Last night I saw the new movie Eighth Grade. I knew it was going to be intense, but I was still not prepared for what I saw. I was physically sickened that a movie about the trials and tribulations of an eighth grader included so much about sexual harassment. I shouldn’t have been shocked. I know the statistics all to well. According to a 2015 study nearly half of all middle and high school students report being sexually harassed. More than 10 percent of high school girls and 3 percent of boys report having been physically forced to have sexual intercourse.
Eighth Grade is all too real. In the movie, 13-year-old Kayla is pressured to take her shirt off by a senior boy in the back seat of his car. After this sexual harassment, Kayla profusely apologies to the boy while he says he was just trying to “help her.” When I watched this, my first thought was, “Kayla is only 13! She isn’t old enough to realize that this isn’t her fault.” This scene and my initial reaction reinforced to me why age appropriate consent and sexual harassment and assault education is so important. If Kayla had been taught what constitutes consent and the facts of sexual harassment and assault, she would have known that what happened to her in the back seat of that senior boy’s car was not her fault or something she should be apologizing for.
Just like when I was in eighth grade and decided I wanted to take control of this issue and educate others after listening to an NPR story on the issue, I am inspired again. This movie has shown me that this issue is just as serious and prevalent for middle schoolers as it is for high school and college students. I hope that through this movie, adults and students can see that this problem exists in all schools and that the damage it causes is widespread. We have to work together to fix it. Not talking about it doesn’t make the problem go away.
With EMPOWERU, I work to empower students by starting this important and much-needed discussion on sexual assault and harassment. I teach students the facts of the issue, what constitutes consent, rights under Title IX, and how to be a helpful bystander. Through this education, students of all ages will know what to do if something like what happened to Kayla in the movie happens to them. And, if they see it happening, they will know how to be a helpful bystander.
I partnered with the national non-profit Stop Sexual Assault in Schools (SSAIS) a few years ago and helped produce the video Sexual Harassment: Not in Our School! Using this educational video and support materials, I have developed an educational program for Sarasota County K-12 schools that will educate over 40,000 students, teachers, and administrators on the facts of the issue, what constitutes consent, rights under Title IX, how to file a complaint, how to work with your school, and how to be a helpful bystander. I want to help other schools and organizations nationwide adopt this program. The video and support materials are FREE to anyone who wants them by logging on to www.ssais.org/video.
Unfortunately, this type of verbal harassment that Kayla experiences in the movie is rampant in middle schools and high schools across the country. It is only through education that we have a chance at combatting this systemic problem. My goal is that the next movie on eighth graders can be an inspirational one, with sexual assault and harassment completely out of the picture. You can help me by going to see Eighth Grade and then watch the SSAIS video and share it with everyone you know or host a screening at your school or organization.