Eliminating Our Rape Culture


Hans Magnus Enzensberger once said, “Culture is a little like dropping an Alka-Seltzer into a glass-you don’t see it, but somehow it does something.”  Indeed, there is truth in this sentiment.  How do we, as human beings, seem to innately know how to behave in certain situations, how to dress, the appropriateness of our conversation, etc.?  Our cultural influences dictate many of our mores.  We have all been conditioned and socialized in various ways to possess certain behaviors, attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge about the world around us.  The culture in which we have been socialized often serves as the foundational basis for these elements.

“Culture,” as described by Enzensberger, is often something intangible that has a large impact.  The elements and nuances of the culture in which one is involved are powerful; powerful enough to shape and mold pieces of a person’s identity.  Here in the United States, we often hear of various culture crises and problems with what has become known as “American culture.”  What we don’t often hear of though, is the incredibly overwhelming presence of a rape culture in the United States today.

Rape Culture is an environment in which “rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture. Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety” (www.marshall.edu).

Some examples of Rape Culture:

  • blaming the victim (saying things like “she deserved it” or “what did she think was going to happen?)
  • trivializing sexual assault (the “boys will be boys” attitude),
  • sexually explicit jokes
  • wanton sexual violence on TV and in movies
  • teaching women to avoid getting raped, instead of teaching men not to rape
  • music that glamorizes sexual violence or degrades women
  • pressuring men to “score”
  • pressuring women to be “easy”

The nature of rape culture in America today has never been clearer.  Take, for example, this year’s Oscars Awards Show.  Host Seth McFarlane, drawing on his penchant for crude and immature “comedy,” performed a song entitled “We Saw Your Boobs.”  The premise of the song was for McFarlane to count off a number of actresses and the movies in which they disrobed.  Let us not forget many of the actresses mentioned by McFarlane in his song were portraying rape victims in the films McFarlane chose to highlight.  Let us also not forget the many laughs and raucous applause McFarlane received while performing his song and after.  Certainly, there has been outcry and backlash against the song and McFarlane (and rightfully so), yet the bigger picture needs to be looked at.  First is the fact that McFarlane even dared to write the song.  Second, producers of the Oscars approved the song for performance.  Third, a whole process was put into place, involving dancers, a choir, cameramen, etc. and at no point did anyone stop to question the song or speak out against it until AFTER it was performed.  Further, even if the song didn’t contain references to rape scenes and characters who had been victims of rape, would not McFarlane’s song still have been misogynistic and indicative of a rape culture?  I’d say so.

How’s this for another example?  In a salon.com article entitled “Can Men be Taught Not to Rape?” Zerlina Maxwell, a survivor of rape, recounts her experiences with rape culture.  She tells salon about her experiences as a television guest on Fox’s “Hannity,” where she suggested that men need to be educated on how to not be sexually aggressive.  She stated “I don’t think that we should be telling women anything. I think we should be telling men not to rape women and start the conversation there.” What followed was shocking.  Maxwell’s Facebook and Twitter accounts have been inundated with threats, the use of vicious and vile names, and comments urging and promoting the idea that she deserves to be raped again.  She states, “I don’t want anybody to lecture a rape survivor about anything. And I don’t want anybody telling women that if you don’t wear a skirt or don’t drink at all you’re going to be safe. That is a lie.” Because she dared to challenge the status quo, that rape is an everyday occurrence and is not the fault of the victim (most often women), Maxwell has experienced harassment, hatred, and threats.  Is the backlash and pushback received by Maxwell indicative of a rape culture?  I’d say so.

And finally, there’s this…a Facebook picture and PLENTY of “likes” and comments about a bottle of UV Grape-flavored vodka.  The issue is that someone has scribbled out the “G” in the word grape, thus turning the bottle into “UV Rape”-flavored vodka.  Some of the comments posted next to the picture read “It tastes like roofies,” “It tastes like lonely strippers at the bar,” and “I would like 1 Mustachatory Rape please.”  One of the comments posted was even by a business, implying that they love rape.  Indicative of a rape culture?  I’d say so.

So, how do we combat Rape Culture in the United States?  Is this even something we can begin to fix?  The answer is yes, but it’s going to take both men and women working together to shift the social paradigm and challenge social norms.  It’s important that we analyze our own language and put an end to using terms and phrases that are offensive and derogatory to women.  We must also begin using our voices to speak up and out about jokes or comments that are made regarding rape.

We need to let others know that we aren’t going to stand idly by and allow our silence to be interpreted as complicit acceptance.  This has been done here in the F-M area.  Members of the Men’s Action Network, after reading about the backlash experienced by Zerlina Maxwell, took it upon themselves to personally contact her and let her know of their support for her stance and the comments she made while being interviewed on television.  These men have commented on how and why they feel it’s important for them to let Maxwell know that they, as men, stand with her in solidarity.  Additionally though, we also need to start thinking critically about the media we consume and the message it contains about men and women and the relationships between them.  We can start small, and move to larger steps to create a world free from domestic and sexual violence.

Shifting the Paradigm–Prevention and You


We hear it all the time, a certain month is associated with a certain issue or cause and suddenly it becomes National (fill in the blank) Month.  In the Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention field, we are very familiar with this phenomenon.  February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month.  April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Child Abuse Prevention Month.  October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  Yet, with these issues being highlighted during specific months each year, how far have we truly gotten when it comes to reaching the masses with not only awareness messaging, but prevention-based messaging?  Does the common, everyday American citizen have an understanding of the true impact these issues have on us all and more importantly, do we all have a desire to learn how to prevent domestic and sexual violence so as to create a world in which they no longer exist?

It needs to become obvious that domestic and sexual violence are widespread issues that affect us all.  Even more importantly, it needs to become obvious that each of us has a stake in preventing domestic and sexual violence.  Each of us CAN work to prevent these issues.  Involvement in prevention efforts can range from simple and easy to difficult and complex.  The point is, there needs to be a movement afoot to recognize the fact that domestic and sexual violence are EVERYONE’S business, and EVERYONE must work toward the goal of erasing these issues from our global landscape.

This year, to mark the 15th anniversary of V-Day (an annual movement to draw attention to issues of sexual and domestic violence), a new movement has been born.  One Billion Rising has become a global movement, a challenge of sorts, to all who want to end intimate partner violence.  The slogan of the movement allows for a new perspective to be gained when we consider domestic and sexual violence.  One Billion Rising states:




Let’s think of this message from a prevention standpoint.  Yes, on a global level, one-in-three women will be victimized during her lifetime.  Yes, that equates to one billion victims across the globe.  That number is staggering, and it certainly represents an atrocity which takes place each and every day.  However, let’s consider the last line of One Billion Rising’s statement—consider the force, momentum, and power behind one billion people who are united to stand against the presence of domestic and sexual violence in the world; people who are committed to take active measures to prevent these issues.  That indeed, is a revolution.  One Billion Rising has challenged the world for a day to draw attention to these issues and begin the revolution by engaging in dance because, as they say, “Dancing insists we take up space. It has no set direction but we go there together. It’s dangerous, joyous, sexual, holy, disruptive. It breaks the rules. It can happen anywhere at anytime with anyone and everyone. It’s free. No corporation can control it. It joins us and pushes us to go further. It’s contagious and it spreads quickly. It’s of the body. It’s transcendent” (www.onebillionrising.org).

But how do we continue on?  How do we take concepts such as One Billion Rising and employ them in our daily lives, with our own family, friends, coworkers, etc.?  Consider this, the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey of 2010 found that in the United States, one in five women and one in 71 men will be a victim of sexual assault during their lifetime.  Additionally, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence states one in four women in the U.S. will be a victim of domestic violence during her lifetime.  Yet, we tend to get so bogged down in numbers and lose their significance or impact.

Let’s look at these numbers or statistics through a prevention lens.  One in five women (20%) and one in 71 men will be a victim of sexual assault during their lifetime.  Those are tough numbers to read.  However, what gets lost in those numbers is the fact that four out of five women and 70 out of 71 men can do something to prevent sexual violence.  We never quite look at numbers in this way, do we?  If one in four women is a victim of domestic violence, then three out of four women can do something to prevent domestic violence.

So where do we start?  How do we begin addressing the behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs surrounding these issues?  How do we begin deconstructing social norms which lead to an overall environment in which domestic and sexual violence are allowed to continue?  Here are some things we can each do to begin working toward a world free of domestic and sexual violence…

(based on publications from mencanstoprape.org and menaspeacemakers.org)

  1. Educate yourself-begin to understand the true impact of these issues on all people and share your knowledge and insight with those around you.
  2. Focus on communication in sexual situations. Listening to the other person, stating desires clearly, and asking when a situation is unclear will make relationships safer and healthier.  Create a space to enthusiastically say yes.
  3. Take a look around the waiting room/reception area at your workplace.  Does the reading material promote healthy messages about men, women, and relationships?  If not, change your subscriptions.
  4. Get involved-join a community group or movement working to prevent domestic and sexual violence.  Make a difference.
  5. Speak out-you will hear attitudes and see behaviors that degrade women and promote a culture of violence.  When a friend tells a rape joke, let them know you don’t find it funny.  Use your voice.
  6. Create and enforce policies in your place of business which make it unacceptable for employees to display crude or sexist images/jokes in their workspace.
  7. Learn about the ways sexual and domestic violence affect the lives of men.  Ask men how it would feel to be seen as a potential rapist or abuser and how they’d feel if a woman they care about was assaulted.
  8. Review how the news media reports sexual and domestic assaults.  Do they use language that holds the alleged offender accountable?  Do they protect the identity of the victim?  Is the story sensationalized?
  9. Create and enforce policies at your workplace that promote equality and respect for all people.
  10. Ask women how the fear of rape or abuse in a relationship affects their daily lives and whether they know someone who has been victimized.  Listen and learn from them about the impact of these issues and how to stop it.


We all have a vested interest in ending domestic and sexual violence and creating a world free from abuse.  If you are interested in learning more about prevention or would like additional resources, please contact the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center at 701-293-7273.

What kind of bystander are you?

New Delhi, Steubenville, Nortre Dame.  These are not usually locations which would typically be grouped together.  Yet, as of late, these three locales have been in the news for one reason, and one reason only.  All three of these locations are places at which sexual assaults and rapes have taken place to a degree so disturbing and heinous they have caught the public’s attention.

In India, a 23-year-old student was raped on a bus in New Delhi on December 16.  She later died as a result of the injuries she sustained during the attack.  Five men are charged with rape, murder, and kidnapping in connection with the assault.  A male companion who had gone to the movies with the woman survived the attack with a broken leg. He later recounted that the bus driver made lewd remarks about the woman when they boarded, and five other men taunted the couple and locked the doors.  Then the attack began, with the driver, wielding an iron bar, taking part.  (http://edition.cnn.com/2013/01/09/world/asia/india-rape-case/).

In Steubenville, Ohio, two high school football players have been indicted for rape and will face trial in February.  Their alleged victim is a 16 year-old girl who was unconscious during the time of the assault.  This story has become national news because of a YouTube video in which fellow male students are shown laughing and joking about the details about the alleged rape.  As Will Goodman writes, “The nearly 13-minute video posted on YouTube consists mostly of one teenage male hysterically laughing as he entertains an unseen cameraman and others in the room with remarks such as “They raped her harder than that cop raped Marcellus Wallace in ‘Pulp Fiction’,” and, “They raped her quicker than Mike Tyson raped that one girl” (www.cbsnews.com).  Goodman continues “The teen also makes remarks implying that he may have witnessed at least some of the incident: “You didn’t see how they carried her out,” he says. And: “They peed on her, that’s how you know she’s dead.” And also: “She is so raped right now.”

Finally, at Notre Dame, a university with rich history and a storied past, comes this; two football players suspected of sexual assault and rape.  Dave Zirin writes of this story in his blog found at theNation.  Zirin states,

“Nineteen-year-old Lizzy Seeberg, a student at neighboring St. Mary’s College, took her own life after her claims of being assaulted in a dorm room were met with threats and indifference. The other accuser, despite description of a brutal rape, won’t file charges—“absolutely 100%”—because of what Seeberg experienced.

Lizzy Seeberg was a first semester freshman and from a family of Notre Dame graduates. After an evening when she socialized with members of the football team, Lizzy came forward with accusations of a sexual assault. After writing out a statement and submitting to medical attention, she received texts from another member of the team that read, “Don’t do anything you would regret” and “Messing with Notre Dame football is a bad idea.”

To show that she wouldn’t rock the boat, Lizzy was compelled by her peers to go to the next game, stencil the Notre Dame logos into her face and cheer her assaulter. As Melinda Henneberger, a Washington Post reporter and Notre Dame alum who has investigated the sexual assaults on campus extensively, wrote, “On Sept. 7, she wrote her therapist, ‘I can’t get out of this f*!#ing hole I’ve started to dig. I’m trying to go to sleep because I’m sick with a cold and need to get rest but I can’t stop thinking about taking all the pills I can find. I’m ready to check out because this sucks.’ She promised [her therapist] she would never follow through. But then, on Sept. 9, she had a panic attack during a mandatory freshman orientation on sexual assault.”  That panic attack preceded her suicide.

These are just the most recent stories of sexual assault and rape which have seized the attention of the world.  And while each and every story of sexual violence is worthy of attention and outrage, one may wonder what it is about these three particular stories that has caused the world to take notice.  Undoubtedly, these stories do share common threads.  Interwoven throughout each of these instances of sexual violence, we can see evidence of social norms which we know lead to the acceptance of sexual violence.  In New Delhi, Steubenville, and Notre Dame, the alleged perpetrators are all members of a group or class with privilege or power.  ‘Power over’ is certainly a social norm that lends itself to the promulgation of sexual violence.  In New Delhi, men are given much more power and privilege than women.  In Steubenville and at Notre Dame, the accused assailants were all members of the highly reputed football teams; afforded much power and many perceived privileges.

However, there are additional similarities in these cases which much be looked at; similarities which are perhaps, more alarming.  In each of the cases detailed above, one must note the role of the bystander.  A bystander is a person who is present at an event, though not necessarily participating (www.thefreedictionary.com).  The problem with each of the assaults written about here is that there were plenty of opportunities for bystanders to get involved and become what are known as ‘active bystanders.’  Yet few if any, did.   Imagine what could have happened in New Delhi if someone on that bus had come to the aid of the young female student and her companion as the assault began.  Imagine what could have happened at Notre Dame if a friend of Lizzy Seeberg had stood up and supported her; telling her it was okay to not attend the next football game, or had encouraged Lizzy to report the threatening text messages she had received.  And then there’s Steubenville.  This is the case we must examine more closely when we look at the impact of bystander behavior.

Steubenville is an unprecedented case in many ways.  Not the least of which is the role social media and YouTube have played as this case continues to unfold.  There exists a 12-minute video in which male peers of the alleged victim are seen laughing and joking about her assault.  One of the young men even alludes to the fact he may have witnessed part of the assault and give details as to what had occurred, stating “They peed on her, that’s how you know she’s dead.”  When he’s told by an off-camera male voice that his comments aren’t funny and he’s being childish, and the voice continues to explain that the girl being discussed was raped, the young man on camera only laughs harder.  Another off-camera voice asks “What if that was your daughter?”  To which the on-camera male responds “But it isn’t.  If that was my daughter I wouldn’t care, I’d just let her be dead.” The males who raise concern are chided and mocked.  The rest of the group doesn’t understand, or doesn’t want to understand the point they’re attempting to make.   Let’s think about the implications here.  If this on-camera male, or any of his counterparts did in fact, witness part of the girl’s assault, they could have intervened.  They could have chosen to be an active bystander and do something about the situation.  They could have aided the girl, they could have removed the alleged assailants from the situation, they could have called a parent, law enforcement, etc.  But they did not.  Instead, they chose to laugh, joke, and display absolute indifference toward her well-being.

All of us are bystanders to many situations each day.  We have the choice regarding what type of bystander we’ll be.  Will we be that passive bystander who chooses to ignore something we know is wrong, concerning, or alarming?  Will we be that bystander who chooses to laugh and joke about a situation in which another human being has been harmed?  Or, will we choose to be a bystander who intervenes?  Will we choose to say something, get help, call law enforcement, etc?  Being an active bystander is not always easy, nor is it always comfortable.  However, don’t we, as human beings, have an obligation to one another to make it our business when we see or hear something we know is wrong?

He wants a Barbie for Christmas, she wants a Football

In case you haven’t noticed, the hustle and bustle of the holiday season is upon us, causing us all to attempt to juggle the normal routine of our daily lives plus the additional events and frivolity which come along with turning our calendars over to the month of December.  The onset of the holiday season holds different meaning and causes different reactions for us all.  For some, the season is a time filled with parties and get-togethers; a time to socialize and celebrate the joy of the season.  For others, this time of year causes great anxiety.  For others still, once the leaves have fallen from the trees, it’s time to begin compiling a holiday wish list.  And of course, there are those who delight in fulfilling those wishes.

Let’s talk about those wish lists and the process of selecting gifts, particularly for children. So very often, we may not consider the importance of thinking beyond the gifts themselves, considering their larger impact in the lives of their recipient and others.  Further, how often do we actually stop and consider how heavily we are influenced throughout the process of gift selection?  Emanuella Grinberg writes about this issue in an article for CNN Living entitled “When Kids Play Across Gender Lines” and discusses the ways in which many products, particularly toys, are marketed and packaged along rigid gender lines.  Grinberg includes commentary from Carrie Goldman, author of the book, “Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear.”

Goldman states, Removing gender-specific connotations from packaging or displays sends the message to children that they’re open to everyone.  When stores separate toys into aisles for girls and boys, however, they learn that anyone who deviates from their designated shelves deserves to be ridiculed.  We can’t truly address bullying without talking about the fear of people perceived as different.”

Psychology Professor and co-founder of SPARK (Sexualization Protest Action Resistance Knowledge), Deborah Tolman, says that restricting toys like train sets to boys and dress-up to girls can also stifle their creativity while simultaneously reinforcing antiquated gender roles.  Tolman states “Kids get a lot of ideas early from play about what they can do, what they like and what they can aspire to.  By making those themes gender specific, it leaves out a whole range of possibilities.”  Tolman makes the point that offering gender neutral play is not about removing blue and pink packaging from toy store shelves or steering children away from toys which are traditionally thought of as being more masculine or feminine, but simply allowing children to feel as though all options are available.  “It’s about making all these ways of playing part of the human experience. Anxiety about gender has created codes that have nothing to do with how people should be people,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong with pink. It’s the meaning we infuse it with.”

So what does all this have to do with the prevention of domestic and sexual violence?  We know in order to begin preventing these issues, we need to start looking at the social norms which exist around us that allow for domestic and sexual violence to occur in the first place.  Two of the social norms related to domestic and sexual violence are limited roles for women and narrow definitions of masculinity.  When children begin learning at a young age about what men and women supposedly should and shouldn’t do, and those ideas are reinforced by the toys they play with, the advertisements they see, the movies they watch, and the things they hear, the social norms which create and promote ideas surrounding gender roles and what men and women can or can’t do become reinforced.

When children enter a toy store and it’s very apparent which toys are meant for girls and which are meant for boys because of the color schemes, the packaging, and nature of the store’s design, the children are already receiving many messages about their gender; what’s acceptable, what’s not, and how  males and females are expected to behave.  Couple these experiences with advertising geared toward children, tweens, and teens, and it starts to become painfully obvious how young people today are socialized in ways that stringently dictate their gender roles.

The question then, is how we begin to combat these experiences.  For one answer, we can look overseas to Britain’s largest department store, Harrod’s.  The store has garnered much praise for its revamped Toy Kingdom in which toys are no longer categorized along gendered lines, but instead, are grouped into six interactive ‘worlds.’  What’s more, A Mighty Girl (found at www.amightygirl.com) is a group that sells, tracks, and blogs about gifts and toys which are empowering for young girls and help break traditional gender role stereotypes for children.  They have a holiday gift guide available on their website and plenty of thoughtful resources and blogs for adults to read too.

As adults, we have a responsibility to educate ourselves on the harms of a gendered society and the impact such an experience may have on young children and the promulgation of domestic and sexual violence.  To work towards preventing domestic and sexual violence, we can take the step to educate others on the importance of talking about social norms, gender roles, and how they impact our lives and the existence of these issues.  If we have children in our lives, we can make conscientious decisions to purchase toys and gifts for them that do not promote antiquated gender roles and stereotypes, but promote equality and creativity.  Opening a world filled with possibility to a child leaves a world filled with possibility for us all.


Citation: Grinberg, Emanuella.  “When Kids Play Across Gender Lines.”   CNN Living.  http://www.cnn.com/2012/08/27/living/harrods-gender-neutral-toys/index.html

Language Matters


“Hey, how was it…what do you think?”

“I don’t know man, all I can say is that sucked…I totally got raped.”

And so it begins.  Enter any middle or high school hallway, and you’re bound to hear conversations such as this.  Take a walk around any college campus or spend time at any public meeting place, and overhearing comments like this is inevitable.  What allows for an individual, or group of individuals, to believe that using a term such as “rape” in such a cavalier manner is acceptable?  Do we, as human beings, not have the obligation to consider the larger and often times, strong impact our words may have on those around us?  We live in a world where basic acceptance of the fact that sexual assault is not okay is now the norm.  However, to use the phraseology of sexual assault and rape in a flippant manner serves only to act as a promotion of sexual violence, not a condemnation.

Let’s dissect the problem and begin to look at it this way:  when a rape victim hears the word “rape,” they are not correlating the term with an experience of mere disappointment or frustration, like not doing well on an exam or paying too much for a certain product.  No, they are instead thinking of the traumatizing violation they endured.  They correlate the term “rape” with an experience that has significantly impacted their life.  To misuse the word rape and ignore the true definition and the gravity which comes along with it serves only to further victimize those who have survived an assault.

As of late, we have heard new terms applied to rape.  We are all now familiar with terminology such as “legitimate rape” and “forcible rape.”  We’ve heard proclamations about God’s intent related to rape, etc. etc.  Anne Seymour and Dean Kilpatrick, Ph.D., put it best when they said,      Don’t parse the definition of “rape.”  When you insist that only some rapes are “forcible,” you infer that other rapes are what?  Voluntary?  That’s just uninformed and insensitive. Face it: rape is rape, regardless of however else you may want to characterize it.

Don’t compare rape to bad weather or making lemonade out of lemons, or any other comment that only demonstrates your ignorance about the violent crime of rape.  That’s just stupid, and it makes you look stupid.

Don’t proclaim that anyone’s God has any “intent” related to rape or its distressing consequences.  That may be your opinion, but please know, convincingly and clearly, that your words risk further hurting victims whose spirituality doesn’t include a Higher Being who sanctions rape or its catastrophic and personal impact on them.

 Don’t say your words were “taken out of context” or “misunderstood.”  It’s not your words that were twisted, but your attitude. We get you.  We understand you. What we don’t get or understand is your ignorance, and your lack of initiative to learn about rape.”

Our language is used to shape cultural norms, create attitudes, and instill beliefs.  When we are so cavalier in our usage of the term “rape” or we begin to attempt to qualify rape, we have a real problem.  The prevention of rape and sexual assaults begins with each of us; we each need to hold ourselves accountable and take inventory of the attitudes we possess, the beliefs we hold and the language we use.

But it is not only the word rape that creates and breeds a dangerous environment in which sexual violence is viewed as being more acceptable or less horrific.  There are some other terms and words that might be offensive or hurtful for others to hear and that promote sexual violence.  Terms such as “bitch,” slut,” and “whore.”  Phrases like “bros before hos;” the list goes on.  We must note these terms and phrases, while highly disrespectful and derogatory, are very often used in lighter context as well; amongst friends, as if they were terms of endearment.

Through being a society that accepts the usage of this kind of language, we send the message that we are accepting of any or all terms and phrases which are disrespectful and derogatory.  Where will we draw the line?  How are we supposed to know what’s acceptable and what’s not?  Because of the ambiguous social context in which these terms are often used, we usually find ourselves reverting to a practice in which these terms, attitudes, and phrases are used without censor.

What we must realize, however, is that many of these terms are specifically aimed toward putting women down.    And when women are put down, disrespected, and demeaned, it is easier to see them as not being important or equal.  And when one population is able to be viewed as less than another, it is that much easier to abuse, harm, and encourage the mistreatment of them.  We need to choose language that respects all people; including women.  We must hold ourselves accountable and challenge ourselves to use respectful language and we must share our feelings about this language with those around us when it comes up, so as to put an end to the trend.  Through explaining the importance of healthy communication and positive terminology we can begin to create a community of trust and positive interaction, which can begin to negate the root causes of sexual violence.  But it’s going to take each of us; ready and willing to take a stand and make changes in our own lives and we must challenge those around us to do the same.

Challenging Social Norms

It’s that time of year again; the leaves are changing color and falling from the trees, children have returned back to school, the air is crisp, and Halloween is right around the corner.  Along with the celebration of Halloween comes the familiar tradition of choosing a costume to wear for the spooky festivities.  But how often to do we really stop to consider the harmful effects of the marketing of these costumes and the garments themselves as they relate to domestic and sexual violence?

Would you be shocked to know for the past several years a “pimp” costume has remained on the list as one of the most popular for young boys in the United States?  And costumes advertised as “sexy” and “naughty” have steadily increased in popularity with young girls.  Gone are the days when dressing up as animals, clowns, and ghosts was sufficient.

One may argue these are merely costumes, meant to enhance a child’s whimsy and imagination, and the harm in allowing a child to dress up is only present when adults make a mountain out of a mole hill.  However, when we look through a different lens and begin to evaluate the cultural norms in our society which allow for domestic and sexual violence to occur in the first place, we are better able to see the harmful effects allowing children to dress as a “sexy pirate” or a “blinged-out pimp” can have.

There have been several social norms identified which allow for the perpetration of domestic and sexual violence to take place.  They include:

  1. Narrow definitions of masculinity
  2. Limited roles for women
  3. Power Over
  4. Privacy and Silence
  5. Acceptance of Violence
  6. Sexualization of Children

It is, of course, this last norm that has the largest effect on children.  When children are bombarded by message from a very early age that they should be “sexy,” “naughty,” and “seductive,” it sends the message to them that their self worth and importance comes only from their sexuality.  They begin to equate their importance with their sexuality and nothing else.  This is a dangerous precedent to set.  For male children, focusing attention on costumes that encourage behavior like “pimping” or even that of violent superheroes allows for them to equate their self importance and worth with aggression and the ability to harm or demean others.  These are lessons that promulgate the perpetration of sexual assault and domestic violence in our society.

So what do we do about it?  We, as adults, need to hold ourselves to a higher standard.  We need to hold ourselves accountable.  Are you hosting a Halloween party in your home this year?  Set a dress code.  No demeaning or over-the-top sexy outfits will be allowed.  Do you have children?  When you are out shopping for costumes explain to them the parameters they have to abide by when looking for a costume and why.  Are you dressing up this year?  Hold yourself to a higher standard and challenge yourself to find a costume that is appropriate and doesn’t encourage disrespect or harm to another person.  It is in these small but meaningful ways that we begin to challenge our social norms and bring about a community and a society that will one day be free from domestic and sexual violence.

We Can All Prevent Domestic and Sexual Violence

Imagine for a moment, a world without domestic or sexual violence; a world in which terms such as rape, domestic violence and sexual assault didn’t exist.  How would that world differ from our own?    The answers given to this question often begin with the obvious; crime rates would decrease, there would be fewer victims in our society and fewer perpetrators, and the general sense of safety and well-being would increase.  But let’s take it a step further and really think about how prevalent sexual and domestic violence are in our society.  When one stops to consider that a sexual assault is perpetrated every 2 ½ minutes and every 9 seconds a woman is beaten by her partner, it becomes painfully obvious that domestic and sexual violence are a tremendous problem with a large presence in our communities; in our Fargo-Moorhead community.  So, what if that problem didn’t exist?  How would our world differ?

To begin, many of the “safety precautions” taught to young women would become obsolete and unnecessary.  Women, specifically, would no longer need to worry about parking underneath street lights, carrying car keys between their fingers, and checking their backseats before driving away.  Many television shows and movies would have to change their plots and the way they portray men and women.  Many popular recording artists would be out of a job.  College campuses around the country would no longer need to distribute “rape whistles” to their female students.  Fears regarding leaving a drink unattended at dinner would fall by the way side.  Men would no longer feel the pressure to “score” and brag about their conquests.  Relationships could and potentially would be based upon mutual respect, equality, and consent.  I would be out of a job.   So how do we get there?  How do we create a world in which personal violence doesn’t exist?

And, more importantly, is personal violence something that can even be prevented and eradicated from our society?  Absolutely.  But to create a society free from these forms of violence requires each of us to do some soul searching and put in some work.  To prevent sexual assault and domestic violence, we each need to examine our own knowledge, attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs regarding issues of sexual assault and sexual misconduct.  We need to educate ourselves and become aware as to the reality and prevalence of perpetration in our own community.  And, we need to make a steadfast commitment to become active bystanders when we see or hear something that needs to be addressed.  We need to begin to hold perpetrators fully accountable for their behaviors and stop blaming victims.  We need to address and understand the role media and advertising play in creating an environment in which we have become desensitized to violence and perpetration.

All this is no small task.  Sexual and domestic violence have been present in society for centuries and are learned behaviors, correlating with history, gender roles, social conditioning, and portrayals in the media.  To prevent personal violence, we must make changes on an individual level, a structural level, and a social level.  But first, it begins with us.  Are you willing to challenge yourselves and each other to do something to prevent violence in your world and the world of others?  Are you willing to take a stand and say enough is enough?  What will you do to help prevent personal violence in the Fargo-Moorhead area?

 Here are just a few simple things from our friends at Men Can Stop Rape that each and every one of us can do to work toward the prevention of these issues…

  1. Educate Yourself—Take the time to learn about sexual violence, what it is, and how it impacts your world.
  2. Talk it Over—Better communication in sexual situations-listening to the other person, stating desires clearly, and asking when a situation is unclear-will make relationships safer and healthier.  Create a space to enthusiastically say  yes.
  3. Understand the Ability to Consent—Drugs and alcohol can affect a person’s ability to decide whether they want to be sexual with someone.  If a person is “really out of it” and can’t give consent, wait until you both are ready to enthusiastically say  yes.
  4. Be  Aware of Pop Culture’s Messages—We are surrounded daily by TV shows,  music, magazines, video games, and movies that communicate messages about      masculinity, femininity and relationships.  Don’t let images in popular culture dictate your behavior.
  5. Choose  Words Carefully—When you use words to put women down, you support the  belief that they are less than fully human.  It is easier to ignore women’s  well-being when they are seen as inferior.  Choose language that respects women.
  6. Speak  Out—You will hear attitudes and see behaviors that degrade women and  promote a culture of violence.  When your friend tells a joke about rape, say you don’t find it funny.  Use your voice.
  7. Show Your Strength—Don’t ever have sex with anyone against their will.  Make a pledge to be a person whose  strength is used for respect, not for hurting.
  8. Be an active bystander—don’t stand idly by when you see or hear  something that’s wrong.

The first step in preventing personal violence begin with each of us, and it begins now.  Please, join with us as we raise our voices and challenge the Fargo-Moorhead area to work on the prevention of intimate partner and sexual violence so we can make our community safer and stronger.

It’s Everyone’s Business

It is the vision of the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center  to be a leader in promoting and creating a society free of domestic and sexua lviolence. This is a lofty goal, indeed, and realistically, this will not be accomplished without the engagement of our community members. We understand that without community participation, primary prevention programs cannot be successful. We believe these issues are “everyone’s business.”

To this end and through the support of the Verizon Foundation, Dakota Medical Foundation, F-M Area Foundation, United Way Cass Clay, and Deek’s Pizza, the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center will host a community “think tank” entitled, “It’s Everyone’s Business: Summit to Prevent Domestic and Sexual Violence” on September 18 at the Ramada Plaza Suites and Convention Center in Fargo.

The target audience for this full-day event includes leaders in our community who are able to affect change through policy making, leadership, and culture.

In addition to the daytime event, there will be a college summit that evening, with five campuses participating.

Through presentations, performances, and participatory activities, attendees will explore societal norms as well as individual beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors which enable domestic and sexual violence to occur.

Participants will be challenged to consider a world in which the threats of domestic and sexual violence do not exist.  What would that world look like;  how would your life differ?  To achieve this end, a violence-free world, Summit participants will work together to create actionable steps they can take to eradicate these issues from our FM community.


Hello everyone!  We’re so excited to have entered the world of blogging!  We are the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center, located in Fargo, ND.  We’re a non-profit agency whose mission is to provide crisis intervention, advocacy, counseling and education to all persons affected by sexual and domestic violence and to provide prevention programs to create a society free of personal abuse.   We are firmly dedicated to this mission and encourage you check back with us here in the coming weeks and months to find out what we’re doing in the community to create a domestic and sexual violence-free F-M area.  We hope to hear from you!!