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Giving Tuesday is almost here! You can support our services by sharing this post, and/or donating.
Thank you for you consideration!
Click here to donate.
We want to thank Sarah Brouwer and Alana Chipman for organizing and holding the Relay for Relief event at Hebron Academy (Oxford County, Maine) this spring. They raised almost $1000 for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services! Relay for Relief was a 12 hour walk-a thon, inspired by the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. The students involved created teams of 5-8 members and took the challenge of walking the track all night, with members of each teams taking turns. In the gym, students played basketball, volleyball, lacrosse, and Frisbee while other team members were on the track. There was plenty of dancing and video games during the evening as well. It is wonderful to see students taking action to make change for a better tomorrow in their community!
Sexual Assault Awareness Month is a time to recognize where we are, where we’ve been and where we’re going in the work to prevent rape, childhood sexual abuse, sexual harassment and all forms of sexual violence. It is also a time to recognize the harm done by sexual violence – not only to individuals, but to our communities and indeed, our entire culture. Just as importantly, Sexual Assault Awareness Month is a time to celebrate healing and the resilience of victim-survivors.
We are busy planning and preparing for educational presentations, activities, and events. Here is a link to our happenings throughout Androscoggin, Franklin, and Oxford counties.
PS: Don’t forget to wear lots of teal this month!
Students demonstrate against abuse on Main Street, via Daily Bulldog:
FARMINGTON – A high school English class took to Main Street Thursday morning, holding handmade signs to bring awareness to the plight of those suffering from sexual and domestic abuse.
The students, all freshmen in teacher John Schoen’s English class at Mt. Blue, stood in front of the post office in sub-freezing temperatures with their signs, to the occasional honks from passing traffic. The students had been reading ‘Speak,’ a common book in high school reading courses. Written in a diary format, the novel by Laurie Halse Anderson tells the story of a student trying to work past the trauma of being raped.
Schoen offered his students the opportunity to conduct the project as a real-life counterpoint to writing another essay on the subject. Seven out of 10 of his students took him up on the offer, creating their own signs and spending three hours in front of the post office. Others circulated a petition and information about domestic violence [Safe Voices] and sexual assault provided by [SAPARS].
“I asked them if they wanted to use the book as a symbol, or be a symbol,” Schoen said. “It was about getting out there, maybe being a little bit uncomfortable.”
Students said reading the book was “emotional” and they wanted to make a difference.
“I think it’s important for people to know that there are people out there that need support,” student Tashia Berkey said.
A Problem of Power: Ending Bullying in Schools, via Everyday Feminism:
People cannot stop talking about bullying.
There are endless stories on repeat throughout the major media, and in the past few years, every state in the country has passed laws or policies that are aimed at tackling bullying.
Virtually every school in the country has a “Respect Week” or programming during October, National Bullying Prevention Month.
And these conversations are important. They come from a deep and serious concern for our young people who are hurting.
But they are also grossly ill-conceived.
Part of the trouble with tackling bullying is that there is no “one size fits all”approach, and there never can be one. And so long as we treat bullying as if it’s some general problem that requires general solutions like “respect campaigns,”we ensure that the problem of bullying will persist in our communities.
After all, at its root, bullying behavior is about power.
Far too often, young people tear each other down and target one another for sustained violence, harassment, or neglect in order to feel more powerful, particularly when the person exhibiting bullying behavior is feeling powerless.
Amanda Levitt of Fat Body Politics describes it perfectly:
If we actually started calling bullying what it is and address it as racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, fat phobia, and classism, it would actually give children a better way to deal with the very same power dynamics they will face as adults, while also giving adults more responsibility to challenge the intolerance that is rooted within our society overall.
In essence, it’s time we change how we talk about bullying.
In my own work, I use the term Identity-Based Bullying to get at the root of the bullying problem.
Though there are, of course, exceptions, the majority of bullying in American schools cannot simply be explained away with “kids will be kids” or as“adolescent cruelty.”
It is reflective of the very same problems of power, oppression, and privilege that we see in wider society, only it’s played out in language and behavior that students can better understand.
After all, the patterns we see in bullying behavior reflect many of the issues of oppression and marginalization we see in wider society.
In Gender, Bullying, and Harassment, Elizabeth J. Meyer lays out the impacts of sexual harassment and body policing that young girls experience in school as one method of bullying.
The incredible researchers at GLSEN make it clear that LGBTQ+ students on the whole feel unsafe in school and are harassed and assaulted at alarming rates.
In their chapter “Fat Youth as Common Targets for Bullying” in The Fat Studies Reader, Jacqueline Weinstock and Michelle Kreibiel explain not only how common weight-based bullying actually is, but also how socially accepted it is within school climates.
In one school, students may be targeted for their race, in another for their physical or cognitive ability. In a third, they may be targeted for their religious expression or native language. Still in another, the bullying might relate to gender expression in more subtle ways, with boys who are less athletic teased for their interests and girls who choose not to shave their legs tormented for their bodily expression.
The point, though, is that tackling bullying simply with “respect” and “kindness,” while well-intentioned, simply misses the mark.
The most common outcome of the recent wave of anti-bullying legislation, though, has not been funding for trainings or curriculum that teaches students how to intervene when bullying is taking place around them or that gives teachers tools for building more inclusive classroom environments.
More than anything else, these laws hand down harsher consequences to punish bullies.
What these approaches fail to address, though, is that bullying cannot be solved with punitive consequences.
First and foremost, punitive measures, though sometimes warranted, do nothing to prevent further bullying if for no other reason than pre-frontal lobe development in young brains.
If the part of the brain that helps us reason “If I take X action, Y will be my consequence” isn’t fully functioning, then consequence-oriented policy isn’t going to solve the problem of bullying.
Beyond simple biology, though, there are socio-emotional arguments to discourage “zero tolerance” punitive approaches to bullying.
Most students who exhibit bullying behavior are struggling and have been bullied themselves. In fact, among middle school students, the majority of students have participated in bullying behavior at some time.
Norris M. Haynes, Christine Emmons, and Michael Ben-Avie of the Yale University’s Child Study Center even note that excessive punitive measures end up telling students who actually need more support that they are not wanted or welcome in the school community.
This is all to say that if we want to end the problem of bullying, we have to think differently about what solutions look like.
In short, we have to transform the culture and climate of our schools.
If we want to end the problem of bullying, we have to do two things: appeal to the rest of the adolescent brain, the part that relies on culture and habit; and address the specific nature of the bullying in our school environments by championing inclusion.
Educational researcher Sheri Bauman of the University of Arizona uses the term“climates of civility” to describe the challenge we face in tackling bullying.
If we want to end the problem, we cannot simply pass some laws and wash our hands. We have to do the tough work of changing culture and climate.
Fortunately, there are a few simple things that students, educators, and families can do to build cultures of civility and inclusion that prevent bullying.
The first step to tackling the problem of bullying is acknowledging the diversity that exists in our schools.
So often, the conversation about diversity is boiled down to simply race and class(with maybe some gender or sexual orientation discussed marginally).
While these are vitally important aspects of student identity, they are simply part of the portrait of diversity in our communities.
Sometimes I will have schools in, say, rural South Dakota say to me, “We’re not diverse, so we’re not sure how the conversation about identity-based bullying applies to us.”
It leaves me baffled.
What about student ability? Citizenship experience? Weight and body image? Student interest? Religion? Gender expression? Sexual orientation? Race? Class and wealth?
The other side of the coin of comprehending bullying behavior is understanding the diversity that exists in each and every school.
To paraphrase Gary Howard, “Diversity is not a choice. It’s a demographic reality.”
To tackle bullying is to tackle the specific nature of bullying in any given school community.
To do that requires that we understand who is being targeted and what the bullying looks like.
More often than not, this is an exercise in understanding power.
Students without social power are those far more likely to be targeted by others for bullying behavior, whether that’s the social power of the school yard (i.e.: geeks vs. jocks) or the wider social power of identity privilege, power, and oppression.
When we understand who is being targeted, why they are more likely to be targeted in our specific community, and what this bullying looks like, we can begin to solve the problem.
Empathy is vitally important.
We need to teach our young people how to empathize with others and how to stick up for one another, but we also need to model it.
Supporting those who have been targeted by bullying behavior is obvious(though sometimes it goes undone).
Far less popular, though, is empathy for those who’ve exhibited the bullying behavior.
This is not to say that students shouldn’t face consequences for their actions, butif we don’t get to the bottom of why students are bullying, we won’t solve the problem.
And more often than not, it’s because a student is hurting.
Far too often, schools treat bullying as something “in-house.”
Parent engagement is an afterthought, and the “support staff” of custodial workers, office workers, or security staff is all but ignored.
Training students to be UPstanders instead of bystanders is rare, and teachers aren’t often given the time to design school-wide interventions to tackle the problem.
Shifting culture and climate, though, means bringing everyone on board.
Offer families constructive ways to participate in the conversation. Take the time to train students and discuss bullying prevention in advisory. Offer all staff members opportunities to design and implement proactive and preventive solutions.
Because as the old saying goes, “It takes a village.”
So long as our approaches to bullying remain reactive, we will never mitigate the problem. We have to create the kinds of environments where students don’t bully.
Doing so responds to the part of the student brain from which they are more likely working, the part that relies on environmental cues and habits, in building critical mass for change.
Nearly every aspect of student experience and achievement can be tied back to inclusiveness.
When students feel safe and included in school, they show up for class. When students feel fully supported in their identity, they engage socially. When students are taught from an early age what it looks like to build inclusive environments, they are more likely to stand up for their peers. When students feel safe and included in school, they achieve at higher levels.
Simply put, we cannot punish bullying into oblivion.
We can, however, create environments where we value respect, empathy, care, and (at a minimum) civility. And when those things are valued, bullying simply isn’t tolerated.
When I’m approached by a principal, counselor, student, or parent to offer bullying prevention training or consulting, the client generally falls into one of two categories.
Half want easy answers. They want a simple, ten-step solution to the problem.
I can’t help these folks much.
But the other half?
They understand that bullying is complex and nuanced.
They understand that we cannot just lump people into categories of “bully, bystander, and victim.”
They understand that punitive measures don’t work.
These are the folks who understand the work it takes to shift culture and climate and are committed to that painstaking transformation.
These are the folks who are most likely to realize powerful change in their community.
And this is the group that I hope you fall in.
Here is a fantastic blog post from Feministe about what NOT to say when someone discloses a sexual assault to you. (At the bottom, we have added in a list of appropriate things you can say to a survivor you may be supporting):
“20 Things Never to Say to a Friend Who Confides in You That They’ve Been Sexually Assaulted”
This list is by no means exhaustive. Unfortunately, many people will know or do know someone who’s a survivor of a sexual assault or rape. If you find yourself in the position of confidant, please choose your words carefully. They can make the world of difference. (This list is heteronormative because it’s an account of personal experiences. However, sexual violence is by no means just male-on-female. People of all genders commit sexual violence against people of the same or a different gender.)
1. “Are you sure that happened?”
I know you’re shocked. But asking me if I’m sure if I was assaulted is a HUGE slap in the face. Yes, I know what happened to me. I remember every detail because it plays over and over in my head.
2. “Was he DRUNK?”
The emphasis on the “drunk” part comes off as though you believe there is no way this person could do something like this unless he were under the influence (which still doesn’t make his actions excusable). If you are friends with him, it will be even harder for you to imagine your friend committing an act of sexual violence. If you don’t believe the person is that “type” to do such a thing, don’t let me know you’re skeptical, because that weakens the trust and safety I feel confiding in you.
3. “Tell me EXACTLY what happened.”
I know you’re experiencing some denial that this has happened to someone you know. But you have to understand that it is extremely triggering for someone to recount every detail of a traumatic experience. And when you persist, it seems as though you’re looking for details to “validate” that this was in fact an assault, especially if you know who did this (see #2).
4. “Why didn’t you tell me before?”
Regardless of how close we are, it’s not easy for someone who’s been through a traumatic experience to bare their soul right away. Just because I didn’t tell you immediately after it happened doesn’t mean I don’t trust you. It’s hard to put words to an incident that I wish had never happened in the first place.
5. “Are you okay now?”
No, I’m not. But, I know you want me to say “yes” so you can stop worrying about me and we can go back to the happy BFFs we were before. Eventually I just give up and say “yes” so you’ll stop asking so many times.
6. “Why are you still upset?”
I didn’t know there was an expiration date on pain, depression, confusion, and the myriad of other emotions I’m experiencing.
7. “How long will it take for you to get better?”
I don’t know how long it will take. Trust me, I’m doing everything I can.
8. “But you look fine.”
Just because I don’t walk around with my head down and an unkempt appearance, and I don’t communicate in grunts instead of English, doesn’t mean I’m not hurting inside. Sometimes, I don’t want to talk about it. Sometimes, I don’t have the energy to mentally take myself to that traumatic place.
9. “Just don’t think about it.”
Because that’s so easy, right? We all know what eventually happens to bottled-up emotions.
10. “You need to be strong.”
Telling me to just be strong is like telling me to lift myself up from my bootstraps.
11. “In X years you won’t really care about this.”
This isn’t some embarrassing fall in the middle of the dining hall. The recovery process is a long and rocky road, and I don’t need anyone, especially a close friend, brushing the incident off as “something that we’ll all laugh about in X years”.
12. “It could’ve been worse.”
Very true. That doesn’t make what happened to me any less severe. That doesn’t mean I’ll say, “Gee, you’re right. What am I even upset about?” The fact that it could’ve been worse doesn’t make me feel better in the slightest.
13. “You can always come to me whenever you need me.”
It’s okay to let me know that you don’t think you’re someone who can provide the support I need, because this is a delicate and traumatic situation to deal with. Suggesting I reach out to a counselor or other resources is perfectly okay. I promise I won’t be offended.
14. “I understand how you feel.”
Yes, you know how it feels to cry, to be hurt, scared, and confused. But unless you have been through a sexual assault or rape yourself, do not tell me you understand how I feel. You and I both know that you don’t, and you saying this makes me more angry than comforted. Being close to a survivor and being a survivor yourself are two completely separate things.
15. “This is about me, too.”
It is never, ever about you. Yes, you’re upset that something awful has happened to me. Yes, you may know the person who hurt me, and now you’re in this position to “choose” between us. Nonetheless, what you’re feeling as the friend of a survivor is no match for what a survivor feels.
16. “You could be fabricating this whole thing.”
Never do so much as to even insinuate that I am or could be lying. I promise you, I’m not faking the depression, the tears, and “I want to kill myself”’s that you see and hear.
17. “This isn’t fair to me to be in this position. I wish you never told me.”
Do you even hear yourself? I know it’s tough to be hit with cold, hard reality. But for you to tell me that it’s not fair for YOU to know what I’ve been through is selfishness and immaturity at its finest.
18. “Why didn’t you ______?”
Never, ever, EVER, ask me why I didn’t act differently. Survivors always blame themselves first for what happened, and the fact that you’re asking me why I didn’t do ____, which may have caused a different chain of events, strengthens the internal blame, guilt, and self-loathing that I’m struggling with.
19. “Does he know how this has affected you? Maybe he’d be sorry if he knew.”
Whether or not he would be “sorry” if he knew how upset I am after the incident, don’t ever try to paint said perpetrator in a sensitive, caring light. That doesn’t mean you need to bash him. But don’t try to reassure me that he’d be eternally remorseful if he knew how hurt I am.
20. “Girls always say ‘no’ because they’re scared. It’s happened before; they eventually give in… It would be beneficial to you to keep this between us.”
This last one doesn’t follow the trend, but was said to me by the guy himself. I didn’t know where to begin: the fact that you just looked me in the eyes and told me this after I found the courage to confront you about the incident afterwards? The fact that you (and countless others) believe it’s okay to force someone against their will to engage in sexual activities because you know they’re “just scared”? The fact that I wasn’t the first one you “strongly encouraged”? Or, the fact that you’re trying to save face by attempting to convince me that it would be beneficial to ME to not tell anyone what YOU did? Out of this entire list, this one had the most impact on me, and I know I’ll remember these words for the rest of my life. Because sexual violence has existed, still exists, and will continue to exist on this earth, please, PLEASE choose your words carefully if you ever find yourself in the position of confidant. When in doubt, it’s okay to say, “I don’t know what to say”. And remember, no matter how upset, confused, frustrated you are, what you’re feeling is NOWHERE near how your friend is feeling. If you know someone who is a survivor of sexual assault or rape, do not hesitate to reach out to resources, either for your friend or for yourself. If you are a survivor of sexual assault or rape, please reach out. I know it’s hard. I know you may feel embarrassed to talk about it. But no matter how alone you feel, please know that you aren’t.
Helpful Things You Can Say When Supporting a Sexual Assault Survivor:
1. Begin by believing. Even if you experience some doubt, keep it to yourself. It is not your job to decide what is real and what isn’t. Hearing the words “I believe you” can be so empowering.
2. Listen actively… be present in the moment. Say things such as “I’m listening” and “take all the time you need,” but REALLY listen… don’t just say that.
3. Allow the individual to experience any emotions that may arise… it’s healthy. Saying the words “it’s okay, you’re allowed to feel what you need to feel” can be really helpful.
4. Offer to be a support person if you feel comfortable, for example: accompanying him/her to a rape crisis center for more information, and possible next steps. You can say something like, “I will help and support you in any way that I can if you would like me to,” but only if you truly mean it.
5. Let the person know that it was NOT their fault by actually saying “it was not your fault.” This is one of the most important things you can ever say. Regardless of clothing, alcohol consumption, physical location…no one deserves to raped, ever.
Maine (only) Sexual Assault Helpline: 1-800-871-7741
National Sexual Assault Helpline: 1-800-656-HOPE(4673)
“Never get tired of doing little things for others, because sometimes, those little things occupy the biggest parts of their hearts.” – unknown
Today is May 2nd, which means Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) ended two days ago. However, that does not mean we stop educating, advocating, and raising awareness. Every month is SAAM for us!
We would like to say THANK YOU (!!!) to everyone who volunteered, and/or participated in our SAAM events this year, in all three counties. Your support for our agency, and for sexual assault survivors means everything. There will be more events happening throughout the year, so please stayed tuned for updates =)
Every Sunday throughout April, Sexual Assault Prevention & Response Services will have a guest column in the SunJournal. Each column will discuss a different aspect of sexual violence, as well as prevention & education efforts.
Here is the 4th and final article from one of our our Education Coordinators!
I walk into a first-grade classroom with an armload of 30 makeshift hula hoops shaped like a raindrop rather than a circle. They are blue and have a mass of silver duct tape at the point of the raindrop shape.
The students in the class are smiling and quietly say to each other and to me “Space Ships!”
These “space ships” are one of the tools that we have been using since 2007 to teach the self-empowerment and personal space to children in elementary school. In some schools, by the spring of first grade, a child will have “played” with these space ships three times.
Teaching children about personal body safety and sexual abuse prevention is a careful endeavor. At Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services, we approach the issue by teaching different concepts that build on one another and create a firm foundation before we even start talking specifically about sexual harassment or sexual assault.
The first concept we teach is that of personal body space.
By using the “spaceships,” we take a theoretical concept and make it visual, so all the children can “see” it and understand it.
They can see that we move through our day and our need for personal body space might change depending on circumstance, or on which person we are interacting with.
The space ships allow the children to experience the concept of their own personal body space and respect the right of each other to maintain that space. This activity also helps children to understand and learn about healthy boundaries and consent — key concepts in sexual assault prevention.
By third grade, we focus our presentations on team work and interdependence. Using games designed to encourage the students to maintain their own individual personal space while being part of a group, we explore concepts of leadership, group dynamics and how to problem-solve in a fair and positive way so that all members of a team feel included and are safe.
We also talk about their responsibility to one another, which lays the groundwork for conversations about how to be a proactive bystander and help other students when it looks like they are being hurt.
Our presentations in fourth grade explicitly focus on gossip, rumors and bystander behaviors.
Again, using games to explore these concepts, the students are able to meet and address these potentially scary concepts in a developmentally appropriate and fun fashion.
We give the students a tube of toothpaste and ask them to squeeze it out onto a paper plate. We can then talk about what a mess it made. Then we ask them to put the toothpaste back in the tube. Of course they cannot get more than a dab back in the tube.
We can then begin the discussion about how words can make a mess and that, once said, they cannot be taken back. This helps us to talk with the students about bullying and what a mess it can create and how it cannot be undone.That lays a solid foundation for later presentations about appropriate Internet/social media use.
In fifth and sixth grades, we actively engage the students in conversations about Internet safety and harassment issues.
Because they have had all of the concept and skill-building presentations in prior years, they have the ability to apply those lessons to these very important topics and understand them in a more fundamental way.
Throughout these presentations, we talk with the students about the importance of getting help from a grownup when they or someone else is being hurt or in danger of being hurt. We help them to identify who those grownups might be, and what they should expect in the way of help from those adults.
All of our presentations can be presented as stand-alone material, but we find that they work best all together. Our presentations build upon each other, creating a framework of understanding, built year after year.
We believe it is the responsibility of the community to help keep our children safe from harm.
While it is the adults who should be responsible for sexual abuse prevention, our programs provide our children with the concepts and skills necessary to help keep themselves safe. And, they teach children lifelong skills that will help them each to understand and seek out safe, healthy relationships.
Bridget McAlonan is the SACC Education Coordinator for the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services.
(A guest blog, written by Maggie P., a Practicum student at SAVES, the Franklin County office of Sexual Assault Prevention & Response Services. Thank you, Maggie!)
Have you ever heard of a SlutWalk? They are outdoor events that protest rape culture and victim blaming, and they occur worldwide. A few weeks ago, while browsing the Internet, I stumbled upon a picture of a young woman holding a sign from the 2011 SlutWalk in Washington, D.C., and what caught my eye the most was the comment underneath the picture. The comment read, “maybe if she hadn’t drank so much she wouldn’t have been raped.” My mouth literally fell open in disgust and astonishment…because the comment was left by someone that I know. I went to high school with this particular individual, so I know for a fact that he was educated at a highly qualified institution. However, his ignorant comment would lead me to believe differently. Disturbingly, several other people also commented on the photo with praises for making “such a good point,” and for “speaking up.” Once again…disgust and astonishment. My immediate thought was to leave a comment in response, but I hesitated in fear of getting worked up (or getting even more worked up, I should say). For my second thought, I wondered: what makes these individuals think that being intoxicated is a reason to be sexually assaulted? Newsflash – it is not. Newsflash again – there are no “reasons” to be sexually assaulted, ever.
Recently, there have been several public cases involving teenagers and young adults who have been sexually assaulted by their peers while intoxicated at social gatherings. One of these cases included a 15-year-old girl from California who committed suicide after being raped by three of her male peers at a party 8 months ago. What makes this situation even more disturbing is that the young men allegedly took pictures documenting the assault (one of which became viral), and the victim was relentlessly bullied. It has been reported that the three perpetrators were arrested in connection to the rape, and are currently being held in a California detention center. Some people may argue that the girl should not have been drinking, and that by doing so, she put herself in a vulnerable position. However, the act of consuming alcohol is not the problem…rape is the problem.
Another problem lies within the too-often-used excuse of, “Well he or she was drunk, so it’s fine.” By saying this or similar statements, we are making sexual violence acceptable. In a society where sexual violence is highly prevalent, it is difficult to believe that some people would make excuses for it, and that some would even condone it…but they do. In order to prevent narrow mindsets and false concepts, education and prevention programs must be implemented in schools. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and it’s the perfect time to start educating yourself and the ones you love about sexual violence. The information is out there, all you have to do is look for it. Without exposing people to the reality rape and sexual assault, we run the risk of further enforcing the idea that sexual violence is acceptable, and that it should be tolerated, and that is not okay.