SARC’s Primary Prevention & Education Manager, Jenna Harper, answers questions about sexual violence and prevention. This is just one of our programs we feel is so critical and paramount to helping to change the culture to help end sexual violence.
Q: How do we prevent sexual violence?
JH: This question is one most of us have asked, whether we have experienced sexual violence, care about someone who has, or work in the field. Although many have tried to solve the issue by telling people, mainly women, to carry pepper spray, cut their hair, or avoid walking home alone at night, those strategies have not affected rates of sexual assault. In order to tackle the question of prevention, we must look at the root causes of sexual violence in our society.
Q: What causes sexual violence?
JH: There are many root causes of sexual violence. I’ll talk briefly about just one: oppression.
Anyone can be assaulted, but research shows us that all people don’t experience sexual violence equally. It is generally assumed that women experience sexual assault most often. But other identities like people of color, people with disabilities, and/or transgender people also experience higher rates of targeting. Reducing someone to one identity, like their womanhood, doesn’t give us a full picture. For example, 19% of white women experience rape, 22% of black women, and 33.5% of multiracial. While 35% of heterosexual women experience rape, physical violence, stalking by an intimate partner, the rate jumps to 61% of bisexual women. Bisexual men’s prevalence rate is 37%, which is 8% higher than heterosexual men (NISVS, 2011). Oppression is a root cause of sexual violence. Or as a colleague of mine would say, in our society, we put different values on different people’s bodies.
Other root causes include things like unhealthy norms promoted through media, male sexual entitlement, and more.
Q: What is Primary Prevention?
JH: Primary Prevention is the belief that in order to end sexual violence we need to focus on perpetrators and try to prevent them from ever perpetrating in the first place.
Through the critical examination of the unhealthy norms in our society and promotion of healthy norms, we seek to create a culture in our communities that values healthy relationships and sexuality.
Our prevention curricula are linked to state and federal health standards, and are based on literature reviews and best practices. They fulfill required Oregon educational components, as legislated by both Erin’s Law and The Healthy Teen Relationship Act. The curricula are regularly updated with the intention of staying timely, expanding on relevant topics, and improving participant outcomes. The sessions are highly activity-based and encourage students in the room to contribute based on their own knowledge, cultures, and experiences.
Q: What do we do when we know the root causes of sexual violence?
JH: We need to work to end oppression of all forms including sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, and so on, so that people do not use sexual violence as a form of control to keep others disempowered. We need to talk to each other about what healthy relationships and healthy sexuality looks like, including consent, equity, respect, trust, and safety. With that knowledge and those dialogues, we can begin to hold our communities more accountable to the higher standards we set. Our prevention program takes this education into the classroom.
If you are interested in learning more about our curriculum, volunteering to teach, purchasing our curriculum, and/or participating in a ‘Train the Trainer’ course, please contact jennah[at]sarcoregon.org.