Red flags for sexual violence are waving all around Boston — in bars, on the T, at social gatherings — and everyone should be standing up to stop it. That was the message at a meeting of lawmakers and victim advocates for Sexual Assault Awareness Month at the State House on Monday.
“Far too many incidents go unreported, allowing the vicious cycle of sexual violence to repeat itself time after time,” said state Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry, who hosted the event on behalf of the Massachusetts Caucus of Women Legislators.
Advocates also hope to convince assault survivors to feel like they can come forward and seek justice, or find support from the many organizations in Massachusetts designed to help.
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Survivor Kristy Cullivan Sierra in a speech said she’d lived with shame and fear since being assaulted as a teenager at a party, before reaching out to the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC) for help in her 20s. Now she’s become an advocate for prevention.
“Could my assault have been prevented if someone spoke up? I think so. But no one did speak up,” Sierra said.
The BARCC is among groups working to change attitudes in communities, at colleges and military bases and with sports teams about assault prevention.
There are many ways a bystander can intervene, said Duane de Four, a BARCC board member who has led training exercises around the world. That might mean checking in with a woman who seems too intoxicated to consent to going home with someone, or stepping in when a friend talks about taking advantage of someone sexually, he said.
But step one is combatting the “cultural messages” that it’s best to mind one’s own business, even if your gut tells you otherwise, he said.
The MBTA also plans to run another public awareness campaign throughout the system next month calling on passengers to be on the lookout for suspicious activity.
Among things to look for, Dana Nye, Transit PD community outreach coordinator, said: someone standing too close for comfort to fellow passengers or making crude remarks or unwanted advances.
Commuters can report those incidents by calling TPD at 617-222-1212 or by reaching officers via the MBTA See Say app.
To demonstrate how bystanders can step in, presenters on Monday played this video: