“How do we prevent and bring an end to sexual violence?” This question is on every prevention practitioner’s mind, whether working within a county-based organization, statewide agency, on a college campus, or as a volunteer or activist. Truly bringing sexual violence to an end begins with dismantling the norms and toxic behaviors that have historically encouraged and enabled perpetration to occur.

This Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we are encouraging everyone to “Embrace Your Voice.”  Having worked in sexual violence prevention at a county-based program and now on a college campus, this theme resonates deeply within me. Working within this field has not only taught me great deal of who I am – it has also allowed me to see the true diversity and individuality of each and every person I encounter.

In facilitating social change, I have learned to not only keep the energy of voice my consistent, but to strive to ensure that I am providing every individual with the same opportunity.

1. Listen to voices that speak on different frequencies

There are times when engaging another in prevention can be difficult. When we engage on an individual level, there is bound to be someone who may share a different view on what is being presented or discussed. It is important to actively listen to the individual, especially if they share a viewpoint that varies from your own. By doing this, the origins of their outlook will become open to you and truly allow engagement with the individual on a mutual level of understanding. Every voice comes in a different sound and from a unique source; embracing a new pitch will only strengthen your own.

2. Embrace the sound of your voice and allow for flexibility

Own who you are and stay close to your core beliefs, but also allow your mind to be open to change. It is natural for us to stick with our own beliefs and norms and when it comes to prevention; it is fantastic to be personally invested in bringing social change. However, we cannot expect others to simply accept our way of thinking and be on board with our words. There is always room to question if our approach is missing an element or if it contains a flaw; being comfortable in welcoming that change strengthens both the individual working towards violence prevention and the ones who are newly engaged. We always have room to grow and allowing our voice to change can be a rewarding experience!

3. Provide a source of power and respite

In working to bring societal change, it is easy for the fire of passion to slowly dwindle. There may be times when it feels as though efforts are not resonating the way we intended or as if they are not impactful. The key is to remember that prevention works over time; the change of perception may not occur within that exact moment, but the message of how important the cause is and instilling that notion of second thinking before an act of perpetration occurs is what brings the greater shift in attitude. It is also important to breathe and have fun! The work we do can be heavy and taking time to relax, engage in self-care, and enjoy life can rekindle your fire and passion!

The root of prevention is to empower those who have had their voices silenced, and to listen and engage with voices that make themselves heard.

Jonel Vilches currently works in ending sexual violence on Rutgers University’s New Brunswick Campus and has personally been invested in sexual violence prevention for several years. Identifying alongside and having worked with historically oppressed voices, he seeks to ensure each and every individual is heard in order to see an end to sexual violence.

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