Trauma-to-Prison Pipeline: How Schools Are Reinforcing the Cycle of Mass Incarceration

Imagine this: your child goes to school, maybe they’re having a bad day and out of frustration talk back to a teacher, who sends them to the principal’s office where they’re suspended for three days. They become angry and get into a fight. Instead of another suspension, your child enters the juvenile justice system, drops out of school, and falls into a cycle of incarceration.

For many students, this is a reality. An episode of “acting out” as a child can lead to suspension, and eventually down a path of captivity. Students who are suspended more likely to encounter justice system involvement and are at a higher risk of  academic failure and dropping out of school altogether.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race in Virginia public schools. However, during 2014-15, African American students were 3.6 times more likely than white students to be suspended. Additionally, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibit discrimination based on disability in Virginia public schools, yet in 2014-15, students with disabilities were 2.4 times more likely than students without disabilities to be suspended.1

Part of the problem? Students of color are disproportionately disciplined for subjective offenses, such as “disrespect”, compared with white students. However, the rates at which African-American and white students “act out” are essentially equal. This disparity among Black and white students may also be a factor in the mass incarceration of Black people; being thrown into cells as juveniles, becoming a part of the criminal legal system, and increasing their chances of being arrested and convicted again in the future.

The US Department of Education suggests around 92,000 students were arrested during the 2011-2012 school year. This number has increased especially due to the use of School Resource Officers (SROs). Instead of being used to ensure the safety of students while in the school setting, more and more SROs are becoming part of the discipline system in schools.

Far too often, the root of the problematic disciplinary behavior is not addressed. What’s triggering the behavior: anxiety? Hunger? Problems at home? Trauma? Harsh disciplinary reactions to youth who are seeking attention and “acting out” may escalate and worsen the situation, creating a cycle of greater student distress and harsher and harsher disciplinary actions.

So how can we stop this cycle and create a new narrative? We can start by taking a lesson from Robert W. Coleman Elementary School in Baltimore, Maryland which has begun offering their students meditation as a way to address problematic behavior. The Mindful Moment Room encourages students to breathe, meditate, and talk through what happened, allowing the student an opportunity to calm and re-center themselves.

Combined with their after-school program, Holistic Me, which allows students to practice mindfulness and yoga, the elementary school has not had a single suspension since the start of the 2015-2016 school year.

child-meditatesImage source: http://www.publicnewsservice.org/2016-03-10/juvenile-justice/juvenile-justice-reform-group-wants-nd-youth-prisons-closed/a50763-1

Other ideas for change?

  • End suspension for children younger than second grade;
  • No referrals for children under 13 to police for minor offenses;
  • Focus on forming relationships between school staff, giving students an opportunity to resolve problems by talking about them;
  • Schools, not police, deal with students’ nonviolent infractions;
  • Allow opportunities for students to get involved in their communities;
  • Teach students to be co-teachers and let them run sessions such as meditation and yoga

Several bills to address Virginia’s School-to-Prison-Pipeline are currently being considered in the Virginia General Assembly, including the following bills supported by the Action Alliance. Contact your legislator today to ask them support these bills:

  • SB 997 (Sen. Stanley) & HB 1536 (Del. Richard Bell) –Prohibits students in preschool through grade five from being suspended or expelled except for drug offenses, firearm offenses, or certain criminal acts.
  • SB 995 (Sen. Stanley) & HB 1534 (Del. Richard Bell) – Reduces the maximum length of a long-term suspension from 364 calendar days to 45 school days. The bill prohibits a long-term suspension from extending beyond the current grading period unless aggravating circumstances exist and prohibits a long-term suspension from extending beyond the current school year.
  • SB 996 (Sen. Stanley) & HB 1535 (Del. Richard Bell) –Public schools; student discipline. Provides that no student shall receive a long-term suspension or expulsion for disruptive behavior unless such behavior involves intentional physical injury or credible threat of physical injury to another person.

Have more ideas to end the cycle? Make sure to add them in the comments below!


Ki’ara Montgomery is a Senior at Virginia Commonwealth University with plans to graduate in May 2017. She is obtaining a bachelor’s degree in public relations, and minors in business and gender, sexuality, and women’s studies. While in school, she has had opportunities with VCU AmeriCorps, Culture4MyKids, VCU School of Education, and the Richmond Raiders. She is currently interning with the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance with a focus in development, policy, and communications.

1 “Suspended Progress”, JustChildren Program Legal Aid Justice Center, May 2016. Retrieved 1/10/17 https://www.justice4all.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Suspended-Progress-Report.pdf

Featured image source: http://www.publicnewsservice.org/2016-03-10/juvenile-justice/juvenile-justice-reform-group-wants-nd-youth-prisons-closed/a50763-1

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This article is part of the Action Alliance’s blog series on Virginia’s Trauma-to-Prison-Pipeline.

The Trauma-to-Prison-Pipeline (aka “School-to-Prison-Pipeline”) fails young people who are experiencing high levels of toxic stress and/or trauma by responding in overly punitive ways to youth who exhibit normal reactions to trauma and toxic stress.

Youth of color and youth with disabilities are particularly targeted for disproportionately high levels of heavy-handed, punitive responses to vague and subjective infractions in school, such as “defiance of authority”, or “classroom disruption”. Viewed from a trauma-informed lens, these same behaviors may signal youth who are suffering and struggling with ongoing effects of trauma.

 The Action Alliance believes that everyone deserves racially equitable responses that are compassionate and trauma-informed, and which build individual and community assets.


Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call 804.377.0335. 

Safety and Justice for All: Inside the Action Alliance’s Unique New Resource to Address Campus Gender-Based Violence

 

All college students have the right to learn and live in an educational environment where they are safe and treated equally. This is the overarching spirit of federal and state legislation governing campus gender-based violence response. It is also a core belief of the Action Alliance. The presence of sexual violence, dating/domestic violence, and stalking threatens this right. Institutional and societal oppressions compound the negative effects of violence on students of color and other marginalized groups.

Over the past 5 years, the Action Alliance has consistently heard from Virginia campuses that they need more resources to effectively address the complex maze of campus gender-based violence regulations. Community Sexual and Domestic Violence Agencies (SDVAs) have said they want to effectively support student survivors and work with campuses on prevention initiatives, but do not always have access to the campus-specific information or resources to do so. Based on these conversations, Action Alliance staff members and I began work on a resource to fulfill those needs. We focused on three specific areas: institution-wide trauma-informed responses, racial justice oriented systems and responses, and concrete examples of institutions that had implemented successful policies and programs.

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Safety and Justice for All: Best Practices for Virginia Campuses Addressing Gender-Based Violence is the culmination of this work. As there are already numerous best practices guides and model policies available, we wanted to make a unique contribution to existing resources. Our guide specifically focuses on addressing gender-based violence in trauma-informed and racial justice oriented ways. It is also one of the few guides that includes concrete examples of how institutions and organizations have implemented recommendations. The examples are critical because they help campus and community professionals begin conversations on how to implement the recommendations in their own context.

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We created two versions of Safety and Justice for All; one general version and one specific to community colleges. The structure of the guides is the same and essence of the recommendations are the same; however, the community college edition addresses the unique context of community colleges. We adapted the wording of several recommendations to address community-college specific concerns and also utilized community college examples whenever possible. To our knowledge, this is the only gender-based violence best practice guide specific to community colleges.

In both guides, we present key recommendations for six groups: administrators; advocates; faculty and other instructional employees; Title IX coordinators and campus disciplinary professionals; campus law enforcement and security officers; and prevention specialists. The guides include information for both campus and community SDVA professionals and highlight the importance of dynamic and mutually beneficial partnerships between campuses and community SDVAs.

Examples for Prevention Specialists-lower res.jpgWhile we designed the guides specifically for Virginia, we believe they can also be useful for campus and community agencies in any state. We hope you find these guides helpful and that they inspire you to keep working for change. Together, we can make sure there is truly safety and justice for all students on our campuses and in our communities.

Jen Underwood wrote Safety and Justice for All: Best Practices for Addressing Campus Gender-Based Violence. She is a campus gender-based violence consultant and is also a PhD student at Virginia Commonwealth University studying campus gender-based violence prevention.

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Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call.

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

Community Level Prevention – A Vision for Long-term Success

Why Focus On Community Level Prevention?

Historically, the solution to end violence is focused on a top-down approach to solving violence. Communities that face oppression have not been a part of the conversations and actions to make change in their communities. The Prevention Team at the Action Alliance, is working hard to make sure that their experiences inform our anti-oppression work to end sexual and intimate partner violence.   Sexism, Racism, and overall rape culture are some mechanisms of oppression that are weaved in to the thread of society and are threats to the health of many individuals. It is important to address and identify these mechanisms that continue to oppress these populations because this oppression is a factor in what perpetuates violence.

 

Social Determinants of Health

The Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) are the conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live, and age, and the wider set of forces and systems shaping the conditions of daily life. These forces and systems include economic policies and systems, development agendas, social norms, social policies and political systems (World Health Organization, 2016).

 

THRIVE-the Tools for Health and Resilience in Vulnerable Environments

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Image credit: /www.preventioninstitute.org/tools/

Developed by the Prevention Institute, THRIVE is a tool that have proven to be valuable in cultivating an understanding among stakeholders and enables communities to determine how to improve health and safety, and promote health equity.

It is a framework for understanding how structural drivers, such as racism, play out at the community level in terms of the social-cultural, physical/built, and economic/ educational environments. We call these community-level indicators the community determinants of health. In addition to being a framework, THRIVE is also a tool for engaging community members and practitioners in assessing the status of community determinants, prioritizing them, and taking action to change them in order to improve health, safety, and health equity.

The Prevention Summit is a 1-day prevention training focused on advancing community-level strategies to prevent sexual and intimate partner violence in Virginia. This training will utilize the World Health Organization’s Social Determinants of Health framework in order to explore both the conditions contributing to violence and successful multidisciplinary approaches to achieving community health and wellness in communities that have various needs but historically have barriers to accessing places at the decision making table. Trainers will draw from movements in other states and public health arenas while sharing best-practices and strategies for creating lasting community and societal level impacts in our work to end violence.

Register now for our Prevention Summit on October 19! Click here for details.

Leslie Conway is the Prevention Coordinator for the state of Virginia. Prior to working at the Action Alliance, Leslie gained experience coordinating primary prevention initiatives at a local program and developing a peer educator program in the local high school and faith community. As someone who understands the lasting consequences of witnessing the trauma that comes with domestic violence, she is committed to finding ways to resist and prevent all forms of violence.

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Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call.

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

Experiencing DO YOU

Walking into a room for the first time, not knowing what to expect or who will be there—these are feelings participants have used to describe what it is like–annoyed, angry, and tired [from being in school all day]. Yet, because they were either court-ordered, referred by the school or based on assessment results, made to attend, they were one of the first participants of the Action Alliances new teen campaign: DO YOU, being held at OPTIONS in Culpeper, Virginia.

OPTIONS is a program designed to serve less serious offenders in an effort to reach teens before they become entangled in such things as negative peer relationships, substance abuse, and criminal activity . In 2013, OPTIONS was selected as one of our pilot sites to evaluate the effectiveness of DO YOU, a prevention initiative to address youth violence by confronting its root causes and enhancing protective factors to promote positive development and healthy relationships using creative expression. There are two components to DO YOU.  The first phase, consists of 10 sessions in small, similar gender groups of 8-10 teens. The second phase is DO SOMETHING which is a cumulative community level strategy designed and executed by the teen group members.

The success of DO YOU is so reliant on the facilitator/participant relationship, that the Action Alliance devotes two full days to train facilitators interested in implementing this program.

Wanda Anderson, the facilitator at OPTIONS was one of the first facilitators to become trained and certified.

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As the one at OPTIONS who is called on when youth are “having a hard time” adjusting to family or school life, Wanda knows firsthand how important it is to develop this relationship right from the start. Knowing the resistance she would face, Wanda set the tone for group participation by providing snacks and drinks, playing upbeat music and displaying a colorful array of art materials used throughout the program to illicit some curiosity about what this group will entail. As the teens relaxed their defenses a bit to enjoy the snacks, Wanda engaged them in light-hearted conversation while also talking up the program to alleviate some of their worries.

Once everyone arrived and it was time for the first session to begin, the teens were engaged in a group ice breaker activity by completing such statements as:

  • A strength or talent I bring to this group is…
  • Something I’ve always wanted to try is…
  • My all-time favorite movie is…
  • Something I wish people knew about me is…

Wanda further connected with each participant by validating their responses, asking open ended questions and sharing some of her own experiences- including some of her favorite parts of a movie mentioned. Initial feelings of discomfort were soon replaced by laughter echoed throughout the room.

20130207_180537The teens were more engaged and after completing the YOU-niverse activity, became more comfortable with each other based on commonalities that have been presented through volunteer sharing. What could initially be regarded as inhibition and resistance over the course of a couple of hours was turned into “connectedness” and “thought provoking and sometimes difficult” conversations that continued for the remainder of their time together in DO YOU.

After completing both phases of DO YOU, the teens described their experience as fun, having changed how they communicate with others and the realization that they were not the only ones dealing with stuff. While our male identified participants in other pilots needed a little more encouragement to engage in the art process, this group, which was comprised of self-identified females, all loved working in their ‘zines—. This was evident as they each took pride in showing off their finished product at an art exhibit held as part of their DO SOMETHING event. When I asked the teens about their facilitator, Wanda, the teens had nothing but good things to say. However, it was the response from one particular teen that defines, to me, what it means to be a great facilitator: ” Mrs. Wanda noticed things about me, like…if I changed my hair….or had on a different pair of shoes…it’s like…she saw me.”

20130207_180809When I asked Wanda about DO YOU, she immediately responded “It’s awesome! The teens are awesome!” She stated that after participating in DO YOU many friendships have developed-some positive and some negative, and, she adds, some of the teens still stay in touch with her and she is amazed to see the growth. She stated, ” they all seemed more confident and ready to tackle whatever lies in front of them.”

I have no doubt that this is, in large part, because of the relationship that was formed on day one with the facilitator. A relationship that was grounded in respect, honesty, and trust.

If you are interested in attending the next DO YOU Facilitator Certification Training being held in July 2016, please visit our website:  DO YOU Training. For more information regarding DO YOU contact Leslie Conway at lconway@vsdvalliance.org

Leslie Conway is the Prevention Coordinator for the state of Virginia. Prior to working at the Action Alliance, Leslie gained experience coordinating primary prevention initiatives at a local program and developing a peer educator program in the local high school and faith community. As someone who understands the lasting consequences of witnessing the trauma that comes with domestic violence, she is committed to finding ways to resist and prevent all forms of violence.

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Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call.

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

Meet Jonathan Yglesias

Why do you do this Anti-Violence work?
I grew up with violence so not so surprisingly, anti violence folks – people who want to elevate and validate the voice of survivors and reject oppression – are my people. I am fortunate to be in a movement among my people working for the liberation and validation of all people.

What would you like to learn your first year on your new job? 
I am rejoining the Action Alliance and so am fortunate to be coming into this job already knowing a lot about the work and the people. But what I am most looking forward to learning in this new capacity is how to contribute to the movement and evolution of this agency in particular from a management role. I think I have a lot (A LOT) to learn from the visionary brains that I will be working alongside in this new role and I am looking forward to the inevitable growth and strain (a “feel the burn”, good, exercise kinda strain) that this role will produce in me.

What is the most incredible view you’ve ever seen?
I lived in Washington State for 3 years and saw a lot of beautiful sights and things all around the pacific northwest. My favorite view though, is the seeing the Appalachians from the seat of a plane. It is a welcome-home sight that I will always be grateful to see. It touches me in a way that is indescribable.

What is the latest book you’ve read and would you recommend it?
I recently read a collection of short fictions and wonders called “Fragile Things” by Neil Gaiman. I loved him growing up but I am not sure that I would suggest this particular series of stories. I found myself asking “wait, that is it?” at the end of each story.

I am guessing my tastes have evolved a bit since reading him in my youth.

What are the 3 things you love about Virginia?

    • The people.
    • The Fauna: Virginia is where the flora and fauna of the North and South meet – we have it all.
    • The history: Virginia’s rich history that has given rise to innovative and strong social justice and resistance movements in various pockets around the state.

If you had one box for all your stuff, what would you put in it?
My animals, a few books, and random household knick-knacks that hold sentimental value.

brian

supersprowtz.wordpress.com

If you were a vegetable what would you be? Why?
Broccoli. I am tall, big headed, and when I grow my hair out – it is broccoli like. A good friend of mine, who is now a successful graphic designer has actually illustrated me (and our friends) as vegetables multiple times. I am always the broccoli. Without a doubt.

Lastly, what excites you most about your new job at the Action Alliance?
I am so happy to be working alongside such fierce, beautiful humans who you can not help but learn from and grow with – I am most excited about this group of people.

Jonathan Yglesias is the Programs and Services Manager at the Action Alliance. He has worked in prevention for various agencies and is a resource nationally for prevention and advocacy. 

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Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call.

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

Raising My Daughters In An Unmuted Society (or Somebody’s Always Got Somethin’ To Say)

As the mother of two daughters I sometimes struggle with the way things are versus the way things should be when encouraging them to become brave, bold, and confident women. I think about things that could have been most helpful for me as I was navigating the path towards adulthood and want to make this path a little easier for them. One thing that would have been helpful is if I felt I was allowed to express who I was and to be comfortable, loving and accepting of all the aspects of me.

Being raised by a strict, Christian mother, I was taught to believe that my body was something to be kept hidden and at times to even be ashamed of. If I dared to push the boundaries and show any skin, wearing a tank top or shorts too high above the knees, I would be ridiculed or referred to by other unflattering terms where I was accused of seeking attention. It was always confusing for me though because regardless of the clothes I had on, I would still receive that unsolicited attention.  It was not until my college years that I realized I liked the way I looked in certain clothing choices and that was okay.

So now, I am raising my own daughters, who are eleven years apart in age, and let me just say, that especially for my oldest, some of her clothing choices would make the little old church ladies I grew up around turn over in their graves! While she is very mindful and respectful of the thoughts of her elders when she is in their presence at church or other functions, she makes certain to never lose her identity in what she chooses to wear. And I embrace that. Do I sometimes hear the gasps from others who would question me as a mother by “allowing her to walk out the house dressed like that”? Certainly. And if I am given the opportunity, I take the time to do a little educating.

By being in this work, but more importantly, by knowing who my daughter is, I know that the thoughts that enter the mind of anyone who might use the way one chooses to dress as justification to pass judgement, harass or excuse sexual violence, are not the thoughts that can put an end to it. Sometimes, I have to put my own thoughts in check because of the societal noise that exists; those thoughts do not empower women and girls to be true to their authentic selves.

mountain bridge

credit: indulgy.com

In my primary prevention work, I often refer to the metaphor of traveling upstream to do some major bridge repair work. But as I talk about repairing this bridge, I had not given much consideration to the tools one must carry in their backpack. Imagine that the bridge that is encountered is located atop this mountain with a heavy stream of water flowing down. In order for me to even reach this bridge, I have to first climb this mountain, and move past all those voices that tell me who I am supposed to be as a Christian woman. I have to put on my noise canceling headphones.

I have to consider this as I raise my own daughters. I am optimistic that the tools my youngest daughter will have to carry in her backpack will look much different than the ones I have had to carry. I am optimistic that her backpack will be light and the only thing she hears coming from her headphones is the harmony that comes when women and girls are loved, respected and treated as equal. The harmony that comes when the noise that attempts to diminish who they were created to be, cannot and will not prosper.

Leslie Conway is the Prevention Coordinator for the Action Alliance and is proud to be a mother, daughter, and sister, working to prevent violence against women and girls.

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Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call804.377.0335.

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

Let’s Talk About Sex(ual) Coercion

“He said we’d be so much happier if we had a baby…”
“I thought we were using a condom but he took it off without telling me…”

If you heard the former statements, would they raise a red flag to you? Advocates spend a lot of time talking about relationship red flags. What about the red flags that are directly related to a survivor’s sexual health and reproductive well-being?

I would like to encourage every advocate to start listening for red flags related to sexual and reproductive coercion. Sexual and reproductive coercion are behaviors aimed at maintaining power and control over a current or former dating partner that impact one’s sexual and reproductive health.

What does that really look like?

RepoSexCoerc_Toolkit

From the Action Alliance’s Reproductive and Sexual Coercion: A Toolkit for Sexual & Domestic Violence Advocates, sexual coercion encompasses a range of nonphysical behaviors – verbal pressure, threats, lies – that an abuser may use to have sexual contact with a person who expressed that they did not want to engage in sexual activity. Reproductive coercion refers to a range of behaviors that interfere with contraception use and pregnancy, including birth control sabotage (active interference with contraceptive methods), pregnancy pressure (behavior intended to pressure a partner to become pregnant when they do not wish to become pregnant), and pregnancy coercion (forcing a partner to comply with the abuser’s wishes regarding the decision to terminate or continue a pregnancy).

In a review of 40 years of literature, Ann Coker (2007) found significant associations between intimate partner violence, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and unwanted pregnancy. This isn’t particularly surprising; if a person doesn’t feel safe enough to negotiate condom and contraception use with their partner, they are more likely to be exposed to STIs or experience unwanted pregnancy than a person who can make these decisions with their partner.

Screening clients for coercion is just one of the many ways that sexual and domestic violence agencies (SDVAs) can ensure that they are better meeting the needs of all survivors. In preparation for implementing any form of screening, advocates should be trained and prepared to discuss sexual and reproductive health with survivors; SDVAs should take time to thoughtfully consider intake procedures, referral protocols, and shelter procedures; and SDVAs must take time to form relationships with reproductive health providers in their communities in order to ensure that survivors have access to necessary reproductive health services.

While there are many considerations that should be taken before implementing a screening process, the overall benefit to survivors is immeasurable. A person’s ability to make decisions about their own sexual and reproductive health has an impact on their long-term health and overall quality of life. Screening clients for sexual and reproductive coercion may open the door to a form of empowerment that a survivor had not experienced before.

If you’re interested in learning more, the Action Alliance is hosting a Sexual and Reproductive Coercion Continuing Advocacy Training on February 25, 2016. Click here for more information.

Kristen Pritchard is the Data and Technology Specialist at the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance, Virginia’s leading voice on sexual and domestic violence. She received her B.S. in Psychology and Human Services from Old Dominion University in 2012 and her Master of Social Work from the Virginia Commonwealth University in 2015. Kristen travels across the state of Virginia to provide training and technical assistance to organizations on various issues such as reproductive coercion, healthy sexuality, and trauma-informed advocacy.

Kristen can be reached at kpritchard@vsdvalliance.org.

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Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call 804.377.0335. 

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

“No one does that”: Teens and the challenge of teaching consent

 

“That’s not realistic. No one does that,” assessed my (then) 14 year old daughter when she previewed the rough cut of Ask. Listen. Respect., the Action Alliance’s new video to teach teens about consent.

Her comment stung, but she had it exactly right.

We had developed the 1-minute video to be the centerpiece of a new statewide sexual violence prevention messaging campaign. The object: illustrate to young teens a set of concrete examples for how to ask for consent, what enthusiastic verbal consent looks like, and how to respond to “no” respectfully.

The Action Alliance prevention team had decided to focus on consent and negotiation after collaborating with the brilliant minds at Force: Upsetting Rape Culture, who assisted us in conducting a field scan. While the consultants at Force conducted online listening experiments and analyzed the data, we reviewed best practices, consulted with other prevention experts, and held discussion groups with young teens to learn about their lives. The void became clear. Negotiation and consent, two essential building blocks of healthy relationships and (in later, more mature relationships) joyous sexuality, were concepts unfamiliar to young teens.

During the middle and high school years, teens experiment with new identities and new relationships. Every relationship, no matter now short or casual, is a rich learning opportunity that lays the groundwork for future adult relationships. And yet, teaching and talking about the skills necessary to engage in negotiation and ask for consent rarely happens. In my daughter’s words: no one does that.

When we asked middle school boys what consent means, here’s what they said:

  • “I’ve never heard that word, like, in a relationship.”
  • “It’s like, you have to have parent’s consent to order that movie, so like permission?”
  • “Talk about it?”
  • “I don’t know I’m as confused as you!”

Perhaps even more concerning: teen boys explained that their friend/partner saying “no” to them was something they took personally. A rejection.

The Ask. Listen. Respect. video speaks simply and directly to young teens. It shows two teens (about 14 years old) practicing consent. They negotiate how they spend time together (“Want to watch a movie”? “Shoot hoops?”), each hearing a “yes” or a “no” respectfully. In the final scene, one teen asks if the other would like to kiss, and the teen responds with an enthusiastic “yes”. As they lean toward one another, the camera pans behind a tree, the scene ends, and the teens voice over: “Don’t worry about it being awkward, just say what you want…and ask first”.

Parent discussion guide COVER

photo from DO YOU discussion guide

We developed two discussion guides to accompany the video and promote conversations about respect, boundaries, and consent: one for parents, the other for facilitators of teen groups. All materials now live on our brand new Teach Consent microsite to make the materials most accessible to parents and facilitators.

The practices of consent and negotiation are essential to equitable, fulfilling relationships, regardless of a person’s age, regardless whether the relationship is romantic or platonic. Where physical intimacy is involved, these skills provide healthy counterweights to our culture’s pervasive narratives that intimacy “just happens”, and that coercion is sexy, while clear communication is not.

Teaching consent debunks the notion that we all magically just know what our partner wants, what feels good, what turns them on.

Where teens are involved, teaching consent and negotiation gives them tools to build empathy, deepen connection and trust, and helps prepare them to be responsible, respectful partners in future relationships.

To be clear: changing individual knowledge and behavior is one piece in the complex and layered puzzle of preventing sexual violence. Larger oppressive cultural forces related to power and agency, for example, shape individual experiences and choices. And while communication and negotiation are everyone’s responsibility, if a person chooses to move forward without getting clear consent from their partner, what follows may veer quickly into coercion and/or assault. The responsibility then lies solely with the person who advances. No one else’s.

Consent is the non-negotiable, bare minimum we should expect from our partners when it comes to physical intimacy. As such, it is one of the first and most essential concepts that should be taught. Precisely because it seems so foreign to teens at an age when they are experimenting with how to relate to their peers, precisely because many teens are entering into their first romantic relationships which set the tones for future relationships. Precisely because, at least at this point in our cultural evolution, “no one does that”.

 

Kate McCord is the Communications Director for the Action Alliance, a member of the Action Alliance prevention team, and a proud, grateful (and sometimes harried) mama of two truly incredible kids.

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Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call804.377.0335

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

 

Helping Fund a Healthy Future

Building healthy futures for our youth is one of the most important directives of families, communities and countries. Sexual and domestic violence, child abuse, stalking and dating violence are all elements that impact youth the most and create immense problems with successful development, building resiliency, transforming to active and healthy adults, and managing successful relationships. Yet, prevention programs are the least funded. Programs designed to help our youth learn not to hurt each other, not to abuse but instead learn to accept each other, engage in relationships with respect and compassion are lacking as a consistent part of education because there is little funding dedicated to funding prevention programs and initiatives. Virginia’s Sexual and Domestic and Violence Advocacy Agencies are engaged in a wide variety of prevention efforts across the state – and they are struggling to fund those initiatives.

Every dollar invested in prevention not only changes the lives of individuals, but also saves literally hundreds of dollars in the costs associated with future violence. However, public funding is very limited and less than 1/3 of Virginia’s Sexual and Domestic Violence Advocacy Agencies receive any of these limited funds. The Building Healthy Futures Fund will offer an opportunity for communities to work together to raise private dollars – to benefit everyone.

Here at the Action Alliance, we are trying to fill that void of funding and have created the Building Healthy Futures Fund and created the Peace Begins at Home license plate to help fund the initiative.  The Building Healthy Futures Fund will offer an opportunity for communities to work together to raise private dollars – to benefit everyone.

The Peace Begins at Home special license plates are now available at the DMV website.

peacebeginsathome

Carol Olson is the Development Director at the Action Alliance. She was previously the Director of a local rape crisis center. She has continued to engage in community activism through her work with the Alliance and through radio at WRIR 97.3 FM. 

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Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call 804.377.0335.

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org