Meghan Hanson-Peters: Topic of teen sexual assault is vitally important
Over the weekend I helped facilitate the screening and discussion of the film “Audrie & Daisy,” a documentary that chronicles the aftermath of sexual assault for two female high school students in the United States.
As a high school teacher and mother of a young son, the topic is of vital importance. At no point in time do I want my students or my son to be victims or perpetrators of sexual violence against another person. Sadly, I need only look at statistics from the Bureau of Justice, MESA (Moving to End Sexual Assault), the American Psychological Association and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center to know that my sentiment might be wishful thinking.
So what can I do? What can we do? I imagine that most would agree with me that we do not want any of our children to be the victims of or the perpetrators of sexual violence. When Kristin Bantle invited me to help promote the film with De-Escalation Nation, I had to say “yes.”
The goal of the screening was a focus on community education and prevention. When I introduced myself prior to the film I said, “I am not an expert on sexual assault.” I repeated my lack of expertise after the film as I helped move the discussion along.
I was not there because I have answers. I was there because I was seeking some answers, and I honestly believe in collective thinking as a way forward.
What I heard from some of our audience members this weekend are worth repeating (albeit in paraphrased form as I was not scribing the discussion):
• We need to start having age-appropriate conversations about sex, safety and consent with our kids to let them know they have adults they can turn to (multiple parents and educators).
• Parents need to start opening the door to hard conversations with their kids (high school student).
• We need to better address issues of safety and self-awareness in social situations, especially those in which alcohol is a factor (middle school parent who attended with student).
• We need to do more to address the cyber bullying that happens regularly and the misuse of social media (counselor, parent).
• We need to address victim shaming and victim blaming: “Don’t tell victims what to wear/not wear; tell rapists not to rape” (educator, recent college graduate).
• Adults need to become OK talking about suicide (educator, parent).
• We want to know more about how law enforcement officers are trained to deal with sexual assaults (educator, parent).
• We need to know that boys are sexually assaulted too, and we must address the culture of toxic masculinity that bombards our young men, telling them they have to constantly “man up” (high school student).
• We need to include this film as part of our school district’s health curriculum (law enforcement officer, parent).
The event, for me, was not without missteps. For example, in a comment about how young adults use social media that I made, I may have seemed too unrealistically optimistic in my hopes that it could be used so easily and adeptly for good when, in the film, it was so quickly and tragically used for hate.
Obviously, our children and young adults need education and support in navigating social media. I might even suggest we all could use some extra help on that front.
Additionally, in hindsight, I wish more people came. I am grateful for each and every person that did but, truly, with a topic like this, I want every seat in the house packed. It wasn’t anywhere close to packed.
Efforts to promote it included: meetings with the Parent Information Committee, school administration and a student-run sexual assault prevention group; meetings and communications with coaches and high school staff; an article in this newspaper and promotion on social media; and a pitch at a school-wide assembly on sexual consent the week of the event.
Yes, I know, a Saturday at 2 p.m., and the sun is shining in beautiful Steamboat Springs…well, sunshine or not, we will do this again next semester.
The topic, unfortunately, will still be an imperative. So help me out please, Routt County. Send me an email or post a comment and give me some feedback.
What can we do to help promote it better? What kinds of subtopics would you want addressed? What are some things we overlooked with this event? Who do we need to include? What times are better or worse?
I know we’ll never please all the people all the time but your help is appreciated.
Thanks to everyone who came and everyone who read.
Steamboat Springs High School teacher
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