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As a brand focused on sexual health and wellness, it is important to talk about all sides of the conversation – sexual violence included. To preface, there is no absolute way to prevent sexual assault, but there are strategies to protect and potentially lessen the opportunities. From being aware of the risks to trusting your gut and stepping in when someone needs your help, we’ll look at several things you can do to help put a stop to sexual violence. But before we get into it, let’s define sexual assault (sexual violence) and sexual harassment.
Sexual activity when consent is not obtained or freely given. It is a serious public health problem in the United States that profoundly impacts lifelong health, opportunity, and well-being. Sexual violence impacts every community and affects people of all genders, sexual orientations, and ages. Anyone can experience or perpetrate sexual violence. The perpetrator of sexual violence is usually someone the survivor knows, such as a friend, current or former intimate partner, coworker, neighbor, or family member. Sexual violence can occur in-person, online, or through technology, such as posting or sharing sexual pictures of someone without their consent, or non-consensual sexting. – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature in the workplace or learning environment, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Sexual harassment does not always have to be specifically about sexual behavior or directed at a specific person. For example, negative comments about women as a group may be a form of sexual harassment…Although sexual harassment laws do not usually cover teasing or offhand comments, these behaviors can also be upsetting and have a negative emotional effect. – Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN)
In short, sexual harassment is unwelcome sexual attention while sexual assault is sexual contact without consent. Even though we’re differentiating the two, we acknowledge both are wrong and should never happen.
How Common Is This?
Sexual violence touches millions of people a year just in the United States alone. The statistics will never be completely accurate because so many acts of sexual violence go unreported, but here are a few for you to ponder:
- Over 50% of women experience physical sexual violence – according to the CDC
- 1 in 3 of men experience physical sexual violence – according to the CDC
- 1 in 4 women have experienced at least attempted rape – according to the CDC
- 1 in 3 women and 1 in 9 men are made to experience sexual harassment in public – according to the CDC
- Over 80% of women rape survivors and nearly 80% of men rape survivors experience it before 25 – according to the CDC
- Recent estimates put the lifetime cost of rape at $122,461 per survivor, including medical costs, lost productivity, criminal justice activities, and other costs – according to the CDC
While historically and statistically, women are unproportionally most often the victims of sexual violence, we also want to note that men can be (and are) targeted as well. In fact, the CDC and Department of Justice estimate that about 3% of men in America have experienced an attempted or completed rape. So, what can we do about this?
How to Prevent Sexual Violence
RAINN is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence network, and the organization has a best practice strategy for preventing possible SV known as C.A.R.E. According to RAINN, “if you find yourself in a situation where someone looks uncomfortable or something doesn’t seem right, consider one of the following ways to step in:
Create a distraction: This can be a subtle way to interrupt in a safe way by giving the person an opportunity to leave the situation.
Ask directly: Asking the person you think is at risk if they are okay or if they need help is a good way to determine if something needs to be done. Ask when you have a moment alone, so it doesn’t alert the aggressor.
Rally others: Sometimes you might not think you can handle what is going on alone. Don’t be afraid to ask others to join you so you can still ensure the person you are trying to protect is safe.
Extend support: Whether something happened or you were able to prevent it, the person might need some type of support after. That could mean walking them to their car or offering to listen if they need someone to talk to. Sometimes the smallest things have the biggest impact.”
Promote Social Norms That Protect Against Violence.
There are going to be situations when the victim cannot or will not be able to prevent an occurrence. This is when and why it is so important for any witnesses to step forward and help, such as RAINN’s C.A.R.E strategy. Even though you may not be directly involved, you do have a choice to interrupt, and it can make a world of a difference. Even though sexual violence can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time, from the numbers we know women are more likely to experience sexual violence/harassment. Because of this, men and boys should be taught how to be allies and expected to conduct themselves that way. For sexual violence to end, be part of the solution instead of inactive bystanders or worse, part of the problem.
Teach Skills to Prevent Sexual Violence.
Social-emotional learning in general can be such a positive for many aspects of life, but it is especially important for preventing sexual violence. Teach healthy and safe dating skills to teenagers so they have the knowledge, standards, and tools to act respectfully and know when someone is not being respectful. If teenagers know what red flags to look out for, they have a better chance of avoiding a situation they don’t want to be in. Promote healthy sexuality…comprehensive sex education programs. Enough said. Empowerment-based training is key to prevention as it gives people the strong mindset they need to know they can do something about the situation and that they hold power and can take certain steps to ensure their safety.
Provide Opportunities to Support and Empower Girls and Women.
Strengthen economic support for women and families essentially means there are financial/power imbalances between men and women that have been linked to risk of SV and if women gain more economic security, it can lessen their risk. Strengthening leadership and opportunities for girls can be so impactful as it grows their confidence and knowledge. This in turn promotes better results from education, employment, and other productive community aspects so they can, again, have a greater chance to lessen the gender gap that SV is linked to.
Create Protective Environments.
It is so important for kids to feel safe in schools and know they have support from staff, so improving safety and monitoring in schools needs to be a priority. The same goes for people at work–establishing and consistently applying workplace policies is crucial for employees to feel safe and focus on their work not sexual assault/harassment threats.
Support Victims/Survivors to Lessen Harms.
Victim-centered services are necessary for survivors to have the resources they need to recover and thrive afterwards. Treatment for victims of SV, such as therapy services, are also proven to be extremely helpful in the recovery process. Treatment for at-risk children and families to prevent problem behavior including sex offending will help in preventing violent habits and mindsets from forming at the source. When a person is prone to violence, they were most likely exposed to excessive amounts of it in their youth.