In 2019, NJCASA embarked on a journey to engage athletic leaders, mental health professionals, and parents and caring adults in preventing sexual violence within their spheres of influence. Here is what we learned.

We know that sexual violence is a pervasive and serious problem. It’s estimated that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men will experience some form of physical sexual violence in their lifetime. There are an estimated 1.8 million survivors in New Jersey alone.

We also know that sexual violence is fully preventable, but that not everyone knows how to make prevention a reality. Because of this, we hosted a series of virtual conversations to discuss how we can all promote prevention principles in our everyday lives and specifically in each sector of athletics, parenting, and mental health.

For parents and caring adults, we discussed how we can influence the children in our lives to engage in positive behaviors that create safer environments and reduce the potential that they may harm another person, either now or later in life.

Empathy. We know that empathy can play a positive role in buffering against the development of harmful behaviors. During the virtual conversations, we discussed ways of increasing empathy in our children.

One participant shared that “helping our little ones to understand what they’re feeling by labeling their emotions and modeling empathic responses” can increase levels of empathy within children. Empathy can be fostered and cultivated in children, and one of the key ways we can support empathy development is through emotional literacy. After all, how can one anticipate what another may be feeling if they cannot identify the full range of emotions?

Gender norms. Rigid gender stereotypes that dictate how boys/men and girls/women should behave contributes to harmful gender norms, which have been identified as risk factors that may contribute to sexual violence perpetration. In our conversations, we discussed how gender reveal parties can set up expectations that a child may not meet as they grow, which can pose problems in the long run. These parties reinforce the gender binary and the idea that certain qualities belong to certain genders. (To learn more about this, check out our fact sheet!)

Similar to the discussions we had with athletic leaders, one participant shared the importance of challenging the norm “boys will be boys.” When we excuse harmful behavior with phrases like these, it decreases the accountability of the person committing the behavior. These values can ultimately contribute to men and boys being excused for harmful behavior while girls and women are held responsible for the actions committed by others.

Consent. We reviewed the importance of practicing consent early in life. It was identified that we don’t need to talk about sex in order to teach consent. One participant reiterated the importance of teaching kids to respect people’s privacy and boundaries. We can model that as adults by asking children for a hug before giving one and reminding family members (immediate and extended) to do the same.

It’s important to continue these conversations with the young ones in our lives as they grow. There are lots of ways we can promote positive behaviors across the lifespan – and it’s never too late to adopt them ourselves!

To learn more about how you can contribute to a safer New Jersey, visit the resources on our Engaging Communities, Preventing Violence webpage.

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