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Sexual Assault Awareness Month 2016: Talking Points on How to Move from Awareness to Prevention

Awareness is important; it is an unfortunate fact that many people do not realize the severity and commonality of sexual violence in our communities. People should be aware. We also know that people being aware of sexual violence does not necessarily increase prevention of sexual violence. Statistics showing the prevalence of sexual violence can paralyze people and make them feel like sexual violence is inevitable. News stories which focus more on the victim’s actions than the perpetrator’s actions can lead to only thinking in terms of risk reduction (as well as victim blaming). Many of you will be responding to media outlets during SAAM; this is such an exciting opportunity! As experts in the topic, it is your job to help reframe and include narratives that make prevention accessible and clear.  When preparing for a press release talking points can be incredibly helpful. CALCASA provides some great tips for developing effective talking points on page 12 of their SAAM Toolkit. If you are looking for some grounded examples of talking points NSVRC’s website has many examples; including this oneon Bill Cosby.

So now that we know a bit more about talking points, how do we move the conversation from awareness to prevention? Here are few basics to keep in mind when making your talking points or while being interviewed.

1.)    Make an effort to mention prevention and provide a concrete example of what that may look like.

Example: Prevention of sexual violence is possible. Small actions matter. In our daily lives we can intervene when we witness concerning behaviors and model healthy attitudes and relationships.

2.)    When faced with a challenging statistic, go back upstream.

Example: Yes, it is true that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 16 men will be sexually assaulted while in college. This is why it is imperative to start education about consent and healthy relationships early on, so when students get to college respecting one’s sexual boundaries is a core belief and practice.

3.)    When someone asks what survivors can do to protect themselves, acknowledge this and then talk about the person who caused the harm.

Example: Of course we all want our daughters to be safe, and there are some steps that could potentially reduce the risk of sexual violence. However, the real issue is that there even in a risk. We need to start talking to the people who are harming our daughters, which are often our sons. Promoting healthy masculinity and talking about consent with our boys is so important.

4.)    If someone makes a statement that is risk reductionist or service based, and you want to talk about prevention, go back upstream as well.  

Example: It is shocking how many LGBTQ youth are forced to use survival sex to find housing. And yes, absolutely more housing is needed. Even more, however, we need to begin to remove the hateful and harmful belief systems society, and therefore often parents of these youth,  hold that forces the youth out of the home in the first place.

5.)    Remind people that prevention of sexual violence must focus on community and society level involvement, and not only look at the behaviors of individuals.

Example: Sexual violence prevention is a community effort, we need to begin by changing the way our community thinks about sexual violence. If we create an environment where sexual violence and harassment of all people is not tolerated, we will see a shift.

6.)    When asked how can sexual violence be prevented, mention best practices.

Example: We are learning a lot about the most effective ways to prevent sexual violence before it ever happens. More best practices continue to emerge as we further our research in the area including education on consent, bystander intervention, and addressing traditional gender norms.