Jackie Jones (name changed) had been dating her boyfriend for a year when the abuse subtly began. He began criticizing Jones and her choices, and then he began cutting her off from her family. The abuse slowly escalated until he raped her.
After Jones broke up with her boyfriend, she was surprised that her friends, roommates and family were all glad she left the abuser. Everyone around Jones could see the abuse, but no one had said anything.
“The biggest excuse I got was they didn’t think that I would listen,” Jones said. “My family was probably the biggest shock because my family knew there was something going on.”
Voices of Courage is a Women’s Services campaign designed to bring men and women together to raise their voices against abuse, even in its early stages. LaNae Valentine, director of Women’s Services, said that speaking up about abuse will let the perpetrator know they are wrong and gives strength to the abused.
“Bystanders need to step up,” Valentine said. “If you’re at a party and you see stuff going on, you need to speak up to the people who are perpetuating this behavior. Let them know it’s not OK.”
Jones said no matter how you think the victim will react, you should speak up. He or she might not listen, but as more people speak up, the victim will realize something is not right.
Jones now speaks up when she sees any type of abuse.
“It taught me that if you see it, you need to call it out,” Jones said. “Whether you’re a victim of it, or you see someone else being a victim of it, you really need to step in and stop it.”
The Voices of Courage campaign is focused on creating awareness and empowering men and women to speak up.
“We want our students to understand what abuse is in all of its forms,” Valentine said. “There’s physical abuse, everyone is pretty clear about what that is. But they’re a little less clear on the other forms of abuse. There’s emotional, verbal and sexual abuse, and we want our students to be really clear on what all of those are and to understand that none of them are OK.”
Jake Smith (name changed) is not connected with the Voices of Courage campaign, but he believes in its message. Smith said he does not consider himself a “tough guy,” but if he sees something clearly abusive or offensive he will take action.
During a family trip to an amusement park, Smith was shocked at another father who made fun of Smith’s autistic son. Smith confronted the man and said the behavior was not acceptable. The man readily admitted his fault and apologized for the tirade.
Scenes like this are both common and uncommon. They are common because people are often aware of abusive situations. However, they are uncommon because few people take the next step and speak up against the abuse.
The incident at the amusement park was not a one-time event for Smith. On another occasion Smith was in a break room when a coworker made a racially insensitive comment. Smith calmly told him the statement was not cool. The man apologized. Another coworker was offended that Smith would speak up and began adding racist comments to the previous statement. Smith eventually had to leave the room as voices were raised and tempers flared. The two men later apologized to Smith for their comments.
Smith does not speak up in simple cases of difference of opinion, but when he sees something clearly abusive or offensive he will take action.
“I do intervene for two reasons,” Smith said. “First, because the person might be incapable of doing (it) themselves. Second, because I think our society is a sit-and-wait society. Nobody else is doing it.”
People may know that racially derogatory comments are offensive, but they think it is OK to joke about such things. Jokes can be more harmful because the joking masks the seriousness of the situation. Women’s Services wants to empower everyone to speak up when they see abuse or hear hurtful comments. Sometimes people make inappropriate comments that may seem harmful. When not checked, those comments can escalate to abusive behavior.
Valentine said anyone can intervene, but it should be done carefully.
“Look at the person that’s being yelled at and say, ‘Are you OK? Do you feel safe? Do you feel scared? Because I’d be happy to help you get back to your house,’” Valentine said. “Then let the person who’s doing the abusing know that that behavior is frightening and hurtful. And I think you have to say those words and use those words. Because maybe they don’t have a clue that it’s hurtful.”
Valentine said if bystanders will speak up against inappropriate jokes, comments and behavior, they could actually be helping the perpetrator recognize and change their inappropriate behavior.