This is Episode 1 of The New Consent Narrative, a podcast from the McCluskey Center for Violence Prevention Research and Education about consent and breaking down myths and misconceptions about relationship and sexual violence and what you can do about it. In this episode, host Jilly Mcbane is joined by Tillie Powell for a conversation about primary prevention as a way of addressing relationship and sexual violence. Both Jilly and Tillie are student staff members at the center.
Jilly Mcbane: Hello and welcome to The New Consent Narrative, a podcast from the McCluskey Center for Violence Prevention Research and Education, where we not only talk about consent but break down myths and misconceptions about relationship and sexual violence, and what you can do about it.
Our aim is to share information in a relatable, easy and digestible manner for college students who want to be a part of the solution but may not know where to start.
My name is Jilly Mcbane. I’m currently a sophomore at the University of Utah, majoring in health, society and policy. I’ve been working as a staff member at the U’s McCluskey Center for Violence Prevention for a little over a year.
In this work, our backgrounds and identities inform our perspectives, which is why we think they’re important to share. I come from an upper-middle class background and I identify as a white, cisgender woman.
We have an awesome team here at the center working to end relationship and sexual violence and we’re doing this podcast in hopes of sharing our messages and reaching more people.
Today I am joined by another student staff member — Tillie Powell. Thank you for being here with me, Tillie!
Tillie Powell: Thanks for having me, Jilly, I’m so excited to have this conversation!
Listeners, here is a little background about me. I’m also a sophomore, and I’m studying health and kinesiology with an emphasis in community health education.
I’ve been officially working at the center since August, and I was involved with a working group and book club my freshman year. As for my identities, I’m a white cisgender woman and I come from a middle-class background.
Jilly Mcbane: Okay, let's get right into it. Today, we’re going to talk about primary prevention as a way of addressing relationship and sexual violence, which is kind of what our center is all about.
So, Tillie, would you explain what primary prevention is? What does that mean for people who maybe have never heard that term?
Tillie Powell: Yeah, so in the context of our work at the MCVP, primary prevention is interrupting harm before it starts. We do this specifically by working with people who either have caused harm or have the capability of causing harm.
Sometimes working directly with people who cause harm feels strange and intimidating, because the image that we have in our head is a big scary man lurking on a dark corner, but the reality is, we’re all capable of causing harm, every single one of us is!
So, for instance, an example of what we’ve been doing to do this is if you’ve seen our “You Might Be Causing Harm If …” poster campaign on campus, where we wrote about specific behaviors that may be causing harm, even if they’re normalized.
And, Jilly, not to put you on the spot here but I really liked the one you did. You wrote about how sharing someone else’s nudes can be harmful. Do you want to talk more about that?
Jilly Mcbane: Yeah, totally, Tillie. I mean I feel like so often when people talk about sharing nudes they give the advice, “Just don’t send them.”
But, I mean, we know with our age group people are sharing nudes regardless so I kind of wanted to flip this narrative and talk about how it’s harmful to share someone else’s nudes that you received with your friends and I kind of go into more detail in this in the blog I wrote for that poster.
Tillie Powell: That’s such a perfect example because it is teaching people how not to cause harm, rather than the common rhetoric we hear of teaching people how not to be harmed. Doesn’t it just make intuitive sense to prevent the harmful behavior in the first place, instead of teaching someone how to react to or get away from that harmful behavior?
Jilly Mcbane: Exactly. I agree with that sentiment so much And that is kind of the epitome of primary prevention. So, my next question is then, what is NOT primary prevention?
Tillie Powell: Yeah, I mean, a lot of the super common responses we see, like, conflated with primary prevention are things like teaching women not to walk alone at night, telling people to carry rape whistles or use drink covers, like taking self-defense classes, push for safe lighting initiatives, even something like SafeRide, and I could literally go on and on.
Jilly Mcbane: Right. There are so many examples like that. And we see these things on our very own campus. Take something like the recent drink cover initiative which directed over $24,000 to purchase these scrunchies that would be used as drink covers. I genuinely think that this approach and approaches similar to it are started with good intentions, however something like having drink covers supports the narrative that it is the responsibility of victims to protect themselves from getting hurt and, I think especially because so much money is being poured into this, it ends up overshadowing the more common and frequent types of harm and creates a false sense of security that, ‘Oh, by covering your drink nothing could happen to you.’
Just a reminder for our listeners: eight out of 10 sexual assaults are committed by someone the survivor knew in some way, whether it was an acquaintance or a relationship and these encounters may have even started off consensual but turned nonconsensual when one person pushed them too far. I think it would be far more beneficial if we, first of all, make sure nobody is drugging anyone’s drinks but even more so educate people about other harmful behavior and things like that that can occur in something like a party setting.
Tillie Powell: Yeah, exactly! Because then it’s, like, viewed that when a person causes harm, it’s almost like these approaches condition us to think that it’s the survivor’s fault—like, ‘Why didn’t you have your drink cover scrunchy with you? You know that you’re not safe at a party!’
When we rely so heavily on these things that are supposed to protect us and keep us safe, we neglect to acknowledge the simple reality that the only person to blame for causing harm, is the person that caused the harm! Like you said earlier, Jilly, a lot of these approaches like come from a place of good, and wanting to protect people, but if those are the only ways that we try to stop sexual violence, that provides an incomplete picture of a very complicated issue, and ignores the fact that these approaches can, in fact, cause harm in themselves!
Jilly Mcbane: Right, I mean, we as a society are so used to teaching people to prevent their own victimhood that we forget that there is work to be done to stop harm from happening in the first place.
And I want to say it’s not wrong to engage in strategies that help ourselves and our friends stay safe but we can’t stop there. Similar to how all the things we do to reduce our risk of being in a car accident – like wearing our seat belts and obeying traffic signals – all of that, can help us stay safe, we can’t prevent another car from slamming into us. And in the same way we can set boundaries and watch out for our friends, but at the very end of the day we don’t have control over someone else’s harmful behavior.
And we want to emphasize there is no easy “quick fix” that is going to work because relationship and sexual violence is so much more complicated than the scope of these approaches that we traditionally come up with.
And that is it for our episode on The New Consent Narrative. Thank you for being my guest, Tillie!
Tillie Powell: Thank you for having me on, Jilly!
Jilly Mcbane: We hope that you will tune in next time because our next episode we’re going to be talking about sexual scripts, seduction versus coercion and more with another special guest. I’m your host, Jilly Mcbane from the McCluskey Center for Violence Prevention Research and Education. Our producer is Brooke Adams. Theme music is by Lobo Loco and special thank you to Robert Nelson of the Marriott Library for technical help. Thank you guys for listening.