July 25, 2009

Beyond Pleasantville: Addressing Children re: Sexual Violence. MESA. ~ via Andrew Rose.

“The next Buddha may take the form of a community, a community practicing understanding and loving-kindness, a community practicing mindful living” -Thich Nhat Hanh.

Imagine a little girl being pushed to the ground by a group of boys, lifting her shirt, touching her breasts, and repeating it the next day. Would you be surprised to know that this happened in your hometown? Depending on your life experience you may feel disgust, anger, or empathic fear. Perhaps you may want to doubt this happened. Or you might remember doing or seeing something like this on the playground in your youth. You may have children in school. Even if you do not have a child of your own, you may wonder, “Are schools safe places for girls to be?”

MESA, the national organization Moving to End Sexual Assault, has a Boulder County branch (where I live) sponsoring the sexual violence hot-line (303-443-7300) that provides education on the sexual abuse and has begun training men to teach boys about the topic of sexual violence and oppressive behavior.  John Puterbaugh, a Human Resources executive at KoolSmiles, and a volunteer for the Men’s Project at MESA says, “I have daughters going to school here, and I want to do what I can to help the boys respect the girls.”

In response to the crime (touching breasts without consent is sexual assault), the boys were expelled and the school invited MESA to create an all-school single-day intervention, where women spoke to all the girls, and men spoke to all the boys.  Marti Hopper, PhD., coordinator of the Men’s Project said, “as a woman, the boys don’t listen to me about this topic.  It’s the men that have to speak to the boys.”  Gender-separate groups are essential.  “When there are girls and boys together in a class, the boys tune out and think it’s a girl problem.  It’s not: 95% of these acts are perpetrated by males on females. It’s a male problem.”

The girls and boys learned and discussed the definition of sexual acts, statistics, boundaries, consent, bystander intervention, and supporting a friend who’s experienced assault.  The exercise about “how consent is communicated” revealed a profound difference between boys and girls. Boys figure a girl is saying “no” when she hits, because boys set boundaries physically.  Girls are socialized not to hit.  The awareness that boys and girls communicate boundaries differently is essential to the socialization of males and females.

Sexual violence is an essential tool of male-dominance, which seeks to maintain the privileged position of men.  Because of this privilege it is easy for me to get my needs met, but more difficult for women. When boundaries are crossed without permission (keep in mind that children cannot legally grant permission), violence occurs and trust is broken. The lack of skill in our culture to communicate boundaries quickens defensiveness and anger while conditioning the patriarchy that has contributed to an aggressive society, especially in families, workplaces, yoga studios and classrooms.

Through education, particularly men listening to women and men educating other males, the road to understanding and loving-kindness can be traveled and the deeper lessons of community, intimacy, compassion and wisdom can be learned.

Andrew Rose is a Trauma Psychotherapist in Boulder with a Wilderness Therapy Counseling degree from Naropa University.  For information about men’s groups write: [email protected]. Click here to support MESA and get more information.  The school intervention was possible because of staff and volunteers: Esther Fraund, Andie Lyons, Marti Hopper, Angela Lujan-Ogle, Maya Kushner, Mark Schwartz, John Puterbaugh, AJ Carillo, Emory Erickson, and Israel Garcia

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