A Better Way To Prevent Sexual Assault

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One of the most frustrating things about the way we deal with sexual violence is that the conversations we have about it rarely have meaningful, if any, results. Victim blaming is rampant, and efforts to raise awareness and shift the dialogue toward prevention have accomplished little. An entirely different approach to rape prevention aims to change the culture from the ground up — and it's about time.

As The Atlantic reports this week, the CDC has begun a trial sex education program that focuses on violence prevention instead of just abstinence and birth control options. The program, known as Dating Matters, is being tested in Chicago, Oakland, Fort Lauderdale, and Baltimore, and includes a three-year curriculum that starts teaching kids about healthy relationships as early as sixth grade. By contrast, the majority of our country's sex ed programs last one year (at the most) and take place during eighth grade.

The program aims to teach young students about fostering respect and communication in teenage relationships, with the hope that a more healthy dating culture will lead to a reduction in sexual violence. As the website says, "Violence in an adolescent relationship sets the stage for problems in future relationships, including intimate partner violence and sexual violence perpetration and/or victimization throughout life. Therefore, early intervention is needed to stop violence in youth relationships before it begins, and keep it from continuing into adult relationships."

Of course, the program is limited to the four test cities for the next few years, and bringing it to the rest of the country might be a challenge — especially considering the resistance to all but abstinence-only education in certain communities. But, it's heartening that rather than putting the onus on young girls to somehow avoid undergoing this kind of personal trauma, the program emphasizes that sexual violence can often be linked to how men are taught to interact with women, an approach that focuses on individual responsibility.

Some have argued that our sexual encounters are the product of complex, entrenched societal views of sex and power, which might explain why preventing violence on an individual level has been such an uphill battle. Even so, it's clear that this program is a huge step beyond abstinence-only teaching. It's more like a leap, actually, and one we're seriously hoping is reflected in statistics on a national level soon. (The Atlantic)