By Alex Cordero
Adrienne Spires, project coordinator at the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA) in Pasadena, has dedicated her life to advocating for sexual assault survivors.
Spires, an Illinois native from Chicago, began her early career with a master’s in education administration and working for a local school district. She worked in elementary schools and noticed that some of the children did not seem to be excited about attending school. When she mentioned her observation to her superiors, she was told the majority of the children dealt with family issues outside of school.
Spires’ curiosity about what was causing children to behave in a concerning way altered her career, leading to different roles that resulted in helping children and teens that were survivors of sexual abuse. As she expanded her experience and training in dealing with children who had endured sexual assault, her journey eventually led her to become an advocate.
“I realized trauma, unfortunately was a cross-sectional issue,” Spires’ career has led her to conclude.
An advocate to end sexual assault, Spires has built a lengthy career and is constantly developing her expertise in helping sexual assault survivors. She has different roles such as outreach counselor, volunteer coordinator, and her current title at CALCASA of project coordinator, just to name a few.
“I am a non-offending parent, which means I’m a parent who did not abuse her child. Unfortunately, one of my daughters was sexually abused by my ex-husband who was her biological father.
“Once I found that out it made me study more and advocate more and also learned that it was so widespread.”
Spires continued, “As a society, we do not have conversations about how we really do reside in a rape-culture society or victim-blaming society.”
Some of the first women in U.S. History to speak up about their sexual violence experiences were African American women and despite the changing narrative, like the Me Too Movement sparked in recent years, the culture of silence unfortunately remains dominant among people of color.
“In our communities of color we have a history of oppression, hierarchy, patriarchy. We know the system of racism and how it has impacted our communities, especially our black men or Latino men, and sometimes as a community we don’t want to talk about that.”
Spires explained that often in black communities there is an impetus to protect men in the community from racism and oppression in the legal and justice systems, and how this also feeds the culture of silence.
I asked Spires what things we can do in our community to shift the culture of silence. “I think we have to let victims/survivors in this movement … and let them know that we do support them. But we can’t put them on the stand and interrogate them when they decide to disclose.”
Spires discussed how a reaction and response from the person receiving a disclosure can be crucial as it can affect a victim’s decision on how to move forward on their path of healing. The type of response sexual assault victims encounter after disclosing their experiences may lead a victim to decide to not discuss their abuse further. Some victims feel blamed and often survivors of sexual abuse are accused of lying about their experience.
Spires advised that if anybody decides to confide in you about their sexual assault experience, the best thing to do is to listen. “Listen attentively and say ‘It’s not your fault. I’m sorry to hear that. You didn’t deserve that.’”
She continued, “As a community we have to work collaboratively with systems and institutions to bring awareness and understanding.”
Spires fully credits her faith and belief in God with helping her develop a strong state of mind to be able to cope with the imprint her advocacy work leaves on her life. She also acknowledges that her faith has played a major role in her own path of healing as a non-offending parent survivor. She feels that she can be of service to someone who may experience something similar.
Spires is a member of both Friendship Church and Pasadena Church and wants her community to know how proud and happy she is to be part of their congregation.
Spires also shared with me that organizations for sexual assault, such as CALCASA, and places of worship are presenting studies and research to advocates on the impact a sense of faith or spiritualism can have on the healing process for a survivor of sexual assault.
Spires is very excited to be part of an important event and invites her community to be part of it as well. Visit CALCASA for more details.