Sexual Violence affects us all. It has lasting effects on our mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health. Yet, despite countless campaigns, program funding and public initiatives to end sexual violence in our community, the rates for reported sexual assaults have remained stable.
There are many resources available, but Johnson & MacKay (2011), the Ontario Women’s Directorate and the University of Alberta’s Sexual Assault Centre have outlined key approaches that have proven results in ending sexual violence. This page is committed to exploring these initiatives.
Taking an Inclusive Approach
Telling women what to do to decrease their risk of sexual violence, while perhaps helpful, reinforces victim blaming, places the focus on stranger assaults and perpetuates many of the rape myths that keep women (and men) from speaking out.
Instead, we need a more inclusive approach that explores the “societal, cultural, and interpersonal dimensions of sexual violence.” We need to challenge the behaviours and attitudes towards sexual violence that are deeply rooted in our society. It can be as little as speaking out when someone says something sexist or derogatory about women’s bodies, or it can be as big as stepping in if you witness an assault taking place.
The following suggestions are adapted from the University of Alberta’s, Sexual Assault Centre’s website:
Don’t commit sexual assault
Imagine what would happen if everyone just followed this simple suggestion. In an instant, we could end sexual violence! Unfortunately, this is unlikely to happen. That said, the first step to eliminating sexual assault is understanding consent. The next is acknowledging our own understanding/internalization of societal myths and misconceptions around sexual violence. After that, respectfully communicating with our sexual partners, learning the facts about the prevalence of sexual assault becoming media savvy regarding oppressive and “victim blaming” messages, speaking out, getting involved and supporting survivors will move us forward in ending sexual violence.
Understanding consent is the most important first step to ending sexual violence. When students, faculty and staff understand and practice what it means to “consent,” then respecting others’ boundaries, and stepping in to stop someone from crossing those boundaries reinforces our right to say no and not engage in activities we do not feel comfortable engaging in.
Consent is given when individuals are capable of making informed decisions and have clearly and freely demonstrated that they want to engage in sexual activity.
- Consent can be withdrawn at any time by either party.
- Consent is NOT given when individuals are sleeping, passed out, incoherent, staggering, resisting, unable to verbalize their consent due to intoxication or have explicitly said or implied “no”, “not tonight”, “stop”, “later”, are silent, crying, fighting back, or not aware of their environment.
- Consent cannot be given when a person persuades another to engage in sexual activity by abusing their position of authority, trust or power.
- Consent cannot be given by children (under the age of 16), unless the person is within 2 years of age and is not in a position of authority, trust or power.
- Consent is ALWAYS required. Without consent, sexual activity becomes sexual assault.
Practice healthy communication
Talk with your partner, use respectful language and honour his/her boundaries when it comes to sex! Please visit the “Sexual Rights” page if you would like to know more about your rights as a sexual partner.
Learn about how sexual assault impacts you
67% of people know someone who has been sexually assaulted. The fact is that sexual violence exists and does not discriminate! Chances are, it will touch your life in some capacity, be it as a friend, family member, supporter or survivor. Getting the facts, talking with friends and family, and listening about the ways in which it affects their lives can provide you with insight and learning.
Be aware of messages in the media
Sexual violence is part of our day to day culture. Homophobia, heterosexism, racism, sexism, classism are all forms of oppression that are subtly (and blatantly) interwoven into our fabric of pop culture. Look at how your movies, video games and TV portray women as sex objects/subjects, and men as sexually dominating heroes. These messages inform our understanding of sexuality, gender and relationships.
Words are powerful
Recognize the power of language. Often, we don’t realize that the language we’re using hurts, objectifies or degrades women. Using the term, “bitch” to describe a friend or calling someone a “slut” for going out the night before reinforces gender inequality and victim blaming.
If you hear someone blaming the victim, saying something derogatory about women or making jokes about sexual violence, say something. The most powerful tool for change begins with each person taking responsibility for their own surroundings. We need more people to take a stand in their own community – that’s how real change takes place. Please see our community resource page to learn more about community and national initiatives to encourage men to speak out to other men.
Our own Carleton Sexual Assault Support Centre provides volunteer opportunities for students as peer educators and peer support workers, and a library of resources and information about sexual violence to faculty, staff and students. We would love your support, enthusiasm for change and energy. [click here]
Ottawa has two off campus Sexual Assault Support Centres (Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre and Sexual Assault Support Centre). Both are always looking for volunteers or providing training and education outreach. Contact Equity Services for more information.
Believe and support survivors
One of the biggest obstacles facing sexual assault victims/survivors is not being believed. Victims often feel anger, confusion, frustration, shock, disbelief, annoyance and fear. Providing survivors with a safe, respectful, confidential and non-judgmental environment is very helpful when moving forward on the path of recovery.
When working with women from different cultural communities or backgrounds, learn, think about and challenge any stereotypes that you may have, and be sensitive to any cultural differences that may exist.
Hold perpetrators accountable
It’s hard to accept that some of our friends or people we’ve met could be capable of committing sexual assault. The truth is, not everyone commits sexual violence and not all men are sexual perpetrators. However, we do know that most assaults happen between people who know each other, that the perpetrators are almost always male, and that there is no excuse. Perpetrators are responsible for their behaviours and actions. The victim is never responsible for her or his own sexual assault.
Please visit our Challenging Myths and Misconceptions page to learn more about “rape myths” and the way in which they perpetrate our cultural understanding of sexual violence. [click here]
Both men and women need to hold perpetrators accountable and be involved in speaking out, taking action and getting involved in educating themselves and their community to end sexual violence.