Staggering rates of sexual violence are affecting our Alaskan communities. According to the 2015 Alaska Victimization Survey done by the UAA Justice Center, “1 in 2 adult women in the Municipality of Anchorage (48%) have experienced intimate partner violence, sexual violence, or both, in their lifetime. 1 in 13 have experienced intimate partner violence, sexual violence, or both in the past year.”
April dons the title of Sexual Assault Awareness Month or SAAM. During this time, we hope to shed light on the widespread numbers of sexual assault and violence, while also educating the public on what we can ALL do to prevent this violence. From small actions to large movements, there is a place for each of us to take part. What can we do to change the narrative for survivors and decrease sexual violence in our communities? Broadening support systems for survivors, preventing violence before it occurs, and educating our children, friends, and family on healthy behaviors and relationships are all great places to start.
We are each in a unique position to create change. If we think about some of the greatest movements throughout history, women’s rights, racial equality, implementing worker’s unions, or even bolstering smaller communities like promotoras who as community members, work to provide basic health education for the public. These movements, these programs, all began through grassroots organization, people bonding together for a greater cause. If enough of us are invested to create change, change will occur.
Let’s begin with broadening support systems for survivors. Survivors of dating and sexual violence often feel comfortable confiding in a close friend FIRST, before seeking help from law enforcement or health care specialists. If a friend discloses to you they are a survivor, YOU can start them on the path to recovery by following these steps:
- Make sure they’re safe. “Do you feel safe here? at home?” - Reinforce your belief in them. “I believe you, let’s talk through it.” - Let them know it’s not their fault. “What happened to you is not okay.” “You are not responsible for this happening.” - Be supportive and listen actively, avoiding investigatory questions. “It sounds like…” “What you’re saying is…” - Connect them to further resources. “Is there anyone else you’d like to talk to?
Refer and reach out to a 24/7 crisis line through Standing Together Against Rape (STAR) 907-276-7273 or Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis (AWAIC) 907-272-0100. STAR provides options, support, and information to survivors of sexual violence. AWAIC provides domestic violence safe shelter and intervention.
We can also prevent violence before it happens, through bystander intervention. We as the community, have the power to step in to defuse potentially harmful situations or speak up if a situation needs. There are three helpful strategies to incorporate bystander intervention throughout our daily life. The first strategy, Direct Action can be utilized when an individual feels comfortable directly intervening. This could encompass shutting down rape jokes, calling out offensive language, or removing someone from a harmful situation. We can actively check in directly with someone in a harmful situation. Ask, “Are you ok?” “I am heading home, do you want to leave?” The second strategy, Delegation works to involve more people, think strength in numbers. If you don’t feel comfortable intervening along, ask someone else to help step in. It can be a friend, police officer, or even friends of the person in need of help. The last strategy, Distraction allows individuals to get creative! Find a way to use a distraction to diffuse the situation. Pretend you know someone, change the subject, suggest an alternative activity, this strategy is best to help deescalate situations to move forward.
We can also educate our children, friends, and family on healthy behaviors and relationships. Discuss what a healthy versus unhealthy relationship look like, teach that each individual has the right to decide when and how someone touches their body. Reflect on your own relationships and teach others to do the same. In your relationships, ask yourself, do I feel… Safe, respected, and cared for by my partner? Supported to spend time with friends and family? Like I can talk about problems or share ideas without being afraid? Respected in my choices about birth control/condoms and when/if I want children? If you answered yes to these, you are likely in a healthy relationship. Then ask, does my partner… Shame me or put me down? Hurt me, make me feel afraid, or make me feel like my spirit is broken? Try to control me or keep me from seeing people? Make me do sexual things I don’t want to do or try to get me pregnant when I don’t want to be? If you answered yes to any of these questions it is not your fault and you don’t deserve this. Please know you are not alone. Reach out to STAR or AWAIC or talk to your health care provider.
There are many ways we can ALL contribute to decreasing sexual violence in our communities. Practice healthy communication with children, promote safety, respect, and equality to stop sexual violence before it happens, participate in community events and education around sexual assault prevention, create safe and equitable communities, show support for survivors, stand up to victim blaming, and step up as a bystander. In the end, if we each dedicate even a small amount of time to creating a shift in our community, change will follow. Choose what works for you, and together we can support survivors and decrease sexual violence.
Hannah Guzzi M.A.T (Health Promotion Specialist, UAA Student Health and Counseling Center) Translator: Rebeca Maseda García. (Spanish Professor, UAA Department of Languages)
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