Sunday, March 01, 2009

Listen and Lead Sexual Violence Prevention: Part 2

In part 1, I focused on current legislative action and how citizens can immediately take positive action which will communicate to their representatives that fighting and preventing sexual violence is a priority which is a sound investment even in these tough economic times. I encouraged Minnesotans to contact our governor and their state legislators.

If you didn't follow the link in part 1 to the video of the health committee's meeting on Feb. 11, 2009, please take the time to do so. The insights available will be useful no matter what state or country you live in.

With an economic cost of $8 billion for 2005 sexual assaults in Minnesota alone, fulling funding services to victims and providing funds for sexual violence prevention is a fiscally responsible move. Failure to prevent sexual violence is expensive in more than the emotional cost. It has a major economic impact which we as a society can no longer afford to ignore.

This information is useful reference material for those in other states and countries and I recommend that everyone who is interested in more effective systems related to sexual assault to contact your legislators referencing these resources.

In part 2, I will focus on 2 actions people can take with an emphasis on Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MNCASA)'s plans for Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Too often the rape apologists are the ones who are most active in spreading awareness of their beliefs about who they believe to be non-credible and which rapes should not be treated as real rapes. Their message is that rape is based not on the experience of the victim but is based solely on the experiences of alleged rapists.

This gives us assessments of rape allegations which ignore the reality of whether someone was raped (didn't legally and freely consent) and instead assesses rape allegations by comparing alleged rapists to those rapists perceived as the worst rapists. Is he a monster many people would love to see put to death for his crimes? No? Then he's not a real rapist.

So-called real rapists are men who abduct strangers (most often little children) off the street. If a rapist assumed someone in a social setting was consenting and therefore felt entitled to proceed when there was no genuine consent that person in their eyes is not a sex criminal -- because their actions pale in comparison to the most brutal rapists -- and if they are convicted of a sex crime they have been wrongfully convicted. These apologists incorrectly call actions based on entitlement misunderstandings.

Some of the apologists are against all forms of sexual exploitation, but feel that there is no choice legally but to judge rapes in this way. These people have been conned.

This entitlement is no more excusable or non-criminal than the entitlement felt by white-collar criminals who set up Ponzi schemes to defraud investors of their life savings. These people aren't non-criminal merely because they weren't wearing ski masks as they committed their crimes or because they didn't force someone to hand over their money.

A thief at a convenience store who leaps across the counter to snatch bills from the cash register may do far less financial damage than the accountant who embezzles from that same convenience store. Most of us understand this reality while many people refuse to acknowledge the same reality when it comes to sex crimes. Sex criminals can use trust, deception and their position of power to commit crimes that are just as serious as the crimes committed by random strangers. They can find ways to commit these crimes without being perceived by everyone as a thug.

Intentional and conned rape apologists deny most rapes and by doing so they help the majority of rapists rationalize away their legal culpability. This effort provides fertilizer for rapists which naturally increases the number of rape attempts.

Those of us who don't want to support any rapes need to recognize this fertilizer for what it is. Bull crap. But recognizing it isn't enough to counter the harmful effect of that bull.

Those of us who make no apologies for rape can also spread awareness and impact how reports of rape are viewed by the legal system. Instead of spreading fertilizer we can spread sanitizing light on that fertilizer and we can encourage others to join us in this effort.

For those who would like to do so and who live in Minnesota, I encourage you to contact MNCASA and ask where you can volunteer to help spread awareness this April. They can direct you to local agencies. This will not require you to go some place where you might feel too exposed.

What it does require is a willingness to give about one hour or a little more to watching the program Stop Sexual Violence: Listen and Lead with a few others and possibly hosting a viewing and discussion party with a few people you know. TPT will be broadcasting this program multiple times in April so that those who watch it in early April can invite a few others to watch with them later that month.

I've often said that most people are fortunate that they don't have a reason to understand the critical services that victim services agencies provide, but this program, which will first be broadcast in April and which will be available online 6 months later, allows those who are not in crisis to get a glimpse into how important these services are and to see that this isn't some cushy entitlement program.

The "lead" portion referenced in the title of this program comes in through the call to action. Encourage everybody watching to contact their legislators to express their commitment to the work being done now and to express their support for the work that needs to be done. Then encourage everybody watching to invite a few people they know to watch this program with them. This could be family members or friends or those known in other ways.

These actions can make a huge difference if many people will take them. Too often people do nothing and say nothing because it seems like this problem of rape is insurmountable. But small, consistent actions taken by many people can have a huge impact and can help reduce violence.

This would be a great program for churches to sponsor for adults and teens. One of the survivors who is profiled in this program is a man who was abused by clergy when he was a child. When many churches talk about sexual morality they fail to talk about sexual violence so that consensual and non-consensual immoral sexual actions get lumped together or victims get blamed for being immoral or inviting immorality.

Too often people will say something like, "Of course I'm against rape. I don't need to say for it to be understood." But with the current reality of sexual violence we all need to communicate that we are against all rapes and not just stranger attacks. Too often people don't say this because it seems like saying it does nothing to change reality.

But reality is strongly influenced by communicated norms and what we say and do influences those norms. The key is to say it effectively.

Government at its best allows us to do collectively what we cannot do individually. Our government agencies have the potential to effectively deal with sexual assault without violating anybody's rights. In fact, better systems will be more respectful of everyone's rights (victim and accused sex criminal) because those in the system will have the training they need to understand the proper boundaries and how to be effective within those boundaries.

We need primary prevention which isn't hit or miss. Government can help make this a reality, but we as citizens need to communicate that this is a priority. Part of this prevention work is to communicate the legal definitions related to the sex crime laws so that rape denialists aren't setting up teens to commit rape while those teens assume their actions are legal.

Clear understanding of legal boundaries on the part of bystanders will also reduce the harassment of teen rape victims by people who believe the same lies which helped someone commit rape.

For those not in Minnesota, this effort can be a useful model for ways to make SAAM events more effective. Give people something concrete and manageable to do in response to their increased awareness.

If they have greater awareness but don't undertand that they can take positive steps without disrupting their lives or volunteering many hours to do something about the problem they may feel that awareness is pointless.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 12:19 PM   0 comments links to this post

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