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Sexual Assault Awareness Month--changing the culture

MINNEAPOLIS-ST. PAUL AIR RESERVE STATION, MINN. -- Approximately two years ago, the Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower, Personnel and Services, the Surgeon General of the Air Force, and the Director of the Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response published a paper on the prevention of interpersonal and self-directed violence and how a change was needed. It was determined the Air Force’s previous approach to preventing violence, specifically sexual violence and suicide was simply not effective. Rather than looking at violence from a response perspective, the Air Force decided to look at it as a Public Health issue. This led to primary prevention efforts. Primary intervention or prevention is defined as stopping violence before it happens. This is different from secondary intervention (intervening immediately after the violence occurs) or tertiary intervention (long-term response after an attack).

Throughout the year, we have several awareness endeavors within our community. For example, April being Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Awareness endeavors are a good thing, because they shed light on common problems within our society. These endeavors encourage community members to action and to hopefully spread the word of such issues. However, by themselves they don’t always offer solutions, they simply bring awareness for a cause.

So how do we decrease power-based interpersonal violence? We do this by changing the culture. For centuries, our culture has been shaped by the premise that men are strong and women are weak. That men cannot show any sign of weakness, especially when dealing with emotions. We often teach young boys not to cry or to “be a man”. Conversely, we teach young girls to be pretty and submissive. The premise that boys should not show emotion and that girls should be submissive needs to change. It needs to change because it perpetuates the power of violence. That men are strong and women are weak.

We can also change the culture by being reactive and proactive. The bystander approach (Green Dot) teaches us to intervene when we see and know something isn’t quite right. We react to situations that could potentially be a crime. We can react to situations on any given day and for many reasons, such as hearing someone using words that are degrading and demeaning, or when we know someone who is incapacitated is being “groomed” for sexual violence, or when we see a former lover who won’t take no for an answer. We react to a situation that needs an intervention.

Being proactive promotes safety and well-being amongst us. This is done by paying attention to the words we use and by our actions. Do you overlook a potential situation because it’s none of your business? Do you go out of your way to reach out to a coworker who is struggling? Do you engage in conversations that promote strength amongst women and that it’s ok for men to show emotion? It’s important you demonstrate to the people in your life, at work, and at home, that issues like power-based interpersonal violence matter to you. What have you done today that empowers someone and stops the cycle of interpersonal violence?