Every April, our CONNECT to End Violence program hosts their annual Sexual Assault Awareness Walk in Oak Bluffs. Teal ribbons are handed out to the community, signs with messages of hope and support are carried by walkers and facts about sexual assault line the route. 

While there is no physical walk this year, the CONNECT team has been working hard to bring the community together in support of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) through social media, community partnerships and heightened awareness. 

CONNECT has joined advocates, survivors and supporters online for #30DaysofSAAM, an initiative of National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC).  

The goal of SAAM is for individuals and organizations to raise public awareness about sexual harassment, assault, and abuse and to educate communities on how to prevent it. Survivors around the world and in our community should know that we care, we are here for you, we believe you and our services remain available. 

We reached out to our team at CONNECT to End Violence to learn more about how SAAM has shifted and what the community can do to support survivors and raise awareness around sexual assault. 

Q: What are some tips for parents and caregivers on addressing important topics such as toxic masculinity, consent and rape culture with their teens?

A: Communication –  In a time when children get messages about relationships and consent from TV shows, movies, social media, and friends, talking with your children as early as possible will encourage open and honest communication as they mature and enter their first relationships. 

Talk openly about what consent is and isn’t– about asking for consent, boundaries, accepting rejection and respect.  As a parent, ask yourself what kind of message your children might be receiving and make a conscious effort to model the messages you want them to receive. Let them know that they can always come to you with questions and concerns about relationships and sex.  

It’s okay to not know all of the answers or to feel uncomfortable with certain conversations…reach out for support and guidance on how to facilitate these often difficult topics.

Q: Rape culture is a huge problem in our society. What are steps everyone can take to help change this culture? 

A: First we need to understand what rape culture is. Rape culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture. Understanding what that means is essential to end it. Then we must accept that it’s real and we might not be aware of how we might be contributing to it. 

A few things we can do are: 

  1. Avoid using language that objectifies or degrades women (Whether you feel it’s a compliment or not; things like bitch, hot mama, hoe, etc.) 
  2. Speak out if you hear someone else making an offensive joke or trivializing rape
  3. Support survivors. If a friend says she has been raped, take her seriously and be supportive
  4. Think critically about the media’s messages about women, men, relationships, and violence
  5. Be respectful of others’ physical space even in casual situations
  6. Always communicate with sexual partners and do not assume consent
  7. Define your own manhood or womanhood.  Do not let stereotypes shape your actions. We play this great exercise with kids when we talk about stereotypes where they write all the things as a society we expect from a certain gender on the inside of a box, then outside they write everything they are called or labeled if they don’t fit in the box, then we write all positive descriptions for being who they are. This is a great way to see all sides to rape culture. 
  8. Get involved! Join a student or community group working to end violence against women.

Q: CONNECT’s physical office is currently closed. Can you discuss how services have shifted remotely and what that looks like? 

For us, it means meetings via Zoom, communication through emails and phone calls and longer wait time for certain things we may have been able to respond to faster with face-to-face interactions. For clients, it means no face-to-face meetings. This can be hard. It’s already difficult to support and empower someone to make what might be their biggest, scariest decisioneven when we are beside them physically. So taking that away makes it harder to build trust and make personal connections.

Despite these challenges, we are here for survivors and continue to adapt. We’re using technology to continue to support clients remotely.

  • In the Courtroom–we can be there via teleconference to support and advocate for survivors. 
  • At the ER–we can ease the process of getting screened for a medical exam and offer support over the phone, text or video-conferencing. 
  • In police stations–we are able to talk through the process of applying for a restraining or harassment prevention order.  
  • Telehealth is being used to create safety plans, talk through self-care plans and talk through any triggers caused by COVID-19, isolation or quarantine. 

Q: Is there anything you want to add or let community members know?

A: Check-in on each other. In times like these, we take for granted how much isolation can trigger someone into feeling like there is no hope. Whether it’s domestic violence, sexual assault or mental illness, by simply checking in, asking how they’re doing and letting them know you are there if they need anything can save lives. 

If you know someone who’s in a dangerous situation, but wishes to remain where they are, don’t pressure them. Victims and survivors know their story better than anyone. Offer support by giving them information, but always offer support to them by asking how they would like to be helped. Listen to them and be there for them however they need you. 

CONNECT’s 24-hour domestic or sexual violence crisis hotline can be reached at 508-696-SAFE (7233).

Join CONNECT to End Violence and the community for Denim Day – Wednesday, April 29th. 

The Denim Day Campaign stems from a court case in the 1990s where the Italian Supreme Court overturned a rape conviction because the victim’s jeans were very tight, reasoning she must have helped her attacker remove them, and implying consent.  The next day, women in the Italian Parliament protested by wearing jeans – launching what would become the Denim Day Campaign. 

What started as a simple grassroots campaign has now developed into an international movement with millions participating each year. Wear Denim tomorrow and share your photos with CONNECT to End Violence on social media to show your support and remind all survivors of sexual violence that we understand the power of solidarity, healing and action. 

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