Jan. 24, 2013 - Issue #901: Children can’t choose
No means no; consent means yes
Gender-based violence prevention begins with changing how we think
We live in a rape-prone culture, "one that tolerates, condones and promotes rape, sexual assault and also predominately violence against women or transgendered bodies," says Melanie Alexander, coordinator of the University of Alberta's Gender Based Violence Prevention Project. "We see that in really overt ways like the media, on posters that only show parts of womens' bodies; we see that in music videos, in movies where violence is completely condoned, but we also see that in everyday instances of language when people joke about raping something."
But instead of sitting back grumbling about how a culture of sexism can lead to sexual assault, the GBVPP received some government funding and came up with a three-pronged plan to change public opinion on what gender-based violence actually looks like, and why consent in sexual relationships is so important. They avoided the well-trod path of telling women to keep their doors locked and to walk home with someone at night. Instead, the project has taken more of an encouraging approach with posters that focus on what consensual sex is rather than how to avoid rape.
"I think a huge portion of reducing gender-based violence is making sure people have healthy and safe sex lives. So encouraging people to have conversations about consent is a huge piece, and we wanted to give people some examples of what that even sounds like because I think we do live in a culture that first of all, condones sexual violence and also represses healthy sexuality," Alexander says.
Posters depicting an imaginary conversation between two partners giving consent to sex are now up at the U of A's LRT platform and around campus. This step is all about awareness. Education sessions, and hopefully policy changes, will happen in the future.
"Awareness is kind of like that first moment. I think yes, you may reach people. You may magically change someone's mind. But no, I'm not expecting a rapist to read the poster and be like, 'Oh, so that's what consent is. Maybe that's what I should be doing.' But I think the posters do help reinforce people who are going through that process of knowing that maybe their sex life isn't at that place, and being reaffirmed that consent is something that's really positive for them to have," she adds.
Alexander sees slut-shaming and victim blaming as a couple of key components that keep gender-based violence going.
"I think we are used to sexualizing women and not giving women full agency over their bodies and agency to their sexuality. And unfortunately, that does come from people of all different genders," she notes.
Slut-shaming is judging people based on their sexual choices and victim blaming happens all too often when someone says short skirts or walking alone are the reasons a person was raped. But Alexander says there is absolutely nothing a person can do that would cause them to be raped.
"The only way that you're going to be sexually assaulted is if you're in the presence of a rapist and a rapist makes the decision to do that to you. It's not something that you have done," she continues. "It doesn't matter what you're wearing, it doesn't matter if you've drank, it doesn't matter if you decided to go home. We all make those decisions and lots of times we make those decisions and we're not sexually assaulted. Why is that when someone makes that decision and they are sexually assaulted then we attribute it to those decisions?"
The next step of GBVPP is to work with the results of a survey to see what students think constitutes sexual assault and quash out any rape myths like 'she deserved it,' that may still be out there.
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