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On Perpetration and Prevention

I spend at least two days a week talking to teenagers about healthy relationships.  Usually, I leave these meetings feeling inspired or, at the very least, optimistic that our conversation has brought us closer to ending sexual violence.

The other day, however, I had an experience that has left me feeling pretty damned despondent.  I spoke to a group of teenage girls, most of whom were in the ninth grade, about consent and being a proactive bystander.  And although our discussion produced some genuine insights, I was confronted with a harsh truth: Rape is real, not just something we talk about fighting.  And sometimes, despite our best efforts, it’s going to happen, often to the people we most want to protect.

I left this discussion, from which the young women seemed to benefit, in tears.  Not because of what they said or I said or could’ve said but didn’t say.  I cried because, for the first time in the year that I’ve been doing this work, I realized I cannot protect everyone.  Or at least, in doing prevention work, I had to accept that I cannot always see the immediate benefit of my efforts.  I’ve been misguided, to some degree, in thinking that we are going to change the world overnight.  But the belief that change is possible is what binds the community of allies and survivors together.  It’s the gas that keeps the motor running.

We must aspire to change.  And we have to let people know that rape is not inevitable.  Even when we’re at our most defeated and feel like nothing we do makes a difference, we have to remind ourselves: We are making a difference.  Sometimes it’s as simple as hearing a student take a slight step away from victim blaming—acknowledging, for example, that the way someone dresses doesn’t invite comments or physical contact.  Changes in attitudes change the culture—that we know.  And in our darkest moments, in that we must trust.

In the midst of my wallowing, a friend of mine—Rosa, a great feminist, a great advocate—reminded me that prevention isn’t just about empowering survivors and bystanders.  It’s about stopping perpetration.  And hard as we to try to call out potential violence before it actualizes, perpetration can happen despite our best efforts.  It just means that people are like the fruits in a farmers’ market—we all start out in pretty much the same way, but over time, some of us ripen and some of us rot.

Rosa sent me a link that I’d like to leave you with, a reminder that perpetration is a decision, one that shouldn’t be made and isn’t anyone’s fault but the person who makes it.

So, without further ado, here are 10 Sexual Assault Prevention Tips Guaranteed to Work.

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Posted by Tommy

Tommy formerly served as a volunteer with BARCC's Community Awareness and Prevention Services program. He has cotaught a course on sexual violence prevention at a local charter school. A former newspaper critic, he now focuses on playwriting and blogging.


  1. Thanks for telling it like it is. and telling it so well. and sharing the list. and doing the work. Yeah, thanks! Here's a quote for the work to be done: "Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I'll try again tomorrow. ~Mary Anne Radmacher

  2. Thanks for the reminder. I get so angry sometimes about all of the problems we are failing to solve, it's nice to be reminded that a) I'm not alone and b) that giving up isn't an option.

  3. That list has always made me sad, because I saw the original list that it was a rebuttal against, and I'm sure you can imagine what the original list was like. Talk about things that make you feel down!

    I get the despondent feelings too; I think everyone does. I'd be more worried if I didn't! But in my experience, it can be hard to deal with--it's easy to fall into the trap of needing to the Super Person who is always the voice of optimism and hope and strength, especially when you have people around you who either depend on you to be like that or who will prey on your moment of weakness. ("Gee, if YOU feel like you're fighting a losing battle, what should WE think?" Ugh.) It's important to have people or a place where you can let out the pain and sadness of fighting against all this negativity. I think it's seriously rad to be able to say it to the internet--to me, that's gutsy!

    I absolutely LOVED your Lady Gaga post, and this one is another gem. Thanks for rockin' the blogosphere. :)

  4. You genuine emotions and desire to make things better come through in a gently powerful way.
    I can't imagine it not resonating with our readers, especially those who are parents of children in or near this age group.
    Thanks for writing and sharing this.

  5. Man, I love that list. And definitely been there with the despondent-ness.

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