Leah Aldridge, Ph.D.
Occupation: Project Manager at the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA)
Location: Los Angeles, California, United States
The Sex in My Business: CALCASA offers advocacy, support, and leadership in the fight to end sexual violence, and promote equity and justice. We work with community-based rape crisis/domestic violence agencies, various institutions such as colleges/universities, military, etc., and other companies, organizations and individuals from a range of sectors (for example, faith, labor, legal, medical, etc.). As a project manager, it’s my job to help others solve the problems that get in the way of their ability to provide quality responses to or preventative measures against sexual assault. This includes helping folks find materials to train crisis workers in Spanish, sharing best practices with a manager trying to promote an anti-sexual harassment culture change in their workplace, etc. Our trainings support the capacity of local rape crisis centers to stay current on latest best practices, and strategies for responding to emerging issues.
A Typical Day: My days usually consist of lots of emails, reading, writing, analysis, and thinking stuff through to possible positive outcomes. I am also typically educating someone about sexual abuse, violence, harassment, etc. on a daily basis, and undoing the really harmful myths about rape that have persisted for centuries. This is important because unless we are able to recognize a problem and all of the conditions that create the problem, we can't effectively confront or prevent it. In the sexual arena, the second a person’s bodily integrity is denied through force, duress, threats, incapacitation, etc., it ceases to be sex and becomes violation, and the harm doer is always responsible; it is never the survivor's fault. This is why real sex education and conversations about consent are so important.
The Best Part: By fighting to end sexual violence, I get to impact all of the -isms because they are all connected to this issue. I am really motivated by that. I also like the ability to help create solutions for people.
The Worst Part: Willful ignorance. As they say in the recovery big book, "none are so blind as those who will not see." It is one thing to simply not know something, because this can be changed; there is always someone out there who is willing to educate. However, it is another thing entirely for one to choose to stay in darkness because knowing might necessitate change. Folks from this second group are the most difficult to deal with, and when I encounter them in my discussions surrounding sexual violence and assault, the interactions are definitely the most frustrating part of my job.
How I Got Here: I started as a volunteer crisis advocate counselor at a local rape/battering agency in Los Angeles thirty years ago (eek!). I became staff at that center after almost two years of volunteering. I was only supposed to stay a couple years, but this work isn't a job, it is a lifestyle. You take it with you everywhere you go.
What Society Thinks: In the early days of my career, family thought it was "sweet" the way I was "helping the women" (LOL). But after all of these years, I find them bringing related issues to my attention. I was also able to raise a daughter in this movement, so that's swell. Overwhelmingly, social attitudes have been positive from the general public (e.g., when on airplanes or at cocktail parties), but I have to admit that I don't come across as someone who suffers fools lightly (and it worsens with age), so I don't get too much ignorance coming at me in general. I will say this: I have done this work long enough to notice gigantic shifts in public attitudes regarding gender-based violence. Thirty years ago, twelve-year-olds I encountered through my work typically believed all of those horrible myths (such as, "if you buy a girl McDonald's, she knows what's up"). Now, however, the youngsters are clearer about bodily autonomy, understand the differences between rape and sex, etc., which is encouraging. Of course, this doesn't mean that we are out of the woods on this issue, but it certainly suggests that we are making progress in the right direction.
When I’m not at Work: You can probably find me knitting. I enjoy it because it is therapeutic and creative (most of the time).