Feminist Activism in Girls and Young Women: Students Teaching, Students Learning Session: Fri., June 29, 2007, 4:30-5:45 p.m.

RAPE PREVENTION EDUCATION: ONE SIZE DOES not FIT ALL Where Women, Media, Rape and Feminism Collide (about 15 minutes – 3 pages each) Short intro. We are: Chris and Cierra Essentially, based on the premise that concept retention rates increase by exposing students to a concept repetitively in different ways (James, 1967), in 2006 Sexual Assault Response Team Advocate Chris Martin and I developed and implemented a feminist rape intervention curriculum to be articulated through the lens of feminist activism. I am going to tell you about the broad social context for our program and Chris will focus on specifics. My paper: Rape prevention education in the United States is not a priority subject in the development and implementation of high school curricula, despite national studies which indicate that more than two million adolescents have been victimized by sexual violence (statistics from Sauders et al, 2003). Rather than focusing on human relationships, adolescent sexuality1, and the prevention of violence in high schools, the federal government in 2006 gave more than $176 million toward the promotion of abstinence education in high school curricula (U.S. House of Representatives, 2004). Many high schools avoid “sex education” altogether—what I mean by this is basic biological discussions about the sexual reproductive process—instead, abstinence only programs teach children to “avoid sexual activities” altogether (U.S. House of Representatives, 2004). Children are taught to make the choice to remain abstinent until marriage, and the heteronormative nuclear family is “preserved” under this rubric.

Teen sexuality refers to sexual activities including intercourse and other intimate relations between partners.

In addition to avoiding sticky issues such as sexual transmitted diseases and bastard pregnancies, abstinence only education avoids the issue of teenage sexuality, in direct opposition to statistics that indicate up to 58% of middle school students are sexually active (Brown et al. 2006, p. 1429). Kids are sexually active, but they are not learning about sexual activity in school. They are learning about it from somewhere. Jane Brown (2006), a professor of Journalism and Mass Communication at U. North Carolina, found that every young American spends about six to seven hours with some form of media per day and claims there may be a correlation between early teen sexual activity and the media saturated United States culture; [big gasp!<---sarcasm] while two thirds of television shows contain sexual content, these media sources do not usually promote nor teach “responsible behavior” (p. 34, 35, 36). Imagery is highly sexual and often violent. Brown (2004) concluded there is reason to believe that high rates of media exposure correlate to “increased callousness toward women and trivializes rape as a criminal offense” (p. 40). So, children are functioning in a sex-rich culture, which often sexualizes violence against women, teens and pre-teens are having sexual experiences, and yet are not taught basic knowledge about sexual and social responsibility. In light of Brown’s 2006 study, abstinence only education seems irresponsible considering the statistics indicating that children are increasingly victimized by sexual violence and that one in four women and young girls are raped. However, a report from the U.S. House of Representatives (2004) indicates that more than “$90 million in federal funding” has been allocated since 2001 to sixty-nine grantees (electronic resource)—this averages to more than one million dollars per grantee for abstinence only high school “sex education.”

So, sexuality is avoided in high schools, but monogamy is expected. Kids are supposed to make the choice to remain abstinent and avoid social situations, like pregnancy….problem solved. This is the power of the rhetoric of free choice. So, when a young woman gets pregnant, she is stigmatized by a paradigm that frowns upon promiscuity, but she not allowed the freedom to “make the choice” to terminate the pregnancy. She is merely irresponsible: we taught her to make good choices in school. This rhetoric of choice seems avoids gendered power dynamics altogether, as the blame is focused on girls and women for their poor choices. There is that sticky matter of the prevalence of sexual violence…. [transition/connection???] Violence prevention education is available outside the school environment within the programming of non profit organizations, like domestic violence shelters, with federal funding from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The current rape prevention campaign from the CDC, which has been adapted by many domestic violence shelters nation wide, is called "Choose Respect. Give it. Get it” (Chooserespect.org, 2006). This violence prevention campaign is a heteronormative model implying on its surface that respecting boundaries leads to personal safety: rape, then, is a result of making the wrong interpersonal decisions, or rather a penalty for poor choices, much like pregnancy. Rape as perceived through the lens of the CDC reduces sexual violence to a product of partner or dating abuse ignoring structural problems, like gendered violence, altogether. Abstinence only education—make the choice to remain sexually pure until marriage—paired with federally funded mass media “violence prevention” propaganda such as the CDC’s “Expect Respect” Campaign reinforces the rhetoric of “choice.”

“Prevention” insinuates that violence against women is preventable. This is the blame the victim paradigm. Girls and young women under the rubric are the responsible parties for a myriad of social malaise. What is unique about a feminist approach to the “problem” with violence is that it takes the focus off of the individual—the woman, the potential victim—and places it back on to structural issues. We teach girls and young women that they do not make the choice to be raped, no one does, but that one out of every four of them will likely be raped. The curriculum is based on feminist principles of social justice and gender equity and we focus on the integration these concepts with practice though feminist activism. Through consciousness raising, a basic feminist principle, (ie, participation in activism) the girls learned to recognize the factors that contribute to the stigmatization of women and victimization in general and to interrupt that cycle by holding young men, politics, media, the social structure accountable. Project H.O.W. women turn the rhetoric of choice on its head and demand accountability for violence against women. Project H.O.W. is not a violence prevention program. It is a violence intervention program. (chris)

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