Doing Sexual Assault Prevention Right: Stop Victim Blaming

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Publié le 9 février 2017

Audrey Monette

Étudiante à la maîtrise en criminologie et bachelière en criminologie

Studies show that as many as one in five female students on Canadian university campuses are sexually assaulted – many of them in their first year (Fisher, 2011). The majority of assaults are by acquaintances or boyfriends – not strangers. A University of Windsor-led study (2016) has recently shown that women may be able to reduce the likelihood that they will be the victim of a completed rape. This is the logic behind sexual assault resistance education. University of Windsor Psychology Professor Charlene Senn has developed the only sexual assault resistance education campus program that reduces the risk of sexual assault by 50%. She based it on the best practices for helping women interrupt men’s behaviour at an early stage and defend themselves effectively. The program consists of three-hour sessions which provide information, skills, and practice to assess risk from acquaintances, to overcome emotional barriers in acknowledging danger, and to engage in effective verbal and physical self-defense, as well as helping them explore their own sexual values, desires, boundaries and rights. In the light of the above, I ask: why is it women’s responsibility to reduce their likeliness of being sexually abused?

This program, despite its effectiveness, downloads the responsibility onto women who are seen as the keepers of sex. Furthermore, this type of resistance program portrays all men as potential sexual offenders, which contributes to instigate falsification and myths about sexual violence. In order to prevent victim blame, we must include all men in the conversation – this is an issue of sexism, patriarchy, rape culture, hegemonic masculinity and misogyny that is imbedded in our society. Men have the ability to stand up against sexual violence towards women and be allies, while also being able to intervene as active bystanders. Reading an article advocating a program that suggests that women are responsible for their victimization has aroused in me a need to highlight the magnitude of the problem: young women feel that it is their duty to reduce their risk of being assaulted! Wouldn’t it be infinitely more logical to teach men positive and respectful attitudes towards women and sexuality, in order to prevent them from engaging in abusive behavior in the first place?

The literature on crime prevention proves that primary prevention has the potential to reduce sexual abuse rates by 50%, while working upstream to avoid harm to victims. Furthermore, we have access to several sexual violence prevention programs that promote healthy relationships and bystander mobilization. Indeed, programs such as Green Dot equip students with the necessary skills to intervene in potentially violent situations. Moreover, the Fourth R program offers strategies promoting healthy relationships and building the capacities of schools by encouraging the elimination of negative attitudes that foster rape and sexual violence. A CDC funded study (2014) shows a 50% reduction in sexual violence perpetration in high schools implementing Green Dot.

Thereby, women and men should be able to come together and learn about the negotiation of consensual sexual relationships. In addition, women should not have to learn about techniques to defend themselves and should certainly not be blamed for putting themselves into “risky” situations such as nightclubs, over consumption of alcohol or flirting. It is important to deconstruct the myths that are perpetuated by the men’s culture and the media. By equipping students with the necessary skills and the will to let go of historically ineffective approaches, we can work to stop this behavior and correct it with strategies encouraging people to use positive means – being respectful, engaging in positive relationships that are open and honest, not talking about women in derogatory terms.

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