The Quick Fix to End Sexual Violence

Caroline Burns is the Prevention Education Coordinator at STSM. Caroline recently returned from spending several years in Swaziland with the Peace Corps. One of Caroline's favorite parts of her job at STSM is working with colleges and universities on Title IX compliance and educating students on violence prevention.

One of the most frustrating things I have encountered so far in my work to create a community free of sexual violence is all the ‘quick fixes’ our society seems to have for sexual assault. We have all seen them in the headlines recently:  the new date-rape nail polish, self-defense classes that promise to arm you against even the most aggressive of attacks, the cute pepper spray canisters we can attach to our purses. I’m not saying that any of these things are bad or that you shouldn’t use them. By all means, protect yourself and do what makes you feel safe. However, fancy, new nail polish isn’t going to solve sexual assault anymore than the next fad diet is going to solve our nation’s struggle with obesity. 

During a session at a recent training I attended, one of the speakers made a comment that resonated deeply with me. It was one of those moments that make you want to jump up, raise my hands above my head and shout “Yes!” In talking about all the ‘quick fixes’ that we have for sexual assault, we are treating it as if it was an epidemic while sexual assault is actually endemic to our society. An epidemic is a disease that suddenly flourishes, affecting an atypically large group of people. The media presents these stories as if sexual assault is becoming rampant in our society and that this is a new and alarming thing. In reality, sexual assault has always been there at alarming rates. It is, in fact, endemic. It has been consistently present throughout time. We are just starting to talk about it more. We are finally creating a society where survivors feel that their voices are heard, if not by all then at least by some.  

So how do we fix a problem that is endemic to our society? Self-defense classes and nail polishes assume that rape is just a part of our society, and that we should be armed and ready for the next assault. Instead, let’s attack this problem head-on by addressing the aspects of our culture that allow violence to thrive. Change starts with each of us. Next time your friend makes a rape joke, don’t laugh. (You get bonus points if you tell them that you find their sense of humor offensive and explain why.) Take the time to engage friends and families in discussions when topics such as the Bill Cosby rape allegations come up at your holiday gatherings. Have that awkward conversation with your children about what true consent looks like. Speak up, speak out, and speak often. That is what we need to transform to a place where healthy survivors can thrive in a community free of sexual violence.