Sunday, February 21, 2010

Purim and the Impossible Dream

© (2010) By Vicki Polin
Originally published in The Awareness Center's Daily Newsletter

This film is dedicated to all of the "Queen Esther's" living in the world today who are struggling to accomplish goals in their lives that many believed were impossible, especially to the women who are risking their lives to make the world a better place for us all. I especially dedicate this film to the women who are fighting to survive after being sexually victimized and are being shunned, shamed and blamed for the actions committed against them by their perpetrator.

I too have been facing a great number of challenges over the last 18 months. I know that soon the dream that at times felt was impossible will soon become reality.

They say Purim is one of the most joyous and fun holidays on the Jewish calendar since it commemorates a time in which the Jewish people were saved from extermination while living in Persia. What always concerned me in this story is that all of the Jewish people were freed, except for Queen Esther. After risking her life, she was left behind, cut off from her people.

(2010) Photographs by Vicki Polin 
Music: The Impossible Dream sung by Sarah Connor   

Monday, February 15, 2010

“A Day in the Life of..A Rape Crisis Advocate”

Alliance Blog

Name: Vicki

Organization: The Awareness Center, Inc. (international Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Abuse/Assault)

Q: How long have you been a Rape Crisis Advocate?
26 years

Q: How did you become a Rape Crisis Advocate? Is it your full-time job? If not, what is your full-time job?
I started volunteering time at VOICES in Action back in 1985, a few month after the international organization got started.  It was one of the first organizations on childhood sexual abuse.  Besides being an incest survivor I am also the survivor of a sexual assault at the age of 23 and another one at the age of 50.  After being sexually assaulted at age 23, and going through counseling, my advocate asked if I would like to share my story with high school students in Chicago.  I started doing it and realized that I wasn’t alone and that by speaking out that I was helping others who might not have gotten help.

I went back to school and got my degrees and am a licensed clinical professional counselor.

Q: Why did you become a Rape Crisis Advocate?
I wanted to help others who are victims of sex crimes heal. I learned how important it was to have people in my life who understood what I was going through and wanted to be there for others.

Q: Describe a “typical” day as a Rape Crisis Advocate. What is a day like if you are not called? What is the process once you do receive a call? What is it like for you while on-call?
I am the founder and CEO of The Awareness Center, which is the international Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Assault.  I deal with survivors on a daily basis from all over the world.  We do our best to operate as the make a wish foundation for Jewish survivors of sex crimes.  When someone calls we try to help them obtain what ever it is they are looking for.

Q: What kinds of sexual assault victim services does [Organization] provide?
We offer a clearinghouse of information and resources on our web page.  It’s sort of like “everything you ever wanted to know about sexual violence and sex offenders but were afraid to ask”.  We also provide resources to survivors who are Jewish from within every movement in Judaism.  Resources include counseling, legal, law enforcement, medical, holistic, etc.  We also have a Jewish Sex Offender Registry which is an online database of cases around the globe.  Due to funding shortages our database is not up to date.

Q: What areas of NYC are serviced by your Rape Crisis Program?
We work within in all Jewish communities through out New York, by providing information and resources. We area also in the process of developing a self-help group in Brooklyn.  We are currently looking for a location to hold weekly meetings.

Q: How can people learn more about [Organization]?
By visiting our web page at or by calling 443-857-5560.  We are a volunteer based organization with little funding so at times it can take us up to a month to return phone calls.  They can also send e-mails to

Q: In your opinion, what is currently the most pressing issue facing Rape Crisis Advocates in NYC?

Because The Awareness Center works within The Jewish Community, we are faced with so many obsticals especially in the orthodox world.  Things are changing since we got started 10 years ago, yet we still deal with the fact that the majority of cases are not reported to law enforcement, instead they are reported to local orthodox rabbis who tell victims not to report crimes to the police.  We are slowly seeing more cases coming out in the news media, yet in the more insulated communities survivors are shunned and shamed if they are assaulted and or try to make police reports.

Q: What advice do you have for people interested in volunteering?
We often have to warn survivors especially from the orthodox world that they will get harassed for helping victims and that we do our best to train them to be prepared.  We are trying to organize a 40 hour Rape Victim Advocacy Training Program which will include Halacha (Jewish Law).  We have not been sucecssful in funding the program, yet would love to team up with a program in NYC to do so, in hopes of better addressing issues in the ultra orthodox world.  If this is something you would be interested in doing please call me

Q:  Where do you see the City’s sexual assault services in 5 years? 10 years?
My hope is that there will be trained advocates from the orthodox world working in local rape crisis centers to help build a bridge between their communities and the rest of society when dealing with sex crimes.  Unfortunately, we have pseudo-advocates out there that don’t have the education or training who are working with those who are part of the problem.  I would like to see this practice end.

Q: What does a world without sexual violence look like to you?
Q: What current event has your attention the most right now?
There are some cases that will be breaking soon, once the survivors are ready to go forward.  We also doing everything in our power to start our first self-help/networking group in NYC for Jewish survivors of sexual violence.  One goal is to have several meetings each week that are especially geared for those from the more insulated communities.

Q: What is the most significant change in the City’s services since you have been working as a Rape Crisis Advocate?
When I first got started, there were very few rape crisis centers across the country. If I remember correctly NYC had the first one, that opened back in 1975.  I got started right after the laws changed in which there was a legal definition for sexual abuse and assault.  It’s amazing how much better things are today then they were 26 years ago.  Between things like a national sex offender registry, Megan’s law, a legal definition for stalking and sexual harassment and also now survivors can obtain orders of protection if they are being talked by their offender, etc .  There still is a great deal of work to do, yet we’ve come a long way since 1985.