April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and as a childhood victim of sexual abuse myself, I hope to bring extra awareness to this important issue that is so very close to home for me. This year’s campaign theme from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) promotes the message of “healthy sexuality.”
According to the NSVRC, healthy sexuality is “having the knowledge and power to express sexuality in ways that enrich one’s life.” This means that by defining sexuality in a “healthy” way that includes sexual violence prevention, we will, as both individuals and as a society, live far more enriched and rewarding lives. We need to stress the importance of understanding that sexuality includes so much more than just sex. If we can truly comprehend and live the belief that healthy sexuality is free from violence and coercion, then we can use that understanding and power to prevent unhealthy sexuality and sexual abuse.
Sexual violence and sexual abuse stories are far too often prevalent in our society, and the media sends us mixed messages. On the one hand, living in a society that is obsessed with celebrities, positive role models for women are more accessible than they’ve ever been and you can easily find strong, powerful women making headlines—anyone from Sheryl Sandberg, the CFO of Facebook, to Oprah, to Diane Sawyer, to Iron Chef star Cat Cora. But equally present are the constant images objectifying and eroticizing women. You don’t need to just tune in to the commercials on SuperBowl Sunday to see these images—they are consistently everywhere, not just on television, but also in movies, in magazines, and online, which may be the most accessible of them all.
Unfortunately, we cannot just hit the “delete” button and make all the negative images and stereotypes go away, but what we can do is promote a healthier perspective towards sexuality and women, and set a positive example. The more we get the message out about promoting healthy sexuality and sexual violence prevention, and the more positive examples we provide for today’s youth, the more we will be able and better equipped to help today’s young people grow into responsible and engaged adults who will live and experience this healthy lifestyle. Knowledge about the issues will empower them so that they may better identify and prevent sexual abuse from happening in the first place. They will grow into informed adults who will also have the skills to identify and take action if they witness sexual assault, sexual abuse, or sexual violence of any kind.
This knowledge and openness about sexual violence would have a trickle down effect on survivors as well, as they could feel more comfortable seeking help. More support is key for those who are healing from sexual abuse, as too often victims are too shamed and embarrassed to ever speak up. The truth does indeed heal, as I have detailed in my book, Truth Heals (Hay House, 2009), and providing a platform of support for victims where they can use their voice to speak the truth is paramount.
In incorporating this concept of “healthy sexuality” into a part of sexual violence prevention, we will reinforce the message we are creating. Prevention must go beyond the outdated “no means no” campaign, as people need to have the knowledge to be able to define a safe, consensual and healthy sexual relationship. Everyone needs access to resources and education about human development and sexual experiences. Everyone needs to be able to experience a healthy relationship and how to be respectful of their partner. Everyone should have the freedom to express their sexuality, as long as it is safe, honest and respectful of others. Everyone should be aware of the impact created from the messages we enforce as a society, whether it’s in the media or within our own families. Everyone should have the resources available to know how to leave an abusive relationship and to see the signs of an abusive relationship in themselves and in others. And everyone should know what the difference is between healthy and unhealthy sexuality. Only then can we overcome and prevent sexual violence and emerge as individuals and as a society into a more loving and safe world for all.
So I encourage you to take a stand yourself and embrace this year’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month campaign. Visit www.nsvrc.org, get educated, and get out there and cultivate your own healthy sexuality! Let’s put an end to sexual violence, and show others there are wonderful, safe and healthy relationships that will enrich and fill your life with love. Lead by example and share your knowledge!
Master Healer and Life Coach Deborah King is The New York Times best-selling author of Be Your Own Shaman (Hay House, 2011) and Truth Heals: What You Hide Can Hurt You (Hay House, 2009). Connect with Deborah at: http://www.deborahkingcenter.com.