KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
Sexual assault strips away a person’s humanity. It violates their most essential and basic human right – the right to control their own body, to feel safe in their own skin. And far too often the victim blames themselves for something that shouldn’t ever be considered their fault by anyone.
Ever. By anyone.
Green Dot is a national program adopted by the Air Force, which not only aims to shift that perception, but to give people real tools they can use when they find themselves in a bystander situation.
The Green Dot training here Nov. 6 began with Staff Sgt. Lacey Matthews, 403rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, telling her personal story. She stood under dim lights in an auditorium and described what it felt like to be in a relationship with someone who was physically and sexually abusive. How even though she had a bystander living in the house, that person did nothing to stop the violence. How she decided to get help, escape the abuse and create a better life for herself.
She said she tells her story so people can understand that sexual abuse and domestic violence are damaging and happen to real people. She also tells her story to give hope to those who may not be able to see a way out because they’re where she used to be.
When she was finished telling her story Staff Sgt. Kayla Kappel, 403rd Financial Management Office technician, joined her at the front of the room so they could teach the audience how to help prevent situations like the one Matthews had been in.
They showed a photograph of an old zombie movie in which the actor watches red dots appear more and more frequently on a map as an infection spreads across the country. Then, Matthews and Kappel pulled up a map that represented an imaginary Air Force Base and watched similar red dots spread. Each of those red dots represented a case of sexual assault, domestic violence or stalking.
But then they started covering those red dots with green dots. Those “reactive” green dots represented bystanders who stepped in and intervened, stopping the situation from happening.
“The only way sexual violence will be reduced is when the green dots begin to overcome the red dots,” Matthews said.
There are three barriers to intervening – personal, relationship and organizational. A personal barrier might be having a shy personality or being afraid of the situation. A relationship barrier might be wanting to avoid damaging a friendship or being related to someone who is being abused. An organizational barrier bight be that the person is a supervisor or someone who is higher ranking.
Kappel said that many people might not know they have barriers until they are put into a bystander situation. She also said, “There are ways around your barriers.”
Not everyone wants to or can be direct when they are in a potentially violent situation. That’s why delegation and distraction are two more ways to intervene in a negative situation. For example, if someone’s barrier to intervening is that they’re too shy, they could delegate by asking someone else to intervene. They could also use distraction to diffuse a situation by knocking over someone’s drink or bumping into them.
Intervention is part of the “reactive” green dots. “Proactive” green dots, on the other hand, stop red dots before they start. They take the stance that violence is not OK and everyone is expected to do their part. For example, a simple proactive green dot could be to make a post on social media that links to the official Green Dot website.
“It’s a few people doing one small thing, not one person doing one big thing,” Matthews said.
One proactive green dot at the 403rd Wing was the Green Dot 5K here Nov. 5. This event helped spread awareness of the Green Dot program as well as support the Gulf Coast Women’s Center for Nonviolence, a local resource and haven for anyone in the lower six counties of Mississippi who is a victim of sexual assault or domestic violence as well as the surviving family members of homicide victims.
Stacey Myers, Gulf Coast Women’s Shelter for Nonviolence, said that it’s important for people to understand, “this really happens and there are things you can do to help.”
“The biggest thing I took away from Green Dot training is spreading awareness and letting everyone know about the program so we can save lives and change lives,” Senior Airman LaToya Lee, 403rd Judge Advocate General Office paralegal, said.
The Green Dot program is like a lighter -- anyone can pick it up and spark a fire. And if enough people do, the fire will spread and the culture will change.
“The important thing is not what you do, but that you do something,” Matthews said.
For more information about Green Dot visit https://www.livethegreendot.com/ and for more information about the Gulf Coast Women’s Center for Nonviolence visit www.gcwcfn.org.