Be an advocate — Fight against sexual violence

Sexual violence is prevalent around the world and right here in our community. It’s a problem we all must address and the first step is becoming an advocate.

No one except the perpetrator is at fault for an act of sexual violence. However, we all play a role in how our culture views these acts and supports survivors. Survivors of sex crimes are often scarred for the rest of their lives, dealing with heightened anxiety or having difficulty trusting relationships. Unfortunately, survivors are sometimes made to feel guilty for what happened to them.

As a society, we need to change this. Stand up to prevent sexual violence and support survivors.

Heightened awareness

Sexual violence knows no boundaries. Sometimes the perpetrator knows the victim and sometimes they don’t. Survivors are women and men of all cultures, though underrepresented groups such as people of color or members of the LGBTQ community are even more likely to be victimized. It happens to children and it happens to adults. It doesn’t matter how someone identifies, whether they had alcohol, what they were wearing or if “they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.” No one deserves to become a victim of sexual violence.

As a champion for survivors, it’s important to recognize the many scenarios in which sexual violence occurs. When advocates discuss sexual assaults by only using certain scenarios as examples — such as stranger rape or women survivors — they misrepresent the prevalence of the crime. Doing so can perpetuate the idea that some forms of sexual violence are not “bad enough.” Always make sure to use language that includes all survivors.

Further, never make assumptions about perpetrators’ identities. Statistically speaking, men are far more likely to be perpetrators of sexual violence. This should be rightly addressed. However, when we assume a perpetrator is a man, we are not only using stereotypes to place undue guilt but we may be telling the victim if a man didn’t do it, it wasn’t “bad enough.”

Any form of victim blaming is unacceptable. For example, “they shouldn’t have been walking alone at night” says that somehow it’s the survivor’s fault someone decided to attack them. Further, it totally disregards that many sexual assaults happen in homes or other places that are supposed to be safe — imagine telling those survivors they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sure we can provide safety tips, but stop blaming victims for the hellacious acts they’ve been through. Start working to prevent sexual misconduct.

Talk about it

With inclusive language in mind, awareness is all about opening discussions. Listen to survivors’ stories and how they were impacted. Talk about intervening as a bystander or when you hear someone blaming a survivor. Tell people that sexual violence is never OK and no one’s “asking for it.” Don’t act as though it rarely happens because it does — all too often. Ensure that people know how to gain consent.

At its core, consent is simple — but our society has confused it. Consent means asking and gaining permission from the other person to engage in a sexual act. Yes means yes. No means no — not keep trying. Consent cannot be gained when a person is unconscious or under the influence. Consent must be obtained whether you just met the person or have been in a relationship for years.

There’s a video that compares consent to offering someone tea. If you offer someone a cup of tea and they say no, you don’t force it on them and you don’t get mad at them. Everyone has the right to accept or refuse an offer for tea. The same is true for sex. If you have a couple minutes, watch the video.

We need more of these conversations in our schools, in our workplaces and in our homes. Believe survivors and offer to help them get resources. Donate to organizations that help provide for survivors. Be an advocate.