By Rebecca Greenberg

Red means “stop” and green means “go” on a traffic light, but Dorothy Edwards, the Executive Director of Green Dot Etc., wants the world to apply these colors to sexual assault and domestic violence.

“My goal was as a result of my life on this planet, I want less people to experience violence,” Edwards said.

Edwards created Green Dot Etc. in 2010 after realizing that she hadn’t accomplished what she had initially set out to do.

“Green Dot was in fact born out of this exploration that we’ve got to do something different,” Edwards said.

Edwards spoke to a room full of UConn students and staff in the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center in late September. UConn has been in the spotlight since December of 2013 for its administration’s handling of sexual assault on campus. The U.S. Department of Education opened an ongoing investigation early this year under the anti-sex discrimination law Title IX.

Edwards pinpointed a tragedy in her life which has framed her views on sexual violence and assault. She told the audience that when her father and nephew were diagnosed with cancer, there was no cure.

“Sexual assault on our college campuses – make no mistake – is a disease with a cure and the cure is you,” Edwards said. “The cure is us.”

This very idea is the basis for the Green Dot Bystander Program.

Edwards said that she thinks that for decades educators – herself included – have been approaching sexual assault prevention all wrong.

“For a long time we’ve talked about this issue as if there are only two characters in this story: a potential perpetrator and a potential victim. Men – do you have any idea which role we gave you?”

Edwards is not alone in wanting to change the conversation surrounding sexual assault prevention and education. Edwards says each and every person on this planet can prevent a sexual assault from happening by implementing one of her three solutions: direct, delegate or distract.

“A young man in a fraternity had gone to a Green Dot training. He went up to party the next weekend. He saw one of his brothers taking this drunk girl to the designated room that everyone knew existed…and he said ‘Dorothy, I knew I needed to do something,’ but again, the norms where you don’t say something. So he said ‘I did the first thing I could. I called up after him and said – hey dude, your car is getting towed!’ Genius! Is that not genius? Like I never would have though as an educator to stand up and say, ‘Perhaps you can tell him your car is getting towed.’ Like, he just thought it! And sure enough his friend – he comes running down the stairs to check on his car – and he’s gone long enough for his sisters to get her out of there.”

Edwards says she hopes that every potential bystander finds an approach he or she feels comfortable with and uses that method to prevent a potential sexual assault.

So, what does Edwards want to ultimately accomplish and how does she plan on getting there? She says the easiest way to eliminate sexual assault is to try to turn every red dot, green.

“Sexual assault or violence against women or these statistics, it’s not a singular mass. It’s not an issue with one good policy or one good speaker or one good funding stream we can cut out like a tumor and just remove,” Edwards said.

Edwards says the biggest obstacle the world faces in preventing sexual assault is that people believe the single decisions they make can’t make a difference.

“When there are more green dots than red, the violence comes down. When there are more green dots than red, just like every single culture change that has ever come before, when enough people stand up and say ‘I will do my piece,’ it changes.”

Photo credit: drpavloff via photopin cc

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