Shifting the conversation to rape prevention

Published: Tuesday, April 2 2013 6:35 p.m. MDT

Arash Tadjiki reads many of the messages written on the shirts as University of Utah students take part Monday, April 1, 2013, in the Clothesline Project, a visual display representing rape and sexual assault victims.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Glade Ellingson walked along the display of more than 70 brightly colored and decorated T-shirts hung by clothespins near the University of Utah Union ballroom.

Every so often Ellingson, a psychologist at the University Counseling Center, reached down to spread out a shirt and read its message:

"You deserve not to be hurt anymore."

"You're not worth the tears I cried. I can now heal."

"I forgive you, Chris. You're [sic] little sis. — It's time to forgive yourself now."

The shirts, part of the Clothesline Project, are a small representation of the hundreds of thousands of rape and sexual assault victims across the country each year.

“Unfortunately, I hear these stories too often," Ellingson said. "It reinforces for me in a tangible way some of the struggles and some of the accounts I hear in a professional capacity.”

The Clothesline Project is part of a new effort to change the dialogue on sexual assault and rape to empower women toward prevention and educate men on what it really means to be a man, turning away from aggression and physical strength and promoting character-based, anti-violence characteristics.

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is focused on rape and sexual assault as a public health issue and has begun identifying the risk factors for assault as it seeks ways to ward off rape and assault, much in the way one would fight a disease.

Nearly one in five women and one in 71 men say they have been raped at some point in their lives in the United States, and half of all women and one in five men report that they have experienced sexual violence victimization at some point, according to the CDC in its National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey.

Sexual assault includes rape and attempted rape, as well as any “attacks or attempted attacks generally involving unwanted sexual contact between victim and offender,” according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Verbal threats may also qualify as sexual assault in some cases.

The survey measured responses from more than 9,000 women and almost 7,500 men in the United States. 

Researchers have shown risk factors that contribute to both perpetrating and risk for becoming a victim. They include violent, strongly patriarchal and emotionally unsupportive family environments, poverty, violence witnessed as a child and history of sexual abuse as a child. 

The Rape Recovery Center in Utah has a hotline, counseling and group therapy for men and women who have been victims of sexual violence. 

The Rape Recovery Center is also reaching out to high school and middle school students throughout Salt Lake County to teach them about healthy relationships in an effort to prevent perpetuating what is being called a rape culture. The idea is to educate young men and women while they are young to learn healthy relationship patterns such as boundary setting and accepting. 

“It builds on the understanding that people have the right to have their own autonomy and they have the right to their own boundaries,” Holly Mullen, executive director of the Rape Recovery Center, said.

Men and boys in groups such as the Men’s Anti-Violence Network are redesigning what it means to be a man. The group is trying to de-emphasize violence and encourages men to take a leadership role in promoting respect.

Ned Searle, co-founder of the Men’s Anti-violence Network, said the group is encouraging men throughout Utah to place respect and compassion as relationship priorities, and realize that they can influence others through words and actions. They are reaching out to men on college campuses throughout the state with the idea that they can encourage men to become involved in defending others against violence, including sexual violence.

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