PORTLAND – Communities bear responsibility for creating an atmosphere in which sexual violence occurs, the head of a state civil rights education team told about 150 people during Friday’s “Take Back the Night” march.

Brandon Baldwin said a community that allows a culture of gender-based sexual power is culpable for crimes of sexual violence.

“Every act requires an agent or perpetrator — and a community that’s willing to tolerate it,” Baldwin told the crowd that gathered in Monument Square before marching through the Old Port.

Baldwin said that climate begins with separate sections for boys’ and girls’ toys and continues on to high school, where boys gain status for their perceived sexual prowess while girls are called names if they are sexually active.

“If we pretend it doesn’t exist and refuse to talk about it, then we become part of it,” Baldwin said. “We have opportunities to prevent rape every single day.”

Baldwin leads an effort in the state Attorney General’s Office to education schoolchildren about the roots of sexual violence and how to prevent it.

He said the community plays such a big role because it can create a climate in which women are reluctant to report acts of sexual violence if they fear they will be blamed because of what they were wearing or how much they had to drink.

Baldwin said it extends to a community’s whole attitude toward sexual power and its willingness to tolerate hate crimes.

He suggested ways to counter that attitude, including “ask(ing) someone what they really mean when the when they call something ‘gay.’

Friday night’s program and march was the 32nd annual Take Back the Night event in Portland, noted Amy Thomas, executive director of Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine, a co-sponsor of the event along with the Portland Police Department.

She said the event empowers victims of sexual violence to come forward and seek help or just share their stories.

The goal, Thomas said, is to reach a point “where a future generation does not know what rape is.”

 

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

emurphy@mainetoday.com