Prevention: Fighting Sexual Violence in our Schools

4 Apr

“Six juvenile males who are accused of sexually assaulting another teenager have been removed from classes and extra security measures are in place at Dunbar Senior High School, a DCPS spokeswoman said in a statement Monday.” – TBD

“The exact circumstances surrounding the alleged gang-rape of a girl at Jules High School in Johannesburg remain unclear.” – Eyewitness News

“Details into the allegations of two young girls raped by as many as five boys on school property remain cloaked behind a criminal investigation that continues.” – 59 WVNS

“Three Memphis teens have been charged with raping a 17-year-old East High School student earlier this week.” – WMC-TV

“An official with the school district where a 15-year-old girl was brutally gang raped outside the homecoming dance said they were praying for her recovery but also defended school security, saying that when the students leave the dance, “we don’t take them home.”” – ABC World News

While it is no secret that the media has a bad habit of reporting the worst of news, we must sometimes take the worst of news for what it is. Cases of sexual violence on academic campuses have serious consequences for kids, staff, faculty, and community. While I want to rave about the injustices of sex crimes and the enormity of the act of rape or sexual assault, I know that I would get no further than my sadness and indignation on the matter. When we read about these crimes in the news, we must not stop with our momentary feelings of horror or anger; we also must not simply rage against them in a torrent of words; we must also think, and think rationally. We must turn these thoughts into words, and words into action. There is no other way to prevent acts of sexual violence from occurring, and prevention is the only plausible solution.

What does this mean for the educator?

While many school systems have methods of dealing with sexual assault once it occurs, the question is begged: what steps are schools taking to prevent sexual assault and violence? While no member of the school or community wants a violent act to occur, the truth of the matter is that it happens every day. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that over 1 in 10 girls will have been physically forced to have sexual intercourse on school grounds or off by the time they graduate high school. The National Center for Education Statistics reported that during the 2007-2008 school year, there occurred 800 rapes on elementary, middle, and high school campuses and 3,800 cases of sexual battery aside from rape. We must also keep in mind that because acts of sexual violence are under reported, studies have difficulty in producing with accurate results the frequency in which sexual violence occurs.

These numbers are staggering. School is a place where we want our kids to be safe. While blame cannot be laid to any one party, we must question how these acts occur, how our students react to/perceive them, and what the role of the educator is in preventing sexual violence.

Do we talk about gender stereotyping? Homosexuality? Sexual assault? What happens if an act of sexual violence occurs at the high school where we teach? Do we counsel? Help children understand the nature of the difficulty of these allegations? Or do we just avoid the topic altogether, and try to teach the structure of the Shakespearean sonnet over conversations regarding the event?

These questions are not easy to answer.

Many people believe it is wrong to talk to kids regarding these issues; perhaps it is not the place of the school educator to answer these questions. However, when the question arises, “What am I doing to prevent acts of sexual violence that are occurring on high school campuses?” I cannot, with good conscience, answer, “Nothing.”

In each lesson, we must teach kids about tolerance. We must teach them about respect, and give them opportunities to critically think about what it means to truly value and respect the religious, sexual, intellectual, and racial diversities of others; we cannot go on blindly teaching academics when children are confronted with the realities the world presents. Perhaps we teach a lesson about love, without ever directly saying it by using Ghandi’s Satyagraha. Perhaps we give kids literature where characters their own age face difficult moral dilemmas – dilemmas like the one in Boyle’s Greasy Lake. What if we get kids really thinking, rather than just memorizing that Shakespearean sonnets have fourteen lines, and end in a couplet, yet there are many kinds of sonnets, other possibilities being Spenserian and Petrarchan…

I know that the great teachers already get their kids thinking across the spectrum, and commit themselves to challenge the learning of the kids they have every day. I know this because I’ve been lucky enough to learn from some of them.

I am not suggesting we impose our beliefs upon kids. I am suggesting we give them the opportunities to grow.

Reference:

“Schools Get Federal Guidelines on Sexual Violence”Education Week

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