Story 10: YOUR Story

Dear Engaged Bystander: Over nearly 20 years of sexual violence prevention work, I have heard 1000's of stories from survivors of sexual abuse and from adults, adolescents and a few children who sexually abused someone else. What is fairly rare, are the stories of their families, especially the families of people who abuse and of the community who have been deeply affected by that same sexual violence.

These are the stories that inspire me to continue my work.

We often ask why someone did not see what was going on in their family, in their circle of friends or in their community. These are part of the public narrative, of shock and dismay when we hear of a case that people did not do anything to stop.

We rarely ask a question about what someone did see and what prompted them to say something to a friend or family member. We rarely take the time and resources to publicly say thank you when someone does have the courage to speak up or act, unless it fits the sensational story mold - stopping the rape or an attack of a perfect stranger. Imagine a fraternity publicly recognizing the fraternity brother who safely escorted the most women home from frat parties.

When I started this short series, I talked about my deeply held belief that we need to start changing the stories that we tell about sexual violence. When I try to explain a difficult concept to someone, the only way to really get my point across is to tell a story. For example, I can talk about how there are often dozens of people who can say something or do something in any situation and I get a nod of agreement, but usually, nothing more. But when I tell a story (a cousin at a wedding making lewd comments about the young girls there) and then outline the four or five things that can be done in that situation, people begin to understand that there are many people who can act, there are many actions that can be taken and that no one has to act alone. This kind of story helps the listener understand what needs to change.

We need to tell our stories so that people can feel hope that they can make a difference and that they have a responsibility to try to make a difference.

So please take the time to share one of your stories or a story that guides your work around sexual violence prevention. You can just add them to the comments below. Or if you want to share a story of the "engaged bystander" more broadly, you can add your story to others in the NSVRC collection.

Thank you for caring about preventing sexual violence and in particular, for having the courage to share your story here, with friends, and/or on the NSVRC website. All of these opportunities can begin to change the way with think about and respond to the continuum of behaviors that can lead to sexual violence or sexual health.

Thank you again,

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