Adam Robinson leading team that supports survivors of sexual violence
Wednesday, January 25, 2017

For Adam Robinson, the objective of the Rape Victim Advocacy Program (RVAP) is simple: to honor, support, and empower those impacted by sexual violence while working tirelessly to prevent it from continuing.

RVAP provides free, confidential support and advocacy to survivors of sexual violence, as well as their partners, friends, and family members. As executive director, Robinson, along with the RVAP team, serves not only the University of Iowa community but residents of Johnson, Cedar, Des Moines, Henry, Iowa, Lee, Van Buren, and Washington counties as well. RVAP is also home to the 24-hour statewide Iowa Sexual Abuse Hotline (ISAH).

Robinson spoke with Iowa Now about how RVAP is continuing to expand its services for survivors of sexual violence and how we all can be part of the solution.

You’re starting your second full semester as executive director of RVAP. How are things going? And what professionally and personally attracted you to this role?

I feel incredibly blessed to work alongside the talented and passionate professionals at RVAP. When I first learned about this opportunity, I was immediately attracted to the significant history of the agency; it was the first standalone comprehensive sexual assault center in the state and among the first in the country. RVAP has courage, resiliency, and fearless activism hardwired into its DNA, and we are uniquely structured to drive change and offer support not only at the University of Iowa but throughout the region and state.

Prior to joining RVAP, I had the privilege of spending the previous nine years of my career working at the Zacharias Sexual Abuse Center in the Chicagoland area. My experience as a therapist and then as an administrator at a sister agency with the same mission—creating a community free of sexual violence—nurtured in me an enduring passion for this work. I carry that passion with me, along with the teachings of many talented colleagues and courageous survivors. I’m humbled to be able to continue that learning here at RVAP.

One of the greatest gifts—and challenges—of this work is that it requires us to develop and grow as individuals in order to work toward our mission. My colleagues at RVAP have been gracious in sharing their expertise and experience, which allows me to continue to unpack my own privilege and grow as a person. My goal is to foster and maintain a healthy work culture that allows each and every staff member, volunteer, and stakeholder the same opportunity for growth so that we can provide our services effectively for as long as they are needed.

There are some new positions and team members at RVAP. There’s also a new therapy program for survivors. Why is it important for RVAP to continue to evolve?

We now have a leadership team consisting of three assistant directors with a combined 20 years of experience and leadership at RVAP. Katryn Duarte (ISAH), Susan Junis (Prevention and Outreach), and Ewa Bardach (Finance) are world-class professionals. It’s been great to work so closely with them these past months. I’m eager to see where their leadership can take RVAP in the months and years ahead.

Additionally, in the past few months we hired a number of new staff in our Iowa City office as well as our rural offices. We now have a rural child advocate, Carmalitta Baum, and a rural sexual assault response team coordinator, Bree Blaess. Both are new positions at RVAP, and we’re excited to continue expanding our services throughout Iowa’s rural communities. Additionally, Deanna Hansen recently began as our direct services advocate; she’s responsible for Washington and Van Buren counties, and she brings great experience, having previously worked as a hotline advocate with ISAH.

In Iowa City, Amanda Martin was promoted to academic services coordinator. Amanda is a strong advocate and leader with tremendous expertise in academic-systems advocacy. She can now focus on growing our advocacy services on the UI campus and in academic environments throughout our service area.

Britte Garrett is our new therapist; she provides trauma-informed counseling and therapy to individuals impacted by sexual violence and is also trained in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), which is a new therapeutic resource for RVAP. She is a past RVAP advocate, so it’s exciting to have her back with us in this new role.

And, on our Prevention Education and Outreach team, we are excited to have Nailah Roberts (Campus Prevention) and Britt Griffin (Community Prevention) with us. Nailah is a recent UI graduate with great activism and leadership experience. Britt is a past volunteer with a great depth of professional experience that will serve her well as she works to engage youth in our community.

We’ve also added three new part-time advocates to the ISAH: Anahi Aragon, Clara Keum, and Evandal Strowder. All three bring important energy and perspective to our team while allowing us to more effectively staff this important 24-hour service.

Though we have an amazing staff, the truth is that much of what RVAP is able to accomplish is due to the commitment and support of our volunteers. We’re very lucky to have recently added Sarah Murray as our new volunteer coordinator. Sarah brings some tremendous experience to our team, having previously worked at a sister center in Iowa and most recently at the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs.

In addition to these staffing changes, RVAP also reinstituted an Advisory Council this past summer, which has three areas of focus: advising our staff, serving as champions of our work, and fundraising. This volunteer group is going to be a driving force for the sustainability and impact of RVAP’s work, and I’m grateful for the leadership and support of Lori French, Kathy Bresnahan, Ginger Knisley, Karen Nichols, Meagan Schorr, Laurie Canady, and JP Claussen.

What are you hoping to accomplish this year?

Our goal is to engage the community. Everything we do is rooted in our mission, and our success relies on the strength of our relationships—from support services to prevention programs to development efforts. Effectively progressing toward our goal takes everybody. It takes people acknowledging that sexual violence is a human rights issue that impacts us all. As overwhelming as that reality can be, I believe it is equally empowering to know that any step any one of us takes to challenge the attitudes, assumptions, and beliefs that perpetuate rape culture can help create meaningful and lasting change. At RVAP, it is our goal to foster and grow relationships in a way that helps us continue to provide access to services to as many individuals as we can, for as long as these services are needed.

There are a great many ways to engage with and support RVAP, from volunteering (information on with us to joining our Advisory Council to following us on Facebook and Twitter. I invite you to connect with us in any way that is true to you so that you can become part of the solution along with us.

The UI Anti-Violence Plan for sexual misconduct, dating violence, and stalking was recently developed following the Speak Out Iowa campus climate survey last fall. UI students are also leading campus participation in the national “It’s On Us” initiative, which takes a stand against sexual assault. Why do you feel it’s important for campus to continue being engaged and to work together on these issues?

In order to solve any problem you must first be willing to shine light on that problem. The Speak Out Iowa campus climate survey was a step in the right direction here at the University of Iowa. These results, in conjunction with the guidance and leadership of students, faculty, and staff, have continued to help make this issue more visible. Still, our nature as human beings is to avoid discomfort. Making meaningful and lasting change on our campus requires the complete opposite. It requires a willingness to acknowledge the uncomfortable truth that far too much sexual violence happens on our campus and that it isn’t going to change until we all become more actively involved in the solution together. This certainly isn’t an issue unique to the University of Iowa, but it is an area that the University of Iowa has an opportunity to serve as a national and global leader on.

One of my favorite quotes is from Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

It is so very true. Thanks to the bravery and persistence of many, we now accurately understand sexual violence to be a human rights issue that directly or indirectly impacts everybody. Yet we still have a long way to go before we achieve RVAP’s mission of eliminating sexual violence. An issue so pervasive truly does take all of us holding brave space for one another. It’s a goal much larger than any one of us. At the University of Iowa, we have an amazing opportunity to harness and nurture the optimism, energy, and activism of our campus community to achieve significant social justice gains.

I’m excited to strive toward this goal alongside my colleagues at RVAP and in collaboration with our campus and community partners.