There’s a new layer of snow blanketing the city of Boston and much of Massachusetts. I always love a fresh fallen snow. The beauty and crispness of it. The serene and quiet that follow as so many people huddle indoors. The community that is created as other people flock to coffee shops and bars to wait out the hours of cold and snow together.
However the snow doesn’t just bring beauty and community; a lot of precautions need to be taken in order to make sure everyone is as safe as possible. I was walking to the T this morning and had to make the short walk on the side of the street as the sidewalks had not yet been shoveled. Several cars passed me but not nearly the number that pass me on a typical morning as so many people had decided to either work from home or take the T wherever they needed to go. I appreciated the fact that many cars were already going slow and slowed down even more as they passed me. We all saw the need to co-exist during these conditions, well almost all of us. One driver yelled at me as he passed by, obviously upset at the fact that I was on the road. I realized that being on the road was dangerous but as a pedestrian it was essentially the only option as trudging through snow 8 inches deep where I couldn’t see potholes or curbs also seemed a poor idea.
We live in New England so wishing away the snow and horrible weather conditions is a completely unrealistic solution to the above situation. We don’t have any control over the weather, how much snow we get, or when it decides to descend upon us. Therefore our solutions and responses have to revolve around what we can control. This is why we see so many rules, regulations, and informal protocols around storms. They create safety and help to prevent many of the accidents that could be happen.
Residents are required to shovel and salt/sand the sidewalk in front of their residence so that pedestrians can still utilize the sidewalks to get around and avoid being on the road. Plows remove the snow from the street so that cars can move around. Cars slow down in order to avoid fishtailing, landing in a snowbank, or hitting another car or pedestrian. People are advised to take public transit so there are fewer vehicles on the road and therefore fewer chances of accidents. There are parking bans in order to make streets wider which are great for driving safety and for the plows to have somewhere to deposit the snot that is not the sidewalk.
Some actions are done as preemptively, for instance, Mayor Menino issued a snow emergency even before the storm really picked up. He didn’t wait to see how much snow we’d get before declaring a parking ban. If he had, it would have been too late. Cars would have been buried under snow and it would have taken much longer to move them. It would have been more dangerous to drive because of the increased numbers of cars on the road, pedestrians shoveling, and the fact that plows would have had fewer spots to deposit the snow. Additionally it would have been increasingly difficult to find a parking spot because of the snowfall. Calling for a snow emergency before the bigger part of the storm helps to alleviate many of those problems.
The mayor wasn’t the only one to make preemptive calls in the name of safety. Boston Public Schools and many other school systems cancelled school for both Thursday and Friday on Wednesday. This keeps young kids and adolescents at home rather than driving to school, waiting on the corner for a bus, or walking to school. It also removes school buses from the road which reduces traffic. Parents also have the chance to arrange for childcare or take time off work rather than scrambling to leave the office and pick up their schools after an early dismissal or unexpected cancellation.
BARCC, like many other organizations, decided to close early on Thursday and to remain closed on Friday. This again helped to clear traffic off the road earlier than on traditional work days and to keep them off the road on Friday. It also enabled parents to stay home with children, hopefully without a penalty in pay.
If this past storm had been a mere dusting, we would have moved our cars back to their regular spaces, switched out our snow gear for winter gear, and maybe still enjoyed a day out of the office. Youth would have still celebrated having the day off from school. And life would have continued as normal until an actual storm hit and the next round of precautions were instated.
When we think about prevention for sexual violence, we should reflect on the amount of prevention that we use in other aspects of our life: such as winter weather preparation. There are steps that can directly precede the violence, much like the drivers who slowed even more as they drove by me this morning. There are also steps that can prevent violence days, weeks, or months before it happens just like establishing a snow emergency protocol before it’s needed or closing schools preemptively.
Sexual violence is something that impacts each and every person either directly through experience or through knowing someone who has been assaulted or through the risk-reduction behaviors so many of us engage in. Unlike this storm, it can be hard for many to recognize the impact that sexual violence has on them as an individual and on their communities. It frequently occurs in isolated areas and many survivors are afraid to disclose because of self-blame and fear of being blamed by friends/family/community. Therefore we can’t visibly see the trauma and impact that it creates on a daily basis. But it’s always there.
Much like the weather response, preventing sexual violence requires a multi-faceted response. We need to have support from local, state, and federal governments and legislation that addresses both prevention and proper resources for survivors. We need communities to recognize the prevalence of sexual violence and to allow resources to be allocated towards prevention services, education, and programming. We need for messages to be a regular part of school curriculum that youth receive and for educators to have the skills to respond to the behaviors they see in the school environment. We need parents to know about healthy sexual development and to respond appropriately to any behaviors they are seeing in any of the youth they interact with. We need community members to create safe spaces and to call out any inappropriate or boundary-crossing behaviors. We need media that consistently covers and discusses sexual violence. We need specific services to assist survivors and to help communities to go about creating safe spaces.
Winter doesn’t pass overnight but rather in stages as the green and new life of Spring pushes through. Much like the New England winter, there is no quick fix or solution to sexual violence. We need think on a variety of levels, be ready for the unexpected, remain flexible, and continue to work for and with each other.
Until then, shovel your sidewalks.