Sexual violence permeates our culture. From violent rape scenes shown on popular TV shows, movies and other media, to near-daily reports of sexual assaults happening on college campuses. From sexist dress codes and common slang that reinforce rape culture to famous athletes and elected officials who condone sexual violence through their own behavior. Our society and culture normalize and even romanticize sexual violence, and it’s a culture that each of us are a part of.
So how do we change that? What can we do to end sexual violence?
The first step toward preventing and ending sexual violence is understanding the reality and prevalence of it.
Every 73 seconds, someone is sexually assaulted in the United States.
1 in 5 students is sexually assaulted during their college experience.
1 in 3 womxn will experience sexual violence in their lifetime. (We are using womxn as an alternative spelling to be inclusive of all women, including trans and nonbinary women).
1 in 7 military service men and womxn are sexually assaulted.
More than 160 American children experience sexual violence every single day.
This reality is difficult to fathom and even more difficult to accept. We tend to brush it under the rug because it’s too uncomfortable to think about and too painful to face, but doing so only perpetuates the problem.
One of the ways we brush this issue under the rug is by letting the statistics be just that – statistics. Nameless, faceless, lifeless numbers. It’s important to remember that there are actual people behind each of these numbers.
They aren’t strangers; they’re people we love and know. They are our mothers, sisters, daughters, coworkers, classmates. They are our fathers and our brothers, too.
So it’s not just “1 in 5 college students.” It’s one of your five closest friends.
It’s not just “1 in 3 womxn in their lifetime.” It’s one of the three most important womxn in your life.
When we recognize that sexual violence has, is, or will affect the people we love and care about, we feel inclined to burn the rug we’ve been brushing this issue under.
Society teaches us to set it aflame with tools like rape whistles and pepper spray and concealed carries, and tactics like dressing “modestly” and never walking home alone after dark, and by sheltering our children and youth from the topic of sex altogether. But these tactics, even when well-intended, only perpetuate sexual violence even further.
Prevention isn’t about carrying pepper spray and rape whistles. It’s not about dressing modestly or never walking home alone. The person responsible for rape and sexual assault is always the perpetrator.
So in order to prevent and end this cycle of violence, we need to start by believing and supporting survivors, instead of questioning what they were wearing or how much they drank or if they fought back. We need to hold perpetrators accountable, and build a culture of consent and respect. We need to teach our children and youth about boundaries and healthy relationships, and model this kind of behavior for them. We need to actively challenge the cultural norms that perpetuate and normalize rape culture.
Most importantly, we need to check ourselves.
Check our biases and perceptions, our reactions and responses, and especially our own words and actions.
Whether it’s the first date or the 50th, are we asking for consent?
Whether it’s a one night stand or a committed relationship, even marriage, are we ensuring that our partner is willing and enthusiastic and comfortable the entire time?
And what about when consent isn’t given? Are we respectful and kind?
When we hear about a sexual assault, do we ask, do we even think, “well, what were they wearing?”
Every 73 seconds someone in the United States is sexually assaulted. That means that about 10 people have experienced sexual violence since you began reading this article. That also means that 10 people have perpetrated sexual violence. That is what needs to change.
Eldridge Cleaver, a civil rights activist, said “If you aren’t a part of the solution, you are part of the problem.”
Let’s all be part of the solution.
Written by Education Manager Breanna Rogers