START BEFORE THEY GET TO CAMPUS (in fact before they get to high school).
To truly reduce sexual assault and sexual violence on college campuses, we need a movement focused on cultural transformation that takes place years before a college student steps on campus. If we really want to lower sexual assault on university campuses for the long-run, our country must move to educating the youngest of all genders on respect, boundaries, and honoring every individual as being valuable.
Prior to students reaching the point at which there is a strong potential for them to be participating in sexual activity, curriculum needs to be instituted in schools that is age appropriate at teaching “how to” skills sets for sexual decision-making that honors every person’s choices and boundaries.
Our country needs to proactively teach that the beauty and amazement of wonderful sexual experiences requires for BOTH people to want the sexual activity; both people to be of an age of understanding their choices (age of sexual consent); both people able to verbally fully communicate likes and dislikes; both people to be of sound mind; both people able to ask for what they want and don’t want; and to honor the answer of your partner when you do request sexual activity (consent).
Until this transformation is in place, universities need to be teaching “How To” skills for requesting and honoring consent; providing students the precise words to support survivors coming forward; and teaching specific strategies for bystander intervention.
If everyone is asking first and honoring the answer, each person’s boundaries would be respected at all times. If every survivor felt fully supported in coming forward, more survivors would feel safe and comforted coming forward.
Bystander intervention is important to stop the crime of sexual assault that frequently is excused in our current culture (people calling a alcohol-facilitated sexual assault a “drunk hookup” is unfortunately common – doing so minimizes the trauma of the crime and results in few people doing anything to intervene and thus stop the perpetrator).
Regardless of what we are seeing in PSA (Public Service Announcements), Bystander Intervention should be taught to ALL people of all genders. We need to be careful about promoting any messaging based on the concept of “Men Protect Her.” Such messaging reinforces unhealthy gender roles and forgets the fact that all genders are able to make a positive impact (and that survivors can be of any gender).
The well-meaning, yet misguided concept of “Men Protect Her” reminds me of the damage “No Means No” did years ago as an educational campaign. At the time, everyone thought, “‘No Means No’ is a great message!” Except we as a society failed to think of the consequences of the messaging. What happened? With “No Means No,” people ended up blaming survivors for “not saying ‘No'” – instead of the perpetrators who never asked in the first place.
Instead of focusing on “MEN to Protect HER,” we need people to CARE about PEOPLE – all people. Help when you see someone in trouble. The right bystander intervention training will provide you the skills to do so.
This is a golden time for all of us to explore the best approaches for creating long-term cultural transformation. The key is starting WAY BEFORE anyone streps on a college campus.