Who's That Gal: Shelley Yen-Ewert & Kristy Cullivan Sierra Of Boston Area Rape Crisis Center

Name: Shelley Yen-Ewert
Occupation: Director of Organizational Development and Learning
Hometown: Upstate NY
Age: Guess
Current Hood: Dorchester
Currently Reading: Wednesday is Indigo Blue by Richard E. Cytowic MD
Favorite Winter Outing: Playing in the snow with my daughter

Name: Kristy Cullivan Sierra
Occupation: Development Director at Boston Area Rape Crisis Center
Hometown: Rockland, MA
Age: In dog years?
Current Hood: South Shore
Currently Reading: Toddler books, lots and lots of toddler books & slow progress on Rad Women Worldwide
Favorite Winter Outing: Skiing

Hi Shelley and Kristy! Please tell us about BARCC. 

The mission of the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center is to end sexual violence through healing and social change. BARCC provides free, confidential support and services to survivors of sexual violence ages 12 and up and their families and friends. We define sexual violence broadly as any sexual act against someone’s will and examples include rape, verbal sexual harassment, and sexual activity with someone who is unable to consent (eg.g. intoxication). We work with survivors regardless of when the incident(s) occurred and our goal is to empower survivors to heal.  We also work with a wide range of organizations and communities, including schools, colleges, and police, to advocate for change. We provide training in how to respond to survivors and create cultures that prevent sexual violence in the first place. 

What do you do and how did you both get involved?

Shelley: I’m the Director of Organizational Development and Learning. In this role I work on improving inter-agency processes and fostering staff professional development to help BARCC more effectively live out its mission of ending sexual violence. I also lead a collaboration between BARCC, the Boston Center for Independent Living, the MBTA and the Transit Police Department to improve response and services to survivors with disabilities. I started on this path soon after college as a volunteer at a different rape crisis center where I developed a passion for social justice. Over 10 years ago I landed at BARCC as its Volunteer Coordinator and have been in many different roles since then.

Kristy: As the Development Director at BARCC, I lead the efforts to fund BARCC’s mission of ending sexual violence through healing and social change. As a fundraiser for BARCC, I particularly enjoy being able to offer people opportunities to support a survivor's path to healing by funding BARCC's free services. I reached a point in my career where I wanted to put my 15 years of professional experience to work at a place where I truly connected with the mission, somewhere that I could wake up every morning and be excited to go to work. For me, this place is BARCC!

What are some of the challenges and rewards of working at a non-profit?

A lot of times when we tell people what we do people say “that must be so hard.” It can be hard to be in the face of trauma regularly and work-life balance can be hard when you care so much and there’s so much need but not enough resources. The rewards outweigh the challenges though. We love working for a mission-driven agency and knowing that we make an impact in the lives of survivors and that we’re working towards creating a culture where healthy, safe, consensual relationships are the norm. We’re lucky to work at an agency that values and cares for each of us as individuals. And we love that we get to work with people who are passionate and a whole lot of fun!

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What are the things you do to take care of yourself?

Kristy: My self-care is a bit simple these days as I find ways to juggle being a mom with a career I love. My go-to is getting outdoors. I love hiking, spending time at the beach (at any time of year), making solo cuddle time with my adorable maltipoo to help me forget the worries of the world, and reading. I also make it a priority to live a healthy lifestyle because it makes me feel good about myself and provides me the fuel I need to get through long days.

Shelley: In our work we always remind people that it’s important for them to take time for themselves, so that they can sustain the work. I’m still trying to figure out how to balance it all, especially with an active, opinionated toddler. Some of the things that keep me going are swimming laps regularly, being outside in nature, reading a good book, and journaling (when I have the time!).

What have been some of BARCC’s biggest challenges?

Like many mission-driven non-profits, BARCC is challenged with securing the necessary funding and resources we need to provide our expert services free of charge. Additionally, the issue of sexual violence has long been an uncomfortable, taboo topic in our culture. As advocates for change, BARCC staff and volunteers work daily to educate our communities to break the silence and stigmas surrounding rape. In recent years, we’ve seen great progress in increased awareness and attention on sexual assault, but there is still much work to do.

We know that you’ve also been very involved in recent women’s movements including Boston Women’s March. Can you talk about why movements like the WM are so important and where you think our country stands as far as improving/ending sexual violence?

Rape crisis centers like BARCC exist because women and survivors created movements to advocate for changes in our society and to support each other. Women have gained many rights as the result of women and their allies coming together to fight for equality. There is greater awareness about sexual violence because of the voices of survivors. Though those before us have made many strides, we still have a long ways to go. Women still face attitudes about their sexuality that expects purity or oversexualizes them;  transgendered people don’t have equal access to bathrooms that fit their gender everywhere; black women worry about their children being killed by police because of their race, women with disabilities don’t have equal access to health care; women who are poor have fewer options for housing. Sexual violence is rooted in all forms of oppression and these factors impact a survivor’s options for safety and their healing. Our collective voices and action are needed to make a change. It has been powerful to see people coming together to fight for justice and equality through the Women’s March, protests, and political action. 

How can people get involved in the prevention of sexual violence?

Prevention is a community effort. It’s about creating spaces where people know that sexual violence is taken seriously and won’t be accepted.  Some of the ways you can do this include: 

  • Saying something or acting when you witness sexual violence or norms that contribute to sexual violence (e.g. jokes about rape).
  • Believing and supporting survivors and always putting the blame on the person committing sexual violence.
  • Advocating at your agency for policies that create safety and address sexual violence.

For an example, check out the MBTA’s anti-sexual harassment campaign developed in collaboration with BARCC.

Contact BARCC for trainings to help your communities and organizations prevent sexual violence. 

How can people get involved in BARCC?

There are so many ways for you to get involved with BARCC. Our website, provides information on a host of volunteer opportunities and community events. You can also invite BARCC to provide a bystander training or awareness event at your workplace, community group, place of worship, etc. During Sexual Assault Awareness Month, on April 23rd, you can join thousands of people to show up for survivors at our annual Walk for Change at Artesani Park in Brighton. The Walk is the largest event in New England for people to speak out against sexual violence and show their support for survivors of all forms of rape and sexual assault. It’s a fun, inspiring day with great speakers, yummy food from local food trucks, and lots of fun and empowering activities. Join us! 

Join us and the ladies of BARCC at Ladies Lounge!

All images provided by BARCC