For the last week, we’ve all been poring over every last horrific detail from the Stanford rape case, and hotly debating it from every angle.
We’re talking about the joke of a sentence the rapist was given.
We’re talking about his mother and father.
We’re talking about injustice, sexism, alcohol, and party behavior.
We’re talking about privilege, athletics, and the college system.
But what about empowerment?
What about spreading knowledge, skills, and useful information to our kids, to ensure this doesn’t happen to them — or worse, so they don’t perpetrate it? Why are we so afraid to have that talk?
In my day job as a school counselor, I sit across from high school seniors year in and year out, discussing about college admissions, career options, GPAs, SAT scores, and life after high school. And when I think the relationship is just right with a particular student, I feel confident enough to talk to them about rape, and crimes against their body.
You see, there is a chance that I could be criticized for talking to girls about some of the things I choose to discuss with them. Some people may see it as inappropriate for a public school setting; I see it as my duty as a woman, educator, mother, and human being.
But I’ll be honest: What I have learned during each of these conversations is both disheartening and discouraging. It seems to me our girls live in a world where they spend most of their time looking behind themselves rather than in front. A world that scares them, but so often prevents them from talking about being scared.
When I’m working with teenage girls, I often find myself thinking about my own 8-year-old daughter. She still believes that her body belongs exclusively to her and that a strong sense of confidence in herself empowers her to ask for what she needs.
Lately, my work has become more personal. I look at these girls who have sat across from me for so many years, and can’t help but think of them as my own. And so, there are many days when I work relentlessly to get them to see their worth. I sit knee-to-knee with them, hoping they will see what I see when I look at them, yet so many of them don’t. They have already started to believe what others have said about them; that is was their fault — that they asked for it. It’s our job to teach them how to talk about their worth and their bodies. They look to us to help them find their voice, and it feels like we are failing them.
These girls who are our sisters, our daughters, and our nieces are perfect in so many ways — and yet they feel so imperfect in so many ways.
Recently, I came across a story about a group of teen girls — Delaney Henderson, Ella Fairon, Daisy Coleman, and Jada Smith — who found the courage to speak out about their own experiences with sexual assault and decided to use it as a means to empower others to change the culture we now live in. Their collective project, called SafeBAE, allows them to tour middle schools and high schools throughout the country, share their own stories as victims, and teach others about consent, as well as their rights following an assault.
These are exactly the kinds of things we should be talking more about right now — and spreading the knowledge far and wide. Because the fact is, every two minutes, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted, and that stat should horrify us all. We need to change the focus of our national conversation to how can we avoid these situations moving forward, rather than spending all our time rehashing the details of one singular case.
Because two minutes from now, another story just as sickening will unfold. It may not capture the same headlines. It may not even see its day in court. But it will alter someone’s life forever.
So it’s time we start talking more about what we can all do now.
It’s time we start talking to our kids about what consent really means — no matter how uncomfortable that may feel.
It’s time we explain the realities of rape culture.
About not leaving their drinks unattended.
About respecting and honoring their bodies.
About speaking up when they are afraid.
About trusting their instincts when something doesn’t feel right.
About yes and no.
About shame and the role it plays in keeping us silent.
But most importantly, this conversation needs to take place with our girls and our boys; and not just before they leave high school — but well before they even enter it. And it needs to keep going.
Because we all play a role in putting an end to this. And if the last week has taught us anything, it’s that maybe we are all collectively outraged enough to finally do it.More On