The #MeToo campaign is a rallying cry for millions of women to share personal stories of sexual harassment and assault. As parents, we worry how we will protect our children from others’ abuse and how we will teach them to identify it. Chau Nguyen, Chief Marketing Officer for the Houston Area Women’s Center (HAWC), puts a unique perspective on the crisis of abuse. You likely remember seeing her on KHOU Channel 11 as a local news reporter and anchor. She left KHOU in 2007 to go back to college- earning her Masters in Social Work from the University of Houston and becoming a licensed social worker.
Interviewed by Tonya Kerr
HFM: What influenced your career change from reporting on abuse to helping people recover from abuse?
CN: I knew after leaving the TV news business, I wanted to work in a helping profession. Working as a news reporter, I grew a greater sense of compassion for the people I met, often in their most tragic moments. I used to tell the stories of those in crisis. Now I get the privilege of sharing the stories of our clients, of our mission, and of our message.
HFM: Today, you’re a single mom to two adorable girls. How do you juggle both home and work?
CN: Work life balance is a constant challenge for me. So I am very lucky to be part of an organization that is supportive of working mothers and offers flexibility when I need to be with my girls.
My daughters are regular fixtures at my agency since I pick them up from school a few times a week and take them to my office to finish my work day, and to start their homework. They’re literally growing up at my agency!
HFM: How does your work with HAWC impact the way you are raising them?
CN: I couldn’t be more honored to be able to work in an environment that fosters empowerment and equality, and advocates women’s rights. It’s no secret I’m a proud feminist, so HAWC has a tremendous impact on how I raise my daughters: to be strong and independent, to treat others with respect and dignity, and to have compassion and grace.
HFM: HAWC must have been inundated in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. What were the biggest concerns and solutions then and now?
CN: Our biggest concern in the immediate aftermath of Harvey was ensuring that survivors get the support they needed. Statistically, we know reports of violence after natural disasters tend to spike. So we took proactive measures, sending counselors and staff to area shelters, delivering our hotline cards, and letting people know we are still here to help. Our hotlines never shut down throughout the Hurricane, and our shelter staff was amazing in ensuring the 120 women and children stayed safe and dry the entire time.
After the storm, our agency became a distribution center for the outpouring of support of goods and supplies we received from all over the country! That was truly a blessing, and only now are we finally getting back to a sense of normality around here. Our hotlines are back to their 100-plus call averages daily, and the very real issues of domestic and sexual violence for our survivors and their families remain. It’s no secret non-profits are faced with budgeting shortfalls, with generous Houstonians redirecting their giving to Harvey relief efforts. Still, we are committed to ending violence, so our resolve to seek and receive support for our clients is strong.
HFM: Following the media spotlight on the Harvey Weinstein assault and harassment allegations, is HAWC seeing any impact from the #MeToo campaign?
CN: Some clients are definitely talking with our counselors about what’s in the media and the recent #MeToo campaign. It’s given us an opportunity to have this dialogue through both our social media and local media outlets. Our message to our survivors has always been, “It’s not your fault, you are not alone, and we are here to help, confidential and free of charge.”
HFM: Knowing that parents and families profoundly affect the dispositions of their children, what are some tactical ways we can help our kids understand the importance of equality and respect at home and in the workplace?
CN: I’m a big proponent of, first and foremost, modeling. Modeling what healthy relationships look like, whether it be with an intimate partner, my friends, my colleagues or my family. As parents, we should share with our kids an open dialogue conveying that it’s not about being in that “box” our culture dictates; it’s okay for boys to cry, and it’s okay for girls to get angry, for example. As parents, we can also expose our children to diverse play experiences. We should refrain from the notion that there are just “boy” toys and “girl” toys. Finally, we can aim to choose books that take gender stereotypes out of the equation.
HFM: If a woman is reading this interview and considering reaching out to HAWC for help, what are her next steps?
CN: Help is just one phone call away. Our hotlines are 24/7, free and confidential (713-528-2121 for Domestic Violence, and 713-528-7273 for sexual assault). We also can be found on our website, hawc.org.
HFM: If a friend or relative of that woman is reading this, what is the best way to help someone who is abused?
CN: Firstly, listen without judgment, and refrain from giving advice. Let her know you believe her and that you know it’s not her fault.
HFM: What are the best ways HFM readers can help HAWC?
CN: What allows us to continue to provide life-changing services is this community’s continued generous financial support. That’s our greatest need right now. We also have volunteer opportunities and awesome fundraising events, found on our website at hawc.org. Or follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.