Surely everyone has heard about the Steubenville rape case by now. Between the trial, news coverage, and the blog backlash against CNNs depiction of the event, rape culture has become a visible topic within the last few weeks. After the Sandy Hook school shooting earlier this year, conversation turned to mental illness and treating children so that they don’t grow up and become mass shooters. So after this very publicized sexual assault trial, why hasn’t the conversation turned to preventing rape culture beginning at a young age? Why aren’t we talking about starting at the source, where children first learn right and wrong?
I started asking everyone around me about their experience with sexual education in school, and whether their classes discussed sexual assault and consent. Out of the eleven people that I asked, only two people vaguely remembered discussing anything on these matters. One person’s 7th grade class slightly touched on consent, and the other person said their 8th grade class briefly discussed what a girl should do if she was to ever get raped. (The whole not showering, going to the hospital, getting legal proof thing is a whole different topic. Maybe another time.)
Throughout my schooling, I learned about sexual education in 4 different classes: 5th grade as part of health class, 7th grade in gym class, 8th grade religious school, and in the 9th grade health class, which is required by the state of Michigan to graduate. Needless to say, I have heard plenty about abstinence, and contraception, and STIs, or STDs as they were first taught. What I don’t remember learning about is sexual assault or consent.
When I asked a friend if her school taught kids NOT to rape, she didn’t understand the question. “Why? That’s just implied”. But is it? In theory we draw a very distinct line between good and bad people; those who could rape, and the ones who couldn’t. But when an actual sexual assault occurs, the line starts to blur. It is blamed on miscommunications, alcohol, the slutty girl who was asking for it, and numerous other excuses. Although those can all be factors that influence the situation, they do not lessen the severity of an assault.
Why is rape an untouchable subject in schools? How do you teach a child NOT to rape? “Kids, this is what a penis looks like, and this is a vagina. Now remember, don’t touch anyone else’s penis or vagina unless they give you permission”. This very serious lesson can be boiled down to a more simplified version that is easier for children to digest. “It’s not ok to touch someone or kiss them or do anything to them unless they give you permission”.
Why is it necessary to teach kids not to steal, not to lie, not to bully, but not about sexual assault? Why do we assume that kids inherently understand these rights and wrongs? Because only a monster would rape someone? What about forcing himself or herself onto someone? What about pressuring someone into doing things? What about persuading someone? Once you change the wording from rape to persuasion, it doesn’t seem like such a monstrous farfetched act anymore, does it?
We use persuasion on the daily. In the fourth grade I first learned how to write a persuasive essay, now, ten years later, every paper I write boils down to convincing the audience that my thesis is correct. That’s what I’m doing right now. Using the examples and arguments presented in this blog, I hope to persuade you all to question the absence of sexual assault education in schools. Educational videos and activities spend plenty of time teaching kids how to stand up to bullies, not to lie, or steal, or cheat. Yet kids are not taught how to deal with sexual assault, consent, and what to do in those circumstances. Hell, most adults don’t know what to do in those circumstances. Children are very rarely taught the different between someone “wanting” something, and actually giving their consent.
Rape culture begins with the way kids are taught, or not taught, about sexual assault. The shame and victim blaming that occurs can be lessened, if not prevented, by teaching people what to do. Not just kids, but adults need to be taught too. By introducing sexual assault education into school sexual education curriculums, hopefully we can put a dent in rape culture and switch the focus from ‘how to avoid getting raped’ to ‘how to not rape’.
By: Sara Yufa
Photo Courtesy of: yewenyi