Women are often targeted for safety “tips” for avoiding sexual assault that are patronizing, impossible to implement, and rely entirely on false information about risk reduction.
This was underscored at the University of Michigan recently when several female students were sexually assaulted while following the most common safety “tip” around: Don’t Walk Alone At Night. Several female students called a cab instead, and were sexually assaulted by the cab driver. Another student was walked home by a male friend – who then sexually assaulted her.
Most people who tell us “don’t walk home alone” have good intentions (hello Mom & Dad!) but this advice ignores a lot of truths, including: who commits sexual violence (almost always people we know), campus reality (there will be walking after dark), and the reality of where rape usually happens (indoors, when we’re with someone we know).
So what does work? A lot! Don’t let anyone ever tell you “there’s nothing we can do to prevent violence.” U-M offers a whole spectrum of options for concerned people who want to prevent themselves and others from experiencing sexual assault.
Personal Safety Education (PSE).
In PSE, students are empowered with simple, realistic and effective strategies and tactics like how to communicate assertively with peers, how to recognize someone who won’t take “no” for an answer, and emergency techniques like strikes, kicks, and escapes. Formats vary widely. At Michigan, students can try a free, short introductory PSE workshop or register for credited coursework exploring violence prevention theory and reality.
Bystander Intervention Education.
Instead of being an uninvolved bystander, this type of training teaches students how to recognize that someone else might be in trouble and to intervene safely. This 1 minute video provides a great example of bystanders effectively protecting a woman at a party. The U-M Division of Student Life provides bystander intervention education for a variety of student groups.
Primary Prevention is a long-term strategy focused on changing the culture that allows or ignores sexual violence – with an emphasis on changing those most likely to become perpetrators of sexual assault. U-M students interested in getting involved in primary prevention of sexual assault should contact SAPAC.
Together, students, staff, and faculty at Michigan continue to organize, educate, and empower our community to prevent sexual violence. So if you’re annoyed by so-called safety “tips” that don’t work, pick the prevention approach above that interests you most – and help make a real change!