This month is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. We at the Taskforce have been talking a lot lately about how we need to change our discourse around teen dating violence if we are going to make it at all relevant for young people.
Last week we spoke about this at a DVACC meeting – that’s the Domestic Violence Advocacy Coordinating Council, a project of the Mayor’s Office on Domestic Violence. As we write about it for our website, and as we begin to plan a Chicago gathering to reconsider the standard curricula, we wanted to share some more anecdotal thoughts here.
One of the girls in a group that Mariame was running at a middle school on the Westside of Chicago shared an anecdote that is particularly instructive. Angela was an 8th grade student who was extremely bright and outgoing. She explained that a prevention specialist came to her class to discuss the issue of date rape. She took issue with the workshop facilitator’s contention that ‘no always means no’ with respect to having sex. In fact, Angela’s peers in discussing the session during their lunch break decided that
“no sometimes means ‘convince me.'”
Rather than recoil at Angela’s words, instead of becoming defensive and devoting ourselves to getting her to “see the light,” we who work with girls like her, need to take a long look in the mirror as we seek to understand where she is coming from. We need to as the youth say: “keep it real!”
We do not intend to minimize or to gloss over the very real risks that are sometimes present in teen girls’ relationships and sexual lives. Rather our goal here is to open up another front for our consideration as adults who work with young people.
We have been thinking a lot about Angela lately. We have been thinking about the black and white edicts that we present to teens in our prevention programs. It turns out that things are much more complex and complicated than we may imagine. The meanings that we attribute to certain behaviors and actions may not mirror the realities of some girls’ lives. How do we talk about consent and date rape in a way that has meaning for Angela and her friends?
This is a question that we plan to wrestle with later this year as we convene a working conference to share ideas and best practices for developing more relevant teen dating violence curricula in the 21st century. Keep your eyes and ears open for an announcement about the event!