There is a parable used often in education to describe the reforms that are needed to better serve those students who are left behind or pushed out of our educational system:
A man and a woman were having a picnic along the river outside of their village. As they were eating, they heard a baby crying and, looking around for the source, saw a baby floating down the middle of the river.
The woman waded out and caught the baby and passed it to the man, only to realize there was another baby coming. The man ran to the village to get help, and before long, there was an organized party who were forming a chain across the river to stop the ever growing number of babies who were floating down the river. They saved a lot of children, but the number of babies was too many, and they could not save them all.
Then a young girl walked away from her duties on the riverbank and marched upstream. People yelled at her, “Where are you going!? We need your help!”
She replied, “I’m going to find who is throwing all these babies in the river so that we can stop them!”
Here’s the lesson for any social justice cause: If we don’t get to the root of the issue, all we’re doing is pulling some individuals to safety while losing others to the river.
In combatting sexual violence, undoubtedly, we must work to help survivors heal, seek justice, and find the “new normal” in their life, but that cannot be our only work.
We must prevent sexual violence before it happens. But how do we do that? What does it look like?
Expanding Who We Think of As Survivors
We can start by changing how we think about who experiences sexual assault.
In most prevention and response work, the focus tends to be on cisgender, straight women as victims and cisgender, straight men as perpetrators.
And there’s good reason for that: The vast majority of survivors are straight, cisgender women.
And with limited resources (especially in these times of austerity), those who work to prevent violence and support survivors tend to focus on that majority in order to best serve as many survivors as possible.
But to prevent sexual violence, we must acknowledge the incredible diversity of survivors and perpetrators.