June 21, 2023
The Reality of Sexual Violence
Summer of 2017, I went to the beach with an acquaintance of my abusive ex-fiancé. He insisted on stopping at his house to shower and change into swim wear where he bragged about his sexual prowess and size (in explicit detail) before taking me to brunch.
He drove me home after brunch and a few hours at the beach. Upon arrival, I thanked him for a pleasant day and said goodbye.
I already had the passenger door open when he asked to use my bathroom “real quick.”
Not wanting to be rude, I agreed reluctantly. A few minutes later, he pulled the “Naked Man” and emerged from my bathroom, fully nude and erect.
“You’re on a first date. You’ve had a few drinks. You make an excuse to go up to the girl’s apartment. Then, once she leaves the room, you strip down naked and wait. When she comes back, she laughs. She’s so charmed by your confidence and bravado, she sleeps with you. Boom! [It works] two out of three times. You just have to pick your spot. The Naked Man is best used as last resort. Kind of a Hail Mary on a first date when you know there’s not going to be a second one.”
While the “Naked Man (move)” may have been entertaining to watch on a popular T.V. show, in real life, nothing was amusing about encountering this scenario in real life.
Now put yourself in my shoes and imagine my confusion and horror. There had been nothing sexual between us that day or any day prior, and I was shocked and appalled at his unwanted advances. I recall asking him to leave to the point of physically shoving him toward the front door.
Thankfully, he heeded my requests. I escaped unscathed, but it appears other women did not.
I recently learned of his arrest and alleged crimes and felt deeply for his victims. As a mother of a teenage daughter and as a woman who has dealt with an unfair share of sexual and physical assaults, this newfound information sparked a desire to share what I hope are helpful tips with parents and educators regarding the prevention of sexual violence.
The Harmful Stereotypes of ‘Stranger Danger’
As parents and educators, we often teach our children to be wary of strangers to ensure their safety. However, the message of ‘stranger danger’ is more harmful than helpful when it comes to addressing the issue of sexual violence.
It is important to note that sexual violence is not restricted to heteronormative relationships, sexual or gender identities.
“Sexual violence affects people of every gender identity, and sexual orientation. People who identify as part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) communities also experience sexual violence, and may face different or additional challenges in accessing legal, medical, law enforcement or other resources than other populations.”
One of the most harmful stereotypes that the ‘stranger danger’ myth reinforces is the idea that sexual violence is only committed by strangers.
Unfortunately, the reality is that most sexual violence is committed by someone the victim knows, but by perpetuating the myth of ‘stranger danger,’ we ignore this fact. This belief not only fails to protect individuals from the majority of sexual assaults committed by someone known to the survivor but also perpetuates the idea that rape is only a result of violent stranger attacks.
Furthermore, the ‘stranger danger’ myth reinforces the stereotype that perpetrators of sexual violence are always visibly dangerous or ‘creepy.’ In reality, perpetrators often appear trustworthy, making it difficult for survivors to identify and protect themselves from potential harm.
By relying on these harmful stereotypes, ‘stranger danger’ perpetuates rape culture and undermines comprehensive safety education.
Rape culture is a culture in which sexual violence is treated as the norm and victims are blamed for their own assaults. It’s not just about sexual violence itself, but about cultural norms and institutions that protect rapists, promote impunity, shame victims, and demand that women make unreasonable sacrifices to avoid sexual assault.
Instead of promoting a culture of fear and mistrust, we must educate individuals on the range of tactics used by perpetrators and how to recognize and respond to red flags in any situation.
Understanding the harm of these stereotypes is essential in creating a safer and more just world for all. By shifting our focus to comprehensive safety education, we can work towards equipping individuals with the tools they need to identify and respond to potential danger, whether it comes from a stranger or someone they know.
In this article, we will explore how this myth reinforces harmful stereotypes and how we can reframe our approach to personal safety to protect against all types of harm. We will also discuss the importance of empowering girls to protect themselves and teaching our sons about consent.
By breaking down the harmful stereotypes that reinforce rape culture, we can create a safer and more just world.
The Need for Comprehensive Safety Education
Relying solely on the “stranger danger” message is ineffective in protecting individuals from harm. To truly create a safer environment, we need a comprehensive education that teaches people how to identify and respond to danger in any situation. By educating individuals on perpetrators’ tactics, we can equip them with the tools they need to recognize and respond to red flags.
This education should include discussions on consent, healthy relationships, and ways to stay safe in varying situations. Furthermore, it should be accessible to all individuals, regardless of age, gender, or socioeconomic status.
This approach not only helps prevent harm, but it also works towards dismantling the harmful stereotypes perpetuated by “stranger danger.” By teaching people to recognize and respond to danger, we can create a culture that empowers individuals to protect themselves and others.
Empowering individuals through comprehensive safety education is especially crucial for protecting those more vulnerable, such as young girls and women.
In the next section, we’ll explore how we can teach these girls to protect themselves in a way that does not reinforce harmful stereotypes or perpetuate rape culture.
Empowering Girls to Protect Themselves
When it comes to protecting young girls, safety education is crucial. Girls will recognize and respond to danger without perpetuating harmful stereotypes, reinforcing rape culture, and victim blaming.
“Victim blaming can be defined as someone saying, implying, or treating a person who has experienced harmful or abusive behaviour (such as a survivor of sexual violence) like it was a result of something they did or said, instead of placing the responsibility where it belongs: on the person who harmed them.”
One approach to empowering girls is by teaching them assertiveness skills. By role-playing scenarios where they can practice saying “no” or “stop” to unwanted touch or attention, they gain a sense of control over their bodies. Education on healthy relationships and consent can help girls understand their rights and the importance of setting boundaries.
“Girls should be encouraged to set boundaries, verbalize their needs with confidence, and say “no” without guilt. To do this, it’s imperative that parents help girls understand the differences between passive, aggressive, and assertive communication.”
Furthermore, it’s essential to teach girls basic self-defense skills. This includes strategies for escaping physical attacks and knowing when to use force. Teaching girls to protect themselves empowers them with confidence and strength and encourages them as active participants in their safety and well-being.
In the next section, we’ll explore how to teach our sons the importance of consent in preventing sexual violence.
The Flip Side: Teaching Our Sons the Importance of Consent
Teaching our sons the importance of consent is crucial in preventing sexual violence and reinforcing healthy and respectful relationships. Additionally, we should raise our sons to be empathetic, respectful, and aware of boundaries.
As parents and educators, it’s our responsibility to teach our boys that it’s never okay to pressure someone into any sexual activity or to assume that someone is willing to participate in sexual acts because of their clothing, behavior, or past actions.
We should teach them to communicate clearly, ask for consent and recognize when their partner is uncomfortable or not reciprocating.
We must also educate them about the heinous consequences of sexual assault, including the emotional harm inflicted on the victim and the legal and social repercussions.
Talking about sex and boundaries may be uncomfortable, but engaging in these conversations early and often is crucial. This education should start at a young age, so our sons can learn about healthy relationships and boundaries as early as possible. We can teach them through books, media, and honest conversations about sexuality and consent and discuss scenarios they may encounter, and help them navigate complex situations in a way that is respectful and healthy.
We can create a safer and more respectful world for everyone by teaching our sons about consent. And while this may seem like a daunting task, it’s one that we should all actively strive towards – for the sake of our children and for the world they will inherit.
We Hear You.
In conclusion, the myth of ‘stranger danger’ perpetuates harmful stereotypes but undermines efforts to protect against all forms of sexual violence.
By acknowledging the realities of this issue and providing comprehensive safety education, we can empower girls to protect themselves and teach our sons the importance of consent.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
It is time to break down the harmful myth of ‘stranger danger’ and create a culture of respect and consent. Let us work together to create a safer and more just world.
If you or someone you know has experienced a sexual assault, you and they are not alone. There are many resources available to help with healing.
The National Sexual Assault Hotline is a 24-hour service to discuss all manner of sexual assaults.