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By on February 11, 2010

Is awareness enough?

As we are half way through Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month and planning for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I have been thinking about the role of awareness in prevention efforts. In a recent post, The Social Butterfly blog asks

So, why, fellow health marketing and do-gooders do we settle with “awareness-building?” To be frank, every time I’m in a meeting and I hear the word awareness, my skin crawls. Awareness is great–but there’s a time and place for it. I’m aware of Ritz crackers, but I buy Wheat Thins. I’m aware of Powerade, but I buy Gatorade. There are times I might know about your cause–but I won’t donate. Other times I might know you need help, but I won’t volunteer. I know exercise is healthy, yet I’m still sitting here typing this blog post. There is a reason to these behaviors and decisions. There are motivations, barriers, incentives, costs, and more.

For sexual violence and domestic violence prevention, I think we need to build our prevention efforts upon our successful awareness efforts.  30 years ago, people did not know about domestic violence and saw rape as only being committed by strangers. Today, our awareness efforts have made significant changes, but we still have work to do to prevent rape and domestic violence.

What do you think?

(Click here to see the entire Social Butterfly blog on “Questions to Prevent Awareness Fever.”)

6 responses to “Is awareness enough?”

  1. My strengths are not in marketing or research, however, as a domestic violence prevention educator for the last 10 years, it is my passion to do more than just awareness months. I have been challenging our local domestic violence council to host events for either awareness or prevention all year long vs. a one month time period when we run ourselves into the ground with events.

    I believe that it is important to gather more than just the DV or SV community together and the only way to draw in the general public, in my opinion, is to offer things they can DO instead of just sitting in a crowd listening to speakers or walking around booths looking at brochures.

    My question is HOW do I do this? HOW do I message this to the community so they come? WHEN is the best time to host events? WHAT will help spark the same desires to prevent DV and SV that I have?

  2. The problem occurring is too many people are making Awareness their GOAL. Awareness is the BEGINNING. The goal should be to create change. I can walk up to someone on a sidewalk and ask, “Should everyone have a choice before someone does something with their body sexually?” and almost everyone will say, “Of course. Otherwise it is rape.” Next ask the person HOW they give their partner choices before engaging in sexual activity and they get stuck.

    The person knows he/she is “suppose” to get consent, but too many people do not believe it is “realistic” to always get consent or they act according to “assumed consent” (which is an oxymoron). Why do they have this struggle? Too many programs teach Awareness of consent without teaching HOW to take the proper steps to having consent (in a realistic manner people believe they can utilize in their own lives). You start by insuring you have awareness and then follow-through by teaching HOW to implement the awareness in daily life (taking action).

    As we travel teaching these concepts, people always ask why no one is teaching this as part of school curriculum. Most students share they only learn “awareness.” The goal must be to have people take positive actions to create change!

  3. Thanks for your comments and questions. I think we need to understand a few key questions to determine the answers to your questions.
    What is your goal? WHat do you want the audience to do?
    Who is your audience? What do you know about them? Ask them what are the best ways?
    Why is it desirable for your audience to adapt the behaviors you want them to take?
    Once we address these questions, we can move forward to figure out specific the the community in which we are working how to communicate and conduct prevention work.

  4. Great conversation starter!

    Awareness is a stage of learning, not a strategy for building justice. Awareness is different than consciousness, different than vision, different than strategy, and certainly different than organized democratic resistance.

    Awareness as a strategy for change is neither commensurate with the problem nor consistent with our goal to end violence. Our current state of affairs is that:
    * We live in communities that enable and reinforce our sexism and patriarchy (over each other and over folks outside our communities). (Anyone watch the superbowl recently? – or worship in a place that encourages hierarchy based on gender?)
    * We have private and public institutions that employ a strategy of wedge issues (or divide and conquer) along many lines including sexism/patriarchy/homophobia/islamaphobia. (ahem silo’s anyone?)
    * We live in a vision for the world in which the very few get to make decisions for and take advantage of the rest of the world. And to boot they get us to participate in their vision through war, economic and ecologic violence, and violence upon ourselves and each other.

    And as a “movement” we have relied heavily on “awareness” – and “awareness” can and has been co-opted. In other words it has corporate sponsorship (and the commensurate accountability to corporations that comes with it). We can rectify this by reconnecting with analysis, our full stories, and talking truth instead of palatable media bites. Black, indigenous, and immigrant working class and poor women have been long at the struggle for justice that informs the movement I belong to. Long before the last 30 years. (is that 1980? was that even when the rape crisis and and DV shelter based efforts actually started?) What about the fight for justice for queer folks, and folks disabled through occupational hazard (Helen Keller’s work comes to mind). These are my fore mothers and fore queer parents (the ones that will have me at least).

    If we keep thinking of consciousness of the problem of rape, domestic violence etc… as sufficient – we lose out on building with and FOR all of the people that are hurt by patriarchy, war, sexism, and economic exploitation.

    I’m done with awareness – I am however down with – analysis, consciousness and shared vision and collective strategy – And since that isn’t likely to be funded – I’m down to have lunch and talk about it. See you at the lunch room friends, colleagues, allies, and fellow builders of peace.


  5. Well said, Ramesh!

    I’ve found that the questions David posted above are essential. They are easy to ask and make a lot of sense.

    I’ve been talking to a lot of folks lately throughout the country who feel a heavy expectation to do something grand for SAAM, when they’d rather focus on continuing their current comprehensive prevention work. My suggestion is to use awareness activities to build a base of support for more in-depth prevention efforts.

    I’m glad we are talking about this!

    “I’m aware of Ritz crackers, but I still eat Wheat Thins.”

  6. Thanks for continuing the conversation here from SocialButterfly–I think it’s critical for more of us to be having these conversations and be thinking beyond awareness. Ramesh–you rock. Loved your comments and love your passion.

    The issue of domestic violence, rape, etc. hold a special place in my heart–and we must not settle for or be satisfied with awareness. A social marketing initiative you might find interesting is AED’s “Red Card.” While not implemented in the US, it shows how to empower the target audience with tools to address the “how” that Mike describes. It’s one of my favorites. Let’s celebrate where we are, but let’s push beyond awareness—perhaps to empowerment?

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