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.
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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.
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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