April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Chances are you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault. (Some facts regarding sexual violence are presented in the April 2012 post.) Each of us has an obligation to be aware and do what we are able to do to stop sexual violence.
WHAT IS SEXUAL VIOLENCE?
Sexual violence is a broad term and includes rape, incest, child sexual abuse, intimate partner violence, sexual exploitation, human trafficking, unwanted sexual contact, sexual harassment, exposure, and voyeurism.
Sexual violence occurs when someone is forced or manipulated into unwanted sexual activity without their consent. Reasons someone might not consent include fear, age, illness, disability, and/or influence of alcohol or other drugs. Anyone can experience sexual violence, including children, teens, adults, and elders.
These crimes are widespread and occur daily in our communities, schools, and workplaces, but sexual violence can be prevented. Community members can work to prevent sexual violence by establishing healthy and positive relationships that are based on respect, safety, and equality.
While some forms of sexual violence may not be illegal, such as sexist jokes, catcalling or vulgar gestures, this does not make them any less threatening or harmful to the person victimized. All these behaviors contribute to a culture that accepts sexual violence. Bystanders can speak up when they witness these actions to foster healthy sexuality and safer communities. Many opportunities exist in daily life where society can prevent behaviors that promote sexual violence.
WHAT IS AN ENGAGED BYSTANDER?
An engaged bystander is someone who intervenes before, during, or after a situation when they see or hear behaviors that promote sexual violence. It is common for people to witness situations where someone makes an inappropriate sexual comment or innuendo, tells a rape joke, or touches someone in a sexual manner. Bystanders might also witness other forms of sexual violence. Bystanders who witness the behavior or hear the comment can intervene in a way that will help create a safer environment. Research has shown that bystander programs can produce positive results by increasing participants’ knowledge of sexual violence, decreasing participants’ acceptance of rape myths, and increasing the likelihood that they will intervene (Banyard, Moynihan, & Plante, 2007). Engaged bystanders help create healthy communities and help others build safe and respectful environments by discouraging victim blaming, changing social norms that accept sexual violence, and shifting the responsibility to prevent sexual violence to all community members (Tabachnick, 2009).
WHEN AND HOW TO INTERVENE
Every situation is different and there is no universal response when intervening to prevent sexual violence. Safety is key in deciding when and how to respond to sexual violence. Every person must decide for themselves the safest and most meaningful way to become an engaged bystander. The following are ideas on how one can maintain safety while being an engaged bystander:
- If you witness sexual violence, get support from people around you. You do not have to act alone.
Practice with family and friends about what you would say and how you would say it.
- When intervening, be respectful, direct, and honest.
If you hear or see something and do not feel safe, contact the police. (never put yourself in danger)
Portions of this message come from a publication from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
CARING HOUSE EVENTS:
- April 24th, 2013–Denim Day
Please show your support of efforts all over the world to join in this nationwide campaign to bring awareness to the issue of sexual violence. Wear your denim this day.
- April 30th, 2013–Noon–Open House
Join us at the Caring House to socialize and support Sexual Awareness Month. There will be a small art display created by people who have been impacted by sexual assault.
- April 30th, 2013–5 PM–Candlelight Vigil
A short candlelight vigil will be held to honor victims of sexual violence. Please come to support the many victims in our community.