By Megan King, Violence Prevention Coordinator,
Women’s Resource Center of Northern Michigan
Each year during April’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we seek to raise public awareness about sexual violence and educate communities on how to prevent it.
This year feels different.
For the first time, our nation is acknowledging the immense problem of sexual assault and harassment at all levels of society and people are listening.
People are awakening to the fact that no workplace is immune from the injustice of sexual harassment—and that sexual harassment isn’t really about sex, but about systemic inequality and power.
It’s about a culture where women are so easily devalued, demeaned and disrespected on a daily basis that it’s become normal.
Yet, we all know on some basic level that it should never be normal to feel unsafe at your work, your home or in your community.
Conversations about sexual assault and harassment are expanding and have even gone viral on social media with campaigns like #MeToo and #TimesUp.
These conversations are critically important and empowering for survivors who have long been silenced by a culture that has excused sexual harassment as “locker room talk” or “boys being boys.”
Another significant development is that more men are joining the conversation about how to move forward, as well as ways in which they can make a positive change—not just for their daughters, partners and mothers, but for their sons and brothers.
Australian journalist and screenwriter Benjamin Law created the hashtag #HowIWillChange in response to the deluge of survivors’ stories.
Men are using it as a tool to publicly support survivors and commit to changing the culture of sexual violence.
Where can these conversations lead us?
When we call out harmful attitudes and challenge the societal tolerance of sexual assault and harassment we further the conversation about what supportive, healthy relationships and behaviors look like.
Within the business community, open discussions can help form and implement policies that promote safety, respect and equality in the workplace.
In schools, discussions can help young people understand the range of behaviors that constitute sexual harassment and assault.
They will also start to think critically when watching media that reinforces gender stereotypes.
This topic is not going away anytime soon, so continue these valuable conversations with friends, family, and co-workers well beyond April.
Be mindful of your own words and actions and those of the people around you.
Be an upstander.
When see or hear behaviors that promote violence or harassment or denigrate women, intervene. Embrace your voice.
Embrace respect, integrity, compassion, kindness and acceptance. Embrace your role in creating a society where women don’t have to say “me too.”
Anyone interested in info about ending violence against women and girls in Northern Michigan may call the WRCNM Violence Prevention Coordinator, at (231) 347-1572.
If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, call WRCNM’s 24-hour crisis and info line at 347-0082 or (800) 275-1995 or wrcnm.org.