BANGOR, Maine — Representatives of the Maine National Guard and the Navy, as well as officials from area domestic and sexual violence and prevention groups, learned more about how to stem sexism and the abuses that can stem from it during training sessions Monday.
Drew Wing, executive director of Boys to Men, a Portland-based nonprofit that aims to teach boys and men “gender justice” and fights the use of violence against women, delivered two lectures at the Maine National Guard’s new Bangor Regional Training Institute on North Hildreth Street.
One of the key means of preventing violent crimes against women is “bystander intervention training,” according to Wing.
Early on in his presentation, Wing presented the example of Kitty Genovese. In 1964, Genovese was attacked and killed outside her New York City apartment while as many as 38 neighbors reportedly listened to her screams for help through their windows. No one called the police or intervened in the murder.
Wing said the case is a valuable lesson in what can happen if a witness to abuse, violence or harassment decides not to step in and get involved.
Fear, complacency, the desire not to get involved in the disputes of others, lack of courage or the assumption that someone else will handle the situation all play a role, he said.
He asked the 15 attendees of the Monday afternoon session to close their eyes, picture the woman or girl in their lives that they love most, and then imagine that their loved one is being viciously assaulted while a third person who stumbled across the attack watches. That bystander then turns and walks away.
“I want you to think about how you feel about this bystander,” Wing said.
Those who attended the session threw out words like “hate,” “disgust” and “rage.”
Wing made the point that a bystander’s fear of stepping forward or feeling that “it’s not my problem” are little solace to an individual whose loved one has just been the victim of a violent sexual crime.
“We can’t tolerate this,” Wing said. “These are our sisters, these are our daughters, these are people we care about.”
Women in the audience shared the day-to-day choices they make in an attempt to stem their chances of facing sexually driven violence. Some said they park in strategic areas if they know they will be leaving a building at night; others were careful about wardrobe decisions; still others said they hold their car keys between their fingers just in case an assailant confronts them.
“This isn’t true freedom, is it?” Wing asked.
Intervention by third parties is key to stopping violence and sexual assaults against women, Wing said.
During the session, Wing used examples of direct intervention, in which a third party steps in to calm the situation or stop the altercation; delegation, in which the third party brings in others to help or goes to a superior to address the problem; and distraction, which could involve telling a story to stop an argument or screaming that there’s a fire in the building to prevent an assault.
Wing said bystander training could make for better military units and communities where “everyone feels safe.”