Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Power of Bystanders to End Rape Culture

Sexual assault, rape culture, and bystander intervention are dominating news headlines, fueled by public outrage over several high-profile cases of sexual assault. This isn’t just a problem that is happening in large urban areas or on college campuses.  At Tahoe SAFE Alliance the number of sexual assault clients served has more than doubled over the last year.

In our ongoing efforts to keep individuals safe in their homes, communities, schools, and workplaces, this is a good time to consider the role of the general community in sexual assault prevention.  Traditionally, sexual assault prevention messaging has been around ‘Don’t rape, don’t get raped’ which isn’t particularly helpful as a prevention tool.  But what if conversations were around interrupting and intervening?  What if messaging were inclusive to where ‘Everyone has a role to play in keeping people safe’? 

Bystander Intervention is not new, but it has continued to be a progressive method that has proven to work.  Take the recent case of Stanford University student Brock Turner who assaulted a female student behind a dumpster.  He was caught by two passing graduate students who tackled and held him until police arrived.  Intervention worked.  Yet, despite the powerful potential of bystanders, there are complex, multifaceted reasons why people don’t intervene, according to Jackson Katz, an educator, author, and creator of the Mentors in Violence Prevention Model, one of the country’s first bystander intervention training programs.

How is it that presumptuously caring people can watch such attacks, yet do nothing to intervene?  According to Katz, one of those factors is the pressure of the “peer culture” – expectations among friends, partygoers, teammates, etc. He further explains that an assault within peer culture situations – where most assaults happen -- its not just about stopping a violent act, it requires going against stereotypes and social norms and confronting issues of gender and power dynamics.

While recurring headlines of sexual assaults are disheartening, studies show that bystander programs are changing perceptions and making a difference.  At Tahoe SAFE Alliance, we are having inclusive conversations around sexual assault prevention and the transformative power of Bystander Intervention with students in our community.  Last fall, the Teen Peace Project, a teen peer advocacy club at Truckee High School facilitated by Tahoe SAFE Alliance, created an outreach survey designed to assess how Truckee residents react to violence as a community.  The results were documented in a video that is part of a broader community mobilization effort. (See the video here.)

Bystander Intervention is a powerful tool that is helping to save lives in violent situations like sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse.  If you decide to be a proactive bystander and help a person in need, there are some important steps to take.
1)  Assess the situation for safety of all parties involved.  Decide if the authorities need to be contacted.  Your personal safety should be the number one priority.
2)  Decide what action to take.  Do you want to personally intervene by doing or saying something directly to the offender, or do you want to do something indirectly such as making up an excuse to get someone out of an uncomfortable situation?  Think about your safety and options before intervening.

3)  Intervene – with reinforcements, if possible.  Your safety, and the influence you have, is increased when working with a group.

It takes a community in the effort of Stopping Abuse for EVERYONE.  Everyone has a role to play!

Dawn Harris
Fund Development Manager
Tahoe SAFE Alliance

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Child Abuse Affects Every Demographic

Child Abuse Affects Every Demographic - Children's Program Helps Build Community Resilience.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, where we can bring awareness to the many families in our community that are working towards having healthy relationships. The struggles that every family faces vary by circumstance, and there is no big book on how to parent your child. 
Child abuse is such a heavy term, and many people don't know what it truly encompasses. It includes physical, emotional, and verbal abuse, and neglect. Most often, people are not intentionally trying to harm their children, but they may not know that hitting is physical abuse, or maybe they had never seen a healthy relationship with their parents or family and they are following what they learned.       

Tahoe SAFE Alliance staff, school staff, child care providers, law enforcement, health care providers, and many more people are mandated to report any stories or witnessing of child abuse to CPS. Once a report is made, we as reporters have no control over what happens next. Often, people are scared to disclose or to consider what might happen with involvement of CPS. I spend a lot of time explaining to families what a response from CPS might look like, and that their focus is on safety and that they can help the family with safety planning and parenting skills.
At Tahoe SAFE Alliance, our services are voluntary. When a family engages in services, an amazing community response happens. We all work together to help them understand healthy relationships and healthy family responses. Any time Tahoe SAFE Alliance is working with another agency, we get consent from the person to share their information and work collaboratively; it is entirely their decision. We provide education to a family or individual about healthy relationships, the effects of domestic violence on kids, and will have informal conversations about coping and parenting skills. 
We also provide individual therapy to children and survivors of domestic violence, legal and educational advocacy, and help coordinate and make referrals, and we offer many more services to survivors of domestic violence. Child abuse affects every demographic. What each of us can do is model healthy behaviors, ask for help if we feel we need it, and report any abuse we see or hear about.  All of it builds resilience in our kids and our community. 

Penny Morris
Children's Program Manager
Tahoe SAFE Alliance

Friday, February 17, 2017

Healthy Relationships Trending

When it comes to parenting, there are those important topics typically addressed with children and teenagers. We all remember them well. But in the growing web of talks about alcohol, drugs, economy, self-responsibility, teen dating violence doesn’t usually make the list. Growing up, we remember the big topics like alcohol and drugs were easy to approach but conversations around dating were not. Most parents fumbled around searching for the right words when it came to dating, which we can mostly laugh about now!

You might be asking yourself, in this day and age where our society is raising strong independent women and self-assured sensitive men, how can it be possible that teen dating violence is still a problem? To start, the idea that strong-willed individuals couldn't possibly experience abuse or that victims are only exclusive to women are thoughts that still stand strong today. It’s still a problem because girls shouldn't walk home alone at night and boys will be boys. It’s still a problem because prevention efforts in school are a relatively new concept. It’s still a problem because victims are shamed for coming forward. Those stigmas are powerful, and many adults today feel like they know the issue without the education necessary to fully understand. When you break down the reality of this silent epidemic, you'll began to see why teen dating violence should be added to the list of must-have conversations with youth today. 

When assessing whether your teen might be in an unhealthy or abusive relationship, educating yourself on the issue is step one. Since February is Teen Dating Violence awareness month, what better time to do that then now? Teenagers don’t want to admit that they need you during this confusing time and will often result to peer advice to get them through. Some of us can remember what that looked like- “You can’t get pregnant in a hot tub.” Insert hand to forehead emoji. 

Thankfully with numerous prevention programs scattered throughout the U.S., healthy relationships and knowing your rights has become the "in" thing. True story! And the numerous campaigns that spread the mission are full of shiny tactics that help make the movement comfortable and include challenging culture norms in media, taking a hard look at sexual consent, and tools equipped to intervene when someone witnesses abusive behaviors. A major barrier however is the ability for teenagers to assess at-risk behaviors before the abuse happens.  

It's natural to feel angry or frustrated with the situation, but empowering your teen will ultimately be the key advantage in setting up your family for success. With prevention programs in schools on the rise, continuing efforts at home is crucial. Prevention efforts only have the capacity to get the ball rolling, and the trick is to understand how, as parents, you can continue the education at home. Prevention efforts, like the programs at Tahoe SAFE Alliance, include doing one presentation a year which simply isn’t going to cut it. National Public Radio published an article regarding the importance of starting these conversations earlier than you would expect- To Prevent Sexual Assault, Schools and Parents Start Lessons Early. As the word prevention implies, the idea is to stop teen dating violence before it happens. Apart from factors that we don’t have control over, there’s still an immense amount of room for growth in this area. Recognizing that the problem does happen in your community is a major step in the right direction. Feeling a little overwhelmed? Check out some of these online resources that will help boost your confidence and get the conversation started! 

·         joinonelove- created fun animation skits that show what is healthy and unhealthy
·         BecauseI Love You... is a very powerful PSA also put on by that shows how charming abuse can be.
·         WarningSigns- this excellent guide breaks down warning signs and even approaches whether your teen might be an abuser

Teen dating violence is not an after school special. Violence doesn’t only happen in the form of physical harm. It is often discreet, charming, and hidden behind some very powerful emotions that, when not understood, can appear to look like love. As a unified community we can make the difference. Tahoe SAFE Alliance Community Education and Prevention Program is present in nearly every school in the north Tahoe and Truckee area. To find out when we’ll be presenting at your children’s school and learn more about what we’re addressing, feel free to contact us directly and we’d love to share that information with you. Contact the Prevention Program Manager at or call 775-298-0010.

Christina Vaughn
Prevention Educator
Tahoe SAFE Alliance