Shifting Social Norms

Insights on what we can do to shift social norms. 

Ending sexual violence will require a significant shift in our social norms. Shifting these norms is our collective responsibility. 

We currently live in a society in which our social norms justify and normalize sexual violence – this is called a rape culture. In a rape culture sexual violence is common. In a rape culture acts of sexual violence are justified and normalized by a deeply held base of oppressive attitudes and beliefs. When these attitudes and beliefs are reinforced by friends and family, our social norms, and the media we consume, they have the potential to influence our behaviour. 

Aspects of rape culture: 

  • Teaching people to avoid getting sexually assaulted, versus teaching people not to sexually assault.
  • Victim blaming – “they asked for it.”
  • Trivializing sexual violence – “boys will be boys.”
  • Joking about sexual violence.
  • Using sex and sexual violence to sell products.
  • Using images of sexual violence in media, adds, and pop culture.

When we stop focusing on the behaviours of those who experience sexual violence and instead start examining how our society continues to produce people who feel justified in their choices to use sexual violence against others, our social norms will shift. 

A social norms approach to sexual violence prevention can help us understand how to shift this culture. 

A social norms approach: 

  • Sees prevention as a community responsibility, and identifies that interventions need to go beyond individuals who use abusive behaviors and those they choose to harm.
  • Applies a structural understanding of sexual violence by identifying its root causes in broader social structures, such as gender inequality and patriarchy.
  • Proposes that effective prevention efforts must target and change the social structures and norms that allow sexual violence to be socially permissible in our culture. 

When we challenge oppressive attitudes and beliefs we are contributing to a world without sexual violence. Consider everyday ways that you can disrupt power imbalances. Focus on what you can do to foster equitable relationships and social conditions.