Every year in the United States, there are roughly 293,000 victims of sexual violence: one sexual assault almost every 2 minutes. While this type of violence is prevalent, our education around the issues of sexual violence is often non-existent. With nearly one in five women suffering from sexual assault by the time they’re through college, it’s time we started talking about it.
As an educator, my role is to go into the community and have the conversations we often want to avoid. Our goal is to bring to light the darkness of domestic and sexual violence and how it shapes who we are as people. We often want to distance ourselves from things that we think are out of the norm, but every day we interact with many community members living with the stigma and pain of being a victim of sexual violence.
According to RAINN, 44% of sexual assault and rape victims are first assaulted before they reach the age of 18. However a majority of children and teens never receive any education programs on interpersonal violence or sexual abuse until they start college (if they attend college). If children and teens don’t receive guidance and information about these issues from their parents or other supportive adults, far too many are left without these essential life skills.
Relationships are a natural and necessary part of everyone’s life. Comprehensive education that teaches students about healthy relationships and consent should be too. Here at the Crisis Center of Central New Hampshire we are working to bring that information to our community and our focus has been to build relationships with the local high schools and colleges in Merrimack County. The education process requires time and rapport. We want students to know about crisis center services and how to access support if they are assaulted or know someone who has been assaulted. We work to provide accurate and victim-centered education that helps students distinguish between unhealthy and healthy relationships and define different types of interpersonal violence, as well as articulate why a person who has been sexually assaulted is not at fault.
In the last year, we have found success in signing agreements with several local colleges and high schools to provide ongoing education and support to their students and faculty. One such success story is our growing relationship with Proctor Academy, a co-ed residential high school in Andover, NH. Beginning in September 2015, we provided the entire faculty with basic education around domestic and sexual violence. We started our education with the faculty because they are the role models and leaders when working with students. If the faculty is prepared to support students dealing with interpersonal violence, students who experience abuse will be more likely to reach out for help and get the services they need to help them heal.
After providing training to the staff, we began to introduce education for the students through small in-school groups. Topics include healthy relationships, sexual assault, consent, being an effective bystander, rape myths, and victim blaming. We have also provided targeted education to interest groups on campus. Identifying that athletic coaches play an influential and unique role in the lives of young men, the crisis center has provided Proctor coaches with the training and tools to help their young athletes build respectful and non-violent relationships both on and off the field.
From a young age, we are taught a set of valuable life lessons, such as don’t talk to strangers or say no to drugs, but can we honestly say that our children and young adults understand the concept of personal safety or what a healthy relationship looks like? Putting an end to sexual violence is not an easy task. We as a community must have these tough conversations early on to prevent the reality of 1 in 5. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, let’s all be part of this conversation now and throughout the entire year!
Bianca Monroe is the Education and Outreach and Volunteer Coordinator at CCCNH. She and the network of crisis center educators across New Hampshire provide free prevention programs to 50,000 people each year.
Related links and resources:
The Crisis Center of Central New Hampshire
Primary Prevention of Domestic and Sexual Violence in New Hampshire
Sexual Assault Statistics in NH
National Sexual Violence Resource Center
Prevent Connect a project of the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault
Coaching Boys to Men
Proctor Academy Sisters Program