April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, a time to raise awareness about sexual violence and promote prevention strategies. Having a month dedicated to sexual assault awareness helps remind us of the importance to have open and honest conversations about sexual violence and to provide support to survivors.
Getting Comfortable with Difficult but Important Topics
It is not always easy, however, to have these conversations. If you are struggling in knowing how to have these conversations with a partner, a child, or a friend in need, or in knowing how to ask questions you may have, consider connecting with a therapist to explore this topic and address some of the concerns or discomfort that may be arising for you. Open conversations and personal education are one of the strongest ways to prevent sexual violence. So let’s get talking!
Preventing Sexual Assault – Listening to Our Intuition
Preventing sexual assault starts with education and awareness. It’s important to have open and honest conversations about consent, healthy relationships, and the warning signs of sexual assault. This includes teaching young people about consent, respecting boundaries, and reporting any suspicious behaviour.
“The Gift of Fear” by Gavin de Becker is a book that explores the importance of listening to our gut instincts and recognizing the warning signs of violence – before the violence occurs. Gavin de Becker emphasizes that our intuition is our most powerful tool for self-protection, and we should trust our gut instincts when it comes to our safety and actually listen to our instincts. This means, if we feel uneasy, listen to this and find a way to leave the situation. By recognizing and responding to our intuition, we can proactively prevent violent situations and protect ourselves from harm.
Red Flags of Sexual Assault – Subtle Ones and Not So Subtle Ones
Subtle (not as obvious) red flags for risk of sexual assault may include:
- Feeling uncomfortable or uneasy around someone
- Insults or derogatory language used against a partner
- Controlling behaviors
- Attempts to separate someone from their friends and get them alone
- Pressuring someone to drink excessively
- Unsolicited help and not taking no for an answer
Not so subtle clues of sexual assault may include:
- Coercion/pressure to engage in sexual activity
- Physical force
- Threats of physical force
- Unwanted touching
- Unwanted sexual comments
It’s important to recognize these red flags and trust your instincts. If you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, remove yourself from the situation and seek support from a trusted friend or professional.
What is Consent
For those of you who are interested in engaging in sexual behaviors with another person, obtaining an enthusiastic “YES” is essential in preventing unwanted sexual activity and sexual assault. This means ensuring that both parties are fully consenting and actively participating in the sexual activity. It means both parties have agreed on what behaviors they are consenting to (e.g., talking/texting only, showing only, touching, kissing, intercourse with protection, without protection, etc).
Consent is on-going and is not a one-time affair. This means that even though a partner may have initially consented and said “yes,” they have the right to change their mind and now say “no.” This might occur during the same act of sexual activity or at a future time, it doesn’t matter. Consent can change and it is important to check in with your partner to ensure they are enjoying themselves and they haven’t changed their minds.
Consent also means not continuing to ask someone or pressure them into a sexual activity until they finally provide a reluctant yes. It is important to have open and honest communication with your partner about boundaries and consent. If your partner seems hesitant or not enthusiastic, then postpone the activity until consent can be more fully discussed.
Any form of coercion, manipulation, or pressure is not acceptable and can be a red flag for sexual assault.
To view an informative video that depicts what consent is, see the video Tea Consent (2015) by Emmeline May and Blue Seat Studios: https://youtu.be/oQbei5JGiT8
Providing Support Support to Survivors
- Does the person of concern look uncomfortable? nervous? Are they looking down rather than at the person with them?
- Does the person of concern look like they drank too much? Are they incoherent, stumbling, or falling asleep?
- Is someone following an inebriated individual into another room?
- If safe to do so, tell the person who is acting inappropriately to stop. If not, gather some other people so you can approach together
- Create a distraction – draw attention to another activity.
- Diffusing a situation by telling a joke, spilling a drink, and asking everyone to look at something across the room.
- Remove an inebriated individual from a dangerous situation.
- Walk the inebriated individual home or to a safe place.
- Ask other people to help you so you can all keep the inebriated individual safe.
- If the situation is an emergency, call 911 immediately
- Follow-Up – If possible, follow up with the person and share your concerns from the day prior and what interventions were needed. They may not be aware of the potential danger they were in.