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SUPPORT WITHIN REACH: We need to set healthy boundaries and standards

Why is there a big movement towards ending sexual violence? Because sexual violence is a huge public health problem in the United States and worldwide.

Ashley Berg Support Within Reach.jpg
Ashley Berg is an outreach and prevention educator and advocate at Support Within Reach.
We are part of The Trust Project.

Sexual Violence is a topic that has been addressed in many ways, through the news, movies, awareness campaigns and the “Me Too” movement.

Why is there a big movement towards ending sexual violence? Because sexual violence is a huge public health problem in the United States and worldwide.

According to RAINN, every 68 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. When we see that sexual violence is a huge problem in society, how do we stop this trend from continuing?

This is where, as a society, we need to look at gender norms and boundary setting that need to be taught at a young age at home.

Boundary setting for young children is often instinctive for parents. Examples of this are seen in statements like, “no hitting” and “don’t take from others.”

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As kids get older, the boundaries for social situations get more complicated. Kids need to learn, not just the rules, but also boundary setting for themselves and how to respect the boundaries set by others.

Kids often develop healthy boundary setting not just by what is told to them by their parents but also by watching their parents interact with other people and the way parents talk about the people around them.

Statements like, “Oh, he just picks on you because he likes you,” might cause young girls to believe that negative actions can mean or be equal to loving them.

Staying clear of statements such as this and encouraging children to voice when someone has crossed a boundary sets a strong foundation for healthy boundaries in adulthood.

Healthy and strong boundaries set in childhood that follow into adulthood help individuals respect other people's boundaries. Honoring the rights of others, as when someone tells us "no," is important because often "no" is not respected when a sexual assault occurs.

Most people are familiar with what young girls are taught as children to keep them safe from a potential rape. They may be told, “don’t wear that,” “walk with your keys between your knuckles," "bring a friend where you go,” and “don’t drink alone.”

But what are young men being taught about protecting themselves or respecting others’ boundaries? Why is it important not to stereotype the young male population?

Let’s look at the pressure that is put on the young male population. Young boys are taught to bottle up feelings and to be “tough." They are often discouraged from being vulnerable and this can have a severe impact on their emotional well-being.

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In the study “Masculine Norms and Violence, Making the Connection” eight connections between harmful masculine norms and violent behavior were found. These violent behaviors include intimate partner violence, physical violence, child sexual abuse and exploitation, bullying, homicide and other violent crimes.

They also include non-partner sexual violence, suicide, conflict and war.

When we look at intimate partner violence, we see that the experiences a man has had may impact the way he handles relationships in adulthood.

Multiple studies reveal that the norms regarding gender, gender roles, family and marriage paired with experiences a man has had do contribute to a man’s use of violence against female partners.

When we take a close look at sexual violence and the gender norms forced onto young men, we see a strong link between the two.

Sexual assault is a violent crime often used to control or establish dominance over the victim. Male gender norms are one of the top factors for rape being seen, potentially, as a way for men/ boys to prove manhood or a victory.

“Global data suggests complex, multidirectional relationships between educational achievement, income level, and sexual violence perpetrations," the masculine norms study said. "In some settings, male unemployment may also lead to a rise in sexual harassment against women."

Harmful masculine norms have proved repeatedly that there is a strong relationship with violent behavior. To break this tie, as a society, we need to better understand female/male stereotypes.

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We need to address healthy boundary setting and change the standard for what truly makes a man a man.

If you or someone you love is struggling with any form of sexual violence, please visit our website at www.supportwithinreach.org for more information on how you can get connected with someone who can help.

Ashley Berg is an outreach and prevention educator and advocate at Support Within Reach.

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