Brier Jirka, a sex therapist with the Methodist Physicians Clinic Women’s Center, blogs forLiveWellNebraska.com
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Think about how many sexual assault programs are aimed at females, teaching us how to prevent rape or sexual assault. We’re told to not walk in dark allies, keep an eye on our drinks, not wear anything too revealing and always meet in group settings.
This is how society teaches prevention. And while these are important safety tips, it’s time to break down the stereotype of what it means to “prevent.” It’s time to focus our efforts on educating boys and young men.
This is not to say that women are never the perpetrators and males are never the victims. But the reality is, when a male is the victim, it’s often another man who did the assaulting. So all around, arming our young men with knowledge about the topic couldn’t be more valuable.
Think about the recent case in Steubenville, Ohio. An intoxicated young woman was sexually assaulted as other young men watched and even filmed the incident. I read everything I could on this case when it hit the press, and I’m amazed at how many teens were involved and did nothing.
It’s a sad thought, but not out of the question, that the young men involved may not have known what they were doing – digital penetration – is considered sexual assault.
Any sexual act – oral, anal, manual insertion, etc., with a person’s body part or object – without consent, is sexual assault. The fact is, not all teens know this, and I think that can be attributed to a lack of sex education.
Do the Steubenville boys need to be punished? Absolutely. But they also need to be educated on sexuality and sexual acts, including “age of consent” laws. Each state has its own age gap, and they can change often. Without proper sex education, we can’t expect our kids to know these laws.
Many adults think that talking about sex will make our youths go out and have sex. The fact is, it’s happening anyway, and teens aren’t always smart about it. When I talk to youth across our community about sex education, they ask questions about oral and anal sex, interested because these can’t lead to pregnancy. Teens often see these as “safe” activities, even though they can lead to sexually transmitted diseases. STD rates are particularly high in Douglas County, so parents shouldn’t assume their teens are being smart about sex. An actual conversation is needed.
• Define healthy relationships, healthy sexuality, what behaviors can be used to show sexual interest and affection, and which are age-appropriate. Sexual development is part of life. Like any other development, it needs to fostered and guided.
Here are some starting points for how to talk with our young men:
• Know the age of consent in your state. In Nebraska, the age of consent is 16, according to a crisis counselor at the Women’s Center for Advancement.
• Learn how to determine if someone is giving consent or not. If a victim says yes while intoxicated, the law still sees this as sexual assault. “Maybe,” “Not now, but perhaps another time” and “Ugh, OK” are all examples of NO.
• Bystander intervention. Step up when a friend is telling a degrading joke about women or rape. This creates a false reality that men are the stronger and more powerful sex. Often, sexual assault is about power and control, not sex.
• Support victims of rape and sexual assault. The more men visually standing up for the cause, the stronger the voice.
• Ask young women about what it feels like to be in a situation where they are fearful of rape. Ask male friends how it would feel to be seen as potential rapist. Sometimes it can be hard for women to determine who’s a “safe guy” and who could potentially hurt them.
• Stop street harassment. Making comments about a woman’s appearance as she walks by is disgusting and violates a female’s sense of safety. In all seriousness, does it ever work? Don’t be the guy females are afraid of.
• Come forward if you have information about an assault. You can report an assault to the police or the WCA hotline (Women’s Center for Advancement) in Omaha at 402-345-7273. The WCA has great resources and advocates to help victims and/or family and friends.
There are so many ways to get involved and bring awareness to sexual assault. We can lobby state and city politicians to make changes to our sex education programs.
There are also some great resources available. Men Can Stop Rape aims to educate young men and boys about healthy masculinity and empathizing with others. Scarleteen.com helps promote healthy sexuality among youths. A whole section of its website is dedicated to the education of boys and men.
I encourage our community to take a stand and explore new ways of prevention. Educating our young men is a great place to start. Let’s break down the stereotype that prevention is just a female issue.
Methodist Health System, the University of Nebraska at Omaha, the Omaha Police Department and the Women’s Center for Advancement are teaming up for a Twitter chat about sexual assault awareness. The event aims to raise awareness and educate people about the resources available. Using the hash tag #BeAwareOutThere, join the conversation on Twitter on Sunday, April 21 at 5 p.m. Personal messages can also be sent to @MethodistHealth if privacy is a concern.
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