Across the nation and throughout the island, women are raising their hands to state “Me Too,” a movement, largely over social media, that has encouraged those who have been sexually harassed and assaulted to tell their stories in order to bring about change. The tidal wave of responses rattled the world.
“I see what it [domestic violence and sexual assault] does to the children. I see what it does to families,” said San Juan County Sheriff Ron Krebs at a panel discussion hosted by SAFE San Juans on March 20. SAFE San Juans is a local nonprofit dedicated to the prevention and elimination of domestic violence and sexual assault.
The event was styled as a town hall discussion about where islanders fit into the Me Too movement, and what individuals can do locally to put an end to sexual assault. Similar meetings were scheduled on Orcas, March 1, and on Lopez, March 21. Panelists included Krebs, SAFE San Juans board president Angela Douglas, San Juan County Councilman Rick Hughes, Mayor of Friday Harbor Farhad Ghatan, owner of Spa D’ Bune Dana Bune, SAFE San Juans Executive Director Kim Bryan and John Stamey representing the Stand Up Men, a grassroots movement of local men working to make an impact by standing up against domestic violence and sexual assault.
“So many times when we talk about sexual assault, we go straight to rape,” said Bryan. “But let’s back up. Where does it start?… As a community, where do we draw the line?”
Over the past year, SAFE San Juans received 280 calls on their after-hours crisis line. There were 64 domestic violence cases and 48 sexual assault, and six cases involved individuals between the ages of 13 and 18, according to Douglas.
“These are the people who asked for help,” Douglas added. “I can tell you… more often, people don’t seek help and don’t tell anyone.”
Statistically domestic abuse and sexual assault are the most underreported crimes, and according to Krebs, while SAFE San Juans took 280 calls, the sheriff’s office only responded to 128, under half the nonprofit’s numbers, illustrating that the county reflects those national statistics.
Hughes noted that the islands are like every other community, with the same problems found throughout the country, and rather than sweeping it under the rug, it is better to air the issue, and at at least attempt to solve it.
“I have lived my life as an uneducated [about the issue] and unaffected male,” Hughes began. “At the Orcas meeting, I learned that some women are afraid to smile because it might be taken as an invitation.”
Bune discussed how passionate she has been about empowering the women and girls of the community, which is what led her to become involved in Soroptimist International. In her business, Bune explained, she works intimately with her clientele.
“I am very honored when clients tell their stories,” she said.
If she can assist them, even by simply directing them to various resources, she will.
Stamey has been one of the Stand Up Men since its inception four years ago. The group works on education and prevention.
“It seems to me the best way to stop this thing is to get into the schools,” Stamey said. “It makes a big difference when kids realize this [behavior] isn’t cool.”
Ghatan, who has been a member of Soroptimist International of Friday Harbor for approximately 17 years, stated he recently joined the Stand Up Men and has already been impressed with the work they are doing. He also encouraged people to bring him any ideas to make a difference.
Bryan praised the Stand Up Men, who have become well-known role models in town. In addition to standing at the courthouse on Fridays, they have assisted SAFE San Juan staff move local women out of dangerous homes, according to Bryan. Women, in return, have been extremely grateful.
“Oh yeah,” Stamey said in an aw-shucks manner, “every month or so we receive thank you cards, hugs, kisses and cookies.”
Attendees were then asked to take a card and write a comment about the Me Too movement and post it on a display board. Names were not included. One card read, “I was raped at 6 years old.”