Sexual violence runs rampant. Although perpetrators and victims can be any gender or sexual orientation, statistically, the majority of the former are men and the latter, women. The dynamics range from stranger assault to date rape, from adult-child violence perpetrated by family members or close friends. Although rape is an experience in which sex is a factor, it is always a crime of power of one person over another. It dehumanizes. It causes injury on the physiological, spiritual and psychological. There is no excuse for it to occur. It can be prevented.
Often, responsibility for prevention falls on the one at risk, rather than those perpetrating.
Women are told to dress less provocatively, walk confidently, travel in groups and if they are at a party or bar, keep an eye or hand on their drink so as not to be slipped a drug. In the case of ‘roofies’ being secreted into unsuspecting women’s beverages, a color changing nail polish was invented to identify their presence in the blood stream. Alleged ‘rape prevention underwear’ was designed which the inventors say purports to slow the rapist down which could allow the victim to get away.
Comedian Sarah Silverman created a list of 10 Rape Prevention Tips. Although it offended some, it also stirred conversation about the nature of the horrific crime. The takeaway message was this :”Don’t rape.”
I recall a story from my childhood about Golda Meir, who was Prime Minister of Israel at the time.
“When Israel was experiencing an epidemic of violent rapes and someone at a cabinet meeting suggested women be put under curfew until the rapists were caught, Meir shot back, “Men are committing the rapes. Let them be put under curfew.”
RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is America’s largest and most influential anti-sexual-violence organization. It is an outspoken advocate for sexual-assault victims. In a letter to the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, the organizations President, Scott Berkowitz and Vice President for Public Policy, Rebecca O’Connor, wrote,
“In the last few years, there has been an unfortunate trend towards blaming “rape culture” for the extensive problem of sexual violence on campuses. While it is helpful to point out the systemic barriers to addressing the problem, it is important to not lose sight of a simple fact: Rape is caused not by cultural factors but by the conscious decisions, of a small percentage of the community, to commit a violent crime.”
Even if you align with that idea, it remains a societal responsibility to speak out and protect if assault is imminent.
I was listening to NPR last night and heard a report about an organization called Project SoundCheck, which is under the umbrella of Sexual Assault Network in Ottawa, Canada. The story related the alarming incidence of sexual assault at music festivals.
According to their website:
“Project SoundCheck was a project which launched in 2015 to address sexual violence at large gatherings, and specifically focused on music festivals. It focused on training music festival volunteers in bystander intervention.”
It shocked me in particular, since those I attend are family friendly and it was hard to imagine assault happening. Then it occurred to me that in a setting in which drugs and alcohol are present in abundance, crowds are large, perpetrators can ‘hide in plain sight.’ During and following concerts in the Ottawa area, sexual assault survivors present themselves to hospital emergency rooms in alarming numbers. The dual focus of the interview was to bring awareness to the magnitude of the crisis, as well as to speak to the necessity for others to intervene if they witness what might appear to be, or actually be a dangerous situation.
In so many words, “If you see something, say something or do something.”
Although full responsibility falls on the potential perpetrator to refrain, bystander intervention goes a long way to create a safety barrier. Sadly, many don’t step up when they can. Reasons include:
- Thinking it isn’t my business,
- Fear for my safety.
- Someone else will do it.
- What if I misread a situation?
- My friend will be upset with me.
If you do choose to step in (and I hope you do if need be), you can create a distraction by asking the woman a question, such as, “Do you know who the next band is?” You might make a comment about the one that is playing at the moment. You could straightforwardly ask if she needs help. There is power in numbers, so if you are alone, you may want to approach her with others around you. If someone seems impaired, you could lead her away from danger. If you don’t know the woman, but are with someone who does, you could ask that person to approach her to offer support and an escort her away from the situation. If you are at an event, find a security guard or medic/EMT to accompany you.
Project SoundCheck offers education about the myths surrounding sexual assault.
No one should have to fear for their safety. Ever. And yes, you are your sister’s (and brother)’s keeper. We are responsible for looking out for each other. Be a proactive protector.