Far too often, conversations about sexual assault prevention focus on individual-level behaviours and choices – especially those of survivors. Even in 2022, it is common to see ‘tips’ suggesting that “walking confidently”, limiting alcohol consumption and always being on guard are the best means to prevent sexual assault.
No matter how they are framed, these approaches perpetuate rape myths. They imply that the responsibility to prevent sexual assault rests on the shoulders of those who are most likely to experience sexual assault. These approaches do not create safety. In fact, they do the opposite by distracting us from the root causes of sexual and gender-based violence. The solution doesn’t lie in tactical approaches to avoid assault; it’s in striving to eliminate opportunities for perpetrators to commit sexual violence in the first place, and holding them firmly accountable when they do.
For Sexual Assault Prevention Month, ORCC calls for broad and explicit acknowledgment that sexual and gender-based violence are systemic problems that cannot be eliminated through individual action. To make actual progress, we must face the harsh reality that certain groups – such as Black and Indigenous women and girls, trans folks, people with disabilities, and folks experiencing homelessness – are disproportionately targeted by perpetrators. We must examine, discuss and understand how and why this happens before we can effectively formulate and implement solutions.
Here’s the bottom line: perpetrators are emboldened and enabled by social and economic inequities that give them power over others. Unsafe and unaffordable housing, the ‘gig economy,’ inadequate social supports, and unjust laws are just a few of the inequities that perpetrators can and do exploit to carry out sexual and gender-based violence.
Furthermore, deeply entrenched racism towards BIPOC, transphobia, homophobia and colonialism make it even easier for perpetrators to commit violence against members of historically oppressed groups, while creating immense barriers for such groups to find the safety and security that everyone deserves.
And to this day, rape myths persist, allowing perpetrators to commit and get away with sexual and gender-based violence, while compounding the shame and social isolation that all too often prevents survivors from getting the help they need.
Serious steps towards preventing sexual assault must include public education that addresses the root causes of sexual and gender-based violence, and strategic actions to help end it. But we can’t stop there: we urgently need more robust programs and initiatives that ameliorate the inequities that impede the health, safety, and well-being of the groups that are disproportionately affected by sexual and gender-based violence.
ORCC is committed to moving the needle forward through:
- community partnerships that provide low-barrier supports to survivors at Cornerstone Housing for Women and Larga Baffin;
- collaborations that focus on the systemic roots of sexual violence, such as our ongoing work with organizations in Eastern Ontario that run anti-human trafficking programs; and
- ongoing public education to build momentum towards systems-level change.
We invite everyone in our broader community to be part of the change we need. Here is how you can take part:
Stand with Survivors
Sexual violence thrives in silence. We need more people to speak up and say that sexual violence is never ok and to call for programs and initiatives that create a safer community for everyone. You can:
Build the Response
Systems-level change requires intensive resources and a broad community of support. You can help us get there by:
Shift the Perspective
Perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence thrive on rape myths, misconceptions, and stigma that all too often isolate survivors and make it harder for them to find safety and security. You can help change this by: