By Rick Azzaro, LCSW, Chief Services Officer
In a time of broad and pervasive disagreement on a variety of social issues, most of us agree that all forms of sexual violence are despicable. Most of us are not rapists or child sexual predators. Most of us don’t believe that we will be a victim of sexual assault. We also don’t believe our family or friends will fall prey.
Yet all of us will know a victim, and all of us are susceptible to the influence of a rape culture in which prevalent attitudes, norms, practices and media excuse, tolerate or even condone sexual violence.
We are barraged by media voyeurism in which the coach molests boys, the high school students rape a girl, the clergy molest and cover up, the college turns a blind eye to rape accusations, the scout leader is indicted, and politicians state that pregnancy does not result from rape or sexual assault does not happen on our college campuses.
The names change and we witness it all once again.
Dante wrote over 700 years ago, “The lower levels of hell are reserved for those, who in time of moral crisis remain neutral.”
So what do we do to stop this ferocious expanding cycle that leaves millions of victims in its wake and erodes our community, culture and character?
For a long time, the default action was teaching our daughters how not to get raped. Discussions revolved around not drinking too much and not wearing clothing that might seem “inviting.”
All of these discussions place the burden solely on girls, while assuming that a male urge toward rape is unavoidable. When we frame rape as inevitable, we devalue our sons and remove all responsibility.
Is it a sufficient violence prevention strategy to encourage individuals to learn to dodge a bullet?
Our propensity to “blame the victim” for the sexual assault continues to be an indicator that we are not fully aware of the issue and its many dynamics and are not fully engaged in a comprehensive prevention strategy.
If we think that an individual can shape and decide his own future, then we must believe in the individual’s responsibility for his own actions and in the possibility that a person can grow and change.
In order to comprehensively address the atrocities of sexual violence, we must teach safety, increase awareness, and, above all else, transform our culture.
We need to educate our boys.
Here are six ways you can educate people in your life about preventing sexual assault:
- Rape is not a women’s issue. It is largely perpetrated by men and impacts, on many levels, men, women, children and families. It is a human issue. Every two minutes someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted.
- Stop blaming victims. Hold yourself, your family, and your community accountable for violence. We have a tendency to blame the victim. What was she wearing? Was she asking for it? The reality is that a victim is not to blame for his/her sexual assault. No one has permission to violate another individual. 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail.
- The act of rape/sexual assault is just the beginning and can have lasting consequences. Have empathy, support and admiration for victims who find themselves on the often difficult journey to recovery. Sexual assault is much more than a physical act. Victims of rape and sexual assault are commonly tormented long after the act or acts of rape and sexual assault transpire. During and in the aftermath of sexual violence, many victims feel a fracture to their personal sense of identity. They often feel great shame, powerlessness, betrayal, loneliness and devalued. It is not uncommon for victims to resort to maladaptive coping strategies to manage. These include, but are not limited to: substance abuse, promiscuity, self injury, suicide, high risk behaviors and problematic interpersonal relationships. Show your support to programs that provide services to victims.
- Re-examine and re-define what we teach boys about masculinity. Violence is not strength. Teach the importance of empathy, respect for all, personal responsibility, moral fortitude and self-worth. These attributes will make them “real” men.
- Teach healthy sexuality and consent. Sex is a good thing between consenting individuals. An intoxicated individual cannot consent. We need to open up discussions with our youth about healthy sexuality, healthy relationships, consent and respect. If we fail to provide accurate and positive information, we can expect unhealthy and misinformed sexuality.
- Challenge normalizing attitudes and behaviors that foster rape culture. Understand how our media objectifies, minimizes and sensationalizes. Don’t be a voyeur to violence. Practice bystander intervention and speak up when you see someone is at risk or is being victimized.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Please join your local YWCA and the Victim Assistance Center of the YWCA York in our efforts to raise awareness about sexual violence and to provoke a new dialogue of change for a new and existing generation.
If you or someone you know is in need of services, please contact The National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.
Learn more about the YWCA York and their programs related to Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and visit them on Facebook.
Rick Azzaro has over 20 years of experience working with children and families. In the capacity of clinician, administrator and trainer, he has collaborated with the mental health community, government agencies, law enforcement and the educational system. He has received his master’s degree in clinical social work at the University of Maryland. He has served in a variety of leadership positions in both Maryland and Pennsylvania. Rick is dually licensed in the States of Pa and MD as a clinical social worker.
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