SAFE San Juans shares #SJItoo

It may be your sister, your aunt, your daughter or your brother, but it’s likely that someone close to you has experienced sexual violence in their lifetime.

The #MeToo movement that began in 2006 regained national momentum in October 2017 as a way for survivors of sexual assault and harassment, both male and female, to share their stories on social media. Now SAFE San Juans is hoping to encourage local acknowledgment of sexual violence, introducing #SJItoo.

About a dozen people gathered on the evening of March 1 in the Emmanuel Episcopal Church Hall to discuss the #MeToo movement and how it relates to the San Juan Islands. SAFE Executive Director Kim Bryan was joined by Board President Angela Douglas, San Juan County Sheriff’s Sergeant Herb Crowe and County Councilman Rick Hughes.

“So many times, when we talk about sexual assault – especially like it’s in the media right now – we tend to go straight for the rape or the sexual molestation, or you know, that type of event that is happening,” Bryan said. “We need to kind of back up a bit, and dial back to ‘where did it start? What did it look like.’ Maybe it starts with the crude jokes, or disrespectful talk, or catcalling, or the ‘boys will be boys’ mentality, the ‘locker room’ kind of mentality. What, as a community, are we going to accept and what are we not going to accept? What’s OK in our community for young boys to take part in, or young girls to take part in? Where does it start and where are we going to draw the line on this sexual assault continuum?”

SAFE San Juans (formerly DVSAS) is a nonprofit agency with the mission of preventing and eliminating incidences of domestic violence and sexual assault through victim services, education, community awareness and cultural and social change.

Douglas shared her stories of assault and survival, from being molested by a family member as a child to being raped by a stranger at 19.

“I didn’t know there was an organization out there like SAFE,” she said. “I had no idea. I wish I would have known so I could have utilized the services. The things that we provide are amazing, and it could have saved me from getting into a domestic violence relationship. Who knows? It could have changed a ton for me. Thankfully I know now, and I just didn’t want to be a statistic anymore.”

Nationally, Douglas explained, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner. That’s more than 10 million people a year. Every 90 seconds there is a sexual assault, and every eight minutes the victim is a child.

“As a first responder, we’re out there many, many months and years after this all began (for a victim),” Crowe said. “We would like to see people get the help that they need and not even need us down the road, and that’d be great.”

According to Douglas, SAFE answered more than 280 hotline calls last year. Sixty-four of those calls were from domestic violence survivors – five male and 59 female; 48 sexual assaults were reported – seven male and 41 female; and there were six sexual assaults reported by children 13-17 years old. SAFE also provided more than 250 hours of education to local schools.

“We live in a community that’s like unicorn and rainbows all the time – at least the perception of it is,” Hughes said. ”Every community has the same problems. We have drug problems, we have sexual violence problems, we have domestic violence problems. We may have less of them or they’re hidden better, but we have to take action.”

SAFE San Juans will be hosting an anonymous, online, five-week group forum for residents of San Juan County beginning March 27. The event is called “Empowered: Holistic Practices to Reboot Your Life” and will feature weekly self-care practices and writing prompts. The group will be facilitated by trained domestic violence and sexual assault therapists, advocates and prevention specialists. Community members of all genders, 18 and older are invited to participate.

“We know that men are survivors, and we know that only a small percentage of men are abusers,” Bryan said. “We’re trying to help those [who] are not abusers stand up and have a voice and join in fighting this and be the awesome, good men they are.”

SAFE San Juans will host two more #SJItoo gatherings, one from 6 to 8 p.m. on March 20 at the Mullis Center on San Juan Island and another from 6 to8 p.m. on March 21 at the Lopez Center.