How an Active Bystander In my Life Changed the Course of One Night

A very close friend of mine has been giving talks recently about the importance of being an active bystander in all environments so that you can prevent sexual assault among the women you associate with. This message is one that is extremely important and one that can not be stressed enough. Now what does it mean to be an active bystander? Being an active bystander means to regard for other women’s safety as you would your own and to act as such. This is as simple as introducing a code word that you and your friends can text or say if you need to get out of a bad situation, sharing your location with your friends on your iphones, asking a girl if she wants to come to the bathroom with you if she looks uncomfortable when talking to a guy and other ways similar to these. I know it’s not uncommon to hear “see something, say something,” but what is important to note is that you may be the only one who can do something about a sexual assault in progress. For some context, I was at a party before my graduation with a lot of my graduating class, but only one person there was actively looking out for my well being and stopped my sexual assault. Only one person.

 

            I wanted to share my story, because I can’t stress the importance of being an active bystander when it comes to sexaul assualt enough. An active bystander is what changed my sexual assault into an attempted one. This experience has changed the way I regard my own personal safety as well as the safety of women around me. If I have friends who are going out for the night, I always tell then to be safe, share their location with me and text me or call me if they need a ride. I have stayed on the phone with friends while myself or one of them walks back from their classes in the dark, and I have offered to drive friends back to their dorm so they wouldn’t have to walk across campus late at night. I do anything I can on a daily basis to make sure that I, myself, and my friends are safe on and off campus.

 

            Now, to tell you my story. I was seventeen at the time, I had just accepted University of Maine’s admission offer on a partial merit scholarship and I was days away from graduating from my high school. My best friend convinced me to go to an end of the year party with her, because it was going to be one of the last times that my graduating class was going to all be together, and so we went. It was fun at first, until I ended up talking to a guy I knew through mutual friends. He wasn’t attractive to me in anyway and we had maybe, at most, had less than 10 conversations in the whole high school career I had known him. I really just considered him a friend, but he took me being nice to him as consent. After he tried to kiss me, I pulled away, nicely trying to state that this is not what I wanted and I wanted to get back to my best friend who I had come with, as well as the group we had been hanging out with before. He ignored what I said and continued to pull me closer and grab me. He was stronger than me, and I had given up trying to get out of his grasp or try to get up so I could walk back to the group of people close by. It wasn’t until I started to hear “Tasha!” “Has anyone seen Natasha?” that I was able to call out to my best friend, drawing attention to myself and get away from the situation I was in. All it took was my friend being an active bystander, by calling out for me and attempting to find me, to stop my in progress sexual assault. She said that because I told her I had no plans to go off somewhere and that I had said that I wanted to stay close to her all night, that she said she felt like she had to go looking for me when I wasn’t in her line of vision.

 

            Now this happened in California and it was on a very small scale, but sexual assault happens from coast to coast. According to statistics gathered by Rainn, one American is sexual assaulted every 98 seconds. Every 98 seconds. Another statistic  from Rainn’s website, regarding campus data, states that 11.2% of all students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence or incapacitation. Now that percentage may be small, but it should be smaller - it should be zero.

 

            I can’t stress enough how important it is to be an active bystander. Not only should you be wary of your safety, but other women’s safety as well. We are stronger together, and in order to lower that percentage, all it really takes is one person to be an active bystander with very small acts that make a BIG difference. This can be as simple as sharing your location with your friends for the night, giving your friend a ride if she’s at a party and can’t get home safely, asking a girl if she’ll go to the bathroom with you if she looks uncomfortable in a situation, and so many more that are similar to those. It really only takes one person, and anyone can be that person starting today.

 

            There are a number of resources available if you have been the victim of a sexual assault, know a victim of sexual assault, or want to have these resources on hand for future reference:

 

At the University of Maine, Elizabeth Lavoie is a Deputy Title IX and Sexual Assault & Violence Prevention Coordinator who is in Room 315 at 5748 Memorial Union. Her phone number is (207) 581-1406 and her email is [email protected]. Along with her, University of Maine Police Department is also an option.

 

In Bangor, Rape Response Services is located at 262 Harlow Street. Their number is (207) 973-3651 and their website is http://www.rsonline.org/.

 

The helpline number that can be accessed at any time, any day of the week is 1-800-871-7741. This is a number you can text or call 24/7.

 

If you would feel more comfortable talking to a student, a student of the University of Maine who is a big advocate for women’s safety and prevention of sexual violence has given me permission to release her contact information. She is in the process of becoming a certified first responder of sexual assault and has offered to provide her personal cell phone number stating that all correspondence with her will be 100% confidential and that she has numerous resources to help any women who is a victim of sexual assault and/or sexual violence. Her name is Kaitlyn Beckwith and her number is (207) 312-9984.