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If a Friend Is Accused of Assault

April 22nd, 2014

What would you do if someone you know is accused of sexual assault? This is a question we may all face, possibly more than once, in our lives. We know that sexual assault happens a lot, and we know that most assaults are not reported. That means all of us know both victims and perpetrators, although, most of the time, we don’t know that we know them.

Perpetrators of sexual assault are among us. Sometimes they are our friends or family members or famous people we admire. It is painful to accept and difficult to know what to do when faced with that situation. Each of us will react differently, but coming to terms with how we hold perpetrators accountable for their actions is an unavoidable task for all of us.

The friends and family of former NFL player Darren Sharper are being asked this question by reporters right now because he is a well-known athlete and in the news for multiple charges of drugging and raping many women. Sharper’s high school football coach, Gus Allen, has a photo of Sharper hanging on his wall. Allen and his wife, Jeri, said they will not be taking the photo down.

“I don’t plan to take it down because that’s not the Darren we knew,” Jeri said. Darrell Jenkins, Sharper’s high school basketball coach, said, “But when (the allegations) first broke, I was just completely shocked. At first you want to say it can’t be true.”

This is how most of us would react. We don’t want it to be true, and, most of the time, the person we know is not someone we would suspect of hurting others. One of the most persistent misunderstandings about sexual assault is that it is committed by someone abnormal, someone not like us. When it’s a friend, this misunderstanding contributes to the belief that the accusation must be a mistake, or malicious, and we grasp for other explanations—maybe the survivor didn’t say no clearly enough, or is confused, or lying. This misunderstanding about sexual predators is among a set of beliefs and assumptions that allows us to sidestep the pain of holding someone accountable for not asking for sex, not respecting the answer, and not caring what another person wants.

There are very few false reports of sexual assault, so when someone discloses an assault, it’s important to believe them. Many people are working hard to change the world so that survivors will feel supported, feel able to speak out and tell someone, or report what happened. Our success will mean there will be more reports, more survivors talking about what happened, and therefore more of us will know perpetrators. If the accused person is a friend, it’s a natural first reaction to want to believe and support them. Just remember, you don’t know what happened but you do know that the vast majority of victims are telling the truth.

If you decide to remain a friend, you can still confront your friend about behavior and attitudes that contribute to sexual violence. You can listen, and be sympathetic to the situation without being sympathetic to perpetrators. Consider your own safety if you continue to spend time with your friend, and be aware of what you say publicly about the accusation and the people involved. For instance, publicly declaring the accusation a lie reinforces the myth that survivors lie about rape and might prevent someone from reporting in the future. It might be damaging to those who are survivors, confirming what they feared about not being believed.

So what do you say publicly? Here are some ideas:

• I don’t know what happened in this case but I know that sexual assaults do happen a lot.

• Nobody but the two people involved know exactly what happened, but I learned that there are very few false reports of rape.

• I’m just sorry that there’s even a possibility that something like this happened.

• This is upsetting for everybody, me included, and I guess it’s an opportunity to think about sexual assault and why it happens.

You may decide that you cannot remain friends. Our societal search for ways to hold sexual predators accountable must include methods beyond the criminal justice system. They must receive a clear message from everyone around them that their behavior is not acceptable, not excusable. Ending the friendship and telling them why is a clear message.

Sexual violence and abuse will end when enough of us learn what it really looks like and acknowledge that perpetrators are sometimes people we know. Predators are surrounded by the rest of us; even when we don’t know them, we can make it clear that disrespectful and violent language, attitudes and behavior are not acceptable and will not be supported.

 


Carol Mosely, Director
We End Violence

Alcohol Education AND Sexual Violence Prevention Education

March 6th, 2014

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

February 4th, 2014

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

Ten Years After Kobe: Sports, Sexual Assault, and the Media

January 9th, 2014

The current sexual assault case involving Jameis Winston has brought back memories of the Kobe Bryant case. They are both famous, elite athletes who are lauded for their physical ability. They have fans who will defend them beyond reason; in Bryant’s case, literally to the point of threatening death to his accuser. The media coverage of the Winston case, especially sports media, has been extensive. As the case progressed, I started thinking about differences and similarities in how the cases are reported and discussed, and whether anything has changed.

Ten years ago, Kobe Bryant was arrested for sexual assault. The ensuing media coverage and widespread discussion had a huge negative impact on sexual assault survivors, on advocates who respond to survivors, and on educators talking to the public about the problem of rape and sexual assault. The most damage was the silencing of survivors who were surrounded by media discussions and common conversations questioning the validity of the report and the integrity of the survivor.

The overarching theme from that coverage was Bryant’s fame and ability as an athlete. That’s why the case was important. That’s why the enormous amount of coverage and discussion. The same is true of the Winston case. It’s only important because his team was ranked number one in the country, and he was a Heisman trophy candidate. Students at Florida State University who agreed to be interviewed after the announcement that no charges would be filed were relieved because now he could get back to playing football.

The sports media emphasis was, in both cases, on legal technicalities. Reporters and commentators interviewed legal experts who know very little about sexual assault cases. They rarely interviewed anyone knowledgeable about these issues or these cases. Although there seems to be more recognition in the Winston case that these are difficult cases to investigate and prosecute, there is virtually no informative discussion about why they are so difficult, including no conversation or commentary about consent, which is the heart of the matter as well as the most common and effective defense.

Sexual violence is not a problem that can by solved by lawyers, and sexual violence isn’t really the topic in these cases. The important questions for mainstream sports reporters and the majority of fans commenting on those reports are: will he be kept off the basketball court or football field or baseball field and will he receive Heisman votes?

In the ten years since the Bryant case, the use of comment sections after articles and blogs has increased so it’s possible to spend many hours reading opinions. However the current level of discourse isn’t encouraging if you’re looking for signs of a deeper understanding of sexual assault. Here’s some succinct examples from the comment section following the Daily Beast article:

Michael Christensen: Ok let me explain how it works. If your a high profile athlete, you can get away with rape and if your lucky sometimes murder. Its been proven over and over. I not saying this guy did it. But look at big Ben. [sic]

Jacob Fisher: Also if you are a high profile athlete, you get targeted by people looking for “hush money”. Im not saying she did it, but look at Kobe. [sic]

During the Bryant case, Charles Barkley said star athletes are in a position to be maliciously, falsely accused. He didn’t point out that stardom also surrounds them in a sphere of entitlement. I have had a few chances to talk with young men accused of sexual assault. Several of them couldn’t believe it, were convinced they did nothing wrong even though they admitted to behavior that was clearly an assault. Why? Because they think that what they did is what every man does; they think that’s what sex is, and what women—or some women, THOSE women—are for.

Images and ideas that merge sex and violence, something that happens often in the world of sports, contribute to the confusion about what is sex and what is sexual assault. Think about the language that little boys hear early in their lives as athletes. Sexual terms are tied to scoring, to overpowering, to winning, and they’re all used to define a real man. That’s the only sex education some boys ever receive.

I’m hoping for the day when consent, entitlement, and how we teach young people about sex and gender are part of the discussion any time a high-profile athlete is charged with sexual assault.

 

 


Carol Mosely
Director, We End Violence

Military Assaults (and Solutions) Hold a Mirror to Society

December 4th, 2013

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

November 5th, 2013

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

On Rape, Alcohol, and Prevention

October 22nd, 2013

There is a relationship between sexual assault and alcohol. We all know that, but we certainly don’t agree on what it means or what to do about it. The discussion is not new, but continues to be newly discovered, recently by Emily Yoffe, who has a platform in Slate to reach the masses, and whose daughter is about to start college. Many people concur with Yoffe that it is common sense to tell young women not to drink to excess in order to prevent being assaulted. Many others vehemently oppose this approach because it doesn’t work, and contributes to victim blaming. It is difficult terrain, intellectually and emotionally. It deserves, and requires, passionate conversations.

We have a problem with alcohol and we have a problem with sexual assault, but they aren’t the same problem. Sexual assault is primarily committed against the most vulnerable—women, LGBTQ people, children, and people with disabilities. It is committed when someone exerts power over another by forcing sexual contact, primarily in situations that mask and protect the perpetrator. In the U.S. today, especially on college campuses, there is no better mask than alcohol. At other times and places, sexual predators are protected because their victims are enslaved, poor, incarcerated, or financially or emotionally dependent on them.

The vast majority of assaults against young women are committed by a young man they know and trust. It’s hard to accept that some of our young men are rapists, and especially hard to know what to do about that. It’s much easier to ask the women not to drink. But this admonition does not do what it’s meant to do. The belief that a survivor can control the behavior of a rapist by not drinking keeps survivors silenced, feeling responsible for a crime committed against them, and keeps the rest of us from two important tasks: holding perpetrators accountable and working together to prevent sexual violence by promoting equality and respect in our homes and communities.

Concern and fear and a wish to stop these assaults from happening should motivate all of us to think about solutions. Telling women not to drink might seem like the obvious thing to do, but why? Why do we focus on the targets of the violence and the method used to violate? Why are we reluctant to focus on the reasons for the violence?

One of the more thoughtful and cogent thinkers on the relation between alcohol, sexual assault and prevention education is Dr. Luoluo Hong. In a 2003 article, for the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, she wrote that her instinct as a scholar was to start by reviewing the research literature, but she decided against that because she believes the focus on alcohol has obscured the real problem: the agency of the perpetrator and the gender role expectations which normalize violence against women in this country.

Yoffe does rely on research in her article. Research clearly shows that, especially on college campuses, alcohol use and abuse often occur in conjunction with sexual assaults. Other characteristics of these assaults have also been well researched and documented. The perpetrators are predominantly male acquaintances of the victims, who are predominantly female and sometimes extremely intoxicated. What she didn’t find was evidence that telling young women not to drink would solve the problem. That’s because there isn’t any.

Yoffe is right that alcohol is present in a large percentage of sexual assaults. It is also a fact that alcohol is present in a large percentage of social encounters when there is not a sexual assault. Alcohol has often been used to explain evils of the world, so there is a pattern in place to make alcohol the scapegoat. Sex and alcohol and violence are tightly linked in our culture. Alcohol is an explanation that is much simpler and emotionally easier to accept than the fact that we are raising our children to think violence is sexy and sex is violent and boys are supposed to be aggressive and girls are supposed to be alluring but not sluts.

Further examination of the research Yoffe cites is revealing. The 2007 Campus Sexual Assault Study investigated perpetration as an “exploratory component.” In a 100 page research report, there are 4 pages about perpetration and perpetrators, including a statement that they are concerned about the validity of the perpetration data, and “doubt on whether researchers can credibly collect data on perpetration of sexual assault via any methodology.” They are concerned because they think some of the males surveyed weren’t truthful about their perpetration, and other males believed that what they did was not wrong. The study has a page of recommendations on educating women to behave in certain ways. At the end of that page are three recommendations for educating men, all of which are about telling men sexual assault is illegal and they are responsible for following the law.

This method is not working. We have been “educating” women to protect themselves from rape and abuse for centuries. Telling men to obey the law isn’t getting us anywhere either. We don’t need more volumes of research to tell us that some men are violent toward women. What we need is the collective courage to admit that we all contribute to supporting, or confronting, that behavior.

Another study Yoffe cites, has some information that Yoffe did not include in her article. “Overall, the characteristics of alcohol-involved sexual assaults and sexual assaults that do not involve alcohol are similar.”

Hong asks in her article: “Do we truly believe that if alcohol were to disappear from college campuses, rapes would cease to occur? The value system which is used to reinforce, justify and sometimes excuse sexual assault on the part of perpetrators – much of it ensconced in our limiting conceptions of masculinity and female sexuality – would still be unchanged.”

I have never met a sexual violence prevention educator on any college campus who refused to tell women that drinking to excess can be problematic. Most campuses devote enormous resources to telling all the students that excessive drinking can be problematic. This is risk reduction, it is not prevention of sexual assault. Prevention is changing the culture so that sexual assault is recognized, understood and no longer accepted.

-Carol Mosley
Director, We End Violence

Narrative engages us

September 30th, 2013

Most of us feel strongly that sexual violence is wrong, but the messages from popular culture about sex, gender, relationships–and especially consent–are confusing. Stories can help us sort through the mixed messages and connect our language and behavior to our beliefs. From the time we are children, it is the stories we are told that teach us what our culture believes and what behavior is acceptable. This is why We End Violence chose a narrative format for the online prevention program, Agent of Change.

Yale University agrees.

Yale is now using fictional encounters to explain disciplinary policies on sexual misconduct. Thomas Conroy, a spokesman for Yale, told the New York Times that “scholarly research and the experience of other schools like Duke University indicated they were an effective tool for communication.”

According to the article, the Yale scenarios describe fictional students in a variety of situations which are meant to help clarify the meaning of non-consensual sex. A member of Students Against Sexual Violence at Yale said her group wants to work with Yale administrators to develop more of them.

Narrative is effective for teaching because it is engaging. This is particularly important for topics laden with emotional and cultural baggage. A lecture about sexual violence statistics, or the damage sexual violence does to individuals, will not engage those who believe it only happens to other people and therefore does not concern them. But a story about characters who are grappling with these hard issues from different points of view will create involvement. A story can mirror reality, model behavior and language, and allow us to explore alternatives.

Students in the first-year experience class at the University of California at Santa Barbara played Agent of Change last spring. Here are a couple of their comments about the use of narrative:

“Compared to other trainings, this course provides social interaction about relevant problems in our college society, while
other programs do not. I enjoy the real life examples because it allows me to immerse myself into the situation and use
problem solving skills. Other courses are easy to bypass through the information and not take it seriously, but this training
makes sure you listen and soak in the information that is being presented to you.”

“Instead of just stating facts about rape, stalking, and violence the characters talked about them in normal conversations that
were extremely realistic.”

The majority of the students said the program was helpful. Many of them said they learned new ways to deal with difficult situations.

 Agent of Change accomplishes this by illustrating to students that their actions can and do make a difference and have an impact (motivation); that effective actions can be simple and safe (ability); and that there are numerous common opportunities in everyday situations to take action (trigger). Compelling the student to make a choice reinforces the lesson that each individual has an effect which can be positive or negative. Their choice is embedded within the narrative so they are shown a model of how and where their action can occur.

To read more about the theories used to develop Agent of Change, click here.

To see the independent evaluation that found Agent of Change is successful in challenging students to re-evaluate preconceived ideas surrounding sexual violence, click here.

If you would like to experience the program for yourself, send us an info request form here.
-Carol Mosely
Director, We End Violence

Why Agent of Change

August 26th, 2013

We developed Agent of Change to meet two basic, important needs. One, we need to reach students. Two, we need to reach them in a way that engages them, that shows how sexual violence affects them and what they can do about it. What better way to engage people than through the oldest form of human communication–a story. What better way to reach large numbers of them than through the newest form–technology.

Agent of Change combines the ancient art of storytelling with the new art of video games and contains the knowledge from our decades of violence prevention education. It’s a story that draws people in because they are a part of it. It’s called gameification, learning through interaction in a virtual world.

But no single method of education is enough to end sexual violence, and Agent of Change is not just an online program. We want to continue the engagement people develop with these issues as they play the game. We use all the traditional methods of outreach but these methods are enhanced because they can start at a deeper level of understanding. We’re also using newer methods, specifically social media. Our daily Facebook interactions and bi-weekly Facebook discussions continue themes of the game. Students can discuss the game further, although it’s not necessary to have been through it to participate.

In order for change to occur, we need to engage students immediately by giving them basic information at the same time that we show them how sexual violence affects them. We need to illustrate how we all do things to either perpetuate the violence or to stop it. We must give them the tools to understand what all the facts mean, and help them understand how everyday language can silence or support survivors. Agent of Change does this. Each individual who enters the game must confront their own beliefs–and biases–as they make choices. They have to think about these issues without consulting someone else, or being silenced by someone else.

I have used a lot of techniques in my years as a sexual violence prevention educator: posters, flyers, sidewalk chalking, info tables, class announcements, radio shows, presentations, and discussions. I have always been particularly committed to talking to people in person. I like to answer questions and ask follow-up questions, to respond to specific concerns, to directly counter misinformation, and to confront harmful attitudes and beliefs.

With all these methods there are limitations, the biggest one being the inability to get to that deeper level of personal engagement. This limitation is obvious with passive programs like posters, but it’s also a problem in presentations. If the group is large, the presentation can be entertaining and thought-provoking but not very interactive. With a small group, the interaction is dependent on who talks, who listens, who has thought about these topics before, who wants to be disruptive, who feels silenced.

In addition to the logistical constraints, there are time constraints. The necessity to cover basics like statistics and resources means there’s no time left to tackle the questions that would move us forward: “What does this mean for me? If I don’t rape, and I don’t know anyone who has been raped, then why do I need to hear this?” Agent of Change solves this problem by making it easily accessible, something that students can do on their own time and in private, so they can participate fully, instead of feeling peer pressure to do or act a certain way.

The first online sexual violence prevention programs ranged from awful to OK but were just screen simulations of what I was doing as an in-person educator. They were didactic, imparting facts and “truths” in about the same amount of time as most live presentations, and without the ability to respond to questions or misinformation. I was against them, and there were no thorough, rigorous evaluations to make me reconsider.

Agent of Change was designed to address all these limitations. What you see now is just the beginning. We will continue to make it better, more engaging and interactive. We have rigorously evaluated the program and the data is positive. We will continuously evaluate, and will make improvements based on those evaluations. This is the future of sexual violence prevention and it will help us move closer to our goal of ending sexual violence.

-Carol Mosely
Director, We End Violence

 

I Know You Want It: Objectification, Music Videos and Consent

August 1st, 2013

Talk about getting blasted,
I hate these blurred lines
I know you want it
But you’re a good girl
The way you grab me
Must want to get nasty.

                                                                                                                              “Blurred Lines” – Robin Thicke, T.I., Pharrell

 

I’ll admit it: I hadn’t heard this song until I watched some of the many parodies of it that have been floating around the internet. I knew that it was the “Song of the Summer,” but I tend to not listen to new music on the radio, and I miss out on most pop music until it becomes passé. After viewing some of the parodies, I knew that in order for me to get the joke, I needed to watch the original. So I did. Then I wished I hadn’t.

The video is, what has sadly become, a pretty typical example from that genre; a lot of nudity, objectification, and questionable lyrics. It was more graphic than most, but still within the realm of what has become normal. So I wasn’t too surprised. However, once I started reading what Robin Thicke was saying about his song, the video and feminism, I lost my cool.

When asked about what “blurred lines” mean in the context of the song,  Thicke answers that he wants to show how “women and men are equals as animals and in power.” Yet, his video shows exactly the opposite.

In the two different versions (one “clean” and one not), women are treated as props: they are all scantily clad (or nude) while the men are fully clothed, the women are controlled by having their hair pulled, one’s back  is used as a track for a toy car, and they are shown in compromising positions as their male video co-stars sing and move around the set like the women are scenery and not people.

As if that wasn’t enough, Robin Thicke has said in a recent interview that his song is “a feminist movement in itself.” I’m extremely curious to hear what branch of feminism he most closely identifies “Blurred Lines” with.

Most troublingly, is that Thicke knows it’s derogatory[1] and thinks the video is a joke about old men cat calling young women. He says that he deliberately chose to be as offensive as possible in both versions. It works. Women are treated as animals that need to be controlled, or they are being disrespected by having smoke blown their faces and being shot up with giant needles without their consent.

By obviously engaging in such behavior, and without showing any repercussions from such, I don’t think he’s successfully making a joke about sexist behavior here. If anything, he’s being rewarded for his bad behavior with support from his peers, Pharrell and T.I. If someone ever needs a visual representation of rape culture, this video is great place to start.

It’s not that I don’t like pop music (full disclosure: I listen to an embarrassing amount of Lady GaGa and Katy Perry), but I do take issue with music and imagery that treats women as objects, or worse yet, for whom consent doesn’t matter because they’re animals. The “I know you want it” line repeated constantly makes that pretty apparent. It seems to me that the ever-present “asking for it” trope isn’t too far off. Thicke’s argument that it’s a part of the feminist movement is really just the gross icing on the rotten cake.

Yet, the thing is so damn catchy. To be honest, I caught myself singing it as I wrote this piece. If there hadn’t been such controversy surrounding the song, I might not have really listened to the lyrics, and would have bounced around to it when I heard it at parties. Now I know better (you do too, by the way). Even if the beat makes me want to nod my head, which it really, really does, I’m not going to engage. When I hear it next, I’m going to turn off the radio, ask to hear something else, or share why I’m not getting my groove on. I won’t condone such an obvious ode to rape culture, and, if you agree, you shouldn’t either.

Thicke says that he’s seen the articles comparing his song to rape culture and that they’re “ridiculous.”[2] Is he joking like he says he is? “Sometimes a bad joke goes a long way,” indeed.

What do you think?  Let us know on our Facebook page or in the comments below.

 

 


[1] Robin Thicke on That Banned Video, Collaborating with 2 Chainz and Kendrick Lamar, and His New Film, GQ, May 7, 2013 (Warning: Link contains NSFW autoplay video)

[2] BBC2 Interview, July 8, 2013.

 

Written by Meredith Donin,  Social Media Manager, We End Violence


 

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