I experienced a traumatic sexual incident in my sophomore year of high school. It was both comforting and scary to discover that I was not alone: 1 out of every 6 women in the United States will also be victims of attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. The short- and long-term effects of rape include Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, suicidal thoughts, and suicide. The list of damaging and life-threatening effects is more than enough for another extensive essay, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about.
While coping with the experience, my father shared a quote with me: “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.” I didn’t realize at the time how apt this was. Once I had spent some time processing what had happened to me, I decided that I wanted to get to the root of this problem and actually do something about it. After having conversations with several people of all ages (my boyfriend, peers at school, friends, parents, and teachers) about sexual education and body rights, I came to the conclusion that the issue of sexual violence stems almost entirely from the fact that most of us simply never learn about it. Each of these individuals that I conversed with—and note that they are from all different generations—have felt that they did not receive the type of sexual education they needed.
From there, I asked further questions: “What did you feel like you needed that you weren’t taught?” The response that almost each person gave me was that the sexual education they were given was purely anatomical, scientific, and lacked the emotional aspects of sex and the importance of body rights. Of course, the biology of sex and the human body is essential in our learning, but I absolutely believe it is a crime to avoid teaching students about the bigger picture. After conducting some research, I learned that younger people are at a much higher risk of sexual violence. The connection is screaming at us: the reason why young people are so vulnerable to assault is because we are not informed about how to protect our bodies or respect others’. On top of that, we are scarcely informed about the severity of the trauma that sexual assault can cause. Without this knowledge, we are left only with the cultural theories of male domination that get hammered into our subconscious.
I recently traveled to the small township of Langa in South Africa and had the privilege of visiting a kindergarten class where the children sang songs in Afrikaans and English. The students sang a song about having the rights to their own bodies and the right to say no. Imagine if students around the world were taught that kind of message at such a young age and teachers throughout years of schooling consistently instilled into their minds the lessons of respect, love, and protection. Wouldn’t the world be a happier place?