Thinking Comprehensively: Preventing Sexual Violence

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.

Read the rest of the article at Everyday Feminism.

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An Eye for an Eye? Jerry Sandusky, Male Survivors, and Prison Rape

Trigger Warning: The following article has content that could prove triggering for survivors of sexual violence.

As the verdict was handed down that Jerry Sandusky, convicted child rapist and former Penn State football coach, would spend the rest of his life in prison, the twitterverse exploded!

(it’s notable that this came from a widely-followed sports reporter)

Now, I have to admit.  While I consider myself on the road to understanding peace through pacifism, few things make me want to inflict violence on another more than violence against children, particularly sexual violence.  It robs children of their innocence and scars them for life; any person that would inflict such violence on a child is seriously disturbed, and they deserve punishment.

But is wishing rape upon those who have committed atrocities the measure by which we should understand justice?

One of the great failures of our so-called “justice” system is that there are virtually no resources or effort put toward healing and rehabilitation.  In short, restorative justice is all but absent from the U.S. understanding of justice and punishment.

Now, Jerry Sandusky did some terrible things, and for that, he should be punished.  However, we also need to remember with as much empathy as we can muster that those who commit such violence against children are often doing as a result of their own trauma.  Perpetrators of childhood sexual abuse are significantly more likely to have experienced similar abuse when they were children, and they are often suffering from tremendous hurt and depression as a result.

Does this excuse their abhorrent actions?  Absolutely not.  But does punishing violence with violence, rape with rape, help anyone or anything?

When one of my best friends told me that she was drugged and raped, I told her that I wanted to beat the shit out of the man who did that to her.  Only later did I find out that such language only hurt her more.  One of the first things we were told when I was trained to be a sexual assault survivor’s advocate was, “Never introduce more violence into the situation. Even if you are angry and want to act in violence, to tell a survivor this or to act on your anger can often be tremendously retraumatizing or triggering for survivors.

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