April is national Sexual Assault Awareness Month. But as a woman, I know I’m not alone when I say that this issue is on my mind more than I want to admit—whether it’s walking on the street alone, waiting for an Uber at night, or especially when I think about young women and the gap in sex education in every aspect of their lives. Sexual assault is an issue confronting our culture daily and it’s much more pervasive than it should be.
All too often, we learn about rape as a mysterious person hiding in a dark alley, waiting to jump out and attack. What young people don’t often learn is that three out of four rapes are perpetrated by someone the victim knows — from a sports coach or teacher, to a friend or even a romantic partner. These gaps happen because we don’t teach young people to always protect themselves and be street smart and aware, regardless of the audience. We also don’t teach consent and respect as part of the core health and sexuality conversation.
Preventing rape isn’t about teaching women to carry pepper spray, or not walk alone at night, or not get too drunk. Preventing rape is about teaching young people — both men and women — the basis for healthy sexual relationships: at once de-stigmatizing sex, and teaching the importance of consent and the ways that it can be compromised. For example, in the case of coercive sex: Yes doesn’t mean Yes if an intern is being propositioned by her boss, because the threat results from the difference in power dynamics between the two parties. Another example of compromised consent surfaces when someone is too intoxicated to respond in a coherent way. We need to teach young people to intervene if they witness something that they don’t think is healthy or safe. We also need to continue to promote equality between the sexes.
Statistics of rape in our country are extremely unreliable, because so many rapes go unreported. This is attributed to our culture of victim-blaming, fear of retaliation by the perpetrator, unreliable legal processes, and bias against women, among other factors. If we work to make spaces safe for assault survivors to come forward, and with invest in anti-sexual assault education for youth, we can begin to create a safer country.