Neighborhood watch 

Council calls on community to help curb sexual violence

One night last year, Kelly McGuire was hanging out with a few colleagues at a bar in downtown Missoula when they spotted a young woman who was clearly intoxicated.

"Like, falling-over drunk," McGuire recalls.

McGuire was worried about the woman. She grew more concerned when the woman's friends left her alone at the bar. "These two guys at a table near us start staring at her and nudging each other, and grinning and looking at her," McGuire says. "And then one gets up and goes and starts talking to her and engaging her. And we're like, 'Why does he want to talk to her? She's falling-down drunk.'"

click to enlarge Missoula Independent news
  • Andy Kemmis
  • Missoula City Councilman Jon Wilkins poses for the Make Your Move Missoula Campaign, which launched last summer to help end sexual violence.

McGuire works for Missoula's Crime Victim Advocate Program. Her training provides her with an advanced understanding of the conditions that breed victimization. She saw the mens' behavior as sexually opportunistic.

"Most rapists are serial rapists," McGuire explains. "And this is predatory behavior. It is not usually just an accident. This is how we usually think of (sexual assault), right? 'Oh, he just didn't know she wasn't consenting.' Or, 'Oh, they were both drunk.' The statistics show that that is not usually the case. Ninety percent of rapists are serial rapists. And they're using these tactics and getting women incapacitated and isolating them and purposefully setting up the sexual assault."

To help foster a greater understanding of the conditions that breed sexual assault and to educate community members about ways to intervene in such situations, the Missoula City Council recently approved spending $54,406 to boost urban outreach efforts. A primary component of those efforts is hiring McGuire as the city's new Healthy Relationships Coordinator. Council was still discussing the exact job description last week, but intends for McGuire to draw from a groundbreaking intervention model that calls on bystanders to help head off sexual assault and domestic violence before it occurs.

"Historically, we've targeted people who are survivors of assaults, or potential victims, or potential perpetrators, and tried to sway them in prevention," McGuire explains. "And that doesn't really work. ... In two-thirds of sexual assaults, there are bystanders leading up to the event. And so, there are so many opportunities to intervene. But people, I think often they don't have the information to be able to identify what's happening, so they don't notice the event. If they do notice the event, they're not really sure how to intervene."

For nearly a decade, Missoula County has channeled federal dollars to help fund domestic and sexual violence prevention efforts in rural areas including the Seeley Swan Valley and Mineral County. The city has not invested in such direct outreach efforts until now.

McGuire, who already works with the county, will fill the three-quarter-time coordinator position with the city. She'll also continue working 10 hours a week for the county, helping to oversee prevention efforts in rural areas.

In her new role with the city, McGuire aims to hold workshops for bartenders so they know how to intervene when they see behavior like she witnessed last year. McGuire will also coordinate with area social service providers and nonprofits to more efficiently use existing resources and reach out to faith-based communities and area high schools.

Nearly one in 10 Missoula County high school students say that they've been physically forced to have sex, according to the Montana Office of Public Instruction's 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Of the 769 teens polled in that survey, nearly 7 percent reported that someone they dated had physically hurt them. McGuire notes that women who are battered as teens are more likely to be victimized as adults, and educational curriculums have proven effective in reducing dating violence among teens by as much as 5 percent.

Of the $54,406 the Missoula City Council set aside to boost outreach, roughly $12,000 will go to the YWCA Missoula, enabling the nonprofit to grow the Make Your Move Missoula Campaign it launched last summer with multiple community partners, including Missoula County, the city of Missoula, Blue Mountain Clinic, the National Coalition Building Institute and the University of Montana. The campaign features prominent community members such as Sen. Jon Tester, Gov. Steve Bullock and Missoula Mayor John Engen holding signs that offer their thoughts on ways to curb relationship violence.

The idea behind the Make Your Move Campaign is to bring the entire community together, says the YWCA's Elizabeth Harrison, who will be taking over Make Your Move marketing. Harrison recognizes that it's easier to preach to the choir than reach the actual perpetrators of violence, and she's up for the challenge. "We're going to have to be creative," she says. "We're going to have to be edgier."

Since launching Make Your Move last year, the county has received requests to duplicate it from entities such as the U.S. Navy and Marines, along with Johns Hopkins University.

Missoula City Councilman Jon Wilkins has been an outspoken supporter of boosting city efforts to stop relationship violence. He admits that a handful of constituents have questioned him about whether government should be involved. In response, Wilkins says the city's investment seems small when considering the social and financial costs of domestic and sexual violence tallied in hospitals, jails and among families. "I think they just don't understand," he says. "Sometimes government needs to be involved. ... To me, in the long run, it saves money."

McGuire agrees. She sees funding prevention efforts as a moral imperative. While the intoxicated woman McGuire saw last year at the bar ended up leaving safely with friends, McGuire knows that's not always the case.

"This is a community issue," she says. "It affects all of us."

This story was updated Thursday, Aug. 22, to correct the list of partners on the Make Your Move Missoula campaign.

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