It is important not to call awareness programs “prevention.” Prevention programming will strive to change the gender dynamics and social norms that condone and support gender based violence. Prevention programming will primarily be aimed at boys and will seek to counter the cultural messages that support the objectification of women, genderqueer and nonbinary individuals, and idealization of violence, entitlement and masculinity (See Rape Culture). Though it is helpful to build awareness about sexual assault and relationship abuse and provide women, girls, gender-expansive youth, and nonbinary individuals with safety tips, it is imperative to remember that this awareness building is not the same as prevention. Prevention requires addressing the root causes of relationship abuse and sexual assault. Prevention must acknowledge that the vast majority of relationship and sexual violence is perpetrated by men and must address the factors that cause men to commit gender based violence.
Examples of Awareness:
- Tip sheets including: “watch your drink at parties because of roofies”, “use a buddy system on nights out and check in with your friends”, etc.
- Training on the warning signs of relationship abuse
- Training on how to help a friend who has experienced sexual assault or domestic violence
- Self defense classes
Examples of Prevention:
- Training men on how to intervene as a bystander and hold peers accountable when they witness relationship abuse and/or sexual assault
- Adult men mentoring young boys on how to have healthy relationships
- Training boys on how to recognize the promotion of problematic notions of masculinity and the objectification of women, genderqueer, and nonbinary individuals in the media
- Information for parents on how to talk to their adolescents about healthy dating relationships
While many women, genderqueer and nonbinary individuals may enjoy and feel empowered by self-defense training or activities aimed to improve self-confidence, these types of programming do not address the root causes of relationship abuse or sexual assault. When we frame this programming as “prevention,” we imply that an individuals choices and actions leave them partially to blame for the violent crimes committed against them. The concept that womxn should be able to prevent violence from men by changing their behaviors or clothing only empowers perpetrators (those who choose to do harm) to continue committing violent acts. Suggesting that women, genderqueer and nonbinary people suffer high rates of relationship abuse and sexual violence due to a lack of confidence or courage unfairly blames them and shifts the focus of prevention discourse away from the true root of gender based violence: toxic masculinity, rape culture, and lack of accountability for perpetrators. Acknowledge that gender based violence is the result of the perpetrator’s choice to abuse, and use that frame to guide your recommendations for reducing the prevalence of relationship abuse and sexual assault.