Sexual Assault Can Be Prevented
It can happen at home. It can happen at work. It can happen in a car. It can happen in a dorm. Sexual assault occurs whenever someone is forced, coerced or manipulated into any unwanted sexual activity. The list of offenses is graphic and includes rape, incest, date rape, marital rape, sexual harassment, child sexual assault, stranger rape, forced prostitution, exposure, voyeurism and statutory rape. Silence continues to surround the topic of sexual assault, yet according to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, one in six American women and one in 33 men have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. Seventy three percent of rapes were committed by a non-stranger — a friend, intimate, relative or acquaintance. In other words, sexual assaults are happening more often to people we love by people they know, rather than the stranger hiding in the bushes. And it’s happening to our daughters, mothers, girlfriends, sons and co-workers.
There are many myths that still exist today that place blame on the victim, such as past consensual sex, whether alcohol was involved and even the type of clothing worn by the victim. No one, under any circumstances, deserves to be sexually assaulted . Period. Sexual assault is not about sexual desire gone wrong but about power and control over another, utilizing sex as a weapon. Most often sexual assault happens as a pervasive result of attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that assert male privilege over females, as evidenced by advertising, music videos, video games and other media. When males are taught to respect their peers, both male and female, how to understand boundaries, the elements of consent and how to appropriately challenge negative behaviors of peers, then change at the individual level can happen. However, beyond individual responsibility, we need organizations that support the redefining of positive parameters that define masculinity beyond brute strength and sexual activity. We need organizations that challenge young people to develop effective communication and negotiation skills for healthy relationships. We need systems that support victims and understand the devastating impact of trauma due to sexual assault. We need churches, educational institutions, community agencies, parents and youth organizations to step out of the box and talk about sexual assault in authentic, informed and creative ways.
Sexual violence is preventable. However, prevention is more than educating individuals concerning objectification and healthy sexual boundaries. By following the Spectrum of Prevention, a tool developed by the Prevention Institute and tailored by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, communities like yours can participate in comprehensive sexual-violence prevention initiatives. The spectrum consists of strengthening individual knowledge and skills, promoting community education, educating professional providers, fostering coalitions and networks, changing organizational practices and, finally, influencing policies and legislation.
Programs to help youth navigate the maze of relationships that often includes violence in many forms. Teens-4-Change is a social-change organization for young women ages 14 to 18 that focuses on healthy bodies, minds and relationships. R.A.P., Raising Awareness and Prevention, works with males at the high-school and college level to challenge pervasive attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that perpetuate sexual violence.
Take the opportunity during April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, to learn more, do more and understand more about an issue that affects entire communities. Challenge leaders to reinforce positive cultural norms and send clear and consistent messages that sexual violence is traumatic in any form, as well as inappropriate. Because sexual violence happens in all races, socio-economic classes, genders and age groups, we need to send the message to everyone that no one, under any circumstances, should be blamed for being sexually violated. Intervention is important and necessary; however, primary prevention, stopping sexual violence before it ever starts, is a worthy goal for ALL communities.
Take care and STAY SAFE!
Contributor Al Renna