To the editor: April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
We have a lot to do to raise awareness across our community, the commonwealth and the country when it comes to sexual assault. The Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Task Force of Berkshire County was formed in 2019 through the District Attorney’s Office. At that time, she noted that, according to FBI crime data, Pittsfield had the fifth-highest rate of rape by population in Massachusetts in 2017, with 50 rapes reported, almost four times the state average. Across the country, more than 1 in 4 women are sexually assaulted. That statistic represents millions of women’s lives being shattered. We clearly need to make intentional and deep work to change this culture of sexual violence.
The task force is spearheading a community read of "Stop Telling Women to Smile: Stories of Street Harassment and How We're Taking Back Our Power" by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, as one way to raise awareness. Following discussion groups that have been occurring, a webinar with the author will take place at the end of April.
This powerful book offers a provocative look, through interviews, at the street harassment women experience regularly. It is a follow-up to street art the author created featuring drawings of women captioned with text that speaks to street harassers. Posters of Fazlalizadeh’s street art are on display in Park Square throughout the month of April.
As the author notes, street harassment is sexual harassment that happens in a public space. It is one of the types of sexual assault we often do not talk about. Sexual assault is any type of sexual contact, activity or attention that you did not want to happen or that happens when you are unable to consent. Street harassment is just that.
April 11 through 17 marks the 11th annual International Anti-Street Harassment Week and Berkshire County is marking that week by hosting half a dozen of the more than 20 book group discussions of Fazlalizadeh's book. Later in April, I hope you will join me at a webinar with the author during which she will discuss her anti-street harassment public art campaign of the same name. Even if you have not joined in one of the many community read discussion groups scheduled throughout the month, you can register for the April 29th webinar at bit.ly/2QUqN54.
As mentioned, Fazlalizadeh's art is on public display all month around Park Square in Pittsfield (as well as in the North Street windows of the Beacon Cinema and the Berkshire District Attorney's office) and on the lawn of City Hall in North Adams. It will also be exhibited at sites in Great Barrington for two weeks beginning April 11.
We hope that you will join us in participating in this community reading project.
Tricia Farley-Bouvier, Pittsfield
The writer is state representative for the 3rd Berkshire District.