RONZONE: Time to act to stop sexual violence



Raquel Ronzone

Knowledge is power. More and more, America is living by that credo: farm-to-table movements are shedding light on the conditions of crops and animals prior to their place in meals; public service announcements are broadcasting the obvious dangers of texting while driving; and, in the wake of the gang rape – and the initial apathy – at Richmond High School, society has renewed its fight to prevent one of the most deplorable forms of injustice – sexual violence.

It took that tragedy to reignite the campaign against such cruelty, but the movement is multi-faceted and approached from many angles. Publications and Web sites, especially those geared toward women, remind audiences of simple, personal ways of decreasing the risk of sexual violence. Bystander education programs, in development and practice throughout the country, attempt to thwart inactivity. The legal system reiterates its commitment to providing justice for the victims of sexual violence.

But somehow, these community-wide initiatives fall short. Somewhere at the intersection of these three efforts, an approach is misguided, a course of action is overlooked and a truly holistic view of the issue is consequently undeveloped, leaving an inconceivable number of Americans to suffer through sexual violence each year.

The repeated violation of a high school sophomore pushed this issue into public consciousness, but we cannot wait for such springboards of discussion.

This violence occurs and occurs frequently at that. The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network reported that, in 2007, there were 248,300 victims of rape, attempted rape or sexual assault – figures that do not include victims 12 years old or younger.

Despite their prevalence, there is a tendency to avoid sensitive topics.

Sexual violence is heinous, but maintaining the taboo because of our own uneasiness compromises our ability to raise awareness of the issue and inadvertently allows this violence to remain unnoticed or worse, unaddressed.

Media outlets provide tips for preventing sexual violence, and these guidelines are often directed to potential victims: don’t walk alone, avoid poorly lit areas and trust your instincts.

Though well-intentioned, this advice is misleading. It perpetuates the myth of the random attack by an unknown sexual pervert.

In reality, non strangers, such as friends, acquaintances or romantic partners, commit about 73 percent of sexual assaults, and more than half of all incidents occur within one mile of their home or at their home.

Moreover, this advice places most of the accountability on potential victims without discussing the role of the rest of the population. In short, it offers only half of a solution.

Bystander education programs, a present-oriented strategy to deal with sexual violence, are a critical step forward, acknowledging the responsibility of others.

Still, they focus on intervention when, in fact, the evil is already occurring, and the victim is already enduring the first of many physical and psychological hardships.

The justice system, conversely, offers a future-oriented means of preventing these crimes: committing a wrong leads to receiving a punishment that would, in theory, deter the offender from carrying out subsequent misdeeds.

Legal reprimand, however, is private and individual – in the sense that it addresses sexual violence on a case-by-case basis without tackling the larger, societal factors that contribute to the violence in the first place.

Surely, there are programs dedicated to a deeper understanding of the subject, but they do not receive nearly enough publicity. A broader curriculum of sexual and domestic violence education in schools and throughout communities is necessary, though it would require more time, effort, public discussion and money than society can currently afford.

To the critics who assert that a mandatory program about sexual violence and the means of preventing it is too drastic, unnerving, nearly impossible, slow to take effect, financially straining or time-consuming, there is an alternative – widely accessible, free and, as of right now, unexplored.

It is a return to basics: talking openly – not necessarily about sexual and domestic violence initially but certainly about dignity, fostering communities of respect, listening to problems, offering support and accepting responsibility for oneself and for each other.

We can do better than the status quo, better than deferred conversation, disproportionate accountability and superficial fixes in regards to sexual violence. We have a strategy; all we need is action.


Raquel Ronzone is a junior communication major from Philadelphia. She can be reached at [email protected].