New rule for 2012: No more ad campaigns and public service announcements targeted at women to teach them how to avoid rape. It’s not effective, it’s offensive, and it’s also a lie. Telling women that they can behave in a certain way to avoid rape creates a false sense of security and it isn’t the most effective way to lower the horrible statistics which show that 1 in 5 women will become victims of a completed or attempted rape in their lifetime. The numbers for African American women are even higher at nearly 1 in 4.
We need anti-rape campaigns that target young men and boys. Campaigns that teach them from a young age how to respect women, and ultimately themselves, and to never ever be rapists. In addition, we should implore our men and boys to call out their friends, relatives, and classmates for inappropriate behavior and create systems of accountability amongst them.
There are a number of men who do not understand what constitutes rape, which is a consequence of the “stranger in the alley” falsehood presented in movies and popular culture. You don’t need a mask and a gun to sexually violate a woman. The truth is that rape can happen with a woman you are dating whom you’ve had sex with previously, in a monogamous relationship, and even in marriage. If one party withdraws consent at any time then it’s rape. Consent can be withdrawn by the words “no “or “stop” and in many states, a woman doesn’t have to say no at all. Consumption of alcohol can prevent a woman from being able to legally offer consent. Therefore, it is important for men and women alike to be very clear about their intentions and prioritize consent over the excitement of getting some.
Our community, much like society-at-large, needs a paradigm shift as it relates to our sexual assault prevention efforts. For so long all of our energy has been directed at women, teaching them to be more “ladylike” and to not be “promiscuous” to not drink too much or to not wear a skirt.
Newsflash: men don’t decide to become rapists because they spot a woman dressed like a video vixen or because a girl has been sexually assertive.
How about we teach young men when a woman says stop, they stop? How about we teach young men that when a woman has too much to drink that they should not have sex with her, if for no other reason but to protect themselves from being accused of a crime? How about we teach young men that when they see their friends doing something inappropriate to intervene or to stop being friends? The culture that allows men to violate women will continue to flourish so long as there is no great social consequence for men who do so. And while many men punished for sexual assaults each year, countless others are able to commit rape and other crimes against women because we so often blame the victim instead of the guilty party.
Holding women and girls accountable for preventing sexual assault hasn’t worked and so long as men commit the majority of rapes, men need to be at the heart of our tactics for preventing them. Let’s stop teaching ‘how to avoid being a victim’ and instead, attack the culture that creates predators in the first place.