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Bystanders' actions

We must help kids feel safe to speak up
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No bullies allowed, says a large banner created by students at Ashland Middle School. Photo courtesy Paul Coughlin
 Posted: 2:00 AM January 16, 2013

An Acts Matter Essay

People we talk to about the Ashland High School football camp incident seem quick to sum it up: One bad kid persuades a few other kids to do bad things, all in the name of team hazing.

It's a reassuring way to look at it, containing the problem to "boys will be boys" gone a little too far; minimizing a violation of intimate body parts, rather than truly naming it as the frightening sexual assault it is.

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Acts Matter is a series of essays written by community members about issues in Ashland.

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• Mediation Works offers bullying prevention and bystander awareness programs at schools and for parents. Information is available by calling 541-770-2468 or visiting

• Paul Coughlin's Freedom-From-Bullying books and programs are described at

• Community Works offers Jackson County's confidential, 24-hour crisis helpline and sexual assault advocates who will not contact parents or law enforcement without a victim's permission. Call 541-779-4357.

• The Ashland Police Department's You Have Options website ( has information for victims of sexual assault. The site is not yet accessible on mobile devices.

• Jackson County Sexual Assault Response Team offers violence prevention programs, free medical care, forensic evidence collection, emotional support and a survivors' support group. For more information, call 541-840-0904 or visit

They also are dismissing the bigger, more startling picture: that kids watched and did not step forward to say stop or tell an adult what was going on.

We owe it to the kids to recognize that the barriers that kept them silent are largely of our own making. How many of us have spoken openly and honestly to our kids about sexual violence, as we do from an early age about lying and stealing?

How many of us teach and encourage intervention techniques for when they see a classmate being bullied — or model such interventions in our own lives?

How many of us warn our kids about "stranger danger" but don't inform them that the 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys who will be sexually assaulted before they are 18 are most at risk not from strangers, but from people they know and trust and sometimes love? (How many of us even know that ourselves?)

Our kids need to see us all working together to change our culture, to see us respond with strength and support when incidents like this occur. Never minimizing and always listening. Speaking openly about what has happened and offering them our unconditional support to speak up anytime, no matter the circumstances, without having to fear our response.

Because right now, until we ourselves act, they have too many reasons not to tell.

Susan Moen is the executive director of the Jackson County Sexual Assault Response Team, which is partially funded by the Oregon Community Foundation. JC SART, Community Works and Ashland police have teamed up to provide violence prevention programs in the Ashland middle and high school health classes, and give related presentations for parents and school staff. These classes will be extended to more age groups in coming years and the program begins in Phoenix and Talent schools this spring.

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