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Bystanders make the difference

You think you saw something, but you aren’t sure.

You could be wrong; maybe it was nothing. So, you let it go and you walk away.

The next day you hear the news: someone desperately needed your help, but you didn’t realize it. It wasn’t your friend, but it was someone else’s loved one. And they needed you to step in and prevent a sexual assault.

As a bystander, you have the opportunity to act and safely change the outcome — to prevent an assault by stepping in when you see something that doesn’t look or seem right. Maybe you saw someone making sexual advances that the other person seemed annoyed by. Maybe you saw someone slip something into a drink. Maybe you witnessed a friend take advantage of someone who had too much to drink. Maybe someone grabbed your friend inappropriately.

Studies show that young women are four times more likely to be sexually assaulted than people in any other age group. That makes our teen and young adult bystanders critical in preventing sexual assault.

Sure, in a society that promotes a “mind your own business” message, speaking up is difficult.

Try to approach the situation as a friend and trust your gut: if you see something that doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. If you think someone is in trouble, ask if they are okay. Be honest and direct in explaining your concerns and reasons for intervening. If you don’t feel comfortable approaching a situation on your own, ask a friend, a fellow bystander, anyone, for help.

You aren’t wrecking someone’s fun or being a jerk if you speak up. You are watching out for someone’s brother, sister, girlfriend, boyfriend, cousin. Next time, it could be your loved one that someone helps out.

You are standing up for what is right.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). The goal of SAAM is to raise public awareness about sexual violence and to educate communities and individuals on how to prevent sexual violence. By working together, we can highlight sexual violence as a major public health issue and reinforce the need for prevention efforts.

One way you can get involved and show your support is by coming out for the fourth annual Walk A Mile In Their Shoes event. This sexual assault awareness event is a quick, refreshing walk, with participants wearing someone else’s shoes. Men will wear women’s shoes — the highest heels win. Women will wear children’s or men’s shoes. Toe crunchers are a must.

The walk begins at 11:30 a.m. at the Methodist Thrift Store on Thursday, April 29. The route isn’t quite a mile, and it’s really a fun time, with everyone else coming out to enjoy some sun, a little bit of goofiness and a whole lot of support for survivors of sexual assault.

Also, specifically for our teens and young adults, you can improve yourself, your communication skills and your relationships with friends, bosses, other adults, and boy/girlfriend/partner by attending the new five-week series of Diamond Standards.

Anyone between the ages of 15 and 29 can attend this innovative program that gives you skills many others have to struggle to figure out. And you ca0n get them for free. Each workshop can gear you toward a happier, more productive future, while you earn up to $95 in incentives.

And, finally, you can make the difference in a survivor’s life by becoming a victim advocate. Our trained advocates work together with victims to help with their crisis needs, court needs and healing needs.

Bystanders really can make the difference. By simply stepping in, you can prevent another assault from occurring. Once offenders learn they are being watched, they too may change their ways — and you were that change for them. Make an effort this month and beyond: consider supporting survivors and our community during national Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

For more details, call the Archuleta County Victim Assistance Program at 264-9075.