Communities Can Stop Violence

This post originally appeared on the Emory Respect Program blog as part of my work with the program.

Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.

— Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I am both a member of Greek life at Emory and an Oxford College continuee. By the standards of the OHP intern team, I am somewhat of an oddity. But, strange as those two characteristics are in health promotion land, I think they are a valuable part of my skill set as an advocate to end sexual violence here at Emory University.

These identities are important to the way that I approach violence prevention because they are both ways to belong to a community here at Emory. Violence prevention work is incredibly difficult sometimes, and my relationship to other continuees and my sorority sisters helps me feel like the work that I am doing is valuable. This is incredibly important for any attempt to make a difference: community membership keeps you grounded, keeps you sane, and keeps you committed–particularly when you’re working with an issue as emotionally fraught as sexual violence.

This isn’t just me: the literature on sexual violence prevention agrees that communities can help stop violence. In particular, there’s a model of violence prevention called “bystander intervention” which I have been researching and am super excited about right now.

The basic idea of bystander intervention techniques is that in situations where violence–sexual or otherwise–is about to be perpetrated, there’s frequently other people around. (Think of a friend in an abusive relationship getting into a fight with their significant other in front of all of your friends, or a bully shoving a kid in the cafeteria.)

Bystander intervention argues that one of your best chances for stopping violence is encouraging people to come together and speak up when they see something that’s not OK. Most people feel uncomfortable in those situations–they know something’s wrong. But, most times folks stay silent. That’s part of how violence can keep happening–no one stops things that they see are wrong.

So why don’t people speak up? Because they feel like no one will support them if they do.

And that is why community is important. I belong to my sorority and my continuee class, and I know that if I see something that’s not OK and I speak up, they will support me. They have my back. That’s what makes us a community, and not a bunch of folks with twill letters and associates degrees, respectively.

Communities (whether it’s Greek life, the college you started at, or the chess club) can stop violence. Will yours?

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