By Gladys McLean, Training and Underserved Populations Fellow
As community educators, service providers, and advocates, many of us know that the consequences of sexual violence can be harrowing and relentless. In addition to having a higher likelihood of developing mood disorders like depression and anxiety, 31% of female rape victims develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at some point in their lives, and 11% have chronic PTSD.  Given that women of color—specifically Black, Latina, and Indigenous women—face sexual violence at rates higher than White women, it is likely that significant percentages of these populations are coping daily with the impact of trauma.  Furthermore, the historical use of rape and sexual violence to perpetuate colonialism and white supremacy complicates the experience of survivors of color and contributes to the trauma of an assault. Ensuring that all survivors of sexual violence are able to heal from the trauma they’ve experienced and live full, vibrant lives is a part of our duty as service providers. This requires a dedication to exploring the different avenues by which healing occurs.
The Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault’s Women of Color Network (MWOCN) recognizes the importance of this dedication. MWOCN was founded on October 4, 2000, to advocate in communities of color for victims of sexual crimes, and to provide insight and guidance to the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault on issues of sexual violence that impact women of color. Since its inception, MWOCN has actively worked toward breaking down barriers to service delivery and influencing meaningful change at all levels for women of color.
As a part of these efforts, on November 9, 2017 the MWOCN planning committee, in partnership with the Maryland Department of Health and Bowie State University, held the 12th Annual MWOCN Conference, Building Healing and Resilience: Untangling the Web of Trauma’s Impact. The conference focused on cultivating intentionally healing spaces for women of color, and acknowledging the trauma that often follows sexual assault and accompanies work in the anti-sexual violence field. We thank all of this year’s attendees for making the 12th Annual Conference one of our most successful yet. We would also like to thank this year’s Planning Committee for their excellent work, commitment, and vision.
Speakers at this year’s conference addressed a number of topics related to mental wellness. Tonier “Neen” Cain, shared her personal, inspiring story of recovery following nearly 20 years of self-medicating with crack cocaine to escape a lifetime of trauma. In breakout sessions, Melissa Bermudez, LICSW, gave an overview of mental health and suicide; while Santa Molina Marshall, LCSW, spoke about substance abuse. In the afternoon, Saida Agostini, Chief Operating Officer of FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, offered a conversation about and celebration of Black survivor trauma, resistance, and healing. The day wrapped up with a panel on the role of the arts in healing survivor trauma and featured the following panelists: Vanita Leatherwood, Director of Community Engagement for HopeWorks; artist, writer, author, poet, and playwright Sandra Evans-Falconer; and actor/activist Mama Kay Lawal Muhammad. We would like to send a special and sincere thank you to all of our speakers. We appreciate your time, expertise, and commitment to survivors of color.
In 2018, MWOCN will be focused on outreach efforts, both to increase public awareness of these issues and to expand the group as a resource for women of color working in the sexual violence field. We would love for interested women of color to join us in these efforts. For more information, visit MCASA’s website here. To inquire about our monthly meetings, please email [email protected], subject: MWOCN.
 Kilpatrick, D. G. (2000). Mental Health Impact of Rape. National Women’s Study: National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center.
 National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. (2010). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey. <https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/nisvs_report2010-a.pdf>. Accessed December 8, 2017.
 National Alliance to End Sexual Violence. (2017). “Rape and Racism”. < http://endsexualviolence.org/where-we-stand/racism-and-rape>. Accessed December 8, 2017.