Tweet by Rachel LaBruyere
Many people don't recognize sexual assault when they see it. This is a national crisis, and schools have to step up to help solve it.
By now, anyone with a TV, phone, and/or social media account has heard that Donald Trump, who has been accused of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment by several different women, and who has sexualized his own daughter in public on multiple occasions, has been caught bragging about committing sexual assault on tape. However reprehensible this latest revelation is, anyone who has been paying attention isn't at all surprised.
The more disturbing part of this sordid tale is the number of people—both the everyday folks who shrugged on social media, as well as journalists and elected officials—who fail to call sexual assault what it is, or dismiss Trump’s comments as “bad boy talk” or “locker room banter” or “the way many people talk around their dining room table.” The problem with Trump’s comments isn't (just) that he used degrading terms for women and our bodies. The problem is that he is openly bragging about committing sexual assault, while his companion laughs, and a large number of Americans don't realize that it’s a problem.
This is why #YesAllWomen is still so relevant: the fact that most people do not recognize garden variety sexual assault is exactly why it is so horribly common, and why not just women and girls, but people all of genders, suffer.
I, like many other parents, work hard to proactively teach our children, especially our sons, about consent and boundaries. But many people still do not understand these concepts. They still conflate male sexual entitlement and sexual assault with ordinary sexual behavior (“boys will be boys”), and their only plan to deal with it is to threaten to shoot their daughters’ dates after the fact. Schools have to step up and stand in the gap.
One important place to start is with rethinking health and sexual education classes. While the politics of sex ed often volleys back and forth between ineffective abstinence-only sex ed classes versus more biologically informative “comprehensive” sex ed classes, few courses of either type teach students what it means to abstain from sexual assault. That's why even as they go off to college, many students don't understand what constitutes sexual assault or rape, despite the fact that many of them have themselves committed or experienced one or both. Abstinence-only sex ed should be abolished, and beyond that, courses that present any information about sexual reproduction and activity need to be crystal clear that any sexual behavior without consent is harassment, and any sexual touching without consent is assault.
Schools of education and school districts need to train and retrain educators and school staff on what consent is and how to recognize and respond appropriately to instances of sexual harassment, assault, and gendered violence in schools. Too many girls have their bras snapped, or are grabbed, groped, and worse against their will during the school day. Yet, many educators either ignore it, or penalize girls who fight back after the adults in charge do nothing to protect them. Likewise, too many queer, trans, and gender nonconforming youth are harassed, assaulted, exposed, and manhandled under the guise of “proving” their identities, or just for the amusement of their peers. Yet educators too frequently either ignore it, or blame these young people for being “different” and “attracting attention.”
We also need to end the culture of victim-blaming in schools, propped up by policies like sexist dress codes that wrongly hold girls responsible for boys’ attention and behavior, and that wrongly penalize LGBT youth for exercising their constitutionally protected right to self-expression. People of all genders have the right to exist, and be their true selves, without being harassed or assaulted. Schools need to teach and uphold that right for the girls and LGBTQ youth in their care.
Unfortunately, many people are right that this is ordinary “locker room banter.” This kind of thinking and behavior is disgustingly common in this society, but it doesn't have to be this way. Many of those locker rooms are in schools, and schools therefore have a responsibility to stop normalizing and condoning sexual assault and to enlighten the students who frequent those locker rooms.