Women With a Vision (WWAV), a New Orleans advocacy and service organization that provides health care and other support for poor women of color, was the victim of a break-in and arson late Thursday night. A small organization that has won a national reputation for its work, WWAV was founded in 1991 by a collective of Black women as a response to a lack 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 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. The law forced women to register as sex offenders in a state database and placed a “sex offender” label on their driver’s licenses, among other requirements. With the grassroots leadership of WWAV, a national coalition that also included the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Loyola Law School, and police misconduct attorney Andrea Ritchie was able to get the law off the books and has won a series of further victories in the process of removing the sex offender registration requirements for those convicted in the past.
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.”
News of the attack has sent shockwaves across social justice communities around the US, and offers of help and donations have been coming in, but much more is needed. The fires have put the organization out of business at that location. They are seeking emergency temporary new quarters, as well as donations of clothing, supplies, and more. The organization has released a letter that lays out many of their needs.
In a video released on Friday afternoon 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.”
For the official statement from WWAV, see this link.
Jordan Flaherty is a journalist based in New Orleans, a producer for Al Jazeera, and the author of Floodlines: Community and Resistance From Katrina to the Jena Six. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.