Raising Red Flags
Public health models have been compared to a river full of drowning people; the workers at agencies like OASIS (Opposing Abuse with Service, Information and Shelter), a crisis center for victims of sexual violence and dating abuse, are pulling the people out of the water as fast as they can, rescuing them from negative situations.
OASIS has recently entered a stage, however, that adds a new dimension to its role.
"Prevention is up river, trying to figure out how to keep people from falling into the river, in the first place," Jenny Fairchild, coordinator of outreach and prevention at OASIS, said. "Until we put money into prevention, we use public health models, because we see sexual violence as an epidemic, a community-wide problem."
Fairchild is part of the launch of a new effort to prevent sexual violence before it starts, using a program called the Red Flag Campaign.
"The campaign promotes being an active bystander; someone who sees a red flag, things that indicate sexual violence," Fairchild said. "Active bystanders witness and say something in the very moment that it happens."
The poster series associated with this campaign shows various "red flags" that active bystanders will notice and question, leading to conversations, which may begin the process of changing behaviors that lead to sexual violence.
The program was originally developed in Virginia and purchased for the OASIS coverage region with a focus on Appalachian State University, but organizers wanted to extend the reach of the campaign beyond the posters.
"We decided to enhance the campaign by adding a skill-building workshop component with a peer education model," Fairchild said. "Students can get trained and lead a workshop with their peers. It is a really good model, because there is a built-in credibility."
The program has been piloted in ASU"s Housing and Residence Life as a part of resident assistant training, and workshops will be picking up in the near future.
At the ASU men's basketball game on Thursday, Feb. 3, OASIS will have contact tables with information about red flags of abusive relationships, as well as how to become a student trainer who can lead workshops.
"One reason that this is important is that we are constantly trying to make it clear that we want men to be a part of this movement," Fairchild said. "All over the U.S., men are becoming very active in this. It isn't a women's issue; it's a human rights issue."
The grant that funds OASIS toward prevention is both for the campus and for the community, and Fairchild has held prevention-based programs in schools and churches around the area, as well.
One of the biggest emphases in the campaign is on communication and discussion of the ways that people understand and lay blame in cases of abuse.
"We know it is extremely common, but there is so much stigma in 2011, with sexual violence, and it makes it very difficult to talk about, but we have to talk about it," Fairchild said. "We are creating a culture about being honest about our attitudes in order to begin deconstructing rape myths."
This understanding of abuse is part of the effort to get everyone, not just a small amount of professionals, involved in preventing future abuse.
"Every single citizen in our community has a part to play; we sometimes think that OK, I'm never going to rape anyone, so I'm good.' That's my role, to not commit violence," Fairchild said. "However, to think broader, to have a vision of what your community can be, that is important. There is a role for everyone."
For more information on OASIS Inc., call (828) 264-1532 or visit http://www.oasisinc.org.