Many people think that as a man, or as a person who has not been affected by sexual assault, the problem of rape culture does not apply to them. To change the rape culture throughout the country, we need to make sexual assault a topic that everyone cares about and is willing to work toward a solution for, regardless of their age or gender. This importance needs to be instilled at an early age, not once something happens personally to a person or their loved ones. Rape is the most prevalent at the college ages and because of this, college campuses tend to have higher amounts of dialogue concerning rape than other groups of people.
The conversation cannot start here though. Much of what is discussed in college classes, among students, and through programs is how to change the rape culture and protect against sexual assault on an individual basis. While this is an important conversation to have as well, these are not preventive measures. If every person is taught at an early age that sexual assault is wrong, through a combination of school, influential adults, and peers it is likely that the incidence of rape would decrease in the college years and overall.
Sexual assault is an important issue that should take priority because of the vast number of people affected and the drastic results it has on those involved. In the United States in one year, 284,000 Americans ages 12 and older and 61,000 children are sexually assaulted or abused. Breaking this down, every two minutes another person is sexually assaulted (Scope of the Problem: Statistics). While even one rape is too many, this is a substantial amount of the population being affected, and these people continue to suffer even after the initial incident.
Many victims experience psychological and emotional effects in addition to the physical ones sustained from the assault. These can include depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and flashbacks. When these persist, they can lead to self-harm, substance abuse, and even suicide (Effects of Sexual Violence). Any actions taken after a sexual assault, no matter how successful, are too late. Preventive measures must be taken to stop this culture and these acts before they begin. Education is important when it comes to defining both sexual assault and consent.
There is often a gray area in most people’s minds where consent is concerned. Because consent is a defining factor in sexual assault, this is the most important aspect of preventive measures that can be taken. The confusion usually does not lie in the essential idea of consent, but in how it is interpreted by each person on a situational basis. It needs to be enforced and reinforced at a young age that consent must be explicit. Many issues develop when people interpret not actively saying “no” as saying “yes”.
Both participating must be able to give consent explicitly for any sexual activity to occur. This needs to be taught earlier than the age at which most people will have encountered sexual activity. On average, American teenagers have sex for the first time around age 17 (American Teens’ Sexual and Reproductive Health). This means that by the time they are seniors in high school, they are already beginning to find themselves in situations where sexual assault could occur. If the knowledge of consent is not enforced in their minds by this time, it is too late.
Sexual education in schools can often be a touchy subject. While most schools do have curriculums in place, not all of them have the right quality and content to be impactful on the students because of the way sex is viewed. Most schools, especially private, religious-based schools, tend to want to teach kids that pre-marital sex is wrong with scare tactics instead of spending time educating on safe sex. But according to research done by the University of Georgia, states that require schools to teach abstinence-only sex education programs have higher statistics of teenage pregnancy (Toledo).
This shows that not only are kids continuing to engage in sexual activity, but they are not doing it safely. By ignoring the fact that kids will have sex, schools are missing out on an important opportunity to educate their students with the result of keeping them safe. Research has shown that comprehensive approaches to teaching sexual education have resulted in a decreased risk of pregnancy and STIs due to safer sex practices of those students (“American Teens’ Sources of Sexual Health Education”).
This evidence shows that being exposed to this information in full was beneficial in their relationship health and sexual activity, and therefore incorporating consent into this conversation could have a strong impact on how sexual activity is understood. Some also argue that teaching sexual education at too young of an age will end in kids engaging in sex earlier than they would have if they were not exposed to it. But if the goal is safe sex and decreasing sexual assault, exposing the children to these ideas early is the best way to help them understand.
Research has also shown that sexual education results in delaying the age that sexual activity first occurs and that when sexual activity does occur, the students tend to be in healthier relationships (“American Teens’ Sources of Sexual Health Education”). Those in healthier, trusting, and reciprocated relationships are less likely to find themselves in sexually violent situations with their partners. In addition, not only does pushing aside the importance of sexual assault leave kids uninformed and at risk, it also sidelines those affected by sexual assault within schools.
By making the sex conversation a taboo in the school, victimized students will be less likely to report their issue and receive help. Schools need to be open to educating their students and offering services to help them both at school and in their future lives. While institutional education is an important place for the conversation of sexual assault to take place, it also needs to be occurring on an individual basis in the home. Parents tend to be some of the most influential factors over their children’s behaviors and decisions. What these kids learn in school must be reinforced in their daily lives to have an effect.
Currently, 88% of schools allow parents to excuse their child from the sexual education curriculum (“American Teens’ Sexual and Reproductive Health”). Therefore, if the parent is not supportive of the process, there is no way for the student to learn. At home, families can start at an even earlier age than in school by setting an example for their children and teaching them how consent and respect work in relationships. Many children develop relationship habits that are similar to that of their parents. Parents are the first model of a relationship a child is ever exposed to.
Because of this, especially at first, these children believe that this is the way couples interact and attempt to replicate it in their own relationships. An example of a parent leading by the exact opposite example is Dan Turner, the father of Brock Turner. Brock Turner was convicted of a rape as a 20-year old and sentenced to 14 years in prison, of which he served only three months. His father showed no remorse for the victim, defending only his son. The letter to the judge included only how his son had been affected the rape, not the victim. His stance was not against the assault, but against the punishment of the perpetrator.
He stated that the punishment was “a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 years of life” (Turner). His concern lied only with the consequences his son faced instead of the act of Brock itself. While Dan Turner’s emotions must have been strong through watching his son in pain and remorse, as no parent hopes to see that in their child, he was placing a higher value on his son’s well-being than the actions he had taken affecting those around him. Through this, he was showing to the country, and especially to his son, that his needs were more important than the safety of others.
In the case of sexual assault, this is an incredibly dangerous idea. Much of the way rape culture is viewed is the same perspective of Dan Turner. As a father, it was clear his son followed the same viewpoint and his actions were reflective of this. The reason many victims do not report rape comes from fear of responses such as these. Because of the important role they play in their children’s lives, parents have the power to teach values to their children. By taking a strong stance against sexual assault early on, parents can show its importance and gravity as the child grows up.
In this case, especially men can set an example for and teach their sons how to treat women respectfully. Sexual assault has been seen as a woman’s issue in the past as the number of women sexually assaulted far outnumbers the number of men in America, but that does not mean this issue does not affect men. A close friend of mine once said, “The sexual assault thing doesn’t really make as much of a difference to me, because being a guy I’m a lot less sensitive to the issue. ” Now this is a college man, who is exposed to the rape culture much more than men in other groups.
While it is important to understand that more women are sexually assaulted than men, that does not take the weight off the shoulders of men in relation to this issue. In fact, the responsibility lies even more with men to not only be educated about consent and sexual assault, but to stand up against other men to change the culture. It is more often men who are the perpetrators, and in that sense men have not only the responsibility but the power to make a difference. This is not to say men are not ever the victims of sexual assault; 1 in 6 men are sexually assaulted (“Victims of Sexual Assault: Statistics”).
Using the idea that more women are victims to shift the responsibility onto them ignores every man who has suffered sexual assault. This is not solely a women’s issue. Men need to work at educating each other, setting an example for their children, and understanding consent for themselves to solve the problem. The topic of men and their role in sexual assault was approached in the lead up to the 2016 Presidential Election, when a tape was released of Donald Trump, then presidential candidate and now president-elect, speaking derogatorily of women.
In this tape, he used phrases including “grab ’em by the pussy” to describe actions he has taken towards women (Transcript: Donald Trump’s Taped Comments About Women). While this tape implying that Donald Trump had sexually harassed, or even assaulted, a woman is troubling and a major concern, this conversation and the response to it goes far beyond the individual level. The excuse many, including Trump, gave to these comments was that it was “locker room talk” (The Second Presidential Debate: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump). It was played off as being just men being men, nothing more.
This kind of attempt to downplay the seriousness of the situation by claiming not only that “everyone does it” but “all men do it” is frightening. The idea that these comments are acceptable at all, even privately between men is why rape culture continues to exist. This type of excuse it being used by the future president of the United States, leaving the message to men all across the country that it is okay make these comments. When men are not being taught about both consent and these are the examples being set, there will be no progress. For progress to be made, education needs to occur among peers.
While school and family are both important platforms, peer groups socialize people’s idea of what is accepted. People act in accordance to what will make them liked by other people. Peer groups have the power to set what behaviors and comments are allowed of people within their circle. Currently, sexually degrading comments about women are still accepted in certain social groups in the country. Even if an individual disagrees, it could be more harmful to them to stand up against the comment or action than to ignore it. This is how the rape culture is not changed and “locker room talk” continues to exist.
One important group in this is men setting an example for other men. Often, when women stand up against sexual assault and other problems affected women, their feminism is perceived as “men-hating”. Men have the ability to have this conversation with each other without blame being placed on either side. The power is in their hands to stand up against actions and comments that can be harmful to women, and men as well. Men and women of all ages need to start defending against this culture. A silent bystander allows the culture to continue just as much as those who are causing it.
Sexual assault is not an issue with a simple solution. As it occurs on the individual basis, it is incredibly difficult to pinpoint one answer. Each person must be educated on the personal level to prevent sexual violence from occurring. Whether this be on the national, institutional, family, or personal basis, the people in this country need to work together at making it a safer place. As people begin to educate each other in all aspects of life and relationships, it will become a domino effect and this country can move from having a rape culture, to fostering an anti-rape culture.