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Tuesday: The evolution of prevention

In Sexual Assault Awareness on July 26, 2011 at 1:41 am

The old way: don’t leave your drink unattended, don’t dress in a revealing way, don’t go places without buddies, always carry pepper spray/mace/rape whistle, walk to your car with your key between your finger, yell fire because people are more likely to come to  your aid, park your car under a street light, don’t drink too much, take a self-defense class.

I remember towards the end of high school and throughout my time in college these were the ways that I was taught to stop a sexual assault from happening.  Although given with the best of intentions, they have some fatal flaws.  Number one: they are all based around the idea that an assault is committed by a stranger out in public.  Studies show that, while attacks by strangers do occur, they are the minority when compared to the number of assaults committed by acquaintances, family members, significant others, or others who the victim might know.  And number two: all efforts and responsibility to prevent a potential attack fall on me, the potential victim.  Therefore, if I am attacked and it was the one night that I wore my new miniskirt, didn’t think to clobber the attacker with my suitcase of a purse that held my mace and keys (covered by who knows how much other stuff), as I walked to my car at night in a dark parking spot, with a person that I just met then the attack was my fault because I didn’t take the steps to prevent it.  FALSE. The attack was the responsibility of that person who chose to attack.  The problem with the prevention tips listed above is that they don’t work; we have been teaching these tips to young adults for decades now and rates of assault have not decreased because they place the responsibility solely on the victim and are based around scenarios that are happening less frequently.

The new way: teach our children the correct body parts and specifically tell them who is allowed to touch them and for what reasons (e.g. doctors can examine private areas when parents are present), keeping an eye on your surroundings and being willing to intervene if there is potential for an assault against someone, knowing what to say and how to intervene, not fostering an environment where sexist jokes or degrading comments are tolerated, understanding that consent is not passive.

Neither of these lists are exhaustive.  But the change is placing the responsibility of stopping an assault on those committing the assault.  We cannot ask potential victims to control the actions of others when the very act of sexual abuse is control being taken away.  I’m not saying that we should abandon basic safety tips, but while we’re keeping an eye on our drink at the bar, keep an eye on the person’s drink next to you too.  And in those situations when all prevention efforts fail, remember where the real responsibility lies.

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