Sexual violence. It is an urgent and profound public health problem that affects millions of Americans each year. Nearly 1 in 2 women and 1 in 5 men have experienced some form of sexual violence victimization in their lifetime. And some of these victims struggle with the psychological, physical and emotional effects, sometimes for the rest of their life.
Terrible as these numbers are, sexual violence is preventable. We all have a role to play, as President Obama pointed out in 2014 when he launched the "It's On Us" campaign to help prevent sexual assaults on college campuses. Vice President Biden echoed the theme at this year's Academy Awards ceremony when he introduced Lady Gaga's powerful song, "'Til It Happens to You," from the documentary about campus rape, The Hunting Ground. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and I'm glad to see such prominent individuals starting these important conversations. It sheds light on and raises awareness of an issue that cannot be ignored.
At CDC, some of the world's leading experts on sexual violence prevention have taken a significant step in addressing this public health problem. These researchers have identified five main strategies to STOP Sexual Violence (STOP SV). These strategies focus on preventing sexual violence from happening in the first place as well as approaches to lessen the immediate and long-term harms of sexual violence.
• S--Promote social norms that protect against violence. Tools like bystander intervention training can help change social norms.
• T--Teach skills to prevent sexual violence. Support programs that teach communication; conflict management skills; and healthy, safe dating skills to adolescents. Providing these skills to young people can help reduce sexual violence that occurs in relationships.
• O--Offer opportunities to empower and support girls and women. Approaches that help strengthen economic supports for women and families - and help provide leadership and educational opportunities for girls and women - can decrease vulnerability to sexual violence.
• P--Create protective environments. Improving safety and monitoring in schools, workplaces and neighborhoods can help create an atmosphere that does not tolerate harassment or violence.
• SV--Support victims/survivors to lessen harms. Support groups, crisis intervention, medical and legal advocacy and community resources can help improve life for survivors.
STOP SV represents the best available evidence to prevent or reduce sexual violence. Communities and states can use STOP SV as a guide to take action. Multiple sectors within states and communities - public health, health care, education, justice, and social services -- can use STOP SV to begin sexual violence prevention efforts or use it as a way to assess and expand ongoing efforts. Our ultimate goal is to give those working to stop sexual violence the tools they need to address this urgent issue and start with the best information out there.
The consequences of sexual violence are too large, costly and urgent to wait. It is on us to prevent sexual violence, and the time for action is now. My hope is that these strategies, combined with commitment, cooperation and leadership, will help to bring the change we need.