Back to From the Editor

A Change of Heart

     
 

This week I was going to write about how spring hasn’t quite arrived yet. Actually I was going to complain about it.
  Mid-writing, I received an email from the YWCA and it stopped me in my tracks.
  Anna Thompson, the Communications and Development Director at the YWCA, sent me a press release regarding April being Sexual Assault Awareness month and the statistics in the release made me delete what I was writing because I was so shocked by what was presented, I knew immediately that I needed to share the information with all of you.
  Nearly 1 in 5. That’s the number of women who have been the victim of rape or attempted rape. Look around your office, or your group of closest girlfriends, how many women does that include. Now think about the reality that there is a good chance that at least one of them has been the victim of a sex crime in some capacity.
  Not scary enough for you, consider this – nearly 1 in 2 women, and 1 in 5 men have experience sexual violence victimization other than rape. Take another look around your friends, family and co-workers. Hits a little closer to home doesn’t it?
  So what can we do as people and as a community to prevent sexual assault?
  We can educate both boys and girls about harassment and consent. There is a lot of information out there on ‘Teaching Boys Not to Rape’ and the basis of that is spot on, however it somewhat fails to protect boys and men if we don’t extend that education to girls and women also. 1 in 71 men have been victims of sexual assault, while that number is significantly lower than women, we can’t pretend that women don’t sexually assault men and not educate males and female equally. So here are some tips on how to ‘Teach Boys Not to Rape’ that I am going to adjust to ‘How to Teach People Not to Rape.’
Here is what boys people need to know:
1. Sexual harassment of any kind is WRONG. Unwanted comments about a person's body or catcalls on the street are not funny and they are not compliments. It can make a person feel threatened and has been shown to lead to anxiety and body consciousness. Instead of participating in sexual harassment, think about how rude or vulgar comments may make a person feel.
  Why: If we condemn sexual harassment, it will be clear more egregious sexual violence is not tolerated.
2. Consent laws. Consent means a person can freely choose whether or not to engage in sexual activity and can stop the activity at any time during sexual contact. In addition to the basic definition, it is illegal to have sex with a minor, so know the age of consent in your state. Also be aware that a person, not matter how old they are, cannot give consent if they are intoxicated, asleep or mentally impaired.
  Why: If someone doesn’t know the limits of consent, they may not understand when they’re violating someone else—and they may unknowingly rape someone.
  Yes means yes. When determining if someone wants to have sex with you, look for a yes, not the absence of a no. No one should ever pressure or talk someone into sex. While doing so isn't rape, it is unethical behavior. It's ideal to only have sex with someone who really wants to have sex with you, and vice versa.
  Why: In an effort to reduce campus rapes, a bill was passed in the California Senate requiring college students to make sure they have a “yes”—not just the absence of a “no”—before they have sex. Affirmative consent requires couples to communicate and make certain both parties are on the same page.
3. No one is entitled to sex. It may seem like everyone is having sex, all the time. But that is not reality. No one is ever entitled to sex with someone. That includes a spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend. You don't "earn" sex from being a "nice guy person" or spending money on a date. Sex is a mutual decision that both parties make on an ongoing basis.
  Why: A large, international study conducted by the United Nations found a pervasive belief among rapists that men are entitled to sexual experiences.
4. Alcohol makes things risky. Alcohol clouds judgment and lowers inhibitions. It also interferes with clear communication, and thus you may not accurately read non-verbal communication or hear a person's "no" clearly when you are drunk. Substance use can lead you to a decision you deeply regret. 
  Why: Among male offenders who rape women, 64% were using alcohol and/or drugs prior to the attack.
5. You can help reduce rape by speaking up! Some boys people harass girls people or make rape jokes to impress their friends. Most bystanders chose to stay quiet instead of confront bad behavior because it can be hard to go against the group. One study found that 80% of college men felt uncomfortable when women were belittled or mistreated in their presence, but they didn't speak up because they thought they were the only one who felt that way. By using your voice you can help spread the message that rape is unconscionable.
  Why: Campaigns that target young men to end rape and stand up to harassment have been shown to be successful. I think these campaigns are great, but should include young women also.