Check out this recent article in the Brattleboro Reformer:
Events highlight Sexual Violence Awareness Month
BRATTLEBORO — Sexual violence can happen to anyone. April is Sexual Violence Awareness Month, not only throughout the United States, but also world-wide. Locally, the Women’s Freedom Center has planned several events on the theme of “Solidarity Without Borders.”
“We see this as a month-long community conversation, supporting survivors and ending rape culture,” said Shari (no last names are used at the Women’s Freedom Center). “Rape culture is the whole cultural backdrop that links a whole range of myths and stereotypes together, such as blaming the victim. The media glamorize sexualized violence. In on-going ways we all still live in a patriarchy around the world. Culturally, we’re comfortable hearing and laughing at rape jokes.”
Sexism is still so prevalent, Shari continued, “it’s a knee-jerk reaction to immediately question the survivor. The goal of our efforts in April is to shift responsibility away from the victim and hold perpetrators accountable. Perpetrators are the only ones responsible for sexual assault.”
The first event takes place Thursday, at 6 p.m., at the Brattleboro Museum, with actor and educator Tim Collins giving a benefit performance of “The Script.”
This one-man show, according to Collins’ website, “depicts Jay, Nick, Jeremy, and Chris, four young men at the edge of an incident” — a female classmate has been sexually assaulted. In the course of this engaging and powerful drama, the four characters grapple with their beliefs about masculinity, gender roles, and relationships and make choices that forever change their lives and friendships.
“Developed in conjunction with sexual assault prevention agencies,” the site continues, ‘The Script’ examines ‘rape culture’ and invites the audience to examine the language, media and attitudes that create an environment where violence against women and men is acceptable and normal.”
When he first started creating solo shows, Collins said in an email, they were “primarily comedic, dramatic, and political pieces. Around 2005, I began teaching acting to incarcerated young men in New England and the Midwest. I was moved by the harrowing, powerful stories of survival and perseverance that the young men shared, and was eager to create a theater piece that was relevant to their experience. From this experience came ‘The Script,’ the first of the educational shows I’ve written.”
The performance, suitable for adults and older teens, will be followed by an open community discussion. Suggested donation is $5.
“Tim was here last fall,” Shari said. “He’s offered once again to do this as a benefit for the WFC. His work is about the teaching of violent masculinity, exploring it from different sides. It feels so human. There’s clearly a message, but he avoids preaching. A toxic male peer culture contributes to sexual assault and the silencing of survivors, especially now with social media. That adds one more enormous ordeal if you’re up against a whole peer group, which is shaming them and scaring them into silence. After the performance, the community has the opportunity for a frank and inspiring conversation.”
It’s only with sexual assault that people question what a survivor says, Shari noted. “With anything else, say, if someone is robbed, people wouldn’t think of asking how the victim might have brought it on themselves. Sexual assault means accessing someone else’s body without their consent.
“Over 80 percent of rape survivors were raped by someone they know,” Shari said. “The WFC works with all survivors of sexual violence, female, male, and trans. And we welcome our male allies in this work, to end sexual violence in this country.”
For sexual assault survivors, the WFC offers hospital accompaniment, emergency transportation, emergency housing, safety planning, advocacy and a survivors support group.
Helping people to be active bystanders is another component of ending sexual violence.
“Sexual assault is an opportunistic crime,” Shari said. “Preludes to sexual assault can happen in social situations we all find ourselves in. Every time we look away, we miss that chance to do something. Being an active bystander means finding different ways we can support somebody in trouble in order to change the course of events. That’s where male allies can be incredibly helpful. They have unique access to having male conversations.”
The second event in the WFC’s April schedule, a new Men’s Discussion Group, will start on Thursday, April 20, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. in the Brattleboro Co-op’s Community Room and meet every other Thursday to discuss a range of topics. Scott Kaltenbaugh, educator and male ally, will lead the group, which is open to all self-identified men who want to be allies for social change. The WFC will co-host until the end of May, after which the group will continue and evolve as participants choose.
The WFC’s final event in April is the Take Back the Night rally, march, and vigil on Thursday, April 27, from 6 to 9 p.m.
“This is a big event,” Shari said. “Take Back the Night marches in April have been going on for decades around the world. This year we’re partnering with groups from Bennington, Vt., and Greenfield, Mass. We’ll meet at the Brattleboro Common as a place to come together. People should bring protest signs and banners. Then we’ll march through town. There’ll be singing and chanting. We’ll be peaceful and boisterous, and make some righteous noise through town.
“Then, back on the Common, there will be a candlelight vigil,” Shari continued. “Vermont Sen. Becca Balint will be our main speaker. Then people can speak, and we’ll bear respectful witness. There is strength in numbers of a committed community. All are welcome to the march and vigil. It’s a chance for us to help fortify each other and share mutual resolve to be brave, speak out, and work for change.”
The WFC is a local organization in Windham and Southern Windsor Counties working to end domestic and sexual violence. The group’s free and confidential 24-hour crisis line is 802-254-6974 (Windham County) or 802-885-2050 (Southern Windsor County). Information is available on Facebook at Women’s Freedom Center or at www.womensfreedomcenter.net.