WCW Blog

The Women Change Worlds blog of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) encourages WCW scholars and colleagues to respond to current news and events; disseminate research findings, expertise, and commentary; and both pose and answer questions about issues that put women's perspectives and concerns at the center of the discussion.

Stop Pretending Sexual Assault Can't Happen in Your School

This commentary by Nan Stein and Bruce Taylor was originally published by Education Week on October 4, 2018.

Christine Blasey FordThe sexual assault allegations leveled by psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh have consumed the country. The events as described by Ford are not an anomaly for U.S. teens. As researchers, we know that there is a high prevalence of sexual assault among teens today and that schools are not implementing effective strategies to address this kind of violence. But the data haven't always been available—it is only in about the last two decades that we can reliably measure the prevalence of sexual assault among teens.

We are researchers, not psychologists—one of us (Bruce Taylor) is a criminologist, the other (Nan Stein) is a former middle school teacher who focuses on curriculum development and teacher training. With the support of grant funding from the National Institute of Justice at the U.S. Department of Justice, we have spent the last 10 years conducting research on school-based interventions that has taken us into middle schools in the Cleveland suburbs and New York City. Using rigorous scientific data, we have created interventions designed to prevent the kinds of behaviors Christine Blasey Ford described in her testimony—and they have been shown to be effective. Our 2010 study, "Shifting Boundaries: Lessons on Relationships for Students in Middle School," was one of two evidence-based community-level primary prevention strategies that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified in 2014 as effective at reducing sexual violence.

The general public's opinion of sexual violence is largely shaped by high-profile crimes they encounter in the news. In 1989, three high school football players from Glen Ridge, N.J., sexually assaulted a mentally handicapped girl. For years, these boys had been throwing wild drunken parties. Yet, they never got in trouble until there was a rape—their conviction came four years later. In 2012, there was another incident that garnered a lot of attention. In Steubenville, Ohio, the rape of a drunken female teenager by two drunken high school football players at a party gripped the nation; the boys were later convicted of sexual assault. The incident was recorded by some of the partygoers, and images were posted on social media.

Sexual assault, including the incidents above, can have a devastating impact on its victims. Although it can take years or decades for victims to begin to address the trauma and come forward to report the incidents (as we are currently witnessing), the rumors and whispers may begin the following day at school, in the hallways, and over lunch—even when some of the participants were too drunk to remember anything. The underreporting of sexual violence has been documented by researchers extensively. According to a 2017 report from the Justice Department, only 23 percent of all sexual assaults are reported to the police.

In the early 1980s, when Ford alleges her assault occurred, there weren't many surveys of teenagers focused on either perpetration or victimization of sexual violence by their peers. For example, one of the nation's largest youth surveys conducted by the CDC did not start measuring sexual violence until 1999. Perhaps officials doubted that sexual violence among teens happened, or they assumed it was only perpetrated by strangers carrying a weapon who jumped out of a dark alley. It certainly could not have happened among privileged white kids, perpetrated by good white boys who attended private schools where the dress codes require jackets and ties.

Today, we find ourselves swimming in statistics from an abundance of surveys measuring sexual violence among youths. Based on the CDC's 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, about 10 percent of high school students were sexually assaulted in 2017, with females (15 percent) experiencing higher rates than males (4.3 percent). This was in line with another national survey: An analysis of 2003, 2008, and 2011 National Survey of Children Exposed to Violence survey data of 15- to 17-year-olds found that between 12 and 18 percent of girls and about 3 percent of boys were victims of sexual assault.

When it comes to dating, the rates of sexual assault are even higher. In the National Survey on Teen Relationships and Intimate Violence conducted in 2013-2014 for dating youth 12-18 years old, funded by a grant from the Justice Department, the researchers found a sexual assault rate of 17.8 percent for girls and 17.3 percent for boys. The high rate of sexual assault among teens is of particular concern because our research has found that it is often a precursor to intimate partner violence.

There are at least three steps that schools can take to address sexual violence among teens.

1. Implement evidence-based effective interventions. In addition to the approach we laid out in "Shifting Boundaries"—which combines classroom lessons with schoolwide interventions addressing sexual harassment as a precursor to teen dating violence for middle school youths—other programs have been recognized for their efficacy, including Safe Dates (a school-based teen dating-violence prevention program for 8th and 9th graders); Coaching Boys into Men (a program where high school athletic coaches promote respectful behavior among their players to prevent sexual assault); and Bystander Intervention (an approach where bystanders are trained to interrupt potentially harmful situations).

2. Implement schoolwide interventions—not merely classroom lessons. The key components of our evidence-based Shifting Boundaries intervention include working with students to map safe and unsafe areas of the school so that staff can make necessary modifications to prevent violence, creating quasi "stay away" or restraining orders to protect victims, and saturating the school's hallways with messages and posters on safe teen relationships.

3. Conduct staff training. All faculty members and staff should understand the magnitude of the problem of sexual harassment and assault among teens and how to implement evidence-based strategies.

You might think that school districts would welcome these interventions. However, as researchers, we have experienced resistance, particularly from high-performing, privileged schools when attempting to introduce prevention programs. Despite scientific survey data demonstrating the pervasiveness of sexual violence among teens, some school districts apparently still believe "sexual violence can't happen here." What other evidence do they need to start taking this problem seriously? It is time for K-12 schools—private and public—to begin to implement evidence-based strategies designed to address sexual assault.

NanSteinBruceTaylorPhotosNan Stein, Ed.D., is a senior research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College where she conducts research on sexual harassment and gender violence in schools. Bruce Taylor, Ph.D., is a senior fellow in public health at NORC at the University of Chicago, where he studies the etiology of violence and evaluates violence prevention programs.

  857 Hits
  0 Comments
857 Hits
0 Comments

My Visit to MarketPlace: Handwork of India

marketplaceindia groupI have been a fan of MarketPlace: Handwork of India for decades, not simply because it is a Fair Trade organization but also because I love their clothing. I am the happy owner of many of their shirts (long and short sleeved), dresses (winter and summer), jackets, and wraps. Some of my clothes are bordering on 30 years old, faded and sadly, no longer available -- not even on the clearance site.

Generally, I make my purchases from the catalog, not from their website. I would wait until the catalog arrived to make my choices and over time, I began to notice that the catalog held more than just items to purchase. Indeed, it had stories and photographs of the women -- their lives at work, at their homes, their children, their recipes, their excursions, their wishes, their struggles, and accomplishments. I was intrigued and wanted to know more. This was not your usual catalog.

Since my Wellesley colleague Emmy Howe and I were traveling to Delhi for the Sex/Ed Conference in November 2017, we decided to schedule some visits in the Mumbai area. Among those we wanted to visit was the office of MarketPlace, located in the suburbs of Mumbai. After some negotiations with the CEO Pushpika Freitas and with input from the local director/supervisor, Linda Machado, we arranged to visit their office in the Santacruz East area of Mumbai.

IndiaMarketplaceWith our cell phones actively participating in locating the office, along with the skills of our car service driver, we arrived after lunch on November 14, 2017. About 12 women artisans were gathered together along with some staff -- they greeted us with a special handmade mandala on the floor, and after a candle lighting ceremony, they sang us a song that they had written.

Our conversation got off to a lively start as we shared with them a song, albeit on YouTube, “Bread and Roses” sung by Joan Baez, and told them about the history and lives of women workers in the garment industry in the U.S.

With translation provided by some of the social workers from the NGO part of MarketPlace, called SHARE, which is responsible for the social development and empowerment of the women, along with our host Linda Machado and with some of the artisans who spoke English, we discussed the MarketPlace clothing that I wore and how I had spread the word among my colleagues. In addition, and more substantively, we discussed some of the unique features that MarketPlace offered them -- help with the education of their children, literacy programs, health improvements, the kids programs (148 kids between ages 4-25 years old); and how some of them had been promoted from within from artisan to supervisor. As they were promoted within the organization, they were provided with additional training in accounting and bookkeeping. Throughout our time together, we detected their obvious pride in their work and in their organization. One of the women said, “If not given this opportunity, we’d be washing dishes or doing housework in someone else’s house.”

marketplace0group3

Another special experience awaited us after some of the women artisans left with their bags of garments, which needed their embroidery; we climbed the stairs to the workshop. There we met additional artisans who worked on sewing machines, creating some of the prototypes for new clothing. Best of all, we watched a weekly discussion group -- an article of interest from the newspaper was selected and a group of women, ranging in age from 20-70 years old, sat in a circle expressing their opinions. This week’s topic was on dowry, which provided for a heated conversation. Even though we could not follow the conversation in Hindi, we noticed the animation that it produced. I asked Linda privately if all of the women were literate and she told me that some were not but the articles were read aloud so all participants were able to be involved.

The visit with the artisans in Santacruz East was so meaningful and vivid, and I know that I speak for both Emmy and myself when I say that we treasured our time there and the photos that we have of it. I will buy their clothing with new meaning attached to each and every item. And a big thank you.

Nan Stein, Ed.D., is a senior research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women. She has conducted research on sexual harassment/gender violence in K-12 schools and teen dating violence for more than 30 years and co-led the Shifting Boundaries, school-based dating violence prevention program.

  2109 Hits
  0 Comments
2109 Hits
0 Comments

Teen Dating Violence Awareness & Prevention

TDVblog

Last year, when President Barack Obama proclaimed February Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, he noted that an estimated one in ten teens will be hurt intentionally by someone they are dating and “while this type of abuse cuts across lines of age and gender, young women are disproportionately affected by both dating violence and sexual assault.” His Administration has committed many resources to addressing the problem. The Violence Against Women Act, reauthorized in 2013 by the U.S. Congress, funds enforcement of gender-based violence laws, provides victim services, and created new federal crimes involving interstate violence against women. The 1 is 2 Many campaign launched by Vice President Joe Biden aims to reduce sexual violence against those who experience the assaults at the highest rates--young women ages 16-24. And recently, a report from the White House Council on Women and Girls and the Office of the Vice President analyzed rape and sexual assault data, including the staggering number of sexual assaults on campuses, and issued a renewed call to action. Teen dating violence between adolescents who are “dating,” “going together,” “hanging out,” or however the adolescents label it, is a serious problem—from public health, education, and legal perspectives—with injuries, poorer mental/physical health, more ‘high-risk’/deviant behavior, and increased school avoidance being experienced and reported.

One concern I have is that federal policies, as evidenced by Congressional funding priorities, may not consistently address systemic issues that contribute to teen dating violence. For example, the federal government has invested generously in “healthy relationship” programs and initiatives that promote marriage as a cure-all for poor women and girls but have no requirement for evaluation, while also funding research that takes a gender-neutral approach to examining the problem.1 Data shows that males and females do not engage in mutual, reciprocal, and equivalent violence—so why wouldn’t there be a need to examine the gendered components of any intimate partner violence?

My research for over 30 years has focused on peer sexual harassment in schools, a form of gender violence, which I consider the training grounds for domestic violence. In fact, sexual harassment may also serve ablogpullquoteTeenDatingViolences a precursor to teen dating violence. Schools—where most young people meet, hang out, and develop patterns of social interactions—may be training grounds for domestic violence because behaviors conducted in public may provide license to proceed in private.

Since 2005, my more recent research with Bruce Taylor, of NORC, funded by the National Institute of Justice of the U.S. Department of Justice, has been in urban middle schools, with the youngest sample of 6th and 7th graders ever studied in a scientific, randomly controlled research project on teen dating violence. Our interventions, both school-wide and in the classroom, emphasize articulating and claiming one’s boundaries and personal space; never do we discuss “healthy relationships”—a perspective that I find subjective and judgmental yet seems to operate as the default approach to preventing teen dating violence. Happily, our data shows that our interventions are effective and we are currently expanding them to 8th graders and testing for longitudinal effects.

This year, as we raise awareness about teen dating violence and offer scientific approaches to prevention, we must continue to invest in evidence-based and evaluated programs with rigorous research that inform truly effective public policies.

Nan Stein, Ed.D. is a Senior Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College where she directs several national research projects on sexual harassment, and gender violence. Shifting Boundaries, her research project with Bruce Taylor, is an ongoing, multi-level study funded by the National Institute of Justice to evaluate the effectiveness of grade-differentiated dating violence and sexual harassment prevention curricula.

1.)Healthy_Marriage_and_Responsible_Fatherhood_Grantees.pdf. January 23, 2013. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Family Assistance, an Office of the Administration for Children and Families. Retrieved February 3, 2014, from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ofa/resource/healthy-marriage-grantees

  8078 Hits
  0 Comments
8078 Hits
0 Comments

WCW Blog

 
Our website uses cookies to enhance your experience. By continuing to use our site, or clicking "Continue", you are agreeing to our privacy policy.
Continue Privacy Policy