Guest Column: When it comes to sexual violence, Louisiana is the problem | opinions and editorials
Our residents deserve to live in a state free from sexual violence. Sexual violence is a public health crisis in Louisiana, and we urgently need to address it as such.
After the horrific rape and death of LSU student Madison Brooks, conversations in the community revolved almost exclusively around alcohol and underage drinking. LSU has seen several student deaths related to alcohol poisoning and hazing, but blaming alcohol for their deaths is a disingenuous diversionary tactic. Had Madison been driven home by anyone other than the rapist, she likely would have been taken to a safe place and would still be alive today.
Alcohol is never the cause of rape; it is used by offenders to facilitate rape.
LSU should be held accountable for contributing to Louisiana’s rape culture, but our community must also go beyond conversations that are university-focused. Focusing solely on LSU distracts us from bringing about the social change needed to end sexual violence in Louisiana.
LSU is the symptom. Louisiana is the problem.
Louisiana is considered one of the worst states to be a woman. It is alarming that we have not seen political courage from our legislature to address the many reasons why the state remains dangerous to women. Significant changes have been made in recent years to support survivors of sexual assault, but we have yet to enact something to prevent sexual assault itself.
Preventing sexual assault doesn’t mean focusing on potential victims and teaching them “how not to be assaulted.” Risk reduction methods are ineffective preventive measures. Examples of these methods include self-defense classes, “rape drug detection” gadgets, use of the buddy system, rape whistles, pepper spray, and abstaining from alcohol. One of these methods might reduce a person’s risk of being sexually assaulted, but it allows the perpetrators to continue victimizing when they turn to another target.
Teaching risk reduction methods also helps to blame and shame victims, whether those methods are used or not. And it creates a false sense of security and the belief that one will not fall prey to a sexual predator.
Contrary to popular belief, most sexual assaults do not occur in a way that allows these methods to be useful, and trauma often results in a frozen reaction in many survivors.
Risk reduction shifts the responsibility and blame to the victim when it should fall solely on the offender. Rape happens because of rapists.
Primary prevention works to end sexual violence. Primary prevention promotes healthy behaviors and environments to reduce a person’s likelihood of even engaging in sexual violence. She is engaged in strategic, long-term and comprehensive initiatives that address risk and protective factors associated with perpetration.
Promoting primary prevention of sexual violence means going beyond our current education and awareness programs in our schools. Currently, Louisiana law requires direction in the following areas: adoption awareness, waste prevention and awareness, shake baby syndrome, breast self-exam and cervical cancer testing, internet and cell phone safety, dating violence, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and use of an automated external defibrillator . and child abuse and awareness-raising (but guidance is limited to what constitutes abuse or assault and how to report to school officials).
These courses are important, but glaring omissions from this list include required instruction on human reproduction, puberty, anatomy, sexually transmitted infections, scientific information on contraception and pregnancy, relationships, boundaries, and consent.
Teaching children about their bodies from an early age, along with boundaries, consent, and respectful relationships, are effective long-term strategies for preventing abuse. As much as we would like these concepts to be taught at home, the unfortunate reality is that not all homes are equipped to do so. When madness keeps doing the same thing and expecting different results, then Louisiana is mad.
Attorney General Jeff Landry said in a recent tweet that he will continue to work to reverse the negative rankings that make Louisiana a dangerous state for the women who “live, work, study and visit” there. I commend him for that statement and hope he will join us in our efforts to promote education about consent and healthy relationships in K-12 schools.
I urge our lawmakers to take bold and swift action to address sexual violence in Louisiana. It will take political courage, but it has to be done.
Morgan Lamandre is President and CEO of Sexual Trauma Awareness & Response (STAR).