This week our guest is Sophia Arnold. Sophia is the founder of Yough Against Sexual Violence. Youth against Sexual Violence are a team of high school students with a wide range of skills and experience. Together, we hope to change how the world views and deals with sexual violence.
Sophia is such an inspiring individual to advocate for change and bring the issue of Sexual Violence to the forefront. During our episode, we talk about their recent campaign with Tara Reade, how unfortunate is for survivors that they are not heard. We also discuss how media and politics can play a role in justice being served and it is not in favor of the survivor.
Check out her episode here.
And read her corresponding blog post below!
One of the reasons I created this podcast was to provide survivors of trauma options for resources. Something I felt I didn't have. Why did you start your organization?
I’ve always felt a personal tug towards activism; in middle school I campaigned against a sexist dress code, I even got the superintendent to come talk to me! I remember a teacher once told my class that if you see injustice happening, and no one else is doing anything to right it, you’ve found yourself a volunteer. To me, sexual assault is one of our societies largest injustices; and while we’ve made some great advances in how our culture treats survivors, we havent done enough.
I started YASV because I found myself a bit disgusted with how my own high school treats sexual violence, especially if the person accused of commiting sexual assault happens to be one of our varsity sports players. And I saw that same attitude reflected in mainstream media, throughout adults, that we elected a man whose been accused of sexual assault 30 times and his response is, “They wanted it”, and we take that as good enough. I formed YASV because I want to help create a world where every time a woman comes forward, she’s no longer asked “Well, what were you wearing?”
What would be the best way one could find out more information about your organization?
Our website is the best place! www.natyasv.org. It has all of our information, our newsletter, info on our campaign, and info on our team.
Out of everything that you do with your organization, what would be the first area you would recommend a survivor to turn to.
While YASV doesn’t have the training to counsel survivors, we would do our best to let the victim know their assault wasn’t their fault, and they are not alone. We’d encourage them to turn to someone trusted in their life, if they’re a minor, to consider talking to a parent or a counselor. If that’s not something they feel comfortable with, we’d encourage them to call RAINN’s sexual assault hotline.
What do you do when you're not running your organization?
As a high school student, I have responsibilities in clubs at school, as well as my classes. I’m also a director at another student-led nonprofit as well, that creates civics curriculum to teach youth about our role in government. I also bake a lot, and I do a lot of reading! I just finished re-reading Sarah J. Maas’s series, A Court of Thorns and Roses.
What inspires you to keep going?
Honestly, just talking to a survivor, or turning on the news. There’s so much injustice surrounding how survivors are treated; from public backlash, to your own family and friend’s not believing you, to the horrible treatment survivors go through in the judicial system. I really think it begins with youth, that we’re conditioned from a young age to inherently value boys more than girls, and as a teen myself, I want to be a part of the generation to end that. It’s less of being inspired, and more of a motivation to end the current system that does nothing but hurt victims of sexual violence even further.
Tell about your current campaign with Tara Reide
This is YASV’s first campaign, we reached out to Tara Reade and partnered with her for a campaign, primarily for the release of Biden’s Senate files, as well as awareness for Tara in general. When we partnered with her, her story was receiving almost no media coverage. Honestly, working with Tara has been such a pleasure. She’s such a kind, warm person.
Why do you think major media outlets are ignoring her?
I think it has a lot to do with Joe Biden being the Democrat presidential candidate. I think a lot of the public, and current politicians, main goal is to get Donald Trump out of office. Biden provides the best chance of that, and so they put their political goals over justice for a survivor. They silenced her, to preserve Biden’s image.
What Tara Reide is facing is what many survivors face, how can we change that?
I’d like to start my answer off with how disgusted I am with the public’s reaction to Tara coming forward. My own organization has received so much backlash simply for campaigning with her. My own team members were doxxed, we had our personal addresses released onto social media platforms, threats, attempts to track down our schools and parents.
I think the change needs to start in youth- we teach kids, growing up, to not value women. When we dresscode little girls and kick them out of class, we’re telling them that we value boys' education more, that it’s their job to not distract the boys. That cross applies to how we teach girls how to not get raped, to be afraid walking down the street, never go somewhere alone, don’t leave a drink unattended, rather than teaching boys not to rape. I wish I had a more straightforward answer, but there’s so many problems with how society treats women who come forward that I don’t know where to begin- but there needs to be a massive cultural reset.
What advice do you have for someone that wants to start their own non-profit or business?
Be as organized as possible! Keep records, of what the organization is doing as a whole, and what each individual member or department is working on. Set goals, and try to track month by month where you want your organization to be, especially in the early stages.
Delegating is also super important, so it’s really key, I think, to have great Directors. I’m so lucky that my board of directors are some of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met. They’re all incredibly dedicated and motivated, and I trust them to help get everything done.
What struggles did you face when starting your organization/platform?
I originally tried to launch YASV as a community project, that primarily focused on my region. I didn’t even call it YASV! It failed pretty badly- there was little to no interest in it, my school wasn’t supportive, and it wasn’t organized.
What successes did you have in starting your organization/platform?
We have a really great team; YASV has around 30 members right now and each member is incredibly motivated, positive, and driven. I knew none of them before they applied, but many of them have become personal, close friends of mine. They all have such great ideas, and work gets done so easily as everyone has great initiative. I consider it a success in itself to have a team that meshes so well and works so well together.
With the #MeToo movement and more attention given to sexual abuse, harassment, and assault, what messages do you hope will rise to the surface? What are the most important takeaways?
I hope the message rises that survivors aren’t alone, so many young women feel like there’s nowhere to turn to. But I also hope the message arises that there needs to be change. There are so many horrible laws and statistics relating to sexual violence- that police officers can legally have sex with someone in custody, that Native American women are raped at a rate 3.5x higher than any other demographic, that in numerous states, same sex sexual assault is legal. I hope the #MeToo movement leads to a national discussion about those laws.
Do you think is mental health is being addressed, in relation to rape survivors and in general, effectively in the US? Where do you think there's still room for improvement?
I think mental health is being addressed, but not well enough. Sexual assault is still such a “tabboo” topic; it’s so difficult for women to come forward. And when they do come forward, there tends to be a push for the victim to report it to the police; which really skips over the trauma that comes with having your body violated in such a way. I think there’s room for improvement in almost every aspect; I think the U.S.’s culture towards survivors really needs to become more empathetic, or at least an attempt to be more understanding, towards what survivors endure, from the assault to the backlash of coming forward.
How can parents and educators start conversations on consent and healthy sexual behavior?
I really think consent education needs to start being addressed in K-12 sex ed classes. Several states already require it, and in those states, sexual assault drops. There’s such a misunderstanding around consent; I’ve met plenty of people who genuinely think as long as she isn’t saying “No”, that it’s okay. I believe it should be incorporated into the curriculum. It shouldn’t have to be a difficult conversation. It’s a necessary one.
But I do believe the conversation should start with understanding- so many parents and educators reiterate the statement “abstinence is the only option,”. That isn’t true, and it’s not going to convince teenagers to not engage in sexual behavior. There really needs to be a cultural shift to be more understanding and supportive of sexually active young adults. It’s kind of a cause and effect, in my opinion. By shaming teenagers for exploring their sexuality, we feel like we can’t come forward if we’ve been sexually assaulted, because our parents would be ashamed or disappointed.
Now that so many people see scope of the problem, how do we deal with how repugnant our beliefs are?
I think that’s a two part solution. There needs to absolutely be a shift in how we, as a society, treat survivors. So often, even friends and family try to shift the blame onto the victim. “Well, what were you wearing?” “How much did you drink?” “You went into that room alone with him?”. It implies the victim is at fault, which takes the blame off of the rapist. That’s unacceptable.
And we see those same sentiments in a courtroom; I think on a legal scale, laws need to be passed to seriously impact how a court deals with a victim of sexual violence. When Tara came forward, so many of the attempts to defame her had nothing to do with her experience with Biden. It had to do with her money, her legal name, her divorce. None of those things impact being sexually assaulted.
I think both of those movements really brought the topic of sexual assault to the forefront. It really showed how much of an issue it is, that so many women have experienced sexual harassment and assault. I think it impacted society by really letting everyone know this isn’t a minor scale thing, it impacts every woman.
As a high school student, though, I didn’t feel it impact my personal life. My high school, and so many others, has a terrible policy towards sexual violence. I know numerous guys at my school who have sexually assaulted numerous girls, friends of mine, strangers, and it’s been reported. But my school does nothing, because it’s still seen as acceptable for an institution to sweep it under the rug. I’d like to see that change, for both the men responsible, and the institutions protecting them, to be held responsible.
One of Voices of Hope's campaign is called #BeAVoice. How can you be a voice for those that feel they are silenced?
I think a great way to be a Voice is to get involved. Almost every state has a sexual assault coalition, if you’re a college student, KnowYour9 offers great resources to bring change to your campus. Post about it, rant about it, engage your parents and peers in a discussion about the real impacts of sexual violence. I think there needs to be a serious discussion, across all demographics, about sexual assault. That’s the best way to be a voice- to use yours.
What is the best way to get in touch with you?
Our social media! We keep our DMs open, and our Social Media Director, Jocelyn, relays all DMs to me.
What are your social media handles?
For instagram and facebook, its nat.yasv! For twitter, nat_yasv.
Sophia Arnold is a rising junior from Spokane, Washington. When she’s not baking banana bread or watching Adam Driver gifs, Sophia is running Youth Against Sexual Violence, a national nonprofit with chapters across the United States. She also serves as the PR Director for Lexgen, a nonprofit that encourages civic engagement, and greatly enjoys participating in her high school’s Debate team, philosophy jokes, and learning about history.