In light of recent accusations from over fifty women of sexual assault and harassment perpetrated by Harvey Weinstein, the world has been taken by storm with debates over the nature of power dynamics, and the ever-pressing issue of sexual violence in our society. The sudden waves of social media, and television coverage alike, have rapidly changed the dialogue on sexual violence. Hashtags such as #MeToo, #MenToo, #IDidAndImSorry, and #HowIWillChange are exploding on social media platforms, and articles reporting new cases of sexual assault in and out of Hollywood have triggered a sense of urgency to end sexual violence.
Unfortunately, this urgency tends to die out after the news cycle ends. Campaigns like #MeToo simply aren’t enough to truly alter the way society perceives and disciplines sexual violence. In order to create long term change, we must acknowledge the many errors in our current understanding of sexual violence, and we should support the organizations already making strides in this area. First, we must recognize that sexual violence doesn’t only impact one gender. Although women are typically perceived as the “victims” of sexual assault and harassment, sexual violence is pervasive, and has an impact on everyone regardless of gender identity, sexual identity, race, ethnicity, age, religion, etc.
The belief that violence can only occur to one gender contributes to a mindset that aspects of femininity are what cause such heinous crimes. This misogynistic mindset, whether overt (in the direct targeting of women based on their clothing and body type) or covert (assumption that the survivor regrets sexual activity, and therefore wants to deny association) leads to greater pushback and aggression to survivors who do not identify as female. Gender-based invalidation of sexual violence is destructive, and contributes to the abysmal reporting rates of sexual violence. Currently, the national average reporting rate is 20% for female students, but drastically drops for men, trans folk, and gender non-conforming individuals. The first step towards a greater awareness of this issue is actively trying to rid these gender-based prejudices from our perception of sexual assault.
And although #MeToo and other hashtags tried to revolutionize the masses into movement, as mentioned prior, it’s important to celebrate the organizations already working to support survivors. Empowering and aiding organizations has an impact much greater than a solitary tweet, rally, or petition. One such organization that has been championing the fight against sexual violence is the It’s On Us Campaign, created in 2014, the It’s On Us campaign is a national campaign that partners with over 95 organizations and 500 college campuses, trying to end sexual assault in three ways: (i) educating on consent, (ii) increasing bystander intervention, and (iii) fostering environments that support survivors.
Consent education (i) is more than just simply knowing the words, “yes” and “no”. Consent education is an active process where one person learns the different aspects of consent and pledges to share what they’ve learned with others. Even colloquially, changing the way one speaks about sex and consent with friends and peers can have a drastic impact on behavior. Bystander intervention training (ii), although seemingly dangerous and complex, is an immersive chance to answer all the “what if” questions about sexual assault. Bystander intervention training looks at the many situations in which sexual assault occurs, and ways that those in a situation can take action directly or indirectly to intervene. Finally, the most elaborate goal of It’s On Us is to create environments, whether they be campuses, classrooms, workplaces, or homes, that support survivors of sexual violence. From changing the way one speaks about “survivors”, validating their stories, and supporting their recovery, the It’s On Us campaign seeks to improve the way survivors are treated by our communities.
Locally, the It’s On Us Utah team are working to raise awareness of sexual violence, as well as bring attention to resources here on campus with events such as their “Take Back the Night Glow Yoga.” This event will have a variety of on-campus resources for those who are interested, as well as a fun yoga session filled with glow sticks and wonderful prizes. The group plans on raising awareness through other campus organizations such as the Student Advocacy Board through ASUU. Student Advocacy helps connect students with their resources, provides private consultations and connections with legal aid, as well as organizes events to raise awareness of sexual violence on campus.
Within the University, there are several organizations that are committed to ending sexual assault, especially collegiate campus sexual assault as it is so pervasive. ASUU, Office of Equal Opportunities, Students Against Sexual Assault, Students for Choice, and It’s On Us Utah are all incredible local organizations who are taking a stand, and making great strides in our community. Even within the past week, the University of Utah created a support page for all those interested in ending sexual assault, and for those who may have been affected, as well. So as you continue your weekday grind, take a moment to support your local causes, sign the national pledge, and do your part to stop sexual assault in its tracks.