How To Teach About Rape

  • Nearly half of all sexual assault and rape victims are under the age of 18 while 80% are under the age of 30.[1] The highest risk years are from 12-34 with girls age 16-19 being four times more likely than the general population  to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.[2] Given that the majority of existing sex education occurs in middle and high school, this topic is particularly relevant. Below are learning objectives adapted from the National Sexuality Education Standards.
     

    Middle School High School
    • Define sexual harassment and sexual abuse.
    • Describe situations and behaviors that constitute sexual harassment, sexual abuse, sexual assault, incest, rape and dating violence.
    • Discuss the impacts of sexual harassment, sexual abuse, sexual assault, incest, rape and dating violence and why they are wrong.
    • Identify sources of support such as parents or other trusted adults that they  can go to if they are or someone they know is being harassed or assaulted.
    • Explain that no one has the right to touch anyone else in a sexual manner if they do not want to be touched.
    • Explain why a person who has been raped or sexually assaulted is not at fault.
    • Demonstrate refusal skills (clear “no” statement, walk away, repeat refusal).
    • Demonstrate ways to communicate with trusted adults about harassment or assault.
    • Compare and contrast situations and behaviors that may constitute sexual harassment, sexual abuse, sexual assault, incest, rape and dating violence.
    • Analyze the laws related to sexual harassment, sexual abuse, sexual assault, incest, rape and dating violence.
    • Explain why using tricks, threats or coercion in relationships is wrong.
    • Describe potential impacts of power differences (e.g., age, status or position) within sexual relationships.
    • Analyze the external influences and societal messages that impact attitudes about sexual harassment, sexual abuse, sexual assault, incest, rape and dating violence.
    • Access valid resources for help if they or someone they know are being harassed, or have been sexually assaulted.
    • Demonstrate effective ways to communicate with trusted adults about harassment or assault.
    • Identify ways in which they could respond when someone else is being harassed.

    In a face-to-face interview, Leslie Kantor, Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s (PPFA) vice president of education, recommends focusing on what students really need when teaching about sex.  This includes:

    • A definition of consent that is nuanced and goes beyond “yes means yes” or “no means no.”
    • An understanding of gender scripts and how these contribute to problems related to consent.
    • Skills about navigating sex and alcohol.
    • An understanding of bystander intervention.

    For example, if watching a video in which a bystander did not step up, you can ask students questions like, “What would have been helpful in the situation? What could s/he have said or done to prevent this? What are some barriers to speaking up or acting?” Processing in this way allows you to cover many different themes including causes of rape, rape myths, victim blaming, and the important role of bystanders.

    Lastly, it is important to note that sexual violence is a difficult topic to cover well. It is potentially triggering to student and therefore creating a safe classroom environment is vital. Some ideas for doing this include:

    • Creating ground rules or community agreements including confidentiality.
    • Passing out identical sheets of paper and having all students write questions, even if it is just “I have no questions.”
    • Being prepared to respond to hostile, offensive or victim blaming comments and questions. Brainstorm potential statements and your responses. Use these steps as a guide: stop the offensive behavior, name the behavior and describe why it is harmful or triggering, and ask for a change.[3]
    • Believing students who confide in you and offering to connect them to additional services if they desire. Take some time to research support organizations in your area.

    Beyond the support organizations near you, it is vital you know your legal responsibility to report information shared with you. This varies by state and changes periodically. For more information, visit Not Alone.

     

    ________________

    [1] Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network. (2014). Who are the victims? Breakdown by gender and age. https://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/sexual-assault-victims

    [2] Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network. (2014).

    [3] Adapted from Girl’s Best Friend Foundation and Advocates for Youth. (2005). Creating safe space for GLBTQ youth: A toolkit. http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/storage/advfy/documents/safespace.pdf

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