Witnessing the media coverage around the rape of a sixteen year-old girl from Steubenville, Ohio fills me with sadness for this young woman and a generation of teenage girls who are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault. I am horrified by the actions of the rapists. I am horrified by the people/media who are perpetuating a rape culture by sympathizing with the rapists and allegedly threatening the victim.
It is natural to be sad. It is natural to be horrified. It is harder to ask ourselves, what can we do to stop rape culture? Days like today, make me very proud to be part of Powerful Voices, working toward a world where girls can be safe and strong. You don't have to work at Powerful Voices, or another organization to dismantle rape culture. We all have a part to play. We saw this in the past month as we advocated (successfully!) for institutions to enact more just policies, through the Violence Against Women Act. We also dismantle rape culture as each of us use our personal power to shift the ways we relate to other people and the ways we act in our community.
Based on the practices used by the staff and volunteers of Powerful Voices, here are three suggestions of how we can work together to stop violence against girls:
1. Talk about consent. When was the first time you learned about consent? I was twenty years old the first time an adult explained consent to me. Twenty is much too late. I want my child to know about consent, long before a relevant situation arises. Education about consent is part of how Powerful Voices teaches girls to make decisions about their safety and health. Let's take the conversation about consent out into the world. We need to teach everyone, not just girls, that silence means no. Drunkenness means no. And “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure” means it is time to stop.
2. Build positive girl culture. As I read the news that a 15 year-old and 16-year old girl were arrested for allegedly threatening and harassing the 16 year-old rape victim via social media, I couldn't help but think of "horizontal violence.” One of the trends Powerful Voices sees in girls is the internalization of sexist, exploitative and demeaning dominant culture norms. Girls act out through gossip, spreading rumors, backstabbing or freezing each other out. At Powerful Voices we dismantle this horizontal violence by building positive girl culture. This means we model positive female relationships and encourage critical thinking about media and internalized sexism. You don't have to run a girls group to do this. Think about how girls in your life see you talking about your friends. Look critically at the media that girls in your life consume. Ask girls questions about how they interact with other girls. You have the chance to go deeper and engage them in critical thinking. We can all do this with the girls in our lives.
3. Be an ally, not a bystander. I was reminded of this when hearing the words of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, "One of the lessons of life is we have to take care of each other, and we have to try to help people and we have to do what's right." This isn't just about Steubenville, this is about our families, our friends, our neighborhoods, our schools. When we witness violence against another person, we have a choice. Will you be a silent bystander? Or will you use the power of your voice to stand up and speak out?