prideGrindr. Meeting through friends. OkCupid. Meet ups. The dance floor.

There are lots of ways these days to connect, hook-up, date, or cruise. With VA Pride coming up this weekend, the opportunities to meet someone and get your groove on will be even greater than usual. The unfortunate reality is, however, that many individuals will experience sexual harassment, coercion, manipulation, and violence within the context of the celebration. These experiences aren’t unique to Pride, but this is an opportune time to have a conversation about safety and how to get help if you need it.

To be absolutely clear, the only person responsible for acts of sexual harassment, manipulation, or violence is the individual who is committing those acts. However, the Richmond Area Partnership* wanted to share some safety tips to help inform our communities about things that we all can to do try to keep ourselves and each other a little more safe as we have some fun. These tips have been slightly adapted from the NYCAVP.

Make a safety plan and let someone else know about your plan. Tell at least one person about your plans, such as who you’ll be with, a way to get in touch with the person/people that you are meeting, meeting place, and what you plan to do. Plan in advance what will happen if you feel unsafe, such as where they will meet you and whether you want police called.

Use your tech. Text friends about where you’ll be or where you are, the handle the person uses on the website or phone app, and/or other information you think might be important. Include a picture of the person, and save messages when using websites and phone apps.

Meet in public. Meeting in public allows for greater options for safety. If possible bring friends with you, as they can watch your back and give you their impressions. If the person doesn’t look like the picture, ask them about it. If they don’t have an answer you feel comfortable with, leave.

Know your limits. If you’re going to use substances, including alcohol, consider deciding ahead of time when and how much you will use.

Practice safer sex. If you think you may have sex, make it safer sex—bring safer sex supplies and use them.

Incidents of hook-up violence can happen in public spaces such as bars, sex/play parties, etc. Let friends, other patrons, or bar/nightclub staff know if you leave temporarily and when you intend to return. When you are outside, scan the street for establishments (such as a bodega or car service) where you can go to seek help if you feel unsafe. Don’t leave any drinks or your belongings unattended. Discuss your interests and boundaries for sex, including BDSM before engaging.

Trust your instincts. If you feel threatened or unsafe at any point, if at all possible exit the situation.

You can say no. No matter who initiates or how far you’ve gone, you can stop at any time for any reason. The Richmond Area Partnership crafted a previous blog post about meaningful and enthusiastic consent because we want to support deep and complicated conversations within our communities about healthy sexuality and intimacy. Check it out if you haven’t already!

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You can call the Greater Richmond Regional Hotline at (804)612.6126 to ask questions and learn about resources to help you.

Getting support if violence does occur

It’s not your fault. Nobody has the right to violate your boundaries or commit violence against you, no matter where it happens or how you met.

Document the incident. Take photos of any injuries; keep records of emails, texts, calls.

Consider medical attention or support/advocacy after an incident. Violence can have many physical and emotional impacts. VAVP has free and confidential support and advocacy available.

Call the LGBTQ Partner Abuse and Sexual Assault Helpline.  The Helpline and VAVP is here to support LGBTQ survivors of all forms of violence, including hook-up, dating, sexual, intimate partner, hate, and police violence. If you have witnessed or experience violence, we encourage you to call our helpline @ 1-866-356-6998 (Mon-Fri, 8 a.m.-8 p.m.) where you can speak with a trained counsellor.

Take care of yourself. Utilize the help of supportive friends, partners and family.

Head Shot of Stacie VecchiettiStacie Vecchietti, MSW is the Community Organizing Manager at Safe Harbor, and is a member of the Richmond Area Partnership (RAP).

* The Richmond Area Partnership (RAP), is a local initiative charged with assessing services available, identifying gaps in services and strengthening assistance available to LGBTQ-identified persons impacted by sexual /intimate partner violence and/or stalking. The group is also examining the impact of culture, especially Southern culture, on the experience of victimization and healing for LGBTQ-identified individuals.