While many of my neighbors were hiding Easter eggs on a holiday weekend, my wife and I were painting our town teal.
Don’t misunderstand me; we weren’t defacing private fences or slathering graffiti on building walls. We were simply tying teal ribbons on lampposts and visiting area businesses to explain our mission and distribute posters as part of April’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month sponsored by the Safe Harbor Shelter here in Davis County.
As a teenager, I never would have envisioned myself taking part in the event. We didn’t talk much about sexual assault back then, and the word “consent” wasn’t on our radar. In my young mind, I though sexual violence was usually the result of “stranger danger” and we were egotistical enough to think that women would find us sufficiently attractive to eliminate the need for any action other than an application of cologne, a whisper in her ear, and a brief “meet the parents.”
We know differently today. Nearly one in every five women in the U.S. has experienced rape or other forms of sexual assault in their lives and the prime offender is not a stranger, but an acquaintance or family member. One of my customers refused to enter a car driven by a man she later learned was Ted Bundy, but this caution didn’t help her friend who was assaulted by a stepfather.
As a clueless and crass male, I don’t have a clean slate. I don’t have enough fingers or toes to count the number of times I’ve uttered inappropriate words to women. I didn’t think I was doing any harm. I didn’t think that what made me and my buddies laugh would make a woman cringe. I didn’t think. Even worse, I might have been skeptical if I heard a woman talk about an experience with sexual violence. (“Really, I just can’t see that guy doing it. Maybe she’s exaggerating what really happened.”)
Unfortunately, there are those in our society who still haven’t come to grips with this. The victim is often still victimized. Did she start the argument? Was she drinking? What type of clothing was she wearing?
As actress Mariska Hargitay (Olivia Benson on the “SVU” TV series) has said, “If you have your car stolen, it’s not appropriate to question why you owned a car.” Not receiving consent is sexual assault – a felony – regardless of whether the woman was wearing an Amish dress or a tight pair of jeans.
As my wife and I entered businesses, we encountered managers and owners who respectfully nodded and allowed us to deliver a short explanation of the month’s event. They all took our poster; some may have tossed it as soon as we left.
But there were a couple of men who listened intently. One said he appreciated the visit. Sexual violence impacted him personally, he said, since his wife’s ex-husband had repeatedly battered her. The other man was a 30-something manager of a fast-food restaurant.
“Company policy prevents me from putting the poster up in the restaurant,” he said. “But I’ll hang it in the employee breakroom and place some of your brochures in there too. I’ve had young employees tell me about their experiences. It’s horrible. They need to know it’s not the norm, it’s not acceptable, and there’s a safe place where they can receive help. Thanks for coming by this morning.”
Yes, some guys get it. For those people in a dark place, there is an increasing glitter of teal, but we still need a lot more painters.