Welcome to the conversation.  It’s so nice that we are finally having one.

Before this week, I was just a woman with a regular day job, a wife, a mom, a friend, and a casual writer on a blog that I shared with my friends.  But I believed deeply that the world needed to have more honest and compassionate conversations about the things that really matter in our lives.  So I started sharing my thoughts and perspectives publicly.  Sometimes in provocative ways.

And somehow, accidentally, I found myself in the middle of controversy, watching an infographic my brother and I made go viral overnight.  Tens of thousands of people shared it on Facebook and Twitter, re-blogged it on Tumblr, debated it, loved it, and hated it.  The intention of this graphic was to spark a conversation about how we experience the fear of false accusation of rape as greater than it is in comparison to the problem of rape and sexual violence.  The data behind it has been critiqued, both fairly and unfairly.  And I’ve listened and learned.

But we started a conversation, and an important one at that.

Sexual violence is the biggest issue we aren’t talking about in America.  You don’t have to look to Steubenville or Brooklyn or India to find stories about sexual violence.  You just need to look around the table at your next staff meeting, classroom discussion, or family dinner to find stories of direct and indirect impact.

16-25% of Americans will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes.  Yup, that’s 1 out of 6 men and 1 out of 4 women.  If you don’t know someone who has been directly impacted, you either don’t know very many people or the people you know haven’t told you their story.

Over the past week, I’ve picked up on some very unhelpful and polarizing conversation-starters around sexual violence.  Whether you are a feminist, a men’s rights advocate, or just a regular person, there are some productive – and inclusive – ways of talking about the issue of sexual violence.

  • Most men are not rapists.  Most men think rape – and any form of sexual violence – is horrific.  Some of the most valuable partners in my healing journey were men – my best friend from college, my brother, a male therapist, and my husband.  They supported me, listened to me, believed in me, and broke silence with me.  Most men are like them.  Being against sexual violence does NOT mean being against men.  In fact, it means being FOR men as allies and champions.
  • Sexual violence impacts ALL of us.   Men and women are BOTH victims.  Men and women both face the emotional, psychological, and short-term and long-term aftermath of sexual violence.  Our communities suffer and our economy pays a price for lost productivity and engagement.  We can disagree about the size, scope, and cause of the problem and still work together to solve it.
  • Sexual violence makes us feel vulnerable.  Whether or not you have been sexually assaulted or abused, talking or thinking about it can make you feel vulnerable.  Our culture is puritanical about anything that has to do with sex.  There is incredible shame and stigma around sexual violence.  Many assaults are committed by people that we know, which means that perpetrators aren’t evil strangers.  In many cases they are men and women that we love or loved, family members, friends, teachers, and others that we had grown to trust.   But when you take a risk and start talking about sexual violence, you will learn that there is hope, recovery, and resilience – especially if we are more open about it’s impact.
  • Being falsely accused (of anything) is a really, really horrible thing.  For all of you who were falsely accused, I am so sorry that happened to you.  Please know that this conversation about sexual violence is about crimes that actually took place, of which there are many.

Let’s start the conversation about sexual violence.  Educate yourself or others.  Inquire about sexual violence among your friends, colleagues, and community members.  Or inspire others to join you as allies and champions.  Leave a comment here or on Facebook.  Or join us on Twitter with the hashtag: #enlivenitup.

Here are some examples to get you started:

  • Shared statistics on sexual assault at my fraternity meeting.  #enlivenitup
  • Asked my employer to sponsor a walk to support an anti-sexual violence organization.  #enlivenitup
  • I asked my pediatrician whether she is trained to recognize the signs of child sexual abuse.  #enlivenitup
  • I just added my volunteer experience at a rape crisis center to my LinkedIn profile.  #enlivenitup
  • Consent is SEXY.  #enlivenitup
  • I support my friends who have survived sexual assault. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.  #enlivenitup
  • You can find more ideas and inspiration here and here.

These are some small steps that anyone can take – whether or not they have been directly impacted by sexual violence.  So take your small step today. Let us know how it goes.  I’ll take one with you.

You can follow this conversation on Twitter with the hashtag: #enlivenitup.

With respect and gratitude,