Gender-based violence is the concern of a new group on the Hill and the subject of a public event Tuesday, Dec. 1. Callie Wight, a member of the group, says its formation was not a reaction to incidents on the Hill and stressed that children who live here from high school to later, spend considerable time in environments where this preparation will be beneficial.
The origin is the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University. Members of St. Hugh’s Episcopal Church have been involved in the center’s programs for many years, according to Vicar Daniel Rondeau. The center’s 2015 topic is “16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence Campaign,” which runs from Nov. 25 to Dec. 10.
However, the St. Hugh’s group, which is named the Mountain Communities Alliance Against Gender-based Violence, will address the issue throughout the year.
“If your community has children in school, we want to keep the school children safe from gender-based violence,” he explained. “We hope to show parents how to identify gender-based violence and give kids and parents the courage to face that.”
While youth in their mid-teens have the highest rate of sexual assault, the group is not implying this is rampant in Hemet or Anza. “Nevertheless, these are much bigger communities and can be an initial cultural shock to students from the Hill,” he said.
“We want to bring to the community that it can and does happen here,” said Julie Steiger, a local therapist and social worker, who is a member of the local alliance. “I’ve lived here two years and it’s definitely a problem which we don’t speak about. Whether it’s secrets or shame, we don’t talk about it.”
The purpose of the December event is to provide parents and kids with tools to deal with these situations, said Mary Morse, director of the Spirit Mountain Retreat Center and one of the group’s members. The intent is to distract the attacker and defuse the incident.
“For example, if someone sees another person being teased or bullied, rather than saying nothing, these tools will give them something to say, which can help alleviate the situation,” Rondeau added. “If one person will intervene, it often empowers the entire group.”
The basic structure of the tools is to offer a statement that challenges the behavior, asks questions about the situation, employs “I” statements and makes it personal.
For example, if one sees someone harassing another student, the can say, “Stop being a jerk.” The challenge is to tell the harasser to stop and the behavior is not OK.
Questions such as, “Why are you acting this way?” or “What’s your goal here?” can be raised. Besides the use of “I” statements, it becomes personal for the perpetrator when asked, “How would you feel if some guy treated your mom or sister or girlfriend that way?”
Besides a discussion of the tools and their use, participants can discuss the whole problem, Wight said. What is gender-based violence? What’s going on in the world? Solutions will be part of the discussion.
Morse also stressed that men — homosexuals and transgender — can be victims of sexual assault, too.
Two practitioners will be at the event. One of the featured speakers will be Gayle Hepner, executive director of the Center Against Sexual Assault of Southwest Riverside County. She and Steiger have significant experience working with survivors of this form of violence. They can speak to the reactions, consequences and long-term feelings.
“There are not a lot of resources here. This evening will give awareness to the problem and let people talk about it,” Steiger said. “This can reduce the shame and embarrassment, so the victim does not feel so alone.”
The importance of survivors participating is powerful, they all stressed, especially to learn how to handle a situation and its repercussions.
At the conclusion, Rondeau hopes all who attend will depart with an awareness of the problem and what can be done to change it. “It’s the need for a powerful bystander,” he said. And Morse re-enforced the point, with her comment, “Intervening can make a difference.”
The presentation “Beyond Bystander: Keeping Youth Safe From Gender-based Violence” is from 6 to 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 1, at the Rainbow Inn. For more information, you may call 951-634-4048 or visit the Facebook page, Mountain Communities Alliance Against Gender-based Violence.