Susan Junis is the prevention education coordinator with Rape Victim Advocacy Program (RVAP) at The University of Iowa.
As a recent graduate of the Master of Social Work program at The University of Iowa, I feel so honored to have secured a fulfilling job in a field that I am passionate about. It is because of this passion that I sincerely ask you to help put me out of work.
I ask you to put me out of work because if there were no sexual violence, organizations such as RVAP (Rape Victim Advocacy Program) would not need to exist.
RVAP has been in the community responding to sexual abuse and harassment since 1973. We assist victims/survivors of sexual assault through support, advocacy, and crisis counseling services. My job, as of June, is to provide educational and prevention programming to the University and the other communities we serve.
We know that one in four women and one in six men will be sexually assaulted or abused in their lifetime. If those statistics were referring to a disease, it would be an epidemic. There would be public outcry and action plans developed. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now considers sexual abuse a serious public health issue. I agree, and yet our culture seems to view sexual assault as “business as usual.” For many women it is just part of being female in our culture, and many men feel similarly. But sexual assault should never be accepted as a condition of living fully.
The only way to end sexual violence is to work together to transform our society into one where obtaining consent is the norm and nonconsent is absolutely not tolerated by the community. To change the culture we must alter the way that we think about consent in intimate relationships. Consent is defined by University of Iowa policy to be an unambiguous affirmative. Silence, or lack of a “no,” does not equal consent. This means a verbal “YES!” must be obtained. The same way that the AIDS crisis made condoms a mandatory discussion during intimate relations, so must consent become a necessary line in the sexual script.
As a community working to end sexual violence, we are required to change the way we collectively respond to incidents of sexual assault, and where we place the onus of responsibility. When people ask me for sexual assault prevention tips, I tell them in all seriousness to not rape—to ask for consent. We won’t end rape by telling students not to jog at night and to watch their drinks. Those “tips” don’t get to the root cause of rape. They might reduce one’s risk, but they will not prevent a sexual assault. The only people who can prevent sexual assault are those who perpetrate it. It is not the responsibility of the victim to prevent someone from raping him or her or anyone else. It is the responsibility of the offender not to rape. The perpetrator is 100 percent to blame regardless of what the actions of the victim were before or during the attack.
So how do we change the culture? What are actions that you as a community member can take? On Sept. 26, RVAP is rolling out a campuswide information campaign called Live Free: A life on campus free from violence. The campaign offers suggestions for community members in taking action, speaking out, or getting involved in making our campus and community free from sexual violence. Suggestions range from educating oneself and others on the prevalence of sexual assault to starting up conversations regarding safety in our community.
To me, the most exciting aspect of the campaign is the inclusion of bystander intervention techniques. Being an active bystander means speaking up or acting when you encounter sexual violence or its antecedents. Often we are not witness to more overt forms of violence. We may not see an assault happen but we can step in when we see or hear red flags.
Hear someone make a rape joke? Tell them it’s not OK.
See a person hitting on someone who’s made it clear they’re not interested? Pull that person aside and tell them to back off.
Witness someone taking a drunken person out of a bar or into a room? Step in or get help.
I look forward to a world where I can count on others to say that sexual violence is unacceptable and take actions to hold perpetrators accountable. Together, I believe we can eliminate sexual violence and make my job obsolete.