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Havre actors tackle issue of violence against women

Two local actors are teaming up to educate the public about violence against women.

Donald Mayer and Nikki Craig are working with Montana State University's ReSPONSE program to promote its mission to stop relationship violence, sexual assault and stalking on campus.

They will present two skits Monday about the issue, and members of other organizations that fight violence against women will make a presentation and answer questions.

"We want to promote awareness of sexual violence and to help women who are in a situation like that," Craig said Thursday.

ReSPONSE timed the event, which will start at 7:15 p.m. in the Student Union Building Ballroom, to be part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The event is free and open to the public.

ReSPONSE is funded by a grant from the Office on Violence Against Women, part of the U.S. Department of Justice. Programs that receive the grant are required to provide education about the issue of violence against women. Margaret Meggs, director of ReSPONSE, said the organization decided to solicit help from Montana Actors' Theatre to do that.

MAT members put on skits last fall, and helped ReSPONSE produce Eve Ensler's acclaimed play, "The Vagina Monologues," in February as part of a week-long program about women's issues.

The funding is for a two-year period, and Meggs is applying to renew the grant. She said it is very competitive, with a limited amount of money and more and more programs applying for it.

In an informal classroom survey in April 2002 on the Northern campus, more than a third of the students who responded indicated that they either had been a victim or knew a victim of sexual assault, domestic or dating violence, or stalking.

She said her office last year helped five women who reported domestic violence, three who reported sexual assault and three who reported stalking, including electronic stalking.

Craig, whose acting debut in "The Vagina Monologues" was well-received, said she thinks much of the problem of violence against women at Northern is probably hidden because many women blame themselves and won't report incidents or look for help. That perpetuates the woman being a victim, she said, adding that ReSPONSE is helping change that.

"They're showing women how they don't need to be a victim and how to avoid being a victim," Craig said.

Meggs said the programs are having the desired impact. Educational events, including "The Vagina Monologues," have convinced women that they should come to ReSPONSE for help and information, she said.

Craig and Mayer will perform a skit about a seemingly nice man who assaults a woman "as soon as her back is turned," Craig said, and another about a woman turning to a male friend for help and support after she is assaulted.

Craig and Mayer wrote the first skit themselves to show that women should always be on their guard. Mayer, an employee of the Havre Daily News, is a veteran of many MAT performances, as an actor or director.

Mayer said the first skit is trying to warn women that appearances can be deceiving.

"We are trying to send a message: 'Don't turn your back. Don't look away from a complete stranger. The second you turn your back you never know what can happen,'" he said.

Mayer said they chose he second skit from a book of possible scenarios. He and Craig will use improvisational techniques for the performance.

Craig said they chose that skit both to show that men can help women who have been assaulted, and to show women they shouldn't blame themselves.


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