[Courtesy photo]

Sexual Assault Awareness Month has been shining the light on this important social issue internationally for 20 years, helping spread information and awareness around the world.

Seekhaven Family Crisis and Resource Center is celebrating its 30th year anniversary this year. We know that the efforts towards bringing conscious awareness to the crisis that is sexual assault, have been going on for much longer and is constantly evolving.

Over a year in and we have all had to evolve as well after being thrown inside of this wild tilt-a-whirl of a pandemic, particularly to the truckloads of barriers that were brought along with it. A huge barrier for more people than one would think is technology. Whether folks don’t have access to it, may not understand it or may be concerned for their safety while using it; technology is not the easiest thing to navigate for everyone.

As a result, this year’s Sexual Assault Awareness month has been appropriately themed:

“We Can Build Safe Online Spaces.”

Let’s assume that the majority of folks in today’s society are on their smart devices and using social media. Social media is an extremely vast environment full of not only information but also so much of the unknown. Unfortunately, the internet is a space where abusers are able to harass people in a manner different than ever before. Paying attention to the signs and standing up are some of the most helpful ways you can be a supporter and a safe person.

Victim-blaming is a common and harmful tactic to minimize and dismiss a survivor’s experience. Here are a few phrases to look for and avoid using:

  • “Why didn’t you come forward sooner/immediately report the assault?”
  • “What were you wearing?”
  • “You shouldn’t have been out alone that late.”
  • “How much did you have to drink?”

This is a small glimpse into what verbal and digital victim-blaming can look like. What do you think you would do if you read these words on a survivor’s story or overheard this kind of interaction?

An important aspect of compassion and empathy is remembering everyone can experience trauma in many different ways and absolutely no one deserves to be assaulted, no matter what. Regardless of the kind of clothing that is on their body, the amount of alcohol that was consumed, how much time was taken to build up the courage to speak up against an abuser, no one deserves to be assaulted.

If you’re interested in learning ways you can be helpful, keep reading!

Here are some tips on how you can be helpful in situations involving online harassment and abuse:

Report abusive comments, messages, photos

You have the power to report inappropriate and abusive content online. Get your friends to report with you too! Being a part of the removal of those harmful words and images is a phenomenal way to be involved and to also stay anonymous.

Be an Upstander, not a bystander.

Say something! Recognizing abusive behavior online or in the real world too, and bringing attention to what is wrong with that behavior, standing up against it as well as practicing compassion towards the victim/individual experiencing the abuse is helpful. Once in a space made safer with your help, ask them if they’re okay or if they need anything.

Be a supporter.

A massive part of creating a safe space for survivors is showing that you can be a supportive individual to them if they need you. It might not always be right away, or they may refuse your offer, but having that door open can give a sense of relief to survivors in many cases.

In a community like ours here in Grand County, it will be greatly beneficial to have these spaces made safer for individuals who are experiencing abuse and to have a culture of standing up against what is wrong and causing harm to others when we see it.

We can all be a part of ending sexual violence and I encourage folks to start paying attention and begin creating safer spaces for all of us, because once again: no one deserves to be assaulted.

Zarena Rigby is the director of programs at Seekhaven Family Crisis & Resource Center and a life-long Moab resident.