Everyday activism is the radical notion that everyone can play a part in ending violence and oppression by resisting rape culture, supporting survivors, and challenging our institutions. Believing survivors is a type of radical everyday activism, since we live in a society that suggests that you do completely the opposite.
So, what can YOU do?
Believe and Support Survivors.
It is radical and necessary to believe survivors. As stated by Sarah Ogden Trotta, a licensed psychotherapist, “We have absolutely nothing to lose by believing a survivor’s words, and a survivor has everything to gain through the experience of feeling trusted and validated. Even if the details seem confusing, we must stand firm in knowing that their account of sexual assault is rooted in truth.”
Only 2-8% of rape allegations are false — the same rate as any other crime — yet survivors are disproportionately scrutinized when coming forward. Only 3% of rapes result in convictions. Refusal to believe survivors, and to sometimes blame them for their assault (referred to as victim blaming) is re-traumatizing, invalidating, and dangerous for survivors.
As an ally, when a survivor comes forward, you can tell them that you believe them, that the assault isn’t their fault, and that they are not alone. Support survivors in whatever ways they choose to heal (so long as it is safe). It is always the choice of the survivor whether or not to report to a school or the police, and that decision should be respected.
Avoid victim blaming.
Victim blaming includes actions and/or language that places full or partial blame on the victim for the occurrence of a crime. Victim blaming can take many forms and is often traumatizing for survivors.
Sexual violence is never the fault of the survivor. If someone comes forward to you about an incident, approach them with compassion, and think critically about how your responses implies responsibility. Question others when they make victim blaming comments such as “they were asking for it” or “well, did you see what they were wearing?” or “they shouldn’t have had so much to drink” or insinuate that the situation could have been avoided had the victim done something differently.
It doesn’t matter what the survivor was or wasn’t doing, no one, under any circumstances should be raped. People shouldn’t assault others. Period.
Be intentional with your language.
Your daily conversations have the power to either perpetuate or counter rape culture. Comments that trivialize violence or endorse objectification, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, etc. contribute to hostile environments for all persons.
Respect and validate the sexual orientation, gender identity, and other expressions of those you encounter. As stated by the NSVRC: “Sexual violence against individuals who identify as LGBTQ has been perceived as a violent attempt to oppress those who are challenging social norms around gender and sexuality.”
Avoid the following and challenge those that use them:
Rape jokes or comments that belittle or trivialize sexual violence: “I raped that test!” or “Watch out! Don’t bend over to pick up the soap!”
Homophobic or transphobic comments that sustain stereotypes, hatred, and/or deny gender identity: “you’re such a F#%&@t” or “that’s so gay” or “she’s not actually a man”
Misogynistic comments that demean women. Saying “you’re a slut” or insulting women for rejecting sexual advances or, perhaps more insidious, portraying women as stupid, incapable, or “bitchy” for asserting themselves.
Objectification or ascribing worth based on appearance, or referring to people as objects: “I’d like a piece of that” or “she’s just a pretty face.”
Instead, be kind and affirming in your language. Question those in your circles who use rape jokes, or objectify women by responding to their jokes or comments with “what do you mean by that?” is a good place to start. If you are not comfortable doing that, you can always look away, or fail to laugh at a sexist joke. Do what is right for you, a little can go a long way.
Know your rights.
One of the best ways to practice everyday activism is to know and inform others of your civil rights. The Office for Civil Rights protects student survivors of sexual assault and schools are required to address safety on campus under Title IX and other laws. Learn more about of these protections.
Practice affirmative consent.
Affirmative consent is “a knowing, voluntary, and mutual decision among all participants to engage in sexual activity. Consent can be given by words or actions, as long as those words or actions create clear permission regarding willingness to engage in the sexual activity. Silence or lack of resistance, in and of itself, does not demonstrate consent. The definition of consent does not vary based upon a participant’s sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.”
Talk to your partner before, during, and after all sexual activity; establish, check-in with, and respect everyone’s boundaries. Affirmative consent is mutual, communicative, enthusiastic, continuous, and necessary.