Hopeful Horizons has three Violence Prevention Specialists who work with middle and high school students to raise awareness about sexual assault and dating violence, while changing the culture on how we think about these issues. Aldriene Parker, Raevin Fields and Ray Goyochea share their thoughts on this topic for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, which is held each April. Ray and Aldriene work with our MOST Clubs, while Raevin works with WISE Clubs.
As Violence Prevention Specialists, we know that Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) is more than just spreading awareness. Our ultimate goal is preventing violence in all forms – from the negative effects of gender stereotyping to gang violence and beyond! In every embodiment, there are always “seeds” that begin and/or perpetuate the vicious cycle that we know as violence. This is especially true with sexual assault.
Sharing some context and experience with this...
During one of my sessions on Sexual Assault, we were discussing the importance of consent. I mentioned to the group that consent should be sought before any sexual activity; even kissing. In shock, and almost what seemed like disgust, one of the young men in my group replied, “That’s dumb though. What I look like asking if it’s ok to kiss her? If I say something, it’s just going to ruin the vibe.“ It saddens and frightens me to think that:
This guy feels that checking in with his partner to hear how she feels about what’s happening would be a point of awkwardness and
That he feels it’s still ok to continue without truly knowing if she’s ok with.
From Aldriene Parker
As the newest team member, I was elated for the opportunity to meet with a few of my group members before the pandemic. I was so grateful they shared their concerns and eagerness to understand topics such as building healthier relationships, self-care and how they should respond if they or anyone they know has experienced any form of abuse including sexual assault. These young leaders shared that they would love to know how to better equip themselves by knowing the signs, however, society makes it hard to feel “safe” to even ask certain questions. That’s when it hit home for me: our youth need to feel safe. They need to feel that they can use their voice without being roasted or turned into a viral meme.
From Raevin Fields
There have been many times when I’ve had discussions with the guys about the lines on harassing behaviors and how they eventually could cross into sexual assault. One illustration was given when a student, let’s call him “John,” shared about being at a house party where there was some underage drinking. A friend brought up doing something with one of the girls who was drunk and “how easy girls are when they are drunk.” John, half-heartedly laughing along, didn’t think it was right. Later that evening, his friend ended up doing something with the girl, without John’s knowledge.
Sometime later, that girl reported being sexually assaulted by John’s friend and he was charged as a minor. The severity of the crime committed was a shock to the other guys listening to John’s story. They didn’t realize how realistic sexual assault can be, especially if they aren’t aware of what people may or may not be joking about doing. When we joke about harassing behavior, we normalize it and, in turn, accept it when it could potentially lead to something unimaginably worse.
From Ray Goyochea
Going back to those “seeds”…
As you can see, when we normalize certain behaviors and perspectives, we are planting and watering the culture of violence. So how can we cultivate this issue?
Treat others with respect.
Improve skills around asking for consent and respect the answer whether you like it or not. 😉
Challenge jokes that demean others.
Maintain and model healthy relationships.
Encourage peers to respect others’ boundaries and bodies.
Challenge unfair gender stereotypes.
That said, when it comes to bringing awareness to issues that aren’t often spoken about, sexual assault is no longer an outlandish topic of discussion. We have seen it in news articles and media from movements like #MeToo and #IASK, which focus on the experiences of sexual assault survivors.
Community and societal level action like this can affect social change, especially when so much can be organized through social media. With all this in mind, we know stopping sexual assault before it happens may sometimes seem impossible. However, we know it is possible if we work together in creating healthy, safe and respectful behaviors and environments. We must also improve expectations for how we communicate with others, strengthen policies to support survivors and promote safety and respect throughout our communities.
How YOU Can Get Involved Remotely
Other events previously held such as Take Back The Night, which delivers many forms of outreach with members of other organizations, have been postponed due to COVID-19. The pandemic has unleashed a stay-at-home order, compelling us to enhance our prevention efforts online. We are planning to host clubs online via Zoom, Youtube, Facebook, etc. We also plan to start a Violence Prevention Podcast that will air regularly to further give voice to our youth!
You may also participate in social media challenges as part of the #IASK campaign found at www.nsvrc.org! Be sure to tag Hopeful Horizons in your posts and remember that we have numerous resources available on our website.
In conclusion, what we can all contribute in the simplest form is continuing to shed light in this subject in any way we can. The more we hold these discussions and partake in events, the more others will be able to better identify the issue and have insight on how to prevent sexual assault/harassment in our communities.
For more information on Hopeful Horizons' Outreach & Prevention efforts, or to become involved, please contact James Morrall, Director of Outreach & Prevention, at firstname.lastname@example.org.