We know that rape culture is pervasive and that it contributes not only to a society that normalizes and trivializes actions that excuse misogyny and sexism, but also directly feeds the very real epidemic of sexual assault.
Studies tell us one in four girls will experience sexual assault before the age of 18. And according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in five women are sexually assaulted during their college tenures.
In fact, over 200 universities are under federal investigation for the way they’ve dealt with reports of sexual assault on their campus. I could run a long list of high-profile sexual assault cases off the top of my head — but instead of giving any more face time to the perpetrators, I’d like to talk about a solution.
Throughout my career, and especially through the organization I founded called I AM THAT GIRL, I’ve been speaking to the female audience, empowering and helping them realize their full potential and worth. However, something I realized a few years ago is how left out men are in this conversation and how important it is for that to change.
For so long, the media coverage around sexual assault has focused overwhelmingly on exposing the men who are committing these crimes – and rightfully so. But in order to change the cycle of rape culture, we also need to engage men in this conversation by meeting them where they are and talking to them on their level.
As with every major cultural shift, prominent influencers and role models serve as guides in times of change. Having spent the last two years speaking in male athletic locker rooms around the United States, I realized that young men, particularly athletes, have a massive, important role to play in changing assault culture. Understanding that athletes are often the trendsetters on college campuses, I created the ProtectHer program to focus on male athletes in order to give them a true sense of personhood and remind them that when it comes to sexual assault on campus, they are not simply part of the problem – they are also part of the cure.
… in order to change the cycle of rape culture, we also need to engage men in this conversation by meeting them where they are and talking to them on their level.
ProtectHer also aims to highlight the men who are doing the right thing (they do exist!). Think about the men in your life: your father, grandfather, uncles, brothers, friends, boyfriends, husbands, coworkers. We all have unique relationships with the men in our lives, positive or negative, but I’m confident there are a few men in your life who you’d consider to be phenomenal.
I’ve joked before that I consider myself a connoisseur of phenomenal men, but really, it’s true. I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded in my life by so many incredible men who treat the people around them with respect and kindness. This is a trait I want everyone to be able to enjoy, recognize and encourage in those around them.
One thing I often hear from the young men I speak to is that they simply don’t realize how much women face due to rape culture. Ensuring you walk your dog before it gets dark out or taking the longer route home to avoid cat-callers harassing you or being followed home by a stranger you politely declined a drink from at the bar – incidents like these are second-nature to women, yet are also things men rarely have to think about.
Even though they don’t experience these things first-hand, what I’ve found is that nine times out of ten, once you open up and bring to light the day-to-day incidents in your life that you experience because of rape culture, men care. A lot.
As an extremely sensitive person, the littlest things get to me. All. The. Time. I worry I’m not good enough for certain things and even get upset and blame people for their successes. Although normal, this isn’t the best thing to do to yourself or for others. • Whenever I’m plagued with feelings of jealousy or resentment, I do any of the following (sometimes all of them!): 1. Write in my GRATITUDE JOURNAL 2. Meditate or have a nice little convo with myself 3. Focus on this quote that has CHANGED how I look at life: “What is for you will not pass you” Any or all of these things help get me through some of those tough times for sure!! ? Niki, 18 IATG: USC • How do you deal when the little things get you down? • ?: @laurasupnik
Because sometimes, knowing who’s on the receiving end of things like this is what makes them sit up and listen. The first time I gave a ProtectHer talk was to a room full of some of the top high school football players in the country. I came prepared to talk about themes like respect, consent and dignity — but I also came armed with photos of the women and girls in these high schoolers’ lives. Looking at a photo of your sixteen-year-old sister, when hearing about the disrespectful and sometimes dangerous realities every woman and girl faces, suddenly made those themes take root.
I encourage you to very frankly share some of your specific experiences with the men in your life. They might get upset or angry; it’s terrible to hear that someone you love is affected by rape culture. But encourage them to harness that feeling and be increasingly mindful of their own day-to-day interactions with the people around them. Encourage them to enlist their friends and the men around them in this issue by simply talking about it.
Social change doesn’t come overnight and sometimes it can feel like a constant uphill battle. But don’t get discouraged! Change happens one step at a time and the more we work together to positively influence those around us, the faster we can achieve a reality without rape culture.