Todd Akin’s recent comments give us an important opportunity to consider what a true leader for our communities should be saying about sexual assault.
Leadership means sometimes saying things that challenge the social norm. And let’s be clear- in a country where 1 in 3 women experience sexual assault, accepting rape as a tragic yet inevitable part of life for women is the norm.
True leaders would denounce rape unequivocally and state clearly that the blame always lies with the rapist and never the victim. True leaders would acknowledge that there are few consequences for rapists today. They would acknowledge that when 1 in 3 women experience sexual assault, as a society we are doing something to create rapists. They would understand this requires committing to deep cultural changes and invest time and energy into making this happen in our schools and in our media.
True leaders would also acknowledge the power and bravery that women and girls do possess – not in their vaginas’ magical abilities to avoid unwanted conception, but in their abilities to learn to speak out about what’s happened to them, advocate for themselves and others, and defend themselves in a culture that is otherwise not supporting them and keeping them safe.
Creating change with sexual assault requires a full systems approach. Preventing a sexual assault for one woman is not enough. Even sending one man to prison is not enough. If we truly want our sisters, our mothers, our daughters, our wives and our friends to be safe, we need to create change on a much larger level. Our nation’s dialogue about rape deserves more attention than a footnote in a conversation about contraception. It’s up to our leaders to initiate and support these changes.
In an unhealthy society, it’s sometimes difficult to remember what health looks like. Let’s take this opportunity to re-focus on what we want to see in our leaders and our society, not just what we don’t want.
Executive Director, IMPACT Personal Safety