Expanding conversation about sexual assault

Posted at 1:04 AM, Apr 26, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-26 03:04:05-04

Talking about sexual assault is considered taboo by many people, including some victims.

On Tuesday, The Blue Bench, Denver’s sex assault prevention and support group, will launch a new campaign to try to change that.  It’s a campaign focusing on blue benches and on continued outreach to area schools.

Karmen Carter, the nonprofit’s executive director, says the organization chose the name Blue Bench to symbolize a safe place, where everyone would feel comfortable sitting and talking.

“Any victim of sex assault knows that we will sit by them through their process,” she said.

Carter says the nonprofit has 40 blue, steel benches which they hope to sell to local companies as part of a fundraising effort.

“We hope they’ll put them in their lobbies or in front of their businesses,” she said, “and we hope people will talk about what the benches mean.”


Reaching out to students in Middle and High School

Carter told Denver7 that statistics show one in four women have been sexually assaulted.

“To change that, we have to get everybody talking about it,” she said.

That even means school kids.

“The sooner kids get comfortable talking about this subject, the more chance we have to really change the culture around it,” she said.

Carter said The Blue Bench sends representatives to area schools to start a conversation.

They recently did a presentation at Overland Trail Middle School in Brighton.  With kids that young, the conversation focuses on something more age appropriate.

“They came in and talked to kids about all kinds of relationship things,” said Health Instructor Heidi Thomas. “We help define healthy vs. unhealthy relationships and the warning signs of an unhealthy one.”

Carter says the representatives will even set up role play situations that may focus on sexual harassment that students may see in their own hallway.

“It’s really focused on being a positive bystander,” Carter said, “so the conversation is about, what would you do if you saw that situation.”

When asked for a specific example, Carter said, “If your friend starts harassing another person, walking down the hall on a regular basis, can you say, ‘hey, I really don’t like that.’  If enough kids are saying that, rather than snickering and encouraging that situation, things begin to shift.”

And down the road, as they get older, it’ll be easier for the middle school kids to talk about more serious issues, like sexual assault.

One Overland Trail parent told Denver7 she’s glad students are beginning to have those conversations.

“I think it’s a good idea,” she said. “They’re already experiencing things like kissing and all that, so they should be aware of sexual harassment,” the parent said.

“If kids are comfortable, they’re going to have a conversation.  It becomes less taboo, not the scary thing that no one should mention,” Carter said.

When asked about the kids reactions to these presentations, Thomas said, “It’s interesting to hear the feedback that kids give and ‘how real it is’ to them and how thankful they are to learn about stuff like that, in class.”


The Blue Bench Thing

On Tuesday evening, The Blue Bench will host a fundraising event called The Blue Bench Thing.

It’s being labeled as “a fun event with a purpose.”

“Because our issue is sometimes intense, people get anxious about coming to our event, so this is our ‘fun’ event,” Carter said. “We don’t plan for you to learn a lot about the issue, we just want you to know what you’re supporting and the difference your dollars make to support this work, but it’s absolutely a fun event.”

Carter said Sean Kelly, a member of The Samples, from Boulder, will perform during The Blue Bench Thing, which will be held at Tracks, at 3500 Walnut St. from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.

A $50 ticket includes:

·        Two drink tickets

·        Heavy hors d’oeuvres

·        Live music

·        Silent auction access

·        An opportunity to change the conversation about sexual assault and its effect on survivors and our community.