And how can we help prevent it?
Simply stated, sexual violence is any type of unwanted sexual contact. We all recognize the actions of inappropriate touch and forcible sex as sexual violence but suggestive language, inappropriate jokes, verbal coercion or verbally debasing someone is sexual violence as well. Anything that makes an individual sexually uncomfortable, can be used to engage a person in a sexual conversation or act against their will or without their consent can be seen as sexual violence. And these are the key words, “against their will or without their consent.” Consent is both voluntary and mutual. It can be withdrawn at any time. Some of the reasons a person might not consent to a sexual act or conversation are: fear, age, illness, disability, and/or influence of alcohol or other drugs.
Sexual violence affects everyone. There is a social context which encourages sexual violence. This context is that of oppression and inequality which includes but is not limited to sexism or racism.
So how can we help to prevent sexual assault? The first thing we can do is to accept unequivocally that the victims are never at fault. We can model supportive relationships and speak up when you hear sexist, racist, transphobic, or homophobic comments. We also need to resist victim-blaming and believe victims when they choose to disclose.
Then we need to look at those social situations that encourage sexual assault to happen. This means making the connection between all forms of oppression, (racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, adultism and ageism) and sexual assault. Oppression creates an environment in which inequality thrives, violence is condoned, power over others is seen as normal and excuses unfair treatment and harm. We do this by assessing the risks in our community, promoting respectful behaviors, providing tools to resist oppression, holding those who harm others accountable and making sure appropriate treatment options are available.