December 2018 marks one year since the formation of the Keeping Ashland Women Safe Task Force (KAWS), an organization dedicated to increasing awareness of harassment and violence against women here in Ashland, Oregon.
KAWS is holding its first anniversary fundraiser from 8 to 11 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 13, at Standing Stone Brewing Company. With live music by the Rogue Suspects Lite and a silent auction, the evening promises to be a good way to enjoy a holiday night out on the town and support an important local cause.
As a career social worker here in the Rogue Valley, KAWS founder Alaya Ketani has long been aware of sexual assault and violence against women. Last year was a tipping point for her, when a woman working at a downtown Ashland restaurant was assaulted.
“I was aware of a lot going on that was being held under cover,” Ketani related. “The illusion that Ashland was completely safe and completely ideal was being held strongly.”
It’s difficult to talk about sexual assault and harassment and Ashland Police Chief Tighe O’Meara says that only 10-20 percent of assaults are reported.
Ketani’s on the offensive and refuses to tolerate offensive behavior.
“What I want to make clear is that KAWS is not just about sexual assault, but about all forms of harassment,” Ketani said. “There’s men following women around stores, uninvited men invading women’s spaces, touching women without permission, men stalking women, men luring teens into cars, women being grabbed, women being drugged, not just at bars but at parties. There’s rape, date rapists, attempted rapes, it’s all happening.”
“The KAWS organization seems to fill in a missing piece that the police department generally misses where women and other members of the community feel more empowered to share ways in which they don’t feel safe,” said O’Meara. “It’s about woman getting catcalled by a bunch of men on the Plaza or a lady who gets out of work at 2 in the morning because she works at a bar downtown and she has to walk several blocks in the dark because there’s no parking in front. A lot of what KAWS is about is trying to address those more ambiguous things.”
“We want women to know that you don’t have to be assaulted to report it (to the Ashland Police). Some creepy guy’s following you around, report it. Some guy jumps out at you from the staircase, report it. Some guy follows you out to your car, report it,” stressed Ketani. “Your report will go into a database so the police can look up this guy’s history. Getting women to feel safe enough to report is part of the mission.”
In the first year of operation, Ketani organized discussion groups and gathered volunteers to support Keeping Ashland Women Safe. She encouraged others to come forward and speak about their experiences and observations. Ketani partnered with local organizations like the Ashland Police Department and the Jackson County Sexual Assault Response Team to help get the word out about resources available to survivors.
Ketani also maintains the KAWS Facebook page where she offers useful information that can help empower women and keep them safer. She posts safety tips that include emergency assistance phone apps, how to use a noise blaster to discourage harassment, encourages vigilance when alone and isolated and fosters a sense of responsibility for others in the community. Ketani posts the locations of areas where women have felt at risk, where she’s received reports of harassment.
For its first year of operation, Keeping Ashland Women Safe operated under the auspices of Peace House, but has now received its own nonprofit designation. This status allows the organization to receive donations directly and to apply for grants and other sources of funding.
Ketani is looking forward to 2019 with optimism and a clear vision. KAWS plans more community conversations that educate and inform, more opportunities for partnerships and collaboration. She seeks a balance in the dialogue between men and women, training classes that empower women. New bumper stickers and window decals declare the KAWS mission. Ketani also envisions larger and longer term strategies that address systemic inequalities, laws that allow early release of abusers, emergency mapping systems and new uses of technology that can protect and empower women.
“KAWS is not about making people alarmed and terrified but about piercing the bubble and bringing awareness and empowerment,” Ketani said. “We can send the message loud and clear: ‘No, not here. We have zero tolerance for violence towards women. It’s not going to be tolerated.’”
For more information on Keeping Ashland Women Safe’s first ever benefit at Standing Stone Brewing Company, visit KAWS Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/KeepingAshlandWomenSafe/.
Reach Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at firstname.lastname@example.org.