A day of learning about sexual violence prevention

Nearly 70 people filed into Pauley Ballroom at UC Berkeley last night for a frank talk on sexual violence and the roles that we — particularly men — must play to combat the all-too-common reality on college campuses, where one in four women are victims of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault during their time at school.

keith edwards

Keith Edwards leads a sexual-violence prevention workshop. (UC Berkeley photo by cici ambrosia)

Keith Edwards, who speaks frequently at college campuses nationwide on sexual-violence prevention and related issues, led the workshop, titled “Preventing Sexual Violence and Harassment.” The talk was part of a larger Day of Learning across campus, a series of events and activities hosted by a coalition of campus groups ranging from the ASUC Sexual Violence Commission and the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies to the Interfraternity Council at Berkeley.

“To be effective at ending rape, we need to directly and indirectly take action to intervene,” Edwards told attendees, adding that as sexual violence is overwhelmingly perpetrated by men, they must commit to being part of the solution.

Edwards said men have to be more cognizant that they have been taught unrealistic expectations of masculinity and, as such are pressured to meet society’s standards. Toxic themes of manhood, Edwards explained, are at the root of sexual violence. The key to re-educating people, he said, is teaching them what it means to have and to get consent, which must be informed, continuous, affirmative and freely given.

Bystanders, too, should feel empowered to intervene by speaking out about commonplace problems, from the wearing of offensive T-shirts to inappropriate conversations that degrade women. Speaking out simply by saying “that’s not okay” shifts the culture, Edwards said, addressing head on what people may already know to be true but have been taught to ignore. A young man talking about acing an exam by exclaiming “I totally raped that test,” or someone calling a man “girly” as in insult, he said, are instances where bystanders can voice their concerns and, most of the time, the person will agree.

People don’t need to have a master’s degree in gender studies to be able to address right from wrong, Edwards said. And correcting the way people talk and think about women and sex it will, he thinks, change their actions as well.

“Anyone can do this,’’ Edwards said. “There is no script.”