Friday, May 25, 2012

Break-in and Arson at Offices of Women With a Vision, Local Organization That Advocates for Poor Women of Color

UPDATED: See youtube video embedded below featuring Deon Haywood and footage from WWAV office. For the official statement from WWAV, as well as a list of needs, see this link.

Shockwaves went out across social justice communities across the US at the word that Women With a Vision, a local organization that advocates for poor women of color, was the victim of a break-in and arson at their offices in MidCity.

Women With A Vision (WWAV) was co-founded by a collective of Black women in 1991 as a response to the non-existence of HIV prevention resources for those women who were the most at risk: poor women, sex workers, women with substance abuse issues, and transgender women.

WWAV executive director Deon Haywood announced the news late last night: "Family and Friends, thank you all for the kind words, and positive energy. Someone broke into our office and torched it...We are all safe. The office with important files and outreach supply was burned and there is smoke and water damage. We're looking for a space and donations can be made on our website."

The attack seemed political in its nature, directly targeting the crucial information, files, and materials needed for WWAV's work. According to an email report from Bill Quigley, a social justice attorney and friend of the organization, "Major fire damage was done to a room which contained education and outreach materials. The arsonist seemed to have deliberately targeted this room. Destroyed were: three plastic and silicone breast models which were used to help people learn how to do self-examinations for breast cancer; a plastic pelvic model of a vagina; a two feet by one and a half foot plastic model of a woman’s reproductive system; boxes of male and female condoms; flip charts demonstrating the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV; several wooden penises which were used for condom demonstration; and boxes of educational materials. The fires in that room seem to have been set with some accelerant and scorched the walls, ceiling fan and ceiling and destroyed everything in the room....The offices were ransacked leaving drawers pulled out and papers and files on the floor. A TV and a laptop were taken but many valuables were left including computer monitors, office equipment, even some beer left over from a reception held earlier in the week. Several small fires were started inside the offices, in the bathroom, the hallway and in a sitting room."

WWAV has made national news for leading the fight against Louisiana's Crime Against Nature Statute, which targeted poor women of color, transgender women, and anyone forced to trade sex for food or a place to sleep at night, forcing them to register as sex offenders. With the leadership of WWAV, which was directly accountable to those most affected, a national coalition that also included Center for Constitutional Rights and police misconduct attorney Andrea Ritchie was able to get the law off the books and has won legal victories in the process of removing the sex offender registration requirements for those convicted in the past.

UPDATE: In a video released this afternoon (and embedded below) WWAV executive director Deon Haywood shows the damage and discusses the effects, concluding, "We are fighters, we are warriors here at Women With a Vision, and we continue our work."

We will help spread the word as more information becomes available, but for now we hope you will make a donation to support the crucial work of WWAV.