Opinion
School Climate & Safety Opinion

Schools Can Help Prevent More #MeToo Stories

By Lee Paiva — November 16, 2017 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

We are in the midst of a seismic shift in consciousness around sexual harassment and assault. The sweeping allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein—more than 100 women have accused him of sexual harassment and assault since October—was only the beginning. A growing group of high-profile actors, television executives, politicians, academics, news editors, and journalists have been accused of sexual aggressions, including actor Kevin Spacey, comedian Louis C.K., and Republican Senate candidate Roy S. Moore. Every hour brings scores of testimonies from women and men publicly sharing their experiences, including on social media through the #MeToo campaign.

But amid the accusations and public outrage, there has been scant attention paid to how to prevent sexual harassment or assault. Yes, we have workplace policies and awareness campaigns, and many employers are requiring some form of harassment training for their employees. But these trainings are largely ineffective. They don’t provide honest and comprehensive education about sexual and gender power dynamics. And they are largely aimed at limiting an employer’s liability. Most critically, we aren’t teaching young people the prevention strategies they should learn beginning in elementary school.

BRIC ARCHIVE

Here’s what we should pay attention to: Teaching self defense and empowerment to young people decreases sexual violence. Multiple studies have proven that comprehensive safety education is the most effective and long-term solution to harassment and assault prevention. But it takes trained educators to help students realize the strength they have to fight this epidemic.

Like most, I never received any warning about sexual predators. At age 16, I had the brilliant idea to hitchhike across the country alone. One evening in a Colorado hippie commune, I woke up with a drunken housemate on top of me. Although I struggled and repeatedly said no, his force and mass were then too much for me. It took many years for me to call the incident rape, and even longer to understand why, in a house filled with people, I didn’t call out for help.

It wasn’t until I took a self-defense course years later that what had happened in Colorado became clear. The course, which taught an empowering model of self defense, opened up another world for me. I learned how to listen to my gut and register dangerous situations. I learned de-escalation and negotiation skills that I applied in my everyday life, not just when I felt my safety was at stake. I learned I have the right to say “no” loudly and publicly in response to unwanted behavior, however minor, and if my no was not respected, I learned physical skills to stop the behavior.

In 2009, building on my work as a self-defense instructor, I founded the rape-prevention nonprofit No Means No Worldwide and began adapting the methods to one of the most sexually violent places in the world: Nairobi, Kenya, where 1 in 4 girls is raped every year.

All instructors are young men and women from local communities who complete a training before teaching an empowerment, self-defense, and intervention program to secondary school students (typically ages 10 to 20). While the girls learn assertiveness, boundary-setting rules, and self defense, the boys learn to challenge rape culture, ask for consent, and use bystander intervention when they hear someone planning or bragging about a rape or witness an assault in progress.

The research we’ve conducted in collaboration with Stanford and Johns Hopkins universities has shown that wherever our [self-defense] courses have been taught to girls, rape rates have decreased by half."

To be clear: In no way do we stress meeting violence with violence. Students are encouraged to follow their intuition in an attack. The goal of empowerment self-defense is to get away safely and tell someone about the situation. The key is giving students the skills—both mentally and physically—to stand up to inappropriate behavior at a young age and create a culture of mutual respect.

Since 2009, the research we’ve conducted in collaboration with Stanford and Johns Hopkins universities has shown that wherever our courses have been taught to girls, rape rates have decreased by half. One 2014 study found that more than half of the nearly 2,000 high school girls in Nairobi who finished the self-defense course had deflected sexual harassment or rape. Similarly, after taking the training, of the 35 percent of adolescent boys who witnessed a sexual assault in progress, three-quarters of them successfully intervened to stop it. Similar self-defense approaches at several colleges in the United States and Canada reduced the risk of sexual assault among students by as much as half.

At home, K-12 schools have an important role to play in sexual-violence prevention. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused before the age of 18, but it doesn’t have to be this way. All children need techniques to challenge rape culture and to learn how to deal with inappropriate comments, unwanted touching, coercion, and assault.

As children grow, educators—be they teachers or school counselors—must create space for honest and sincere dialogue about age-old sexual power dynamics. Since most schools don’t offer these kinds of classes yet, to do so will require bold, innovative leadership on the part of school leaders. They will need to advocate and fundraise for sexual-assault-awareness curricula, as well as recruit trained professionals well prepared to teach empowerment and self-defense strategies that are proven effective. There may be naysayers and other red tape, but these are skills students will use over the course of a lifetime.

This type of sexual-assault-prevention education is not about blaming women for their clothing choices or labeling young men as rapists. Nor is it about revenge or turning young women into battle-ready maidens. It is about providing a countering voice to the violence and negative gender stereotyping that boys and girls experience beginning in puberty and remain trapped in for much of their lives. It is about changing our culture through education, one step at a time.

A version of this article appeared in the November 29, 2017 edition of Education Week as Sexual Assault Prevention Needs to Start Early

Events

Student Well-Being K-12 Essentials Forum Social-Emotional Learning: Making It Meaningful
Join us for this event with educators and experts on the damage the pandemic did to academic and social and emotional well-being.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Privacy & Security Webinar
K-12 Cybersecurity in the Real World: Lessons Learned & How to Protect Your School
Gain an expert understanding of how school districts can improve their cyber resilience and get ahead of cybersecurity challenges and threats.
Content provided by Microsoft
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Trauma-Informed Schools 101: Best Practices & Key Benefits
Learn how to develop a coordinated plan of action for addressing student trauma and
fostering supportive, healthy environments.
Content provided by Crisis Prevention Institute

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety Q&A How a Student's Push to End Paddling in Schools Became a Yearslong Civics Lesson
A student advocate pushed to end corporal punishment in his state—and gained a passion for civic involvement in the process.
7 min read
Image of a paddle.
dannikonov/Getty
School Climate & Safety ‘Their Vote Matters’: Schools Provide Training to Students on Working the Polls
“We just want to make sure that our youth ... know that they’re important, their vote matters, their vote counts, they can get involved."
Jenny Roberts, The Morning Call
4 min read
Allen student Yovian Torres Gomez makes notes on his packet during a poll worker training Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022, at Allen High School. Allen students will be working as clerks, handing out paper ballots and directing them where to go, when voting concludes Tuesday in the general election. Some will also be translating for voters.
Allen student Yovian Torres Gomez makes notes on his packet during a poll worker training Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022, at Allen High School. Allen students will be working as clerks, handing out paper ballots and directing them where to go, when voting concludes Tuesday in the general election. Some will also be translating for voters.
Amy Shortell/The Morning Call via TNS
School Climate & Safety A Parkland Dad Pleads for Action on School Safety
A father whose daughter was killed in the 2018 mass shooting spoke at a summit the day after the gunman was sentenced.
3 min read
A women in a black t-shirt lifts small painted stones out of a cardboard box, placing them on the ground at a memorial covered in flowers in front of a large white masonry sign that says "Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School."
Suzanne Devine Clark, an elementary school art teacher, places painted stones at a memorial outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2019, one year after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee/AP
School Climate & Safety A School Safety Challenge: Keeping Crowds Secure Under the Glare of Friday Night Lights
Districts aim to keep students and spectators safe during sporting events, which draw large crowds to a less predictable environment.
5 min read
A police officer stands between rows of caution tape outside of a white high school football stadium that is brightly lit against the night sky.
A Tulsa Police officer films the area outside of the McLain High School football stadium in Tulsa, Okla., after a shooting during a Sept. 30 football game.
Mike Simons/Tulsa World via AP