Preventing Sexual Violence

Sexual violence is a serious crime that is often hidden from view and has devastating effects on victims. Whether sexual assault is physical, emotional or psychological, the consequences for survivors can be lifelong and complex.

The statistics are startling: up to 94% of women who experience rape develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with 50% suffering long-term effects. Sexual abuse can also have devastating effects on children.

A victim of sexual assault or abuse may feel a range of emotions including anger, fear, guilt, shame and apathy. Some women feel they have somehow provoked their attackers and many blame themselves. Victims might find it difficult to believe their experience, especially when friends or family members tell them they should “just get over it”. Survivors are also at risk of injuring themselves by attempting self-harm.

People can take steps to prevent sexual violence in their communities and in their personal lives. They can teach children about the difference between sex and love and the importance of respecting boundaries. They can support the efforts of community members and advocates to create safe spaces and educate others about consent, boundaries and sex safety. They can help by donating money, volunteering time or lobbying legislators to support laws that hold perpetrators accountable and provide resources for victims.

Preventing sexual violence takes place on three different levels: Individual level-behaviors that lead to the use of violence and a person’s capacity for changing those behaviors. Family or relationship level-relationships that are characterized by sexual abuse, including abusive relationships between parents and their children. Community or societal level-settings and characteristics that are associated with a greater incidence of sexual violence, including work culture, schools, churches and neighborhoods.

For example, patriarchal cultures are more likely to have higher rates of sexual assault and exploitation than matriarchal or egalitarian societies. A culture’s beliefs about gender roles and relationships are also related to the prevalence of sexual violence.

In addition, the ability of a society to support its victims is important. This includes the cultural and religious resources available to women who have experienced violence, as well as social support systems and policies that promote and protect victims’ rights.

Taking action to prevent sexual violence can be daunting, but anyone can do something to contribute. Even small acts can have a big impact, such as calling 911 when someone needs help or offering a ride home from a party where alcohol is being served.

It is important to remember that any sexual assault or rape is not the victim’s fault. Sexual violence can be triggered by many factors including alcohol and drugs. The majority of sexual violence is committed by men and is often motivated by an insatiable need for power and control over their partner or victim. People can combat these dynamics by challenging images of violence against women in advertising, pornography and professional wrestling and encouraging their peers to take responsibility for their sexuality instead of letting it be defined by their partners or the media.