Photo: Michael Cummo / Hearst Connecticut Media
STAMFORD — No means no.
For many people, if they were told anything about consent, it was this. But according to Jessica Feighan, outreach coordinator at the Center for Sexual Assault Crisis Counseling and Education, this is an outdated idea.
“No means no doesn’t work anymore,” Feighan said to a group of students at the Academy of Information Technology and Engineering during a recent presentation on the dynamics of sexual assault. “There might be situations where someone can’t say no. So now it’s ‘yes means yes.’”
In the world of Me Too, sexual assault and harassment is in the spotlight more than ever and students are ready to become part of the conversation. The Mayor’s Youth Leadership Council at AITE has recently decided to work toward educating their peers about these topics.
The MYLC is a group dedicated to promoting safer schools. Each Stamford public high school has its own MYLC chapter. At AITE, more than 120 students are involved in the group, which organizes public awareness and activism activities, volunteer events and social change campaigns.
Laurie Graziano said MYLC students at AITE have been organizing lunchtime table events with literature to educate peers on consent, bystander intervention, healthy dating, boundaries and other topics related to sexual assault and harassment. The group decided to focus on sexual assault and harassment after a student survey showed students wanted more education on the topic.
“I think the Me Too movement really got them listening,” said Graziano, youth services program coordinator for MYLC. “Anyone feeling repressed and objectified finally felt they could speak out and that’s what I think happened there. They said ‘I’ve had enough.’ People need to be treated right, boy or girl.”
Part of the work for the MYLC students is getting themselves educated. Feighan, who does prevention education programs for businesses, nonprofits and students in kindergarten through college, has twice spoken about sexual assault and harassment to AITE’s MYLC students.
Since the students don’t receive education on sexual assault and harassment in class, visits from Feighan and educational campaigns like these are even more crucial, particularly as they prepare to enter college where, according to the Rape and Incest National Network, they’re at high risk for sexual violence.
”We want them when they go to college, to know the rules and rights,” said senior Bridget Iadanza, who’s on the executive board of MYLC at AITE. ”We want to educate students and we want them to be advocates who are educated. … Seeing the recent news with Harvey Weinstein, I feel people need a wake-up call to understand this is a real issue and to talk about these things.”
Iadanza said there’s no formal education on sexual assault and harassment in her classes. The closest she got was in her Advanced Placement government class where they touched upon Title IX, a federal civil rights law that prevents discrimination on the basis of sex and encompasses complaints about sexual assault and harassment.
“I don’t feel there’s enough education on important matters in the classroom,” said Chris Burke, a sophomore in MYLC. However, that’s where MYLC attempts to fill in the gaps, the 16-year-old said.
“Our efforts don’t just go to people in MYLC,” he added. “We try to educate the entire student body.”
Feighan’s latest presentation to the students touched upon the legal, emotional and medical dynamics of sexual assault and harassment. Students took a particular interest in the laws surrounding age of consent. Feighan, a former educator who has been with the center since October, said this isn’t unusual.
”The questions they ask around the age of consent come up a lot because it’s relevant to them,” she said.
Feighan said students will also often approach her after the presentation or call the center hotline because they know it’s a safe place where they can ask their questions about sex and consent.
”These kids now, it’s a heightened awareness,” she said. “They really want to know…they want to talk about it. But no one talks to these kids about sex.”
Feighan said students are often not familiar with the information she gives in her presentations, which includes a range of inappropriate sexual behavior and ways someone can commit rape besides just using physical force. Her fellow educator, Marie Corriveau, who’s also with the center, said students need this information so they have a full picture of sexual assault.
”It’s important for their own experiences,” she said. “It’s giving them a realistic expectation of rape and sexual assault.”
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