Rape Culture, Rape Prevention and Education

Thanks to our guest blogger Lucia for this week’s post.

According to the Australian Institute of Criminology, we still live in a society in which one in four women aged fourteen years and older have had at least one experience of sexual assault or sexual violence in their lifetime. The prevalence of sexual violence in Australian society is overwhelming, and it is becoming increasingly clear that Australia’s attempts to protect survivors of sexual violence and to attempt to persecute their attackers, most notably the 2007 reform to the Crimes Amendment Act and the Rudd Labor government’s 2008 decision to place sexual violence as a top policy priority, simply do not go far enough. It seems it is time for a new approach.

A study conducted by the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance has pointed to the fact that it is time to shift our focus away from short-term and even long-term treatment of victims of sexual violence and focus instead on society-wide prevention strategies. It is no longer enough to treat victims for their personal damage as a result of sexual violence; it is time to foster a society that does not damage them in the first place.

This also has been the conclusion of several other psychological studies conducted by government organisations such as the Australian Institute of Family Studies, which point to two key problems with Australia’s approach to rape prevention. The first is that current initiatives focus too heavily on treatment where they should instead be directed at a society-wide primary prevention scheme, and the second is that the prevention education systems we do have in place concentrate responsibility for preventing sexual violence on victims rather than perpetrators. Psychologists and policy-builders alike have time and again studied the efficacy of these approaches and have repeatedly found them wanting.

To this end, evidence provided by the aforementioned study by the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Aliiance has shown that rape prevention education should begin to focus on targeting the institutionalised society-wide attitudes that allow these alarming levels of sexual violence to persist. The aim of this kind of education initiative is to make lasting changes in attitudes and behaviors and to promote deep empathetic engagement with the trauma that sexual violence leaves behind. This study, conducted on college age men, showed that this type of education is most effective in all-male environments, with a focus on testimonies given by male victims of rape.

The study also showed that all-male education groups focusing on forging real empathetic ties with victims of sexual violence both report and display lasting changes in attitudes and behaviour towards rape and sexual assault. Many men involved in the study reported that they had gained a newfound understanding of the true gravity of sexual violence, and also that they understood the need to eliminate their habits of treating the subject lightly in daily parlance.

Dr. Patricia Easteal of the Australian Institute of Criminology emphasises that ‘the principle means of rape prevention lie in changing social attitudes about sexual assault, significantly modifying gender roles and gender stratification, and changing the cultural emphasis on violence’.

It is these changes in lasting attitudes towards rape that our society desperately needs. Rigorous education schemes aimed at eliminating attitudes that treat sexual violence lightly, even in jest, as well as those that frame the prevention of sexual violence as the responsibility of the victim are essential if we want to move forward in the hopes of achieving a decline in the incidence of sexual violence in our society. In short, this research suggests that perhaps if we stopped focusing all of our attention on numbing the symptoms of sexual violence, we may finally have a chance at eliminating the cause.

2 Responses to “Rape Culture, Rape Prevention and Education”
  1. laurieormond says:

    Fantastic post. This in particular jumped out at me, the idea of education “to promote deep empathetic engagement with the trauma that sexual violence leaves behind”. That is something hugely missing from our cultural discourse.

  2. Jo from Annandale says:

    Lucia’s thought provoking essay, shares themes with Friday’s ABC radio interview of a Sydney man who cites his use of pornography as the catalyst for inflicting years of rape and sexual abuse on his own daughter. It made me question why we feminist are so easily wedged between our libertarian commitment and our historical silence with respect to the pornography industry…

    Here’s a link to the disturbing Radio National interview given by both father and daughter: http://goo.gl/Jwvj86

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