The song “Blurred Lines” re-appeared on the radio last week. I found myself mindlessly singing along to the lyrics and felt horrified as I said the words “I know you want it.” If you haven’t heard or paid attention to the song or music video, it’s about a man telling a girl she “wants it” despite her saying no. This and other similar songs have thankfully gained negative media attention, especially in light of the “Me Too” movement.
The important distinction between risk reduction and rape prevention
We often hear victim blaming statements like, “well, that’s what happens when you drink” or “Why did you go there? You should have known better…” I, horrified, overheard someone sharing to a friend that she had been drugged and assaulted and one of the first responses from her friend was asking her why she didn’t test her drink with the new nail polish designed to test for several drugs that can incapacitate unknowing victims. This brings up the important distinction between risk reduction and rape prevention.
What is Rape Prevention?
Rape prevention involves preventing a sexual assault from happening in the first place. So, rape prevention techniques focus on potential perpetrators. Because most (not all!) perpetrators are male, rape prevention programs are more often geared towards men. The essential goals of these programs are to educate people on how to not rape people. In other words, efforts include teaching people what consent is, how to ask for it, and how to intervene to interrupt or stop a sexual assault in progress.
What is risk reduction?
On the other hand, risk reduction focuses on reducing the risk for potential victims. This could be using the buddy system, taking self-defense classes, using that aforementioned nail polish, or carrying a rape whistle. While it’s certainly great that these risk reduction strategies exist, it becomes problematic when campuses or prevention programs only use risk reduction strategies as it may send the unintended message that the potential victims are responsible for avoiding getting assaulted or raped. These risk reduction strategies also typically don’t take into account that most sexual assault survivors are attacked by an acquaintance or partner.
Overall, risk reduction strategies may have the potential to bring about or reinforce feelings of guilt, shame, and self-blame. For example, if I carry my purse, especially with the zipper not fully closed, I may be engaging in “risky behavior.” However, if I get mugged, rarely would someone say, “you shouldn’t have had your purse on you,” although that would in all likelihood, reduce the chances of it being stolen. When it is about rape, however, many jump to risk reduction and victim-blaming mindsets, which only serve to perpetuate harmful rape myths.
10 things to say to a sexual assault survivor
So how do we support a friend without inadvertently perpetuating rape myths? If a friend has been assaulted, here are some things you can do and say to help support them:
- “It’s not your fault.”
- “You did nothing to deserve this.”
- “You are not alone.”
- “I’m so glad you shared this with me.”
- “Sharing this with me must have taken a lot of courage.”
- “I believe you.”
- “Processing this and coping with it may be difficult—I care about you and am here for you.”
(Avoid pushing them to “get over it” or “move on”)
- Check in often – especially as times goes on
- Let them know of resources like counseling, the National Sexual Assault Hotline 800.656.HOPE (4673), the 24 Hour NYS Domestic & Sexual Violence Hotline 1-800-942-6906, and RAINN.org
- Reinforce how you will be there for them instead of asking “why” questions which may (inadvertently) put someone on the defense
What to do if you or someone close to you has been sexually assaulted
If you or someone close to you has been sexually assaulted, you don’t have to cope with this alone. If you’re near me in the Buffalo area, I invite you to call me and we can set up a time to meet! Trained in trauma-informed care, I can be a source of support for you when you’re vulnerable and healing.
About Dr Tacianna
Dr. Tacianna Indovina knew that she wanted to be a therapist since she was in high school. From that time, her love and enthusiasm for the healing power of psychotherapy hasn’t wavered. It’s a good thing for our community that Tacianna is as enthusiastic as ever for helping people when they feel overwhelmed, discouraged, and alone. Through her authenticity, gentle directness, and sense of humor, Tacianna works with you to identify patterns of thinking and behaving that may be making it difficult for you to meet your goals. Tacianna’s easy rapport encourages, validates, challenges, and empowers! With her down-to-earth and relatable style, Tacianna provides counseling for late adolescents, adults, and couples, to provide support to recover from interpersonal loss and trauma, overcome mood struggles, cope with anxiety, and adjust positively to life transitions. Tacianna adapts her approach to what you want and need, and aims to help you build healthier relationships with yourself and others. Contact Dr. Tacianna to schedule your free initial consultation today! 585.752.5320 firstname.lastname@example.org