Preventing Sexual Violence
Sexual violence is any form of sexual contact or penetration without a person’s consent. It includes any actual, attempted, or threatened act of sex, including oral sex, masturbation, and touching, but also non-contact acts that can have a sexual nature such as kissing and touching, explicit sexual talk and showing pornography. It can include rape, sexual assault, and any kind of child sexual abuse or molestation. It can occur within or outside the home, in public or private spaces, and on and off work/study/campus living or other community activities. It can happen to anyone and can be from a stranger or someone they know well. It can be committed by men or women, and it can happen to children of any age and gender. No one deserves or asks for sexual violence to happen and it is never the survivor’s fault.
Often, survivors have a hard time believing that what happened was real. They may also blame themselves for the assault and have thoughts of self-harm or suicide. Survivors may also minimize what happened by saying, “it wasn’t that bad” or that other people’s experiences are worse. This is a coping mechanism and it’s important for survivors to be reminded that what they experienced was very real and has had a lasting impact on them.
It is possible that culture, especially the way gender roles and allowed behaviors are interpreted, may play an important role in sexual violence perpetrated against women. For example, men from cultures where a higher male-female sex ratio exists might interpret platonic interests from women of another culture as sexual and this may lead to sexual violence. Similarly, men from culturally conservative societies might misinterpret females’ sexual signals or behaviors in a more liberal cultural context.
While some people are more likely to become a victim of sexual violence, it can affect any person and at any age. Some of the risk factors for sexual violence include a lack of knowledge and understanding of sexual violence, substance use/abuse, poor relationships, mental health issues, isolation, poverty, social pressure to engage in sex, cultural norms, and beliefs of masculinity and femininity that promote power inequality between men and women.
There are things we can do to help prevent sexual violence. We need to talk about it openly, educate ourselves and others, trust our gut instincts, make sure we know who we are with, and be alert for situations that don’t feel right. We can also take steps to ensure we are safe by keeping our belongings secure in public places, limiting who has access to our homes, dorm rooms, and cars and making sure that everyone knows when it is okay to enter or leave. The best prevention strategy is to avoid sex or any other sexual activity that feels unsafe, even if you’ve had it before and you think you would want to do it again. Everyone deserves a life free of sexual violence. Increasing what protects us and decreasing what puts us at risk benefits everyone.