Sunday, May 1, 2011

Walking On Campus Against Sexual Assault

The sun was shining, a warm breeze blowing, and 100 walkers, mostly young adults, gathered to walk and raise awareness about sexual assault. In fact, this first ever Sexual Assault Awareness Walk on the University of Bridgeport campus in Bridgeport, CT, held on April 15th,  not only raised awareness, it also raised almost $2000 to benefit The Center for Women and Families of Eastern Fairfield County. This wonderful Center is dedicated to "strengthening women and families and eliminating violence and abuse through education, intervention, advocacy and community collaboration" and what a hard-working, dedicated team it has to execute its mission.
The Center honored me by asking me to speak at the walk. Below is the text of my speech, dedicated to the young people who made this walk come alive and who will soon be the adults leading the way in what I hope will be the cultural change that makes abuse no longer possible.

I’m honored to have been asked to speak here today. I was born in Bridgeport, spent the earliest years of my life here, many hours at Seaside Park. I’ve had friends and family who’ve attended or taught at UB over the years.
One thing that was not here when I was growing up was the Center for Women and Families. That what we are doing here today will help them continue to do their great work on behalf of this community is very gratifying. To so many the Center has been a lifeline, a crucial piece in their recovery from assault or their ability to successfully extricate from a difficult life situation and move on to thrive. That kind of compassionate, tireless, guiding arm in a community is invaluable and I for one, am grateful for their presence here, the true devotion of their fine staff and on a personal level, an opportunity to have met many of them with an eye toward collaboration. I can’t think of a better way to have an impact in this community than a partnership with the Center for Women and Families.
The other very gratifying thing about participating here today is YOU. I know that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month; it’s also Child Abuse Prevention Month – but I often find myself saying during April “EVERY month is Sexual Assault Awareness Month or EVERY month is Child Abuse Prevention Month” – because it is. We, and so many other organizations across the US, gather during April to mark this month in recognition of the issues, but violence happens around the clock, and the calendar, and so must the work to prevent and respond to that violence. Sexual violence, of adults or children, is so often assembled around silence and shame, secrets and conspiracy. 
But here, today, by your assembly, there is no silence or shame, there are no secrets. The only conspiracy is one against the violence. You/we are standing proud, with a loud clear voice, speaking out, shattering silence saying – we stand together. This cannot happen any more. We won’t live in denial – we acknowledge this tough topic, so often taboo, here today. We are here to say there is a problem, we know it, we are facing it and we are willing to put ourselves out there to help make it stop.
Whether you’re talking about assault against adults or – as in the work I do, against children – the only way to battle the silence, the shame, the secrets, & conspiracy is education. The Center works tirelessly in that vein and so do I. And while I wrote a children’s book that facilitates discussion with even the littlest ones about their safety and boundaries, the major focus of my work, my prevention education efforts, is with adults.
And that is often not an easy task. If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard – “it just doesn’t happen here that much” – or “I don’t believe those statistics, they’re overblown” – or “he or she would never do such a thing” - I’d be a very rich woman. To get many adults to even acknowledge the problem and the need for education is the first task. But here, with YOU all, I have this tiny spark of hope, that maybe, just maybe, with this up and coming generation of new adults, my job might get a bit easier.
For as we will step off today on our walk, soon you all will be stepping off into your full-fledged adult lives. YOU will be the decision makers, in your personal lives and in your communities. YOU will be the leaders, the policy makers, the next generation of parents.YOU will be directing the organizations that serve your communities and YOU will have the power – power to create policies in your towns, your schools, your faith-based organizations, your businesses, in every part of your lives – that just might make abuse less likely to happen.
And as we head toward the lighthouse I can’t help but analogize that YOU will be the light. YOU will be the beacons. The light needed to end sexual violence is man-made, woman-made, people made. Adult awareness, education, and action, action that matches intention is what it will take so that we no longer need a Sexual Assault Awareness Month or a Child Abuse Prevention Month. Wouldn’t it be a great day when April can go back to just being the home of Easter and Passover, April showers, April fools, the beginning of spring?
That’s what I work toward every day – to get adults to understand their personal power and the effect their choices have for the safety of their children and their communities. I often speak of the need for a social and a cultural shift in the way we think about and approach the problem of sexual abuse. Cultural change is a slow process- like our walk today, one step at a time- but looking out here at you, at all the promise and hope in the face of a very real and difficult, painful problem, I have to believe we are moving forward.
In yoga there is a saying, a word “namaste” – often delivered with a nod to another – like this – and it means “the light in me honors the light in you.” So today, here at this gathering of determination and hope, the promise of a better, safer future, I say to each and every one of you, thank you for your time, your efforts, your passion, your determination.
 Thank you for working to end the blight of sexual assault. Namaste.