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Looking at Sexual Violence as a Public Health Issue

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 Azra Thakur, a research assistant for the Center for Integrative Leadership.

At the end of June, the Center for Integrative Leadership hosted a series of roundtable discussions with MNCASA at the University that looked at the role various sectors play in the prevention of sexual violence. The roundtables were a follow-up to a summit that MNCASA held last fall, "The Minnesota Summit to Prevent Sexual Violence," that brought together invited leaders from across different sectors, which included: industry, academia, media, philanthropy, faith, and nonprofit organizations.

While the summit invited leaders from across different sectors, the roundtables that were held in June provided a chance for leaders from within a sector to convene. Over a series of four days, leaders from the following sectors came to the roundtables to meet with sexual violence prevention proponents to discuss how their fields approach sexual violence prevention: faith communities, the University of Minnesota, Business and Industry, and the media. In addition, another roundtable looked at the impact pornography has towards the perpetuation of sexual violence.

At the University of Minnesota roundtable, faculty and staff from across the University came together to discuss how their work contributed to the prevention of sexual violence. After a brief presentation on the prevalence and background of sexual violence, which included helpful insight to the normalization of sexual objectification in society, the group discussed their research and outreach efforts that addressed sexual violence prevention.

During the roundtables, one of the things that I had not previously thought about was the incredibly negative economic impact sexual violence has on the overall well-being and public health of society. In a 2005 Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) report, the cost of sexual violence in Minnesota was $8 billion. The director of the MDH's Sexual Violence Prevention Program, Patty Wetterling, was present at every roundtable discussion and highlighted the program's prevention efforts.

As a public health student, when I think of public health concerns, the first things that come to mind include chronic illness (particularly obesity and heart disease), cancer, and infectious disease (such as AIDS and other sexually-transmitted diseases). These concerns receive a considerable amount of discussion in public health discourse. Sexual violence, on the other hand, is usually not thought of as a significant public health concern. Despite its high prevalence and cost to society, it receives far less attention as a public health issue.

It was inspiring to see how many faculty and staff from across the University work to combat sexual violence in their day-to-day work. In order to address an issue like sexual violence that touches on so many different aspects of society, it is important to engage leaders from across different sectors to increase awareness of the subject. While the issue of sexual violence resonates with me on a personal level, I had not previously thought of the issue and its relationship to the public's health. By framing sexual violence as a public health concern and shedding light on the normalization of women's objectification in society, I came away from the roundtables with a more nuanced understanding of the damaging effects sexual violence has on a societal level.

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