By Joan Tabachnick and Pamela Mejia
Prevention is like “Mom and Apple Pie.” Everyone agrees that prevention is crucially important, everyone agrees we should support prevention, and there are a growing number of studies which show that prevention is the best investment our society can make – to stop sexual violence before anyone is harmed. Yet even for professionals and advocates in our field, prevention is often an afterthought. In the public domain, especially in the middle of the emotional reactions to yet one more horrifying case, one fact often gets lost: Sexual abuse is preventable.
How do we change that balance and integrate prevention into all of our work? How do we convince the public and key stakeholders that prevention is important?
This fall Berkeley Media Studies Group (BMSG), in partnership with the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), and RALIANCE released two new research-informed guides, titled Where we’re going and where we’ve been: Making the case for preventing sexual violence and Moving toward prevention: A guide for reframing sexual violence that describes:
1) how we communicate about sexual harassment, sexual abuse and sexual assault,
2) how audiences understand the problem and equally important,
3) how to use that understanding to focus on prevention.
This research began five years ago with a deep dive into analyzing current narratives about sexual violence and prevention through the lens of news coverage. They then learned how experts and field leaders communicate and think about prevention through structured interviews and listening sessions around the country, including at ATSA board meetings and annual conferences. Finally, with the help of Goodwin Simon Strategic Research, they conducted extensive public opinion research to identify which stories, values, data points, and storytellers could help illustrate for different audiences that preventing sexual abuse and assault is not only possible, but a concrete and important part of our public, community and family response.
Sexual violence prevention is more than just education. A comprehensive approach includes tertiary prevention, the core of what ATSA members do every day. However, ATSA also has information that is key to primary prevention – but how do members communicate that crucial information?
These resources describe keyframes that ATSA members can use to create an effective prevention message – a message that helps the listener understand their complex emotional reactions and engage in the idea of primary prevention as a necessary solution. In brief, an effective message about prevention should:
· Evoke shared values with the audience
· Acknowledge any of the audience’s negative feelings and lingering doubts
· Describe the speaker’s journey (our own understanding) of how we began to understand prevention
· Articulate the problem clearly
· Name at least one concrete solution and illustrate success.
These messages, and the guide’s “rule of the road” fit well to the recent ATSA Journal statement asking ATSA members to use person-first language and to take the time to describe the behaviors of our clients, rather than labeling them as “sex offenders”, the exact problematic behaviors we work to change.
To learn more about each of these components – and the research that shaped the recommendations – please see Where We’re Going and Where We’ve Been and Moving Toward Prevention.
The list looks may look daunting – but the ATSA Prevention Committee has already developed some of these key elements in our framing document on how ATSA members can talk about prevention (See ATSA’s Framing Document). That frame evokes the shared values that guide our work – preventing sexual abuse to keep our communities safer. The Prevention Committee’s infographics (See ATSA’s Infographic Documents) also articulate the problem and what ATSA can offer in terms of a solution. ATSA has a unique perspective to offer about preventing the perpetuation of sexual violence – a critical element in preventing first-time harm.
BMSG also challenges each of us to articulate our own journey towards understanding the need for prevention. If you are reading this blog posting, you care about prevention – can you also talk about why you care and can you tell someone how you got there? What was the “turning point” where you started to believe prevention was possible, or when you decided to pursue this work?
If you are moved by this work, as I am, take the time to explore these resources: Visit BMSG’s website for more information on framing prevention, examples of how to apply these guidelines to specific types of systems-level change, and ideas about how to engage the media to talk about prevention.
With all of the passion that ATSA members bring to our work, our everyday conversations about what we do and WHY we do this work to make our communities safer it is essential that we do not do this alone but that we also involve our contacts, colleagues and peers. Let them know that prevention is possible.
Joan Tabachnick is the co-chair of ATSA’s prevention committee
Pamela Mejia, Head of Research for the BMSG
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