Non-profit calls for cultural shift to prevent sexual assault, gender-based violence

IowaCASA, a Des Moines based non-profit, has called for a cultural shift to stray away from rape culture and wants to prevent victim blaming.


Chris Kalous

Signs say, “Help Stop Sexual Assault” in the bathrooms on Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018.

Aadit Tambe, News Reporter

Following the deaths of Mollie Tibbetts and Celia Barquín Arozamena, the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault has called for a cultural shift to stop gender-based violence.

IowaCASA is a Des Moines nonprofit that is a centralized voice to provide support to sexual-assault survivors. It acts as a pass-through organization to coordinate funds sanctioned by the government to grant to various programs across the state.

“We believe at IowaCASA that the reason these crimes happen … [are because] of a social-belief system that we can gain power through the exploitation of others and the idea that women cannot decide what happens to their bodies,” said Kerri True-Funk, the associate director of IowaCASA.

Rape culture is still prevalent in our society, she said. Ours is a culture in which sexual violence is normalized, she said, and here is a general belief that there is nothing we can do to prevent rape.

“[IowaCASA] believes that culpability for a sexual assault or murder lies with the person committing the act and not with the victim,” True-Funk said.

The way to break down the rape culture is to change the narrative about how society views women and other marginalized groups, she said.

Having individuals think about the effect their acts have on a community so we can change the conversation about sexual violence can only help, True-Funk said.

RELATED: UI officials working to mitigate annual uptick in sexual misconduct

“One of the things that keeps individuals from [committing rape is] breaking down barriers [among] people and have empathy for other people,” she said. “We know people are less likely commit crimes when they have empathy for each other.”

This means if people teach children sexuality education, they will understand consent and will be less likely to continue rape culture, she said.

“These conversations need to occur much to earlier than [in] high schools and colleges and then continue through [people’s] lives,” True-Funk said.

Sexual assaults are mainly about power and control, said Adam Robinson, the director of the Rape Victim Advocacy Program.

“They are sexual in nature, but at their core, it is about power and control,” he said. “Certainly, sexual violence can be perpetrated by people of any gender against any gender, but majority is perpetrated by men or male-identified people.”

Society is not doing enough to create awareness about sexual assault, he said.

“We are doing more than we have been historically,” Robinson said. “But that’s a quick out. It feels better to say.”

Although there is more dialogue about sexual assault, people still need to end bullying victims and blaming victims, he said.

Robinson pointed to the  2015 Speak Out Iowa survey results, which showed that 1 in 5 female UI students reported having experienced sexual assaults, Robinson said.

“This is an epidemic that has been happening in the shadows and without people’s attention for far too long,” he said. “[But] it is when we start paying attention that it starts getting really uncomfortable, but it is also [then] that it can stop it [from occurring].”

Gender-based violence does not have to happen, he said. There is no natural law that requires it. It is people hurting people, and society can stop it.

Kimmie Andresen-Reed, the transformative healing coordinator for RVAP who has worked with sexual-assault victims, said there’s still work to do. That’s especially true with people blaming victims of sexual assault for what happened to them, she said.

“We have to actively work to combat victim-blaming,” Andresen-Reed said. “There is nothing anybody could have done to experience sexual violence.”