Sexual Violence: We Know How To Stop It

By Jenny Dills, MPH

The sexual assault survivors that came through the door of the Mizzou Women’s Center weren’t strangers to me. They were my college friends and classmates.

As an undergraduate volunteer I could give them hotline numbers, help set up counseling appointments, and advocate for them with the school. But I couldn’t give them what they needed: a time machine to go back to stop it from happening to keep them and their friends safe.

These experiences showed me that the problem of sexual violence is urgent — and propelled me into a career in violence prevention. Here’s what I’ve learned: Sexual violence is preventable. That’s not my opinion. It’s what the science tells us.

In graduate school, I heard David Lee of the California Coalition Against Sexual Violence speak about sexual assault prevention. He talked about how to grow healthy relationships, and how to change behavior through social marketing. A lightbulb went off in my head: IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY — WE CAN PREVENT THIS. From that point, I committed to studying how to prevent violence.

I now specialize in violence prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Here we understand sexual violence not as an inevitable crime, but as an urgent public health problem. Every day we work to learn more about how to prevent it before it begins. We have made so much progress toward our goal of sexual violence prevention:

The scope of sexual violence

Sexual violence is common.

Sexual violence starts early.

The consequences of sexual violence

We have evidence-based strategies for preventing sexual violence:

CDC’s STOP SV: A Technical Package to Prevent Sexual Violence highlights strategies based on the best available evidence to help communities and states prevent and reduce sexual violence.

We have come a long way in learning what works to prevent violence, but we still have a lot more work to do.

I have come a long way from being an undergraduate without the right tools to prevent violence on my campus. I have the privilege now to work with experts to make sure the best evidence and strategies get into the hands of educators, parents, community members, and students. We use social media, online tools and trainings, and partner with other organizations to make prevention strategies and messages accessible and understandable. I don’t want the next generation of college students left wondering if they could have done more to prevent sexual violence on their campuses. I’m committed to this work during Sexual Assault Awareness Month and EVERY month. Are you?

Jenny Dills, MPH is a Health Communications Specialist in the Division of Violence Prevention at the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Her work focuses primarily on sexual violence, intimate partner violence, and teen dating violence prevention. Prior to coming to CDC, she worked for the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence and in the University of Missouri Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center.

Since 2001, NSVRC has coordinated the national Sexual Assault Awareness Month campaign observed every April. This year’s theme, “I Ask,” is all about consent. Join the campaign by accessing free resources at nsvrc.org/saam. Resources are available in Spanish at nsvrc.org/es/saam.

Sexual Assault Awareness Month 2020

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month