Beyond the End of Rape

When a child enacts an undesirable behavior, asking them to just stop said behavior is often dismally ineffective. Instead, if the child is playing with something dangerous, you might offer them a safer toy. We’re more likely to get the behavior change we want by providing appropriate and attractive alternatives and guiding toward the behavior we want to see.

In the sexual violence prevention field, we frame our ultimate goal and message as stopping an undesirable behavior: Men Can Stop Rape, The Project to End Human Trafficking, No More. We are saying ‘Stop!’ We use the anti-sexist, anti-racist, anti-violence frame and are crystal clear about what we are against. But how effective are we at communicating what are we for?

This is not splitting hairs. The difference between the negative frame and positive frame is everything. We don’t have people organizing around anti-unwanted-births versus anti-option-to-terminate-pregnancy. Pro-choice and pro-life messaging is much more effective.

Johan Galtung, one of the founders of the field of peacebuilding, developed the concepts of negative peace and positive peace to distinguish between these two frames. Negative peace is simply the absence of violence. A place which is not actively at war or mired in armed conflict can be said to have negative peace. However, positive peace is something much different. According to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., positive peace is not simply the absence of violence, but the presence of justice. To have positive peace, conflicts must be managed and resolved constructively. The needs and interests of all concerned must be legitimized and given respectful attention. Positive peace goes way beyond what is absent, and defines what is present, active, and alive.

The movements for gender equality have done a great deal to raise awareness and educate around issues of sexual violence with the aim of ending the violent behavior. One popular frame to depict the undesirable behavior is the rape culture pyramid, one version of which can be seen here.


This pyramid of rape culture shows that explicit violence, including rape, does not appear suddenly from thin air. Rather, explicit violent can and does occur because of the many layers of subtle, normalized violence occurring everyday through language, jokes, humor, media representations, and harassment. When we call for an end to rape culture, we are clear on what not to do; Ending rape culture is our negative peace—stop the violence.

But what are we asking people to do instead? Where are we guiding them? What are the safer, appropriate alternatives that we offer when someone is acting in a way that is bound to end up hurting themselves or others? If a young boy has sought acceptance and companionship with his peers through homophobic jokes, what alternative do we offer him to meet his needs without oppressing others? If a young woman, in her attempt to find security and self-love, makes fun of a girl that’s far from pop culture ideals of beauty, what options do we give her that won’t reproduce the same culture she is suffering from?

If we do end rape culture, what do we want to replace it with?

In February 2016, Nora Samaran gave a profound, comprehensive, holistic answer to what we want post-rape culture which she outlined in “The Opposite of Rape Culture is Nurturance Culture.” Nurturance culture is the positive peace in the gender based violence war.

Inspired by Samaran’s concept, below is a complement to the rape culture pyramid—the Nurturance Culture Circles. These concentric circles, borrowed from the “4 I’s of Oppression Lesson” taught in the Peers Building Justice Program, depict 4 interconnected and overlapping layers: (from outer to inner) Ideological, Institutional, Interpersonal, and Internalized/Individual.


In post-rape culture, in nurturance culture, we craft, foster, hone, and value emotional intelligence, self-care and leadership as individuals. On an interpersonal level, we practice and promote empathy, active listening, dialogue, conflict resolution, and active bystanders. On an institutional level, we systematically integrate and legislate for sex education, gender mainstreaming, equal representation, human-centered design, restorative justice, equal pay, and peacebuilding. On an ideological level, we will live in a paradigm based interconnectedness, fluidity, diversity, and valuing nurturance and compassion.

We must ask for more than an end to the violence. We have been raised in a cultural paradigm based on disconnection, control, power, domination, and violence. For many of us who have never known anything besides rape culture, we need to visualize healthy individuals, relationships, communities and institutions and discover better, more just ways of getting our needs met. To end rape and gender based violence, we must go beyond yelling ‘Stop!’, and start modeling, teaching, and building a culture of nurturance.

Written by Sarah Dobson, the Prevention Specialist of Moving to End Sexual Assault (MESA), a program of Mental Health Partners

“What Do You Do?”

“So what do you do?” This seems like a straightforward, get-to-know you question that ideally leads to further conversation, and has even been recommended as a networking strategy because follow-up questions along this line give the other person the opportunity to elaborate on their strengths, skills and passion for their work. I try to avoid this question because my strengths, skills and passion are more likely to shut down the conversation in most social settings. I have been in the anti-sexual violence field for over a decade, and have yet to figure out how to work this topic smoothly into conversation at any given dinner party, much less as part of small talk while waiting at the check-out counter. I usually hem and haw at first, hoping people will accept my vague references to social work and move on. When they ask for, and I share, more details, I usually run into one of three standard responses:

“Wow, that’s such difficult work! I could never do that.” Yes, this work can be emotionally taxing, but because this work also plays to my aforementioned strengths, skills and passions, it is usually not overwhelming for me (if I keep up with my resilience strategies and support networks). I love it. “Hard work” means something entirely different to me than what I do on a daily basis.  I have yet to discover the perfect response to such statements, so I usually mention something about how amazing all the people are that choose to do this work and how much I learn every day.

“……” or “Well that’s nice. Have you heard about…” This response both easier and harder to handle. It’s easier because people tend to quickly change topics when they feel uncomfortable, and I am relieved of the responsibility to dismantle rape myths, victim blaming, and systems of oppression during the conversation. It is harder because then I am left knowing that I could have done more to make people aware of the issue. Their discomfort makes me uncomfortable and sometimes I take the easy way out because social norms call for it, and this cultural conditioning is tremendously difficult to overcome.

“That happened to me.” Whether I am the first person somebody has ever told or the thousandth, by stating my profession I also declare my identity as a supporter, advocate, ally and safe person. Visibility is important, and by making public this piece of my life, I tell everyone around me that I am available to talk about this taboo subject. All of us have the responsibility to help each other, and these responses are moments when I can set an example for sharing compassion.

While the first two responses are problematic because they dance around the issue of sexual violence without actually addressing it, they stand in contrast to the third response which is asking for validation and recognition. The first two tend to avoid the topic, while the third centers the conversation around it. It seems to me that these are also the default responses at the societal level. Until we can accept the uncomfortable reality that some people do bad things to other people who then must struggle through negative outcomes, we will continue to gloss over the issue of sexual violence and move on to more palatable topics, leaving survivors to find their own path forward with minimal support (if any).

The one exception to that is when I have a dinner party with the amazing people who have chosen to do this work. We share a similar perspective, understanding, and language for discussing sexual violence and these conversations come as naturally to me as any “regular” conversation I might have in my daily life. I feel invigorated and inspired despite overwhelming obstacles, and hopeful that societal conversations will change. Maybe all my dinner party conversations will feel that way one day.


Natalie Ziemba is the Hotline Supervisor with MESA, and originally started as a MESA volunteer. She enjoys reading, baking, and nuanced discussions of social justice issues.

Ending Racism is Necessary to End Sexual Violence

The work of ending sexual violence is fundamentally connected to the work of ending racism because both share the same foundation: privilege and oppression. Before digging into this topic a bit deeper, it might be helpful to define these terms first.

  • Privilege – a right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantage of most
  • Oppression – the exercise of authority or power in a burdensome, cruel, or unjust manner

Privilege consists of all the unearned ways that make day-to-day life a bit easier for certain people. It is experienced both at the individual level as well as the systemic level. At the individual level, that may look like the number of books in the residence (house, apartment, shelter, etc.) in which you grew up. At the systemic level, it may be the school district you enter as a child and whether they have programs to provide breakfast in addition to lunch, resources to teach you in your first language, restrooms designated for your gender, and teachers and curricula that reflect your cultural background, in addition to high-quality and accessible extracurricular activities. (I’ll give you a hint: the more those examples applied to you, the more privilege you have).

Oppression exists both in the broad systems and structures of a society such as culture and laws, as well as the individual interactions among people within the same society. These disparities show up in everything from wage and leadership gaps in the paid workforce, to the less tangible and more pervasive attitudes that perpetuate harassment in the workplace and  on the streets. Oppression conveys the notion of which people, bodies and identities have value, and how much value they do or do not have.

So how do anti-sexual violence issues and anti-racism issues overlap? That depends on how you look at these issues. If you look at the issue of rape only through the lens of racism, it may not seem obvious. Racism deals with the color of skin, whereas rape deals with unwanted sexual activity. Layering these lenses broadens our understanding and helps build connections. Both rape and racism are products of our cultural and social history as a country founded on colonialism, slavery, and entitlement. As just one example, slaves were regularly raped and abused in addition to being legally defined as property instead of people, and countless lynchings occurred due to unfounded or downright false allegations of Black men raping white women. Racism and sexual violence have always been intertwined and continue to be so, as seen by higher rates of sexual violence committed against people of color.

Approaching social justice problems as a single-issue problem does not work. At best, a single-issue approach divides the resources, people, and energy striving to create a better future. At worst, it is complicit in the violence and destruction by sowing silence because there is no perceived overlap between “their problem” and “our problem.” It’s on us to be the voice, energy and vision creating a better future in which the intersection of all types of oppression and all types of violence are called out, held accountable, and addressed.

Whether the violence impacts you directly or indirectly, it is important to maintain awareness of the harm done and work to counter the negative impact. This is especially important if the violence impacts you indirectly (I’m looking at us, white allies!). Whereas those directly impacted by the violence have already expended enormous emotional energy toward anger and grief, those who are indirectly impacted have less to lose and more energy to spend on the emotional labor of calling out oppression, raising awareness, and holding people accountable. Moreover, white people are likely safer when taking such actions, and may be more listened to by people in positions of power.

Whether your social justice work focuses on racism or rape, take a moment to think about how one impacts the other. Take another moment to think about how it impacts all other forms of oppression. All social injustice is connected by the underlying oppression that leads to unequal distribution of power and resources, and pits identity groups against each other. We must work together to move forward together, all of us.

Natalie Ziemba is the Hotline Supervisor with MESA, and originally started as a MESA volunteer. She enjoys reading, baking, and nuanced discussions of social justice issues.

Policing the Female Body: The Dress Code

From pre-K to the working world, our bodies are guided and governed by an ever-changing but ever-present set of rules: the dress code.

When students are as young as kindergarten, around six years old, they are already told what they can and cannot wear, and the code—both sanctioned and unspoken—doesn’t ever go away.

When I was 18, I started a job at a grocery store chain. During employee orientation, the trainers handed out nicely-bound rule books and policy manuals. In the section on the dress code, there were two paragraphs: one outlining rules about ponytails, spaghetti straps, and nail polish and a second on armpit hair and body odor. I couldn’t help but wonder why the company decided to organize the list of rules this way. They could have written the rules in one long paragraph. They could have been broken up based on clothes and hygiene. Instead, there were just two paragraphs…and it certainly seemed like one of them was targeting my gender and the other wasn’t.

Aside from the assumptions embedded here concerning what an average man and an average woman look like, there was something else that got my attention … One paragraph was twice as long as the other one!

There were twice as many rules in the section of the dress code that seemed to be regulating women’s appearance as the rules that seemed to apply to their men coworkers. Here are a few examples:

No visible armpit hair.
Limited facial piercings.
Limited visible tattoos.
Hair always pulled back neatly—no wisps or locks falling out!
Straps on all shirts must be “three fingers” wide.
Shorts must reach the bottoms of the fingertips.
No excessive makeup.
No excessive body odor.
No yoga pants; bottoms must have belt loops and back pockets to be considered acceptable.
No fingernail polish.

Some of these apply to all genders, and some I agree with. I won’t argue with rules related to basic food safety and hygiene. But some of these rules I have trouble justifying. Why is it important how wide or thin a woman’s straps might be, or the length of her shorts?

While I could just grumble about not being able to find a single pair of “acceptable” shorts, I choose to look a little deeper and question why so many rules exist in the first place. Could it be because my body, as a woman’s, is seen as inherently sexual, and must be covered to preserve my modesty? Perhaps it is my duty, as a sexual object, to do everything in my power to shield everyone from the distraction that is my physical body.

That is the same logic that contributes to rape culture overall and victim blaming.

When a girl is wearing a low-cut shirt and gets catcalled on the street, what did she expect, wearing something like that?

If she is at a party, wearing that same low-cut shirt, and gets raped, did she expect it then? Was she asking for it?

The dress code is just one small manifestation of rape culture. From the age of six, sometimes younger, girls’ physical appearances and expression are strictly regulated, whether informally, in the victim-blaming comments like the ones above, or formally, with a dress code. The dress code, seemingly insignificant when compared to explicit sexual violence, contributes to the same rape culture that regulates the feminine appearance and asserts that women’s bodies do not belong to them.

Written by Claire Cuthbert, MESA Intern and graduate of CU Boulder in Psychology and Spanish

Consent: It’s Not Really as Simple as Tea

Although the popular video urges its audience to think about consent in simpler terms, on a case-by-case basis, the dilemma is much more fraught than we are lead to believe.

Now, the very basic issues of consent are clear to most people. We all know the rules. No means no. Yes means yes. But what happens when a verbal “no” is never uttered? What happens when a yes only comes after alcohol is introduced into the situation? It is easy to understand how the topic quickly gets muddied.

Our widespread confusion about consent is writ large in the US media. Just look at the abundance of public sex assault cases in summer of 2017. Sometimes, it even shows up in our laws. Currently in North Carolina, the law states that someone cannot revoke consent in a sexual encounter once they have given it. It is the last of 50 states to maintain such a provision in its legal code, but it provides some insight into how sex and consent are viewed in the rest of the country, too.

The North Carolina law is based on a legal precedent (State vs. Way) set in 1979 that decided that once penetration with consent occurs consent cannot be revoked. Even at first glance, this seems like a drastic simplification of the intricacies involved in any sexual encounter, or in any encounter, period. Situations change, and so do attitudes—so why write obligatory, assumed, continued consent into law?

To continue using the “Consent is like Tea” metaphor to understand the dangers of North Carolina’s law, imagine that someone offered you tea and you said “yes.” So, you take a sip, but it’s boiling hot and burns your tongue. Or maybe it’s a flavor that you don’t like. Or it’s over-steeped and bitter. Or over-sweetened. Or there’s too much of it to possibly finish in one sitting. Or any other million reasons why you don’t want to keep drinking the tea. Are you still required to keep drinking the tea? Of course not—the very idea seems absurd. Why, then, is it so much harder to use this logic when it comes to sexual assault?

Luckily, NC Senator Jeff Jackson has proposed to change this misinformed and outdated law. In April, he introduced Senate Bill 553, which states that if someone continues after consent has been withdrawn, they are committing rape. Several months have passed since Jackson’s proposal and more than 17,500 people have signed a petition against the original, archaic law, but the bill is still sitting in committee.

Short of changing laws like Senator Jackson aims to do, how can we honor affirmed, informed, continued consent before it becomes a criminal case in court? Part of the reason that consent—when it regards sex—is so complicated is because honest and open discussions about sex are considered a taboo. How can we talk about consensual sex if we can’t even talk about sex?!

It all begins with communication. For you and the person or people that you’re with… Try starting a conversation with some questions like: What are you okay with? What are your boundaries? How do you express when you like what’s happening? When you don’t? What do you need to feel comfortable trying something new? What will you do or say if you want to stop?

If imagining this is uncomfortable as hell, that’s totally normal! It may not seem like the most important thing when all parties involved are on the same page, but that mutual understanding can change pretty quickly. And when it does, most of us do not have the tools to talk about sex or consent. So, it’s awkward.

But you know what’s worse than an awkward conversation? Sexual assault. And the difference between sex and sex assault lies in consent. So, be brave and have honest conversations about sex. Consent may never be as simple as tea, but it will be a lot easier if we move past our fears and discomfort and just start talking to each other.

Written by Claire Cuthbert, MESA Intern and graduate of CU Boulder in Psychology and Spanish.

How Many Victims Does It Take to Convict a Celebrity Rapist?

Apparently, more than 50.

One of the big questions around sexual assault and rape culture is the following: Why don’t victims report? Why do they remain silent?

There are many reasons that contribute to the decision not to report, but there is a common thread that connects many of them. Victims and survivors remain silent because we, as a society, are silent. When it comes time to uphold justice and indict criminals, we are silent. When it comes time to speak out against rape culture and all the ways it manifests itself, we are silent. When we see victim-blaming or predatory behavior before our own eyes, often, we are silent.

And our silence speaks louder than any campaign—louder than “It’s on Us”, “Take Back the Night”, “He for She”, or Sexual Assault Awareness Month (every April).

Let’s consider the Bill Cosby trial. On June 17, 2017, the case surrounding Bill Cosby’s sexual assault of one woman, Andrea Constand, was declared a mistrial. This represents only one of a long list of famous men accused of similar crimes who never spent a day in prison: Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, Michael Jackson, Mike Tyson, R. Kelly… The list goes on.

Now, a mistrial is not the same thing as acquittal; in fact, the prosecution in the Cosby case has announced that they plan to set another court date within 120 days. Constand, one of the many women who accused Cosby of sexual assault and the only woman who the trial focused on, announced that she felt a new resolve, a new desire to push forward and seek definite answers.

Another important consideration is that, although Cosby has been accused of sexual assault by more than 50 women, Constand’s accusation was the only one that fell within the criminal statute of limitations—the amount of time after a crime is committed when the case can still be prosecuted. Therefore, 49 of those 50 cases could not be considered in court.

Some who have been following the case may ask, “How is it possible for more than 50 women to speak out against the same man, and for him not spend a single day in prison?” Others are caught up in other questions. “Why didn’t the women speak out earlier, before the statute of limitations for their cases expired?”

The issue of reporting assaults years after they occur and of not reporting assaults at all is something that is brought up frequently, usually to question the validity of the reports that do get filed. However, for those working to end sexual assault, it is not all that puzzling why so many people decide to say nothing.

The hung jury in the Cosby case gives us an indication. To come forward, to bear the brunt of skepticism and victim blaming, to be thrown into the spotlight for one of the most terrible moments of your life and to see no traditional justice served at the end of the long ordeal—that’s (one of the many reasons) why.

Imagine that someone close to you has been sexually assaulted by a person who has a great reputation. They are a leader in the community; maybe they are even famous. To report, this loved one may face police officers that are skeptical at best as to “what really happened.” They may have to remain resolved in the face of questions about what they were wearing. Did they they lead the perpetrator on? How much did they have to drink? Then, time passes. From the date of a major criminal accusation, it takes at least a year for a case to go to trial. For Andrea Constand, it took more than ten. Then, your loved one finally goes to court. They might hear the defense speak about their character and their private sexual experiences in front of a room full of strangers, not all of them friendly. And then, finally, nothing. No resolution. No verdict of guilty or not guilty. All the time and energy spent are not denied, but rather put on the back burner, left to cool and collect dust.

For many people, this is not just some imaginative exercise. According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network), of every 1000 rapes, 994 rapists will walk free.

When we see this repeated failure to convict perpetrators of sexual assault, to believe victims and survivors, to deliver justice, it is not so hard to understand why so many people—between 60-80%, according to studies done by organizations like RAINN and The National Research Council—find it simpler, smarter, and safer to say nothing at all.

Our institutions are still poorly equipped to provide survivors with support and justice. But, there are grassroots organizations around the country pushing for changes in law, policy, and compassionate care for victims and survivors of sexual violence. Moving to End Sexual Assault (MESA), which serves Boulder and Broomfield counties, is just one of the countless rape crisis centers that provides confidential case management and in-person advocacy for survivors as well as implementing prevention education programs with youth to teach about consent, healthy relationships, bystander intervention, and healthy masculinity.

While the voices of the 50 women who stepped forward to accuse Cosby did not convict him this time, it does seem like the tide of public opinion is turning. With each new story and harrowing case, it gets that much harder to let the next perpetrator of sexual violence walk free.

So, let’s not question why victims and survivors of sexual assault don’t report. There are complex and varied reasons. Let us ask ourselves instead: “What are we doing to make our community safer? How do we get justice and support for those who have been harmed? What are we doing to hold the people who have committed violence accountable?”

When victims and survivors speak out: listen. Believe and stand by them. And when they choose not to: feel compassion for their choice. Keep standing, speaking out, and moving to end sexual assault.

Written by Claire Cuthbert, MESA Intern and graduate of CU Boulder in Psychology and Spanish.

Younger sex offenders get lighter sentences in Denver area

Sentencing for sexual assault offenders has recently been a much talked about topic.

9news took a look at cases in Colorado and found that younger offenders were “less likely to serve prison sentences and when they did – the sentence lengths were much shorter for the same class of felony conviction in a sex assault case.”

Hear what MESA’s Director of Trauma Services, Dr. Janine D’Anniballe, has to say.

Younger sex offenders get lighter sentences in Denver area

Womyn Air: Political Climate and Rape Culture featuring Dr. Janine D’Anniballe & Camilo Casas


Tune in to hear MESA’s Director of Trauma Services, Dr. Janine D’Anniballe, and MESA Prevention Coordinator, Camilo Casas, live on ‘Womyn Air’ radio KGNU Community Radio (88.5FM Denver+Boulder, 1390AM Denver, 93.7FM Nederland) with host Miriam Schiff.
The show covered a wide-ranging conversation on sexual assault, its coverage in the media, rape culture, and prevention efforts.

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Kelly Phillips-Henry, et. al: Legal, social changes needed in dealing with sex assault

Recent sentencing decisions for sexual assault convictions involving Austin Wilkerson, Brock Turner and David Becker have evoked impassioned responses for the cause of social justice locally, regionally and nationally.

Moving to End Sexual Assault (MESA), a longstanding program of Mental Health Partners in Boulder and Broomfield counties, has received dozens of calls and emails in recent weeks from people in our community, many of whom are survivors themselves, or the family members of survivors of sexual crimes. The perspectives and concerns they express remind us that many lives are impacted when sentencing decisions do not reflect our expectations of offender accountability.

The purpose of a legal sentence for sexual assault, according to Colorado statute, is “to promote acceptance of responsibility and accountability by offenders and to provide restoration and healing for victims and the community.” Furthermore, there is no universal approach for how best to ensure that offenders receive just punishment with support for rehabilitation.

In the spirit of social justice and healing, we call for change within the legal system so the existing laws and sentencing practices for sexual violence in Colorado reflect appropriate and consistent accountability for sexual offenders.

We call for change within our societal attitudes and responses to rape and sexual assault, so that sexual violence is not condoned or minimized.

We rededicate our efforts to increase awareness of sexual violence and its destructive impact on lives. We seek to deliver programs of education and prevention, especially in our schools and universities, to reduce the potential for such acts to be committed.

We call for change within our communities so survivors of sexual crimes receive the utmost support for as long as needed to heal from the effects of the crime that was perpetrated upon them.

We can do no less to ensure justice for survivors and our communities.

Kelly Phillips-Henry
CEO, Mental Health Partners

Janine D’Anniballe
Director, Moving to End Sexual Assault

Anne Tapp
Executive Director, Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence

Jeff Zayach
Executive Director, Boulder County Public Health

Channeling Anger Into Action After Stanford Case

Outrage and disgust filled the hearts of millions in the past few weeks after convicted rapist Brock Turner was sentenced to a measly six months in jail as punishment for three felonies of sexual assault. People were incredulous: How could Turner get off so easy? Surely our justice system delivers harsher sentences for rapists?

The truth is, lenient sentences are not uncommon in sexual assault cases. According to an analysis of Justice Department data by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), only 3 percent of perpetrators ever spend a single day in prison.

RAINN breaks down this statistic as follows: Out of every 100 rapes that occur, only 46 get reported to the police. Out of those 46 rapes that are reported to the police, RAINN finds that 12 of them lead to an arrest. Out of those 12, only 9 of them will be prosecuted. Of those 9 cases, 5 of them will receive a felony conviction. Then of those 5 convicted perpetrators, only 3 will see prison time.

That means 97 percent of perpetrators of sexual violence walk free.

How is this possible?

In addition to the privileges Turner has as a white, middle-class male, he and other perpetrators also have the privilege of living in a rape culture.

Rape culture is the term for a society in which sexual violence is common and in which attitudes, norms, and the media normalize, excuse, tolerate and even condone rape. Within rape culture, the experiences of survivors are devalued and perpetrators are supported on institutional and social levels.

In the Stanford case, Judge Aaron Persky disregarded the experience of the survivor, even though she wrote an incredibly powerful 7,000-world statement detailing the trauma and suffering she has gone through. Instead, Persky sided with the perpetrator, stating that he believed “a prison sentence would have a severe impact on him.”

This could not be a clearer reflection of rape culture: valuing the future of the perpetrator more than the experience of the survivor. And while many people have called for the removal of this judge, we know that it will take more than the removal of one judge to solve this institutional problem. When 97 percent of perpetrators walk free, the issue is clearly much larger than one single case.

And until we can change our culture to recognize the gravity of sexual assault, rapists will continue to get off with just a slap on the wrist.

The survivor in the Stanford case wrote about this in her statement:

“The seriousness of rape has to be communicated clearly, we should not create a culture that suggests we learn that rape is wrong through trial and error. The consequences of sexual assault need to be severe enough that people feel enough fear to exercise good judgment even if they are drunk, severe enough to be preventative.”

Harsher sentences are imperative if we are ever to truly end sexual assault. Since most perpetrators are repeat offenders, it is important that they not be let free to rape again.

We also need more and better prevention efforts to keep sexual assault from happening in the first place. Bystander intervention training has seen success in many communities. The two bicyclists in this case are a great example of how we can all intervene to stop sexual assault. With more trainings in being an active bystander, we can empower more people to prevent sexual assaults before they happen.

Ending Rape Culture

Judge Persky caused outrage with his sentence, but Brock Turner’s father added fuel to the fire when he wrote a statement asking the judge for leniency. Dan Turner wrote about how his son could no longer enjoy his favorite foods and should not receive time in jail.

“That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life,” he said in his statement.

Once again, the survivor is devalued and forgotten in this plea; instead, sexual assault has been diminished to “20 minutes of action” and the focus is on how the perpetrator’s life has been affected. By using the word “action” instead of “assault,” Dan Turner is also implying that this was consensual– but it was not. The survivor in this case was actually unconscious, and therefore unable to give consent.

Dan Turner’s statement illustrates rape culture on a social level, in which a person tolerates sexual assault. He even excuses sexual assault by blaming alcohol – even though the only cause of sexual assault is perpetrators.

Luckily, many people were quick to call out Dan Turner for his statement and condemn his attitude toward rape. This shows progress. And if we continue to challenge rape culture, we can create a new culture that values, believes, and supports survivors. One that doesn’t blame alcohol or survivors for rape.

But it won’t be easy. Sexual assault cases are complex and the responsibility for change does not only fall on judges and juries, but on everyone. Dismantling rape culture will take the work of all of us – especially those who are not currently part of the movement. Now is the time to engage with friends, family, neighbors and coworkers who have expressed their outrage with this case and show them how they can take action to prevent future injustices.

Keep the conversation going in your communities. Talk to youth about consent and positive relationships. Teach boys and men to respect women. Call out people who make rape jokes and blame victims. Educate others about rape myths and the reality of sexual assault. Believe and support survivors.

All of these may seem like small steps to take, but together they can create culture change and move us closer to ending sexual assault. Let us stand in solidarity with the survivor in the Stanford case and with all survivors to build a culture and justice system that doesn’t see sexual assault as an excusable, tolerable error in judgment, but as a violent crime that calls for severe sentences.

Contributed by Rebecca Jaskot, Prevention Education Specialist.

Note: This article was revised on July 1, 2016.