Please note: Entries within this blog may contain references to instances of domestic abuse, dating abuse, sexual assault, abuse or harassment. At all times, Break the Cycle encourages readers to take whatever precautions necessary to protect themselves emotionally and psychologically.  If you would like to speak with an advocate, please contact a 24/7 peer advocate at 866-331-9474  or text “loveis” to 22522.

Finding Community in Unexpected Places: How Students Want to Work to End Sexual Violence

In honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, during the month of April we will be featuring our partners across the nation in a Guest Blog Series on issues of sexual violence. Please be aware that this blog post references incidences of sexual violence, and may be triggering to some readers. This week’s post comes from Ashley Maier at California Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

Is adolescence really as stressful as everyone says? Two nights ago, I asked this question in the Psychology class I teach at a local community college. The ensuing conversation was a fascinating discovery of how differently we all experience lifespan development. Yet one thing stood out – adolescence is a time when peer groups and relationships matter…a lot.

“It’s like the end of the world,” one student said about teenage breakups. “You take is so seriously. When you’re young, these things mean so much and adults have to understand that,” she said.

A+ to that student. I added information about the 40 developmental assets, and we talked about how parents and caregivers can support healthy development. What struck me was that the theme of healthy relationships and sexuality kept surfacing. My students, many of them in or only slightly past their teen years, wanted to prevent young people from going through the unhealthy, unsafe experiences they did. They didn’t just want to eliminate the bad, they wanted to promote the good. What can we do, they asked, to make this part of adolescence less stressful or harmful? With many of them having recently attended the major music festival, Coachella, over spring break, they had at least one big idea:

Don’t let what happened there happen anywhere.

That night, many of my students were fresh from watching my recorded lecture on sex and gender. Before class, I also postedan article about rape culture at Coachella. I’m not going to lie – in classes where I’m used to hearing students mother-blame, I was quite thrilled that my students were arguing for culture change. This, I thought, is exactly how change starts.

Teaching is an additional gig for me. I spend most of my time at the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, working on our national PreventConnect project, an online community of practice focused on the prevention of sexual, domestic, dating and related forms of violence. We create a community where prevention practitioners and stakeholders gather, share and learn.  Our web conferences, podcasts, e-Learning courses and posts often deal with how to engage young people and how to create culture change. That night in class, not only did I see such changes happening before my eyes, but I also saw how students thirsted to talk about sexual violence prevention. They wanted to join together not just to talk about rape culture in their lives, but also to find solutions. Just as PreventConnect is a community, so too was my classroom.

As my student’s quote above indicates, sometimes we adults can be quick to dismiss the concerns of young people. At times, we disregard their power and wisdom.  I wish you had been there with me in class to experience the fire in their hearts about sexual violence prevention. They live in the rape culture the article about Coachella lamented. And they want to end it. Join PreventConnect and our partners Break the Cycle in facilitating their efforts.