Here in the Speak About It office, we’ve been gearing up for a trip to Washington, DC next week to perform at two different high schools. This trip comes on the distant heels of a trip to the Nation’s capital in June, where we visited National Cathedral School and led a conversation with their graduating seniors.
In anticipation of our return to the now up-and-running Capital City, we’ve been doing a fair amount of research about some of the differences in the conversations regarding sexual assault and consent with high school and college students. Our performance will remain largely the same for a high school audience, including information about consent and sexual assault, but without some of the more crass, “giggle-inducing” language. Teens are talking about sex, some are having it, and most know what it is by the time they hit high school, thanks to music, TV, movies, and the internet. With this maturity comes a need to talk about consent, and how consent may shift when alcohol is involved. We’re not saying that all teens are drinking and having sex, but when the time comes that they are thinking about making these decisions, we hope to have provided them with some helpful information about boundaries, consent, and their bodies.
And of course, we want to talk about SnapChat. Well, not SnapChat, per se, but about the accessibility and connectivity that we now all share thanks to cell phones. Sometimes a good ol’ fashioned cat photo is all you’ll send on SnapChat, but sexting and naked pictures are on the rise, especially with teens. States differ in their legislation about sexting, and we try to abstain from conversations regarding the law, but our advice to students is not to take a picture of something if you wouldn’t want your grandparents to see it. A naked picture is much more than just a naked picture, as some conversations point to the objectification of bodies as feeding into rape culture.
And, we have to talk about peer pressure and coercion regarding sexual assault and teens. A surprising new study of teenagers and young adults show that almost 10%, or 1 in ten people between the ages of 14 and 21, admit to engaging in a sexual behavior with another person when they knew their partner didn’t want to. The Center of Disease Control and Prevention study is small, but is certainly eye-opening to the behaviors and beliefs held by teens and young adults. More than anything, it illustrates that conversations about communication, consent, and coercion need to be happening much sooner than we’ve been having them. Last year, we saw the case unfold in Steubenville, OH, and now the national media is focusing on Maryville, MO, where again, there’s a teen sexual assault involving alcohol and social media. Elizabeth Smart, famous for being kidnapped at age 14, has spoken out against abstinence-only education, and in a recent interview in the New Yorker, points to a new study that indicates that almost 75% of parents with kids under 18 have never discussed domestic violence or sexual assault, let alone prevention.
But are our behaviors changing? Are we talking to our young adults about what consent means, what sexual assault really is, what it means when we talk about rape culture, and how to watch out for our friends when we’ve been drinking? For teens, they assume that there are greater repercussions for admitting to underage drinking than there are benefits to calling for help when someone is too drunk to consent. Teen sexual assaults involving alcohol are not isolated to Steubenville and Maryville. But until we shift how we discuss sexuality, alcohol, and consent with teens, this unfortunately won’t be the last time that we see stories about alcohol-related teen sexual assaults.