Ask a random group of people what their favorite television drama is, and you’re bound to get several people who enthusiastically choose “Law & Order: SVU”, a show that the network explains “chronicles the life and crimes of the Special Victims Unit, an elite squad of detectives who investigate sexually based crimes.” Makes for interesting television, for sure. But in the reality that is everyday life, we as a society cringe at the very idea of openly talking about those “sexually based crimes”. We definitely don’t want to think about it happening in Brookings, South Dakota. The reality, however, is that like any other city, it does happen here, but it doesn’t have to.
While September brings around a brand new school year, full of opportunities and excitement, it is also National Campus Safety Awareness Month (NCSAM), designed as the official month dedicated to enhancing dialogue around campus safety issues. While campus safety certainly involves a variety of issues – from basic fire safety to obeying the dorm rules – of particular importance are those issues that can have life-altering circumstances, such as sexual violence. Sexual violence affects individuals, families, communities and the larger society. It is defined as any type of unwanted sexual contact, ranging from sexual assault to sexist and/or sexually violent jokes, comments about someone’s appearance or sexual orientation, catcalling, and sexually explicit gestures. And while some of these behaviors might not be illegal, it does not make them any less threatening or harmful to the person who is the target of the behaviors. All of us have likely been witness to some sort of sexual violence in our lifetimes. Each of us can step forward and, rather than simply be a bystander, become an engaged bystander.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), an engaged bystander is “anyone who intervenes before, during, or after a situation when they see or hear behaviors that promote or condone sexual violence.” It’s likely that every one of us has been in a situation where we’ve witnessed someone making an inappropriate comment, telling an explicit joke, or touching someone in an inappropriate manner. We have all been “engaged bystanders”?
By speaking up when we witness sexually inappropriate behaviors, we become “engaged” and therefore, contribute to society as a whole by promoting respectful relationships and safer communities. Every situation is different and when intervening to prevent sexual violence, safety is vital when deciding when and how to respond. Every person must decide for him or herself the safest and most effective way to become an engaged bystander. When speaking up, it is always beneficial to get support from people around you, but always try to be respectful, direct, and honest. If you and/or hear something and you do not feel comfortable or safe stepping forward and speaking up, contact such authorities. For more information about these issues, you can also contact the Brookings Domestic Abuse Shelter at (605)692-7233.
Stacy Childuahse, Brookings Domestic abuse Shelter. She can be reached at [email protected]