We’ve all been reading and talking about Brett Kavanaugh and the allegations he’s facing of sexual assaults committed in high school and college. Regardless of one’s political affiliation, the nomination of a judge to a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court is something to be taken seriously and should not be rushed.
I have called on Senators to have the FBI fully investigate each allegation before they move forward with the confirmation process. The allegations against Judge Kavanaugh are serious and should not be brushed aside.
Beyond my concerns about the rush to confirm Kavanaugh, for me as a mom, grandmother, and educator, one of the most important elements of this discussion is what our students are taking from it.
National reporting in recent days on teens’ experiences tells us that for many of them, the discussions aren’t just hypothetical. Far too many children and teens are survivors of sexual assault themselves.
What they are hearing and seeing in this moment is giving them insight into, as an NPR story puts it, “whether the adults in power will take these claims seriously, and whether speaking up results in harsher consequences for survivors or for those accused.”
They’re wondering: If I tell my mom or dad or teacher or counselor that I was assaulted or harassed, will they listen? Or will they ask me to deny my feelings about what happened? Will they wave it away with some version of forgive and forget? Will they insist that what happened wasn’t that bad, or that it really didn’t happen the way I said it did?
As educators and parents, our top priority is to create safe spaces for students. Within those spaces, we want them to learn, grow, and discover. None of that happens unless they also feel heard and believed—and unless we actually do hear and believe them.
The good news is that in the recent “State of Gender Equality for U.S. Adolescents 2018” survey, three-quarters of students said they had heard about the #MeToo movement. Most of the girls and a third of the boys said it made them feel as if they could tell someone if they were harassed or assaulted.
But the same survey found that three-quarters of girls ages 14 to 19 “felt judged as a sexual object or unsafe as a girl.” Furthermore, 81 percent of girls in the same age group “said they had at least one friend who had been asked by a boy for a sexy or naked photo.”
Deborah Tolman, a psychology professor quoted in a New York Times article about the research, said, “This is the contradiction we put in front of girls: You should be confident and do well in school and do athletics, but you’re supposed to also be a good sex object at the same time.”
We must do a much better job of addressing the “boys will be boys” narrative, and we must bury it, once and for all.
If you’re looking for resources for talking to students about harassment and sexual assault, please see these:
- NEA EdJustice: Educational Equity for Women and Girls
- NEA EdJustice: #Metook12 Facebook Live
- NPR: How to Talk to Young People about the Kavanaugh Story