Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) is here again! This year MNCASA developed a Minnesota-specific SAAM toolkit. Here you will find printable event posters, postcards, and a twibbon (which is a social media badge for you tech challenged folks like me :) Many of you have probably been busy at work planning your events. SAAM is a great time to make your services known, to reach out to the media, to host fundraising efforts, and to celebrate your organization with open houses.
It is also an opportunity to talk about reducing sexual violence and promote your prevention efforts. This year's SAAM theme is Engaging New Voices. As the National Sexual Violence Resource Center points out:
"During Sexual Assault Awareness Month survivors and advocates engage the greater community in prevention efforts. We know that one month isn’t enough to solve the serious and widespread issue of sexual violence. But the attention April generates is an opportunity to energize and expand prevention efforts. There’s no better way to expand the scope of SAAM than by reaching out to a broader audience.
That’s why Engaging New Voices is the theme of the 2017 SAAM campaign. Because we can’t reach everyone. But we can identify key leaders who will -- leaders whose influence is necessary in achieving cultural change not just in April, but all year long."
Check out how one of your fellow programs is embracing this year's theme:
"As an agency that provides sexual violence victim advocacy in five different rural counties, our goal is to have a coordinated campaign with consistent messaging throughout those communities. One of the most useful tools at our disposal has been the SAAM Campaign resources put out by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
This year’s theme, “Engaging New Voices” is something that really resonated within our agency. Over the last year, our agency has embraced primary prevention as a key to changing the culture for generations to come. The 2017 NSVRC materials will help us promote that within our communities. The materials are comprehensive, professional, and come in English and Spanish. These materials provide talking points that we will utilize as we have conversations throughout our communities- on college campuses, in churches, at schools, on our airwaves and through print media as well. This year, we also took advantage of the postcards that NSVRC put together. We will also continue to use the artwork for a window cling that NSVRC put together for a campaign several years ago.
During April, we will be hosting our 11th Annual “Hope for Tomorrow” Gala, a large fundraising and awareness event. We will also be participating in Health Fairs on College Campuses, at community events hosted by Chamber of Commerce organizations and Child Protection Teams. We will be engaging in further conversations with school administrators, training teachers and human service professionals, talking with students about healthy relationships, and engaging coaches in conversations about how to be positive role models. "
- Kasey Baker, Community Outreach at Safe Avenues in Willmar
We are always excited to hear how you are embracing SAAM. If you have SAAM plans you would like shared, please email me, at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be happy to pass it on!
First, I am not the sole authority on the LGBTQ community. There are many voices and many identities that I do not represent. I use my position and the things I have learned through my education and work experience to inform the work of sexual violence prevention in the LGBTQ community. In order to talk about prevention among adults, we have to trace back the roots of cultural messages that kids receive about their bodies, identities, and sexualities. We have to consider the larger picture in which sexual violence occurs.
1. Recognize and dismantle the systemic construction of LGBTQ status as problematic or outsider. That’s a lot of big words. What this means is that every element of our culture—family relationships, education, religion, media, etc.—needs to change the messages they send about sexual and gender identity. It’s not just changing the idea that being LGBTQ is bad; it’s bigger than that. This is about changing the narrative and assumptions that being heterosexual is fundamentally normal and good—this kind of thinking creates a narrative that still places LGBTQ as outsiders to what is “normal” and thus, deserve to be marked as different—even if that’s not a bad thing being marked creates greater potential to harm. This video can be a good starting place to help put things in perspective.
2. Create/Teach a Sexual Education Course That Includes Gender and Sexuality Diversity. This normalizes LGBTQ existence and it doesn’t make assumptions about what is normal. Providing a truly comprehensive curriculum removes the stigma of being LGBTQ, which removes the power to use LGBTQ status as a weapon of control. Sexual violence is about the exercise of privilege, power, and control over another person. Fear of being harmed, losing your job, housing, or loved ones is a powerful tool to keep people compliant and all are completely legal in some states; these are ideal conditions to allow sexual violence to be ongoing and/or unreported. This tool might help!
3. Understand that Intersectional Identities Matter. When working to prevent sexual violence, it is important to be thinking through and taking steps to address how different intersections of identities might increase or decrease the likelihood and long term effects of sexual violence victimization. Other structural oppressions like race or disability status or social-economic status might impact victim/survivors. These elements matter in addressing prevention work especially within the LGBTQ community.
4. Grasp the legacy and prevalence of violence against LGBTQ identified folks. It is essential to understand that the rates of violence against LGBTQ folks are off the charts. Specifically, understanding that the rates of sexual violence against Lesbian, Bisexual, and Gay identified folks are (almost all) higher than their heterosexual counterparts. For trans-identified folks, the rate of sexual violence are as high as 1 in 2. It’s still legal in 28 states to discriminate against LGBTQ people in the arenas of employment and housing. Meaning that you can be fired or refused the right to housing based solely on LGBTQ status. In 29 states, public accommodations discrimination is legal. For credit and lending practices, it’s legal in 37 states to discriminate. These maps can help you see what this looks like in reality.
That’s a little big for just us, right? So, focus on what you can control! What changes to education curriculum can you make in your community? How does your organization unintentionally create subtle messages that privilege heterosexual relationships or does not acknowledge the existence of LGBTQ status? Sexual violence prevention in the LGBTQ community starts so much earlier than in late adolescence or early adulthood. More importantly, sexual violence prevention for LGBTQ identified folks isn’t just a problem for LGBTQ folks. This is stuff that everyone needs to know about and work towards.
Final helpful hints about doing prevention work within the LGBTQ community:
1. our best tool will always be to listen and honor the information give to you by those in the LGBTQ community.
2. Work with community leaders and be a public ally to the LGBTQ community, whether or not the communities are visible in your area. Remember that living as an out-and-proud LGBTQ person can literally endanger someone’s life, livelihood, housing, etc.
3. When doing prevention and advocacy work, do not out people. Ever. Ever. EVER.
4. Use the pronouns and names people give you. You do not decide what is or is not valid for anyone other than you. Be a mirror and reflect back what you hear from the folks right in front of you. Do not carry over every lesson and apply it to every situation.
Carry on and keep doing great work, prevention friends!
Featuring Guest Writer: Johnanna Ganz
Rural Projects Coordinator @SVJI, MNCASA
Contact at email@example.com
January is right around the corner. January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Many programs are beginning to host events or engage in other efforts this month. If you are looking for ideas or are feeling overwhelmed with what to do for Human Trafficking Awareness Month, read on. Below are three simple steps you can follow to ensure your Human Trafficking Awareness Month is informed and also includes prevention. This month features a guest writer, Noelle Volin. Noelle is MNCASA's Trafficking Policy Coordinator and Staff Attorney. She will start us out with step one in our journey.
“That Doesn’t Happen Here.”
by Noelle Volin, Trafficking Policy Coordinator/Staff Attorney
January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month and a great opportunity to educate community leaders, service providers and systems professionals, and the general public about sex trafficking and sexual exploitation.
Minnesota has made radical changes to the way our state treats victims of sexual exploitation, from important legislative changes, to the development of a statewide services model, the engagement of the hospitality industry, and helping communities across the state build an on-the-ground systems response that will meet their specific needs.
Nevertheless, one of the most common – and most frustrating – conversations that many in this work continue to have is the conversation that starts with “That doesn’t happen here.” If your first reaction is, “Yes it does!” then you are not alone, and your frustration is understandable.
But let’s take a step back. Maybe they have a point. Maybe “that” – the typical narrative or story used in most training and awareness materials – actually isn’t the way sex trafficking and sexual exploitation are happening in your community.
Consider the following examples:
A sex trafficking victim finally escapes when one of her traffickers, a 35 year-old black man, beat her so severely she required medical attention. The trafficker and his accomplice, another black man, would approach women in an SUV, comment on their attractiveness then recruit them with talk of starring in music videos and movies before bringing the women back to their apartment. At the apartment, the two traffickers would coerce the women into prostitution with enticements and physical violence.
A 66 year-old white male, and assistant county attorney, recruited victims into prostitution and operated a website connecting wealthy buyers with victims.
A homeless youth engages in “gay for pay” – a form of survival sex by which young heterosexual men have sex with older men in order to earn cash for food and other basic living expenses.
A young male student tells his girlfriend that if she really loved him she would have sex with some of his friends in exchange for drugs and entrance to an exclusive party.
The Trouble with the “Typical” Narrative
In the beginning of the global movement against human trafficking, most of the narratives used to spread awareness about sex trafficking tended to depict an international component – either trafficking took place overseas, or the victims were transported to the US from other countries.
Since then, narratives have evolved to reflect an understanding that trafficking is both an international and domestic problem. But even the more recent portrayals of domestic sex trafficking often fail to address the complexities and nuances of sex trafficking as it occurs in rural, suburban, and tribal communities compared with their urban/metro counterparts, and overlooks contributing factors such as sexism, racism, economic disparity, homophobia, and other forms of systemic oppression.
Narratives around sex trafficking and sexual exploitation have a significant impact on victim identification (including the ability of victims to self-identify!), services eligibility, investigative methods, outreach and education, and the overall systems response. If we reduce sex trafficking to a single narrative, we inhibit our ability to recognize sex trafficking and sexual exploitation as it is currently occurring in our communities - including survival sex, peer recruitment, cases involving adult, male, or transgender victims, and intersections with domestic and sexual violence.
Using a Better (and More Accurate) Narrative
The key to building awareness about sex trafficking and sexual exploitation is to share an accurate narrative – one that actually reflects what is happening in the community.
If you are currently wanting more information or resources when it comes to services for people being sexually exploited or trafficked, reach out.
No Wrong Door is a comprehensive, multidisciplinary, and multi-state agency approach. It ensures communities across Minnesota have the knowledge, skills and resources to effectively identify sexually exploited and at-risk youth. Youth are provided with victim-centered trauma-informed services and safe housing. To learn more about the network being implemented in Minnesota to support victims, see Regional Navigators, Housing, and Protocol Development and Training.
If you or someone you know is being sexual exploited or trafficked, please contact your Regional Navigator or contact the Day One Hotline to learn more about services available in your community at 1-866-223-1111.
I first learned about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) a few years back while I was a direct service advocate working with survivors of various forms of violence. I don’t remember exactly how I heard about the then ground breaking research which stated that experiencing ACEs can contribute to later health disparities including physical health, mental health, and addiction. But I do remember having some strong resistance to my introduction to the concept which basically went something like this: the more harm you experience as a child the more likely you are to encounter later health problems and possibly early death. End, finito, that’s it. While these connections have been well researched it is a very limiting view of the power the concept of ACEs truly holds.
A major shift ACEs research can provide to professionals working with traumatized communities or individuals is in our approach. Instead of asking “What’s wrong with you?” we can ask “What happened to you?”. While the research supports that trauma has a real effect on people’s life it does not have to suggest that someone with a high ACE score is doomed. People are resilient, anyone working with trauma survivors knows this to be true. People can thrive, and they do when they have what they need to do so. Many of us may personally have a high ACE score and feel healed and whole. And we certainly encounter vibrant, healthy folks every day who experienced trauma early in life.
The ACE study is, perhaps above all, a cry for more primary prevention efforts. People who have experienced trauma can be robbed of their full potential. We know for many people, but not all, the violence in their lives starts as a child or young adult. We have a responsibility as communities to interrupt the cycles of violence that currently exists and promote healthier and safer options. Violence can be intergenerational and effect families for generations. We must interrupt this legacy by connecting people with healthy parenting classes or curricula and information on how to teach children about boundaries and consent. It is also vital to be aware that historical oppression and violence impacts ACE rates in different communities. Some communities experience higher ACE scores on average. This is not indicative of the people in a community, but instead it is indicative of the oppression and violence the community has and is currently experiencing.
If you want to utilize ACEs more in your practice, here are some things to consider along the way:
1.) Know your ACE score. Whether you decide to share it or not is your business, but it is helpful to understand where you fit in the spectrum.
2.) Believe that resiliency is the most common reaction to trauma and that people who have experienced great harm can heal and thrive. This does not mean we should ignore the causes or conditions that lead to violence in people’s life. We should still work to interrupt violence as it certainly does have negative consequences. However, people who have experienced trauma can live vibrant lives. Often time with children a caring adult can be the difference between struggling or thriving later in life. The more positive, caring relationships people have the better people do.
3.) Understand how intergeneration trauma and historical trauma affect ACEs in different communities. Dr. Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart is credited with the concept of historical trauma. Check her out and read her stuff. She’s amazing and so is her work. You can also learn more about intergenerational trauma here.
4.) Believe that prevention is possible and weave as many primary prevention concepts into your work as possible.
Primary prevention is the key to reducing ACEs. You each have access to unique doors. Go find those doors and if you get lost along the way reach out to your primary prevention community!
Happy Halloween, ya'll! Today's a day that people all over purposefully engage in situations that make them a little bit uncomfortable, anyone who's worn a wig as part of a Halloween costume understands this intimately. People may even put themselves intentionally into scary settings today. So, in that way, it's a perfect time to engage in another situation that makes many folks uncomfortable or scared: conversations about sex, specifically consensual and mutually pleasurable sex.
As people who work in the sexual violence field, whether in response or prevention, we get pretty used to talking about terrible things without blinking. The stories we hear and the things we know would upset many people. Ironically, however, we do not get much practice talking about healthy sex. And so while talking about violence becomes common, what should be considered common (good, mutually pleasurable, healthy sex) stays taboo and uncomfortable. It's no mystery why many people have a difficult time talking about sex; many of us might not have had opportunities to learn how to talk about sex while growing up.
Yet, if we are working to promote sexual violence prevention, then the reality is we are also working to promote healthy, good sex. Sexual expression and pleasure is one of the most basic human rights; people have the right be able to control how their sex life looks and who is involved in it. Teaching survivors and others that they should have control of their sexual and reproductive lives is empowering. Informing children and youth about their bodies and their sexuality is also paramount in not only preventing sexual violence, but also in promoting a happy and full life.
I had the opportunity to visit Portland earlier this month, where they were hosting a state wide conference on this very topic: Sexual Health Promotion and Sexual Violence Prevention. Although the work has often been separated, it of course makes sense for us to combine efforts as we are two sides of the same coin. Sexual health promotion goes way beyond just pregnancy prevention, STI preventatives, etc. It also includes anything that promotes mutually pleasurable, consensual sex. Below are some helpful resources.
1.) Amaze.org has lots of resources that help to “take the awkward out of sex ed.” This includes videos for girls and boys going through puberty, information about healthy relationships, identity and expression, and more.
2.)It’s All One is a curriculum that weaves together sexuality, gender, HIV, and human rights education.
3.)There is a guidebook on A Trauma Informed Approach for Adolescent Sexual Health.
4.)The Human Rights Campaign Foundation has resources for Safer Sex for Trans Bodies.
5.) Since getting into schools to talk with teens about sex ed. is nearly impossible for most of us, there’s an online space you can direct youth and emerging adults to get incredibly useful information about sexuality and relationships called Scarleteen.
6.) Also, if you are looking to get more information in Minnesota about sexual health promotion, you can join SFLE, Sexuality and Family Life Educators. The meetings are super informative and a great way to network. They take place monthly in the metro area.
It's no secret that talking about sex is difficult to do in many situations, however there are always ways to weave in these concepts as you do your work. Let's help eradicate sexual violence by promoting healthy, consensual sex!
Do you have favorite resources? Are you a fan of Laci Green or other You Tubers? Leave your thoughts in the comments and share the wealth!
Conversations around Title IX in colleges and universities have been plentiful lately thanks to the well deserved media and societal attention around campus sexual violence. But did you know Title IX applies to K-12 public schools as well? Title IX is a great conversation starter for those of you who may be wanting to provide healthy relationship education or other sexual violence prevention curricula in your local schools. Title IX states that no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance. Discrimination on the basis of sex includes sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence.Title IX applies to most grade schools, middles schools, high schools, charter schools, and colleges or universities.
Recently the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault released "Consideration for School District Title IX Guidance" to remind K-12 school districts of their ongoing obligations under Title IX. The document recommends that every school district engage in a process to develop a sexual misconduct policy with relevant stakeholders including rape crisis center. To go along with the White House Task Force's K-12 document on sexual misconduct policies, the Department of Education has released the "Safe Place to Learn" resource package which looks at preventing, interceding in, and responding to peer-to-peer sexual harassment in schools. To learn more about compliance in K-12 schools around sexual harassment click here. Whether you are just approaching schools or are hoping to deepen your relationship, Title IX can be a great frame.
Voices from the Field: Who Knew Title IX Could Lead to Prevention?
"My name is Edith Sanchez, Domestic/Sexual Violence Prevention Program Coordinator at Comunidades Latinas Unidas En Servicio (CLUES), a non-profit in the Twin Cities. Our organization is a recipient of the Community Primary Prevention Partnership Grant (CPPP) from MNCASA. We have been working with a Twin Cities charter school for two years. Our goal is to create a change in Latinx students’ beliefs, norms, attitudes, and behaviors towards preventing sexual violence.
Initially, I had some struggles starting the project. I had two notable challenges:
First, the curriculum wasn’t culturally specific. The material I was provided didn’t properly address the situations specific to what a Latinx will face. It didn’t account for machismo perspective, familismo and respeto constructs, or the religious overtones present in Latinx culture. As a result, I had to write my own curriculum to properly address the needs for this course. I drew from my understanding of Latinx culture to create activities and exercises relevant to the scenarios Latinx youth face. My curriculum needed a lot of work at first, but feedback from my co-facilitator and even the students helped me develop it and mold it into what it is today.
Second, it's unsurprising that the school needed the course to be flexible for a variety of time frames, from as long as a semester to as brief as a three week summer course. The feedback other teachers provided was important: they know how to adapt curriculum, and they know the students.
As year two drew near, I looked into sustainability for the program. I studied sexual violence policy for schools and realized that under Title IX, all school districts that receive federal funds must have an appointed staff member to address sexual violence and sexual discrimination. With this information, I leveraged the school’s administration to implement mandatory staff training on identifying and handling cases of sexual violence. During the staff training, the teachers brought up how little they knew about their own school’s policies on the consequences for sexual violence. Several teachers were eager to incorporate sexual violence prevention into all curriculums. One is now teaching gender studies to dismantle machismo attitudes and gender norms. Another is adding curriculum covering sexual violence as a form of power and oppression: generational trauma stemming from colonization.
Working with a charter school has been challenging, but rewarding. Although sexual violence prevention in the Latinx community is at its early stages, one school’s administration and policies are better equipped. And more importantly, I’ve watched the students begin to identify forms of sexual harassment and take a stand against it. It’s very encouraging to see students come to me out of their own concern to get answers on unhealthy relationships and sexual violence, and how they can use this information to help their communities."
Often when at meetings or conferences, I hear people asking questions around how to best work with schools. The struggle is real folks! Schools have a lot on their plates already and often when the word sex enters the conversations (even if you don't use that exact word) schools get a little squirmy. Perhaps they fear what some parents may say or are themselves unsure about how to talk with children and youth about sex, sexual health, and healthy relationships. Below you will find one member program's real life lessons learned. Here are also a few ideas that may help you move along.
1.) Think strategically about who in the community and in the school can help you achieve your goals-whether that is coming in with an evidence based curriculum like Safe Dates or trying to launch Green Dot in your high school. Who knows who matters, for better or for worse. Find people who are interested in what you are doing and have a fair amount of influence or know those who do. With their influence they can help to attract others who have more sway to your efforts. Having people in places of power helps a lot!
2.) Don't count anyone out on initial biases; sometimes our best partners show up in unexpected ways. Someone who is not one of your usual suspects may be a huge supporter of healthy relationships. When I was doing community based prevention work I found key stakeholders in law enforcement, bar managers, child protection, and a Refugee Consortium. Keep an open mind and approach people you may normally rule out. People do not have to identify as feminist or even believe rape culture is real to help you achieve your goal.
3.) Call people in, not out. When collaborating with people who may not come from the same framework as you it is likely they will say things that make you cringe occasionally. This does not mean they support violence or want anyone to be hurt necessarily. We all grow up in a society that sends many messages about sex, relationships, and gender roles. Take a deep breath and be gracious in those instances. Remember, we all have many things to learn and there was a time where we ourselves did not know what we do today.
4.) Ask people to commit to action steps when they are in support of you. If meeting with a teacher who may support your education efforts in the school, ask them to do something that will help move this forward. Whether it is to send an email to their administration or attend a meeting. People often want to help, we just need to ask.
5.) Use evidence based or informed materials whenever possible, but be flexible enough to get in the door. This can be a difficult line to tow; and yet is an important strategy. Curriculum can be a barrier for schools who have a lengthy approval process. Perhaps schools can’t commit to ten sessions, but are willing to allow three sessions (I'm dreaming big here people). Do what you can and think of ways to move forward as you go.
I now leave you to the words of wisdom of others doing the work.
Voices from the Field
Steph Coffey and Amy Swensen
North Shore Horizons, Two Harbors
“When we started with the high schools, we were starting at square one with not a lot of experience. One positive was that we had school counselors who were supporters. Everything was moving right along and then three out of the five contacts we had moved on to new positions. Suddenly we had new people in the driver's seat that we asking "Why are we doing this with students?". Needless to say, it was an opportunity for learning!
Here's some lessons we learned:
Ahh, the smell of fresh halls and new clothes. Can you believe it? Its already that time!
Schools are getting prepared to welcome students back across the state. Whether it’s a grade school, middle school, or high school each year is an opportunity to help shape the minds and lives of students. With sexual violence prevention, we know starting early and being consistent with messaging is key to creating safer environments and communities.
College campuses have new requirements to meet this year around sexual violence prevention and response due to legislation passed last year. While it is exciting to see efforts to address and prevent sexual violence for post-secondary schools, we know teaching youth about healthy relationships must start earlier than after high school! School settings are often a go-to access point for those of us working in prevention. And we are also all probably aware of the challenges getting in and staying in schools. However, help is out there! The Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs (WCSAP) provides some guidelines for Promising Practices in School-Based Prevention as well as a webinar on the Power of Primary Prevention Education in High Schools. This month, let’s explore resources and strategies for getting into school settings and creating sustainable relationships.
This week let’s focus on toolkits and curricula available for schools. Often, having a pre-packaged curriculum is attractive to schools. Especially if the program is evidence informed, such as Safe Dateswhich is a highly interactive program for teens that provides curriculum for ten 50 minutes sessions . Start Strongis another initiative that promotes healthy relationships aimed at Middle Schoolers, a time where students may be exploring dating for the first time. Also, demonstrating your material runs consistent with National Sexuality Educators Standards: Core Content and Skill, K-12 like And Then It Changed: Child Sexual Abuse Is Preventable is a great advantage. MNCASA has created this toolkit for And Then It Changed and is happy to send to you if you have not already received one. This toolkit includes a video, evaluation materials, and even parent approval letters for the school to use.
There are also materials created specifically for teen educators. Dating Matters: Strategies to Promote Healthy Teen Relationships is an interactive, four module training created by the Center for Disease (CDC) that includes information on risk and protective factors of healthy relationships, and also uses the socio-ecological model. Coaching Boys to Men facilitates conversations on sexual violence prevention by providing high school athletic coaches with the resources they need to promote respectful behavior of their players. Let’s not forget parents! Parents of children and young adults are also looking for guidance on how to talk to their children about sex and relationships. Sometimes schools are looking for resources to recommend. The Date Safe Project provides a video called Help! My Teen Is Dating featuring ways to speak with your teen about sex and relationships. Planned Parenthood has a great online videos including Talking to Kids About Sex and Sexuality, as well as other helpful resources around this topic!
With so many resources out there, getting started with working with schools is in your reach! Next we will explore strategies for building relationships with schools in order to ensure long lasting partnerships and sufficient dosage of prevention and healthy relationship materials.
Feeling inspired or overwhelmed? Want to talk through some of this one-on-one? That’s what I am here for! Send me an email or give me a call, I would love to talk with you!
In Consent 101 I stated that:
So how do we do this? And why can consent be confusing? We see PSAs and people stating loud and clear that consent is easy to understand, “black and white”. For example in this video put out by University of Arizona Campus Health, the message is clear: consent is simple. While I love that Paul demonstrates that asking a direct question will not kill the mood and the slight bit of Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On we are graced with at the end- many people are still not sure how to ask for consent in real life situations. When BuzzFeed went out into the streets to talk to people about how they can ask for consent, this was the response.
So how can we help promote more open, honest communication like Paul here? Does consent even need to always be verbal? These are some big questions we often hear. I think it is important to note that sometimes people who focus on details such as how many times do you need to ask? do you need to get written permission? how about a phone recording? are missing the general concept. Or even trying to derail the conversation or make consent seem trivial. Consent is vital, not trivial. But, yes how do we get better at answering questions like these, and talking through real life examples?
And what are some of the other areas about consent we get uncomfortable talking about even as professionals? Perhaps consent still is a bit Grey for us, pun very much intended.
I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend End Violence Against Women International (EVAWI)’s conference last week. While there I saw Dr. Chyun Sun’s presentation on Playing “50 Shades of Grey” where she begged the question, why did so many women actively consume a series about male domination of a female? I am sure some of you are sick of hearing about Mr. Grey, for real I get it. However I think it’s a valuable conversation starter around consent. There was this comic made, there have been many articles like this one. And these quotes from the book as you can see.
In her presentation, Dr. Sun spent most of her time talking about traditional sexual scripts, which much like traditional gender roles imply the male should be the aggressor and dominate while the female should be submissive and passive. Clearly this is a very cisgendered analyses but it helpful in this case. She ended her presentation with what I thought was a very brave question. She asked the women in the room to identify what they could do to demand alternative narratives of romance and sex. She put a large portion the onus of the 50 Shades of Grey craze on women- not only rape culture, or traditional sexual scripts. It was after all written by a woman and women were the primary consumers by a landslide of this series. As you can imagine, a few people in the room seemed a bit upset and asked, “Yes, but what can men be doing?”. While she agreed men have role in supporting alternative narratives about romance which involve consent, she brought it back to women. She insisted women need to demand social media materials that involve consent and accept romantic scripts that support a more equal distribution of power. Bold, sister, bold. And I agree. Of course this cannot be the singular narrative about consent: Women need to demand it! That’s not enough. But that’s one of those details we often don’t dare to delve into- and perhaps should.
And then, we have other understandings of 50 Shades of Grey such as its about uncontrolled romance, it’s about a woman exploring her sexuality, it’s about a poor abused boy, etc, etc. Oh, don’t forget about this article about the steamiest lines from the trilogy, and as far as I can tell- it’s not satire folks. As you can see, we need to keep talking- even if its messy at times.
“Hello my name is Kathy Thurston, I am the Carver/Scott Program Manager for the Sexual Violence Center. My job consists of wearing many hats involving systems and helping victim and secondary victim survivors. However one of my favorite and most important things I do is education to all people but especially our youth. I truly believe that we will never get close to ending sexual violence until we are realistic and feel an urgency about one important word. CONSENT!
When it comes to this word many things happen for people, either they get confused about what it means or they feel worried that if we talk to youth about consent, it must mean that we are giving them permission to have sex? In reality we are giving them permission to have a voice and a voice that is heard and respected. We often in schools teach our children about STD’s, pregnancy prevention and sometimes even how to use a condom or practice abstinence.
However, if we started all of these conversations with the word CONSENT and what that means for everyone we could make huge steps in preventing sexual abuse among all people- along with the most vulnerable: our children. Most people would be surprised to learn that when I speak with kids of all ages and even adults about consent they are shocked to know they have the right to get consent for all touching not just sexual touching. This is how we best protect our children from abuse. We give them permission to not have to give or accept any unwanted touching from ANYONE that doesn’t feel safe, comfortable and right for them.
Routinely we talk with our children about don’t use drugs and alcohol, do good in school and don’t talk to strangers, when the reality is that well over 80% of the time it is not strangers that sexually abuse or assault people. It is the uncle or aunt, stepparent or sibling. Who we may force our child to give a hug to even though they do not want to. Or that boyfriend or girlfriend that may seem super nice to you and get great grades, but coerces our child into doing something they do not want to do but don’t realize no means no and no response at still means no.
Finally one of my favorite things to do with teen youth is give them a challenge. The challenge is for the next week to ask anyone they may be getting ready to touch or that wants to touch them for permission before they touch them. Most of the time they all look at me very uncomfortably and I let them know that they will be surprised at the positive reaction they will get once they all get past the shock, that they were asked for permission in the first place. We need this to be the norm in our country not the exception and once we change that we will make huge strides in ending sexual violence for all! CONSENT, what a very little word with such a huge important and life changing meaning.”
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