Preventing Sexual Violence Starts With What We Teach Our Boys

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Most girls and women in the United States are given advice about rape prevention: never let your drink out of your sight, don’t walk alone at night, don’t wear revealing outfits or high heels, and so on. We live in a society where violence against women—both in action and in speech—is prevalent, and for that reason, it’s reasonable for those who care about women and girls to worry about their safety. But what are men and boys being taught, as girls are given this advice?

Research confirms that parents talk more frequently with daughters than sons about these issues, and tend to frame conversations around reducing the risk of assault. Survey data have even revealed widespread confusion(more pronounced among men than women) over the mere concepts of consent and sexual assault. Few people receive formal education on either topic, in school or from parents; to whatever extent conversations about risk reduction might help individual girls think about their safety, they are ultimately ineffective when it comes to prevention.

The extent of the problem

National estimates indicate that 1 in 5 women in the United States have experienced rape at some point in their lives. Ten million women report that they experienced rape or attempted rape before turning 18, and 1 in 3 girls have reported experiencing dating violence (physical, emotional, or verbal abuse from a dating partner).

Empirical evidence demonstrates that “sexist, patriarchal, and/or sexually hostile attitudes” are predictors of violence against women. Societal tolerance—and even embrace—of these attitudes is known as rape cultureThe election of Donald Trump, who dismissed his derogatory comments about women as “locker-room talk,” is a prime example of our culture’s widespread acquiescence to these attitudes.

That attitude is also reflected in the fact that assaulters and rapists often face minimal consequences—according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, out of every 1,000 rapes, as many as 994 perpetrators walk free. A prominent example is the case of Brock Turner, a college freshman who raped an unconscious woman behind a dumpster after a fraternity party. Turner faced up to 14 years in prison for this offense, yet prosecutors asked only for a sentence of 6 years. Despite indisputable evidence, including eyewitnesses and testimony from the victim, Turner was sentenced to just 6 months in jail and served only 3.

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