Over the weekend, I was sitting in the airport in Columbus, Ohio catching up on the all the news from the past week. One news story, that was covered by all the major stations, was the sexual assault of a young woman by a Olympic swimming hopeful from Stanford. The story is tragic on so many levels, but for me to rehash the whole story again would be redundant. So, as I was waiting on my plane, I decided that I would make some observations as a school counselor who has worked with many victimized girls and over idolized athletes.
What's the Big Deal?
Should we really be concerned about sexual assault as a school counselor? Although the White House has taken a strong stand against sexual assault, it is still very common and accepted among our youth. If you are not convinced, check out these statistics from the Department of Justice. In an article written for The Atlantic Magazine, the author quoted recent Department of Justice figures which indicate that one in six females and one in 33 males are sexually assaulted in their lifetime and every two minutes a person is sexually assaulted. So, by the time I have written a few rambling words, about 15 people have been assaulted (unreal!). So to answer my own question, sexual assault is a real issue in our society. But why?
Reasons for Sexual Assault Among Males
Psychologist Norman Shpancer wrote an insightful article for Psychology Today called "Why Do Men Sexually Assault Women"? In that article, he pointed out three variables that may play into why men assault women:
Men are biologically stronger than women and can easily overpower them. However, the majority of men refrain from physical force even though they are much stronger. That is good news!
2. Glorification of violence
Our society is fascinated with violent sports, video games, and worship of super heroes in movies. Think of the current music, movies, and attitudes in the media and how it may influence youth.
3. Societal pressure
Although the first two reasons are very powerful influences on why men may assault women, there is a more powerful variable. A more concrete reason for assaults among women stems from societal pressure or an internalized societal script on sex. Dr. Shpancer says that men have a sexual script that has been taught to them by our society which says that women are objects and the sexual act on an object is justifiable. If that object goes against that sexual script, then the object is subject to loathing and blame. I think this short video from Face Book makes a important point about the victimization of the object and glorification of those who commit assault...check it out.
The Stanford Assault Case, a Dumpster, and a Bicycle
In this tragic story, we see all the factors that led to the sexual assault of this young woman. Without going into a lot of details, here is a brief overview of the story. A college graduate accompanies her sister to a frat party. The woman drinks too much, meets a young guy, finds herself waking up in the hospital with no recollection of her whereabouts the night before, and discovers that she was sexually assaulted behind a dumpster by the guy she met at the party. The guy, who was a Ivy League Olympic hopeful, attended Stanford and was looking for a hook up at the party (these are his words, not mine). Following the assault, he was arrested and plead guilty to the assault.
|Former Stanford Student Brock Turner|
Who were these two individuals? They were not American youth, but two Swedish students who just happened to be riding by the frat party. Instead of turning their backs and riding away, these young men recognized there was a possible sexual assault occurring and confronted the attacker. In my humble opinion, we need more boys on bicycles!! Now, how do we create them in our society?
School Counselors Creating Boys on Bicycles
Why, as school counselors, should we be concerned about sexual assault? Other than the fact that sexual assault is against the law and a violation of Title IX, it has a grave impact on our students. Dr. Carolyn Stone found that students who experience sexual assault tend to suffer from eating disorders and depression, poor academic success, and may start using drugs and alcohol. RAINN found that youth who are assaulted may be:
3 times more likely to suffer from depression.
4 times more likely to commit suicide.
6 times more likely to have PTSD.
13 times more likely to abuse alcohol.
26 times more likely to use substances.
So I like to pose some questions to school counselors reading this post...
How do we influence the societal scripts that young men are learning?
How do we educate students to become engaged bystanders?
How do we educate parents of our students to not contribute to the culture of objectification?
Though I don't have all the answers, I have a few closing thoughts that may be helpful to school counselors.
- Become educated! Know what acts constitute sexual assault. According to the Department of Justice, sexual assault is not rape, but any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without consent. Here is a list of acts that are considered behaviors associated with sexual assault.
Child sexual abuse
Drug facilitated sexual violence
Military sexual trauma
Male sexual violence
Sexual exploitation by a helping professional
Masturbating in public
- Be approachable! A negative school environment encourages more stigma and silence by victims of sexual assault. If you are not confident in your knowledge and awareness about sexual assault, it is almost impossible to be approachable.
- Bring awareness. President Obama has declared April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This is great opportunity to bring awareness and education about sexual assault in our society. Here are some resources you can use if you are planning a Sexual Assault Awareness Event which can help students stay safe during Spring Break, Summer Break, Homecoming, Prom, etc.
Sexual Assault Awareness Toolkit
What is Campus Sexual Violence?
Becoming an Agent of Social Change-Youth Guide
Stopping Harassment at School
What is Healthy Sexuality and Consent?
Preventing Acquaintance Rape-Guide for Teens
Surviving Acquaintance Rape
Circle of 6 Phone App - Although developed for college students, think about adapting the Circle of 6 App for your high school students. Great idea for teens to have before Spring Break and/or prom. The phone app allows a teen to text your friends in the case of emergency and asks them to come and get him or her.
- Become an advocate for your students experiencing sexual assault. You can do this by encouraging your administrators to act according to Title IX. See the Office of Civil Rights Dear Colleague Letter for schools' responsibilities when addressing sexual assault and harassment.
Also, check out School Counselor By Heart's collection of sexual assault resources for students, staff, and parents.
Oh, one more. Teaching Tolerance has some great resources for educators that may be helpful as you are gathering additional information.
- Teach bystanders skills. Consider adding bystander training in your counseling lessons. Many people want to intervene, but they just don't know how to do it. The National Sexual Assault Resource Center provides copious amounts of resources for educators.
- Teach about consent. There is big push to teach teens about consent and how one may obtain it. Depending on your school administration, you may consider educating students about consent.
- Provide information and resources! Make information available to parents about protecting their child from sexual assault. Here is a resource that may be helpful for you to give your families.