Friends Don’t Let Friends Hurt Women

Written by Julia Spann

Remember the public awareness campaign “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk”? It was extremely successful in delivering the message that friends have a responsibility to intervene when their buddies are about to drive drunk.

I was thinking about that campaign in light of the verdict in Steubenville. In that case, the details leaked out over time, in posts on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter. I was wondering to myself, how do we spread a similar message of collective responsibility for our friends? We clearly need to connect with all those who watched, aimed their cell phone cameras, and shared images of criminal acts, rather than trying to stop them.

How can we come up with a “Friends don’t let Friends Rape Girls” campaign?

Or what about the “Don’t Mess with Texas” campaign? Texans, proud of living in a state where the rights of individuals live large, effectively signed on to a collective responsibility to care for our state.  What if all Texans were urged to protect each other?  What if the campaign was “All Texas Women Are My Sister”?

Remember the campaign for women to protect themselves from strangers?  Pepper spray, key rings doubling as personal safety devices, classes for young women to travel in packs, instructions that if you are a girl and alone in a parking lot you should look under your car and in your back seat before getting in.  One recommendation from that campaign was for girls to always carry a whistle and blow it hard and loud if they were being assaulted.  It worked — to the extent that whistle sales increased.

What if we all carried a whistle and blew it, loud and hard, whenever someone threated to sexually exploit someone else?  When someone is telling a joke that makes fun of women, whistle once — when someone is bragging about getting a girl to sleep with him against her will, whistle twice.

Without campaigns like these, how do we ever stop rape, sexual abuse and domestic violence? Since the 1970s, we have developed legal remedies, programs for perpetrators, services to help survivors recognize and avoid violence, and programs to help kids learn the warning signs of dangerous relationships. These are good – and: they are not enough. They don’t get through to the kids at that party in Steubenville, who joked about the rape in text messages and videos.

If we only focus on avoiding victimization, we will not end violence.  It is going to take those of us who are in safe and respectful relationships to have the courage to step up, and to teach our children to step up.

Here is what we know: One out of four women will be a victim of sexual or domestic violence in her lifetime. Does that mean that one out of four men will abuse someone?  Perhaps, but let’s flip that statistic: Three out of four men will never hurt an intimate partner.  Safe, respectful people are the majority.  Let’s use our power and influence for good.  Let’s intervene.

The gang rape in Steubenville is an example of what happens when nobody intervenes. What if one person had intervened that night in Steubenville?  What if someone told the guys that it wasn’t cool, and to stop?  What if someone drove the young woman home?  What if someone called the police?  What if someone recognized that things were getting out of control and threw away all the alcohol?  What if the entire community of Steubenville decided that never again in their town would such an atrocity happen?

What we need is to begin to build a culture of intervention and courage. A culture that says it’s OK to stand up to the football team, in the middle of a party, to prevent a crime from occurring.

Could we build such a culture here in Austin?  Could we stand up to our athletes, our heroes, if we saw them hurting women? I’d like to believe that in Austin, with our legacy of tolerance and respect for others – not to mention our great creative minds – we could figure out the right words to say, the right message to send, that would prevent sexual assault from happening.

And let’s Keep Austin Weird – and Safe for Women.