2018-01-19 / Community

Cape to host ‘MeToo’ community dialogue

By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer

CAPE ELIZABETH – Last year will be remembered, in part, by the news of women and men speaking up about sexual assault, harassment and misconduct by countless famous individuals, many of which were in the position of authority and many of which lost their jobs or were forced to resign.

While the topic has spread to every corner of the country, the conversation is coming to town later this month, thanks to the Cape Diversity Coalition, a group formed in 2016 to create a more welcoming community.

Jim Sparks, a clinical psychologist in Portland and coalition member said the group is organizing a community dialogue on the subject from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 25 at Cape Elizabeth United Methodist Church at 280 Ocean House Road.

“We felt like the moment is right with the MeToo movement to really talk about how we can change our own community so a movement like this is not necessary,” Sparks said, referencing MeToo, a movement on Twitter that encourages victims of sexual assault, harassment or misconduct to share those two words and highlight how prevalent such inappropriate behavior is.

Sparks said a discussion like the one planned at the church will bring to light issues that in many cases go unreported and invite people think about how these situations are present in their lives.

“How is it these sort of actions go on for years and don’t get addressed? How might we be complicit in that and not be so complicit in the future? How can we do something different?” he asked.

The dialogue, put on in collaboration with Family Crisis Services, will feature brief presentations from Sarah Gordon, of Family Crisis Services’ Young Adult Abuse Prevention Program and Family Crisis Services Executive Director Rebecca Hobbs, as well as the screening of educator, filmmaker, author and cultural theorist Jackson Katz’ TEDTalk: “Violence Against Women: It’s a Men’s Issue.”

One of the groups Family Crisis Services, the domestic abuse service center in Cumberland County, helps is those who are in abusive relationships. There is a 24/7 anonymous phone line available for such individuals.

“Many of the people who experience the kind of harassment we are seeing is similar to those experiencing domestic abuse. They feel fearful. They feel isolated. They are intimidated. There is that whole power control dynamic,” Hobbs said.

Participants will then break into small groups for facilitated discussions about how the issue, and the movement, has impacted personal lives.

“At Family Crisis Services, we talk a lot about bystander action in domestic violence or in this case, sexual abuse,” Hobbs said. “We put the onerous on the person to fix the situation. With domestic violence we think, why didn’t they just leave the relationship? With sexual abuse, we think, I don’t know why they didn’t just speak up. It’s not that simple. The victim is oftentimes the last person in the situation who can make it better. All of us have work we can do to make our communities safer.”

Sparks said he hopes it isn’t just a one-time discussion, but one that continues.

“The hope is this wouldn’t be just a one-off, but a continued group of discussions with people interested in the topic,” said Sparks, a member of the Portland Center of Restorative Justice, an organization that, according to its website, builds and sustains “a culture of peace in the greater Portland community utilizing restorative justice principles and practices.”

“Ideally, something like this involves a more profound change of consciousness, so my hope is to have a continuing set of dialogues and conversations,” Sparks added.

While the Jan. 25 dialogue is open to families, the next day, on Friday, Jan. 26, Cape Elizabeth High School will hold a school-wide assembly on the topic just for its students.

Cape Elizabeth High School Principal Jeff Shedd said the event, which is closed to the public, will feature a panel discussion with high school staff and outside experts, including representatives from Family Crisis Services, Maine Boys to Men and Lee Ann Dodge, director of SoPo Unite-All Ages in Community Coalition.

Maine Boys to Men operates a Reducing Sexism and Violence Program, a leadership program that empowers students 12 to 18 years old to end genderbased harassment, abuse and violence. Maine Boys to Men has offered the program at a number of high school and middle schools across the state, including schools in Scarborough and South Portland, Cape Elizabeth’s neighbors to the south.

“The goal is to be able to talk about it, making it safe to have the conversation and reinforce appropriate behavior,” said Shedd, who is helping to organize the event. “Really it’s about empowering people to feel safe and acknowledge the issue and help our staff understand how it is an issue our students are facing.”

Shedd said after talking with interim superintendent Howard Colter, he knew it was something the school had to address.

“With kids reading so much about it in the media, in sports and entertainment, as an educational institution, not to say something about it is saying something unintentionally,” Shedd said.

Colter said he is glad the high school is having such a discussion.

It’s important, he said, “to have a school-appropriate response to this very serious issue.”

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at 282- 4337, ext. 237.

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