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Positive Community Responses: Giving Options Rather Than Limitations

Often, survivors of sexual violence and specific groups of people, such as women or LGBQT* folks, are told to limit their movement and interactions with the world and society in order to be safe.  For instance, they may be told to avoid certain neighborhoods or walking alone at night, lest they be targeted for violence.  Women are told to how to comport themselves at parties and bars,  and not to consume too much alcohol in order to avoid being drugged and/or assaulted.  Survivors, specifically, are encouraged to avoid spaces and places where their perpetrator may be and to avoid mutual friends.  These precautions are necessary, so the logic goes, because sexual violence is inevitable, and these reduce chances of future assaults, triggers, and other negative impacts. 

When people make these arguments, they say that these messages are well-intentioned and meant to protect.  But what are these messages really telling individuals? They tell us that movement and agency within society, communities, and neighborhoods is restricted.  Safety is not guaranteed for everyone in the community,  but rather is dependent on the number of safety measures that each person takes on their own. 

One of the messages that we, as anti-violence advocates, try to stress is that communities and community leaders should be continually working to make their spaces safer for members rather than recommending people limit their participation or movement through a community.  If the community takes the perspective that everyone deserves to have the same ownership and access to the community, and works to promote that message then it can be a more welcoming, friendly, and productive space.  It would also create the impression and standard that community members can and should be promoting safety, respect, and freedom within themselves. 

The past few weeks have been really encouraging as we have seen many different examples of communities trying to come together and provide support, encouragement, and safety. 

Justice 4 Families created the concept of a Night Out for Safety, Democracy, and Human Rights as an alternative to the annual National Night Out event.  The NNO is created and led by law enforcement agencies across the country and brings them together with community members and local resources/organizations.  The message behind that event is that if people are vigilant and watchful and report suspicious activity to the police then they can make their neighborhoods safer.   

Justice 4 Families Night Out for Safety, Democracy, and Human Rights has a very different framework.  They recognize that community members have more than eyes and ears that can be used to watch their neighbors.  They have hands, hearts, and minds.  The organization seeks to remind and encourage people that community violence prevention efforts have worked in the past and across many communities and that those individuals deserve to be recognized.  Violence prevention comes from building community, relationships, and trust and that by working together people can “build a sustained movement to move resources away from locking people up and toward lifting them up”.

A recent tragedy in South Boston justifiably caused a lot of unrest, fear, and anxiety among residents.  A typical response in situations like this is to warn women not to move throughout the community by themselves or at certain hours.  However, women (and all residents) have the right to go to work, meet friends, go to they gym, walk to the store, etc.  One company took a very different approach to the apprehension: they created Southie Shuttle.  The Shuttle brings people from their residences to and from train stations, restaurants, shopping centers, and a variety of Southie businesses.  The message being that people have the right to move around and live their lives and deserve to do that safely. 

The last thing I ran across in the past could weeks is the new Privacy and Safety on Facebook: A Guide for Survivors of Abuse.  The National Network to End Domestic Violence partnered with Facebook to address the concerns that many survivors have about online privacy and security.  Many times perpetrators will stalk people on Facebook either before or after an assault.  Oftentimes, a survivor knows who assaulted them and therefore they could be friends on Facebook already or have mutual friends.  NNEDV and FB created a guide that addressed the complications of online safety and the many instances where survivors cannot just ‘unfriend’ the person who assaulted them. 

The guide is separated into three ‘lines of defense’: managing friends, security settings and notifications, and being safe.  Facebook did not create anything new for survivors but rather did a great job of fleshing out the options that already exist, how to utilize them, and in what situations they would be useful.  For instance, they outlined what types of material can be kept private versus the type of material that an individual has no control over.  Since it isn’t always possible to ‘unfriend’ someone or if you are concerned about mutual friends, Facebook outlines how to put some individuals on a list that doesn’t get to see all or any of one’s posts or pictures.  It talks about the different settings that exist within the security and privacy functions and what their purpose is and how to make one’s account more secure.  The short guide ends with a description of legal services outside of Facebook and lets people know that while some material may not violate any Terms of Service of Facebook that a string of posts may constitute a case of online harassment and there could be some legal options.

I see these examples, and others like them, as proof that we are moving forward to be more inclusive and promote safety within our society and communities.  Every person can work to encourage respect, safety, and recognizing the rights of individuals both within and outside of their communities.



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Posted by stacey

Stacey formerly served BARCC as the coordinator for Community Awareness and Outreach. Prior to BARCC, she worked for the Navy as a sexual assault response coordinator and volunteered for the DC Rape Crisis Center. She got involved with anti-rape work during college and has enjoyed doing both direct services and educational work.

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