The first six to ten weeks of the semester are referred to as the “red zone” for sexual assault, meaning that a large percentage of sexual assault on college campuses happens during this time. Understanding the inherent risks of your new environment can dramatically reduce the potential for dangerous situations to arise. It is important to be educated about what sexual assault is and the best ways to prevent harm to yourself or those around you.
Know the facts about consent and interpersonal violence. Consent is a verbal, sober, continuous, and positive yes. If they have to be convinced, it is not consent. If they are not sober, it is not consent. Consent is freely given and freely withdrawn. This means that consent one time or for one act does not mean consent for every time or for every act.
The Center has presented Safe Touch to kids in our community for over 30 years. These violence prevention education programs use evidence-based best practices in age-appropriate lessons to promote safety and reduce child sexual abuse. The curriculum is continually reviewed and updated with teacher and parent input.
Child sexual abuse (CSA) is unfortunately much more common than many people realize. Darkness to Light (D2L), a national organization to end child abuse, estimates that about 1 in 10 children experience sexual abuse before their 18th birthday. Even more children experience non-contact sexual abuse. Only about a third of kids tell someone when they experience abuse. CSA occurs across all demographic groups and can have long-lasting negative impacts such as physical and mental health problems, emotional and behavioral issues, and poor academic performance.
Though the problem of CSA looms large, the Center has a successful prevention program on multiple counts. First, by sheer numbers, we are very successful in getting these crucial public safety messages out to the county. We present SafeTouch programs in every classroom of every elementary school in both local school districts. Overall, we reached 14,805 youth and adults in 865 education programs during the 2013-2014 school year.
“Sexual abuse is a crime, and should not be the punishment for a crime.”
– US Department of Justice Letter to Governors, March 5, 2015
While this statement might seem obvious to those who work in sexual violence prevention and response, it represents a profound shift in how the wider public, and even those in corrections, view sexual assault in the context of prison. Rape and sexual harassment have long been considered an inevitable—or even deserved—part of the prison experience. Additionally, sexual violence is ingrained in the prison system, perpetrated (by inmates as well as guards) as a means of establishing and maintaining power dynamics and prison hierarchy.
The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) was passed in 2003 to address the epidemic of sexual assault in all corrections facilities, but comprehensive guidelines didn’t take effect until 2012, with the National Standards to Prevent, Detect, and Respond to Prison Rape. Finally, just this month, May 2015, the Department of Justice will begin to enforce those guidelines by withholding funding from states that are not in compliance. The National Standards specify that any confinement facility (including prisons, jails, lock-ups, juvenile facilities, and community and immigrant detention centers) must:
Adopt a “zero-tolerance policy” towards sexual assault and sexual harassment
Train both staff and inmates on sexual abuse
Train staff on effective and professional communication with LGBTQ and gender non-conforming inmates
Provide at least two internal and one external way for inmates to report abuse
Provide access to outside advocates for emotional support related to the abuse, and provide as much confidentiality as possible
Discipline perpetrators of sexual assault, both guards and inmates
Separate youth in adult correctional facilities and prevent unsupervised contact with adults
Provide access to support services for inmates with disabilities and limited English proficiency
Ensure inmates have timely access to appropriate medical and mental health services, on par with community level of care
While growing up in a rape culture, women are constantly told to follow the “rules” to ensure their safety. This list dictates what women should wear (nothing too short), what they consume (no drinks you didn’t prepare yourself), and even how they commute (never alone, never at night, and never in a “bad part of town”). Not only do these rules perpetuate a series of rape myths, they also result in victim-blaming.
Victim-blaming is a pervasive part of the trauma many survivors experience. Too often when survivors disclose, they are met with a checklist of questions, all centered on their actions instead of the perpetrator’s. Rather than focusing on the inappropriate and illegal conduct of the perpetrator, many will blame the victim for not adhering to the prescribed list of rules. The notion that any “disobedience” of the guidelines could result in or justify sexual assault is not only incorrect but it also discourages survivors from coming forward about their experience.
Victim-blaming occurs for many reasons. Some of it is rooted in notions around masculinity (“boys will be boys”), some of it in a general disregard for women’s bodies, and some of it comes from fear. Sometimes, people resort to victim-blaming to as an attempt to maintain an illusion of their own safety from sexual assault. In this case, it is easier to police the list of rules and insist that following them will prevent assault than to acknowledge the scary truth that rape can happen regardless of what the survivor does or does not do. But rape happens because of rapists—not the length of a hemline, or the amount of alcohol consumed. When people victim-blame, they distance themselves from the victim and keep alive the myth that the responsibility to prevent rape lies on the assaulted, not the perpetrator.
Sexual violence is a community issue that can be prevented! Bystander intervention is one way that all community members can use their problem solving skills and creativity to positively impact the lives of their friends, neighbors, and loved ones.
What is a bystander?
A bystander is a person who is present during a potentially risky or dangerous situation and does nothing to stop it. They are not involved directly in the situation themselves.
What is the bystander approach?
The bystander approach offers practical strategies for addressing a problem when you see warning signs that may lead to violence. When you’ve had the chance to think through how you might handle a situation and you feel a sense of responsibility towards solving the problem, you are more likely to intervene safely.
Some common steps that you may walk through as a bystander include (1) observing a problem, (2) assessing the situation, (3) taking action to intervene, and (4) following up with the people involved. One way to follow up may be to call the Center’s help line for assistance.
As a freshman in high school, I was required to take an introductory health course. Out of the months I spent in the class, there is only one lecture that I still remember. It revolved solely around the issue of rape and sexual assault. The first half dealt with your basic crime and perpetration statistics. It’s really the second portion of the lecture that’s stuck with me all these years. We were given a list of strategies for preventing sexual assault which included gems such as “don’t wear revealing clothing,” “never go out alone,” and “don’t consume alcohol.” From conversations I’ve had with peers, I’ve come to recognize that my experience was in no way isolated or unique.
Countless young people are taught, either through official school curriculum or through daily interactions with media coverage of sexual assault, that rape is a crime that can and should be prevented by the victim. In these lessons, the perpetrator is barely mentioned, much less held accountable. This strategy is problematic for a variety of reasons: not only does it make a survivor feel responsible for an experienced assault, it also creates an imagined ‘checklist’ in many people’s heads. “If a survivor didn’t follow all of these instructions, then what did they expect? Of course they were going to be assaulted!” Attitudes like this HAVE TO STOP. And employing accurate and supportive educational curriculum is one of the best ways to discredit these viewpoints.
Luckily, there seems to be an ever-growing trend of informed and sensitive ad campaigns that rely on principles of bystander intervention and enthusiastic consent rather than scare tactics, purity myths, and victim blaming. Read on for some of my favorite examples from around the (English-speaking) world.
The Center is an official “Partner in Prevention,” a nationally-recognized public standard to end child sexual abuse (CSA). The designation was awarded for our commitment to protecting children by training 100% of our staff on how to prevent, recognize the signs, and react responsibly to CSA.
The “Partner in Prevention” designation was created as a national standard to help parents and caregivers recognize organizations who take CSA prevention seriously by training staff and implementing effective prevention policies. The training and designation award is provided by Darkness to Light. D2L has championed the movement to end CSA since its founding in 2000 and now has education programs in 49 states and 15 foreign countries.
Rachel Valentine, the Center’s Rape Prevention Educator Coordinator, is a trained facilitator for D2L’s Stewards of Children program. In addition to training our own staff, she provides prevention education for adults across the Orange County community. The Stewards of Children program is especially designed for parents and caregivers of children. In the 2012-2013 academic year, Rachel trained 141 adults in proven child abuse prevention techniques.
As the leaves begin to change, sweaters come out, and warm beverages become the norm, make sure to remember National Domestic Violence Awareness month. Whether your discussion is over a pumpkin spice latte or while raking leaves, it is up to our network of allies, survivors, and advocates to raise awareness of interpersonal violence. It’s important that we talk about the wider implications of violence, prevention mechanisms, and how to be effective allies.
Initially created by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in 1981, DVAM is an opportunity to unite survivors, advocates, and community members. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines intimate partner abuse as “physical, sexual, or psychological harm by a current or former partner or spouse. This type of violence can occur among heterosexual or same-sex couples and does not require sexual intimacy.” Moreover, the Department of Justice notes that domestic violence, the pattern of abusive behavior “used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner,” extends to physical, sexual, emotional, economic, and psychological abuse.
When we ask kids about good touches, they talk about hugs, holding hands, and high fives. They often draw pictures showing how happy a good touch can make them.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of our education program to prevent child abuse in Orange County! Through Safe Touch, we have taught countless children how to stay safe and healthy. Research shows that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will suffer sexual abuse before turning eighteen. We’re working hard to combat this grim statistic, reaching 10,000 young people and adults every year through our education programs.
In honor of our 30th anniversary, please join our #30for30 Campaign! For $30 a month – just a dollar a day – you can support our life-changing education program. You can make sure the children in our community don’t have to keep secrets that hurt them. Help us inspire more drawings like this one, full of smiles and Safe Touches.
It’s simple! On our donation page, click “I would like to make a recurring gift,” and enter the amount of your monthly gift in the box underneath. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or comments.
Office Address: 1229 East Franklin St. Chapel Hill, NC 27514
Mailing Address: P. O. Box 4722 Chapel Hill, NC 27515