Can Rape Be Prevented?

In case you missed it, there have been some heated debates going on the past few weeks about whether or not we can really prevent rape.  Sometimes I get so comfy in my “prevention is possible” bubble that I forget not everyone thinks the same way I do.

Can we stop rape? Yes.  How do I know this?  Because when you break it down, rape is a socially constructed issue.  And we can deconstruct it.  Many primary prevention programs are doing just that (check out our Innovations in Prevention report to look at 12 of these programs).  It does take time and effort.  It might be easy for some to look at the issue of rape and see only the surface – focusing time, money, and energy into reacting to the crime itself.  Addressing the crime when it happens is part of comprehensive prevention programming.  But a huge part of prevention is looking at the root causes.  Why does rape happen in the first place?  In a recent interview, Zerlina Maxwell dared to suggest that targeting boys and men with prevention messaging, not arming women with guns, is key to preventing rape.  Gasp!  Now, Ms. Maxwell was speaking my language.  But the firestorm her comment ignited only speaks to the deep-seated cultural norms that support rape in our society.  If we focus our attention on deconstructing some of these norms that allow rape to persist in our communities, that is a huge first step toward prevention.

If there is one thing to learn from the recent events in Steubenville, OH, it’s that there is room for programming and messages to break through the mentality that rape “just happens." In that case, we saw the failure of adults to take responsibility as parents and role models.  We saw the inaction of multiple bystanders. We saw the power of negative peer relationships, the passiveness of community members, and a culture that reinforced harmful messages about women.  This is where it starts.  If we don’t turn our attention to these root issues, we’ll miss the boat and have no choice but to continue reacting after rapes have occurred. 

So, can we prevent rape? I say yes. And the earlier we start, the better.  Check out our 2013 Sexual Assault Awareness Month resources to find out how you can start the conversation.