Sexual assault alert ahead of summer events
People at mass gatherings this summer are urged not to let themselves be “taken advantage of” by potential sexual offenders.
Nurses from the Sexual Assault Response Team are reminding people to be responsible if they are drinking and to be aware of their surroundings to avoid situations that could set the stage for sexual assaults.
They warn such attacks are more common at the weekends and during celebratory events, and alcohol is a common denominator in most cases.
“With mass gatherings you have more people and so people are generally in a very social frame of mind,” Sart co-ordinator Gaynell Hayward-Caesar said.
“There will be more social events, there will be more alcohol and alcohol is one of the common factors that we find with individuals that we see who have been sexually assaulted.
“Your inhibitions are decreased, so your guard is down and you may not be aware of what is happening around you. Unfortunately, in some circumstances, you have other individuals who may take advantage of that situation and who may perpetrate the situation because of the opportunity.”
Ms Hayward-Caesar and Sart nurse Judith Brewster say hosts and other industry stakeholders should also be vigilant and advocate for potential victims.
“We want people to be aware of their surroundings, to buddy up — don't leave your partners alone — and bartenders are to be aware of potential victims, to advocate for the potential victim because they're vulnerable,” Ms Hayward-Caesar said.
“You want to be aware and the trauma that you are exposed to can be majorly disruptive to your life, to your loved one's lives, to your future, your education, everything can be put at risk as a result of that.”
Sart consists of forensic nurses, the Bermuda Police Service, the Department of Child and Family Services, the Department of Public Prosecutions, doctors and abuse advocates such as the Centre Against Abuse. Last year, the team's specially trained nurses examined 12 victims of sexual assaults, seven of which were under the age of 18.
But Ms Hayward-Caesar and Ms Brewster stressed that not all sexual assaults were reported.
“Most assaults are by known assailants, not by strangers,” Ms Hayward-Caesar said, adding that while both men and women can be sexually assaulted, the former are less likely to report.
“Most times the perpetrator will blame the victim as well as the alcohol,” she added. “They need to take responsibility.
“Also, the victim must be informed that it is not their fault. Most times they are judged.”
Ms Brewster added: “For the victim it is actually an experience, for the perpetrator it is a feeling, an expression of dominance, power, control.
“The biggest issue would be you're not respecting your peer, you're not respecting even a person that's younger.”
Sart also deals with incidences involving adolescents who have been experimenting with alcohol and may not be aware how much they are consuming.
Ms Hayward-Caesar said: “They shouldn't be consuming it at all but when they do, they're not used to it so their tolerance levels are lower and they can become fully inebriated.
“We've had numerous clients that we have seen, adolescents, who have come in still inebriated and unaware what has happened to them. They think something has happened.”
She added: “That puts us back to being aware of how much alcohol you are consuming and also looking at reducing your risk.”
The team advises people to not leave friends or partners alone when out, not to assume a situation is safe, not to leave their drinks unattended and to control their drinking.
Ms Brewster said: “If you can't control, have a buddy that says ‘look, I think you've had enough'.
“People must be responsible in the end, they must be responsible including the adolescents but we have to be the ones to guide them into that area of responsibility.
“When you lose count, that's when you've lost control and then you'll continue to drink until oblivion.
“You can become either one: a perpetrator or victim — it's a possibility because your inhibitions are now lost.”
Sart is also urging people not to turn a blind eye if they sense someone is in danger. Ms Brewster said this also includes hosts, adding “if you see one person coming onto another in a very strong way or its inappropriate, don't be afraid to step in, don't be afraid to advocate on behalf of that person or not allow that person to leave alone or with that person who could turn out to be a perpetrator.”
And Ms Hayward-Caesar said: “The bartenders also have a responsibility to be mindful of individuals who may be drinking a bit too much and who may then be vulnerable to predators — that's male and female. The bottom line is if you see something, do something because sexual assault is not about passion, it's violence.
“This is a public health issue. One of the roles of public health is to encourage and promote healthy behaviours.
“I want to really emphasise that the public health prevention efforts are intended to prevent sexual assault before it is perpetrated.
“We need to shift our focus from intervention and treatment following an assault to primary prevention. Like the old cliché ‘prevention is greater than cure'.”
• 'If you see something, do something'
Everyone has a duty to protect and prevent potential victims from sexual assaults, according to the Sexual Assault Response Team (Sart).
“You have a responsibility, if you see something, do something — that's the key,” Sart coordinator Gaynell Hayward-Caesar said.
Sart nurse Judith Brewster added: “We in Bermuda tend to be sort of more laid-back with certain issues and look the other way, so to speak, and don't want to get involved.
“The onus is really up to us, and I say us meaning us in the community.”
The forensic nurses issued the following advice:
• 1. People should not leave their friends or partners alone when out drinking or socialising and be mindful of how much alcohol they are consuming.
Drinks should also not be left unattended.
• 2. Taxi drivers and bus drivers should be accountable, responsible and advocate for potential victims. If they pick up passengers who are drunk or in distress, they should call the police or the hospital and not drop off potential victims to an undisclosed location.
• 3. Bartenders should be mindful of customers who are drinking too much or are alone and as a result can be vulnerable. They should not be afraid to intervene if they see something that is not right.
• 4. Party hosts should know who is at their party and be aware of party crashers. They should also keep an eye out for those drinking too much and those who come to the party already drunk.
• 5. Large events should be monitored and not overcrowded to reduce the risk of any type of assault.
• 6. Parents hosting parties for young people should also take their responsibilities seriously and hotels should make sure that there is always a chaperon present if there are young people.
• 7. Social media should be used responsibly and people should be aware that photographs and videos of them in an inebriated or compromising condition can be circulated without their knowledge. Any inappropriate material should be reported to the police and not shared.
•8. Anyone who sees a situation where there is a potential threat should intervene or contact the appropriate authorities.
Sart also wants people to remember to report sexual assaults at all times, that victims should try and get to safety, not shower or drink, and not change their clothes, or if they do to save them in a paper bag and freeze them, because these are all potential avenues of obtaining forensic evidence. Victims should try and get a sense of who their attacker or attackers are.
Those in the helping profession should also report if someone has been sexually assaulted. This includes persons in a position of trust, such as teachers and faith-based leaders in the community.