STAMFORD, Conn. -- To the editor:
Sexual violence is a layered and complex issue. No two cases are exactly alike, and no community is immune. While sexual violence is an issue that has been with us since the dawn of man, we still have not figured out how to appropriately respond to this epidemic collectively. So when we ask ourselves where we stand as a nation on combating sexual assault, we must take stock of the social, cultural and political factors involved.
I still remember the reasons why I took this job with The Center for Sexual Assault Crisis Counseling and Education. These reasons sit in a folder on my desk, housing three stories that would come to change the way I view my country. After working on a film about the systematic gang rape of women and girls by village panchayat’s in India, I never thought that I would see such blatant oppression and abuse again.
Turning on the news at home made me second guess that assertion.
The stories of Rehtaeh Parsons, Audrie Pott, and the infamous case in Steubenville grabbed my attention. The similarities were astounding. Three separate incidences of gang rape of young girls at a party. From Nova Scotia, to California, to Ohio, all assaults occurred in public view, with dozens bearing witness. Smartphones came out, with photos and videos taken of the crimes. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube provided a new avenue for victimization. The comments on these platforms revealed a blanket sentiment of slut shaming and victim blaming.
In the thousands of tweets that emanated from these cases, not a single one asked “Why didn’t anyone stop it?” That is an excellent question. Why didn’t anyone do anything? Surely, there had to be an individual at the Steubenville party who witnessed an unconscious girl being urinated on who thought to themselves, “This isn’t right.”
Yet, here was the common response when that very question was raised on Twitter:
@HenrllJodi: “I wouldn’t of intervened, if she wants to be a drunk slut that on her, why would someone help her?”
As we can see, the answer of “why” this wasn’t stopped goes far beyond the phenomenon known as the bystander effect, or the diffusion of responsibility.
The Center aims to challenge the social landscape that gives birth to a culture of apathy and victim blaming. Through a program called Where Do You Stand, (WDYS) The Center strives to empower college aged young men to step in and be a vehicle for change in the fight against sexual violence. Where Do You Stand approaches the concept of bystander intervention from a place of cultural understanding and analytics. Acknowledging that we are all products of our environment, WDYS challenges the behaviors and attitudes that lend to silence and inaction in response to sexual assault. This program deconstructs the mask of hegemonic masculinity, pointing out the damage it does to both men and women, and empowers participants with strategies that safely challenge these norms. WDYS carries with it the hope that we can change the way we discuss sexual assault in this country, and invariably, the way we respond.
If you are interested in hosting a Where Do You Stand training, or for more information on The Center’s prevention programs, please call 203-348-9346.
Charlotte Poth is the Prevention Educator for The Center for Sexual Assault Crisis Counseling and Education in Stamford.
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