Owning the Problem and the Solution
The first theme built on the fact that sexual violence affects all Minnesotans, both economically and in terms of the long-term health and productivity of our children, teens, workforce and elders. Sexual violence prevention also belongs to us all.
Waking Up and Stepping Up
Ramsey County Commissioner Jim McDonough talked of how he came to make sexual violence prevention a priority as Commissioner and current president of the Minnesota Commissioner’s Association. He “woke up” to his role in prevention after attending a presentation “Countering Normalization of Sexual Harm” by Cordelia Anderson at the National Association of Counties conference in Washington, D.C.
Acknowledging his responsibility and ability to effect change, McDonough began to inventory Ramsey County policies and practices, required all departments to find avenues to address sexual violence prevention, encouraged Minnesota’s 87 counties to become Minnesota Prevention Champions, and has begun to work on national prevention efforts.
Commissioner McDonough closed his remarks with examples of recognizing everyday forces that foster gender inequities and stereotypes. Stories from his life as a father with daughters who are involved in youth athletics illustrate his pledge to live this every day…to step up and make a difference.
Jim McDonough’s commentary, “A First Few Steps Against Sexual Violence,” appeared on Minnesota Public Radio’s online site, NewsQ.org.
“Understanding & Managing Sexually Coercive Behaviors – A Key Element of Prevention”
Featured speaker Eric Janus, President and Dean of the William Mitchell College of Law, challenged the public policy focus that directs resources primarily into preventing repeat offenses (recidivism). He warned that we both waste resources and fail to decrease sexual violence by framing the problem in terms of “a few bad people.” The problem, the evidence shows, lies in us and in the culture we condone.
Key points from Janus’ presentation:
- Sexual violence is harmful, expensive and ubiquitous.
- Resources are limited, and public policy choices make a real difference in lives and safety. If we ask the wrong questions, we get the wrong answers – and a distorted public policy. As we frame the questions, we determine the answers. Frames are set by our leaders, our media, and by how we talk about sexual violence.
- As a result of current framing, the majority of our resources have gone to an effort to combat recidivist sexual violence: sexually violent predator laws, civil commitment laws, Megan’s law, residential commitment of sex offenders …
- Without minimizing the problem of repeat offenders, it’s important to be aware of the facts: Recidivism in sex crimes is a serious but small part of the problem.
- Most of the problem of sexual violence is in the community, not coming out of the criminal justice system. We are focusing too far downstream and ignoring the root causes of sexual violence.
- The frame of the sexual predator is misleading. The norm for sexual violence is that the perpetrator is an acquaintance, relative, or someone known to the victim. We think in terms of ritual exile. “If only we can figure out who these dangerous people are and send them away somewhere, then we can solve the problem. We will spare no expense.” But we pinch our pennies when it comes to the most common and prevalent source of sexual violence.
- We need to switch from a downstream focus to a public health approach that is data-based, comprehensive, and can be evaluated for best practices. A public health approach looks at three kinds of intervention: primary prevention (addressing root causes), secondary prevention (working with identified sexual offenders through containment, supervision, and treatment), and tertiary prevention (“most dangerous people”).
Participant Discussion, Roundtable 1
Following remarks by Eric Janus, participants met in Roundtable discussions aided by a table facilitator. Responses were collected by IML and scrolled for viewing. Participants discussed the following questions:
What impact does sexual violence have on your business, organization, or community? How do the losses from sexual violence become your business? In economic terms? In terms of productivity? In terms of organizational or personal relationships?
Given these losses, how can you reduce or prevent sexual violence in your spheres of influence?
Later, participants prioritized a set of actions and suggestions composed by Summit organizers to reflect trends in the responses.