Do Something! Counteracting Negative Messages

Wouldn’t it be nice to have one day where you don’t have to confront racist, sexist, harmful messages?  I had this thought recently as I was traveling for work.  I make it a point to try and catch the local news at least once while I am traveling in a different city.  It’s a good way to find out what important issues a community is facing.

So, as I tuned in to the news from my hotel room, I saw a featured story on a series of sexual assault crimes happening on a local campus.  Images of dimly lit streets lined with bushes and trees came onto the screen, accompanied by the ominous warning to women in the area: “stay with a group”, “don’t talk on your cell phone – it’s a distraction”, and “be alert and aware of your surroundings”.  As I stood there having a very loud and heated argument with the voice from the television, a glimmer of hope appeared!  They were interviewing a representative from the college women’s center.  And then she said it: “we are asking young women on our campus to remain alert and aware of their surroundings and not to be distracted by wearing earbuds or using their cell phones”.  End of the segment.  Um…what? That’s it?  Even though I know there are still many misconceptions about sexual violence, I could not believe all the voices in this news cast billed these safety instructions that blame and target women as “effective prevention”.

Several days later, I was watching my local news broadcast and a similar story was featured, as well as a similar message to women on campus.  I turned the television off.  Can I just go one day without hearing about these stories and the harmful messages that accompany them?  It’s not that messages about being aware of your surroundings are bad, but why is that the only message?  And why are we just talking to women about what THEY can do to keep themselves safe?   Why doesn’t someone do something about that? 

There is someone who should be doing something about that.  And that someone is me.  As I write this blog post, I am also in the process of drafting two letters – one to each of the news stations, talking about the harm of victim-blaming messages and pointing them to great resources like the NSVRC’s Media Packet.  I’ll also be drafting a third letter to the women’s center at the college featured in the first story.  I’ll talk about the important role that campus leaders can play in the primary prevention of sexual violence.  I’ll give some good examples of positive prevention messaging.   And instead of wondering why I can’t go through one day without hearing negative messaging, I’ll instead confront that messaging the best way I can at that moment.

Think of the impact we could have if each one of us decides to counteract negative messages as we hear them.  Will you join me?