Vermont Public is independent, community-supported media, serving Vermont with trusted, relevant and essential information. We share stories that bring people together, from every corner of our region. New to Vermont Public? Start here.

© 2024 Vermont Public | 365 Troy Ave. Colchester, VT 05446

Public Files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact or call 802-655-9451.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Sexual violence support nonprofit HOPE Works celebrates 50 years

A hand holds a teal ribbon over a wood table.
The teal ribbon is an international symbol to raise awareness for sexual violence.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

In 2022, Vermont law enforcement officials reported 233 incidents of rape and 238 related offenses to the FBI. Though because not all sexual assault crimes are reported, those figures are likely under-representative.

But survivors are not alone. For the past half-century, Burlington-based HOPE Works has provided counsel and resources to survivors of sexual violence. The nonprofit is celebrating its 50th anniversary this month.

Natania Carter is the executive director of HOPE Works, and she joined Vermont Public's Jenn Jarecki to discuss the anniversary. This piece was produced for the ear. We highly recommend listening to the audio, if you're able. We’ve also provided a written version.

Jenn Jarecki: 50 years is impressive. Talk to us about how HOPE Works first got started.

Natania Carter: Our founders were this group of women who literally took over a switchboard on the UVM campus and realized that there was a need for survivors to be able to call in. It was a switchboard that was around women's health, and within that, there was nowhere for survivors of any type of sexual violence to speak up and have a space to just talk without their veracity being questioned. Even now, there are very few spaces where survivors can talk about one of their most vulnerable moments without it becoming about victim blaming, about safety planning, about what could have or could not have been done and how believable or truthful they are.

Natania Carter
Nathaniel Wilson
Vermont Public
Natania Carter, the executive director of HOPE Works, located in Burlington.

Jenn Jarecki: I'm curious, Natania, what do you think, how has the landscape for the work that HOPE Works does changed in the last 50 years?

Natania Carter: I think a lot of education around consent has come through. I know it's scary around these times because of so many rights being taken away from folks, our abilities to make decisions about our bodies — which is not only just gender — that moves across so many people trying to make the right decisions about their body in having to navigate other... I don't know if I'm allowed to say this, I'm sorry, but other people's ethical or moral beliefs.

But at the same time, what I will say is that education around consent — watching parents now literally tell people, 'No, my 3-year-old does not want to hug you,' it brightens my outlook on what comes next. We always fall into this idea that we have to teach the youth and the youth, but I'm like actually, prevention, education, consent really also is, it needs to be available for adults also, adults need to engage in these services because it is highly unlikely that we know everything that we should know when it comes to sustaining healthy relationships.

Jenn Jarecki: The past 50 years haven't all gone smoothly for HOPE Works. In 2019, the entire eight person staff resigned over actions the board was considering taking with the organization's land. Staffers posted online that it was part of a long-term effort to counteract intolerance, racism and homophobia among organization leaders. I'm hoping you can talk to us about the lasting impacts of those departures on the organization.

Natania Carter: All things can be true. So, here's all the things that I can tell you I have observed. One, it really — for those who understood what they were standing up for, they still showed up for survivors even if it meant it was one person for more than a month holding down that hotline by themselves. And then honoring, doing my best to honor the sacrifice also at the same time of those who left. So, really working hard to prove that organizations — and it doesn't matter if they're nonprofit or municipalities, it doesn't matter — trying to prove that dismantling white supremacist practices in organizations is possible. And though it won't look the way that people want it to look, if we do it, though, then that means every single individual will be seen as a person and not as a cog for productivity purposes, meaning that we'll be able to hold space for them when they're struggling, and in our work, vicarious trauma is real.

Jenn Jarecki: Tonight marks the annual Take Back the Night event. Natania, can you tell us more about that?

HOPE Works is hosting their annual Take Back the Night event on April 25.
HOPE Works
HOPE Works is hosting their annual Take Back the Night event on April 25.

Natania Carter: Yes! This event is to stand with survivors. It happens every year, the fourth Thursday of April, Sexual Violence Awareness Month. We start out at the Royale Tyler Theatre on the UVM campus. At 5 o'clock we march down — well, they rally, and then they march down to City Hall, down Church Street, Contois [Auditorium]. And after that, around 6:30, we start a speak out, and people can show up as themselves. They can bring every part of themselves except their profession. They leave their profession at the door, because the only way to honor a survivor who may want to share their experiences is to honor their confidentiality, and we will escort people out if you bring your profession. But other than that, people who support survivors can come, survivors are welcome to come. And that is usually from 6:30 to 8:30 or until the candles blow out, basically. Until there's no one — there's nothing left for anyone to say.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

Latest Stories