Stop Thinking Like a Perpetrator: 4 Ways to Better Support Survivors of Sexual Violence

Trigger Warning: Sexual Violence and Rape Culture

It’s been heartening to see the ways that sexual violence is being discussed more comprehensively and holistically in public discourse these days. More than anything else, the credit for this development rests with the brave survivors who are choosing to speak out and tell their stories while pressuring colleges, universities, and all levels of government to be more responsive to the needs of survivors.

From Know Your IX and SurvJustice, to brave individuals like Zerlina Maxwell, Angie Epifano,Wagatwe Wanjuki, and the countless others who are stepping up to share their stories, we’re witnessing a movement.

This movement has transformed many universities’ approaches to sexual violence prevention and response, and it has even made it to the U.S. Congress and the White House, with Obama standing up for all survivors of rape in a way no other U.S. president has done:

Yet whenever a movement for justice makes strides forward, there is the inevitable backlash.

You’ve got the Todd Akins of the world trying to parcel out what’s “legitimate rape.” You’ve got the Glenn Becks (or at least his employees) mocking people whose experiences with sexual violence don’t match their narrow concept of rape.

More recently, resistance came in the form of a “logic puzzle” of sorts from the ever-infuriating, self-appointed spokesperson for all atheists, Richard Dawkins:

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Fortunately many people spoke out powerfully against Dawkins’ “example:”

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These conceptions of sexual violence attempt to lay people’s trauma on a spectrum with one end being “shut up, it’s not that bad” and the other end being “legitimate rape.”

All this ends up doing is denying the realities and pain of survivors.

Simply put, this is perpetrator logic. Perpetrator logic says that the person impacted doesn’t get to say whether something was traumatic. The only opinions that matter are those of the perpetrator and those who defend their actions by writing off some violence as “lesser” than others.

Perpetrator logic claims that rates of sexual violence are exaggerated by feminists who define the term too broadly. After all, defining “rape” so broadly might actually mean that I’m a perpetrator of violence, even if it didn’t look like what I picture a rapist to be.

The impact of perpetrator logic, then, is the silencing of survivors. When you know people won’t believe you or give you the public and private support you need to heal, you’re far less likely to share your experience, even with loved ones.

When you’ll be shamed and questioned, you are far less likely to speak out publicly about sexual violence.

And when you know you’ll be treated like you’re the one who did something wrong within the legal system, you are far less likely to report to the police. And some wonder why rates of reporting are so low!

Collectively, we need to move away from perpetrator logic. We need to move away from that logic which attempts to define for survivors what their experience was, and we need to empower more survivors to find the healing they need.

Here are four important things we need to do in order to abandon perpetrator logic:

Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.

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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.