By Lauren Chow (MNCASA Intern)
“It is not possible to treat, prosecute, incarcerate, or educate our way out of this problem.”
– Preventing Sexual Violence, MNCASA December 2009
When people hear the phrase “sexual violence prevention,” they often think of campaigns to raise awareness, speakers educating others about the issue, or tips for women on how to stay safe. This last one happens less often now – people usually (but not always!) know not to blame or put responsibility on the victim – but in reality, all three of these will not prevent sexual violence. They may be an important first step to prevention, but they cannot function on their own.
We must stop sexual violence before it happens.
This usually takes the form of a public health approach, which involves going to the root causes of sexual violence and changing those, instead of trying to fix an already existing problem. This is called primary prevention. Those root causes involve society’s ideas about things like gender and power, which we could spend all day talking about. Regardless, it’s much harder to measure how much a social norm has changed, rather than a concrete number like how many callers a rape crisis center got in a year. And it’s harder to grab onto in general, really – who goes around saying “for my job, I change how society thinks about gender and how that manifests in the form of violence”? (Although that would be pretty awesome.) But it’s the only way to truly stop sexual violence from happening. It may be a long, long road uphill, but the sooner we all understand the role of primary prevention, the sooner we can begin that journey.
Self defense classes, while empowering, are not prevention. Sharing that link about sexual violence on Facebook to “raise awareness,” as nice as it is, is not prevention. Even providing medical/counseling services for rape victims is not prevention – it only fixes a problem that’s already happened. Let’s look past the quick fixes and ask, what will it take to create a long term solution?
That’s where you can help. Every little bit you do to help change the rape culture that exists in our society, whether it’s speaking up when someone makes a rape joke or organizing to pass a policy that will create long-term change for all people, can help move the needle just that much more. (You can even tell us about your successes and we’ll publish it!) Let’s work together to truly prevent sexual violence.