Thursday, August 20, 2009

MN Primary Prevention Of Sexual Violence: Part 2 Framing

In part 1 I gave an overview of the all-day meeting sponsored by Minnesota's Sexual Violence Prevention Program (on Aug. 10 in New Brighton, MN) along with the ideas and insights that overview sparked.

Rather than get into the work of the messaging team as I planned for part 2, I want to begin by including a portion of an emailed update from the Sexual Violence Prevention leadership team:

The Leadership Team recommends the following frame: “We want a community where people of all ages can live to their full potential.” This frame is designed to state a shared value that can impact all our work. It is not a theme or campaign slogan. It was developed and tested by the CDC for use by a range of injury and violence topics and issues, to be used consistently to strengthen work in all areas. It intentionally does not mention sexual violence.
As I listened to the discussion about the importance of having and using a frame in the messaging part of primary prevention I realized that framing is a powerful concept which is often taken for granted. Framing related to sexual violence goes beyond messaging and informs everything we do in this area and not just prevention work. It needs to be the foundation for all prevention work and all the responses to sexual violence.

I like this proposed frame because if you accept it then you must reject the old frame which asks or demands that certain people who have committed no crime, most often girls and women, not live to their full potential as the price of preventing sexual violence.

As I was putting together this post, I thought about a recent clash of frames. The following text was included in a post at Shakeville quoting homemade signs posted in London in deliberate contrast to official signs advising women not to walk alone in a park.

"Regrettably, due to a number of recent incidents, it is necessary to remind men walking alone through the park not to rob, rape, threaten or assault anyone. Thank you in advance for behaving like decent human beings. Signed, single women who refuse to live in fear."

This modified message asks for a change in the behavior of the men who have been violent in the past and who might consider being violent in the future and fits within the proposed frame for sexual violence prevention. The original message asked for a change in the behavior of non-violent women who are viewed as the most likely victims of men's violence and this conflicts with the proposed frame.

The original version of this sign only referenced the perpetrators of violence against women indirectly and mildly through, "a number of recent attacks." The focus was on changing the behavior of women. This reflects the underlying frame in use. This was the frame which formed my early beliefs about sexual violence and it contributed to my feeling that being forcibly raped by my boyfriend meant that I had failed. For many years I never questioned this frame but once I started questioning this frame I began to see how it supported sexual violence.

The positive responses to this message given by women caused a man calling himself Masterdingo to write:

I hope it helps you ladies, but I don't see it doing anything but giving a chuckle before the next attack.
This response and the underlying frame which I reject are inherently hopeless when it comes to genuine prevention. The only general action which seemingly can be taken to avert future violence is for a significant portion of the population to surrender normalcy. Nothing can be done about the source of violence.

In the last year there were several violent attacks around Lake Phalen in St. Paul and a large number of the residents decided to reject the frame which demands that non-criminals retreat from their law abiding behavior in order to prevent crime.

Neighbors near Lake Phalen gathered Saturday afternoon looking for ways to combat crime in their community. It's in response to a string of brutal assaults. [...]

St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington says, "I really think that while we may, and I really hope that we do catch the guys that committed these crimes, it's just as important we get out in front of this and make this a place where when people walk into this park they feel welcomed into the park. Because what I've discovered in my career is that places that are scary get real empty and it's the empty places that get dangerous." More than 50 people representing a number of block clubs attended the meeting in an effort to form citizen patrols.

This response from the police is much more in line with primary prevention than posting warnings telling a subset of the population to stay away. As Harrington points out if law-abiding people heed the warnings of the type posted in London the dangerous places can get even more dangerous.

While this response doesn't fit within any of the 3 team actions mentioned in part 1, it does fit the proposed frame. This highlights that this frame is not some artificial construct.

The proposed frame allows prevention messages which highlight how committing sexual violence sabotages this goal of living to the full potential not only for victims but for perpetrators as well. Too often primary prevention messages related to sexual violence have been dismissed by critics, who want the focus to be on potential victims, as being anti-male when effective messages really help boys and men live their lives to their full potential.

The way to prevent the aftermath of a rightful accusation or conviction is to help prevent people from committing any acts of sexual violence.

Sexual violence prevention can be hard to talk about because of all the sharp edges. But what I've learned is there are more sharp edges when we don't talk about primary prevention. We cannot afford to let sharp edges stand between us and effective primary prevention. The first step is to understand and use this proposed frame.

In part 3, I'll get to the messaging team.


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posted by Marcella Chester @ 12:24 PM   2 comments links to this post


At August 21, 2009 2:59 AM, Anonymous snarre said...

i wonder if there's any way to get Tim Benecke book "Men on Rape",
its not sold in my country and i desperately need it!

At August 21, 2009 8:48 AM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...


The author's last name is spelled Beneke not Benecke. The only place I found this book for sale is at


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