There’s never been a time where awareness of sexual violence was higher than it is right at this moment. Whether it’s the Larry Nassar case, the #MeToo Movement, Aziz Ansari, or the multiple victims of Donald Trump, you can’t log into social media, turn on the TV, or read People magazine without hearing about sexual violence. With awareness at an all-time high, so is the community’s desire to get involved in the work to end sexual violence. Our staff is constantly getting emails, phone calls, and hands raised wondering what they can do to further the mission of YWCA Stepping Stones, which is to eliminate sexual violence and alleviate suffering for victims.
Like any complex question, the answer to eliminating sexual violence has a complex answer. We can talk about the power dynamics often at play, the need to eliminate forms of oppression and the systems that keep them in place, consent or bystander intervention, etc. But February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month so maybe we should start there. We need to talk with our young community members about sex and sexual assault.
When we start to have these conversations sometimes we get pushback from parents or teachers. It’s not an easy conversation to have, sometimes the conversation gets uncomfortable, or we feel awkward and don’t have all the answers. But for most teens, if they aren’t getting their information about sex and sexual assault from parents or teachers they are getting it from other places – like their friends or the internet. Teenhelp.com says 93 percent of males and 62 percent of females reported being exposed to porn on the Internet prior to age 18. The American Psychology Association’s research says the average age boys are exposed to pornography is 13.37 years of age.
Now, combine those numbers with a survey from 2013, which found 10 percent of high school students reported sexual victimization from a dating partner, it is very clear we need to have these conversations with our students. YWCA Stepping Stones educators, Cinnamon Porter, Ranisha Johnson, and Nikki Moravec, are working hard every day to provide needed information to the young people in our community. They are in the elementary schools teaching the students the difference between safe and unsafe touches. They are in the junior highs teaching students to respect boundaries. They are in the high schools teaching the importance of consent and bystander intervention.
But for those messages to be as effective as they need to be, they need to be reinforced in other areas as well. Echoed by the adults they trust and interact with every day. They need to hear that message from their favorite teacher, the coach they look up to, and the adult at home.
When we work with young people, we are motivated and energized by their passion and enthusiasm. We really believe this upcoming generation will change a lot of the problems we are facing today. As adults, we can speed that up by showing them the way.
Gabe Cripe is Director of Community Outreach with YWCA Stepping Stones and has been with the program since the Fall of 2015. Prior to being on staff, Gabe volunteered with Stepping Stones answering crisis calls and providing medical advocacy through the 24/7 hotline
Nikki Moravec is the Community Educator with YWCA Stepping Stones and has been with the program since October 2017. Prior to being on staff, Nikki worked at Prairie State Legal Services as their legal assistant.