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Dr. Laura Berman Show on the Oprah Network

Dear Engaged Bystander: So I had my 15 minutes of fame on Monday. Through the NSVRC I got a call from Harpo Productions (yes the Oprah network!) asking if I would be interested in being a guest on the Dr. Laura Berman show. She is on their radio network and well, of COURSE I would want to be on the show. It is a great show and Dr. Berman is engaging, asks good questions and her approach is supportive rather than antagonist towards her guests. I was excited, actually thrilled and flattered to be asked!

  In preparation, I thought through what my three key speaking points would be. Over the years, what I have learned is to know what you need to say and weave those points into any question that might be asked. My three points?   1.        The term “bystander” can be misleading – someone who stands by and is not affected by an event. What we do know is that when we witness violence in any form, we are affected by that violence. And when we do nothing, that choice is a reinforcement of the violence or harassment that we are witnessing.  The example I gave to Dr. Berman is the first interview I did with a sex offender where the man said he was not blaming anyone in his life, but in hindsight, “All of the signs were there and no one in his family, his circle of friends or his work ever asked me about it…” At the time, he took this as tacit permission to continue to sexually abuse children. 2.       If we want to prevent sexual violence we need to begin to intervene along the entire continuum of behaviors. The most difficult and often most dangerous time to intervene is when someone is being sexually assaulted. The best opportunity we have is to confront behaviors that are no appropriate in that setting or age group, or harassment, or begin the conversation with what is healthy in your home, faith community or workplace.  3.       We often talk about individual change (outlined in the bystander book I wrote) but change in our communities and institutions may be even more important. Look at how we changed our attitudes and behaviors towards drinking and driving, cigarette smoking, and the environment. (give example) That is why the involvement of the NSVRC is so important to this change. For more information and to access the resources of this organization go to www.nsvrc.org.    So I was nervous and well prepared. I certainly know this material very very well and I do talk about it all of the time. So what went wrong?    She saw the word “preventing sexual violence” and interpreted that to be when someone is pulled into an alley to be sexually assaulted or a gang rape or some other form of extreme violence. She talked about a previous conversation about the military and how in that culture of violence, sexual violence or harassment is often overlooked. When I tried to speak to the importance of intervening along the entire continuum of behaviors she acknowledged that but then brought it right back to the point of what do you do when you see someone being raped.  On this second round on the topic, I was not sure how to answer it differently and tie that circumstance to a series of other behaviors and decisions. Unfortunately that fumbling is what you hear on the short clip posted to their website. And unfortunately, they cut the other sections where I felt I was speaking more clearly, including the reference to the NSVRC.    Sigh…    So what did I learn? I am reminded of the Frameworks report that the NSVRC pulled together that talks about the general public’s reaction to the term sexual violence. When I say these words, I see the entire array of behaviors from sexually inappropriate comments at a party, the “stolen” touch on the subway, the sexual harassment in the office and the sexual assault of anyone (male, female, adult or child). But according to Frameworks, most of the public hear rape and sexual assault in that term. And that is what I wished I had addressed up front  – if we want to stop sexual violence IN ANY FORM we need to address the behaviors earlier and directly.    Hopefully, this is something to save for my next 15 minutes of fame.   Warmly joan      
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Karen Baker
Fri, 04/15/2011

Thanks Joan - I appreciate you jumping in with short notice and also "debriefing" your experience in this blog. They did seem to be more interested in having it go the way they thought it should than in really listening to your expertise. But hopefully it sparked some conversations in listeners and maybe some of them will explore the issue in more depth. Thanks for helping us all think more clearly about what and how to communicate in these brief but important opportunities. Our issue just does not lend itself well to short soundbites and quick answers. But we keep trying and keep doing and collectively we are making a difference. Thanks for this blog series!