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Kelly Brevig: Moving upstream will lead us to a safer community

My name is Kelly Brevig and I am a community education coordinator for the Sexual Assault Program here in Bemidji.

I want to thank the Pioneer for their commitment to a monthly column to focus on primary prevention of sexual violence. When I visit classrooms and talk about the realities of sexual violence, it’s almost too late, our children have already been introduced to a world where this violence exists. Primary prevention, however, is about creating a world we want our children to grow up in. It is about making our space safe by respecting others and expecting others to do the same.

We all have a role to play in ending sexual violence. I have been fortunate to work with a fabulous group of people in the Bemidji area for the past year and a half on a grant called “Moving Upstream.”

“Moving Upstream” is a committee supported by a grant partnership between the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, the Minnesota Men’s Action Network and the Minnesota Indian Women Sexual Assault Coalition to sponsor a champion community in northern Minnesota. Our focus is to educate, inspire and encourage people to step up and stop sexual violence before it occurs.

As bystanders in our community, we have the responsibility to keep each other safe from sexual violence, and need to know what to look for to do so. One of the first and best ways we can end sexual violence is to acknowledge it happens here. I have met hundreds of courageous parents in the past five years that have had their hearts torn out because of horrific acts of violence against their children. I have met many women, some men, and countless teens that have felt alone, and think they are the only ones this could ever happen to. I can testify that this injustice is real and alive in the Bemidji area.

Sexual violence doesn’t occur when we perceive we are in danger, it comes when we feel safe and secure, because that is how the offender plans it. If we knew the hour when the thief was arriving, we would be prepared. As empowered bystanders, we are arming ourselves with tools that make our environment unwelcome for offenders in the first place. We will protect our victims and survivors, speak up about injustices and pave the way for a violence free future. We will put pressure on each other and hold each other to a higher standard.

It is hindsight that allows us to see the red flags of violence. It is foresight that will counter this norm before it even starts. Only by moving upstream and engaging the bystanders can we make a change. Look to this column monthly for tangible ways you can use to make our Bemidji area a safer place to be. We will focus on our pornified and toxic culture, sex trafficking, racism, victim blaming, ways to intervene safely, engaging men in this campaign, the language we use and many other tools to create a safer world. Get angry, get riled up, and help us put an end to acts of sexual violence. I know lots of men, women and children that will be happy you did.

Kelly Brevig is the community education coordinator for the Sexual Assault Program of Beltrami, Cass and Hubbard Counties.