Dee Rodriguez, Reading, PA, USA, SSH Blog Correspondent
You may have read some of the countless stories of street harassment being written about lately or been harassed yourself. Each time I read one of these stories, I get angry. I’m glad people are speaking up because it lets us know we are not alone, but I’m angry because no one should feel unsafe walking down the street. Stop Street Harassment has some great resources on how to address harassers.
But what if we could prevent street harassment? I believe there’s a way: primary prevention.
What is primary prevention? It is programming (ongoing activities and groups) aimed at preventing violence from happening in the first place. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, primary prevention is “approaches that take place before sexual violence has occurred to prevent initial perpetration or victimization.”
As I have written previously, street harassment is part of the sexual violence continuum. Prevention programming placed in schools, youth centers, or churches could reduce not only sexual violence, but dating violence as well by creating a community where equity and respect are norms.
There a few primary prevention programs that have shown success such as Shifting Boundaries, Safe Dates and RealConsent. Safe Dates is aimed at 8th and 9th grade students to prevent dating violence while RealConsent is geared towards men in college to reduce sexual violence perpetration. While Safe Dates and RealConsent have shown success, I would argue that Shifting Boundaries is the best program in primary prevention. Firstly, it is geared towards 6th and 7th graders. I am a firm believer that the earlier we start prevention, the better. Out the three programs, it is the one with the youngest audience. Secondly, Shifting Boundaries is aimed at diminishing dating violence and sexual harassment. While it is not intended to decrease street harassment specifically, Shifting Boundaries is aimed at decreasing sexual harassment which, which could ultimately impact street harassment.
Before taking my current role as a Database and Resource Assistant at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, I was an advocate at a county domestic violence and sexual assault agency in my state. My position at the local program came out of its education and outreach department. One of the biggest efforts for that department was primary prevention, and we were able to carry that out by using the Shifting Boundaries program in local schools. The curriculum is six sessions and the facilitators lead exercises such as coloring in safe and unsafe areas on a school map (also known as hot spot mapping) and a boundary exercise where participants use a tape measure to show personal space. At the end of the sessions, information about what areas of the school are considered safe and unsafe is presented to the administration by the students and facilitators and then a plan is formed to address unsafe areas of the school. In addition, there are pre-tests and post-tests conducted to measure if students’ attitudes have changed after the program and if violence diminished in the school.
If we’re going to end sexual violence, including street harassment, we have to educate people. If we teach young people early on about boundaries, they realize that they have autonomy over their bodies and that it is not okay for people to harass, touch them inappropriately, or make them feel unsafe. Primary prevention is about changing the culture so this type of violence doesn’t occur. If a person thinks it is okay to harass a stranger in the street, what kind of violence are they inflicting on people they know personally? I don’t think every person that engages in street harassment is going to rape someone but the normalization of street harassment perpetuates rape culture and it has to stop. We all deserve to be safe.
Dee is a volunteer coordinator and domestic violence/sexual assault advocate for a non-profit social services agency and works on a project to better serve Latinx women survivors. She has a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies with a focus on Latin American Culture from Penn State University. She originally hails from New York City and is a proud daughter of immigrant parents from the Dominican Republic. You can follow Dee on Instagram at @missdeerodriguez.Share on Facebook