, government representatives, and organizational partners to advise the cities on planning and code issues.

    In most cities, urban agriculture of some form is already practiced, whether regulations officially enable it or not. It is important to take stock of these existing operations and practices. Important elements to consider include: the number of gardens and gardeners, their demographics, the type and location of existing gardens, popular agricultural practices, and where space exists to expand urban agriculture. Numerous cities have benefited from conducting “urban agriculture land inventories,” in which mapping professionals use satellite imagery and public records to determine which publicly-owned plots are best suited to urban agriculture.

    Communities should develop an independent agency or department to manage urban agricultureBecause urban agriculture is a multi-faceted process, many city agencies currently regulate its disparate aspects; Parks, Public Works, Environmental Protection, Sustainability, Health and Sanitation, Land Banks, and other departments all have their hand in working with growers. Centralizing this authority under one department can streamline regulation and simplify the process of establishing gardens and farms. Boston’s Grassroot program, Chicago’s Neighborspace program, and New York’s Green Thumb program are all excellent examples.

    Municipalities should audit existing codes and laws. Although most relevant regulations will be found in local zoning ordinances, other codes might have unexpected effects on urban agriculture – including ordinances regulating produce sales, market stands, shade trees, and noise. In Los Angeles, a near-forgotten, yet narrowly-worded, 1946 “Truck Gardening Ordinance” threatened to limit agricultural sales exclusively to vegetables before it was amended by the city’s governing body. Municipalities should also be aware of state and federal regulations that might affect agriculture policy decisions. Right to Farm laws typically operate at the state level and may restrict localities. Notably, Detroit and other large cities in Michigan had to postpone regulation of urban agriculture until they were exempted from their state’s Right to Farm rules.

    Ways to Facilitate Urban Agriculture

    Although public sentiment should determine where urban agriculture is appropriate, there are opportunities to incorporate some form of agriculture or gardening in every land use zone. Cities from Seattle to Philadelphia have incorporated urban agriculture into existing land use codes. Small acreage projects unlikely to create nuisances include backyard gardens typical of single family homes and should be permitted virtually anywhere. Yet large acre, high nuisance projects – such as multi-acre urban farms relying on heavy machinery or animal husbandry – are better suited for the city edges or industrial zones.

    While permitting urban agriculture outright in this fashion has proven successful, other creative ways that cities have enabled urban agriculture include:

    • Creating new zones for urban agriculture specifically, as in Boston and Cleveland.
    • Permitting urban agriculture as “conditional” or “accessory” rather than primary use. This allows local planning and zoning boards to maintain control over how such uses are developed, without restricting them. However, this approach can become too cumbersome and likely to disproportionately burden applicants with fewer resources.
    • Land can be directly supplied — through adopt-a-lot programs and leasing underused spaces to citizens or qualified urban farmers. Offering flexible, medium- to long-term leases is critical, as security of land is vital to the success of urban farms.

    Good Management to Sustain Citizen Projects

    Finally, municipalities must take steps to ensure that citizens practicing urban agriculture do so responsibly. Some of the most effective approaches include:

    • Passing or revising codes that limit the use of pesticides and fertilizers
    • Enforcing time restrictions on the use of noisy farm equipment (although this is not typically an issue on small plots where hand tools are most common)
    • Providing training opportunities through city departments or local cooperative extension services
    • Requiring preliminary testing of land and monitoring of soil toxicity, soil nutrition, and any utility lines running through a property
    • Offering  access to rain barrels or municipal water hookups
    • Including urban agriculture in all future urban planning efforts, including master plans.
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