What is “Rape Culture?”

Trigger warning: This post discusses the Steubenville rape case and also offers graphic images of advertising that perpetuates rape culture.

We are pleased with the guilty verdict in the Steubenville case in which two high school football players were found to be delinquent for raping an intoxicated 16 year old, known only as Jane Doe, at a series of parties on the night of August 11th to 12th, 2012.  What made this case that much more traumatizing for the survivor is that 1.) video, text messaging, and posts on social media were circulated of the assault and humiliation that she endured and 2.) as if that wasn’t enough, the outrage that many in the local community directed at her for “tarnishing” the reputation of the boys who were seen as local football heroes.

An example from one of the team’s 19 coaches: “The rape was just an excuse, I think,” said the 27-year-old Hubbard, who is No. 2 on the Big Red’s career rushing list. “What else are you going to tell your parents when you come home drunk like that and after a night like that?” said Hubbard, who is one of the team’s 19 coaches. “She had to make up something. Now people are trying to blow up our football program because of it.”

Rape culture is one of the phrases you may have heard used in relation to this case. If you are a survivor of sexualized violence, you will likely already know what this term means. You will identify with it when remembering the shaming stares and words people used when you disclosed your assault or abuse. In the Steubenville case, there were repeated questions targeting the survivor that asked not what were these boys thinking but what was she doing there…why did she let herself get drunk and thereby get raped? How is she responsible for ruining their lives? So many threats were made against the survivor that her and her family have required ongoing police protection.

If you are a survivor of sexualized violence, you will understand this term if you were accused of lying, of making it up, of exaggerating your experience. If you are a survivor, you will understand this term when you see ads like this:

Imageand this…Image

oh, and this one too…

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If you are a survivor, you will understand this term if you saw the response of the public to other survivors like Zerlina Maxwell, who went on Fox News and confronted victim-blaming by offering suggestions for how men and boys can stop rape. What she had to say, that survivors are not to blame and that the overwhelming majority of those who perpetuate violence against women (i.e., men and boys) should be held accountable for helping to stop rape was apparently so “shocking” to many for days afterward death threats and rape threats were lodged against her publicly and privately.

All of these are examples of rape culture, which can be defined as the pervasive images, language, laws, and other everyday phenomena that validate and perpetuate rape and other forms of sexualized violence in the world. The website, FORCE: Upsetting the Culture of Rape, goes on to state: “Rape culture includes jokes, TV, music, advertising, legal jargon, laws, words and imagery that make violence against women and sexual coercion seem so normal that people believe that rape is inevitable. Rather than viewing the culture of rape as a problem to change, people in a rape culture think about the persistence of rape as ‘just the way things are’. This is what it means when people say that sexism and violence against women are ‘naturalized.’ It means that people in our current society believe these attitudes and actions always have been, and always will be.”

Rape culture is what supports the sense of entitlement that the boys in the Steubenville case had that allowed them to brutally violate the young Jane Doe. It is the disbelief of the football coach in the high school who was so concerned about his team winning and what would happen to his “star players” that he is alleged to have tried to cover up the allegations made by the survivor. It is even in the reading of the verdict when the judge seemed to focus more on the role of alcohol and social media than the need to teach our youth about consent and rape. It is the feeling that survivors get over and over again when society tells them their experience is not valid.

All that said, today is a good day for those that stand against rape culture. Thanks to the courage of Jane Doe, the young survivor in this case whose life has been forever changed, and for the willingness of groups like Anonymous, feminist organizations, rape crisis centers, and a global community of survivors and their supporters, rape culture was dealt a blow today. A message was sent to the world that sex without consent is not sex, it is rape.

We hope you will join us in continuing to confront rape culture. That those of us who are not survivors will see images like those above and name them as offensive and degrading symbols of rape culture. If you are a teacher or a parent, talk with your students about this case, about consent (including the role of alcohol in being unable to give consent), about what constitutes healthy relationships and healthy behavior, about accountability for our behavior. If you are not comfortable having these conversations, organizations like ours exist to help you.  Name rape culture when you see it. Examine your own beliefs, words, and actions that might support victim-blaming. Believe survivors. When we stand in community with survivors and hold offenders accountable, whether individual perpetrators, communities that protect those perpetrators or the companies that perpetuate and normalize violence against women, we will change rape culture once and for all. Rape and rape culture are not inevitable. Justice is.

13 Ways to Talk About Tough Topics with Children

The staff of Prevention Educators joins the nation in mourning the senseless deaths of 20 children and 6 school staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School and like you, we are asking “Why?” We know there are no easy answers and we also know how hard it has been to talk with children about this tragedy. Youth today are sometimes confronted with a dark picture of humanity, and because information can be delivered to them instantly, they often do not hear about incidents like Sandy Hook from the caring adults in their lives first. But youth are also highly resilient and they recover and adapt in ways that serve as an example to us adults.

We’ve been talking since Friday with teachers and parents about how much information to give youth about the school shooting. Unfortunately over the years, we’ve had enough similar talks to create an entire workshop for educators and parents on the topic of talking tough topics with children. In this training, we explore the issues parents and educators struggle to find words to express to kids in today’s world: school violence, child abuse, rape and sexual assault, war…(remember when the “talk” that was the toughest was about sex?).

We hope you will find these tips useful in continuing to talk with kids in the coming days about this difficult subject.

1. Don’t assume kids don’t know.

Children are very aware of the environment around them and are often more knowledgeable than adults think they are. If they don’t hear about a problem or issue from adults, they will hear it from one another, from the Internet or other media. Not talking about tough subjects doesn’t protect children from them. If you remain silent, you communicate to children that a subject is taboo and that they can’t come to you with their questions or problems.

2. Be available and “askable.”

Let youth know that your classroom or home is an open environment and that it is okay to talk about unpleasant topics or subjects. Your willingness to be available and respond to children’s questions lets them know that you are trustworthy of their feelings and needs.

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3. Initiate conversations.

Not all children are comfortable coming to adults with their questions and concerns, even though we may want them to. That’s why it’s perfectly okay – and even necessary sometimes – to initiate the discussions ourselves. It’s likely that school administrators have already identified how they would like staff to address the shootings at Sandy Hook today. Parents, if you’ve been hesitant to talk with your child, it may be helpful to check in with the child to see what, if anything, he or she already knows about what happened.

4. Set ground rules.

Teachers, if you’re going to have discussions on difficult subject with an entire class, be sure to set some ground rules first. Ask students to listen respectfully to each other, without interruption. Remind them it’s important to value the views of others, even if they don’t agree with them. Tell them its okay to criticize ideas, but not people. Help them to avoid blame and speculation, and be sure to confront inflammatory language (pointing out why the language is inflammatory and offering suggestions on how else a student can express his or herself.) Elementary school teachers may be providing limited information to youth about the Sandy Hook school violence but high school teachers may need to address the issue in classes if students are already talking about it. As our nation debates gun control and mental health policy, it may be especially necessary to remind our students and ourselves to be respectful and considerate of others’ opinions.

5. Set limits.

Although it’s important to address tough topics in class or at home, it’s also important to set boundaries and limits on these conversations. You don’t want these conversations to take you too far away from your lesson plans or create lots of anxiety in your children at home, but you don’t want to ignore kids’ needs either. Therefore, it can be helpful to set aside protected time to talk about problems or current events. For example, you can tell students that you are going to take the next 20 minutes to talk about their concerns related to news about the school shooting, and then, if anyone still needs to talk later, they can seek you or their guidance counselor out after school.  However, in cases of a crisis this severe, it’s also important to give more time than normal to allow for sharing for feelings and processing of the event.

6. Actively listen.

It can be difficult for adults to really, truly listen to young people. We tend to want to interrupt, to hurry up and finish their sentences. Or to interject our own beliefs or tell them what they should do about the situation.  Listening is one of the most important skills you can bring to these discussions. As you listen, show that you are interested and attentive.  Ask children to be more concrete by using a variety of questions, such as “I can tell that you feel strongly about this, tell me more what you think about…” or “How long have you been feeling this way…?”  Good listening also involves paying careful attention to what young people may not be saying. Be aware of their nonverbal messages – facial expressions, fidgeting, gestures, tone of voice, etc., which indicate that strong emotions may be present. For example, my seven-year-old didn’t want to talk much about the school violence at Sandy Hook after we explained to her what had happened, but she has been carrying around her class picture at bedtime tonight, naming all the students in it as if to reassure herself of their presence and safety.

girl7. Get the perceptions.

When you listen to children, it’s important to hear their opinions and perspectives, before you interject.  In order to understand how children experience an event or issue, you must be open to hear all they have to say. Myths and misconceptions often go hand-in-hand with talk of tough subjects, and it’s important to clear them up, but first you must know what they are.

8. Get the facts.

Before you initiate discussions about a tough topic, be sure that you have taken the time to educate yourself on the subject. You want to be sure that you are not contributing to your youths’ misconceptions or confusion. If you are like me, you may be limiting yourself to media coverage about Sandy Hook because it is so difficult to hear. If you don’t know the answer or If you don’t feel particularly comfortable dealing with a certain situation (such as school violence, bullying, or suicide), consider bringing in a guest speaker who has expertise in the area (making sure that the conversations with youth are age-appropriate).  But be prepared for the questions that will follow once a speaker leaves your school.

9. Set youth straight with accurate, age-appropriate information.

Honesty is essential, but it must be accurate and age-appropriate. Trying to talk to a seven-year-old about a school shooting, using words like “tragedy” and “massacre” is going to undermine the child’s understanding and may cause additional fear. Keep your language simple, use short words, and straightforward explanations.

10. Acknowledge fears.

When dealing with difficult issues (and even more so when coping with the severity of the violence this week), children may experience either general anxiety or specific fears.  Some children may be afraid that the same thing will happen to them or someone they love. It may be especially difficult when random violence like this occurs for even adults to feel safe, but  we must…. (see #11)

11. Reassure youth of their safety.

After acknowledging fears, let children know that their families and communities love them and will protect them from everything they can, however, no one can keep all bad things from happening to children. Tell your students and children they’re welcome to talk to you whenever they need to. If a child’s fears are becoming overwhelming and interfering with his/her ability to function in school or at home, referrals to professional counseling may be necessary.

12. Look for feelings beyond fear.

Don’t stop at reassuring youth of their safety. Talking about tough topics can cause children to experience a myriad of other feelings or emotions besides fear.  Support the development of this emotional expression with caring and empathy. Remember that these discussions will likely need to occur more than once and in the coming days and weeks, reassurance of safety will need to be reiterated again and again to children.

13. Like Mister Rogers said, “Look for the Helpers.”

One way to reassure children that there is good in the world, especially when confronted with such atrocious acts of violence, is to “look for the helpers.” Help youth identify who in your school or community are helpers: police, teachers, fire fighters, counselors. FEMA_-_37563_-_FEMA_representatives_talking_with_children_at_a_Law_Enforcement_celebration_in_Texas

If there are youth helpers in your school or neighborhood, especially point them out. Children need to know what is or could be done to protect them before violence or trauma, during, and after. It can be especially empowering to know that even the youngest members of our society want to help and provide comfort. When we talked about the school shooting with our daughter, we identified who the helpers were, we talked generally about the bravery of the teachers and how many children’s lives were saved, and we talked about who she could go to if she needed to talk to anyone about her feelings.

Please contact us if you need help in answering youth’s questions or if you would like training for your community group or school on working with youth after a trauma or teaching tough topics. We’ll be back with more tips later this week including how to further empower children by taking action in your community. Thank you all for the work you do to protect and care for our children.

Creating Effective Parent/Teacher Partnerships

Every school we’ve trained with has discussed the need to have effective partnerships with parents and other caregivers, yet they sometimes fall short on making those partnerships successful.   The National Education Association just conducted its annual parent/teacher survey which presented a broad picture of these relationships across the country.  Turns out parents think most teachers are pretty great, giving them an overall “A” grade for their work together. Teachers grading parents came in a little lower at a “B.”  What are the greatest challenges to effective partnerships and what are their solutions? Check out the handy chart we made from the NEA’s Back 2 School  Twitter Chat on the topic that includes links to best practices implemented by schools across the country.

 

Challenge

Solution

Parental misunderstanding of child’s challenges  Infinite Campus Parent Portal
Parents feel shut out and not given opportunity to offer input Community conversations
Teachers feel parents should do more at home to reinforce learning Parent-teacher teams
Teachers feel parents don’t take their opinions seriously Parent Teacher Home Visit Project
Parents feel teachers don’t hold enough meetings with them Go beyond formal meetings

 

Two more useful resources for building family-school-community partnerships can be found here and here.

And don’t forget, Prevention Educators can help your school or parent organization facilitate these important conversations.

Do these challenges seem familiar? Are the solutions realistic in your school or community? We’d love your comments, ideas, and concerns to keep the conversation going as we return to classes. Best wishes for a great school year!

Jeanette

Founding Partner, PE