It sounds bad, but does this issue really affect me?
Yes. Sexual violence impacts all communities. Statistics show that one in three girls and one in six boys are assaulted before the age of 18 in Calgary; chances are you know someone who has been affected either directly or indirectly (Bagley, Wood & Young, 1991).
The repercussions of sexual violence are intense and far-reaching. Often, it negatively impacts our interactions with each other. Families and relationships are ravaged and survivors often feel ashamed & scared. Sexual violence is difficult to talk about —our communities tend to be silent about the issue, but this only reinforces its potency. We take precautions to ensure it doesn’t happen to us based on what we’ve read or heard, we internalize messages about sexuality and gender roles, we may even begin to develop negative attitudes toward sex.
No one wants to talk about it. Why should we?
It’s not surprising that people don’t want to talk about the issue of sexual violence. The stigma surrounding this issue often makes people want to pretend it doesn’t exist; that somehow, the idea is so awful or difficult to understand, it cannot even be explored. However, myths and misinformation about sexual violence thrive when not examined under the light. They create ideas and beliefs that contribute to an environment where survivors feel ashamed & guilty or even responsible for their own attack, where they feel utterly alone, unsafe, and cut off from the rest of society; where they may not even know how to access the resources or help they need. We need to talk about the issues, so we can start challenging these negative beliefs that keep sexual violence in the dark.
Negative beliefs also reinforce the idea that the survivor plays a role in his or her own abuse which shifts the blame from the perpetrator back onto the survivor. Since we know that feelings of entitlement lead to acts of sexual violence, we need to be willing to openly challenge & discuss these kinds of ideas when we hear them.
So why does this happen? What attitudes fuel sexual violence?
Sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia, ablelism, heterosexism… The list goes on. These beliefs dehumanize people by reducing individuals to objects or stereotypes. When people are stripped of their personhood, the severity of violence against them is minimized —in the mind of the offender and in the minds of those who hold the same beliefs. Offenders who feel they are entitled to harm somebody, do it because they don’t see the people they choose to hurt as equals, or worthy of being treated with dignity & respect.
Not everyone who holds beliefs that support inequality or prejudice will sexually assault somebody. However, sexual violence is a community issue and we must all take responsibility for the types of attitudes and ideas we put out there or allow to go unchallenged. Check out the Violence Pyramid for more information about how harmful attitudes aggravate sexual violence.
I want it to stop! What can I do to help change people’s attitudes about sexual violence?
It begins with recognizing that “humour” that relies on prejudiced stereotypes & rape jokes are harmful, not funny. That means those ‘blond jokes’ you thought were harmless, are actually doing some major damage and reinforcing sexual violence myths! A recent study completed at Western Carolina University determined that sexist humour can reinforce hostility & discrimination against women.
Take responsibility for your own language and, if you are able to, the language of your friends & peers. If you see films, TV, or ads that condone or make light of sexual violence, call them out. Talk about them with your friends; start a conversation.