The Nation: Sexual violence and sex education

The Nation: Sexual violence and sex education

I’m guest blogging at The Nation this week, and my two most recent posts are on two interrelated topics: sexual violence and sex education. The first I wrote just after attending the Service Women’s Action Network conference, the Truth and Justice summit on military sexual trauma. It’s about what civilian survivors can learn from those who are assaulted in the military – and what the military can teach the rest of us on how not to respond to this problem.

“So, what’s it like to be sitting in a room with so many people who have been sexually assaulted?” My friend was asking because yesterday, I spoke at the Service Women’s Action Network conference, the Truth and Justice Summit on Military Sexual Trauma. I scoffed grimly and texted him back: “Look around the room you’re in now, and ask yourself the same question.”

It wasn’t an unreasonable question he’d asked. There is something bone chilling about sitting in a hotel ballroom at full capacity and knowing that almost every person in that room is a survivor of sexual violence. It’s nauseating to remember that most of that violence was inflicted while they were serving their country, and that it was inflicted not by the enemy, but by one of their own. A conservative estimate of the proportion of women in the Armed Forces who have been sexually assaulted is 20 percent. For men, the sheer number of assaults is higher than it is for women. We are talking hundreds of thousands of men and women, in all branches of the military. This week, several hundred of them gathered in Washington, D.C. to talk about their experiences, to discuss policy, and to visit Capitol Hill for a day of lobbying. There were moments in that ballroom, when survivors were talking about how they had suffered, first at the hands of their assailants and then from the military’s efforts to sweep what had happened under the rug, or from the VA’s failure to provide them with care, when you could hear a pin drop. There were moments when the pain, the betrayal and the anger, were almost palpable.

Of course, it’s rare, unless you do sexual violence prevention work, to find yourself in such a room. But statistically speaking, in America, if you’re in a room that contains six women, or a room that contains thirty men, one of them is a survivor of sexual assault. The difference between the ballroom I was in yesterday and almost any other room in this country is that in the ballroom, we actually acknowledged the statistics. We were thinking about them. And most importantly of all, we were talking about the problem.

You can read the whole thing here.

The second post is about Katelyn Campbell, the West Virginia high school student who was threated with administrative retaliation after she refused to attend a mandatory abstinence-only assembly. I took a look at the presentation she would have seen had she gone to that assembly (there’s a link to it in my piece, if you’re inclined to watch it yourself), and wrote about how the messages in that talk dovetail with other anti-choice messages kids will hear once they get out of the classroom. You can read the whole thing here.

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