Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Do you know SAAM?

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Part 1

Sexual violence will impact the life of someone you know.  You, yourself, might be the victim of sexual violence.  Almost 1 in 5 women in the United States report being raped at some point in their lives. Almost 5% of women and men living in the United States have experienced sexual violence other than rape.  The data when broken into age groups is even more distressing.

A 2011 survey conducted by the CDC found that 11.8% of girls and 4.5% of boys in grades 9-12 reported being forced into sexual intercourse at some time in their lives.  Of female rape victims, 42.2% were raped before they reached age 18.  This means that anyone working with teens is likely to be interacting with a victim of sexual violence. Even more traumatic than the violence itself is the fact that the majority of rapes are committed by people the victims know; 51.1% of female rape victims report being raped by an intimate partner; 40.8% by an acquaintance, male victims of rape have similar statistics with 52.4% reporting rape by acquaintance.  So how do you address these very sensitive issues with your teens?

Talk to Them (and Their Parents)
Ensuring that adults understand characteristics of healthy sexuality and sexual development in children allows parents and those working with youth to recognize risks and challenge negative messages.  Parents, you need to discuss sexuality with your children in an age-appropriate manner.  There is no way to completely limit your child's access to the Internet, experience of their peers, or society. According to Internet Safety 101, 7 out of 10 youth have accidentally stumbled across pornographic images or videos while surfing the web. One third of youth who view pornography online are doing so intentionally.  Bottom line: your sons and daughters will be exposed to sexually explicit material.

Sexuality is more than just sex, it encompasses attitude, values, emotions, and interactions and is shaped by both society and culture.  Talking about sexuality with youth can be uncomfortable, but is necessary to discourage child sexual abuse and to fight negative messages about sexuality the permeate the media.  Information on healthy childhood sexual development can be found here.  The National Sexual Violence Resource Center has wonderful resources on sexual development and talking to your kids.

Now, librarians and teachers are often put in a difficult position since many parents are not comfortable with someone else "instructing" their teens in issues of sexuality.  This is the point where it is imperative that you engage with the parents of your teens to encourage them to open lines of communication.  If a parent is not involved in a teen's life, then (in my opinion) your interaction with the teen comes down to a judgement call.  Maybe you are the only person in their life who has ever talked to them about healthy relationships, beneficial boundaries and preventing sexual violence.  Personally, I'd rather get in trouble with a parent for spreading a positive message than perpetuate a cycle of silence and misinformation.

Be prepared for some awkward questions and, possibly, to blush yourself; but the conversation needs to happen. The sad fact is that many of your teens will be victims, or perpetrators, of sexual violence at some point in their lives.  Talking about healthy sexuality, boundaries and healthy relationships is key to helping past victims heal as well as working to prevent future victims of sexual violence.

Some resources: