This past November, Tompkins County recognized freedom from domestic violence as a human right. As a human right, this freedom requires everyone to work together to secure it. For far too long, women have been fighting the battle against domestic and sexual violence mostly on their own. As a feminist-led movement, there have been many successes in the effort to combat domestic violence. Knowledge of abusive patterns has increased, policies have been changed and the stigma surrounding victims and survivors has lessened. While the movement against domestic violence has made many strides toward ending this violence, there is still more work to be done. Likewise, there is also great need for people to take action to end sexual violence in our communities.
One in four women and one in six men still report experiencing sexual assault during their lifetime. This is too many. In order to truly create a change, we need our whole society to take action, not just one group. Men need to work alongside women so that, together, communities can unite to end sexual violence. Sexual violence is known to affect all communities, so every community must take action to create an environment that no longer allows its members to be harmed.
To create this environment there are three necessary factors: words, actions and laws. We need words to send messages that abuse will not be tolerated. Instead of teaching people to not get raped, we must send the message to not rape. We need actions to substantiate these words by holding abusers accountable. We need the everyday actions of individuals to support survivors and help prevent further incidents of sexual violence. Finally, we need laws and policies that foster safe environments and have consequences for the actions of abusers.
When we look at all we need to accomplish in order to create a community where sexual violence no longer threatens our community members, it can seem overwhelming. However, every action makes a difference. Actions to end sexual violence come in all different sizes and each of them matters. They can be small everyday actions that help ensure that friends and family are in safe relationships, or larger actions that deal with changing policies and laws. At their core, these actions must hold abusers accountable and send the message both through words and tangible actions that sexual violence will no longer be tolerated in the community.
This April, in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I would like to offer a challenge to every member of the Ithaca College community. Take one action to end violence. Talk to friends and family members about their relationships to make sure they are in safe ones. If someone discloses to you, be a good listener and believe the experience without questions. Sign petitions like the one that made freedom from domestic violence a human right in Ithaca. Attend an event to educate yourself about these issues for the future. March and rally with the community at “Take Back the Night” to show support for survivors and make a commitment to no longer tolerate sexual violence in the community. Just do something.
Learn more, help a friend, march with survivors or help create stronger policies. Any and all of these actions are needed to end sexual violence. The solution depends on the culmination of everyone’s individual actions. Thus, whether you are a woman, man, transgender person, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, poor, wealthy, straight, gay or bisexual, it is up to you to take some form of action to strengthen your community and ensure that everyone is free from sexual violence.
Samantha Weil is a sophomore documentary studies and production major, as well as a Take Back the Night intern for the Advocacy Center of Tompkins County. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.