Sunday, May 19, 2013


I'll be taking a blogging vacation from May 20 thru June 1.  Blogging will resume (with better regularity - I promise!) in June.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Tough Conversations: Bystander Complacency and Responsibility

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil
is that good men [and women] do nothing.
- Edmond Burke

Bystander Complacency, also called known as the Bystander Effect or the Genovese Syndrome by social psychiatrists, occurs when individuals witness a crime but do not offer the victim any help.  There is a direct relationship between the number of witnesses to a crime and a lack of response by individuals - the larger the number of bystanders, the less likely anyone is to intervene or report the crime.  Two recent cases of bystander complacency involve a 2-year-old in China, Wang Yue,  who was struck by a car in 2011 and left in the street as at least 18 people walked past and the 2009 gang rape of a 15-year-old outside a school dance which was witnessed by at least 20 people.
The basic psychology of  bystander complacency is the result of a perceived diffusion of responsibility.  Witnesses of a crime don't see anyone else intervening or calling for help, so they assume that lack of response is the correct response.  It is time to take responsibility for your actions, even if those actions are a lack of taking action.

It is true that you cannot control the actions of the people around you, but you can control your response to their actions.  Is it scary? Yes. But you will feel so much better knowing that you did not stand by and let something awful happen.  The above examples are extreme, but bystander complacency occurs when you watch someone get ridiculed and do nothing, or witness a crime and fail to notify authorities.  When you see someone being bullied and you don't call out the aggressor or notify an adult you are just as responsible as the bully.

Does taking responsibility mean putting yourself in danger? No. If you are at a party and you observe some guys messing with a girl who seems inebriated, you don't necessarily need to put yourself between the aggressors and the victim.  You can find an adult, or you can notify authorities.  If you are worried about getting in trouble for underage drinking or illegal drug use, leave the party and make an anonymous phone call to the police.  Honestly, which is worse: getting in trouble for being a teenager or preventing a rape, physical abuse or psychological damage?

Somebody has to be the "somebody else" who takes action.

Need help learning to Take a Stand?
Assertive Advocacy
Overcoming the Bystander Effect
Staying Safe While Helping Others
Stop Bullying
Take a Stand!
We Are All Bystanders

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Art-A-Love-It Challenge

This summer, I am trying to run several passive programs to reach teens that are too busy (or otherwise unable) to attend active programs at the library.  Since art is a big part of my life, I decided to create the Art-A-Love-It Challenge to encourage teens to begin to notice and appreciate the beauty in their own communities.

What You Need
Mini-fliers with information
Email that someone checks regularly
Tumblr account

How It Works
Each week has a new "inspiration word" to focus the teens' art search.  Teens will keep their eyes peeled for something that matches the theme then snap a photo and email it to a predetermined email address.  Once the photos have been approved (no nudity, gang signs etc) the photos will be loaded onto our Art-A-Love-It Tumblr so the world can view the teens' photos.

My "inspiration words" this year are: LIQUID, GREEN, MOVEMENT, NATURAL, LIGHT, LOVE, REBELLION, OLD, TRANSITION and SUMMER.  These words are deliberately vague and open to interpretation; I want teens to think outside the box. :)

Beyond Digital
Depending on the number of pictures submitted, I may print several of the images and post them in the teen area.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Tough Conversations: What is Consent?

In the last several months there have been three rape cases that have grabbed worldwide headlines: Stueben villeAudrie Pott, and Rehtaeh Parsons.  Each of these cases included the following: incapacitated teenage girl, group of teenage boys (probably themselves impaired by alcohol or drugs), social media, complacency of bystanders.  In two of these cases, Audrie Pott and Rehtaeh Parsons, the victims eventually committed suicide after enduring months of torment from their peers.  Clearly it is time to talk to our teens about consent.

What is Consent?
According to the West's Encyclopedia of American Law consent is: Voluntary Acquiescence to the proposal of another; the act or result of reaching an accord; a concurrence of minds; actual willingness that an act or an infringement of an interest shall occur. Consent is an act of reason and deliberation. A person who possesses and exercises sufficient mental capacity to make an intelligent decision demonstrates consent by performing an act recommended by another. Consent assumes a physical power to act and a reflective, determined, and unencumbered exertion of these powers. It is an act unaffected by Fraud, duress, or sometimes even mistake when these factors are not the reason for the consent...In the context of rape, submission due to apprehension or terror is not real consent.
Yale College's website uses the following definition for Sexual Consent: Sexual activity requires consent, which is defined as clear, unambiguous, and voluntary agreement between the participants to engage in specific sexual activity. Consent cannot be inferred from the absence of a "no"; a clear "yes," verbal or otherwise, is necessary. Although consent does not need to be verbal, verbal communication is the most reliable form of asking for and gauging consent, and individuals are thus urged to seek consent in verbal form. Talking with sexual partners about desires and limits may seem awkward, but serves as the basis for positive sexual experiences shaped by mutual willingness and respect.  Consent cannot be obtained from someone who is asleep or otherwise mentally or physically incapacitated, whether due to alcohol, drugs, or some other condition. Consent cannot be obtained by threat, coercion, or force. Agreement given under such conditions does not constitute consent.  Consent must be clear and unambiguous for each participant throughout any sexual encounter. Consent to some sexual acts does not imply consent to others, nor does past consent to a given act imply ongoing or future consent. Consent can be revoked at any time. For all of these reasons, sexual partners must evaluate consent in an ongoing fashion and should communicate clearly with each other throughout any sexual encounter.

What does this mean for teens?
  • If alcohol IN ANY AMOUNT or drugs of ANY KIND are involved CONSENT CANNOT BE GIVEN.  Any sexual activity that occurs is assault or rape.
  • If someone is ASLEEP, PASSED OUT, or otherwise UNCONSCIOUS, consent CANNOT BE GIVEN.  Any sexual activity that occurs is assault or rape.
  • UNLESS you get a clear, definitive and un-coerced verbal "yes" then assume that you DO NOT HAVE CONSENT and any sexual activity that occurs is assault or rape.
Sexual consent is like pregnancy, there is no grey area - you either have consent or
your are committing a crime and subjecting someone to sexual assault and/or rape.

Talk to your teens.  It may be an uncomfortable or embarrassing conversation, but it is one that needs to happen.  Clearly there is a disconnect between the conversations we, as a society, and the realities that our teens are facing daily.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

TLA 2013 Panel: Teen Book Festivals 101

Jen Bigheart, Natasha Benway and myself presented Teen Book Festivals 101 at TLA 2013 in Fort
Worth, TX.  As promised here is the link to a PDF of the outline here as well as a PDF of the powerpoint presentation.

Please feel free to contact any of us with questions.

Rebecca Denham
lunanshee at gmail dot com

Jen Bigheart
jenbigheart at gmail dot com

Natasha Benway
natasha.benway at countylibrary dot org

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

I'm taking a break from blogging this week.  Will be back in the saddle next week, so stay tuned!