By Jessica Peacock, BSW
Clinical Intern at healingSPACE, YWCA Bergen
Our culture of violence has been passed down from generation to generation, yet there are faulty stereotypes and myths regarding what constitutes rape and what a rapist looks like. Our media and culture seemingly offer a “how to” manual on warding off sexual offenders, through their sometimes-subtle and usually not-so-subtle portrayals. Women and children know these tips all too well: walk with your girlfriends, carry mace, don’t talk to strangers, avoid back alleyways… Rather than providing a plethora of tips for women and children to do the work of warding off perpetrators, our culture that accepts violence needs a change for the better.
We need a paradigm shift, one in which education and prevention are at the forefront of the battle against violence. Adolescents and adults need the facts and statistics that will illustrate the truth about sexual violence more accurately. This type of violence can happen to anyone, and it will most likely be perpetrated by someone known to the victim – in fact, assailants are known to survivors in 80% of assaults. “Stranger danger” is the least probable form of violence to occur, which highlights the need for correct information through education.
Education efforts should not overlook the mass media, which could be considered a primary promotion vehicle of incorrect sexual violence myths and stereotypes. If the media worked to represent correct information about sexual violence to our youth, this battle could be fought head-on. This type of teaching would have a ripple effect, in that it could positively change self-image stereotypes, self-esteem in young women, increase access to services and, ultimately, decrease acts of sexual violence.
Instead of teaching women and children how to ward off sexual predators, society needs to teach everyone that offenders are known to the survivor, that men should take responsibility for the ways in which they might take advantage of women, and that the focus of healing needs to be on the survivor. Without this education, women are burdened with being the “guardians of our chastity,” and they internalize oppression that belies the notion that the offender is the real issue. Empowering messages and proactive education movements are needed in order to rectify the oppressive culture of misogyny. It’s time to hold society accountable for preventing sexual violence and educating the populace, instead of sweeping it under the rug.
Jessica Peacock is a clinical social work intern with healingSPACE, pursuing her passion for assisting and advocating on behalf of survivors of sexual violence. Jessica graduated from Ramapo College with a Bachelor’s in Social Work, and completed internships with Shelter Our Sisters and the Bergen County Jail.
This post is part of the YWCA Week Without Violence™ 2013 Blog Carnival. We invite you to join the dialogue! Post your comment below, share your story and follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #ywcaWWV.