When I was in high school, we had a class called “Straight Talk.” It was required for every high school freshman and covered a wide range of “real life” topics for young kids. The semester long class included lessons in household budgeting, the dangers of tobacco and alcohol, and of course a little sex education.
Being an uber-obnoxious overachiever in high school, I paid extra close attention. I’d be damned if my GPA would fall because I got queasy talking about sexually transmitted diseases! Which we did. In detail. With pictures.
I can still remember our lesson on sexual assault. For whatever fashion reason crossed my mind, I was wearing a skirt that day. It complied with all of our school regulations and was probably a couple inches longer than my cheerleading outfit that I wore pretty frequently, but at 5’9”, any skirt showed plenty of leg. So I sat there in my skirt as our male teacher told the class about the dangers for young females… wearing skirts.
That’s right, we had an entire lesson on what ladies could do to keep themselves safe from sexual assault. Tips included not drinking alcohol, having a buddy system when we were out at parties, and dressing conservatively. Our teacher looked right at me, a straight-A student, president of my class, and said, “If you’re showing off your body, teenage boys are going to look and they’re going to think that you want that type of attention.”
After a whole lot of embarrassment and some serious anger, I marched my bare legs down to the principal’s office to file a complaint. It didn’t do me a whole lot of good and I’m not sure if the curriculum was ever changed, but both I and my mother made our administrators aware of how offended we were.
Looking back, I was offended by the implication that I wanted to be assaulted because I was wearing a skirt. As an adult, I realize that the curriculum wasn’t just offensive to me, it established a victim-blaming culture for every student who sat in class with me. Never once did the conversation steer towards, “Respect other people’s bodies and their rights to make their own choice.” That teacher never looked at the boys in class and said, “Just because a girl is wearing a skirt doesn’t mean that she’s inviting you to hit on her or more.”
The message sent to my class was clear, “Girls are in charge of keeping themselves safe.”
This month is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and I hope that we all take a moment to rectify the misinformation that kids are fed when it comes to rape and rape prevention. People are not raped because they are dressed provocatively or drinking alcohol. They’re raped because they are in the presence of a rapist. They are raped because another human being took away their choice to say “No.”
Girls are not the only ones who need to hear this message. Girls are not the only ones who get raped. Boys and men also experience sexual assault. And everyone needs to learn to respect their partners and their partner’s right to a choice.
If your schools are anything like mine was eight years ago, your children might not be getting that message. As parents, it’s our job to make sure we’re talking about sexual assault with our daughters and our sons.