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We End Violence is Honored for Our Work

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Laurent Claquin, Head of Kering Americas, Marie-Claire Daveau, Kering Chief Sustainability Officer and Head of International Institutional Relations, Carol Mosely and Jeff Bucholtz, co-directors of We End Violence

We are proud to announce that we were selected as the 2015 Social Entrepreneur of the Americas by the Kering Foundation.

Launched in 2009, the Kering Corporate Foundation combats violence against women. It supports NGOs and social entrepreneurs, and helps raise awareness on violence against women.

Marie-Claire Daveu, Kering Chief Sustainability Officer and Head of International Institutional Relations, said “The Kering Foundation is proud to support We End Violence: our jury was impressed by the strong expertise, leadership and strategic vision of its two founders, Carol Mosely and Jeff Bucholtz.”

The Kering Foundation says this about us: We End Violence provides an innovative model to raise awareness and change behaviors leading to gender-based violence. The organization is committed to creating a culture where it is safe for survivors of sexual violence to share their stories and heal; to change the cultural myths and norms of discrimination; to encourage men to see their role in preventing violence; and to build alliances that will empower more people to speak out.

“We formed We End Violence to push forward the movement to end gender-based violence. We welcome the support and involvement of the Kering Foundation in reaching that goal” said Carol Mosely, co-director.

We are honored and grateful to be recognized for our hard work and dedication to sexual violence prevention.

We want to work with you to help prevent sexual violence in your community. For more information about our services and products, please visit our website or send us an email.

Most importantly, we want to thank all of our clients for your support. We can only make change if we work together, and having the opportunity to work with all of you is our greatest achievement.

Thank you.

Affirmative Consent Education Moves Us Forward

This concept is giving a lot of people a lot of trouble.

“It goes against human nature,” a man told me while we were having dinner with several others. The new California law requiring affirmative consent on college campuses was being discussed. Just as he said that, a waitress arrived at our table and asked him if he would like a refill on his ice tea. He said yes. She poured the tea.

I stared at him.

“What?” he said.

I asked, “If the waitress had walked away without pouring your tea, how would you feel?”

“I’d be annoyed. I’d be confused.”

“What if you had said no and she poured it anyway?”

“I’d be annoyed. I’d be confused.”

“Yeah, that’s how most of us would feel. It would be annoying because you wanted, or didn’t want, more tea. It would be confusing because it was such an easy transaction, and her disregard for your choice makes no sense.”

Consent is not complicated. The word ‘no’ is one of the first words—one of the first concepts—that humans learn. That happens around age two. We all ask for and receive consent every day in a myriad of ways. Why is it different when it’s about sex?

Human nature? Well, yes. Not asking for consent for sexual activity is a cultural practice, a cultural system that has been instilled into human nature. It is rooted in entitlement: sex with women was the right of men and there was no reason to ask; consent was irrelevant.

We’ve evolved from our prehistoric days in almost every other way, but this one. Who does this benefit? Answer: the sexual predators among us. The belief that someone is owed sex has become ubiquitous and benefits all perpetrators, regardless of gender.

The man I had dinner with does not believe he is entitled to sex with women, but he perceived that this cultural practice benefited him because, as we discovered later in the conversation, he didn’t know how to ask for consent, and he dreaded being told no.

The time has come to connect the dots. No one is entitled to sex with another. Asking for consent is only difficult because we’ve made it difficult. Affirmative consent is redundant and the apparently necessary use of the qualifying adjective in this phrase is a testament to the confusion that surrounds this issue.

What’s the difference between affirmative and negative consent? One means yes and the other means no. It is currently necessary to use the word affirmative in order to counter the standard rapists’ argument that if she didn’t say no, or didn’t say it the right way, then it wasn’t their fault.

This argument has worked effectively for a long time to keep rapists out of jail and most of the rest of us uncertain about what defines sexual assault. Early in my career, I was asked by an administrator to try to do a better job of teaching young women how to say no. This was a well-meaning request based in the belief that the young men committing these assaults just don’t understand and it was the responsibility of the young women to help them understand.

But lack of understanding is not the problem and here’s a simple example to prove it: a sign on a Texas A&M fraternity house last year (a Yale fraternity did it a year before) that read “No means Yes and Yes means Anal”. Of course the fraternity guys did it to be outrageous and this kind of backlash is not surprising. But still, it shows why we need to be very, very clear that yes means yes and everything else means no so the predators and perpetrators among us know that the rest of us aren’t accepting this argument any more.

I hope we are in a cultural transition as we talk about affirmative consent and as we connect the dots between perpetrators and entitlement and the majority of us who just haven’t thought it through. That dinner conversation was a positive sign, as are the jokes in our popular culture about asking for consent for sexual activity, exaggerating how silly and awkward it can be. We’re working through the newness and someday asking for consent for sex will be as easy as asking for more tea.

 


Carol Headshot

Carol Mosely, Director
We End Violence

The “We” in We End Violence

Carol Mosely and Jeffrey Bucholtz started We End Violence in 2008 to develop and present innovative and creative sexual violence prevention education. We End Violence is a continuation of their collaboration which began 14 years ago at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Jeff and I began working together at a time of transition in the field of sexual assault prevention. Of course, the past 60 years has been a period of transition, but, it seems to me that around 1999, there was an even bigger shift. Years of activism and education had succeeded in widely establishing some awareness of the problem. Large numbers of people knew that sexual violence occurs, probably a lot; and were introduced to the concept that their assumptions about how and why assault happens were wrong. It was no longer a completely taboo subject, and new students weren’t shocked that they would be getting a presentation, a rape talk from the rape lady.

Finally, it was time for the next step and time to move beyond Myths and Facts. The majority of students believed that rape is wrong, but they couldn’t define it. And they certainly didn’t think it had anything to do with them. They thought it was sad and awful, but they would never be raped, or rape anyone, and there was nothing that they could do. It was a downer subject and they were glad that the talk would be short. For the survivors in the audience, these talks broke the silence for them in a small way, and let them know there was someone to talk to, but it didn’t help connect them to their fellow students.

At the time, our collaboration was a perfect fit for discovering what would work. Jeff brought a student perspective, a male presence, and lots of energy. I had years of experience, the long view of where we were headed, and—at last—the recognition that women couldn’t end this violence without men being involved.

The truth about why sexual violence occurs is simple but obfuscated by centuries of cultural beliefs and misinformation about gender and sex. Our job as prevention educators is to drag it into view. Turn the prism. Point out the picture in the picture. There is no rule or guide for how to do that; no guarantee that everything you try will work.

The Penis Registry got their attention, although it was much more amusing to the women than the men. It did make everyone curious. It shifted the focus from the survivor to the perpetrator without requiring a boring explanation about what it was designed to do and why. It addressed, in a humorous way, the fallacy of blaming a body part for a serious crime and made it clear that blaming men is not the goal or the solution. It gave them a way to talk about sexual violence in an everyday conversation.

This is how it worked: the student activists set up a table in a high-traffic area with a big sign that read Penis Registry. When the curious approached, they were told that anyone can register a penis, you don’t have to physically present a penis in order to register. This first step began the discussion of what is sexual violence. Those who wanted to register took a True/False quiz which had some penis-related questions but also basic questions about sexual violence. When they passed the quiz, they got a certificate, short and humorous but factual.

Many people did not stick around long enough to take the quiz or engage in much discussion, but those who did were transformed in their thinking and left with language they might use someday to help someone else’s understanding.

For some presentations, we put the word “slut” up on the screen in giant letters. It was unexpected, and elicited a roar of laughter and phones aimed at the screen taking photographs. Perfect response. We were not trying to make them be quiet and listen to us because we are the experts. We were trying to lead them to think about this problem in a different way.

So, why is the word “slut” up on the screen in giant letters? After the laughter subsided and the photos were sent, we explained. A word used commonly by college students but difficult for them to define. It’s gendered; about women and sex even when used toward a man. “Slut” is used as a joke and a weapon. It’s a powerful word that can have a serious negative impact on a woman’s life. It means she deserves what she got, that raping her isn’t really rape. It means she’s silenced, and if she does talk about it, she’ll get no support.

Did all the students in the audience get all that? Probably not. But most of them began to think about the word as they never had before.

The challenge for violence prevention educators is not finding ways to tell people what we know. The challenge is helping them interpret and articulate what they already know and then helping them move forward. We have done most of our work with college students and others of college age, such as military personnel, but the strategy has been successful with groups from junior high to my aunt’s cocktail parties.

Our collaboration has worked well because of our synergistic creativity. That is lucky, and we feel fortunate. What is not left to chance is our commitment to approach this as a woman and a man working together. Because, while it is important for men to hear from other men, at the heart of these problems is the reluctance, or refusal, of some men to listen to women. The “we” in We End Violence doesn’t mean Jeff and me. It means all of us, and it means women and men working together.


Carol Mosely, Director
We End Violence

The Backlash Has Begun

This enormous, amazing, and long-needed attention to sexual assaults on college campuses is making–and will continue to make–our world a better place. The national public attention to this problem is recent but the work that led us here has been going on for decades. It has been a difficult journey to get to this point and no change of this magnitude comes without resistance. Resistance was predictable, some is understandable, but we need to move forward with the momentum we’ve earned towards positive, effective change.

Backlash is actually a sign of progress. It happens every time there is a substantial shift that appears to threaten common beliefs. For activists and educators, backlash is an opportunity to improve our teaching. It’s the common beliefs about sexual violence that are hurting us all.

The fact that sexual violence is a gendered issue contributes to the confusion for many people and fuels the backlash for some. A colleague once said to me “You believe all men are guilty,” an assumption made because I worked with survivors who were predominantly female and assaulted by males. I know many other advocates have heard statements like that, or were affected by the unspoken assumption of misandry which dismissed their knowledge and commitment. We’ve made some progress, but that belief has not entirely vanished.

It is true that the majority of the perpetrators are male and the majority of victims are female and that is an important fact to consider as we look for causes and solutions. However, that is just a part of the story of gender and violence, and stopping there leaves some men feeling accused and some women feeling confused. Almost all women have men in their lives they trust and love. Almost all women know that every man is not a rapist. Stopping there keeps us from adequately recognizing female perpetrators and male victims and contributes to making those who don’t conform to these two genders invisible.

There is much more to the story of gender and violence. For example, societal expectations for boys and men to be masculine can push them into strict roles and behaviors that are unhealthy for them and the people around them. Think about the words used to bully boys and men–pussy, wimp, mama’s boy. These are gendered words and they reflect and support beliefs and attitudes that can lead to violation.

Aspects of the current backlash come out of that limited interpretation of gendered violence as a gender war between men and women. While sexual violence is a societal problem, the particulars are what affect individuals, which is why other forms of backlash are so intensely personal and can sometimes become legal struggles. Just as the Clerys reacted to the horrible assault and murder of their college-student daughter by working to have federal legislation enacted, many students today are suing their schools for not abiding by Title IX regulations. On the other side, some parents believe their offspring are falsely accused of assault. In turn, they will fight by opposing the systems and the movement they hold responsible, specifically through the system of adjudication which jeopardizes young men who face the possibility of expulsion from a college. And so, we’ve turned to the legal system for support and legislation to fix the social issue of sexual violence, lawsuit by lawsuit.

The legal approach is in some ways necessary. It is necessary that we figure out how to hold sexual predators accountable and do it in a way that also respects survivors. The way that we’ve changed the response to these violations via the law, policies and procedures is one mark of our progress. However, the problem of sexual violence cannot be solved through mastering the nuances of rules, regulations and statutes, or winning lawsuits—if only it were that easy. We all know the underlying issue goes far deeper than that. While changing law is an important step, it is still a reactive one, and only a part of the puzzle.

The biggest proven impact on both prevention and response is comprehensive education. Comprehensive education will build a wider and deeper understanding of these issues in our communities. It does not require people to read the statutes or understand the precise letter of the law. It is education that makes what appears to be complicated simple, cuts through the misconceptions and ignorance about sexual violence, and helps people to better understand the intent, meaning, and implementation of the law.

Sexual violence is gendered violence and it affects all genders. Knowledge and understanding of the problem will help all genders. Jurors will make more informed decisions on whether the law was broken. Parents will be able to talk to their children about consent. Asking for consent for sexual activity will not be considered weird, but merely something one does. Survivors will be more confident of being believed and receiving help. The sexual predators among us will be more easily recognized, and, as recent studies have shown, their peers will feel more comfortable telling them that their behavior is unacceptable and try to prevent future instances of violence.

Backlash shows us how far we’ve come and also gives us some direction for where to go next. Let’s move past emphasis and resources devoted to lawsuits and put our energy toward better understanding and solutions.

 

 


Carol Mosely, Director
We End Violence

 

 

A Leap Forward in Understanding Confidentiality and Reporting

Sexual assault is unlike any other crime. Survivors need—and deserve—help from those who have studied the issue and received training in how to help victims most effectively. One of the most integral components to a survivor’s well-being is confidentiality. The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault agrees, and their report offers an excellent explanation as to why this is the case: “if victims don’t have a confidential place to go, or think a school will launch a full-scale investigation against their wishes, many will stay silent.” In addition, “insensitive or judgmental questions can compound a victim’s distress.” Some victims require “time and privacy to sort through their next steps.” As such, campuses should “give survivors the help they need to reclaim their educations” such as “a confidential place to turn for advice and support.” We agree.

Many campus advocates have struggled to maintain and protect their ability to offer confidentiality. It should be a relief to everyone on all sides of that struggle to read the Department of Education’s clarification that yes, advocates are confidential resources. Confidentiality has been an issue partly due to the confusing collection of laws governing sexual assault and sexual harassment on campuses. It is also due to the widespread lack of understanding of the unique nature of this crime.

For centuries, the word rape was only whispered. Sexual violence was never openly discussed, rarely acknowledged as a problem, and then only as a sad and inevitable happening to a certain kind of woman. What most people knew was whatever they garnered from these whispers and furtive looks. Unfortunately, what most people know today is not at all accurate either, particularly those beliefs about survivors based on assumptions about how one would react if sexually assaulted.

In recent decades, activists and educators have worked to bring the subject of sexual violence out of the shadows and have public discussion of the realities of assault, increase public knowledge of the widespread problem, and support for survivors. The current national attention to the problem in the military and on college campuses is the result of that work.

Along with the advance in understanding of confidentiality comes encouraging progress in understanding the complexities of reporting. Ignorance about the unique nature of this crime was again a factor in the laws and policies—and interpretations of those laws and policies—used on campuses and in the military regarding reporting. And again the assumptions about how survivors feel, or should feel, contributed.

Many people believe that if they were assaulted, if a righteous crime has been committed, of course they would report it. The reality is quite different. When it actually happens, most people don’t report it. Survivors raped or assaulted by an acquaintance often don’t know what to call it due to the stereotypes and lack of education surrounding sexual assault. It can take some time for them to come to terms with what happened. Those that do tell someone, or report to authorities, are many times not believed and not supported.

A common assumption is that the only way to stop these crimes is to catch and punish the perpetrators, and victims of the crime have a duty to report to make that happen. But it’s not that simple.These cases rarely go forward to a conviction, not least because juries are comprised of people who have no understanding of the problem or knowledge with which to evaluate a case. Sexual assault is a societal problem, and we should not expect the survivor to solve it. We must all work to solve it and improving the criminal justice response is only a part of the solution.

The language in the Task Force report shifts the concept of reporting from the legal sense of the term to the sense of telling someone who can help with the survivor’s healing process, and now that someone can be confidential. It is widely understood by advocates and law enforcement that victims who are given time and informed support are much more likely to ultimately go forward with an official report and the criminal justice process. A campus must still take official action, but it is clear that the campus’ action can be apart from the individual case. We believe that prevention education is still the best action of all for learning communities to take in creating supportive, healthy places for their staff and students.

The language and explanations of the report are a huge leap forward for activists, educators and institutions. They offer hope that someday soon the need for confidentiality will not be as great because everyone will better know how to support survivors. And someday soon after that, sexual assault will be a rare occurrence.

 


Carol Mosely, Director
We End Violence

Bystander Training Good, but Not the Answer

Bystander training is one way, but not the only way, to prevent sexual assaults on college campuses. This was among the comments made by Annie E. Clark, founder of End Rape on Campus, when she was a guest last Wednesday morning (April 30th, 2014) on the On Point radio show with Tom Ashbrook. The topic of discussion was the report released Tuesday (April 29th, 2014) by the White House Task Force to protect students from sexual assault.

Clark expressed a note of caution when another guest, Inge-Lise Ameer, senior associate dean of Dartmouth College, touted bystander intervention as the most promising practice in prevention. In Hall’s opinion, it is more important to focus on primary prevention, stopping sexual violence long before it starts, rather than intervention in a public moment of violence that has witnesses.

The comments on the On Point website during and after the segment illustrate why simple bystander intervention is limited. The lack of basic understanding about sexual assault is obvious among the commentators, as it is among the general population of college students. This is a fundamental problem when asking people to step up and step in to a potentially violent situation. Without a basic understanding of what sexual assault entails and the ability to think critically about prevention, actions can be ineffective, or worse, they can be dangerous for the bystander and others.

Hall’s opinion that prevention is more important than intervention is shared by many, including We End Violence, and all other sound and thoughtful bystander training programs. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center has published a booklet on Engaging Bystanders that urges us “to create more engaging words and images” than bystander. They write, “The reality is that everyone is a bystander, every day, in one way or another to a wide range of events that contribute to sexual violence.”

We are all bystanders and we can practice prevention far beyond being a hero in a single event.

We End Violence incorporates bystander training within education that stresses critical thinking, basic knowledge about sexual violence and survivor support skills. WEV has accepted the challenge to “create more engaging words and images” by developing Agent of Change, a prevention program that moves beyond a limited bystander concept and teaches how to be proactive as well as reactive to the everyday language and attitudes that support sexual violence.

 


Carol Mosely, Director
We End Violence

Alcohol Education AND Sexual Violence Prevention Education

College campuses have a problem with alcohol and a problem with sexual assault but they aren’t the same problem. Nor can they be solved using the same educational theories and methods. The connection between the two issues is undeniable, but how we think about it, talk about it, and how we choose to educate in light of that connection are currently a challenge. The strong and differing opinions are based in a desire to solve both problems so let’s keep trying to find what works and quit trying to use patches to alcohol programs as sexual violence prevention.

Alcohol education on college campuses has developed and progressed over the past 30 years with the help of grants from the federal government and many other sources, including the industry that makes and sells alcohol. According to the BACCHUS Network, there are 26 federal grant-making agencies and over 900 individual grant programs that award over $350 billion in grants each year to study or educate about alcohol abuse. This money allows alcohol education to receive institutional support and dedicated campus resources. There are many institutes, councils, research centers, and coalitions that study the problem. The result is a great deal of expertise and understanding about student alcohol abuse, and there’s some indication that the educational efforts have led to a reduction in binge drinking. This is a good thing. Yet there has been no corresponding reduction in sexual assaults.

This should not be a surprise to anyone. None of this work on alcohol has studied sexual perpetrator behavior. That is not the goal. The goal is to help students understand why they drink and reduce the amount they drink. The hope was that this would reduce assaults.

We are now devoting much more time, energy and money to the study of sexual assault perpetration and the best ways to educate in order to prevent assaults from happening. There have been decades of work in this field, too, resulting in knowledge about approaches and methodology that are promising.

Sexual predators use alcohol as a weapon but it is only one of the weapons they use. They also use common beliefs about drunk sex and drunk women as a weapon, and as a cover, for their crimes. Predator motivations are power over another, and sexual gratification obtained by violating another. Alcohol is not a factor in these motivations; it does not contribute to the beliefs about violation. These beliefs and motivations are present with or without alcohol.

The alcohol industry however, does contribute a factor in sexual violence, not through the product they make but through the promotion of that product. One of their primary advertising techniques is to connect drinking and sex, and, for heterosexual men, to link drinking to obtaining stereotypically beautiful women. These advertising messages contribute to a culture that supports beliefs about drunk sex and drunk women and blurs the lines between sex and sexual assault. This culture supports the sexual predators who act on those beliefs. These messages influence some young men to believe they need alcohol in order to obtain what they want, and that using alcohol and obtaining what they want is what makes them a man. Some young women are also influenced to believe that’s what makes a man.

It is the culture that perpetuates sexual violence which must be explained and discussed with students. They need to understand how this affects all of us and what we all do to either support or oppose this culture.

After her talk at the Dialogue at UVa: Sexual Misconduct on College Campuses, Catherine Lhamon, the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education, was asked about the connection between sexual assault and alcohol. She was clear that alcohol abuse was a problem on campuses and we should continue to do all we can to prevent it. Then she said, “but sexual assault and sexually hostile environments persist totally independent of the use of alcohol and the culture change has to be focused on not assuming that alcohol and drugs are an excuse or a conduit.”

Prevention of sexual assault requires an examination of gender roles, discussions of consent, and yes, discussions of the culture that includes beliefs about alcohol. That is not alcohol education, nor should it be. The time is long overdue to treat these issues separately, to recognize the different goals, and to stop confusing students by telling them that ending alcohol abuse will end sexual violence, because it won’t.

 


 Carol Mosely, Director
We End Violence

 

State of the Union, Indeed

The President of the United States is talking about ending sexual violence.

Let’s take some time to think about that.

The President is talking about a topic that has been considered shameful for all of human history and whispered about in most social circles. Astounding. When I started my work as an activist and educator in the mid 1980s, we had to beg people to let us come talk about sexual violence. And now the President is talking about it on YouTube.

President Obama called sexual assault an issue that affects and involves all of us. He called out men to step up and model behavior for boys. But the biggest leap forward may be contained in what he didn’t say. He didn’t try to convince his audience that women don’t lie about being assaulted. He didn’t say that sexual assaults would not happen if girls would stop drinking and wearing revealing clothes and partying. He didn’t say the way to prevent sexual assaults was for women to learn how to say no.

He leaped over all that, expecting a level of understanding beyond victim blaming, beyond the myths and misunderstandings about sexual violence embedded in our culture.

Rape is about power, not sex. This is the mantra that feminists have repeated for 50 years and when you talk about a rape case that makes the news, something so awful that most of us have no trouble calling it awful, then yes, most people agree with that mantra. A case in which a man puts a gun to a woman’s head, tells her to drive to a secluded spot and rapes her—OK, that’s not about sex; that’s clearly violence, abuse of power. But a college man out for a night of partying who meets a college woman out for a night of partying, and then assaults her is a case many people don’t understand because they think that’s what sex is.

Some version of that is portrayed as sex in movies, on TV, in magazines, books, the Internet, and in everyday conversations. The confusion is further complicated by the gender role stereotypes for women and men such as the trope of women “asking for it,” when they go out and the assumption that men are “doing what men do.”

The President leaped over the mountain of cultural baggage confusing the issue. It is all right that he did. Dismantling that mountain is a job for the rest of us.

Progress comes in unexpected ways. Barack Obama didn’t speak about sexual violence exactly like Andrea Dworkin, or bell hooks, but the concepts, the reason he is talking about this issue, and the ways he is talking about this issue, come from their work, and the work of thousands of educators and activists, mostly women, over the course of many decades.

The support of the President is huge but, of course, doesn’t solve the problem. Let’s celebrate, and get back to work. There will be backlash, and turf wars, and thoughtful, sincere disagreements about the best next steps.

How can we better evaluate our prevention efforts? How can women and men work together in a way that doesn’t reinforce sexism? How can we use the power of law and policy without losing control of best practices and guiding philosophy? How can we hold perpetrators accountable while protecting the right of survivors to control and confidentiality? These are a few of the immediate questions. We will all approach them in different ways.

I won’t attempt a prediction about what happens next, but I’m looking forward to it.

 


Carol Mosley
Director, We End Violence

Military Assaults (and Solutions) Hold a Mirror to Society

The amount of attention being paid to sexual assaults in the military is encouraging. Acknowledging the reality of these assaults is the necessary first step. Being shocked and angry about that reality is the next. Now the hard work of finding solutions can begin.

It would be a mistake to look at assaults within the military and the response to those assaults as fundamentally different from what happens in the civilian world. Yes, there are particulars about military life that are unique, and some of those factors do contribute to supports for sexual violence and additional barriers to reporting. Those factors need to be examined and changed. But the root causes of sexual violence and the barriers to reporting assaults are pervasive. None of our communities have done a stellar job at either response or prevention. It’s important to note that the military hasn’t been any slower with these steps than any other segment of our society.

While there are some communities, such as the military and college campuses, where the problem seems to be worse, there are no communities where sexual assaults are not committed or where cultural support for these assaults don’t exist. It is helpful to study the particulars but equally important to consider the commonalities.

Sexual assaults are a crime of power. They are rooted in beliefs about entitlement and who does and does not deserve respect. They are supported by rigid gender stereotypes, and fueled by common language that confuses sex and sexual assault. These beliefs and the language used to express them are the main barriers to reporting assaults and a big influence on what happens when they are reported. Survivors of the crime hear this language and wonder if they will be believed and supported. Jurors hear this language; commanding officers and members of military courts hear this language. It affects their understanding of these cases. It affects us all.

The current military struggle to develop alternative reporting options for military personnel who are assaulted is similar to the struggle that colleges face. The institutional structures, laws and regulations that complicate reporting procedures are different but the fact that there are complicating structures that often collide with a survivor’s need for safety and control is much the same. The search for effective prevention is also similar. Telling perpetrators that sexual assault is wrong and they might be caught and convicted is not prevention. Both military and civilian citizens need basic information about why sexual assaults are committed, what they can do to help prevent them, and how they can support survivors. Perpetrators will not stop until a critical mass of people around them call them out on their behavior. One of the bright signs in the work being done now by the military is some willingness to look beyond long-held beliefs about prevention that obviously aren’t working.

During the past year, We End Violence has collaborated with a number of Air Force bases on prevention efforts where the involvement of base commanders has been evident. In his presentations, director Jeff Bucholtz has used the straightforward approach–including humor and popular culture analysis–that has been successful for many years with college students. Jeff challenges stereotypical assumptions and pushes the audience to think critically about the causes of sexual violence and how we are all responsible for both positive and negative contributions to that violence. This approach has been welcomed by commanders as well as the base staff devoted to sexual violence response and prevention.

The military clearly has a big problem and they are being pushed hard to solve it. Perhaps this will be the segment of our society that leads the way.

by Carol Mosely, Director,
We End Violence

Changing Our Culture

Sexual violence is often called interpersonal violence because it is committed by a person who has targeted another individual. The most direct harm is to that targeted individual, and the punishment—if any—is of the perpetrator. But it is a societal problem, not an individual problem. We are all responsible, and we all suffer. Preventing sexual violence is about us. It’s about the stories we tell, the language we use. Individuals commit the acts of violence but the community around those individuals raises them, teaches them, supports their behavior, rewards them, excuses them, and punishes—or doesn’t punish—them.

The Steubenville rape case is known for many reasons. Among them is the sympathy toward the offenders expressed by a CNN reporter in response to the guilty verdict. Her statements were jarring, but her sentiments were compassionate. They were well-intentioned comments, just focused in the wrong place. What is sad is not that the young men were receiving punishment they deserved; what is sad is they were raised in a culture that taught them it’s acceptable to assault a drunk, young woman, then brag about it and laugh.

Even after the facts of that evening were well known, the young men were supported, not just for who they are, but also for what they had done. They will probably continue to be supported for the rest of their lives by people who believe it was her fault, that the guys were acting like any young male might. Because they were. They didn’t behave that way because they are sociopaths. They behaved that way because the dominant messages they had received for their entire lives taught them that kind of behavior was acceptable.

Basic media education easily points out these dominant messages, such as emphasis on rigid gender roles, rewards for sexually aggressive men, and disrespect for girls and women who don’t conform to a narrow definition of feminine. It’s not the fault of the media, however. Media messages reflect us and our beliefs. Pay attention to the everyday language around you and you will hear common phrases about “boys being boys” and “what do girls expect when they dress that way.” Media messages will not change until the society that creates and supports those messages has changed.

Prevention of sexual violence has historically focused on the individuals most targeted. Girls and women have been told for centuries what they should and shouldn’t do to prevent being assaulted or abused. Prevention instructions are heavily gendered, rooted in sexism, and one consequence is that when males are victims, they are invisible. Another consequence is that when a woman is assaulted or abused, the ingrained first thought of many people is, “Why didn’t she prevent it?”

In another recent high-profile case, football players at Vanderbilt University were dismissed from the team after being arrested for the sexual assault of a female student. Just weeks after being charged with five counts of aggravated rape and two counts of sexual battery, one of the players, Jaborian McKenzie, transferred to Alcorn State University and joined the football team. Here are two ways to think about this. One, he has not been convicted, deserves a hearing, and to use his talents as a player. The other, the campus should have waited until after a hearing and should not welcome him as a prominent student if he is possibly a dangerous perpetrator. Either way, the focus is on one individual.

What if the conversation was about us, not him?

What if we talked about why too many boys grow up thinking it’s OK to sexually assault a drunk woman, and too many others of all genders and ages silently let them continue to think this way? It wouldn’t solve the disagreement over whether McKenzie has the right to play ball for another team, or whether his presence on campus creates a hostile environment. It wouldn’t answer the question about what we should do with sexual predators. It wouldn’t change the complication of our unbalanced obsession with football or the racism embedded in everything that happens in this country.

This is what changing the conversation would do: it would get us closer to the heart of the matter. It would help us focus on real solutions rather than handwringing about the inevitability of sexual violence. It would help us all begin to understand that our everyday words and actions have an impact either positively or negatively. We can learn to recognize those moments when saying something as simple as “I disagree,” or “That’s not right,” will make a difference. When enough of us begin to make these statements, the collective impact will move us toward a future where girls and boys grow up knowing that respect for one another is expected.

We can all be Agents of Change.

 


Carol Mosley
Director, We End Violence

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