Introduction

Sexual assault (SA) remains a large public health problem in the United States. According to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. There are many factors that affect SA and many risk factors associated with being a perpetrator of SA. One of the factors that may affect SA indirectly is advertising. The saturation of advertising images that portray confusing messages about sex and reinforce rigid and harmful gender roles collectively normalizes sexual assault. While there are many prevention messages that promote risk reduction strategies for victims to avoid SA, ultimately the most effective prevention strategies would address the issues underlying these problems and promote positive advertising that does not reinforce confusing messages and harmful gender roles.

These strategies would likely be most effective because they work to change the fundamental views and attitudes of society that lead to sexual assault. Additionally, it works to change the attitudes and behaviors of perpetrators at a young age. This strategy ultimately works to prevent sexual assault from occurring to begin with and change risky attitudes and behaviors, rather than control the problem after it has happened.

Source: Reporting Rape. Retrieved March 6, 2010 from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network Website: http://www.rainn.org/print/247.

The National Center for Victims of Crime (2008) stated that

"SA takes many forms including attacks such as rape or attempted rape, as well as any unwanted sexual contact or threats. Usually a SA occurs when someone touches any part of another person's body in a sexual way, even through clothes, without that person's consent. Some types of sexual acts which fall under the category of SA include forced sexual intercourse (rape), sodomy (oral or anal sexual acts), child molestation, incest, fondling and attempted rape."


Sexual Abuse, Sexual Misconduct, Sodomy, Lascivious Acts, Indecent Contact, and Indecent Exposure are all examples of possible SA charges. Essentially, almost any sexual behavior a person has not consented to that causes that person to feel uncomfortable, frightened or intimidated is included in the SA category. The Minnesota law states that a person did not consent if he or she is forced, threatened or unconscious, drugged, a minor, developmentally disabled, chronically mentally ill, or believe they are undergoing a medical procedure.

Assailants of SA can be strangers, acquaintances, friends, or family members (though the most likely perpetrator is someone the victim already knows). Assailants commit SA by way of violence, threats, coercion, manipulation, pressure or tricks. Whatever the circumstances, no one asks or deserves to be sexually assaulted and it is never a victim's fault that they were sexually assaulted (The National Center for Victims of Crime, 2008).

Source: Sexual Assault. (2008). Retrieved March 7, 2010 from the National Center for Victims of Crime Website: http://www.ncvc.org/ncvc/main.aspx?dbName=DocumentViewer&DocumentAction=ViewProperties&DocumentID=32369&UrlToReturn=http%3a%2f%2fwww.ncvc.org%2fncvc%2fmain.aspx%3fdbName%3dAdvancedSearch#1.

Magnitude of the Problem

Sexual assault is a large public health problem in the United States.


  • In 2007 there were 248,300 victims of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault

  • Every two minutes someone is sexually assaulted in the United States

  • College-aged women are four times more likely to be sexually assaulted

  • 73% of rape victims know their attacker

  • Only 6% of rapists will ever spend a day in jail

  • Only 60% of SAs are never reported to the police


Source: Statistics. Retrieved March 6, 2010 from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network Website: http://www.rainn.org/statistics.

Risk Factors for Perpetration

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2009), there are many different levels that affect the risk of becoming a perpetrator of SA including: individual risk factors, relational risk factors, community risk factors, and societal risk factors.

• Individual risk factors for perpetration include: Alcohol and drug use, coercive sexual fantasies, impulsive and antisocial tendencies, preference for impersonal sex, hostility towards women, hyper masculinity, childhood history of sexual and physical abuse, witnessed family violence as a child
• Relationship risk factors for perpetration include: Association with sexually aggressive and delinquent peers, family environment characterized by physical violence and few resources, strong patriarchal relationship or familial environment, emotionally unsupportive familial environment
• Community risk factors for perpetration include: lack of employment opportunities, lack of institutional support from police or judicial system, general tolerance of sexual violence within the community, and weak community sanctions against sexual violence perpetrators
• Societal risk factors for perpetration include: poverty, societal norms that support sexual violence, societal norms that support male superiority and sexual entitlement, societal norms that maintain women's inferiority and sexual submissiveness, weak laws related to gender equity, and high tolerance levels of crime and other forms of violence


Source: Sexual violence: Prevention strategies. (2009). Retrieved March 6, 2010 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Website: http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/sexualviolence/prevention.html.

"Advertising is one powerful force that keeps us trapped in very rigid roles and in very crippling definitions of masculinity and femininity. We need to get involved in whatever way moves us; to change not just the ads but these attitudes that run so deep in our culture and that affect each one of us so deeply; whether we're conscious of it or not." - Jean Kilbourne, Author, Filmmaker, Speaker in the effects of advertising



  • The American Marketing Association defines advertising as "Advertising is defined as any paid form of non-personal communication about an organization, product, service, or idea by an identified sponsor."

  • Another definition defines advertising almost as propaganda. Tillinghast (2001) defines advertising as occupying a specific spectrum of marketing media and specifically the ones that involve media owners selling "inventory" to advertisers who use that to spread specific messages.

  • Americans on average view 3,000 advertisements per day and the average human being will spend three years of their life watching advertisements (Sedeno, 2006).

  • With the saturation of advertising in our society it is difficult to understand how people feel advertising has no effect on them.

  • The societal risk factors for sexual assault are affected advertising. Societal norms that support male superiority and sexual entitlement and maintain women's inferiority and sexual submissiveness are often portrayed in advertising.

  • Additionally, societal norms that support sexual violence is often portrayed in advertising. Intervening at the societal level and particularly among youth would be effective because it would change the fundamental belief systems that allows for sexual assault.

  • As a society, we must work to change these norms and attitudes and promote advertising images that portray positive images and role models.


Sources: Tillinghast, T. (2001). Defining differences: Marketing, advertising, and branding (Part I). Retrieved March 30, 2010 from the clickz.com Website: http://www.clickz.com/863271.
Sedeno, A. (2006). Viewing guide for killing us softly. Retrieved from the Trinity University Website: http://www.trinity.edu/adelwich/documentary/comm3325.viewing.guide.alexandra.sedeno.pdf.
Defining advertising concept. Retrieved March 30, 2010 from Website: http://drypen.in/advertising/defining-advertising-concept.html.
Killing us softly 3: Advertising's image of women. Retrieved May 10, 2010 from the Youtube website: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_FpyGwP3yzE

Advertising

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Image from Aurora Center, 2006

Here it looks as if this woman may be gang-raped. Of course advertisements like this do not make someone go out and rape someone else, but because our society is saturated with images like this it becomes a part of reality and part of "that is just the way things are and no big deal" (Aurora Center, 2006). Jean Kilbourne, author, speaker and filmmaker on the effects of advertising states that, "Everyone in America feels personally exempt from the influence of advertising. So wherever I go what I hear more than anything else is, 'I don't pay attention to ads, I just tune them out. They have no affect on me.' I hear this most often from people wearing Gap tee-shirts or Budweiser baseball caps."

Sources: The Green M&M Project (2006). The Aurora Center for Advocacy and Education, University of Minnesota.
Aurora Center Website: http://www1.umn.edu/aurora/
Killing us softly 3: Advertising's image of women. Retrieved May 10, 2010 from the Youtube website: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_FpyGwP3yzE

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Image from Aurora Center, 2006

Even worse is the portrayal of youth in advertising. Youth often appear passive, weak and ready for sex. This can blur the line between real sex and fantasy sex and make real sex seem confusing (Aurora Center, 2006).

Source: The Green M&M Project (2006). The Aurora Center for Advocacy and Education, University of Minnesota.
Aurora Center Website: http://www1.umn.edu/aurora/

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Image from Aurora Center, 2006

The portrayal of men in advertising is very stereotypical. They are often portrayed as ultra masculine and as if their only motivation is to get sex. These stereotypes seem to imply that men do not have emotional capability and that all they want is sex (Aurora Center, 2006).

Source: The Green M&M Project (2006). The Aurora Center for Advocacy and Education, University of Minnesota.
Aurora Center Website: http://www1.umn.edu/aurora/

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Image from Aurora Center, 2006

Additionally, men are often portrayed as "dominant, powerful, in control [or] as violent and angry" (Aurora Center, 2006). Furthermore, they often appear to have control over women and this control is often normalized or portrayed as sexy. These kinds of advertisements and their messages normalize men's violence against women (Aurora Center, 2006).

Source: The Green M&M Project (2006). The Aurora Center for Advocacy and Education, University of Minnesota.
Aurora Center Website: http://www1.umn.edu/aurora/

Jackson Katz

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Jackson Katz, one of America's leading anti-sexist male activists discusses the effect that rigid male gender roles have on our society in his film "Tough Guise." Besides putting on a front of toughness, this tough guise can lead to violence and sexual assault. Jackson Katz urges men and women to confront these gender roles and eradicate them which would lead to a healthier society. Click the link below to see a short clip from "Tough Guise."

Sexual assault has many detrimental effects to the victim of the assault.

  • Possible physical effects of SA on the victim include: pain; injuries; nausea; vomiting and headaches.
  • Possible psychological effects on the victim include: "shock/denial; irritability/anger; depression; social withdrawal; numbing/apathy (detachment, loss of caring); restricted affect (reduced ability to express emotions); nightmares/flashbacks; difficulty concentrating; diminished interest in activities or sex; loss of self-esteem; loss of security/loss of trust in others; guilt/shame/embarrassment; impaired memory; loss of appetite; suicidal ideation (thoughts of suicide and death); substance abuse; and psychological disorders" (National Center for Victims of Crime.
  • Possible physiological effects on the victim include: "hypervigilance (always being "on your guard"); insomnia; exaggerated startle response (jumpiness); panic attacks; eating problems/disorders; self-mutilation (cutting, burning or otherwise hurting oneself); sexual dysfunction (not being able to perform sexual acts); hyperarousal (exaggerated feelings/responses to stimuli)" (National Center for Victims of Crime.
  • In addition to these effects, a survivor of sexual assault may develop rape-related posttraumatic stress disorder

Statistically, victims of sexual assault are:

  • 3 times more likely to suffer from depression
  • 6 times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder
  • 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol
  • 26 times more likely to abuse drugs
  • 4 times more likely to contemplate suicide.

Sources: Rape-related posttraumatic stress disorder (1992). Retrieved March 20, 2010 from the National Center for Victims of Crime Website:
http://www.ncvc.org/ncvc/main.aspx?dbName=DocumentViewer&DocumentID=32366.
Statistics. Retrieved March 6, 2010 from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network Website: http://www.rainn.org/statistics.

Reporting Procedures

Reporting to the police is an often difficult choice for a victim to make. As mentioned before, 60% of victims do not report their attack to the police as it can seem invasive, time-consuming, and difficult. Furthermore, prosecution is unlikely in many cases.

When reporting, a victim can either call the police or visit a hospital emergency department or their doctor (who can call the police for them). At the emergency department if an assault is reported, the hospital will generally perform a SA forensic examination which involves collecting evidence to secure in the event of a trial. Collection procedures involve collecting hairs, fibers, fluids, and preserving evidence.

Collection of evidence does not mean a trial will take place, but rather gathers the evidence in the event of a prosecution. There is no timeframe for a victim to report an assault, but the sooner the report the better as evidence collection is more effective. While the district attorney has the power to decide whether to prosecute, it is unusual for cases to proceed without the cooperation of the victim. A trained volunteer from a local rape crisis center can often accompany a victim through police interviews, evidence collection, and if necessary through the trial process for support.


Source: Reporting Rape. Retrieved March 6, 2010 from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network Website: http://www.rainn.org/print/247.

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The Federal Role

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2009) states the following for prevention of sexual violence: The most common prevention strategies currently focus on the victim, the perpetrator, or bystanders. Strategies that aim to equip the victim with knowledge, awareness, or self-defense skills are referred to as risk reduction techniques. Strategies targeting the perpetrator attempt to change risk and protective factors for sexual violence in order to reduce the likelihood that an individual will engage in sexually violent behavior. The goal of bystander prevention strategies is to change social norms supporting sexual violence and empower men and women to intervene with peers to prevent an assault from occurring.

Other prevention strategies could include: targeting social norms, policies, or laws nationally to reduce the perpetration of sexual violence across the population.

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Another initiative is the annual "Take Back the Night" walk which was created globally to fight sexual violence. Each year women and men walk together at night to fight against the fear women have of walking alone at night (takebackthenight.org).

William Haddon is known for his conceptual work through which he developed two complementary conceptual frameworks for understanding how injuries occur and developing strategies for intervention. One conceptual framework has become known as the Haddon Matrix and the other is his articulation of ten countermeasure strategies to reduce injuries.

The Haddon Matrix placed injury control within the public health framework in which health problems are conceptualized to result from interactions among the host (victim of injury), agent (vehicle with which injury is delivered) and the environment (physical and social location within which injury occurs).

The Haddon models have become extremely useful tools in public health and can be used to understand SA from the perspective of risk factor identification and to devise a diverse array of prevention strategies (Runyan, 2003). Below are the operationalizations of the Haddon Matrix strategies.

PRE-INJURY STRATEGIES

Pre-injury Phase ----> Human Strategies:
Mental health status
Physical health status
Self-esteem and self-identity
Alcohol or drug use by victim

Pre-injury Phase ----> Vehicles and Equipment Strategies:
Availability of weapons
Physical health status of perpetrator of violence
Alcohol or drug use by perpetrator
Media messages that promote negative or untrue messages such as: women really mean yes when they say no or that sex is always available and men should always be trying to get it

Pre-injury Phase ----> Physical Environment Strategies:
Physical location where violence occurs - Ex: dark alley without lighting

Pre-injury Phrase ----> Socio-Economic Environment Strategies:
Exposure to SA in past
Cultural and societal attitudes towards SA and violence
Societal norms that support male superiority or sexual entitlement
Presence of community-watch or other interventions

1) Prevent the creation of the hazard in the first place.

This strategy uses education to change social norms. Focus energy on changing societal norms about hypermasculinity, male superiority and sexual entitlement. Start at a young age to promote positive healthy relationships and teach our young that sexual violence is never okay under any circumstances. Also focus energy on girls to increase their self-esteem and find positive role models that do not demonstrate female inferiority and sexual submissiveness. Teach accurate information and healthy sexuality in schools with a sex positive curriculum that does not shame sex or twist information and research. Eliminate negative media messages that promote these harmful messages and promote positive media images.

2) Reduce the amount of the hazard brought into being.

Identify high risk individuals or potentially violent offenders and intervene with skills to manage anger and promote healthy outlets.

3) Prevent the release of the hazard that already exists.

Promote neighborhood-watch programs or other community awareness programs that keep watch for possible SA events or other warning signs and communicate with law enforcement to intervene quickly. Also again intervene in high-risk groups or individuals to teach anger management skills and promote healthy outlets to avoid offending.

4) Modify the rate or spatial distribution of release of the hazard from its source.

Increase the penalties for SA such as increasing the prison sentence. Additionally, higher-quality and mandatory rehabilitation programs could help to reduce recidivism.

Likely the Most Effective Strategy

The strategy most likely to be successful would be to prevent the creation of the hazard in the first place. This is an education strategy which focuses on changing social norms and societal views. This can include: focus energy on changing societal norms about hypermasculinity, male superiority, women's inferiority and sexual entitlement. The best strategy would be to start at a young age to promote positive healthy relationships and teach our young that sexual violence is never okay under any circumstances. Also focus energy on girls to increase their self-esteem and find positive role models that do not demonstrate female inferiority and sexual submissiveness. Teach accurate information and healthy sexuality in schools with a sex positive curriculum that does not shame sex or twist information and research. Changing these high-risk behaviors and teaching what a positive and healthy sexual relationship entails at a young age will promote healthy relationships and would likely be highly effective in decreasing the incidence of SA. Additionally, using other education efforts to promote these messages such as violence prevention educators on college campuses and public services announcements with positive messages may be effective in changing attitudes towards SA. Working to decrease negative advertisements that sustain these negative and untrue messages and promoting positive advertising messages could help to change the climate around sex and negate confusing messages about sex. This strategy works to change the fundamental societal problems that lead to SA such as male superiority and sexual entitlement, and would therefore be more successful than short-term or temporary ways to alter the problem.

The research on sexual assault is comprehensive and provides an accurate picture of the alarming extent of sexual assault in our society.

While women are overwhelmingly the victims of sexual assault, perhaps more data could be gathered on the extent of male victimization to obtain a larger picture of sexual assault among males.

Additionally, research is needed on the relationship between sexual assault and advertising to determine the strength of this correlation. There is a lack of empirical research on the relationship between the two and if this link was demonstrated empirically it is more likely that resources would be allocated to prevention and control efforts. Additionally, a demonstrated empirical link could allow for policy changes to eradicate negative and unhealthy media messages surrounding sex and gender roles.

Conclusion

Sexual assault is a large public health problem that is affected by advertising. There are many factors that affect SA and many risk factors associated with being a perpetrator of SA that should be addressed, but one factor that is not addressed well is the role of advertising. Ultimately the most effective prevention and control strategies for SA would address the underlying societal problems that lead to SA and promote positive ads that do not reinforce confusing messages and harmful gender roles.

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