Principle 15: Communities working together to prevent and address sexual violence

Everybody has the right to live free of sexual violence. Survivors do not cause the sexual violence which is perpetrated on them, and nor is it up to them to prevent it. Those who offend must stop doing so. Responsibility for prevention sits with the whole community. Specialist services contribute to community change through provision of services, education, advocacy and statistical and other information about the nature of sexual violence.

Perpetration of sexual violence is supported by the “cultural scaffolding” of misogyny, rape myths, and wide acceptance of public sexual objectification of women, so responsibility for prevention sits with the whole community.

Safety education and messages not informed by those with specialist knowledge, often look only at how people can keep themselves safe to avoid sexual violence. This approach implies that following a set of clearly defined rules (further to the precautions women and others take consciously and unconsciously daily to try and keep safe) will mean you avoid sexual violence. This not only places all responsibility on women and other people who are targets for sexual violence, it sets them up. If sexual violence does occur and they have not followed the "rules", that is, out late, lost your friend, ran out of money for a taxi, accepted a drink from stranger, then they can be blamed for not following the rules. This feeds in to and upholds common myths about rape that blame survivors for their experience of sexual violence.

The tendency to approach sexual violence prevention by only telling victims/survivors how to be safe is prevalent and dangerous. This has immense implications for all survivors.

Negative responses to disclosure of sexual assault and abuse (such as victim-blaming) have a detrimental impact on the wellbeing of victims/survivors. Studies have found this increased distress results in delayed recovery, and heightened symptoms related to Posttraumatic Stress.[1]

Young people also appear vulnerable in internalizing the ways in which sexual violence is framed by their community.

In a NZ study many young people really struggled to envisage a situation in which the victim would not have been responsible for what had happened.  At a time in their lives that they are seeking independence and taking risks, they have been warned by the adults in their lives ‘to be careful’.  ‘They weren’t’ and thus ‘they have brought it upon themselves’. Indications are that young people who experience sexual abuse are deeply affected, not only by the violence, but by feelings of shame. Young people need good prevention information that takes account of adolescent ‘risk taking behaviour’ to reduce the likelihood of self-blame, and also information that reduces the threshold of what is considered ‘abuse or assault’ and will help them reframe what has happened to them or their friends.[2]

  1.  Campbell, R., Wasco, S. M., Ahrens, C. E. Sefl, T., & Barnes, H. E. (2001). Preventing the second rape: Rape survivors’ experiences with community service providers. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 16, 1239-1259.
  2.  Woodley, A., Davis, R., & Metzger, N. (2013). Breaking the silence but keeping secrets: what young people want to address sexual violence. Tu Wahine Trust; HELP (Auckland Sexual Abuse HELP Foundation). Auckland, NZ.

Practice Examples

Sexual Abuse Prevention Network (SAPN), which was formerly known as Wellington Sexual Abuse Network (WSAN), has developed and is continuing to develop, strategies that recognise that the responsibility to prevent sexual violence rests with the whole community.  This includes:

1. Collaboration

Sexual Abuse Prevention Network is a standalone charitable trust, governed by Wellington Rape Crisis, Wellington Sexual Abuse HELP Foundation and WellStop. The four agencies work closely together sharing their expertise in each of their specialist areas. The agencies also collaborate with organisations outside the sector and participate in community collaborations that address sexual violence specifically, as well as those with a more general focus such as safety, alcohol and youth.

Sexual Abuse Prevention Network is a key partner in the Who are You? collaboration, which developed the Who are You? film and toolkit. The project focuses on ethical bystander intervention in bars, and is widely used in New Zealand and internationally.

2. Training and Education

Sexual violence prevention training that focuses on:

  • changing attitudes and behaviours that support sexual violence and create an environment in which it can happen
  • training a wide range of groups
  • using the ethical bystander intervention model in training. This is a method that trains people to identify unsafe situations and to intervene before sexual assault occurs. It aims to empower the community.

SAPN trains a wide range of groups – including government departments, businesses, youth workers, hospitality staff, school teachers.

In particular SAPN trains local hospitality staff to identify sexual assault and to intervene. SAPN is working on making this training a mandatory part of the Duty Manager curriculum and to establish a network of bars who have done the training and can achieve “Safer Bar” status.

Workshops with young people to encourage healthy relationships and consent – with the aim of making these the norm in sexual relationships. This includes the Who are You? Programme and Mates and Dates. (

Educating young and older adults with intellectual and learning disabilities about healthy relationships and consent. SAPN recognizes that this is a group that often misses out on any education about sex and sexuality.

3. Consultation and Advice

The Network provides consultation and advice to range of organisations, including businesses, government departments, community groups and secondary and tertiary education institutions, about responding to incidents of sexual violence and on their own prevention initiatives. This includes policy development, strategic planning, and advice such as how to respond to a disclosure of sexual violence as well as train-the-trainer programmes.

4. Advocacy and public awareness

SAPN advocates to change the widespread attitudes, beliefs and behaviours that support sexual violence. SAPN does this by:

  • Speaking at events
  • Supporting community advocacy
  • Providing a specialist sexual violence perspective in the media
  • Sharing commentary and new initiatives on social media.