Last week I attended a networking* breakfast for local nonprofits. I met a number of interesting people and people who were interested in learning about the work that I do at NSVRC. A few folks were so interested in our work that they followed me right out the door and down the stairwell talking about their ideas about how to stop rape. Maybe you’ve all been in those situations where someone tells you an opinion that they think will be 100% agreed to on your part, and you just don’t agree? In this case, the opinion started with the infamous “young girls these days” and followed up with ideas about how girls and women can conduct themselves so as to avoid rape.
I expressed my disagreement then and there, but could tell that the good folks I was talking to didn’t quite get what I was saying. I had another meeting to get to, and we had all exchanged business cards already, so I decided to gracefully exit and promised to follow up with an email of resources  from my organization that might help in their work. I did that, and also invited my new friends from the stairwell to continue our discussion by including a link to an article on #YesAllWomen and rape culture . I thought I would share the second email I sent in this string of information sharing that happened to be the one that changed a mind.
“So good to hear back from you and to continue our rogue discussion from the stairwell. I do think that I understand the perspective that you’re sharing. There are many choices we make in this world that affect the way that others perceive us and respond to us. People working in the movement to end sexual violence, myself included, often take on a framework for understanding sexual and interpersonal interactions from a sexual agency point of view. People have the right to make decisions and choices about where, how, and who touches them and should be fully informed about it at every move. For this reason, we strongly encourage great, active, verbal communication in all sexual interactions.
At the same time, people always should have the ability and freedom to change their minds along the way. Sometimes, something just doesn’t feel right or just isn’t jiving. This can happen between people who just met or people who have been married for years and years. In most cases, when this happens one partner decides to stop, regroup, or set some boundaries. That’s a positive interaction! I like to think about it like dancing. Sometimes you can be dancing the night away, then a song comes on that you don’t like, so you decide to take a break, get a drink, or do something else.
On the other hand, in some situations one partner decides not to stop, and that is when it becomes sexual violence. Could you imagine if your waltz partner forced you to stay on the dance floor even though you didn’t want to dance anymore? How ridiculous would that be? What we aim to do is improve education and communication so that the occasional person who forces their partner to waltz even when they want to be done dancing recognizes that that’s just not ok. It’s a tiny point in time where a pivotal and violent decision is made, and that is where my organization and many others are trying to affect change.”
Let me emphasize: the simple, short email you just read changed a mind. We engaged in a successful dialogue and managed to build the relationship up, rather than having one party feel alienated or threatened. I imagine that many of you can feel for my struggles sometimes to keep cool and embrace those moments when a great response can change a mind. Please consider sharing your positive interactions by submitting to our Share Your Stories Project .
*Do you network? Stay tuned for my recap of networking tips for nonprofits.