BRATTLEBORO >> April is Sexual Violence Awareness Month and there are local plans around raising it.
"We still live in a rape culture. People feel more comfortable hearing a rape joke than actually hearing about a rape," said Shari, advocate of the Women's Freedom Center which does not use last names. "Statistically, because it's such an epidemic problem, we all know survivors of sexual violence."
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives. As common as it is, Shari said, it's still the most under-reported crime.
The Windham County Women's Freedom Center took part in a "Take Back the Night" rally last April, joining other communities around the United States in raising awareness around the issue. Those marches began back in the 1970s.
A candlelight vigil on Wednesday, April 20, is open to all survivors of sexual violence and their allies in the community, Shari said. The event takes place from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Root Social Justice Center on Williams Street in Brattleboro.
"We're still putting the program together. There's going to be some more specific details around it," Shari said. "For starters, people can come and share an experience if they want to or speak out against sexual violence."
Poems can be read and songs can be sung. Or participants can just "stand in silent solidarity with the survivors," Shari said. All community members are welcome to attend. But to ensure participants' privacy, there will be no media coverage of the event.
Shari said the idea is to make survivors of sexual violence feel supported and believed, or help them come forward. But another part of the event is about shaping thought patterns going forward.
"A lot of the myths that really underlie rape culture help rapists get away with those crimes," said Shari.
Some victims are blamed when people hearing about the crime say the victims "were asking for it," citing an outfit, state of mind or past experience. Then sexual assault or harassment can be trivialized with a "boys will be boys" attitude.
The various forms of media aren't helping with their depictions of "what's sort of expected to be seen as real men," Shari said. On-screen violence is only increasing.
Anyone with questions about the vigil can call the Women's Freedom Center at 802-257-7364.
The center supports all survivors of sexual violence.
"Men, trans," Shari said. "We will work with anyone who has experienced this form of assault and all are welcome to come to the vigil. Beyond that, we really welcome chances to speak with our broader community about dismantling rape culture."
The center has regular discussions with different civic groups and schools. The center shows films about different subjects and holds workshops on skill-building. Money raised at the Women's Film Festival in Brattleboro goes towards the center.
Many of the events allow for the community to learn ways to intervene as bystanders and affect change, Shari told the Reformer.
With universities expanding their roles in combating rape culture on campus, Share hopes it has an impact in the outside world. She said there are definitely more "mandated" conversations now happening around the issue, adding that 5 percent of college females are victimized but 90 percent of them do not report a crime to police.
Contact Chris Mays at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.