Whether you have been an advocate for decades or have only recently been inspired by the powerful stories of survivors coming forward, in a society where sexual violence is normalized there are daily opportunities to interrupt rape culture. And while some forms of sexual violence — such as sexist jokes, catcalling or vulgar gestures — aren’t illegal, they are no less threatening or harmful to the person being victimized. These behaviors contribute to a culture that accepts sexual violence, and one we should not stand for.
In order to change the culture it’s important to acknowledge that not everyone knows what acts are defined as sexual assault. According to new research from the National Sexual Violence Research Center and YouGov, while there is a strong level of awareness among U.S. adults nationwide, men and young adults show lower levels of awareness across all categories of assault. For instance, 56 percent of men vs. 72 percent of women say “watching someone in a private act without their knowledge or permission” is assault, while 67 percent of men vs. 79 percent of women say “sexual intercourse where one of the partners is pressured to give their consent” is assault. Awareness of verbal harassment is particularly low among men and younger adults: less than half view it as assault (48 percent of men and 46 percent of 18-34 year olds).
In order to change the culture it’s important to acknowledge that not everyone knows what acts are defined as sexual assault.
This data underscores the importance of finding ways to engage new voices in the sexual violence prevention effort to ensure as many individuals and subsets of our communities as possible are working to end this widespread problem in our society.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a time to come together and boost awareness about sexual violence and educate communities on how to prevent it. This year, our theme, “Engaging New Voices”, is about encouraging and informing a wider audience on how to take action to promote safety, respect and equality in their communities.
What does it mean for you?
· If you’re a coach: Teach your athletes that derogatory jokes, while seemingly harmless, create environments that support disrespect and, in some cases, promote violence.
· If you’re a faith leader: Be prepared to address sexual violence in your congregation. Believe survivors when they share their stories with you. Assure them it wasn’t their fault, no matter the circumstances.
· If you’re a member of a Greek community: Educate members about what enthusiastic, affirmative consent looks like, and step in and speak up when you hear rape jokes, see sexual harassment, or observe situations where consent hasn’t been or cannot be given.
· If you’re a parent: Respect your child’s right to make choices about their body, and encourage them to respect the choices of others.
· If you’re a new voice to sexual violence prevention: Welcome! Call out sexist jokes, catcalling, and other actions that contribute to a broader climate in which sexual violence is tolerated and not taken seriously. Bystander intervention, or intervening before, during or after a situation when they see or hear behaviors that promote sexual violence is one of the simplest, most effective ways for people to play a role. One study found that schools using the Green Dot training program saw victimization rates 12 percent lower than schools that did not. Another found that fraternity men trained in bystander intervention were 40 percent less likely to commit sexual violence.
Everyone has a role to play in changing the culture to prevent sexual violence. So get involved. Speak up. Wear jeans on April 26. Join a day of action. Believe and support survivors. Model healthy behavior. And spread the word. Together we can make an impact and end sexual violence ― in all of its forms ― once and for all.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center in conjunction with Sexual Assault Awareness Month. To learn more about the NSVRC and how you can help prevent sexual violence, visit here. Read all posts in the series here.
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.