For a while, there were popular books phrased along the lines of “Eat This, Not That.” Although this oversimplifies their concepts and these books have arguably not aged well, the general concept of “This, Not That” is an easy one to consider when grasping some complex issues. In life there are things we can do that are better for, our causes, community, or issues and then there are things we can do that might detract from our mission.
A decisive and debated topic that can benefit from this is the basics of sexual assault prevention programming. In regard to educating our communities, building stronger support networks, and certainly preventing assaults, there are a few pieces of information crucial to remember. And there are a few things that can be removed because they end up unintentionally working against prevention rather than aiding it.
Do This, Not That: How to Change Thoughts on Sexual Assault Prevention Education
Do Offer People the Chance to Opt Out
The first one is the easiest. So often, campuses have mandatory programming on sexual violence prevention.
The problem is you never know what someone’s experiences are and what was meant to be positive might end up causing unintentional harm.
Regardless of the education you require or offer, provide people a reasonable out they can take whether this is another type of programming or a more individualized version of programming. Best case scenario is you provide a resource catering to their unique situation and preventing attendees from having to engage in an activity painful to them.
Do Use the Right Statistics
The topic of sexual violence is a tricky one, and with the wrong information, it becomes that much trickier. The easiest way to lose support is to offer information that people can disprove through a little research. Avoid the desire to sensationalize facts by making sure you have the right information, both nationally and locally to your campus, before you start posting it in places.
Do Create Inclusive Programming and
Target Different Demographics
We know different populations react differently to sexual violence and further, diverse communities experience, manage, and recover from sexual assault in highly diverse manners. Take this into account and focus on this in your education. There are very few times where one size will fit all so always be sure to understand the motivation of your event and also the spread of the audience when conducting any training. It is important to change what you are doing for the people who are influenced by the training. Going the extra mile to understand population factors will pay off in the end.
Do Drive Home Resources for Support Do Not Limit Resources to Those Only on
Think of how often you receive a handout, leave behind flyer, or even little item with “important” information and how quickly this gets discarded. Most of us may never read the small items given to us or take down a number or email address. Most of us don’t pay that much attention when given information. Now amplify this for the students on your campus who are coming and being overloaded. Be sure to regularly and frequently let students and community know about the resources available for support and prevention. If you think you are doing it too much, do more. Sadly, if an event of sexual violence does occur, knowing where resources can be found is invaluable.
Don’t Require People to Attend Under Penalty of Punishment
Not only do some campuses or organizations require students to participate but some make it mandatory to the point that non-participation also comes with a punishment factor. These penalties can range from not being able to register for classes, access student activities benefits, or even disciplinary punishments from the University. Don’t do this.
Required programs are never good, and failing to factor in personal stories is more harmful than the intended goal of programming in the first place.
Don’t Take Hearsay or Even Research at Face Value
Just because something has a source doesn’t mean it has value. Yes, there is a slew of research on sexual assault, but often, these sources can be pulled out of context, or misinterpret data sets. Before you share information on sexual violence, especially when it might be more recent, shared by commercial sources, or seems sensationalized, be sure to put in the extra work. It is important to this issue we do not just know facts but also the context behind them. Doing so will help avoid bad information leading to upset participants.
Do Not Stereotype or Use Negative Language
People do not react well to fear, and people do not respond well to what they perceive blame. Yes, we overwhelmingly know that a high majority of assaults, regardless of the gender involved, are perpetrated by men. We also know that a majority of men do not willingly commit acts of sexual violence. Acknowledging these two does not clear men of our role in preventing sexual violence. But nothing will cause an audience to check out quicker than making assumptions and placing blame.
Engage people where they are as people, not by using facts to generate an identity then assigning roles to these individuals. Find inclusive ways to talk about this issues that make it so everyone can be a part of the solution instead of feeling like nothing but the problem.
Do Not Limit Resources to Those Only on Campus
Often I see campuses and student organizations only look internal. They want to provide support but of fear of making issues external whether from compliance or something else, they only highlight the resources people can find on campus or their organization.
Build community relationships, reach out and be sure your community members know about this outreach. Having multiple sources available for support might be a key difference from someone suffering in silence or reaching out. We can never forget sexual assault is a people not policy issue, and we prevent it from bringing in people where they are. It is vitally important we offer the most support as possible to provide as many avenues we can.