THANK YOU, Bob Massey for the wonderful article you wrote about Green Dot in today’s Charlotte County Florida Weekly!
Personal violence: When green means ‘Stop!’
Late one night when he was 5 years old, Christopher Hall was awoken by loud noises. He padded down the hallway to the kitchen, only to find that the cause of the commotion was his mother being physically abused.
Defeated by what was likely a mixture of shame and a concern for her son’s own safety, she ordered him back to bed, leaving the toddler feeling helpless and guilty — guilty that he should have somehow gotten some kind of help for his mom … something … anything.
“That was the biggest, hardest-hitting thing I’ve ever experienced,” he said. “It was a turning point in my life. I know that’s odd to say that when I was only 5 years old, but it is something that has stuck with me for 30 years. It has influenced who I am, the decisions I make and how I treat people.”
One of those decisions was to take the helm of the Green Dot program at the Center for Abuse and Rape Emergencies. Haunted by his own helplessness, he’s determined to liberate others to make a difference when confronted by what he terms “power-based personal violence” in the community.
“Violence is based on power and control,” he explained. “What we target in Green Dot is the power-based personal violence. It’s all about ‘Who can I inflict power over? Who can I take advantage of? Who can I subdue?’”
Green Dot is part awareness, part intervention. It’s mantra, “No one has to do everything, but everyone has to do something” seeks to turn bystanders into mediators in one way or another, to stem the tide of growing domestic violence.
Over the last year, 983 batteries were reported to the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office. Of those, 466 were domestic violence related. There were also 317 assaults, 133 of which were domestic. That doesn’t include the untold cases that never get reported.
“This is something we’ve actually been watching over the last couple of years,” said Charlotte County Sheriff Bill Prummell, who also sits on the C.A.R.E. board of directors. “I’ve had my analysts going through all of our assault and battery complaints because these numbers have been climbing steadily each year, and we don’t know the cause.”
The sheriff noted the last spike was during the recession, but those numbers were easily attributed to the financial stress so many residents were under during that period.
“That’s common when you see people struggling with money and finances and all that,” he said. “Tempers start to flare in the household. But things are improving, so we’re not really sure what’s driving the numbers — and it’s not just domestics. We’re seeing assaults and batteries, in general, increasing. My analysts have been working on it for quite some time now because there are a lot of reports to go through. We’re trying to go deep down into them to determine if there’s a root case or common denominator that’s driving them that we might be able to be a little bit more proactive on.”
The Green Dot program seeks to put a dent in those numbers. Although it’s too early to tell if the program is successful locally — it was established in February 2016 and has only been implemented for about eight months — C.A.R.E. has a five-year window for the grant that funds the program. Mr. Hall believes significant results will be apparent by year three.
It does seem to be working, so far, on a national level, according to its founding entity, Green Dot et cetera Inc. The program began on the campus of the University of Kentucky in 2006, where its efficacy was tested before becoming a nationwide initiative.
“Green Dot has been successful on college campuses, in high schools, in communities and on military installations,” Lea Hegge, Green Dot et cetera Inc.’s VP of programs and senior trainer told Florida Weekly. “Green Dot pushes campuses and communities to look beyond how we’ve always addressed interpersonal violence, to look at what has worked and ask challenging questions about what has not worked and why. We can’t keep doing what intuitively feels good if it’s not working to reduce violence. The Green Dot strategy is a community mobilizing, comprehensive approach to violence prevention that capitalizes on the power of peer and cultural influence. It is not a program in a box that works to build awareness only. Green Dot helps individuals connect to their role in prevention and provides participants with actionable tools and skills to contribute to a safer community.
Making red dots green
Green Dot is the brainchild of the organization’s executive director, Dr. Dorothy J. Edwards, and it was born out of her own helplessness and frustration. A decade into a career that focused, one way or another, on addressing violence, she realized neither she nor her colleagues were making any significant change in the fabric of society.
“Despite great job evaluations and almost daily praise regarding another program I had done or speech I had given — I wasn’t preventing violence. Period. Furthermore, as I looked around me, I saw my colleagues in the same boat. Conference after conference we sat and listened to each other present on yet another clever poster campaign, another creative one-time-only-mandatory program, and another date-rape skit. There seemed an another date-rape skit. There seemed an unspoken agreement that we would resist the urge to cry out in the middle of the presentation, ‘Are you frickin’ kidding me? Isn’t this the exact same thing I heard 10 years ago, just with a different slogan slapped on the front?’”
She decided to turn everything she knew about the problem of violence on its ear. The result was Green Dot.
At the core of the Green Dot program is the empowerment of witnesses of social violence to effect change. “Bystanders” become catalysts for intervention. The “Green Dot” became a metaphor.
Visualize a map of your community, campus, military base, state or neighborhood peppered with red dots. Each dot represents not just an individual act of power-based personal violence — partner violence, sexual violence, stalking, bullying, child abuse or elder abuse — but also a choice to do nothing, to tolerate, justify or perpetuate this violence.
“Now imagine adding a green dot in the middle of all those red dots on your map,” the website explains. “A green dot is any behavior, choice, word or attitude that promotes safety for all our citizens and communicates utter intolerance for violence. A green dot is pulling a friend out of a high-risk situation — a green dot is donating a few dollars to your local service provider— a green dot is displaying an awareness poster in your room or office — a green dot is putting a green dot message on your Facebook page — a green dot is striking up a conversation with a friend or family member about how much this issue matters to you. A green dot is simply your individual choice at any given moment to make our world safer.”
For Dr. Edwards, it’s the best way to combat the specter of domestic violence.
“I believe with everything in me that current rates of power-based personal violence are not inevitable,” she wrote in a message to Florida Weekly. “I do this work because if I didn’t believe this could change — I would be accepting some truths about humanity that I am just not willing to accept. I am not willing to let this world dull my senses to this issue. I am not willing to be swallowed by the apathy around me. I am not willing to pretend it is not horrifying that thousands of women, children and men will be victims of sexual violence, partner violence, stalking and abuse every single day. I am defiant against a culture that tries to lull my soul into quiet complacency as our daughters and our sons — our partners and our sisters and our brothers — face violence and the threat of violence every single day. …
“If my soul is not broken — if I am not horrified daily by yet another story — if one in three women being brutalized on my campus, in my country, in my frickin’ world does not keep me awake at night and shock my sensibilities, what will? What else is there? I am here because the day I am not here is the day this insanity has beaten me. Even as a victim myself — even as my soul bleeds for my beautiful daughter — I am here in defiant resistance to the premise that these staggering rates of violence are inevitable. I don’t know all the answers. I have no ulterior motives. Green Dot etc. is my best guess thus far.”
The Green Dot program does offer a solution in its involvement of the general populace. But intervention also poses potential risks.
Caution and commitment
Mr. Hall realizes the choice to intervene in a violent confrontation — whether that’s calling the authorities, employing tactics that might distract the abuser or defuse the situation, or confronting a person who is using/about to use abusive or violent behavior — takes a good deal of courage for most people. He also realizes that a bystander who sees the violence is usually also a victim’s best hope.
“Years ago, people used to be ashamed of domestic violence, and it was a big secret,” Sheriff Prummell said. “If you know something’s going on, you have to speak out. It’s going to take us as a community to combat it, and most of your victims can’t do it alone — they need the help.”
But the sheriff also advocated exercising caution.
“Some of the things do concern me, though,” he said. “One of the steps is getting in the middle of a situation, and there are some cases when you’re going to have to get in the middle of it, but I just worry the way domestics tend to escalate quickly. I’d hate to see a Good Samaritan, who’s trying to do the right thing, get seriously injured.
“That’s always my first thing is, if they (bystanders) are able to, try to call us immediately. There are going to be some cases where someone might look like they’re getting seriously injured, and they (bystanders) are going to feel the need to step in. They’re going to have to judge it on their own, what they think they’re capable of doing. In this day and age with cell phones, we’re just a phone call away.”
A local Green Dot newsletter reminds the public that the best part about the program is that “it doesn’t ask for anything big from anyone.” The success of the program stems from small things done, in opportune moments, by everyday people — single moments in time that prevent harm to others.
“The public’s contribution matters — no matter how small it is,” Mr. Hall said. “That’s the way things happen, is by everybody doing their small part. It adds up into something big. It’s not something where it’s going to take one person to do one big thing and, all of a sudden, violence goes away. It’s built on the small actions taken by everyday people. And that’s what makes the difference. That’s what changes the culture. That’s why it matches so well with what C.A.R.E. is doing, because we have a common vision of that community without violence.”
“It’s going to take us as a community to step in and say, ‘Hey! No more! We’re not going to put up with this,’ Sheriff Prummell agreed. “It’s going to take the community to get involved to stop domestic violence.”
“If we all are willing, we can make Charlotte County a safer place for us, for our friends and neighbors and for our children,” the Green Dot newsletter states. “When all is said and done, we really have just two choices: to do something or to do nothing.”
Let us choose wisely. ¦
Charlotte County Green Dot
>> For more information on this violence intervention program, and how you can attend a free training, contact Chris Hall with the Center for Abuse and Rape Emergencies at 639-5499.