Many women can recall an email or a stern message from a parent before heading off to college about what she can do to avoid getting raped. Whether it's carrying mace or not walking alone at night, there is a long list of tips called risk reduction.
But in short, risk reduction tips and our society's reliance on them do not prevent sexual assault. Not only is it ineffective and irrelevant to the majority of rapes in college , it is problematic for women as it focuses on their behavior and what they should have done to not get assaulted. Just look at how our society responds to sexual assault; people often ask, "what were you wearing?" or "why we're you out by yourself?" This is detrimental as it reinforces victim-blaming attitudes and can hurt a victim's confidence she will be believed, which results in very low reporting rates.
There are some things that increase a woman's risk of sexual assault, such as excessive use of alcohol and having experienced sexual abuse or assault. Excessive alcohol use and on a regular basis increases the chances that someone who sexually assaults women will target her and may use the increased vulnerability as a means of control. Prior sexual abuse is a risk factor but researchers have yet to find a significant factor in exactly why it is. What we do know is that prior abuse or assault can negatively affect the perception of healthy sex and decrease self esteem which perpetrators generally target in victims.
Despite risks, the only person responsible for sexual assault is the person that committed it. There is nothing a victim does or says that causes the rape and it is never, ever a victim's fault. Risk reduction fails to address the rapist's behavior and the cultural norms that reinforce sexual violence. We need to enact the long term solutions for effective violence prevention.
With all that said, whatever you want to do to feel safe, you should feel empowered to do so. Safety precautions are good to take into account at what you see best for yourself.
Below is a list of things women can do to prevent sexual assault since prevention will take both women and men to reach this goal. Because sexual violence is reinforced by attitudes and behaviors, along with larger social structures, there are steps women can take to make a difference although, men are ultimately called to take on the issue of men's violence against women.
Celebrate being a woman and cherish your women friends and relatives.
Believe survivors of sexual assault, relationship violence, and stalking.
Get help (you deserve the support!) for sexual assault or abuse.
Do not blame women for getting raped or abused by their partners.
Many survivors have experienced being blamed by their female friends whom they expected would be most understanding. Blaming other women stems from a long history of our society blaming women and victims for what men have done to them. It's a complex issue why women would then blame each other, but in the most simplistic manner, it is an internalization of the blame wrongfully placed on women.
Mentor a girl or volunteer for an organization that empowers girls.
Join a community engagement program or social group of women.
Consider the choices you make: do they hurt or support women?
While each woman has the right to make any choice she wants for herself, there are some choices that reflect the sexism all women have been hurt by. Making a choice to participate in something that reflects a degrading image of women does not necessarily make it right or okay. Consider the impact it has on all women and women like you. Check out Ariel Levy's book, Female Chauvinist Pigs or for further insight.
Stop reinforcing the expectation that men have a one-track mind on sex; reject the approval of bad boy behavior.
Part of effective violence prevention in our culture is to challenge the attitudes the reinforce expectations about sex and a narrow definition of what it means to be a man.
Acknowledge the men in your life who you see as allies to women.
Learn about feminism from multiple sources.
Take a one month break from reading any beauty or fashion magazines.
Stop using language that hurts women; avoid calling women "sluts" or "whores"
Choose not to say homophobic comments like, "that's so gay" as it reinforces violence against people who are GLBT.
Interrupt sexist comments, if you feel safe doing so.
Develop your own style of challenging people for saying hurtful comments.
Volunteer at The Aurora Center as a Crisis Line Advocate, Legal Advocate, or a Violence Prevention Educator.