Consent: A FREE, HAPPY, CLEAR “YES!” Anything less is not consent.
Consent is absolutely necessary before a person engages in any sexual interaction. This means that the person initiating the interaction ASKS the other person what they want and respects their answer. Consent means that the other person gives a free, happy, clear “YES” response BEFORE anything happens. Consent is NOT: silence; giving in after persuasion, threats, or guilt trips; being manipulated or pressured; ignoring a “no”; feeling like you owe someone or have to do something to fit in. If a person doesn’t feel like they have a choice in the matter, they can’t freely or happily give consent.
GENDER = A PERFORMANCE. Gender norms influence the way people dress, groom, behave, and expect others to act based on the physical body parts they’re born with. Gender norms are not natural, but are created by a group of people (i.e. a society) and formally and informally taught to children as they grow up. The problem with gender norms is that people use them to stereotype a group of people (“boys will be boys”), which can result in prejudice, inequality, and even violence. Like racism, sexism groups people by physical features (with racism, a person is treated unequally based on skin color; with sexism, a person is treated unequally based on perceptions of their genitalia). Gender norms are a problem because instead of finding out who we are as individuals, many of us simply ‘perform’ these gender roles to meet others’ expectations.
Being an Active Bystander (i.e., a Good Citizen)
If we really want violence to stop, we have to start by helping our kids be the type of citizens who will intervene safely to prevent it.
For years, the focus of violence prevention has been on victims – what should a potential victim do differently to keep themsleves from being targeted? The ‘risk reduction tips’ started flowing: Don’t wear overalls, or a ponytail, because there’ll be something to grab; Hold your keys between your fingers; Don’t get drunk; Don’t wear revealing clothing; Say “no” a little more loudly. Then researchers and practitioners realized that, not only does 'risk reduction' unfairly limit people’s lives, it is also ineffective. Victims are doing their best not to be assaulted, but the one factor that is always true in a sexually violent incident is that there is a perpetrator committing the crime.
So then we started looking at perpetrators, and about 90% of them are male. So we started telling guys, “Don’t rape!” The method of telling guys “Don’t rape!” has been ineffective for a different reason. Only about 7% of males will become perpetrators of sexual violence. Kids who are on the path to becoming offenders often do not respond well to the message “Don’t rape!”, and the remaining 93% of guys shut down and tune out because they’re offended that anyone thinks they would consider committing rape.
Instead, we want a message that all teens are able to hear, are interested in enacting, and that will be effective if they do enact it. Something like:
“Others are getting hurt. There is inequality in our society. And you can help!”
There are different ways to phrase it for different populations, but this message is one of hope. It identifies a problem and empowers them to respond.
How are we asking them to help? Shifting cultural norms, adjusting the environment so that no member of the community develops into the type of person who would commit rape, and making it clear that anyone who does will be held accountable, not only by law, but by the community. In order to make this simple and practical enough for our students to apply, we break it down to basic building blocks. We have to give them new ideas for what gender, sexuality, relationships, and daily interactions could look like. And we have to give them skills that they believe will be effective. The truth is, if a student is in a situation to intervene in violence, the most effective thing that they can do is the thing that they actually will do. That's why we develop their skills for effective interventions: so what they will do is as effective as possible.
Opportunities to take action as a parent:
Did you know…?
In one year, almost HALF of the students in a middle school or high school will be sexually harassed at least once. (Data collected by the 2011 study, Crossing the Line, 2011. To access the complete study for free, click here.)
As a parent, you have a lot of power to make a difference in your child’s school.
Speak to your child’s school – especially administrators, but teachers too. Are their harassment policies solid? Are they enforced consistently and taken seriously? Do they enforce dress code infractions fairly?
Find out how sexual offenses and harassment are handled. Take a look at the school district’s Code of Conduct for detailed descriptions of exactly what rules they have against such offenses.
Demand answers from your school board.
How are they preventing sexual offenses in their district? What do they know about the actual implementation of sex education in their schools?
Do you have questions? Ask SARA!