By Cordelia Anderson
The Center for Integrative Leadership (CIL) recently hosted a series of roundtable discussions with the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MNCASA). The roundtable discussions explored the role various sectors have in the prevention of sexual violence. The following post is a reflection of the event by Cordelia Anderson, a prevention consultant for MNCASA.
MNCASA produced the MN Summit to Prevent Sexual Assault in December 2009 with support from the Minnesota Department of Health and four other state departments. The audience for the Summit included 200 invited participants composed half of usual suspects, issue experts, and half unusual suspects from policy, industry, media and faith leaders. The Summit had strong support from policy leaders and helped to build momentum for prevention. It also pointed to the need for further roundtables for dialogue and outreach within specific sectors.
The Center for Integrative Leadership, with its commitment to engage business leaders to take on thorny issues that are central to the common good, was the perfect partner for the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MNCASA)'s roundtables. The social and cultural change necessary to prevent the full range of sexual violence is indeed a thorny issue. As one roundtable participant noted:
This topic is the hardest thing for anyone to deal with because it turns people inside out. We're asking people to solve a problem that is a personal problem - it's a very unique public policy/health issue. How do we talk about this without evoking the paralyzing fear that the problem is too big?
The roundtables reinforced the theory that many participants came in not really knowing what sexual violence had to do with them, or how the environment and the related social norms are central to prevention actions needed. As one participant noted:
People don't know what they don't know. I thought I knew a lot about this before today. A lot of people just think about prevention as educating children to protect themselves not all the ways we need to change the environment in which we all live. We need to identify other ways to get others involved.
One of the goals of the roundtables was to encourage participants to "Be One, Bring One" - meaning both to be a champion for prevention within their specific sector and to help identify another person to bring into this work. While the exact numbers of new champions is not yet known, there was a great deal of interest expressed in each roundtable about taking further action. The exact "it" of what it is that each group is being asked to do is a challenge because there are multiple prevention actions possible.
Along with becoming leaders on this issue another step is to get prevention on everyone's agenda. Sexual violence can no longer be considered endemic - just the way it is - that one in three females and one in seven males will be sexually abused. This is not an acceptable norm. In identifying actions to take to counter an environment that is sexually toxic and increasingly pornified every roundtable wound up, in one way or another, addressing the need for an alternative to the dominate pornifed imagery and messages. One participant stated:
We focus on saying 'no' but don't talk about saying 'yes' and when to say 'yes'. We have to acknowledge the pleasure, healthy components; demystify sexuality and promote healthy messages while combating negative messages.
There was also a great deal of attention to the differences each of these sectors could make in creating a healthier environment through reaching out to their networks. As key as education and awareness is, it's time to do what other major social change efforts did to push change and also address policies, organizational practices, and building broader based network and coalitions of leaders doing this work--leaders speak to the importance of engaging young people in social change. Young people may have grown up inundated with pornified imagery to the point of it all having become very normalized in their lives, but they can make a huge difference when they begin to see how some are profiting at their expense and we all decide to take back our sexuality.