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April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month
"The month of April has been designated Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) in the United States. The goal of SAAM is to raise public awareness about sexual violence and to educate communities and individuals on how to prevent sexual violence. Each day, people witness a continuum of behaviors that range from being respectful and safe, to sexually abusive and violent."
If you are reading this blog, I am assuming you are not a bully, abuser or violent criminal. Maybe you are, like me, a loving husband, protective father, or proud son; a man angry that others who share our gender are violent. We have a responsibility to stop sexual violence perhaps even greater than those bad ones. But, don’t be frightened away here; a law of nature dictates that small actions can have a big effect. So, what can we do? I have two ideas.
First, understand the Bystander Effect. If you are not a bad guy or a victim, you are a bystander; the audience, those present at or near the scene of violence. They are those who support or deny support to the bad guys. Bystanders create the back-drop for sexual assault. The behavior bystanders take or do not take determines how far bad guys can go. A harsh reality I know, but WE allow sexual assault to happen. But again, what can we do? A simple example: When you tolerate degrading speech (even innocent seeming words) about women, you are tolerating these statements towards YOUR wife, YOUR daughter, or YOUR mother, and encouraging the devaluation that leads to escalating violence. Stop participating with these words and stop tolerating it. In this way, we contain and restrain bad behavior and become active bystanders rather than bystanders colluding with bad guys.
Second, as men, we can help empower the women and girls in our lives. Empowerment results in more power and control over events; in this case, more power and control over the contexts of sexual assault. An empowerment process created by Self-Protection.org consists of:
• Rationally understand threats
• See where you can impact those threats
• Take action to mitigate threats, and take action against threats
• Connect with others who face similar threats (and allies)
By rationally understanding the threat of sexual assault, women and girls can become more aware of the contexts and realities of sexual assault. By seeing where they can impact, each individual can begin to explore where they can impact this threat. From these first two steps, individuals can learn to take action to mitigate sexual assault and take action to protect themselves from this threat. And, by connecting with other women and girls as well as the men and boys who choose to be allies, a safer community begins to establish itself around and in us all. Finally, by developing more power and control, women and girls in our society can be safer from violence.
Together, we can create a community where a new generation of boys grow up interacting with protective dads and empowered girls. We can create a community where boys learn to be respectful and safe rather than sexually abusive and violent. Man Up! and help create this community.
Man Up! Volunteer Jim Doyle –Founder, Self-Protection.org