As a mental health professional and first-time attendee at a Community Conversation held at the Wilkinson Library on Tuesday, March 14, “A Community Approach to Preventing Sexual Violence,” I left with gratitude for the open and sensitive discussion of this important community and personal issue. Invited panelists represented many of our community resources, including the Tri-County Health Network, the San Miguel Resource Center, the Wilkinson Public Library, the Telluride School District (along with two student peer supporters), the Telluride Regional Medical Center and the Telluride Marshal’s Department. Also in attendance were over 20 participants from a wide age range who hailed from Telluride and elsewhere.
After signing in, each participant was greeted with a smile, an amazing dinner and was issued a “necklace” that allowed everyone to access simultaneous translation. The meeting began with a review of prior agreements to set a collaborative, inclusive, safe and supportive tone that lasted throughout the session. We were then invited to engage in an “eye-opening” ice-breaker activity that clearly demonstrated the types and extent of unwanted sexual contact or violence many have experienced personally or via a loved one. After this, the guest panelists shared current support available for all victims who may or may not want to pursue legal action (for various reasons) via a formal police report. A well-facilitated, open conversation then ensued with participants asking questions of the panelists and each other and sharing ideas for how a community might further decrease sexual and other forms of personal violence. The meeting was impressive not only for its depth of information, but also because it clearly demonstrated a community of care that values cooperation versus division.
An underlying theme woven throughout the discussion was an acknowledgement that a caring community must not ignore or keep silent about such behavior. Additionally, our conversation focused on the importance of early, developmentally appropriate prevention and how all adults in our community serve as critical role models for our younger generation. The session ended with the recognition that no community is perfect and that as individuals, we can help address this and other difficult topics facing our community by fostering a similar, safe space for an informal conversation with people within our “sphere of influence” who might not have been in attendance — and through additional meetings on such topics with community leaders. We also encouraged one another to speak up when we witness harmful behaviors and to actively support others who do the same.
Overall, I am thankful to have attended this dialogue and to be a member of this remarkable community. The collaborative spirit apparent throughout the evening left a hopeful impression that there is no limit as to what might be accomplished to create a safe and caring community for all when we are willing to engage in such shared conversations.
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