1. Watch The Hunting Ground. From the people who brought us the Invisible War, the Hunting Ground is a documentary about sexual assault on college campuses and the fight for justice for victims. I’m sure most people are disgusted to hear these stories of colleges and universities mishandling cases of sexual assault, but to hear the stories from the actual victims and survivors is harrowing and important. If the film isn’t playing in a theater near you, you can watch the filmmakers, Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, talk about the film on the Daily Show.
2. Know Your IX. Know Your IX is a national, grassroots campaign to educate students on their rights under Title IX and end sexual assault on college campuses. To quote the website, “Title IX is a landmark federal civil right that prohibits sex discrimination in education.” Title IX applies to people of all genders, and requires that a school “be proactive in ensuring that your school is free of sex based discrimination.” Educate yourself and others on your rights, and if you are a college student and want to get involved you can join the Campus Action Network.
3. Volunteer. No matter where you are, you can volunteer. RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) has a great website that can link you to your local rape crisis center. These organizations rely heavily on volunteers, and you can really make a difference. There are a lot of ways you can volunteer, from answering the hotline to doing prevention work or community outreach. Volunteering is a great way to give back and connect with your community while supporting those who have experienced sexual assault.
4. Donate. Again, RAINN is a great resource to find your local rape crisis center to donate to, or you can donate to RAINN directly. Nonprofits and community organizations are often government funded and that funding has been diminishing since the recession in 2008. This means that organizations are relying more heavily on donations. If you’re feeling generous, you can repeat your donation every month. If you’re feeling creative, organize a fundraising event in your community to raise more money and spread awareness about sexual assault prevention!
5. Read Yes Means Yes! Visions of Sexual Power and a World Without Rape. Written by Jessica Valenti and Jaclyn Friedman, two badass feminists, this book is all about dismantling rape culture and promoting healthy sexual relationships and female pleasure. Anything written by either one of these talented women is worth it, but this book really covers a lot of ground and goes beyond the typical framework of “No Means No.” If you want to go further, read the book with friends and discuss it together afterwards.
6. Use Gender Neutral Language. Oftentimes, sexual assault is framed with the man being the perpetrator and the woman being the victim. While we know that women are sexually assaulted at higher rates than men, men still experience sexual assault at alarming rates and are less likely to seek support or counseling. Additionally, transgender individuals experience sexual assault at higher rates than the general population. All of this is to say — don’t make assumptions. Spaces to support victims and survivors should be inclusive and safe.
7. Don’t Perpetuate Victim Blaming. Victim blaming language is language that blames the victim for what happened to them (pretty self-explanatory, right?). Asking questions like, “What were you wearing?” “Why did you go there with them?” or “Why did you let them do that?” are questions that shift the blame from the perpetrator to the victim. Here’s the thing about sexual assault — it is never the victim’s fault. Ever. They were assaulted because someone chose to assault them. Pay attention to the language you use, as well as the language used by the people around you. It can be tough, but it’s important to call out victim blaming language when you hear it.
8. Educate Yourself on Rape Culture. Rape Culture has become one of those buzz words — like privilege or cultural appropriation — that is completely legitimate but thrown around so often some people may not take it seriously. Rape culture is very real. Once you educate yourself, suddenly you’ll look around and realize how pervasive it is. It’s worrying because it’s everywhere and it’s even more worrying because no one seems to notice! Melissa McEwan’s essay “Rape Culture 101” sums it up quite accurately: “In a rape culture both men and women assume that sexual violence is a fact of life, inevitable as death or taxes. This violence, however, is neither biologically nor divinely ordained. Much of what we accept as inevitable is in fact the expression of values and attitudes that can change.” The more you learn, the more you can help change the toxic attitudes and beliefs that contribute to rape culture.
9. Believe Victims. Unfortunately, it has become common for the general public to not trust people who have experienced sexual assault. Often they are accused of lying for attention or exaggerating the situation. We know that false reports of sexual assault are no higher than false reports for any crime (around 2%). However, if you are educated about rape culture you know that when a victim comes forward about their experience, they are often met with vitriol and disbelief. This backlash can be so intense it leads some victims to suicide. It is unlikely that someone would willingly make up a story of trauma, knowing that the response is often hateful and intense. If someone confides in you that they have experienced sexual assault, it is important to support them. Questions like, “What do you need right now?” and “How can I help?” are appropriate and show that you are there to support and listen, not judge.
10. Practice Self Care. Last but most certainly not least! Sexual assault is a heavy topic and can be difficult to talk about. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming to do normal things when you’re aware of all the violence and trauma that exists. It is important to stay emotionally, mentally and psychologically healthy. Self-care can range from watching Netflix to lying in the sun in your backyard to getting brunch with your friends (that last one is my personal favorite). Develop a set of practices to comfort and support yourself so you can continue to support those around you.