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Every #MeToo story is also a #HereToo story

The fact that rape culture is now being talked about and read about by so many survivors and allies alike is itself an epic shift. Where as a community can we go from here?

The Women’s Freedom Center (womensfreedomcenter.net) works in Windham and Southern Windsor counties to end domestic and sexual violence. You can reach an advocate on the organization’s 24-hour crisis line at 802-254-6954. Because of the sensitive and often-dangerous nature of their work, we offer rare anonymity in these pages to the Freedom Center advocates who write here about issues of power, control, and abuse.

Brattleboro

It’s agonizing, yet unsurprising, to hear about the decades of trauma that may be caused by a single perpetrator of sexual harm when left unchecked. Sadly, that’s kept global hotlines busy long before making many headlines.

Yet what the tsunami of #MeToo has highlighted isn’t just the enormous courage of survivors (and depravity of offenders), but also the enabling network of passive bystanders who often had information — who shoulda, coulda, woulda done something — but did not.

And as recent articles in The Commons illustrate, all of that happens here, too.

Sexual harm is both premeditated and opportunistic: it happens whenever or wherever an offender can position himself to seek out and gain the trust of a next victim. And a next. Whether that’s an adult or a child victim, the M.O. can be similar.

That’s Rape Culture 101 in 2021, and this awful course is slowly being corrected.

The fact that rape culture is now being talked about and read about by so many survivors and allies alike is itself an epic shift. A profound thank you goes out to Mindy Haskins Rogers, Brandie Starr, and Jeff Potter, for shining a spotlight on a long-time local tragedy. Their careful dissection — and public rejection — of that toxic history helps dramatically raise our collective bar on showing moral courage.

Thank you, too, to the countless other survivors, allies, and organizations who are also proactive, whether in print or otherwise. As Haskins Rogers points out, “the time has come to wrestle with the culture that permitted this to happen.”

* * *

First of all, let’s keep in mind that in any setting, using a poem to single out and publicly outline someone’s body parts (in this case children — specifically, girls — in front of other children) is sexual harassment.

What recent studies underscore, though, is that sexual harassment begins quite early in our lives, especially in the lives of girls. By age 12, 1 in 4 girls experience unwanted comments or touch, even in public.

And a culture that tolerates sexual harassment creates the exact kind of dismissive, and often disbelieving, arena where offenders thrive — and may go on to cause greater harm.

Let’s address, too, any self-serving, uncritical use of such so-called “classic” literature as Lolita to begin grooming minors. (Of course, you can substitute here a slew of other artistic works throughout history.) Just because someone famous and talented wrote about a topic doesn’t change that it eroticizes the kidnap and rape of a child. Any act of that same drama in real life would merit not accolades, but an Amber Alert.

Such are the means of our collective indoctrination into sexism and rape culture. If we admire someone’s prose style/comedy style/pulpit style/celebrity status, as a society, we often give dangerous behaviors a pass, too.

* * *

Fast-forward to today: we’re living in such a profoundly energized time of social change — a time when centuries-old monuments to oppression are being toppled in public squares — that it’s creating a healthy momentum to resocialize most of us and — hopefully, someday — spare younger generations from even having to cope with unchecked predatory behavior.

Now, we — every single one of us — can create the checks.

We need a shift, though, in how we show up for one another, because, frankly, any of us can become a victim of sexual violence. And as a community, we need opportunities to have ongoing, courageous conversations with one another, facilitated and fueled by a spirit of social healing.

To that end, here’s an open invitation.

For any workplace, faith group, civic group, or club, if you’d like to have an advocate come host a Bystander Empowerment Workshop for your members on ending sexual harassment and violence, please give us a call at 802-257-7364.

Likewise, for any school or youth-centered organization, please reach out to have our youth advocate help empower the young people you serve with, giving them skills to shift their own peer cultures, too.

Every talk can plant a seed and help create a culture of solidarity where abuse is no longer tolerated.

Beyond that, the Women’s Freedom Center is here 24/7 to support survivors of all genders who’ve experienced sexual violence, and we’ve certainly heard from more of you since the #MeToo movement amplified disclosures.

We can support you in your ongoing healing and exploration of options — and, for those interested, your activism, too.

Please be in touch if you’d like to be get updates when we host free survivor events you might like to join. And for everyone: please stay tuned for a community-wide forum we’ll be hosting soon, to begin some vital dialogue with one another on these issues.

It’s also helpful to keep in mind that non-disclosing survivors are all around us, too — no one is ever obligated to share their history, ever. But for those who choose to, we’re also here to offer guidance to friends and family on how to help if someone tells you “me, too.”

All calls are completely free and confidential, and we’re available around the clock.

We continue to be inspired by, and grateful for, this ever-evolving community! Thank you for stepping up to take down rape culture, once and for all.

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Editor’s note: Our terms of service require you to use your real names. We will remove anonymous or pseudonymous comments that come to our attention. We rely on our readers’ personal integrity to stand behind what they say; please do not write anything to someone that you wouldn’t say to his or her face without your needing to wear a ski mask while saying it. Thanks for doing your part to make your responses forceful, thoughtful, provocative, and civil. We also consider your comments for the letters column in the print newspaper.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #629 (Wednesday, September 8, 2021). This story appeared on page C2.

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