Campus Safety Awareness Month

campus-safetyIt’s that time of year again: college campuses are welcoming students for the start of a new semester. Incoming first years are buying books, moving into dorms, and brimming with excitement about what lies ahead. Of course, knowing that one in five college women is sexually assaulted or raped on campus and one in three teens experiences dating violence, we all want to make sure they stay safe.

September is National Campus Safety Awareness Month, which aims to call attention to issues of campus safety and help young adults learn how to stay safe and help keep others safe, too. Throughout the month, our friends at loveisrespect are focusing on bystander awareness and discussing how active bystanders can help prevent assault and violence.

According to loveisrespect, being an active bystander means:

The Clery Center is providing professional development trainings each week in September on topics ranging from dating violence and sexual assault to fire safety. Sign up with them to receive email updates and learn more about how your school can keep students safe!

We believe that everyone deserves safe and healthy relationships, on campus or off. If you have a child who is attending college this fall, there are a few things you can do to help them stay safe and cultivate healthy relationships while away at school:

Keep the lines of communication open. Your child might be gaining more independence, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need you anymore. Regular check-ins by phone, email, or Skype can keep you up to date on what’s happening in their lives and let them know that you’re still there for them.

Familiarize yourselves with relevant laws, university policies, and available resources. The Clery Act and Title IX are important to know. Not sure what a school’s sexual assault policies are? Here are 18 questions to ask. Not Alone, the White House’s official website on campus sexual assault, also lists pertinent resources and information about campus sexual assault.

Talk to them about healthy relationships. This should be an ongoing conversation, but it’s always good to go over the basics.

Talk to them about consent. What it is, what it looks like.

Reiterate digital safety. Technology plays a big role in the lives of college students, so staying safe online is still a good topic to discuss.


Pressure and Persuasion: A Closer Look at Sexual Coercion

consentSome things are beyond our control — like when it starts pouring rain on the day you’ve forgotten an umbrella, or when you’re forced to wear that awful bright pink bridesmaid dress at your friend’s wedding. While you may not be able to choose the weather or a better sense of style for your friend, there are certain things in life that you can always make decisions about.

One aspect of your life that you have complete control over is how far you want to take it with your romantic partner — whether that’s your husband or wife, boyfriend or girlfriend, or anyone you’re involved with. You should never feel forced into anything that you’re not comfortable with or don’t feel like doing.

Have you ever felt pressured by your partner to have sex? Have you ever felt guilted into it, or felt like you weren’t able to say no? Abuse is often centered on power and control in all aspects of the relationship, so it’s not uncommon that an abusive partner will try to force intimacy.

This is often referred to as sexual coercion, which lies on the continuum of sexually aggressive behavior. It can vary from being egged on and persuaded, to being forced to have contact. It can be verbal and emotional, in the form of statements that make you feel pressure, guilt, or shame. You can also be made to feel forced through more subtle actions. For example, your partner:

  • Makes you feel like you owe them: ex. Because you’re in a relationship, because you’ve had sex before, because they spent money on you or bought you a gift
  • Gives you compliments that sound extreme or insincere as an attempt to get you to agree to something
  • Gives you drugs and alcohol to “loosen up” your inhibitions
  • Plays on the fact that you’re in a relationship, saying things such as: “Sex is the way to prove your love for me,” “If I don’t get sex from you I’ll get it somewhere else”
  • Reacts negatively with sadness, anger or resentment if you say no or don’t immediately agree to something
  • Continues to pressure you after you say no
  • Makes you feel threatened or afraid of what might happen if you say no
  • Tries to normalize their sexual expectations: ex. “I need it, I’m a man”

Even if your partner isn’t forcing you to do sexual acts against your will, being made to feel obligated is coercion in itself. Dating someone, being in a relationship, or being married never means that you owe your partner intimacy of any kind.

A coercive partner may feel that consent is ongoing. However, consenting to something once doesn’t make it a “given” each time. Consenting to one action doesn’t mean you have given your consent for other actions. In a relationship where sexual coercion is occurring, there is a lack of consent, and the coercive partner doesn’t respect the boundaries or wishes of the other.

To learn more about sexual coercion, an important read is our article on healthy consent, or check out The Consensual Project. No one should be made to feel pressured into a sexual act. If your partner acts in any of the ways mentioned, it could be helpful to speak to someone about it. Our advocates are available to talk confidentially, 24/7, at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) — give us a call.


April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

SAAMThere is an average of 237,868 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year. (via, U.S. Department of Justice. National Crime Victimization Survey. 2008-2012.)

Nearly 1 in 10 women in the United States (9.4%) has been raped by an intimate partner in her lifetime. (via

1 in 6 men has experienced sexual abuse before age 18. (via

The statistics are sobering, but as with all forms of abuse, they only tell us part of the story. There are countless instances of sexual assault and abuse that go unreported. It’s important to remember that while sexual assault happens disproportionately to females, anyone can be a victim.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), during which activists from all over the nation seek to raise awareness about sexual violence and educate individuals and communities about how to end it. This effort requires many voices – including yours! There are several ways you can get involved, and here are just a few:

If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault and you need someone to talk to, contact the hotline 24/7 at 1-800-799-7233 or chat online Monday through Friday, 9am-7pm CST. All contact is free, anonymous, and confidential.

Other resources:

National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE

National Sexual Assault Online Hotline at


I See DV As Complex, Even For Celebrities

Today’s How I See DV perspective is by writer Alex Iwashyna who blogs at Late Enough is a humor blog, except when it’s serious. Alex is a freelance writer, poet and media consultant who writes about about her life intermixed with important ramblings on her husband fighting zombies, awkward attempts at friendship, her kids outsmarting her, and dancing like everyone is watching. We are very excited that she lent her voice — and support — to our campaign. 

blog-posters-alexCelebrities seem to have it all — fame, fortune, the ability to get a book published that is poorly written and yet makes the best-seller list – not to mention the chefs, personal trainers and trips to exotic locales.

They are paid to look and act certain ways at certain times so I don’t mind the commentary on their dresses and hair and ability to act or sing. But I draw the line at holding celebrities to higher standards when it comes to domestic violence. I don’t think being famous gives people magical powers to escape abusive relationships quicker because, while they may have the financial means to leave, abuse is not a basic socio-economic problem. The women and men in these relationships are human beings who are going to respond like abused partners.

Take Rihanna and Chris Brown’s relationship. Almost everyone supported Rihanna when she left Chris Brown after the abuse went public, but when she forgave him and went back to spending time with him, people were mean and angry and ignorant. Ignorant because it takes seven times ON AVERAGE for a woman to leave her abusive partner. Maybe she could’ve been an anomaly and left the first time around, but she’s not. That doesn’t make her a bad role model. That makes her not yet even average. And the public’s reaction to this — the vitriol, the hate — makes it even harder for people to leave again. We set people up to not want to admit the abuse is happening again, to not be willing to seek help. Being kind, thoughtful and understanding is not condoning abusive behavior. Plus, what does an I told you so attitude even achieve?

Another very common reaction to abuse is to normalize it. “He’s just trying to make me better.” “I egged him on.” We rationalize because the truth that someone I love is also hurting me can be difficult to process or understand. “Real Housewife” Melissa Gorga recently wrote a book about her marriage, Love Italian Style. I have only read excerpts, but I noticed warning signs of an unhealthy relationship.

Men, I know you think your woman isn’t the type who wants to be taken. But trust me, she is. Every girl wants to get her hair pulled once in a while. If your wife says “no,” turn her around, and rip her clothes off. She wants to be dominated. (an excerpt from her book, which is a quote of her husband ignoring consent. More quotes can be found on Jezebel)

In the book, she also shares how she is not allowed to go on overnight trips, get a job or say no to sex more than once a day. Most of the public response to her book is how terrible and gross and awful they are as a couple and she is for writing this as an advice book. But, setting her husband aside, Melissa Gorga is just human. She may have more reach than the average person but that does not make her immune to a very human reaction to unhealthy behaviors: normalizing it so she can survive. Instead of demonizing her, we can react by saying, “If your relationship looks like this, know that it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are places to find help.”

These same relationships are happening every day to people we know. Nearly 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men experience abuse over their lifetime. While I would never want anyone to go through domestic violence, seeing complex relationships play out in celebrities’ lives could help us comprehend our own experiences or to be more understanding of our friends and neighbors in similar situations. Will those we care about read how disgusted we are with people being abused or see someone they can turn to and trust to not be judged?

About Our Contributor

Alex Iwashyna holds a medical degree and a political philosophy degree and became a writer, poet and stay-at-home mom with them. She uses her unique perspective on her blog,, to write funny, serious, and always true stories about life, parenting, marriage, culture, religion, and politics. She has a muse of a husband, two young kids and a readership that gives her hope for humanity. While Alex believes Domestic Violence Awareness Month is every month, she’s grateful to be participating in How I #SeeDV this October.


Social Media Shaming: When Sexual Assault Goes “Viral”

“I have a reputation for a night I don’t even remember…I just want this to go away.”

That was one of the last things 15-year-old Audrie Potts posted on her Facebook before taking her own life after a photo of her assault was circulated to nearly the entire high school. It’s a familiar feeling for the many girls whose names have been made into headlines throughout the past months.

Seventeen-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons was taken off of life support following an attempt to take her own life after a photo of her assault was distributed all over cell phones and social media sites.

In Torrington, Connecticut, two male 18-year-olds were arrested and accused of the statutory rape of two 13-year-old girls. What followed was an attack on the young girls over Twitter and social media and a trending “#FreeEdgar” hashtag in support of the perpetrators.

In Steubenville, Ohio, Jane Doe didn’t know she had been sexually assaulted until she found out about it through videos uploaded to YouTube and images posted on Instagram. When the case went public, backlash on social media against her, the victim, was relentless.

Lately we’ve seen social media channels become venues for public shaming and sharing information without ones consent to large numbers of people. “Viral” shaming adds a new dimension to an already horrific situation — continued emotional abuse from not just the perpetrator, but any outsider who decides to “share” or chime in. In this way, even after an assault a perpetrator can still exert control over their victim, making them feel powerless. It can feel impossible to know how to make it end, and it can feel like there’s nowhere to turn for safety and privacy.

What can you do as an online “bystander”?

While there are tips for “how to stop compromising pictures of you being published online,” these pictures and videos can get posted anyways without your knowledge or consent. The person who holds responsibility is the one who posts the content.

Responsibility also falls on bystanders — people who see the image being taken, see the assault in action, view the image online, distribute it, or even just pass it by. If you witness an assault, what do you do? If you’re sent a picture, do you pass it on? Do you join in on the actions or victim shaming just to be a part of the joke?

Begin to hold yourself and those around you accountable for what’s being said and posted. If you see something, report it. On Facebook, use the report link that appears near the content to send a message to have it removed. Twitter also has different forms for reporting a violation. YouTube has a “Safety Center” for requesting videos to be flagged or removed.

If you know someone who is involved in a situation of online abuse, ask how you can help. Offer to document the abuse (by taking screen shots or tracking where it’s showing up online). It can be helpful to be a third party keeping track of what’s being said and shared, especially if charges will be pressed.

As a Victim

Different states have specific laws, but no matter where you are, taking some type of legal action is always an option. Document the content, because it can be used as evidence. Contact the bar association in your state to find an attorney who specializes in Internet privacy and rights. The organization Without My Consent discusses different courses of action.

No matter what you decide to do, safety plan for your emotional well being as content is circulating. Know that you can ask for help and do ask for help, because it’s too much to take on alone, especially when it can feel like you’re up against the entire world.

Do you have a trusted coworker, friend or counselor you can talk to? Building a support system is important — and there’s always someone to turn to. You shouldn’t go through this whole process alone.

RAINN has many resources, including the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1.800.656.HOPE, and they offer free, confidential advice 24.7.

In the wake of these all-too-similar stories, it’s easy to feel helpless. We can honor the victims of these and other tragedies by taking social responsibility seriously — holding ourselves and others accountable for what’s said or posted, and starting productive dialogues.

Social media is what we make of it, and we have the ability to make it a powerful tool for change and positivity.

Further Reading:

“Revenge Porn: The Fight Against The Net’s Nastiest Corner” by Adam Steinbaugh

“Criminalizing ‘Revenge Porn’” by Tracy Clark-Flory

make a statement - denim day

Make a Fashion Statement – Tomorrow is Denim Day

In Italy in 1992, an 18-year-old girl was forcefully raped by her 45-year-old driving instructor. After she pressed charges, he was convicted and then appealed the sentence. The case made its way to the Italian Supreme Court where, within a few days, it was overturned and dismissed, and the perpetrator was released.

According to the judge, “…because the victim wore very, very tight jeans, she had to help him remove them, and by removing the jeans it was no longer rape but consensual sex.”

Enraged women in the Parliament began to protest by wearing jeans to work and this statement of action spread to the US, beginning in California. Now, every year since 1999, Peace Over Violence has been organizing Denim Day in the US, asking people to wear jeans as a visible statement of protest against sexual assault and the misconceptions that often accompany it.

Victim blaming unfortunately still happens today. We hear it in the news, in undercurrents of conversations, on Twitter – everywhere. In the wake of the recent case of Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond convicted of raping their 16-year-old classmate in Steubenville, Ohio, countless reactions focused on the young girl and what she was wearing (among other things – how much she had been drinking, whether or not she had been friendly with the perpetrators) instead of on the actions of the two boys.

Even a media headline like “How drunk was too drunk to consent?” seems to frame a news story about sexual assault in a victim-blaming way, focusing on the actions of the victims instead of the actions of the perpetrators.

Wearing tight jeans (or baggy jeans, or no jeans, or anything) never implies consent.

Tomorrow, pledge to wear jeans on Denim Day and make a statement with your fashion statement. Commit to educating yourself and others about sexual violence. Talk to someone you know about what victim blaming is. Follow the hashtag #DenimDay on Twitter to see what events are taking place around the country.

what is consent

What Is Healthy Consent? What ISN’T Consent?

Consent. This one word draws a line between acceptable and unacceptable sexual behaviors. This one word helps define whether an experience was sexual assault or not. Was the action wanted? Was the act agreed upon by both people?

For as important as consent is, we don’t talk about it enough. In the wake of so many high coverage media cases of sexual assault in which much of the coverage shifted the blame to the victims who were somehow “asking for it” or “didn’t say no,” it’s important to reevaluate what consent is and how we can give it or withhold it. It’s also essential that we understand what it looks like when our partners give — or don’t give — consent.

First, we need to change how we think about consent. The old idea of “no means no” is not a good approach. It puts the responsibility on one person to resist or accept, and makes consent about what a partner doesn’t want, instead of what they do want.

Consent can be sexy. It can be a moment for both partners to openly express to each other what they’re looking for and what they do want to experience. The saying “yes means yes” can be empowering and useful in thinking about what consent is.

Consent is ongoing. Both partners should keep giving, and looking for, consent. Just because you’ve given consent to an act before, doesn’t mean it becomes a “given” every time. This idea also relates to new relationships — just because you’ve given consent to something in a different relationship doesn’t make it “automatic” in a new relationship.

Consent is not a free pass. Saying yes to one act doesn’t mean you have to consent to other acts. Each requires its own consent. EX: Saying yes to oral sex doesn’t automatically mean you’re saying yes to intercourse.

Your relationship status does not make consent automatic. If you’re married to someone, friends with someone, or dating someone, it doesn’t mean they ‘own’ your consent by default. Or that you own theirs. Also, consent can be taken back at any time — even if you’re in the midst of something and feeling uncomfortable, you always have the right to stop.

There’s no such thing as implied consent. The absence of a “no” does not equal a “yes.” What you or a partner chooses to wear doesn’t mean that you or they are inviting unwanted sexual attention or “pre-consenting.” The same can be said for flirting, talking, showing interest or any other actions.

It’s not consent if you’re afraid to say no. It’s not consent if you’re being manipulated, pressured, or threatened to say yes. It’s also not consent if you or a partner is unable to legitimately give consent, which includes being asleep, unconscious, under the influence of conscious-altering substances or not able to understand what you’re saying yes to.

Nonconsent means STOP. If anyone involved isn’t consenting, then what is happening is or could be rape, sexual assault or abuse.

Here are some red flags that your partner doesn’t respect consent:

  • They pressure or guilt you into doing things you may not want to do.
  • They make you feel like you “owe” them — because you’re dating, or married, they gave you a gift, etc.
  • They react negatively (with sadness, anger or resentment) if you say “no” to something, or don’t immediately consent.
  • They ignore your wishes, and don’t pay attention to non-verbal cues that could show that you’re not consenting (EX: being reluctant, pulling away).

How to practice healthy consent: 

  • Talk about it! Communication is one of the most important aspects of a healthy relationship. Establish boundaries by explaining what things you and your partner are comfortable with and what things you may not feel comfortable with. Always ask first. Try phrases like:
    “Are you OK with this?”
    “If you’re into it, I could…”
    “Are you comfortable with this?”
  • Be aware of the physical and nonverbal signs of consent as well. If your partner seems uncomfortable, talk about it and discuss it. Don’t assume that silence is them saying yes.
  • Remember that giving and receiving consent is an ongoing process.

Further Reading

The Good Men Project has an amazing article about how to teach consent to your children, breaking down the ‘methods’ and ideas into what would be most appropriate for each age group.

The post “Drivers Ed for the Sexual Superhighway,” is geared toward teens but relates to any relationship.

The Consensual Project focuses on partnering with schools and universities to teach students about consent in their daily lives.

Sexual Assault Awareness Month

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (#SAAM)

Every two minutes, someone in this country is sexually assaulted. On average there are 207,754 victims of rape and sexual assault each year.

This April, join us in acknowledging and promoting Sexual Assault Awareness Month. All across the country, people are taking a stand and promoting the prevention of sexual violence through educational speaker series, campaigns, online days of action and other events.

One of the most common misconceptions about sexual violence is that it involves a stranger. In reality, among female rape victims for example, 51.1% of perpetrators are reported to be intimate partners and 40.8% are acquaintances.

In a relationship that may be displaying signs of abuse, it’s not unlikely that sexual abuse or sexual coercion may be present. Like physical violence, sexual violence helps a batterer gain a sense of power and control. Sexual assault is any nonconsensual sexual act, physical or verbal, that goes against the victim’s will. It almost always involves a use of threat or force.

Coercion can take on many different forms. EX: Making a partner feel obligated to have sex (“Sex is the way you prove your love for me”) or reproductive coercion (tampering with or withholding birth control; pressuring you to become pregnant).

Have you or someone you know experienced any of the signs mentioned above? Call The Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE to speak confidentially with an advocate. We can help you learn more about healthy relationships, consent, and types of coercion. We can safety plan with you at any stage, whether you’re questioning something going on, experiencing ongoing abuse, or otherwise.

You can also call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center at 1-877-739-3895, or use RAINN’s Online Hotline.

Educate Your Community

Advocate at your local school for further education about healthy relationships. Speak at a board meeting and hold an informational meeting with parents, teachers and others interested in the issue.

Discuss consent – with your children, with your family, with your partner. The absence of a “No” never equals a “Yes.”

Speak Out Against Sexual Violence

Make your voice heard. Join #SAAM Tweet Ups every Tuesday of the month for different discussions about child sexual abuse prevention and how adults can promote healthy development.

Donate your social media accounts to the cause. Visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center for downloadable logos, posters and images for Twitter and Facebook, education tools and other resources.

Volunteer at your local rape crisis center.

Read More

AAUW: Sexual Harassment

RAINN: Get Information

1 in 6: Info for Men

SAFER: Info about Campus Sexual Assault

Circle of 6 App: Healthy Relationships Toolkit

Men Can Stop Rape: Get Information