By Heather Teater, See the Triumph Contributor
What was she wearing? Was she drinking? Didn’t she know better than to walk home alone at night? Was she asking for it? What does she do that provokes him to beat her like that? Why doesn’t she stand up for herself? Doesn’t she think about her kids? Why doesn’t she just leave? Whether talking about sexual assault or intimate partner violence, for a long time we, as a society, have been asking the wrong questions.
Though our previous efforts have been well-intentioned, they focused too much on potential victims and what they could do to not be assaulted and not enough on potential perpetrators. Recently, however, we have started to see a shift in initiatives designed to prevent sexual assault and domestic violence. These campaigns have moved from asking people to make special efforts to protect themselves to encouraging people not to perpetrate. As individuals, we need to remember to do the same.
If you are talking to someone who has been victimized (whether you are a friend, family member, helping professional, or a total stranger) it’s important to remember not to ask the wrong questions. Asking questions about the victim’s role in the situation can insinuate that they are in some way responsible for what happened to them, which only perpetuates victim-blaming.
Even in our everyday lives we can change the conversation around these issues. Whether or not you are not having a direct conversation with someone who has been victimized, be aware of the way that you think and talk about sexual assault and intimate partner violence.
For example, how do you respond when someone talks about a recent news story regarding domestic violence? Do you join others in asking why the woman who was victimized would ever stay with her husband, or do you steer the conversation toward why her husband became violent in the first place? We need to take responsibility for our own biases and responses to stories about sexual assault and domestic violence before we can expect the rest of society to do the same.
When we have our own biases in check, we can move on to initiating, participating in, promoting, and otherwise involving ourselves in campaigns to end domestic violence and sexual assault. We need more initiatives that focus on sending the messages “do not rape” and “do not abuse” rather than “do not let yourself be raped or abused.” We can start by helping such programs get introduced in our own communities.
If you’re not sure how to get your own initiative started in your community, there are campaigns in place that already have a focus on educating potential perpetrators and they would love to become involved in your area by providing educational materials, organizing rallies, giving presentations, etc. Some examples of such campaigns are Break the Cycle, Men Can Stop Rape, and A Call to Men, among many others.
We can end sexual assault and domestic violence. It starts with changing the conversation our society is having about these issues, asking the right questions, and keeping our focus on those responsible – the perpetrators, not the survivors.
Heather Teater recently completed her Master's degree in Couple and Family Counseling in the Department of Counseling and Educational Development at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.