SART Foundations: Sexual Violence Happens Here
Growing up, my friends and I didn’t know a whole lot about sexual and domestic violence. Even though violence happened, no one really talked about it openly. If people did talk, it was about the city or movies or video games. For my friends and me, when we heard about sexual violence, it was a case of overhearing adults talking about those things as events that happened in other places—not in our rural community. When I first started working in victim advocacy, one of the hardest things I had to learn was that sexual violence happened in my community and that I personally knew the people that were victim/survivors and the perpetrators. It’s hard; it’s one of the harder parts of being in a small community doing this work.
Through my work as a national technical assistance provider, I have found that all over the country, communities have similar conversations as ours did. People are often afraid, unwilling, or unsure of how to address the fact that sexual violence happens in their communities, their places of worship, their workplaces, or in their family/friend networks. SART leaders talk to me before trainings and ask how I can help get folks to see the realities of what’s happening around them. There are no easy answers or quick fixes—I wish there were. However, here are some ideas about how to approach the conversation with folks in the community.
- Define “sexual violence” in accessible ways. Often times, folks have a belief that sexual violence is strangers jumping out of alleys and bushes. Talk about the range of behaviors that are sexually violent and make sure they get what you mean.
- Normalize the conversation. Work with rural leader, other non-profits, faith communities, etc. to say that it does happen here and what that might look like in your community. Help to break the silence and stigma; help others make space for people to come forward and get help.
- Personalize sexual violence. I’m not saying make it about someone’s victimization or share confidential information about other victim/survivors. Rather, help people understand sexual violence victim/survivors (and perpetrators) as people that you know, love, and/or see frequently.
- Use logic and numbers. Give the stats around sexual violence in communities. Talk about some of the unique elements of reporting in a rural community that may change how that number looks in your community. If 1 in 4 women and 1 in 33 men and 1 in 2 trans-identified folks experience sexual violence, math says that it’s happening in your community.
- Give people time to change their perceptions. Learning about and talking about sexual violence is hard. You know this. I know this. People usually need time to make sense of hard information.
- Show compassion, even if you think they are wrong. Honestly? This is still a struggle for me. Yet, I find that if I approach people (leaders, teams, communities) with compassion and acknowledge the struggle they must experience when faced with the scope of violence, we both walk away from the conversation with doors open. When I get frustrated or condescending or disengage negatively, people don’t come back to the conversation when they most need to. Show compassion, speak the truth, and set the stage for other people to authentically engage.
How about you folks? How have you gotten community and team members on-board with recognizing that sexual violence happens here? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments!