Women With A Vision (WWAV), a progressive women’s health clinic in New Orleans, was recently the site of a devastating arson attack. At 4am on Friday, May 25, 2012 one or more arsonists set fire specifically to the offices in the clinic, targeting crucial documents and educational materials. While no one was hurt, WWAV lost thousands of dollars in damages and will “literally be starting from scratch” as a result of the arson.
WWAV describes that its mission is to “improve the lives of marginalized women, their families, and communities by addressing the social conditions that hinder their health and well-being.” Their stated mission, however, does not convey the truly pioneering and critical work they have been doing since first opening in 1991 as a community-based non-profit, founded by a collective of African-American grassroots activists.
WWAV recently made national news for their recent victory in fighting Louisiana’s Solicitation Crime Against Nature statute, an archaic law that requires sex workers or anyone who has traded sex for food or shelter to register as sex offenders. In addition, these women, who are often transgender, poor, and women of color, are obligated to pay hundreds of dollars annually to maintain the registration or else are jailed. One transgender woman, for example, who was a victim of this law, was molested as a child and then arrested for trading sex for food as a homeless teenager. ‘Eve’ was convicted and spent two years in jail and, upon her release, was required to register as a sex offender. The sex offender status appeared on her license and made it nearly impossible to obtain housing or employment. “When I present my ID for anything,” said Eve, “the assumption is that you’re a child molester or a rapist. The discrimination is just ongoing and ongoing.” Through relentless advocacy, WWAV spearheaded the movement that successfully defeated the law in June 2011.
WWAV has temporarily closed its doors while they look for new office space. In addition to its advocacy efforts, WWAV provides a number of services instrumental to the community, including safer sex workshops, anti-oppression workshops, HIV testing, substance abuse assistance to sex workers, and a place free of judgment for those affected by street economies. All of these services will be interrupted or put on hold while they rebuild and relocate. Micro-Enterprise, a new microfinance project of WWAV, with the aim of lifting out of poverty HIV positive women, previously incarcerated women, female victims of domestic violence, and LGBT individuals, was scheduled to start the week after the arson.
The New Orleans Fire Department said that the incident was aggravated arson, but could not identify any suspects. Most people have little doubt as to whether the attack was retaliatory. Executive Director of WWAV Deon Haywood said, “We’ve pretty much lost a lot of our office equipment and all of our outreach material. We don’t have an office to operate out of right now. They really got the room that they thought was at the heart of our work, so we do feel like it was intentional.”
Advocates and activists have noted that attacks like these are meant to intimidate and punish not only those who offer these services, but also those who benefit from and rely on the services. They have called this arson, and actions like it, shameless acts of violence that challenge female agency and bodily autonomy. They devastate small operations already severely limited by scarce funding. But WWAV is reassuring supporter and clients that they will not be silenced. In a video issued the day of the arson, Haywood discussed the damage and concluded by saying, “We are fighters. We are warriors here at Women With a Vision, and we continue our work.”
If you are interested in helping WWAV rebuild, tax-deductible donations are being accepted online via their website to replace what was lost in the fire.
1 “While New Orleans Slept, and Arsonist Sent a Message,” RH Reality Check, 4 June 2012, accessed 6 June 2012, http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/article/2012/06/04/while-new-orleans-slept-an-arsonist-sent-message.
2 “WWAV Offices are CLOSED, but the Work Continues,” Women With A Vision, 29 May 2012, accessed 6 June 2012, http://wwav-no.org/?s=arson.
3 “Mission,” Women With A Vision, accessed 6 June 2012, http://wwav-no.org/about/mission.
4 “While New Orleans Slept, and Arsonist Sent a Message,” RH Reality Check, 4 June 2012, accessed 6 June 2012, http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/article/2012/06/04/while-new-orleans-slept-an-arsonist-sent-message.
5 “Justice Department Report, Released Today, Calls Louisiana’s “Crime Against Nature” Law Discriminatory,” The Louisiana Justice Institute blog, 17 March 2011, accessed 6 June 2012, http://louisianajusticeinstitute.blogspot.com/search?q=discriminatory+law.
6 “Break-in and Arson at Offices of Women With a Vision, Local Organization That Advocates for Poor Women of Color,” The Louisiana Justice Institute blog, 25 May 2012, accessed 6 June 2012, http://louisianajusticeinstitute.blogspot.com/2012/05/break-in-and-arson-at-offices-of-women.html.
7 “Fire at Women With A Vision Offices is Arson, NOFD Says,” 1 June 2012, accessed 6 June 2012, http://noladefender.com/content/fire-wo34men-vision-w7ork-arsonists-nofd-says.
9 “Arson Attack on Women's Health Organization in New Orleans,” Huffington Post, 29 May 2012, accessed 6 June 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jordan-flaherty/wwav-arson-_b_1548155.html.