How Media Literacy is Preventing Sexual Violence

Safe+Sound Somerset’s newest education program for high school students, Gender and Violence: How Media Shapes Our Culture, aims to prevent sexual abuse and assault among participants. This winter we partnered with Bound Brook High School to present this important 7-week program to their 131 seniors.

What is media literacy?

Media refers to the different ways that we communicate messages, information, and ideas. Movies, music, television, news, radio, advertisements are all forms of media. The typical person consumes huge quantities of media every day. According to, the average American sees between 4,000 and 10,000 advertisements and spends 145 minutes (about 2 and a half hours) a day on social media.

But people don’t just passively consume media created by companies. Most of us communicate with others on social media, liking or commenting on content – people’s pets, the latest dances, cooked meals, and more. These messages reflect our thoughts, feelings, and values. They relay our individual and society’s attitudes about gender stereotypes and roles, relationships, sex, and sexual violence. Because we both consume and create media, media both shapes and reflects society’s attitudes about these topics.

Media literacy supplies tools for individuals to evaluate, challenge, and influence the media others create, and to create content that is reflective of their ideas and beliefs. In short, it is the ability to critically consume and create media.

How does media literacy prevent sexual violence?

Media often portrays domestic violence or sexual violence as funny, not a real issue, and in extreme cases as romantic or justified. Even though these messages are dismissed as “just a movie” or “a joke,” they are a common lens through which we experience these issues. These messages create an environment that allows violence to continue.

Our Gender and Violence: How Media Shape Our Culture uses media literacy to prevent sexual violence by creating social and cultural change. By addressing individual risk factors and changing their attitudes and beliefs, the students in our program as less likely to experience sexual violence.

We are excited about our discussions with this first group of students, who were eager to learn about the influence of media in their lives. Using real-life examples and extensive media clips and images, we talked with students about the warning signs of abusive relationships, harassment and sexual assault, as well as how to access our free, confidential services. We also discussed options for students to support survivors and speak out against media that normalized violence.

How can you make a difference in preventing sexual violence?

Just like the students, you too can support survivors and speak out against media that normalizes sexual violence. Here are some simple steps to interact with media in a more critical way:

  • Think about the intentions or the goals of the content creator. Are they trying to tell the truth, sell something, or attract attention?
  • Make sure that information is accurate and from a reputable source before you post, like, or share something.
  • Speak out against messages you disagree with, and advocate for media you do agree with.
  • After viewing content, think about how it made you feel and how it affected you. How did you interpret the message? Could other people understand the message differently?
  • Question the values portrayed in the media. What and who is represented, and what and who is not represented?

If someone you know needs help, reach out to Safe+Sound Somerset. Call or text our 24/7 free and confidential helpline at 866-685-1122 for information and support or go online at


Gender and Violence: How Media Shapes Our Culture was developed by Safe+Sound Somerset based on the evidence-based curriculum developed by the New Mexico Media Literacy Project, in collaboration with the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NJCASA).