A Lesson in Patience

There’s no place like home!   After a few back-to-back trips, I am happy to be off of planes, out of hotel rooms, and back at my desk.  Thinking back on the past few weeks, I am reminded of the connections I made in my travels.  One in particular has been on my mind.  From October 27-31, I had the opportunity to attend the American Public Health Association Annual Meeting & Expo in San Francisco.  I’ve been attending and exhibiting at this conference for the NSVRC since 2005.  I remember people skirting around our exhibit booth that year with puzzled looks on their faces.  Some even approached and asked, “What does sexual violence have to do with public health?”  I do remember a few productive conversations and connections.  But I also remember feeling discouraged at the number of people who didn’t want to come within 10 feet of our booth.

But we kept at it.  Each year, we’d get more and more visitors to our booth as well as some great questions.  Researchers began approaching us to ask about gaps and where they could focus their work. 

Flash forward to 2012.  We had visitor after visitor come to our exhibit booth.  So many people wanted to talk about sexual violence prevention as it relates to their work – international non-profits, language access organizations, services for LGBTQ youth, family planning and reproductive health organizations.  The list goes on and on.  The point is that people were making connections.  I heard more than one person say that they got their start in public health or social justice work as a volunteer advocate at a rape crisis center, or as a peer leader for sexual violence prevention on their campus.    Although many were now in a different field of work, they still valued that connection to the movement.   And not only were we reaching people at our exhibit booth, but I was also invited to present our Innovations in Prevention report findings on a panel.  We had come a long way since 2005!

This progress is not unlike community prevention work.  It’s easy to get discouraged when you feel like your message is not being heard.  But prevention is a process.  Like any process , it takes time for our messages to sink in.  And one thing I learned is that if I stayed in my exhibit space, nothing would change.  I ventured out to other exhibit tables, finding opportunities to talk with organizations focusing on intersecting issues about opportunities to collaborate for prevention.    Similarly, if we want to reach communities with our prevention message, we must step out of our offices and get to know community members and other organizations.  We must become active participants in the community and find ways to make those connections to sexual violence prevention work.

I’d love to hear how you are making these connections in your community.  Feel free to share by commenting below!