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.