When you talk about sexual assault, you automatically become unpopular. People don’t want to talk to you because they know that they aren’t going to like what you have to say. This feeling of being unpopular is one that I’ve become accustomed to. Five years ago I heard an NPR program on sexual assault, and I’ve been dedicated to bringing an end to this epidemic ever since. Being a sexual assault activist isn’t an easy job, but it’s the one I’ve chosen.
There’s been a lot of national media attention about sexual assault on college campuses and in the workplace, but not about its presence in K-12 schools. With the statistics for college and K-12 being the same, I feel that it’s my duty to educate students on the dangers of sexual assault before they go off to college.
Of all the things I could call my work, easy is not one of them. I’ve encountered my share of roadblocks–people don’t like talking about sexual assault, let alone being talked to by a little girl about sexual assault! There’s a stigma around it, and people feel uncomfortable when I bring it up. Although a touchy subject, I’ve never allowed any person’s negative opinion of my activism get in the way of my work.
In my opinion, the main path to ending this systemic problem is through education. If we all know about the problem, then we can work together and do more to fix it. It isn’t common knowledge that sexual assault starts in K-12 school–primary and secondary schools are often referred to as breeding grounds for college assaults. Whereas college sexual assault education is great, it’s often too late. We need to address the problem at its source, giving age-appropriate education at all levels of schooling. Students need to be taught the facts of Title IX, what constitutes consent, and how to not be a bystander.
However, getting kids educated on these issues isn’t as simple as you might think. And this is something I came to realize as I started getting more and more involved in sexual assault education. After doing some small projects to raise awareness on the issue of sexual assault, I decided I needed to do something big. My idea was to show a documentary, It Happened Here, at all of the county high schools, and have a local expert (someone from SPARCC) come and answer any questions students might have. I encountered one hurdle after another, as I tried to get my program implemented–because of the subject of the material. It was a long road, but it was worth it. I can’t put into words how it feels to know that I was able to convince initially reluctant people of the importance of my work.
In my effort to educate, I faced people who had very negative reactions to what I was doing. People would tell me that it isn’t my place–the schools are doing enough on their own to educate students about sexual assault. But you know what? Teenage girls are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of sexual assault. This statistic, to me, is the reason I feel work like mine is necessary. Schools are absolutely not doing enough on their own.
In the end, I try to turn negativity into positivity. I experienced many people who let me know that they thought what I was doing was wrong, but I never let it get me down. In fact, I did the opposite! I let it inspire me. Someone’s negative comment is an opportunity for me to do what I love–educate about sexual assault. This negativity I’ve encountered along the way has served as my motivation, and it’s paid off. Not only has my county held screenings of the documentary in all their public high schools, but they are also now working on establishing a Title IX education program. This way, students, teachers, and administrators are all educated on how to handle a sexual assault case.
Through my work and the implementation by the Sarasota County school system, my community is becoming a model for the entire nation, and I couldn’t be prouder. So maybe it’s unpopular, but it’s important. My dream is that one day there won’t be a need for this work, but until then, I’m going to keep doing my part to end sexual assault.