My sister-in-law messaged me with a link to a now “gone viral” post by the woman who was raped by a swimmer at a prominent university. My sister-in-law said, “You should make this required reading for all the older teens in your sex ed classes!”
The letter is long. It’s painful to read– documenting the unintended ruining of the lives of young people, and the unimaginable pain of their families. Being the parent of young adults myself, my heart and soul ached. But was I surprised?
What do we expect when we sexualize everything in our culture from breastfeeding to car commercials to a skit with the President of the United States on a late-night talk show?
What do we expect when we make our daughters sit through talks about how to prevent being sexually assaulted, but we don’t create programs for young men about how not to get caught up in seeing women as objects?
What do we expect when we live in a culture that is so conflicted about sexuality and a religious culture where the loudest voices shout various renditions of “Just say no!”?
When faith communities remain silent about sexual assault, we silently condone rape culture—a culture in which we tacitly accept this is how it is.
We should all be outraged that not only did this incident happen, but similar incidents are happening all over our country every day. We should not keep silent.
We should get busy with the work of creating a culture of consent.
This requires much more than programs like purity balls, which reinforce that a woman’s worth is in her sexual purity, and that females need fathers to protect them from young men.
Instead of glitter, pomp, and circumstance, we need to do the hard work of education and conversation together.
- Check out this article about “How we accidentally teach kids consent isn’t important.” It outlines some very common messages many of us unintentionally and commonly give children about consent.
- Find or start an Our Whole Lives/Sexuality and Our Faith (OWL) program at your church or in your community. Our Whole Lives is a lifespan, comprehensive, interactive and inclusive sexuality education program developed by the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalist Association. Training is highly recommended.
- If you are in a faith community, check out the Sexuality and Our Faith companion manuals to OWL that bring faith traditions into the discussions.
- Conversations about sexuality, consent, relationships, power and agency take a long time. At the very least, check out 100conversations.org to help you get started talking.
Should the Stanford article be required reading and should you let your teen read it? Yes, you should let your teen read it—with these caveats:
- Read it first, or read it with them—and not just with your female teens, but also with your male teens.
- Talk about it. Ask how they feel when they hear those details. Think how you feel when you hear those details.
- Ask if they think it was realistic. (Yes, unfortunately, it was.)
- Talk about what could have been done to create a different outcome. Be sure to focus not only on what the young woman could have done, but also what the young man could have done.
- Make sure they know ways to be safe when they are not with you. There are several apps available for phones that alert someone if you need help.
You may have more questions to discuss, but the important thing is not to be silent. Start talking today.
Amy Johnson, MSW, CSE is on national staff as the United Church of Christ Our Whole Lives Coordinator. She is co-author of Homegrown Faith and Justice and Our Whole Lives for Grades 4-6, 2nd Ed. She is passionate about promoting safe and healthy sexuality education and culture in faith communities.