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1BlueString and The Power of Partnerships: 1in6 Thursdays on the Joyful Heart Foundation Blog

My job title is always changing to keep up with our growth in knowledge around male engagement. The job itself and the challenges remain consistent: engage men around conversations about sexual violence.

The organization where I work, ACCESS (Assault Care Center Extending Shelter and Support) In Ames, IA, is dedicated to advocating for all survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. I approach my role there as Male Outreach and Male Engagement Specialist on the Sexual Abuse team with three basic beliefs:

  1. Men are a key piece of the puzzle when it comes to solving the issue of sexual violence against men, women, children, and gender non-conforming individuals.
  2. Men have been impacted in harmful or abusive ways when it comes to sexual violence, whether that is primarily or secondarily, and deserve support.
  3. The solution lies in conversation, engaging the community, and creating safe places for men to talk about these issues.

When we first began looking into opportunities for awareness events designed to specifically reach out to males who experienced sexual abuse, it became apparent that 1BlueString would best suit our needs. The 1BlueString campaign asks guitarists to replace one of the six strings on their guitar with a blue string to symbolize and support the 1 in 6 male survivors of childhood sexual abuse. The campaign met some important criteria we’d set for our organization: we were looking for an event that would appeal to the public, focus specifically on males, and would be fun and relaxing.

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Part of the benefit of 1BlueString is that the experience doesn’t have to be a long lecture, where people walk away feeling exhausted, and as if they just earned a credit for a college course. The event can be light and fun, yet still very focused on the issue of how men are impacted by sexual abuse or assault.

Many of the awareness events we traditionally select are pretty content-heavy; 1BlueString can be done in a really balanced way, where people can feel like they are there to have fun, listen to music, but still be there to focus on supporting men who’ve had an unwanted or abusive sexual experience. Because of this, we usually end up with two groups of people: one group that is there for the music, and another that is there for the awareness and survivor support. Our goal is that our event serves the needs of both groups.

We do this in a few different ways.

Between music sets, we take the opportunity to address the real focus of the event, and remind (or sometimes tell) people the mission of 1BlueString, as well as highlight barriers for men who have been harmed by unwanted sexual experiences. This allows us to have a consistent message and focus throughout the night.

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Another way we maintain a consistent message and focus is by educating and empowering the bands on the issue. We do this to make sure the bands are comfortable in what they are saying, and not delivering messages that contradict the mission or purpose, such as statements that don’t normalize the issue. Because of this, we are able to create an atmosphere that says: “we are here for you.”

The other reason we enjoy utilizing 1BlueString is that it gives us the opportunity to engage the community.

We believe that sexual violence is a community-and-society-wide problem, which is best solved when a community is engaged around the issue. We have been really fortunate to be able to engage several community groups in planning over the course of the last two years. These include a record label, a college radio station, and a fraternity.

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The first year we hosted a 1BlueString event, we were able to work closely with Maximum Ames record label. They ended up being an amazing partner in helping us recruit bands, a venue, and attendance for the event. Maximum Ames had previously been a large supporter of our organization, so to be able to host an event that seamlessly engaged them was a great opportunity.

This year, we needed to reach the college populations. We accomplished this by engaging the KURE 88.5 Ames Alternative college radio station and the Theta-Chi fraternity. Through these two organizations, we were able to promote the event to a much broader and more diverse audience.

1BSAccessThrough KURE 88.5, we were able to get airtime for bands that volunteered their time, PSAs for the event, and also a news segment on the event to talk more in-depth about the purpose, goals, and how to support male survivors. This was especially helpful because their listenership is a large part of our target population and the group we try to appeal to.

We were also able to engage Theta-Chi fraternity, who assisted us in funding the event, and getting people through the door. With ISU having a tight knit Greek community, pairing with this group allowed us to really tap-in to that population.

We have been really fortunate to be able to work with great partners on our 1BlueString events, and we believe it is all the more powerful when an entire community comes together to make the statement to men that they deserve support!

By Bobby Dennis

IMG_5787Bobby Dennis is a male-engagement specialist and prevention educator at ACCESS in Ames, Iowa where he has been for two years. He is also currently the interim chair at the Iowa Men’s Action Network. He first started educating on sexual assault prevention and advocating for victims of sexual assault as a sophomore at Simpson College. In total he has 5 years of experience as an advocate and sexual assault prevention educator. At ACCESS he focuses on engaging men, providing them tools to challenge violence, while also creating safe places for men to talk about harmful sexual experiences. 

Check out the amazing promo video ACCESS created for their 2016 1BlueString event!

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