I recently joined the board of Pittsburgh Action Against Rape (PAAR) and during orientation all of the new board members shared a bit about their reasons for joining. I have been involved in the sexual assault prevention and intervention work for many years, working as a volunteer doing prevention programming, staffing a crisis hotline, and even doing individual and group therapy at a sexual assault victim advocate center. In doing this work I have found that individuals often (but not always) get involved because of a personal connection to someone who has experienced sexual violence. For many people, one’s personal “tipping point” seems to involve putting a face on something they might otherwise wish to avoid.
But how many small changes and publicized incidents are needed to create larger, more systemic change?
Sometimes it seems that we are treading water (at best) or taking steps backward. The much publicized “anti-date rape” nail polish (called Undercover Colors) has received a lot of media attention, with some supporters praising the group of four men who developed it, but others criticizing the underlying approach to rape prevention. The nail polish is intended to change colors if exposed to drugs that are commonly utilized in “date rape.” While the group of inventors likely has good intentions, this product seems to be another in a line of approaches that emphasize ways that women are supposed to avoid sexual assault, rather than an attempt to actually prevent sexual assault. Unfortunately, these messages can lead to victim blaming—questioning women after an assault about whether they did “enough” to keep themselves safe.
But I want to be hopeful that the tide is changing. The White House has put together a task force to address sexual assault on college campuses, with the Not Alone campaign designed to provide recommendations, resources, and support to students and universities. California passed what is being called the “yes means yes” law—a law that changes the standard for what is considered consent to sexual activities. The new law requires an active form of consent rather than relying on antiquated policies which asserted that the absence of a clear “no” implied consent.
Some days I just wish that someone could tell me what it will take to change hearts and minds on a massive level. Until then, I find hope in the small changes. I take heart in the community response at Columbia University, where a group of students have joined one rape survivor in her campaign to raise awareness on campus about sexual assault and to demand better responses by the administration.
When she learned about Emma's project, fellow student Allie Rickard responded with a call to action. She urged others to help Emma carry her mattress around campus.
Help her carry this weight as a survivor, ally, supporter, activist, artist, advocate, or friend.
Help her carry this weight as an act of solidarity with the countless survivors of sexual assault in our community.