A movement is spreading like wildfire across the country, fueled by brave individuals coming forward to share their stories of domestic and sexual abuse. The men of San Juan County are doing their part by uniting to stand up for victims.
The Stand Up Men’s group was formed in 2015 as part of SAFE San Juans, which provides services to victims and educates the community about domestic violence and sexual assault. It all began with a fundraiser seeking 100 “stand up” men to donate $100 each.
“There was such an overwhelming response, and many of the men asked what else they could do in addition to giving money. So this action group naturally evolved,” said SAFE San Juans Board President Angela Douglas in a Rotary presentation on Jan. 12. “These stand-up men are helping spread awareness in the community.”
In 2017 more than 280 hotline calls were made to SAFE San Juans, and it assisted 64 domestic violence survivors: five male, 59 females and 10 between the ages of 18 and 24. The agency also supported 48 survivors of sexual assaults in 2017: seven males and 41 females; six between the ages of 13 and 17 and 12 between the ages of 18 and 24.
“I could go on and on about all the statistics and how things need to change. But [what] I really want you to understand is that these statistics are only from the men and women who stood up, who reported it or came for help,” said Douglas, who lives on Orcas. “I am so proud to be part of an organization that is bringing awareness, making a change, helping victims and educating the community.”
The Stand Up Men is a group of community members who work together to spread the message that men are willing to be active against domestic and sexual violence. It’s a grassroots movement that began on Friday Harbor and is coordinated by SAFE San Juans Prevention Advocate Isaac Berg, who lives on Lopez.
“SUM (Stand Up Men) is important to me personally because I love my community and want it to be safe for everyone. Even with how peaceful and idyllic it is here, intimate partner violence and family abuse still exist,” said Berg. “As a husband and father, I’m happy to join with other husbands, fathers, brothers and grandfathers who want to stand up for this in many ways.”
From accusations, this past fall against film producer Harvey Weinstein to those against Roy Moore, a former Alabama Supreme Court judge who ran for a Senate seat, allegations against actors, directors, producers and politicians are on the rise. The #metoo movement, for survivors to share their stories, launched on social media. Nearly all attendees of the 2018 Golden Globes wore black in a show of solidarity for the anti-sexual harassment group Time’s Up. Closer to home, the weekly sheriff’s log contains calls regarding domestic assault and abuse.
“Other men should be interested in joining SUM because society needs more visible examples of healthy males. This need is seen today when examples of sexual misconduct are everywhere, and there is a silent majority of males who care but don’t necessarily have a platform to express that,” Berg said. “For some men, standing up means physically standing every week at the courthouse in Friday Harbor. For other men, standing up is ideological by donating to support community needs through SAFE San Juans.”
At monthly meetings in Friday Harbor the Stand Up Men share impactful stories and go through training. Almost every Friday they meet at the courthouse lawn with banners and signs. Every Valentine’s Day they hand out 200 flowers with tags that say, “Everyone deserves to live free of abuse.”
The group has a presence at the county fair, farmers’ markets, SAFE San Juans fundraisers and the Fourth of July parade. In April, sexual assault awareness month, participants hold a rape prevention campaign that includes passing out drug test coasters to local bars. Stand Up Men has a goal to raise $10,000 each year to be added to the SAFE San Juans’ budget.
“I have noticed how much they each have a unique perspective of why they want to be a part of the group and have an underlying love for their community and safety in it that drives them forward,” Berg said. “My goal is to introduce the Stand Up Men group to Orcas and Lopez Islands in 2018.”
SAFE San Juans, formerly Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services of the San Juans (DVSAS), began in 1997 as two volunteer groups: volunteers against violence and citizens against domestic violence. In 1998, the newly formed Violence Against Women Act hired its first executive director, Anita Castle, and in 1999 it was accredited to provide sexual assault services, and DVSAS officially began. When Castle retired in 2014, current Executive Director Kim Bryan was hired to replace her.
The agency changed its name from DVSAS to SAFE San Juans in 2016, with SAFE standing for social change, advocacy, transformation and education. SAFE’s mission is to use education, community awareness and victim services to prevent and eliminate domestic violence and sexual assault. It also seeks to promote social change.
“This organization is very near and dear to my heart,” said Douglas, who was raised in an abusive household, molested at the age of six and then raped at 19. “I knew I wanted to break this spiraling cycle. I didn’t know there was an organization out there or that there were these types of services back then. I wish I could have had the opportunity to utilize them. But I did know I no longer wanted to be a statistic.”
For information, visit safesj.org.