BEYOND MERE SURVIVAL


perpetuating rape myths, one child at the time

doing violence prevention work in middle and high school for over a year now, I have seen many scary, inaccurate stereotypes about sexual violence going around, but never like today I realized to what extent the schools are perpetuating false information about rape as part of the educational curriculum. During a break between two classes today I was looking at one of the Health class book for the 7th grade and stumbled upon the chapter on sexual violence. I took pictures, but I am transcribing it for clarity.

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Protecting Yourself from Rape

Rape is any kind of sexual intercourse against a person’s will. Over half of rape victims know their attackers. Whenever a person is forced to have sex, whether with someone he or she knows or with a stranger, a rape has occurred. Rape is always an act of violence, and it is illegal. To protect yourself from rape, you need to recognize and avoid situations that might increase the risk of an attack, here are some suggestions.,

 

  • if you go out alone with someone, make it clear that you are not interested in any sexual activity.
  • Avoid secluded places
  • Don’t drink alcohol or use other drugs or date people who do.
  • Always carry money so you can call home or tae a cab or bus if you feel unsafe.

 

PREVENTING VIOLENCE

 

People across the nation are making an effort to reduce and prevent violence. here are some of the actions they have taken

  • Holding stop violence rallies
  • Supporting stronger gun laws
  • Installing lighting in parks and playgrounds
  • Breaking up gang control of public parks
  • Starting neighborhood watch programs
  • Supporting teen curfew
  • Teaching non violent resolution
  • Assigning more police to street patrols  


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HOME

  • Lock doors and windows when you are alone
  • open the door only to people you know well
  • do not give personal information over the telephone or computer
  • never agree to meet alone with a person you met online
  • if someone comes to the door or window and you are frightened, call 911 or the police
  • never shoot firearms or pick them up, even if they are unloaded
  • when you come home, have your key ready before you reach the door. Do not enter if the door is ajar or appears to have been tampered with
  • never tell a stranger that you are home alone. Instead, say that your parents are busy and can’t come to the door or the phone.

OUTDOORS

  • do not walk alone at night
  • avoid poorly lit streets
  • if you think someone is following you, get into a store or other public place
  • never hitchhike or accept rides from strangers
  • do not look like an easy target. Stand tall and walk with confidence
  •  if someone wants your money or possessions, give them up
  •  if you are attacked, scream and get away any way you can
  •  do not carry a firearm or other weapon.

 

I underlined some the parts I found most appalling, even though much of the premise of the idea of prevention in the book is at best inaccurate, and at worst just plain fucked up. Prevention is only seen as a potential’s victim responsibility, where each person must recognize and avoid danger. No talk of accountability or responsibility on the perpetrator’s part is even mentioned.

 

But besides the theoretical framing of the issue, the chapter is just spreading false information. I have worked as a gender violence advocate since 2005, and I have listened to countless stories of sexual violence, besides being a survivor myself. Most people are assaulted by someone they know, not half like the book says, but more like 70% to 80%. Most times it is a date, or an intimate person that you trust, not a stranger in a dark alley.

 

None of the information provided will be helpful to avoid sexual assault, it will just make the kids (and mostly girls, who feel rape is their problem) scared, and limit their freedom and mobility. How can anyone not look like an easy target? We know that people that are young, or disables, or homeless, are at a higher risk of being assaulted. Are they telling 12 year olds that they should stop looking like themselves? Or that as a disabled person, I should magically rid of my disability?

 

The whole chapter sets up people to feel guilty and responsible for the assault, because they should have seen it coming, or they should have been able to protect themselves. And then there is a subtle (or maybe not so subtle) racist message in the whole bit about gangs and public parks! What are they even talking about?  Yes, gang rape does happen, but it is a much rarer occurrence than people being pressured into sex by who they are dating, or being assaulted by an acquaintance or even a family member.

 

There is no prevention, besides the decision taken by someone to not assault, to choose consensual sex, and to strive for healthy relationships. And better street lights or more cops will not cut it.



kicked out

i kicked out someone of the classroom today for the first time ever.  i have always hated when teachers did that. it’s such a cope out. and here i am.

i wish i had more time to address his reaction, his discomfort, his prejudice, but i did not. i had 45 minutes to try to explain the complexities of sexual violence, and crack the hard shell of streotypes and myth surrounding the issue.

he just couldn’t get over the fact that gay people do not rape. that men that rape men do it to humiliate, hurt and a overpower, not for sexual pleasure. they are straight men. they have girlfriends and wives. they are not attracted to other men. but none of that was being received. he would not even let me finish a sentence. all that was coming out of his mouth was “then they are gay, if they want to rape guys then they are fags”.  then he got up, started disturbing other kids, and throwing pencils.and i told him to leave, but it was throughly unsatisfying. he left that classroom with the same homophobic ideas than when he entered it, and i failed.



sex ed VS abstinence based
March 26, 2009, 10:26 pm
Filed under: Building Healthy Relationships | Tags: , , , , , ,

while i was in the middle schools today the health teachers were discussing the new sex. ed plan that will substitute the previous abstinence based curriculum. they were shocked at how explicit and crude the information was, how mechanical and graphic. i asked if i could read the lesson plan, and honestly i was surprised. it was very much like reading a car manual, an instruction booklet on sex: this is how you put on a condom. dry? use some lube. oral sex? use dental dam or rubbers.sex_ed_by_boundsparrow

it was full of statistics about who is having sex and how much. graphs, precisely. it was so cold and sterile. i am all for sex ed., but not one that equates knowing how to put on a condom with a safe, healthy sexual relationship.

the two teachers i spoke to at length were both men, and shared some of their experiences. one of them recalled that the only thing his parents told him about sex was to “keep it in his pants, and don’t get in no trouble”. the other teacher had a sister that became pregnant at 15, and remembered feeling safe in the fact that he, as a man, could not get pregnant and “screw his life”. they both thought that the information would not be helpful to the kids, because it was way over their heads, and inappropriate.

i don’t think it’s inappropriate because kids should not know about sex, but because it teaches nothing about the reality of sex. the much needed information is not only how to not get pregnant, or avoid STIs, but the foundation of trust, communication and mutuality that are necessary for having a healthy sex life. it’s either “no sex, you will ruin your life and go to hell”, or a superficial overview of the physiological reality of a variety of sexual acts.

i am nervous that it’s gonna make people feel even more pressured to have sex when they don’t even know what they think of it yet, because they get a sense that everyone is doing it. so many times as an advocate, or just a friend i listened to people that “gave in” to sex because it seemed like what they were supposed to do, or felt pressured by peers and boyfriends ( and sometimes girlfriend), and then felt like shit about it.

in the end it makes sense that the school system is either offering a firm no to sex, or a cut and dry instruction booklet. it’s easy! there is no discussions, or nuances, or difficult conversations about consent and safety. it’s just another sterile piece of information removed from the real, complicated lives of youth.

i am going to look more into this, because i have no idea about who is responsible for choosing one sex ed. program or another, but sitting here and bitching doesn’t feel right.



why would you even care?

that is one of the questions i got from an anonymous middle schooler last week,  ” why would you even care about what happened to some random person?” more precisely, which is a perfectly legitimate question.

i took my time explaining the services we offer for survivors of violence, and for people around them. i spent long periods discussing  what impact people can have as bystanders, but failed to talk about emphaty.

what i omitted to elucidate is the very idea that each of us is a random person, a stranger to more people than not, an arguably insignificant being. we often revel in an artificial sense of self-importance, of indispensability. we come to believe that our pain is more significant that another’s, our joys a cause of greater celebration. we surround ourselves with people that feed that sense of uniqueness and individual worth, and end up leaving everyone else behind.

i did not say all that, i just made up some fast, unsatisfying answer about the world being a shitty place if we stopped caring about people we don’t know, if we only protect and feel for our kin and close friends. but the question really stuck with me. maybe because i ask myself that all the time.

i do care, at a visceral level. not about life itself, or the essential worth of human existence. i am well too aware of the smallness on one life, which causes me frequent fits of anxiety. no, what i react to mostly is the unnecessary nature of violence, the pain that holds people captive and could be prevented way too easily.

those are the things i want to try to change. the gratuitous hatred, the avoidable worries. we can’t do much about sickness, or death , or unrequited love. but there is so much unnecessary shittiness, so much hurt that is a choice and only that. the violence we decide to deliver, or the judgment, or the prejudice can be avoided.

i was recently listening to Karen Amstrong on PBS, a religious scholar that studies the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Islam and Christianity), and she was claiming that the base for any religion is emphaty, more precisely  the simple “golden rule” of treating others the same as you would treat yourself. she was challenging the viewers to do that, truly, even for just one day and experience how hard it is.  it made me feel like a bad person, as i am sure i don’t behave in such manner all the time.  i can justify that by calling upon an instinctual sense of preservation, or self-defense,  but there is no excuse. i know that until the time when blind egotism surpasses our sense of emphaty and compassion all the preventable pain will not cease.



more Q&A

i am trying to post more questions from students as i get them, because there see, to be a never ending avalanche of them, and it is often a challenge for me to try to answer in a way that feels appropriate and thoughtful, accurate and helpful…

so there:

  1. Why are guys into sex at a young age (13)? Why are men more sexually attracted to porn than women?

These two questions are similar and both ask about men and boy’s feelings about sex.

Not all guys are into sex. There is a lot of pressure on guys to act or speak as if they were really interested in sex. We talked about gender and different messages we get from society on the first day we were there, and saw that for a guy it is expected to like girls, and to care a lot about sex. A guy might not really care or know much about sex and still feel like he has to talk/act as if he does, to get attention or to feel accepted by his peers. Similarly, it is more accepted for men in our society to use porn. Every person’s sexual desire is different and personal, and should be respected.

  1. Has anyone received threats while staying at the middle way?

Shelter was created as a safe place for women and children to live away from violence. The middle way staff and volunteers put in their best efforts to make it a welcoming and comfortable environment for the residents. We keep information about residents confidential, and respect their privacy. We also have specific plans to respond to threats or to abusers looking survivors at shelter.

  1. Why do people rape? Why do men rape more that women?

That’s a really good question! We talked a bit about that already. People assault mostly because they want to feel in control of another person, and have power over them. Many times people that rape/assault feel entitled to force someone to have sex with them, many times because they feel that they are better than the other person because of sexism, classism, or racism. Unfortunately we live in a society where rape and sexual assault are sometimes seen as acceptable and not a big deal. It’s up to all of us to change that, and to push for a society where people engage in healthy behaviors, and see each other’s as equals.

There can be many different answers to the question of why men assault more than women, and some research has been done to try to find out why rapists decide to assault. The most accurate answer I can give goes back to the ideas of gender we talked about on the first day, when we did the girl and boy box activity. Many boys and men still grow up in an environment that teaches them to be aggressive, insensitive and to see women as less then them. Interviews and studies done on rapists show that the vast majority of rapists hold very traditional beliefs about gender, and feel that having sex is their right, no matter what the person that they raped wanted .

    As Lisa Vetten , the Gender Co-ordinator of the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation in South Africa explains: “men rape because they believe they have the right to control and to punish women who do not obey their rules of behavior. Rape is an expression of unequal power relations between men and women. Such unequal power relations are not the result of nature or evolution but societies which, through legislation and social custom, have made women second-class citizens”
    I want to make it clear that even though men account for over 95% or rapes (Kats, 2006), most men don’t rape. Since most rapists are men though, men are in a unique position to help in the movement against sexual violence. I am attaching a few resources from men’s organizations committed to ending gender violence.

TEN THINGS MEN CAN DO TO PREVENT GENDER VIOLENCE

  1. Approach gender violence as a MEN’S issue involving men of all ages and socioeconomic, racial and ethnic backgrounds. View men not only as perpetrators or possible offenders, but as empowered bystanders who can confront abusive peers
  2. If a brother, friend, classmate, or teammate is abusing his female partner — or is disrespectful or abusive to girls and women in general — don’t look the other way. If you feel comfortable doing so, try to talk to him about it. Urge him to seek help. Or if you don’t know what to do, consult a friend, a parent, a teacher, or a counselor. DON’T REMAIN SILENT.
  3. Have the courage to look inward. Question your own attitudes. Don’t be defensive when something you do or say ends up hurting someone else. Try hard to understand how your own attitudes and actions might inadvertently perpetuate sexism and violence, and work toward changing them.
  4. If you suspect that a woman close to you is being abused or has been sexually assaulted, gently ask if you can help.
  5. If you are emotionally, psychologically, physically, or sexually abusive to women, or have been in the past, seek professional help NOW.
  6. Be an ally to women who are working to end all forms of gender violence. Support the work of campus-based women’s centers. Attend “Take Back the Night” rallies and other public events. Raise money for community-based rape crisis centers and battered women’s shelters. If you belong to a team or fraternity, or another student group, organize a fundraiser.
  7. Recognize and speak out against homophobia and gay-bashing. Discrimination and violence against lesbians and gays are wrong in and of themselves. This abuse also has direct links to sexism (eg. the sexual orientation of men who speak out against sexism is often questioned, a conscious or unconscious strategy intended to silence them. This is a key reason few men do so).
  8. Attend programs, take courses, watch films, and read articles and books about multicultural masculinities, gender inequality, and the root causes of gender violence.  Educate yourself and others about how larger social forces affect the conflicts between individual men and women.
  9. Don’t fund sexism. Refuse to purchase any magazine, rent any video, subscribe to any Web site, or buy any music that portrays girls or women in a sexually degrading or abusive manner. Protest sexism in the media.
  10. Mentor and teach young boys about how to be men in ways that don’t involve degrading or abusing girls and women. Volunteer to work with gender violence prevention programs, including anti-sexist men’s programs. Lead by example

Copyright 1999, Jackson Katz. www.jacksonkatz.com
Reprint freely with credit.

  1. How many calls do you get about rape?

It really depends; some weeks are busier than others, especially around the start of the school year and little 500. We have gotten as many as 10/15 calls in a week, or none at times. In 2007 we had about 70 calls to the hospital.

  1. What should you do if someone is trying to rape you?

Every person has a different reaction to being assaulted. There is not one “right” way to react. Some people freeze, and become really still during the assault because of fear, some cry, some try to push the perpetrator away. It’s important to listen to your instincts. Many people that are raped say that they felt uncomfortable with the person and unsafe even before the assault happened. If you feel unsafe/uncomfortable with someone leave the situation if you can, call a friend or trusted adult. And whatever happens know that it is not your fault, the person that decided to hurt you is responsible for it!

Here are some more general tips from the University of California rape Prevention Center.
IN GENERAL

  • Know the real picture. Most rapes (85%) are committed by non-strangers and in familiar, social situations.
  • Men who rape usually try to gain trust to test your boundaries.
  • Trust your very first feeling of uneasiness.
  • Don’t dismiss that feeling.
  • Act on it by firmly saying “no”, “leave me alone” or leave if necessary.
  • Don’t worry about hurting feelings or appearing rude.
  • Use a strong, serious voice. Don’t plead or play cute.
  • Don’t apologize.
  • Look for others to assist if you need to.
  • If the aggressor is an intimate partner, tell them in a serious tone that you are not comfortable and want them to stop. Now.
  • Believe in your right to your own body.

    AT PARTIES
  • Be aware that men who rape often use alcohol to exploit your vulnerability. They tend to try to make you drink more than you intended.
  • Keep in control of your drinking.
  • Don’t leave a drink unattended, or accept a drink that someone else has given you. Most times this is harmless, but you are trying to avoid the one time it isn’t.
  • Think ahead. Have a safe way to get home already planned.
  • If in a group, plan ahead to watch out for one another.
  • If a friend looks as though she or he is losing control, step in and take care of them.
  • If a friend is harassing women, make it your concern.
  • Remember you cannot tell the good guys from the bad guys by appearance or good looks.
  • Watch out for someone who is pressuring you; who keeps giving you drinks; who wants to get you alone; who guilt trips you if you are reluctant.
    Don’t be afraid to ask for help if someone is making you feel threatened.
  1. How do boys rape boys (like physically how)? How do girls rape girls?

Remember that when we talked about rape we clarified that rape is any non-consensual intercourse. It can happen if someone pressures, threatens or tricks another person, and not just with physical force.  The law says that rape is any unwanted intercourse, meaning any unwanted vaginal or anal penetration.

  1. If someone is over the age of 18 and has sex with a 16 yr old, can the parents do anything about it since the 16 year old is under the age of consent, but still a minor?
    The legal age for consent in Indiana is 16 years old. Legally speaking a person that is 16 can consent to sexual activity. However, we discussed how there is more to consent than just the legal factors of being 16, sober, and awake. Consent is giving permission, meaning that a person has the information and the time to think in order to make a decision they are happy with. In a relationship where one partner is much older than the other, it can be difficult to maintain an equal relationship, and it may be easier for the younger person to feel pressured, or to be manipulated. Your parents or guardians are legally responsible for you until you turn 18, so they have the legal right to stop you from seeing someone that they don’t approve of. However they could not press charges against the person that is over 18 if the sex was consensual and you are over 16.
  1. Does the middle way help people in romantic relationships who are having problems but no evidence?
    Absolutely! In the majority of cases there is little evidence, in the traditional sense of DNA or witnesses, for sexual assault and rape. We support and advocate for anyone that needs it, and we believe what people say. Our role is not to prove crimes or question people, but to empower, support, and advocate for you.
  1. How many sexual assault cases happen and go to Bloomington hospital in a year? How many are female and how many are male?
    It is really difficult to figure out how many cases of sexual assault happen every year, because sexual assault is a widely underreported crime. In terms of the Middle way, we have gotten as many as 10/15 calls in a week for sexual assault and rape, or none at times. In 2007 we had about 70 calls to the hospital fro sexual assault.
    The majority of people that call for sexual assault are female, but we get calls from males also sometimes.
  1. What is the best was to fight or stop a situation that is going the wrong way?
    It’s hard to answer this question because it’s a bit vague. We discussed the difference between fighting and arguing. Healthy disagreements and discussion can happen between people and are characterized by open communication, listening, and feeling safe around the person you are arguing with. If someone is using intimidation, put downs, cuss words, and violence than it’s unhealthy and scary. Everyone has the right to feel safe in their relationships.
    In terms of stopping a situation that is going the wrong way, if someone is being violent towards you it’s their choice to do that, and they are responsible for stopping themselves.
    If the violence is happening to you, you have every right to be safe and to be in a healthy relationship. There can be many options to get out of a violent situation: You can decide to call for the police or if you are at school, you can call a teacher that you trust. If you see someone getting inappropriate attention you can also engage them directly and ask them if they are ok, if they need help or resources. You can also simply tell the assaulter to stop, many times people that assault rely on everyone around them being silent about what is going on, and calling attention to it can be a powerful deterrent. And remember the crisis line and the middle way resources are there for you.
  1. Does your “cherry” pop the first time for every girl?
    From the Sinclair Intimacy and Health Institute (Copyright 2002)
    The hymen, colloquially referred to as “the cherry”, has historically been a marker of a woman’s virginity. The belief that since the hymen blocked the vaginal opening, it should remain intact as long as a woman did not have sexual intercourse was widely propagated, especially in cultures where a woman’s virginity was highly valued.
    But it is scientific fact that the hymen can be separated for reasons quite unconnected to sexual intercourse. It can separate when the body is stretched strenuously, as in athletics; it can be separated by inserting a tampon during menstruation or through masturbation; and sometimes it is separated for no apparent reason.

A separated hymen is not an indication of having had intercourse, nor can it prove a loss of virginity. When the hymen is separated, whether during first intercourse or at some other time, there may be some slight bleeding and a little pain. Both the bleeding and the pain are quite normal and both usually stop after a short time. Some women experience no discomfort at all during this process that is commonly referred to as “losing your cherry”.



it finally hit the fan
December 11, 2008, 9:05 pm
Filed under: Building Healthy Relationships | Tags: , ,

i always expected, to a certain extent,to have a parental freak out after one of the school presentations, though it never came, until tuesday. I had been going to one of the middle school for the first two of the five presentations, the ones where i talk about gender expectations, the links between sexism, homophobia, racism and privilege, and the dynamics of relationships based on equality VS the ones based on power and control. no sex ed so far, right?

not according to a parent that called the health teacher (who hosts the presentations during his lesson) freaking out that her kid was getting sex ed without her knowledge. so the presentations were stopped, until all parents could get a detailed letter with the lesson plan.  i feel pretty conflicted. it was a hard class without a doubt, with kids continuously making dumb jokes about being gay, and one kid even writing KKK on the backside of a post it note i had given them for an activity. it was not fun to be there, and i almost felt sadomasochistic in having to go  and do the lessons. i had kids (age 12) that repeatedly told me men should have more power in the relationship because that is what is natural. fuck. what do you do with that?

at the same time precisely because of seeing such a powerful foundation of hate and prejudice i wanted to have a discussion with them, to tease out the roots of those beliefs that lead a person to believe they are better than another, and entitled to control. but nope. apparently i was sneakily trying to teach some -god forbid- sexual education.

i am still figure out how to handle these things when they come up. talk to the parent? i don’t even know if the school would even give me their contact info. anyone had similar experiences ?



Q&A- middle school

i decided to start posting batches of questions that are asked by students during presentations, i hope they are helpful and or interesting.

these are from middle school

1. How many rape calls do you get per week?

It really depends; some weeks are busier than others, especially around the start of the school year and little 5. We have gotten as many as 10/15 calls in a week, or none at times. In 2007 we had about 70 calls to the hospital.

2. Do you house couples that are both in a difficult situation?

We don’t house couples because it would be difficult and possibly dangerous. As you might remember the people in shelter live in a communal space, meaning that they have to share bathrooms, a kitchen and a room sometimes. In order for it to be a safe and comfortable place for everyone we don’t house couples, because it might become a dramatic, emotion-laden situation that would not be conducive to a safe living environment. Also, most often one person in the relationship is responsible for trying to control and have power over their partner, so we try to help and support the person being abused.

3. Why do people sexually assault?

That’s a really good question! We talked a bit about that already. People assault mostly because they want to feel in control of another person, and have power over them. Many times people that rape/assault feel entitled to force someone to have sex with them, many times because they feel that they are better than the other person because of sexism, classism, or racism. Unfortunately we live in a society where rape and sexual assault are sometimes seen as acceptable and not a big deal. It’s up to all of us to change that, and to push for a society where people engage in healthy behaviors, and see each other’s as equals.

4. Do really young children get sexually assaulted?

Yes. Sexual assault happens to people of all ages, colors, and backgrounds. People that are more vulnerable (like young people/people with serious mental illnesses) might be at a higher risk for being assaulted. Again sexual assaults do not happen because of sex, or how attractive someone is necessarily, they are more about power and control.

5. How many people become pregnant because of rape?

The latest information is could find was from a Center for Disease Control (a federal agency) study done in 2000. They report that about 4.7% of people that are raped become pregnant because of it.

6. If someone is over 16 and it’s raped by a parent, is it still rape?

Absolutely! Indiana Law just says that when you are 16 you are legally able to consent, meaning that legally you can decide whether you want to have sex or not. If a person does not want to have sex and someone has sex with them against their will it’s rape. No matter if the person raping you is your boyfriend, or a member of your family, or a stranger!

Q: Have you ever had a call of someone saying they have an online relationship & feeling assaulted or in danger?

A: Yes. In the past 10-15 years dating online has become more and more common and can have similar dynamics to “normal” relationships. The anonymity of the Internet can also give people a sense that they are less accountable for their actions, and make violence and threats escalate. It can be a very scary situation for people that can cause a great deal of stress and trauma. Harassment on the web is illegal and punishable by law.

Q: How often does rape occur?

A: According to research 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men in the United States experiences rape or attempted rape at some point of their life.

Q: Do people rape to get rid of anger?

A: People usually rape because they want to control or hurt another human being. Anger can be part of this desire for power and control.

Q: in what places do the highest numbers of sexual assaults and rape happen?

A: If you mean places in the world, countries where there is war of civil strife have the higher incidence of rape. Rape has been used throughout history as a weapon of domination and control in war. The lack of law enforcement agencies during war also creates a lack of accountability for the rapists. Countries in which one gender is considered less important or valuable than the other also have a higher incidence of rape (example: places where women are considered inferior than men). If you mean to ask if there are specific places where people are usually raped, the answer is in their home, or in the house of someone they know. The idea that people are attacked in a dark alley by a stranger is a myth, a stereotype, and rarely happens in real life.

9. If you see someone getting assaulted, how can you help?

It depends on the situation. You can decide to call for the police if you think someone is in danger and you don’t feel safe stopping it yourself. If you are at school you can call a teacher that you trust. If you see someone getting inappropriate attention you can also engage them directly and ask them if they are ok, if they need help or resources. You can also simply tell the assaulter to stop, many times people that assault rely on everyone around them being silent about what is going on, and calling attention to it can be a powerful deterrent.