The World Health Organization (WHO), in their World Report on Violence and Health, defined sexual violence as: “any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic, or otherwise directed, against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person, regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting, including but not limited to home and work.“ Sexual violence may include attempted and/or completed rape, sexual coercion and harassment, sexual contact with force or threat of force, and threat of rape.
Here in Chicago, Taskforce discussions began with, and expanded upon this definition, to set the stage for the action steps we will need to take to end sexual violence.
First, Taskforce members and partner organizations stressed the need to look at a continuum of harm. An example is this quote from an advocate:
“I believe sexual violence exists on a continuum. For example, a man leering at a woman on the bus or train may not legally be considered ‘sexual violence’ – but it contributes to a culture that says it is acceptable to make women feel uncomfortable in a place where she has the right to feel safe. This behavior is particularly problematic when it goes unchecked.”
Beyond a definition, what this quote points to is the need for cultural shifts to end sexual violence.
Second, even as programs provide crucial services to individual violence survivors, there was consensus on the systemic nature of sexual violence. As one person noted,
“sexual violence is a pervasive culture issue. It is a systemic problem, not just an individual issue.”
Another advocate pointed out that sexual violence derives from varied forms of oppression, defining it as
“emotional, physical, verbal, psychological harm against persons drawing on sexism, racism, homophobia, designed to hurt or control them.”
If we believe that sexual violence is systemic in nature, culturally supported and based on intersecting oppressions, then we must address those systems and forms of oppression in order to impact the issue.
As you read these sections, consider what action steps our communities can take to address the systemic nature of sexual violence against girls and young women.