Sexual assault awareness has recently become a large movement in many colleges and universities. Many of these programs, however, focus on raising awareness of potential victims instead of challenging the institutional ideologies that normalize sexual assault and rape.
The United States Department of Justice defines sexual assault as, “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.”
It defines statutory rape as, “The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”
While men and women can both be victims of sexual assault, men are much more likely to commit sexual assault than women. However, most sexual assault prevention campaigns, such as self-defense classes, are geared towards women.
Alexis Jones is the founder of ProtectHer, an organization dedicated to the prevention of sexual assault by explaining consent and intervention to men, especially athletes. In a TedX Talk at the University of Nevada, she explained that rape is not just a women’s issue.
“The problem,” Jones argued, “is the mindset of how these men are being programmed to think about, to talk about, and to treat women.”
In order to change this mindset, Jones proposed four ways she believes will change the way men think about women, rape, and themselves: having better education on sex and healthy relationships, broadening the definition of manhood, having conversations about respect, and introducing real talk with real terms.
Jones argued for better education on sex and healthy relationships.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, between 1996 and 2009 more than $1.5 billion of federal funding was spent on abstinence-only sex education even though these programs have proven to be ineffective. Jones also acknowledged that many young men and women learn about sex through pornography, which she said is a very inaccurate representation of the way sex should be.
In a 2003 study by Laura Hensely Choate, a counselor educator at Louisiana State University, a group of fraternity men participated in a rape prevention program that aimed to raised their awareness about sexual assault by attacking rape myths and explaining the legal definition of rape. In an evolution following the program, many of the men in the study expressed that they had not known the definitions of rape or the importance of positive consent before the study.
Jones also argued for a broader definition of manhood.
“The consensus [of what manhood is] in the locker room, right now, is very easy and pretty achievable,” she said. “It’s be as rich as you can, be as famous as you can, and bang as many girls as you can.”
Jones asserted that men need to start seeing women as people and not as objects to be obtained. She explained that she was able to show groups of athletes that women were not just objects when she presented their female family members as potential victims of rape.
The media is partly to blame for toxic masculinity, Jones argued.
These men cannot help that they are constantly exposed to media that objectifies women and emphasizes the importance of power and sexual dominance over women, she explained. Once the definition of masculinity involves respecting women, Jones argued, rape will be less acceptable.
Jones argued that young men must be engaged in a conversation about respect.
She argued that it is impossible for men to respect women when they have no respect for themselves. The answer to this, Jones asserted, is better emotional education that would help these men have an authentic confidence in themselves.
Jones argued for the need to have “real talk” with men.
This involves explaining terminology, such as “consent” and “bystander” and what they mean. This way, she believes, they will start to realize when a situation is dangerous and when to intervene.
Barbara Friedman is an associate professor of journalism at UNC Chapel Hill whose current research focuses on media and sexual violence. In an interview, she expressed her optimism about the future of bystander intervention programs as a solution to sexual assault.
“[Bystander intervention has] already started [to be the next step],” she said. “It’s being written into a lot of sexual assault policies at universities.”.
Jones believes that the answer to the prevention of sexual assault lies not just in women, but in men.
“The truth is that men are not simply the problem when it comes to violence against women,” Jones said. “They’re also the cure, and we’ve never needed them so much.”