Sexual Assault Centre

Create Change

How You Can Fight for A Community Free of Sexual Violence

Although the tides are beginning to turn, sexual assault prevention programs often focus on giving safety tips and self-defense information to individuals - generally female-identified - who have been told their entire lives that they are ‘at risk’ of being sexually assaulted. Unfortunately, these programs often amount to nothing more than lengthy lists of 'do’s and don’ts' with several major shortcomings:

  • They put the responsibility on the potential survivor rather than the potential perpetrator.
  • They reinforce a culture that routinely blames survivors of sexual violence.
  • Tips generally focus on stranger assaults, which represent the minority of sexual assault cases - most survivors of sexual assault know, and often trust, their perpetrator.
  • Despite their widespread use, there is little evidence that these sorts of tips work. In fact, they may even promote rape myths and attitudes that proliferate sexual violence (common rape myths).

Fortunately, there has been growing support for a more comprehensive approach to sexual assault prevention. This type of prevention focuses on the societal, cultural, and interpersonal dimensions of sexual violence. Their goals go beyond simply giving strategies for individuals to defend themselves in an assault situation; they actually try to address the behaviors and attitudes that encourage sexual violence in the first place.

Approaches to Reduce Sexual Violence in Our Community

  • Be Critical Of Media
    Contemporary Western media is full of content that normalizes and minimizes sexual assault and often we do not even realize when we are watching something that is sexually violent. That’s because messages from the media operate in very subtle ways. Consider the fact that men are often portrayed as warriors or aggressors on television and in movies, whereas women are typically depicted as passive sexual objects. The stereotypical male hero tends to be strong, stoic, and sexually dominant; the ideal woman is fragile, emotional, and sexually submissive. Studies have shown that these types of messages may predispose men to violence against women (Hong, 2000). It can be helpful to be conscious of the way gender is portrayed in movies, TV shows, video games, and other media. Spend some time reflecting on how these depictions have impacted your own life. Engage your friends and family members in discussions about these messages.
  • Believe And Support Survivors
    Our social attitudes surrounding sexual assault make it difficult for survivors to talk about their experience because they think that no one will believe them and that they will instead be blamed for what happened to them. As a result, survivors are often reluctant to seek out support. This is why it is so important to believe survivors that choose to talk about their experience. Although recovering from a sexual assault takes time, the help of supporters can positively impact the survivor’s healing process. For more information on how to be a good supporter, please check out our Impact on Supporters Handout.
  • Don't Commit Sexual Assault
    If everyone followed this piece of advice, sexual assault would no longer plague our communities. Difficult as it may be, it is important for each of us to acknowledge the harmful sexual attitudes and behaviours that we continue to hold onto. We all have the capacity to learn from our mistakes, but we need to begin by holding ourselves accountable for our actions. Make a pledge to always pay attention to and respect the decisions of your potential sexual partners.
  • Get Involved
    Support organizations like Sexual Assault Voices of Edmonton (SAVE), the Garneau Sisterhood, Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton (SACE), Saffron Centre or the University of Alberta Sexual Assault Centre and learn more about the issue so you can provide support for survivors. You can also start your own anti-violence group at your school, campus, or workplace in order to become part of the community that is working to stop sexual violence.
  • Hold Perpetrators Accountable
    Sometimes it can be very difficult to believe that close friends and acquaintances would be capable of committing sexual assault. Oftentimes, it is easier to focus the blame on the survivor than to accept this fact. However, blaming the survivor rather than holding the perpetrator accountable can cause significant harm. This line of thinking creates a social environment that is not supportive of survivors and instead excuses the behavior of the perpetrator. It is important to remember that, despite common myths, the survivor is NEVER responsible for being sexually assaulted. Remember, sexual assault is NOT a misunderstanding or a miscommunication and regardless of whether the survivor or perpetrator were drinking or intoxicated, we all are responsible for what we do when we are drunk, not what is done to us. If we want to work toward a society that is free of sexual violence, it is essential that we question the perpetrator’s behavior and stop blaming the survivor.
  • Make it Personal
    Given that approximately 1 in 3 females and 1 in 6 males will be sexually assaulted within their lifetime, it is inevitable that this issue will touch your life (Statistics Canada, 2006). The first step to creating lasting change often involves taking time to think about the people in your life who have been affected by sexual violence and all the ways that their lives have been impacted. Whether you are a survivor, a supporter, a family member, or a friend, sexual assault affects us all.
  • Practice Healthy Communication
    Be open and honest with your partner when discussing sex. This includes listening to your partner and respecting their choice to engage in sexual activity or not. Remember, everyone has the right to set their own sexual limits and to say no to a sexual act. If you are unclear if the other person wants to engage in sexual activity with you, then ask. For more information on healthy sexuality please see our Sexual Healing Handout  or visit www.healthysex.com.
  • Recognize The Power Of Language
    Contrary to what the popular schoolyard rhyme would have us believe, words can hurt. Using language that degrades and objectifies women contributes to gender inequality, which is strongly connected with an increased incidence of sexual violence (Suarez & Gadalla, 2010).  And it doesn’t stop there. Saying things like “that exam raped me” or “we raped the other team” - even if we only mean it as slang - creates an environment where sexual assault is implicitly trivialized and condoned. Our words can shape how this issue is perceived, so let’s choose them carefully.
  • Speak Out
    We are all exposed to attitudes and behaviors that are degrading and promote a culture of violence. As such, the responsibility to change this culture falls on each of us. All of us have the power to become active bystanders who use our voice to speak up when we hear jokes and stereotypes that blame survivors and/or minimize the experience of sexual assault. Studies have shown that people are powerfully affected by peer attitudes toward sexual aggression, so it is important to contribute to a societal voice that does not tolerate sexual violence (Messman-Moore, 2010).
  • Understand Consent

    Consenting to sex is a conscious decision that we make in every sexual encounter, regardless of whether the person is our partner, spouse, acquaintance, or a stranger. There are lots of important things to remember about consent:

    - Consent cannot be given, and is not considered valid, if the person is intoxicated, sleeping, unconscious, or unresponsive. 

    - Just because your partner has consented to have sex with you in the past, or kissed or made out with you beforehand, does not mean that they are consenting to sexual activity in the present moment.

    - There are many different ways to turn down sex. For example, pushing the other person away, saying things like “I’m not sure” or “I have to get up early”, not actively participating, trying to keep their clothes on, or just being silent are all valid ways of communicating “no.” For a full definition of consent, see the Criminal Code.