Tag Archives: Education

Teaching consent

The Healthy Sex Talk: Teaching Kids Consent, Ages 1 – 21, via The Good Men Project:

A list of parenting action items, created in the hope that we can raise a generation of children who have less rape and sexual assault in their lives.

The ongoing horror of rape in the news, from Penn State to the young women raped and killed in India to Steubenville, has proven to be a wake-up call for many parents. We always knew that rape was a problem, but never before have we been so mobilized to create change.

As writers, educators, and advocates of sex-positivity and healthy consent, the four of us have been inundated with requests from parents for advice on how to help create a future with less rape and sexual assault.

We believe parents can start educating children about consent and empowerment as early as 1 year old and continuing into the college years. It is our sincere hope that this education can help us raise empowered young adults who have empathy for others and a clear understanding of healthy consent.

We hope parents and educators find this list of action items and teaching tools helpful, and that together we can help create a generation of children who have less rape and sexual assault in their lives.

There are three sections, based upon children’s ages, preschool, grade school, and teens and young adults.

Sincerely,

Julie Gills, Jamie Utt, Alyssa Royse and Joanna Schroeder

♦◊♦

For Very Young Children (ages 1-5):

1. Teach children to ask permission before touching or embracing a playmate. Use langauge such as, “Sarah, let’s ask Joe if he would like to hug bye-bye.” If Joe says “no” to this request, cheerfully tell your child, “That’s okay, Sarah! Let’s wave bye-bye to Joe and blow him a kiss.”

2. Help create empathy within your child by explaining how something they have done may have hurt someone. Use language like, “I know you wanted that toy, but when you hit Mikey, it hurt him and he felt very sad. And we don’t want Mikey to feel sad because we hurt him.”

Encourage your child to imagine how he or she might feel if Mikey had hit them, instead. This can be done with a loving tone and a big hug, so the child doesn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed.

3. Teach kids to help others who may be in trouble. Talk to kids about helping other children*, and alerting trusted grown-ups when others need help. Ask your child to watch interactions and notice what is happening. Get them used to observing behavior and checking in on what they see.

Use the family pet as an example, “Oh, it looks like the kitty’s tail is stuck! We have to help her!!” Praise your child for assisting others who need help, but remind them that if a grown-up needs help with anything, that it is a grown-up’s job to help. Praise your child for alerting you to people who are in distress, so that the appropriate help can be provided.

4. Teach your kids that “no” and “stop” are important words and should be honored. One way to explain this may be, “Sarah said ‘no’, and when we hear ‘no’ we always stop what we’re doing immediately. No matter what.” Also teach your child that his or her “no’s” are to be honored. Explain that just like we always stop doing something when someone says “no”, that our friends need to always stop when we say “no”, too.  If a friend doesn’t stop when we say “no,” then we need to think about whether or not we feel good, and safe, playing with them. If not, it’s okay to choose other friends. If you feel you must intervene, do so. Be kind, and explain to the other child how important “no” is. Your child will internalize how important it is both for himself and others.

5. Encourage children to read facial expressions and other body language: Scared, happy, sad, frustrated, angry and more. Charade-style guessing games with expressions are a great way to teach children how to read body language.

6. Never force a child to hug, touch or kiss anybody, for any reason. If Grandma is demanding a kiss, and your child is resistant, offer alternatives by saying something like, “Would you rather give Grandma a high-five or blow her a kiss, maybe?” You can always explain to Grandma, later, what you’re doing and why. But don’t make a big deal out of it in front of your kid. If it’s a problem for Grandma, so be it, your job now is doing what’s best for your child and giving them the tools to be safe and happy, and help others do the same.

7. Encourage children to wash their own genitals during bath time. Of course parents have to help sometimes, but explaining to little Joe that his penis is important and that he needs to take care of it is a great way to help encourage body pride and a sense of ownership of his or her own body. Also, model consent by asking for permission to help wash your child’s body. Keep it upbeat and always honor the child’s request to not be touched. “Can I wash your back now? How about your feet? How about your bottom?” If the child says “no” then hand them the washcloth and say, “Cool! Your booty needs a wash. Go for it.”

8. Give children the opportunity to say yes or no in everyday choices, too. Let them choose clothing and have a say in what they wear, what they play, or how they do their hair. Obviously, there are times when you have to step in (dead of winter when your child wants to wear a sundress would be one of those times!), but help them understand that you heard his or her voice and that it mattered to you, but that you want to keep them safe and healthy.

9. Allow children to talk about their body in any way they want, without shame. Teach them the correct words for their genitals, and make yourself a safe place for talking about bodies and sex. Say, “I’m so glad you asked me that!” If you don’t know how to answer their questions the right way just then, say, “I’m glad you’re asking me about this, but I want to look into it. Can we talk about it after dinner?” and make sure you follow up with them when you say you will. If your first instinct is to shush them or act ashamed, then practice it alone or with a partner. The more you practice, the easier it will be.

10. Talk about “gut feelings” or instincts. Sometimes things make us feel weird, or scared, or yucky and we don’t know why. Ask your child if that has ever happened with them and listen quietly as they explain. Teach them that this “belly voice” is sometimes correct, and that if they ever have a gut feeling that is confusing, they can always come to you for help in sorting through their feelings and making decisions. And remind them that no one has the right to touch them if they don’t want it.

11. “Use your words.” Don’t answer and respond to temper tantrums. Ask your child to use words, even just simple words, to tell you what’s going on.

♦◊♦

Guidelines For Older Children (Ages 5-12) 

1. Teach kids that the way their bodies are changing is great, but can sometimes be confusing. The way you talk about these changes—whether it’s loose teeth or pimples and pubic hair—will show your willingness to talk about other sensitive subjects. Be scientific, direct, and answer any questions your child may have, without shame or embarrassment. Again, if your first instinct is to shush them because you are embarrassed, practice until you can act like it’s no big deal with your kid.

2. Encourage them to talk about what feels good and what doesn’t. Do you like to be tickled? Do you like to be dizzy? What else? What doesn’t feel good? Being sick, maybe? Or when another kid hurts you? Leave space for your child to talk about anything else that comes to mind.

3Remind your child that everything they’re going through is natural, growing up happens to all of us.

4. Teach kids how to use safewords during play, and help them negotiate a safeword to use with their friends. This is necessary because many kids like to disappear deep into their pretend worlds together, such as playing war games where someone gets captured, or putting on a stage play where characters may be arguing. At this age, saying “no” may be part of the play, so they need to have one word that will stop all activity. Maybe it’s a silly one like “Peanut Butter” or a serious one like, “I really mean it!” Whatever works for all of them is good.

5Teach kids to stop their play every once in a while to check in with one another. Teach them to take a T.O. (time out) every so often, to make sure everyone’s feeling okay.

6. Encourage kids to watch each others’ facial expressions during play to be sure everyone’s happy and on the same page.

7. Help kids interpret what they see on the playground and with friends. Ask what they could do or could have done differently to help. Play a “rewind” game, if they come home and tell you about seeing bullying. “You told me a really hard story about your friend being hit. I know you were scared to step in. If we were to rewind the tape, what do you think you could do to help next time if you see it happen?” Improvise everything from turning into a superhero to getting a teacher. Give them big props for talking to you about tough subjects.

8. Don’t tease kids for their boy-girl friendships, or for having crushes. Whatever they feel is okay. If their friendship with someone else seems like a crush, don’t mention it. You can ask them open questions like, “How is your friendship with Sarah going?” and be prepared to talk—or not talk—about it.

9. Teach children that their behaviors affect others. You can do this in simple ways, anywhere. Ask them to observe how people respond when other people make noise or litter. Ask them what they think will happen as a result. Will someone else have to clean up the litter? Will someone be scared? Explain to kids how the choices they make affect others and talk about when are good times to be loud, and what are good spaces to be messy.

10Teach kids to look for opportunities to help. Can they pick up the litter? Can they be more quiet so as not to interrupt someone’s reading on the bus? Can they offer to help carry something or hold a door open? All of this teaches kids that they have a role to play in helping ease both proverbial and literal loads.

♦◊♦

Guidelines for Teens and Young Adults

1. Education about “good touch/bad touch” remains crucial, particularly in middle school. This is an age where various “touch games” emerge: butt-slapping, boys hitting one another in the genitals and pinching each other’s nipples to cause pain. When kids talk about these games, a trend emerges where boys explain that they think the girls like it, but the girls explain that they do not. We must get kids talking about the ways in which these games impact other people. They will try to write it off, but it’s important to encourage them to talk it through, and ask them how they would feel if someone hit them in that way, or did something that made them feel uncomfortable or violated. When you see it happen, nip it in the bud. This isn’t “boys being boys”, this is harassment, and sometimes assault.

2. Build teens’ self esteem. In middle school, bullying shifts to specifically target identity, and self-esteem starts to plummet around age 13. By age 17, 78% of girls report hating their bodies.

We tend to build up our smaller kids by telling them how great they are. For some reason, we stop telling kids all the wonderful aspects of who they are when they reach middle school. But this actually a very crucial time to be building up our kids’ self-esteem, and not just about beauty. Remark to them regularly about their talents, their skills, their kindness, as well as their appearance. Even if they shrug you off with a, “Dad! I know!” it’s always good to hear the things that make you great.

3. Continue having “sex talks” with middle schoolers, but start incorporating information about consent. We’re often good at talking about waiting until marriage to have sex, or about sexually-transmitted infections, or about practicing safer sex. But we don’t usually talk about consent. By middle school, it’s time to start. Ask questions like, “How do you know whether your partner is ready to kiss you?” and “How do you think you can tell if a girl (or boy) is interested in you?” This is a great time to explain enthusiastic consent. About asking permission to kiss or touch a partner. Explain that only “yes” means “yes”. Don’t wait for your partner to say “no” to look for consent. Educating our middle schoolers about consent means we don’t have to re-educate them later and break bad habits, perhaps after somebody’s been hurt.

4. Nip “locker room talk” in the bud. Middle school is the age where sex-talk begins in gender-segregated environments, like locker rooms and sleep overs. Their crushes and desire are normal and healthy. But as parents and educators, we need to do more than just stop kids from talking about other kids like they’re objects. We also need to model how to talk about our crushes as whole people. If you overhear a kid say, “She’s a hot piece of ass” you could say, “Hey, I think she’s more than just an ass!” You can keep it jokey, and they’ll roll their eyes at you, but it sinks in. They need a model for grown-ups who are doing things right. Even saying something like, “It’s also cool that she (or he) is so awesome at tennis, isn’t it?”

5. Explain that part of growing up is having changing hormones, and that hormones sometimes make it hard to think clearly. Sometimes that means our desire feels overwhelming, or that we’re angry, confused or sad. It’s common, and perfectly okay, to be overwhelmed or confused by these new feelings. Tell your kids that no matter what they’re feeling, they can talk to you about it. But their feelings, desires and needs are no one’s responsibility but their own. They still need to practice kindness and respect for everyone around them.

6. Mentor teenage and college-aged boys and young men about what masculinity is. Men need to talk to boys about what’s good about masculinity. Ask what hasn’t been so good about our culture of masculinity in the past. How can we build a more inclusive form of masculinity that embraces all types of guys: from jocks to theater kids to queer folks to everyday you-and-me? These conversations can encourage a non-violent form of masculinity for the future.

Boys need to start talking about building a healthy masculinity starting in middle school and continue through college, because transforming masculinity is vital to transforming rape culture.

7. Talk honestly with kids about partying. Make it clear that you don’t want them drinking or using drugs, but that you know kids party and you want your kids to be informed. Ask them questions about how they are going to keep themselves and others safe when they’re drinking. Questions such as:

– How will you know when you’ve had too much to drink?

– How will you handle it if your driver has had too much to drink? (Make clear that your child can always call you to come get him or her if needed).

– How will you know if your drinking or drug use has reached a dangerous level, or crossed into addiction?

– How does your behavior change when you’ve had too much to drink? How can you protect others from yourself in that situation if, perhaps, you become an angry drunk or start violating people’s space or safety?

– How will you know whether it’s okay to kiss someone, touch someone, or have sex with someone when you’ve had a lot to drink? Explain that decisions sometimes become cloudy, and signals become unclear when we are impaired. How will you be sure that you are reading the other person’s signals accurately? Suggest that they always ask for permission to touch or kiss another person, especially when there’s drinking involved.

– Although it should be obvious, explain that a person who is drunk, high or otherwise impaired should not be touched, harassed or sexually assaulted. Teach your children to stand up for, and seek help for, a fellow partygoer who has had to much too drink.

– Be careful about the language you use with your kids about partying. The responsibility is never on the victim to have prevented his or her assault. It is always on the perpetrator to make the right decision and not harm anyone.

8. Keep talking about sex and consent with teens as they start having serious relationships. Yeah, they’ll tell you they know it all, but continuing the conversation about healthy consent, respecting our partners, and healthy sexuality shows them how important these themes are to you. It also normalizes talking about consent, so talking openly and respectfully with partners becomes second nature to teens.

9. Finally, teens are thirsty for more information about sexual assault, consent, and healthy sexuality. They want to learn, and they will find a way to get information about sex. If you are the one providing that information—lovingly, honestly and consistently—they will carry that information out into the world with them.

Having good information encourages kids to be UPstanders, not BYstanders. Not only does the world need more Upstanders, but kids really want to be a force for good. And we can give them the tools to do so.

It’s time to change how we talk about bullying

A Problem of Power: Ending Bullying in Schools, via Everyday Feminism:

People cannot stop talking about bullying.

There are endless stories on repeat throughout the major media, and in the past few years, every state in the country has passed laws or policies that are aimed at tackling bullying.

Virtually every school in the country has a “Respect Week” or programming during October, National Bullying Prevention Month.

And these conversations are important. They come from a deep and serious concern for our young people who are hurting.

But they are also grossly ill-conceived.

Part of the trouble with tackling bullying is that there is no “one size fits all”approach, and there never can be one. And so long as we treat bullying as if it’s some general problem that requires general solutions like “respect campaigns,”we ensure that the problem of bullying will persist in our communities.

After all, at its root, bullying behavior is about power.

Far too often, young people tear each other down and target one another for sustained violence, harassment, or neglect in order to feel more powerful, particularly when the person exhibiting bullying behavior is feeling powerless.

Amanda Levitt of Fat Body Politics describes it perfectly:

If we actually started calling bullying what it is and address it as racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, fat phobia, and classism, it would actually give children a better way to deal with the very same power dynamics they will face as adults, while also giving adults more responsibility to challenge the intolerance that is rooted within our society overall.

Identity-Based Bullying

In essence, it’s time we change how we talk about bullying.

In my own work, I use the term Identity-Based Bullying to get at the root of the bullying problem.

Though there are, of course, exceptions, the majority of bullying in American schools cannot simply be explained away with “kids will be kids” or as“adolescent cruelty.”

 It is reflective of the very same problems of power, oppression, and privilege that we see in wider society, only it’s played out in language and behavior that students can better understand.

After all, the patterns we see in bullying behavior reflect many of the issues of oppression and marginalization we see in wider society.

In Gender, Bullying, and Harassment, Elizabeth J. Meyer lays out the impacts of sexual harassment and body policing that young girls experience in school as one method of bullying.

The incredible researchers at GLSEN make it clear that LGBTQ+ students on the whole feel unsafe in school and are harassed and assaulted at alarming rates.

In their chapter “Fat Youth as Common Targets for Bullying” in The Fat Studies Reader, Jacqueline Weinstock and Michelle Kreibiel explain not only how common weight-based bullying actually is, but also how socially accepted it is within school climates.

In one school, students may be targeted for their race, in another for their physical or cognitive ability. In a third, they may be targeted for their religious expression or native language. Still in another, the bullying might relate to gender expression in more subtle ways, with boys who are less athletic teased for their interests and girls who choose not to shave their legs tormented for their bodily expression.

The point, though, is that tackling bullying simply with “respect” and “kindness,” while well-intentioned, simply misses the mark.

Punitive Measures Don’t Work

The most common outcome of the recent wave of anti-bullying legislation, though, has not been funding for trainings or curriculum that teaches students how to intervene when bullying is taking place around them or that gives teachers tools for building more inclusive classroom environments.

More than anything else, these laws hand down harsher consequences to punish bullies.

What these approaches fail to address, though, is that bullying cannot be solved with punitive consequences.

First and foremost, punitive measures, though sometimes warranted, do nothing to prevent further bullying if for no other reason than pre-frontal lobe development in young brains.

If the part of the brain that helps us reason “If I take X action, Y will be my consequence” isn’t fully functioning, then consequence-oriented policy isn’t going to solve the problem of bullying.

Beyond simple biology, though, there are socio-emotional arguments to discourage “zero tolerance” punitive approaches to bullying.

Most students who exhibit bullying behavior are struggling and have been bullied themselves. In fact, among middle school students, the majority of students have participated in bullying behavior at some time.

Norris M. Haynes, Christine Emmons, and Michael Ben-Avie of the Yale University’s Child Study Center even note that excessive punitive measures end up telling students who actually need more support that they are not wanted or welcome in the school community.

This is all to say that if we want to end the problem of bullying, we have to think differently about what solutions look like.

In short, we have to transform the culture and climate of our schools.

Building Cultures of Civility and Inclusion

If we want to end the problem of bullying, we have to do two things: appeal to the rest of the adolescent brain, the part that relies on culture and habit; and address the specific nature of the bullying in our school environments by championing inclusion.

Educational researcher Sheri Bauman of the University of Arizona uses the termclimates of civility to describe the challenge we face in tackling bullying.

If we want to end the problem, we cannot simply pass some laws and wash our hands. We have to do the tough work of changing culture and climate.

Fortunately, there are a few simple things that students, educators, and families can do to build cultures of civility and inclusion that prevent bullying.

1. Recognize That Every School Is Diverse

The first step to tackling the problem of bullying is acknowledging the diversity that exists in our schools.

So often, the conversation about diversity is boiled down to simply race and class(with maybe some gender or sexual orientation discussed marginally).

While these are vitally important aspects of student identity, they are simply part of the portrait of diversity in our communities.

Sometimes I will have schools in, say, rural South Dakota say to me, “We’re not diverse, so we’re not sure how the conversation about identity-based bullying applies to us.”

It leaves me baffled.

Not diverse?

What about student ability? Citizenship experience? Weight and body image? Student interest? Religion? Gender expression? Sexual orientation? Race? Class and wealth?

The other side of the coin of comprehending bullying behavior is understanding the diversity that exists in each and every school.

To paraphrase Gary Howard“Diversity is not a choice. It’s a demographic reality.”

2. Treat Bullying as a Problem of Power

To tackle bullying is to tackle the specific nature of bullying in any given school community.

To do that requires that we understand who is being targeted and what the bullying looks like.

More often than not, this is an exercise in understanding power.

Students without social power are those far more likely to be targeted by others for bullying behavior, whether that’s the social power of the school yard (i.e.: geeks vs. jocks) or the wider social power of identity privilege, power, and oppression.

When we understand who is being targeted, why they are more likely to be targeted in our specific community, and what this bullying looks like, we can begin to solve the problem.

3. Empathize

Empathy is vitally important.

We need to teach our young people how to empathize with others and how to stick up for one another, but we also need to model it.

Supporting those who have been targeted by bullying behavior is obvious(though sometimes it goes undone).

Far less popular, though, is empathy for those who’ve exhibited the bullying behavior.

This is not to say that students shouldn’t face consequences for their actions, butif we don’t get to the bottom of why students are bullying, we won’t solve the problem.

And more often than not, it’s because a student is hurting.

4. Engage the Whole Community

Far too often, schools treat bullying as something “in-house.”

Parent engagement is an afterthought, and the “support staff” of custodial workers, office workers, or security staff is all but ignored.

Training students to be UPstanders instead of bystanders is rare, and teachers aren’t often given the time to design school-wide interventions to tackle the problem.

Shifting culture and climate, though, means bringing everyone on board.

Offer families constructive ways to participate in the conversation. Take the time to train students and discuss bullying prevention in advisory. Offer all staff members opportunities to design and implement proactive and preventive solutions.

Because as the old saying goes, “It takes a village.”

5. Be Proactive, Not Reactive

So long as our approaches to bullying remain reactive, we will never mitigate the problem. We have to create the kinds of environments where students don’t bully.

Doing so responds to the part of the student brain from which they are more likely working, the part that relies on environmental cues and habits, in building critical mass for change.

Nearly every aspect of student experience and achievement can be tied back to inclusiveness.

When students feel safe and included in school, they show up for class. When students feel fully supported in their identity, they engage socially. When students are taught from an early age what it looks like to build inclusive environments, they are more likely to stand up for their peers. When students feel safe and included in school, they achieve at higher levels.

Simply put, we cannot punish bullying into oblivion.

We can, however, create environments where we value respect, empathy, care, and (at a minimum) civility.  And when those things are valued, bullying simply isn’t tolerated.

Ain’t No Easy Answers

When I’m approached by a principal, counselor, student, or parent to offer bullying prevention training or consulting, the client generally falls into one of two categories.

Half want easy answers. They want a simple, ten-step solution to the problem.

I can’t help these folks much.

But the other half?

They understand that bullying is complex and nuanced.

They understand that we cannot just lump people into categories of “bully, bystander, and victim.”

They understand that punitive measures don’t work.

These are the folks who understand the work it takes to shift culture and climate and are committed to that painstaking transformation.

These are the folks who are most likely to realize powerful change in their community.

And this is the group that I hope you fall in.

Dating a sexual assault survivor

7 Pitfalls to Avoid When Dating a Sexual Assault Survivor, via The Good Men Project:

Sarah Beaulieu struggled to find the right way to tell people she was a sexual assault survivor. Here’s how you can support someone who opens up about sexual assault.

As a survivor of sexual violence, I always found it challenging to “come out” to a potential love interest about my history.  It never seemed to come up naturally in conversation on a date.

There is no right or wrong approach to telling a date that you are a survivor of sexual violence. It’s a completely personal decision, and you have to figure out what works for you. In college, one of my big motivations for sharing my story publicly at Take Back the Night was to share it with the entire universe of potential love interests all at once, so I didn’t have to tell it again and again every time I met someone new.

As the years went on, I experimented with many different tactics. Sometimes, I told people on the first date. Sometimes I told them BEFORE the first date. Sometimes I told them over coffee. Sometimes I told them after a second round of drinks. Sometimes, the relationship fizzled out before I had a chance to share my story at all.

On the one hand, I never felt like I wanted to hide my history of sexual violence from dates, just like I wouldn’t hide the death of a parent or a bad car accident. Being a survivor—and the resilience that goes along with it—is such a deep part of who I am. I knew I needed a partner with an appropriate level of spiritual depth, emotional intelligence, and empathy to join me on my lifelong journey of being a survivor. On the other hand, it was a personal story and one that I didn’t necessarily want to share in detail with someone unless I saw a future together.

Ultimately, I learned to open the door to my history a little bit at a time, in ways that tracked with the developing intimacy with the relationship. For example, I referred to “darker times,” or mentioned that I saw a therapist regularly. When I started volunteering at the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center as a medical advocate and then as a survivor speaker, I found ways to drop volunteer experiences into the conversation. I found ways to start the conversation, and decided how deep I wanted to go based on the response.

As a survivor and as a human, I can only be the expert in my own experience. But throughout my decade of dating, I picked up a few pointers when it comes to encountering a survivor of sexual violence on a date.

♦◊♦

DO educate yourself. If you have never encountered a sexual violence survivor, please, please educate yourself before going on any more dates.  One out of four women and one out of six men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. Chances are, you will go on a date with a survivor, so do yourself and your future dates a favor and start learning about the issue now.  There are lots of places where you can go educate yourself at a place like RAINNNational Sexual Violence Resource Center, or 1in6, and here’s a link to a fact sheet from the Center for Disease Control.  That way, you won’t put yourself in the positions of asking your date to be your teacher and you are much less likely to say something that will later regret.

DON’T assume it’s baggage. I remember the look I would sometimes get from dates, “Oh god, this chick has baggage.”  Newsflash: All humans have baggage, it’s what makes us human. Being a survivor of sexual violence does not make you inherently damaged. Sure, it’s a trauma, but with proper, professional help, survivors can live and thrive in the world. And like I now tell my husband when we go away for the weekend: I may have a lot of baggage, but I’m strong enough to carry it myself.

Don’t try to fix it. Even if this person is at the beginning of the process, you do not need to save or fix the person. Sure, sometimes the person sharing might be doing so because they need some help, in which case you can refer them to a professional. You are probably not a therapist. And even if you are, you are on a date, not in a therapy session. If you want to fix something, try fixing the issue of sexual violence by talking about it more openly, volunteering with an anti-sexual violence organization, or attending an awareness or prevention workshop or event.

Do say something. This might be obvious. But stunned, open-mouthed silence was something I encountered far too often. You might be afraid of saying the wrong thing, but say something, anything. Try saying thank you. Whether it’s the first time or the 50th time sharing a story of sexual assault, it’s a hard thing to do. This person trusted you—yes you!—enough to tell you, so be grateful—and pumped—that you are that kind of person.

Here are some other suggestions if you find yourself at a loss for words:

  • Wow, thank you for telling me that. I can’t imagine what that must have been like for you.
  • I’m so grateful you trusted me enough to share that part of your life.
  • No one has ever shared that kind of story with me before, but I’m really glad you did. I know sexual violence impacts so many people.
  • I’m so sorry that happened to you. What kinds of things helped you along the way?

Don’t put your foot in your mouth. If you have taken the time to educate yourself, you probably won’t say any of these things: What were you wearing?  Why were you alone? Were you drunk? Was there a condom? Are you sure? That’s can’t be true. Who was it? How can you still speak to your family? Why didn’t you report it to the police? That must make sex really hard for you. 

Do call to follow up. If you decide you don’t like the person enough to continue dating them, call them. Go the extra step to let them know that you think they are brave/courageous/insert true and positive adjective here but that you don’t feel that special something you want to feel in order to go out on another date. Don’t make your date wonder whether you thought he or she was damaged goods because of sexual violence.

Don’t blab. Keep his or her confidence, even if you don’t continue dating. While we continue to reduce the shame and stigma around sexual violence, it’s still a personal story. It’s not to announce to your friends and families, or to gossip about online or in person. Hold and honor this story with respect and confidence. It’s not your story to tell.

Now that I’m married, I don’t have to share my story on romantic dates, but I still meet new friends and colleagues all the time.  And while I don’t have to tell them about my history of sexual violence, I often do because I think it’s an important way to make the issue more accessible and personal. By doing so, I hope to make it easier for friends, dates, and regular people to talk openly about the things that make them who they are.

 

Every Month is Sexual Assault Awareness Month!

“Never get tired of doing little things for others, because sometimes, those little things occupy the biggest parts of their hearts.” – unknown 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today is May 2nd, which means Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) ended two days ago.  However, that does not mean we stop educating, advocating, and raising awareness. Every month is SAAM for us!

We would like to say THANK YOU (!!!) to everyone who volunteered, and/or participated in our SAAM events this year, in all three counties. Your support for our agency, and for sexual assault survivors means everything. There will be more events happening throughout the year, so please stayed tuned for updates =)

Responsibility of the community to keep children safe

Every Sunday throughout April, Sexual Assault Prevention & Response Services will have a guest column in the SunJournal. Each column will discuss a different aspect of sexual violence, as well as prevention & education efforts.

Here is the 4th and final article from one of our our Education Coordinators!

I walk into a first-grade classroom with an armload of 30 makeshift hula hoops shaped like a raindrop rather than a circle. They are blue and have a mass of silver duct tape at the point of the raindrop shape.

The students in the class are smiling and quietly say to each other and to me “Space Ships!”

These “space ships” are one of the tools that we have been using since 2007 to teach the self-empowerment and personal space to children in elementary school. In some schools, by the spring of first grade, a child will have “played” with these space ships three times.

Teaching children about personal body safety and sexual abuse prevention is a careful endeavor. At Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services, we approach the issue by teaching different concepts that build on one another and create a firm foundation before we even start talking specifically about sexual harassment or sexual assault.

The first concept we teach is that of personal body space.

By using the “spaceships,” we take a theoretical concept and make it visual, so all the children can “see” it and understand it.

They can see that we move through our day and our need for personal body space might change depending on circumstance, or on which person we are interacting with.

The space ships allow the children to experience the concept of their own personal body space and respect the right of each other to maintain that space. This activity also helps children to understand and learn about healthy boundaries and consent — key concepts in sexual assault prevention.

By third grade, we focus our presentations on team work and interdependence. Using games designed to encourage the students to maintain their own individual personal space while being part of a group, we explore concepts of leadership, group dynamics and how to problem-solve in a fair and positive way so that all members of a team feel included and are safe.

We also talk about their responsibility to one another, which lays the groundwork for conversations about how to be a proactive bystander and help other students when it looks like they are being hurt.

Our presentations in fourth grade explicitly focus on gossip, rumors and bystander behaviors.

Again, using games to explore these concepts, the students are able to meet and address these potentially scary concepts in a developmentally appropriate and fun fashion.

We give the students a tube of toothpaste and ask them to squeeze it out onto a paper plate. We can then talk about what a mess it made. Then we ask them to put the toothpaste back in the tube. Of course they cannot get more than a dab back in the tube.

We can then begin the discussion about how words can make a mess and that, once said, they cannot be taken back. This helps us to talk with the students about bullying and what a mess it can create and how it cannot be undone.That lays a solid foundation for later presentations about appropriate Internet/social media use.

In fifth and sixth grades, we actively engage the students in conversations about Internet safety and harassment issues.

Because they have had all of the concept and skill-building presentations in prior years, they have the ability to apply those lessons to these very important topics and understand them in a more fundamental way.

Throughout these presentations, we talk with the students about the importance of getting help from a grownup when they or someone else is being hurt or in danger of being hurt. We help them to identify who those grownups might be, and what they should expect in the way of help from those adults.

All of our presentations can be presented as stand-alone material, but we find that they work best all together. Our presentations build upon each other, creating a framework of understanding, built year after year.

We believe it is the responsibility of the community to help keep our children safe from harm.

While it is the adults who should be responsible for sexual abuse prevention, our programs provide our children with the concepts and skills necessary to help keep themselves safe. And, they teach children lifelong skills that will help them each to understand and seek out safe, healthy relationships.

Bridget McAlonan is the SACC Education Coordinator for the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services.

Victim blaming leads to tolerance. And that is not okay.

(A guest blog, written by Maggie P., a Practicum student at SAVES, the Franklin County office of Sexual Assault Prevention & Response Services.  Thank you, Maggie!)

 

Have you ever heard of a SlutWalk?  They are outdoor events that protest rape culture and victim blaming, and they occur worldwide.  A few weeks ago, while browsing the Internet, I stumbled upon a picture of a young woman holding a sign from the 2011 SlutWalk in Washington, D.C., and what caught my eye the most was the comment underneath the picture.  The comment read, “maybe if she hadn’t drank so much she wouldn’t have been raped.”  My mouth literally fell open in disgust and astonishment…because the comment was left by someone that I know.  I went to high school with this particular individual, so I know for a fact that he was educated at a highly qualified institution.  However, his ignorant comment would lead me to believe differently.  Disturbingly, several other people also commented on the photo with praises for making “such a good point,” and for “speaking up.”  Once again…disgust and astonishment.  My immediate thought was to leave a comment in response, but I hesitated in fear of getting worked up (or getting even more worked up, I should say).  For my second thought, I wondered:  what makes these individuals think that being intoxicated is a reason to be sexually assaulted?  Newsflash – it is not.  Newsflash again – there are no “reasons” to be sexually assaulted, ever.

Recently, there have been several public cases involving teenagers and young adults who have been sexually assaulted by their peers while intoxicated at social gatherings.  One of these cases included a 15-year-old girl from California who committed suicide after being raped by three of her male peers at a party 8 months ago.  What makes this situation even more disturbing is that the young men allegedly took pictures documenting the assault (one of which became viral), and the victim was relentlessly bullied.  It has been reported that the three perpetrators were arrested in connection to the rape, and are currently being held in a California detention center.  Some people may argue that the girl should not have been drinking, and that by doing so, she put herself in a vulnerable position.  However, the act of consuming alcohol is not the problem…rape is the problem.

Another problem lies within the too-often-used excuse of, “Well he or she was drunk, so it’s fine.”  By saying this or similar statements, we are making sexual violence acceptable.  In a society where sexual violence is highly prevalent, it is difficult to believe that some people would make excuses for it, and that some would even condone it…but they do.  In order to prevent narrow mindsets and false concepts, education and prevention programs must be implemented in schools. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and it’s the perfect time to start educating yourself and the ones you love about sexual violence. The information is out there, all you have to do is look for it.  Without exposing people to the reality rape and sexual assault, we run the risk of further enforcing the idea that sexual violence is acceptable, and that it should be tolerated, and that is not okay.

Be aware: It is never OK to rape someone

Every Sunday throughout April, Sexual Assault Prevention & Response Services will have a guest column in the SunJournal. Each column will discuss a different aspect of sexual violence, as well as prevention & education efforts.

Here is the first one from our Executive Director!

 

I don’t know where to start.

A 16-year-old girl is raped by two high school boys at a “drunken” party in Steubenville, Ohio. Other students stood by recording the rape on their cell phones. That video was then widely distributed via the Internet, with resulting text message “chatter” about the assault.

The victim, who witnesses testified appeared too drunk to know what was happening, learned the details of the assault from those text messages and videos, along with everyone else who saw them.

The head coach of the football team and parents of other students may have known about the assault, but did not report it.

Following the trial, the victim has received death threats from people who say she ruined the lives of those young men who raped her. Media attention has focused on the distribution of the videos and raises the alarm about the dangers of posting such things on the Internet.

Really? Is that what that case is about?

There is so much to learn from that crime in Steubenville. The most important lesson is that parents, coaches, teachers, other community members, you and I, need to teach our children that IT IS NOT OK TO RAPE SOMEONE. It is never OK to engage in sexual acts with a person unless that person has given their free and informed consent, and is clearly, rationally, able to do so.

We need to teach children they can intervene when someone is in trouble. For so many reasons, they should intervene when another young person is drinking, or certainly when that person is obviously drunk.

They can intervene when they see a person being treated badly by another person. If a person is drunk and passed out, they can get help for that person, get them to a safe location and make sure they remain safe from harm.

And, if they see a person or persons sexually assaulting another person, the proper response is not to take out their cell phones and record the assault; the proper response is to stop the assault.

The right thing to do is to get between the assailants and the victim, and keep that victim safe from further harm. Then, the assault needs to be reported to an adult or to the police directly. The victim will need help, and the assailants could use some help as well.

Clearly, the students’ sharing of the video and the text messages about the assault should not have happened. That was a gross violation of privacy for the victim, who now goes to school every day wondering who has seen the naked pictures of her. Imagine the horror of that reality.

We must teach our children about the responsible use of text messages, video sharing and social media, and that they must not spread that kind of harmful material.

And then there is the victim blaming.

This victim has been threatened for bringing forward this assault and seeking justice. Other students are blaming her for “ruining the lives” of the defendants.

We must teach our children that people are accountable for their behavior and it is the person who does the hurting who should suffer the consequence, not the person who was hurt or the person who does the telling.

And we should not let our children shift responsibility for a rape to the victim of that rape. It was the choices and the actions of the defendants in this case that caused the harm and will affect their lives. And it is their choices and actions that will affect the life of the victim.

It is alarming that many adults, including those in positions of authority or influence at the school, knew about the rape and did not report it. A child was raped, and those mandated reporters should have done their jobs and reported the crime to the police. It is unconscionable that they did not.

I cannot sidestep the issue of “drunken” parties attended by teenagers. That should not have happened.

And although liquor does not cause sexual assault, it certainly can impair judgment and increase the perceived and actual vulnerability of people who are under the influence.

Parents need to be more vigilant about the activities of their teenagers and ensure that liquor is not part of their social interactions.

The only good that can come from this tragic incident is that we learn these lessons. Unfortunately, rape will continue to happen until we do.

Marty McIntyre is executive director of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services.

Talking to a Survivor.

Please, do NOT say:
  1. “Are you sure it was rape?” 
  2. “What were you wearing?”
  3. “Were you drunk?”
  4. “Everything happens for a reason.”
  5. “Tell me the details of what happened.”
  6. “It could have been so much worse.”
  7. “You need to/have to report it.”
  8. “You need to get over it.”
What else can you think of to add to this list?  
 
If you find yourself interacting with someone who is a survivor of sexual violence, PLEASE remember the following:
1.  It was not their fault.  No matter what.  Also, it is crucial to remind them of this fact.
2.  Active listening is the most important thing you can do.  In other words…do no interrupt, and do not give advice.  Just listen, and then listen some more.  
What else can you think of that might be helpful?