One of the goals for Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) is spreading awareness as a key for prevention. How can you become educated on sexual violence and make an impact in your community? Sexual abuse is not an individual problem, it is a societal, community problem that requires a unified effort to stop the spread. Below, strategies, tips, and ideas will give you ways to become involved in your community to prevent sexual violence.
One of the first questions we need to ask is: what is a relationship? Most people think a relationship is only romantic. Romantic relationships are meaningful, but so is the intricate weaving of our interactions with non-romantic individuals in life. Relationships are defined as the way two or more individuals are connected. Establishing healthy relationships in life is crucial to being balanced and whole. Sexual violence thrives in communities, relationships, and lives where unhealthy behavior patterns are tolerated, pushed aside, or dismissed. SAAM strives to shed light on the connection where consent is respected and encouraged. How do we, as a society and community, begin to tackle this concept? Educating our youth, talking to them about what is and is not healthy, and then empowering them to feel comfortable enough to practice consent.
Support Sex Ed in Schools
Most parents and adults are uncomfortable with the idea that tweens and teens could, and often do, become sexually active. As a result, schools are supported when they teach strictly abstinence-based sexual education in schools. It sounds like a good idea, right? In reality, students are less likely to become victims of sexual violence when they receive comprehensive sex education.
Education goes beyond how to be protected from STDs, STIs, and pregnancy. A comprehensive curriculum emphasizes consent and healthy relationships. The components of sexual violence stem from misinformation and skewed societal norms. Learning how to avoid unhealthy relationships empowers individuals to create relationships free of violence. Education gives you the opportunity and power to know what is acceptable and right, which then gives you the ability to speak up.
Healthy relationships are not defined the same, but most students are not taught that violence, in any form, in a relationship is not acceptable. If the individual also has unhealthy relationships modeled at home, their risk for harm increases. An excellent way to think of comprehensive sex ed is to compare it to a toolbox. Each individual needs to have the proper tool to fix a problem. If we are not equipping our children’s toolbox with everything they need, how can they be prepared?
Teach Consent Early
Consent is not solely about sex, but it encompasses the permission needed to have a healthy relationship-romantic or not. Young children explore consent in a variety of ways. They learn to ask before they take a toy from a friend, obtaining consent to engage in play. Essentially, consent is permission, and teaching children that they have a responsibility to obtain consent is vital to creating change.
Start by empowering your child to take control of their body. Having control over your body includes who can touch it what happens to your body. Allowing your child to deny physical touch is empowering. Once they know that if something is not ok with them, Empower your children to say no, and give them permission by respecting their choice. Hugging Uncle Joe when you don’t want to is not an act of defiance. It is an act that says “I don’t want to hug someone right now, and that’s ok.”
Talk About Sexual Violence
If we don’t talk about sexual violence, the effects, and the frequency harms society. Talking about it helps our society grasp that change needs to happen because when identified in communities, individuals can come together to support each other. Many people will say that sexual violence does not occur in their community. Perpetuating this harmful societal norm causes people who are affected by sexual abuse to feel shamed and unable to seek help. By talking about the resources available, the prevalence of sexual violence, and the path to healing, communities are strengthening their ranks.
Sexual violence does not happen in a bubble. Society plays a hand in the cycle, and to break that cycle, we need to start by empowering our youth to identify unhealthy relationships. By allowing them, educating them fully, and supporting their voice, we will change the way society handles sexual violence. Everyone deserves a relationship free of violence. Our children are no different. Change starts with them, won’t you join us in empowering and educating them?