2014: year in pictures

28 Dec

As 2014 comes to a close, I wanted to personally wish everyone Happy Holidays. As I look forward to 2015, I wanted to share a few of my fondest memories from this past year.

So, friends, family, twitter followers…Happy New Year–Feliz Ano Novo–Feliz Año Nuevo, and I look forward to seeing you in the new year! I’ll be kicking off my 2015 blog posts with a new series: “Health Insurance 101”, in which I explain the US Health Care System and the types of insurance that exist. See you in 2015!

Magazine Cover

Made it to the Cover of a Lexington Magazine while promoting Lexington’s Dining Out For Life to support HIV/AIDS-related causes and AIDS Volunteers, Inc.

Traveled to Brasil during the 2014 World Cup (May 2014)

Traveled to Brasil during the 2014 World Cup (May 2014)


Began working as a Clinical Research Coordinator for HIV Research Studies at Duke University Medical Center (July 2014)

Turning 23

Turning 23 with my brothers at Shakespeare & Co. (September 2014)


Preparing safe sex kits

Preparing safe sex kits at Soundbar–Lexington, Kentucky

With Poz Magazine Founder and Director of the SERO project, Sean Strub

With Poz Magazine Founder and Director of the SERO project, Sean Strub 


AIDS Walk Lexington, Kentucky–April 2014

Celebrating the Holidays with Family

Celebrating the Holidays with Family

-Rachel Safeek

Follow me on twitter: @RachSafeek


Taking the test. #FightStigma

13 Oct

Today, there are several options available to those seeking HIV/STI testing. HIV tests in the United States can be performed using an oral swab and results can be obtained in 20 minutes! For those who are comfortable with blood, there is even a finger prick option that will yield results in 3-5 minutes (sometimes less time!).

Back in March, I shot a video through the Kentucky Department of Public Health (via the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention) with a colleague of mine simulating an HIV testing and counseling session. For anyone who is interested in knowing how a rapid HIV testing session works, I’ve attached the video below. 

Are you interested in getting tested for HIV? I’ve included below a few items to consider before scheduling your appointment.

1. Find a testing location: Use the AIDS.gov application for locating free HIV testing sites in your area.

While unwarranted, there is a very real social stigma surrounding HIV and HIV testing.  Oftentimes, stigma surrounding sexual health serves as a deterrent for many seeking testing. This stigma often leads many to seek HIV testing/treatment in cities where they are not known by the local community, in order to avoid recognition from a family member or colleague.  #FightStigma

2. Determine the type of test you’d like to take: Ask someone from the testing site what types of tests that are available. For those seeking free, rapid HIV testing who prefer using an oral swab, ask for the Oraquick Rapid HIV test.

Clearview Advance HIV test is another rapid test available that uses a drop of blood from a finger prick.

3. Be aware of the 3-month window period: Most rapid HIV tests are antibody tests. Antibodies are produced by your body in response to the presence of a foreign pathogen. If you are infected with HIV, it can take anywhere from 1-3 months for HIV antibodies to develop in your system. Therefore, any risk for HIV that may have occured up to three months prior to your test date may not be detected on your HIV test. If you are schedule a test within your three-month window period (it’s been less than three months since you believed you were potentially exposed to HIV), it is recommended that you schedule a follow-up appointment with your provide to confirm your test results. If you are in the “window period”, you should attempt to reduce your risk for HIV as much as possible, including engaging in sex with a protective barrier, refraining from sharing any type of needles, or abstaining from sexual activity altogether. Each time you engage in a new behavior that places you at risk for infection, you re-set your “window period” start date.

As always, feel free to email me with any questions: rachel.safeek@duke.edu.


–Rachel Safeek

Tweet at me @RachSafeek 

Gender-based violence, sexual assault, and HIV

10 Mar

National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day Image from UNDP

National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
Image from UNDP

Today (March 10) is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. This day is especially important to me, as a racial minority who works with HIV prevention and research. This day capitalizes on the growing need to focus attention toward newly emerging populations that are often overlooked in HIV discourse and rhetoric, particularly racial/ethnic minorities, and especially women of color.

Currently, the highest rise in HIV incidence rates are being observed among heterosexual Black women, comprising a three-way shift in race, gender, and sexual orientation from the group initially observed with having the highest HIV incidence rates in the early 1980’s: White homosexual men. Overall, Black and Latina women are disproportionately affected by HIV when compared to women of other races, highlighting a principal disparity in women’s health.

HIV is often viewed by the general public as its own isolated issue, directly linked to “promiscuity” or needle-use. In addition to contributing to unwarranted stigma surround HIV, these labels dismiss and discount other important factors that affect HIV transmission. Gender-based domestic violence and economic vulnerability (lack of financial means) are two factors that are often neglected in HIV discussions, yet they are integral players in the transmission of HIV, particularly among women of color.

Recently, in an effort to raise awareness around these issues, I published a composition of tweets linking gender-based domestic violence and economic vulnerability to rape/sexual assault and the predisposition to HIV.

Violence limits a woman’s ability to demand condom use & establishes and unfair power dynamic

On the flip side, even if a woman is not physically coerced into unprotected sex, she may forgo condom use with her partner or neglect to mention it out of fear that her partner will become violent with her.

Economic vulnerability also predisposes women, especially women of color, to HIV transmission. Financial dependence on a partner creates an imbalance in power dynamics that limits a woman’s ability to make decisions regarding condom use. A woman who is financially-dependent on her partner may feel pressured to meet the needs of her partner or “repay” her partner with sex, oftentimes unprotected, if it suits her partner’s needs.

There are many factors that predispose someone to HIV. Gender, violence, and one’s financial situation are three key players in this equation that we should not discount. Today, on National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, I hope to raise awareness of these issues among the general public. As a healthcare worker and aspiring physician, I recognize that the application of medicine is not limited to diagnosis and treatment. I believe that it is important to have an understanding of the socio-economic factors that predispose populations to poor health. These factors, the “social determinants of health“, should be acknowledged and addressed first, as ultimately, prevention of the onset of disease is the most effective way to eradicate it.

–Rachel Safeek

Email me at rachel.safeek@duke.edu
Tweet at me: @RachSafeek

Harmful Ally-Ship

9 Mar

For a more tweet-friendly version of this article, you can read this article on storify: “Being and Ally & Avoiding the White Savior Complex”

Ally-ship, or the notion that we can support/advocate for the rights and needs of groups for which we are not a part, is not without its flaws. The actions undertaken by allies can be damaging to the communities with whom allies advocate on behalf of and ultimately rendered unwanted. For example, using one’s ally-ship with a minority group for purposes of self-promotion or gathering public praise.

Allies of minority groups exercise certain privileges that are not available to the groups they are allied with. When members of minority/oppressed groups call out allies for being insensitive, overshadowing minority groups, or overlooking certain things because of their privilege, allies can oftentimes become offended and get defensive…

An example of an ally becoming defensive instead of using criticism as a learning opportunity: Piers Morgan’s response to the critiques of Janet Mock and the transgender community:

Janet Mock, a prominent activist for transgender rights, was absolutely correct in saying that “being offensive and being kind are not mutually exclusive things…we can have great intentions…but also be ignorant”.

It’s important for allies—myself included– to bear in mind that we are not the focal point of the issue. Getting defensive when we are called out on our privilege by the group we are advocating for, instead of listening and trying to understand what our privilege has unintentionally caused us to overlook, can be damaging to the groups we are allied with. As allies, we should remain open-minded to the ways in which certain privileges we may hold cause us to overlook the potentially harmful repercussions of our actions. We should prioritize furthering the causes of the groups we are committed to advocating on behalf of, instead of dismissing critiques and diverting attention to our own defensiveness. I do understand the frustration expressed by minority groups when allies “miss the point” and get defensive when called out over it, instead of listening–it’s frustrating when the groups advocating on your behalf don’t even want to hear you out.

On the flip side, minority groups should remember that having allies with certain privileges can, in fact, be helpful (and powerful) to their cause, as allies can use their privileges to raise awareness around issues in ways that oppressed groups cannot. It’s a matter of ensuring that awareness is raised by those with privilege in a manner that does not also cause harm to the groups they are allied with. Primarily, allies should seek to act among those who share their same type of privileges, rather than serving as “privileged representatives” among the groups they advocate on behalf of. The focus should be placed on advancing the voices of those in oppressed positions, not the voices of those with privilege.

Email me: rachel.safeek@duke.edu

Twitter: @RachSafeek

Avoiding the White Savior Industrial Complex

26 Feb

The premise of the “White Savior Complex” is derived from the scenario in which individuals who exercise certain privileges–race, class, education, etc.–invade the spaces of certain groups or communities that are culturally different from their own with the intention of uplifting or “saving” members belonging to the groups they are invading. (“White” is really semantics to describe “saviors” from high-income/developed communities).

Those with privilege often wrongly deem the communities they approach as “oppressed”, or otherwise lacking access to certain rights or liberties , and in desperate “need” of help. From desiring to “rescue” sex workers to wanting to “liberate” oppressed women in the Middle-East, the White Savior Complex is a flawed mentality, and the intrusion of those with privilege into perceived “oppressed” or “disempowered” communities is often coupled with a desire for self-promotion that is justified with misguided altruism and harmful ally-ship.

Savior complexes, while perhaps partially fueled by a desire to do good in society, are callous displays of privilege that reinforce social hierarchies. “Saving” implies that certain communities are above others, and only groups with access to certain privileges embody the efficacy to empower those who are labeled disadvantaged or in “need” of help. Broadcasting the perceived struggles of another group in a showcase of pictures from mission trips and research projects can be both insensitive and exploitive to many communities.  “Look at these oppressed and impoverished brown/black women and children from the global south that I helped save”.

Saviorship of those who voluntarily enter the sex industry is a current topic of public spectacle that has generated a community-wide response. The hashtag #NotYourRescueProject was started by twitter activists to express discontent over sex work-related savior mentalities and reject the jarring notion that all sex workers are unhappy in their profession and do not wish to participate.

In 2012, Teju Cole,  a writer for the Atlantic, published a series of tweets on the White Savior Industrial Complex 

Yesterday, I published a series of my own tweets on “Being a Good Ally & Avoiding the White Savior Complex” . I’ve embedded the full composition of tweets into my post below:

You can absolutely have the best intentions and still hurt groups that you wish to advocate on behalf of. How CAN you be a good ally to the groups you are advocating on behalf of?

Your mentality matters. The premise of all savior complexes lie in self-promotion or seeking public approval and praise rather than true social justice advocacy.

Be mindful of the fact that if you are in a position where you feel like you have the ability to “save” or “empower” oppressed/minority/disempowered groups, you are demonstrating your position of privilege and, in fact, reinforcing social hierarchies.

One great way to know how you can help is by listening and asking groups you are allied with how they would like for you to become involved. By listening and taking into account the words of others, you demonstrate a genuine interest, and you will likely be called upon when your support is needed.

Email me: rachel.safeek@duke.edu

Twitter: @RachSafeek


Finding a Role for Women of Color in Anti-Rape Movements

10 Feb


The first SlutWalk in Toronto, ON, April 3, 2011 Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Toronto-Slutwalk.jpg

The first SlutWalk in Toronto, ON, April 3, 2011
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Toronto-Slutwalk.jpg

I wanted to weigh in on a topic that I’ve been following on twitter lately, and I’ve been getting many requests from peers about my opinion on this topic: the idea of a community SlutWalk. For those who are unfamiliar with the term SlutWalk, the basic premise is that women and feminist allies can gather in solidarity and parade the streets of their local communities wearing whatever choice of garb desired, however skimpy or “scandalous”. The message that is being conveyed is a powerful one: As women, our choice of clothing, or lack thereof, is not a license for intercourse. Moreover, by embracing flaunting the word “slut” on picket signs, it is perceived that feminists are taking ownership over the word, eliminating use of the term as one of verbal assault against women.

As a self-identifying feminist and a resolute believer in equality, I support the underlying message of this anti-rape movement. However, as a woman a color, I acknowledge that feminism and one’s expression of liberation via sexuality becomes more complex when the intersection of gender and race is considered, and, as feminists, we must remain conscientious of the interplay between various levels of oppression: race, class, gender, sexual orientation, etc.

Recently, a friend of mine raised the topic of women of color participating in slutwalks on facebook. Here was my response:

As women of color, we are often hypersexualized for our skin color and stereotyped before our credentials are discussed. Whether through being assigned playful (read: dismissive) nicknames…”my Turkish delight” or “my spicy Latina”, being asked where we are from or  what we are mixed with, or labeled an “exotic beauty” for our “sexy accents” or our curves, we are readily branded, dismissed, and relegated to sexual objects. For many of us, it’s our skin color and our body type that make us subject to sexualization and objectification, not necessarily the clothes we wear (as the SlutWalk would suggest).

Matter-of-factly, I believe that the idea of a slutwalk is proposed and executed from a position of power and privilege that is not available to women of color. As a woman of color, I do not feel safe calling myself a slut (even within a group setting of “solidarity” with other women), in the same way that I don’t feel like I can participate in the “casual Friday” look at work without compromising some of my credibility or professionalism, as a non-white person. Whereas white women are presumed to be born innocent, WOC are hypersexualized first, so there is already stigmatization involved before we can even discuss what clothing we wear….it’s an added level of oppression that the traditional slutwalk does not address.

Furthermore, I think it’s important to take into account that rape is most often not about the sex, but rather, exerting control over another person. Historically, WOC–minorities, in general– have been consistently relegated to inferior statuses. Rape has also been historically used to oppress minorities during colonialization and during the slave trade between masters and their “property”, which also calls attention to a greater need to focus on the issues of WOC when discussing sexual assault and gender-based violence.

Many of my peers, especially fellow Duke grads, are confused when I don’t respond enthusiastically to this topic, since I am often considered sex-positive for my work with HIV prevention and sex worker advocacy, but I DO think it is especially difficult for WOC to subscribe to a sex-positive and liberal culture at times. It’s not impossible for us (I certainly identify with this culture, indeed), but certain platforms, ie. slutwalks, while radical and forward thinking, can also create drawbacks for minorities. Representation of minorities in this walk is critical, and the sexualization associated with being a woman of color–beyond clothing–should be addressed.

-Not your princess Jasmine

email me at rachel.safeek@duke.edu
tweet me @RachSafeek

#FightStigma Campaign

25 Jan

#FightStigma is an anti-stigma campaign that was launched by the Duke University group, Know Your Status, to encourage HIV testing and combat stigma around HIV.

Due to an expressed interest in the #FightStigma t-shirts from the Twitter community, we are working on having more t-shirts made for anyone who is interested in participating in the campaign. Follow the #FightStigma campaign on Twitter for more information about HIV testing, HIV facts, and updates on #FigthStigma t-shirts.

FightStigma Campaign

Rachel Safeek and Jasmine Cross, KYS Co-Directors "Fight Stigma" image

Rachel Safeek and Jasmine Cross, 2012-2013 KYS Co-Directors “Fight Stigma” image

Free HIV Testing at Duke every Monday!

Free HIV Testing at Duke every Monday!

Rachel and Victoria of #FightStigma Campaign

Rachel and Victoria of #FightStigma Campaign

Jasmine and Rachel, KYS Co-Directors 2012-2013

Jasmine and Rachel, KYS Co-Directors 2012-2013


Daniel and Li of the #FightStigma Campaign, 2013-2014 Co-Directors of Know Your Status

Daniel and Li of the #FightStigma Campaign, 2013-2014 Co-Directors of Know Your Status

"Fight Stigma" Campaign

“Fight Stigma” Campaign

#FightStigma would like to thank Shayan Asadi for his amazing photography skills