People in your Neighborhood: Verna Griffin-Tabor marks 30 years of service to domestic violence survivors

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La Jolla resident Verna Griffin-Tabor has dedicated the last 30 years to helping and supporting the survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. Specifically, she has been the CEO of Center for Community Solutions (CCS) since 1998.

Last year alone, CCS helped more than 21,000 adults and children to heal and address relationship and sexual violence. Founded in 1969, CCS operates the only rape crisis center in the City, and maintains a countywide 24-hour bilingual crisis helpline.

The nonprofit also provides emergency domestic violence shelters, hospital and court accompaniment, as well as legal and counseling services. CCS also works with community groups and schools to provide innovative prevention programs and promote healthy relationships and peaceful neighborhoods.

How did you get involved with CCS?

“I started doing this work early, through undergraduate and graduate school. I’ve always known this type of violence is preventable, I just felt it in my being. I’ve not been harmed by such violence, but have witnessed it through family and community members. I always wanted to do something about it, so I’ve been at CCS for 21 years. I was recruited and focused on prevention at the time.”

What are the most rewarding and most difficult parts of your job?

“The most rewarding is looking at and seeing what can happen in the eyes of survivors: they have every reason to be angry and hurt, but they have courage. They leave and heal and want to come back and make a difference. That is amazing to me because it takes so much courage to heal when the public is blaming the survivor. They have hope and integrity.

The most difficult thing is when the domestic violence perpetrators harm their partner and their children and it leads to loss of life — and knowing there were other options had someone been available. There are times we could have prevented it.”

What do you see as best practices for prevention?

“You have to do a minimum of three meetings with people if you really want to encourage prevention and early intervention. We are on nine college campuses helping to orient and train incoming freshmen about healthy relationships, bystander intervention, consent, etc. We emphasize bystander intervention because sometimes young people see things happen and are not prepared to intervene or know how to help someone.

The other part is to really debunk some myths about sexual and domestic partner violence: looking at our language and avoiding victim blaming. Language such as ‘what was she wearing?’ and ‘what was she drinking?’ have undertones of blame.

We have to talk to young people as soon as they’re old enough to ask about it. We need to take a deeper dive into conversations about consent, respect of body, not having the right to touch someone else.”

Do you feel hopeful that things will get better in the wake of the “Me Too,” “Time’s Up” and “No More” campaigns?

“Yes, the lens has shifted and now we are talking about … how it is not part and parcel to be in a certain profession or a certain environment and be assaulted. Before, I would hear stories of actresses, and people would say ‘well, they knew what they were in for when they went to that person’s office’ and it’s like, no! Nobody has the right to harm anybody. That is not part of any job or any relationship. And to be shamed around being harmed … and the blame we put on people ends up silencing them and creates harm for a long time. Now we’re seeing more dialogue on these issues.”

How do you encourage people to speak out if they’re feeling ashamed?

“We emphasize that no one, no matter what, should be harmed. No one should be sexually or physically violated. Under no circumstances is that masculine or feminine to do that to another human being, it just isn’t. As we hold folks more accountable, it contributes to the message that no one deserves this.

People also do self-damaging talk when they didn’t do anything wrong. They were harmed. When we visit the hospital to meet a rape survivor, we try to lift that veil of shame right away! We tell them they didn’t encourage to be harmed and do not deserve to be harmed.”

What brought you to La Jolla?

I lived in San Diego for 30 years, but have lived here since 2000. I came from the East Coast. My husband and I were living inland and realized one day that we were living in San Diego and we were nowhere near the water, which is what brought us here, so we found a home in La Jolla.

I love the sense of community here. I love The Village and bumping into my neighbors around town. I love to be outside, so the weather is perfect. This community is very philanthropic and cares about its causes.”

CCS’s domestic violence and sexual assault 24-hour crisis line is (888) 385-4657.

CCS is celebrating 50 years of service with a gala “Many Threads, One Mission,” 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 5 at the USS Midway Museum, 910 North Harbor Drive, downtown San Diego. Actress Geena Davis is the keynote speaker. RSVP by May 29: