Beyond the Sequins

11174235_10155471793485262_1989883170141447443_oEvery year, as we approach our annual Gala event, I start thinking. Thinking about the irony of getting decked out in my finest cocktail wear to support those who have been victims of domestic or sexual violence.

One might assume that many of those attending our biggest fundraiser may not have had to experience fearing for their safety in their home or sexual violation. Yet, the statistics show that 1 in 3 Michigan families experience violence, and 1 in 5 women in the United States experience an attempted or completed rape. So odds are, someone in attendance has or may even currently be affected by one of these awful crimes.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible for us to go around and stop every rape, assault or act of abuse when it occurs. But by hosting events that help people become more aware of cultural influences that can contribute to domestic and sexual violence, we can help prevent it before it begins. And the information we share can also aid individuals in recognizing possible signs of abuse in their lives.

Every day we assist victims who may feel alone, scared or confused. Not knowing where to go or whom to ask for help can make a traumatic experience even scarier. At HAVEN, we work to ease some of those feelings and help those that need us start to focus on regaining control of their lives.

The theme for this year’s Gala, held at Detroit Troy Marriott on May 6, is Hopes & Dreams. I cannot think of a better way to describe what this event provides to the survivors we serve. Purchasing tickets or sponsoring the event literally pays for the services that help give survivors hope so that they can start to heal and continue pursuing their dreams that have been interrupted.

I hope you can join us for the 2016 Hopes & Dreams Gala and be part of the effort to move victims forward and bring an end to the crimes of domestic violence and sexual assault. After all, when you look past the sequins and centerpieces, what you have is a community coming together to support the worthy cause of helping ALL people live without fear. And we can always use a few more helping hands.

The 2016 Hope & Dreams Gala will be held on Friday, May 6 at the Detroit Troy Marriott and will feature a seated dinner, live entertainment by the Urban Violinist, live and silent auctions, and an afterglow party. Detroit Lions’ President Rod Wood will be in attendance to accept the Heart of HAVEN Award on behalf of the Detroit Lions organization and WXYZ Anchor, Glenda Lewis will serve as the event emcee. For more information, contact Stephanie Holland at 248-322-3705 or





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Would You Think Twice?


If you were told you your daughter had a one in five chance of being sexually assaulted during her college years, what would you do? Would you think twice about letting her go away to earn her degree? Would you step up your own efforts to ensure she’s selecting a school that takes such a shocking and horrific matter as seriously as you do?

As a mother of two daughters, these were the questions running through my mind as I watched The Hunting Ground with nearly 40 others this past Sunday at Comcast’s new XFINITY store in Troy.

The Hunting Ground, a documentary that premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, chronicles the growing number of sexual assault incidences (of females and males) on college campuses in the United States and the failure of college administrations to adequately deal with this escalating epidemic.

After the viewing, the audience engaged in a panel discussion with three experts:  Beth Morrison, president and CEO of HAVEN; Kole Wyckhuys, prevention education program director at HAVEN; and Laura, a sexual assault survivor.


Many participants asked thought-provoking, impactful questions of the panelists, particularly around what can be done to help reverse this pervasive issue. Here are five actionable recommendations from the panelists:

  1. If you’re a parent who will soon be visiting campuses with your child, educate yourself on the college’s or university’s track record with how sexual assault cases have been handled in the past. When touring campuses, ask university representatives direct, tough questions pertaining to sexual assault responses, incident rates and reporting. Don’t accept watered-down responses.
  2. Advocate for early education on sexual consent and respect with your local middle and high schools. HAVEN offers a wonderful educational program that aims to break the rape culture by teaching young people how to intervene and hold their peers accountable.
  3. Do your part to hold our universities accountable. Take action, and contact your legislators as well as university trustees.
  4. Many people are guilty of placing blame on victims, and they don’t even realize it. Questions like “was she drinking” or “what was she wearing” assume at least partial blame on the victim. Help bust these rape myths: Don’t stigmatize, and be aware of what you’re saying.
  5. Finally, start talking with your kids when they’re young – in an age-appropriate manner, of course. Constantly remind your children that you will always support them and believe them. Reinforce to little kids not to keep secrets – even if another adult tells them to. Continuously build their buckets of courage.

The promising news is that as a result of this documentary and the ongoing work of the two former University of North Carolina students, who became campus anti-rape activists after being assaulted themselves, change is starting to happen. In 2014, President Barack Obama launched the “It’s On Us” campaign to end sexual assault on campus. More than 100 colleges and universities across the country are being investigated for how they’ve handled sexual assault cases on campus.

For more information on how you can support survivors, help pass legislation and hold schools accountable, visit

Michelle Gilbert is a HAVEN board member and vice president of public relations for Comcast in Michigan.

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Don’t Forget to Remember

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Guest Post by Nkenge Burkhead, Prevention Education Specialist, HAVEN

When you are a woman much of your day is dedicated to minimizing your risk of being sexually assaulted. Sometimes we do this wholly unaware of the lengths we go through to minimize risk. We don’t move about saying, “I’m going to go to the gas station while there’s daylight, to minimize my risk of being attacked by a rapist.” We simply run our errands while the sun is up; ask our partners to escort us to our cars; text our friends “made it home safe”; wear shoes we can run in, remember that anything in our hands (keys, ballpoint pen, fingernails), may need to transform itself into a weapon of defense. I think back to high school where the girls were taken to a safety assembly and instructed to yell “FIRE!” instead of rape if someone was attempting to assault us. Research shows that the general public is more likely to respond to fire than a sexual assault.

By the time a young woman begins middle school she has already started to practice her “stranger danger” rape avoidance rituals. Sadly, even if these rituals protect her from strangers lurking in dark alleys, we know that 4 of 5 sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows and often trusts.

While most men don’t practice any safety measures to prevent being sexually assaulted, in fact, many men don’t think about sexual assault at all. Women, on the contrary, began to carry out these protection practices unconsciously, as if it is our responsibility not to get assaulted, or believe that sexual assault is a natural consequence of an action or inaction. We’ve accepted that this is, just the way it is.

We can avoid a conversation altogether, or accept the ‘responsibility’ of protecting ourselves until we (personally), or someone we know and love, is victimized. We do not have to wait for a crisis to bring awareness or support survivors. We do not have to wait for the perfect moment, situation, or day!

If you are looking for a starting point, April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). The first step we must take in eliminating sexual assault is remaining aware and refusing to accept its existence quietly. Awareness is the ability to perceive, feel, or be conscious of events, objects, emotions, or sensory patterns. Awareness is being mindful. We must use this month to remind ourselves that our protection rituals are in response to the countless attacks survivors have endured. When we ask our husbands, sons, and friends, to walk us to our cars, we must engage in an honest conversation with them about why you feel this is necessary. Collectively we can practice mindfulness, acknowledge survivors, and help create a survivor supportive culture.

We can do this during SAAM by:

  • Reaching out to a loved one who is a survivor (remind them it is not their fault, or simply spend time with them)
  • Write your legislators concerning sexual assault laws
  • Write your legislators about mandating an affirmative consent standard
  • Volunteer at a rape crisis hotline or women’s shelter
  • Donate money or necessities to organizations that work with survivors (most have a wish list on their website or call the organization)
  • Attend one of the many local Take Back The Night (TBTN) rallies and marches

HAVEN’s annual TBTN will be on April 30th from 1 to 4:30 at Five15 in Royal Oak. For more information contact the Prevention Education Department.

If you or someone you know is a victim of intimate partner violence or experiencing power and control dynamic in their relationship that feels abusive or unsafe HAVEN is here to help. Our crisis and support line is always open for you 877-922-1274. 

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Together We Can ‘Take Back the Night’

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Guest post by: Averett Robey, Prevention Education Specialist, HAVEN

When having conversations about sexual violence and consent, in the community and with youth, it can be difficult to talk about the prevalence of sexual violence in our world. Often they will tell me that they know it is easy to secure a conviction, and a lot of times the survivor just does it to get money and sympathy. The unfortunate reality that I share with them is that 98% of rapists will never spend a day in jail, and the attention survivors receive is in no way supportive or caring. The statistics are astounding. According to the CDC, one in five women and one in seventy-one men experience rape or attempted rape in their lifetime. However, what we know about those statistics is that most sexual assaults go unreported. They go unreported because we create an environment that glorifies and portrays sexual violence as inevitable and a fact of life. Then we shame and blame people when they are assaulted, making it difficult for survivors to heal and go through the legal process.

One of the many avenues created to enact change around this reality are the global events known as Take Back the Night. It is unclear as to when the first official Take Back the Night took place, but some assert that it began with meetings of tribunal councils in Europe to discuss the safety of women as they walked down the street. The revolution eventually spread to San Francisco in 1973 as people took to the streets to protest pornography. In the US, the first “Take Back the Night” marches occurred as a response to the murder of Susan Alexander Speeth who was killed while walking home alone in Philadelphia in 1975 . Take Back the Night was born out of the need to address and prevent the violence women were experiencing traveling on the streets at night. Today, the enduring revolution stands as a movement to support survivors and eliminate all forms of sexual violence.

Take Back the Night is a way for communities to come together and speak out against sexual violence, support survivors, share their stories, and promote awareness. It is a way for us to create a culture that starts by believing survivors, one that does not tolerate sexual violence and holds perpetrators accountable for their actions.

Join the movement to eliminate sexual violence. Attend our annual Take Back the Night event Saturday, April 30th from 1-4:30 pm at Five15 in Royal Oak because together we can take back the night.

For more information, contact our Prevention Education Department at or visit our website here.

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Looking Back to March Forward


Guest post by: Nkenge Burkhead, Prevention Education Specialist, HAVEN

March is a month of many celebrations. The March celebration that is most dear to my heart is the observation of Women’s History Month. A time to acknowledge our fore-mothers who made noise, made progress, made room for change, and made herstory! When you celebrate the fortitude of a community of people you must also recognize the forces they are up against.

Sadly, one of the factors that give women a similar connective experience is the constant threat of sexual and physical violence. Women are disproportionately targeted (1 in 3 women) and have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner. When over 33% of a single community report surviving intimate partner violence, and then we consider the number of women who are not in a position to report their experiences, we can assume that at some point in our lifetime we will either become a victim or know and love a woman who is a victim of gender-based violence.

This is an unavoidable plot in our story. Women are at risk of being preyed upon by abusers in dark alleys near our jobs, but also in well-lit hallways near our kid’s room. Intimate partner abuse (wife beating as it’s been called) wasn’t against the law in the United States until 1920. There were no legal consequences in place until the 1970’s, and The Violence Against Women Act was passed in 1994. The statistics are appalling. The response survivors have received from police, medical staff, and even friends and family are often injurious and insensitive.

It is a time to proclaim that yes women have been victimized, but that women have also been on the front lines for the progression of services and support concerning intimate partner violence. March is a time to celebrate Women’s History! We celebrate women and their contribution to raising awareness, providing support, and challenging social attitudes around violence against women.

This month we have been motivated by Oleta “Lee” Abrams, who co-founded the first rape crisis center in the U.S. In response to her daughter’s rape and lack of support from the doctor who treated her daughter after she was attacked. Oleta and two friends opened Bay Area Women Against Rape. This center is still open today.

We are encouraged by Erin Pizzey. Erin established the first domestic violence shelter in Europe more than 40 years ago (1970). She also wrote one of the first books on the topic “Scream Quietly or the Neighbors Will Hear” in 1974.

We are indebted to Maria Macias who was killed by her estranged husband when police failed to enforce her restraining order after 22 calls for help.

Today the U.S. has over 1,900 shelters or support programs for survivors. While the survivors continue to out-number the beds, there are 1,900 places with caring people who will listen and believe survivors. Those same people ask how we can systematically end this and remember the history and attempt to reshape the future for women.

How will you March forward into the rest of the 2016? Will you read more about accomplishments women have contributed? Will you donate to a local domestic violence shelter? Will you teach the boys and men in your life about consent?

If you or someone you know is a victim of intimate partner violence or experiencing power and control dynamic in their relationship that feel abusive or unsafe HAVEN is here to help and our crisis and support line is ALWAYS open for you: 877-922-1274.

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Only 1 in 16 Rapists…



I am somewhat of a news junkie but too much news, for me at least, is not healthy for my soul. In the past few weeks due to vacation, evening obligations, and the horrible political discord being covered by the media, I fell into a much needed media break. The other day, someone asked me my thoughts on the arrest of Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III for sexual assault and I was clueless.

Being an advocate to end sexual violence and having once lived in the Lansing area, I jumped online. The story of Mr. Dunnings on its own was horrific but I also found another headline. High profile former athlete Mateen Cleaves was also in the news for sexual assault charges and buried within his article was mention of another former MSU athlete, Branden Dawson, arrested for domestic violence. In just one day, three high profile individuals arrested.

Needless to say, arrests for violence against women happen daily across the US and here in Michigan, not all make the news. With the statistics, 1 in 4 women will be a victim of domestic violence and 1 in 5 women will be a victim of sexual assault, we know these crimes happen daily. But we also know that both domestic violence and especially sexual violence are two of the least reported forms of victimization. Although the incident rate is high, low reporting rates aid in keeping the media coverage rate low, hence these high profile cases stick out and grab us.

All perpetrators of violence should be held accountable, high profile or the average citizen. Based on statistics from the US Department of Justice, most rapists are not held accountable.

Jailed-rapists December 2014

Image credit: Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN). See reference information below.

The simple answer often becomes pushing victims to report an assault. But as a community, we have to be fully prepared for her report and frankly, we aren’t there yet. First, there are numerous reasons why rape is not reported – fear of further harm from the rapist (over 66% of rapists know their victim), retribution, loss of employment. But primarily, many rape victims do not report or seek help because they won’t be believed – believed by family, friends, police, and others.

So when we look at these high profile cases, we can salute the fact that the system worked. The laws on the books were enforced, investigators did their legwork, and now prosecutors will do their part. Yes, these individuals are innocent until proven guilty but we must not forget the survivors of the assaults as well. When the community, without full knowledge of what occurred, jump on the band wagon of blaming the victim, we continue to tell other victims to not speak up. Let’s lift up survivors of rape by standing with them, while we let the process work.

The above graphic scares me to no end – only 1 in 16 rapists will ever spend a day in jail. We must flip that statistic. We can only do so by starting at a place of believing and supporting survivors and insisting on social change. Work with us to place the burden of accountability on perpetrators of violence and not on those victimized. Click here to learn more.

  1. Justice Department, National Crime Victimization Survey: 2008-2012
  2. FBI, Uniform Crime Reports, Arrest Data: 2006-2010
  3. FBI, Uniform Crime Reports, Offenses Cleared Data: 2006-2010
  4. Department of Justice, Felony Defendents in Large Urban Counties: 2009
  5. Department of Justice, Felony Defendents in Large Urban Counties: 2009





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Spring 2016

19016442665_efa66f3e1d_oWho doesn’t like spring? It is the season in which many of us who live in cold weather climates long for, the promise that winter is over and the long stretch of seasonable temperatures is about to launch. Spring symbolizes hope – a new beginning, new opportunities, freshness, and growth. Hmmm, it looks like HAVEN and spring have a lot in common!

Several years ago I received a note from a rape survivor who once had received counseling at HAVEN. In the note, she shared a portion of her story and stated that she begrudgingly came to HAVEN and only did so to “get her family off her back”. Her plan had been to just move forward and work hard, on her own, to forget that the rape had ever occurred. Instead she made a deal with her sister that she would come to HAVEN twice. And then she stayed for nearly a year, attending a survivor support group and individual counseling.

She shared how she found hope for her future, a future where the rape would not define her. She shared she was amazed to find other women who had similar fears and feelings. Through this group experience she said she grew as a person and walked away even stronger than she had possibly been prior to the assault. She thanked HAVEN for helping her to find her way and giving her a new beginning to life.

That is what HAVEN is all about – new beginnings. We aren’t here to tell people what do to and how to feel, nor do we have a magic wand to make life better. Our role is to provide a safe place to be heard and resources for survivors to find their path.

If you have been thinking about reaching out for help, take that first step and call our crisis and support line (248-334-1274) and learn more about the resources and support available. Start to work toward your own new fresh start with steps small or large. We are here.



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