Love shouldn’t hurt-ever

You Can Make a Difference
by Teresia Smith

According to the Office of Violence Against Women (OVW), “sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” This definition includes forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape. The wider umbrella of sexual violence can also encompass sexual harassment and nonconsensual sharing of private images. Breaking it down even more clearly, sexual violence is any sexual activity where consent is not freely given. Sexual violence affects millions of people each year in the United States. Based on the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, it is estimated that, in the United States, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men have experienced some form of sexual violence during their lifetime.
The only person responsible for committing sexual assault is a perpetrator. The victim is never to blame. We need to solidly place the responsibility for the assault where it belongs — on the perpetrator.

One way we can all help to combat sexual assault is to examine ways we can use our abilities to look out for each other’s safety. Whether it’s giving someone a safe ride home from a party or directly confronting a person who is engaging in threatening behavior, explaining why a rape joke isn’t funny, or listening to a child who is telling you something bad is happening at home, anyone can help prevent sexual violence. You may have heard the term “bystander intervention” to describe a situation where someone who isn’t directly involved steps in to change the outcome. Stepping in may give the person you’re concerned about a chance to get to a safe place or leave the situation. Take steps to protect someone who may be at risk in a way that fits your comfort level.
Choosing to step in can affect the way those around you think about and respond to sexual violence. It’s not always easy to step in, even if you know it’s the right thing to do. We all have a tendency to not want to get involved.

Some common reasons bystanders remain on the sidelines include:
•“I don’t know what to do or what to say.”
•“I don’t want to cause a scene.”
•“It’s not my business.”
•“I don’t want my friend to be mad at me.”
•“I’m sure someone else will step in.”
It’s okay to have these thoughts, but it’s important to realize that your actions can have a huge impact. In many situations, bystanders have the opportunity to prevent crimes like sexual assault from happening in the first place. You don’t have to be a hero or even stand out from the crowd to make a big difference in someone’s life.
If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, Crisis Services of North Alabama can help with crisis counseling, referrals, advocacy, support groups and compassionate listening. Contact us at 256.574.5826 or our 24/7 HELPline at 256.716.1000.

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