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Gail Stern, Ph.D., delivers message about 'rape culture'

JOE FOSS FIELD, S.D. (July 23, 2014) -- Dr. Gail Stern, co-owner and Chief Academic Officer of Catharsis Productions, delivered a message about how our culture provides cover for sexual predators to a mixture of 33 service members and area influencers from around the region at Joe Foss Field, S.D. on July 16, 2014.

Stern has more than 22 years of experience as an advocate and educator in violence prevention. Her presentation served as part of professional training to Sexual Assault Response Coordinators and Victim's Advocates, her two favorite populations to work with and she does so almost exclusively.

"I want to improve the capacity of the people who already care and give them the tools to be even better at what they already do," said Stern. "I always try to gear my message toward the multiple roles each person might have, whether they're a leader or educator or just someone wanting to have a more thoughtful interaction with a survivor of rape and how to challenge beliefs that excuse or justify a perpetrator's actions."

Stern also has a background in the stand-up comedy field and has studied the use of humor as a teaching tool and strategically uses it throughout her presentations.
However, she believes there is a perceived acceptance of rape jokes in our culture and that acceptance is part of the problem associated with sexual violence. She also believes it's common for our society to place a 'politically correct' tag on individuals that don't like rape jokes; instead of calling out bullying behavior, they are labeled as merely being "too sensitive."

"This acceptance and justification of telling rape jokes signals something deeper, not that they are in and of themselves the problem," said Stern. "As long as we keep treating rape as a legal issue and not a moral issue we aren't going to have an influence on changing the culture or helping people keep from getting hurt."

Stern believes joking about rape and going along with the jokes convinces people it's not a big deal and it's not their personal responsibility to help combat the sexual violence problem.
Stern stresses that individuals need to take responsibility; that sexual violence is a cultural problem; and, the core of the problem is societal tolerance of some level of coercion and manipulation when it comes to sex. She believes that, as a society, we have to understand how our cultural structure contributes to a harmful environment; if we minimize rape against both women and men, we will never actively challenge the mindset that gives perpetrators the necessary cover to act.

Seven year victim's advocate veteran Master Sgt. Sara Hilmoe, 114th Fighter Wing administrative assistant to the wing commander, was in attendance and shares the same viewpoint about rape jokes.

"Joking about rape is something we can't tolerate," said Hilmoe. "If you tolerate it and laugh at these jokes but then take the individual aside to address it, then I think you've missed the point."

Hilmoe believes the Air Guard and Air Force has made great strides in developing a culture change, but it's not going to happen overnight. It's going to be a constant work in progress, said Hilmoe.

"The jokes tell the worst among us, that not only what they [perpetrators] do is okay, but that they can do it again," said Stern. Stern encourages everybody to respond to rape jokes and rape in popular media.

"We have to model the cultural change we want to see," said Stern.

A total of 33 attendees from different services were represented at the presentation hosted by the 114th Fighter Wing: Army National Guard, Air National Guard, Active Air Force, Active Army, Sioux Falls Military Entrance Processing Station, Compass Center, and the Lincoln County State's Attorney's Office.