Letter: It Begins Before High School

By on June 5, 2018

A middle school student’s plea for parents, teachers and children to talk about consent, sexual assault now

‘Peer pressure is common in my grade,’ seventh grader Clare Eddy said.

The students at the Jackson Hole Middle School are studying key problems both at home and abroad, such as the opioid crisis and children who are used as soldiers. But we have a major blind spot: the vocabulary we use. The things we say make light of serious issues, like sexual assault, and are connected to the disrespect of women.

Later in high school or college, something that seems like a joke now could actually happen. I am not saying it will, but the majority of sexual harassment victims are younger than 30. Fifteen percent of victims are between the ages of 12 and 17.

Let me draw a picture for you to explain: imagine you are walking down a hallway in Jackson Hole Middle School. There are beige lockers everywhere you can look, you hear a cacophony of voices yearning for summer, there are teachers chatting amongst themselves. In this hallway I am either whispering with my friends, or I am trying to get away from my screaming peers.

They scream things that should cause alarm. They say things such as “You bully!” when somebody barely nudges them, or “Wow, so and so is such a whore.” Or even when someone is being tickled: “RAPE!” They think it is casual, a joke. No one realizes that being careless with these expressions dilutes their meaning.

Peer pressure is common in my grade. It’s almost as if two people are puppets and the rest of the kids in the grade are pulling the strings. For example, a boy in my class liked a girl but she didn’t feel the same way. People were constantly telling her that “he’s so nice” and “he’s a really good guy.” Everyone was asking her why she wouldn’t go out with him. She said that middle school relationships only exist to mess up friendships, and friendships are so much more valuable than any one-month relationship where a hug is as far as it gets. This highlights that young women’s boundaries are already being disrespected, which could make more serious issues like sexual assault possible. 

Another example? Many people think that dress codes are a good thing, but this is not the case. Dress codes encourage disrespecting women. From a young age, girls are taught to change for boys so boys don’t have to control themselves. Instead, young boys should be taught to respect women, and they should learn that no matter how much skin someone is showing, there has to be consent first. People in my seventh grade class are often “dress coded.”  This is when a teacher writes you up because you are showing too much skin. When someone doesn’t like another person, they suggest dress coding them, which is not right.

There is also pressure to drink. According to Prevention Management Organization of Wyoming, 14 percent of Teton County sixth graders reported using alcohol, and 43 percent of eighth graders. In eighth grade, people do feel pressure to party. These aren’t princess-themed birthday parties; they instead have vapes, juuls and alcohol. People experience hangovers by the time they’re in eighth grade. They say things like “You weren’t there!” or “When you’re drinking it’s so much fun; you don’t think about what could happen.” 

Alcohol correlates with sexual assault in high school because the amount students drink can mess up the choices they make.  The pressure to drink and party could also translate into pressure to have unwanted sex. Both of these things can lead to unwanted sex in high school and if they aren’t careful, it can lead to unwanted sex in college or one of the 32,000 rape-caused pregnancies each year.

Kids also do these kinds of things when spending time with people older than them. When high schoolers start hanging out with middle schoolers sometimes things go over the edge. Unfortunately, most kids don’t have conversations about these topics with a parent because they’re afraid of getting in trouble. But I have learned that no matter what you do, a parent will always love you.

If parents talk to their kids about topics like this maybe it would be less common. Of course, many parents and their children are terrified to do so, but talking about difficult topics can strengthen a parent-child relationship.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” There are many ways to apply King’s wisdom to our lives. In the situations I have mentioned, the silence of teen problems has gone on for too long and it is time we stop it. The first step to solving this problem is talking about it. The more we talk about respect and consent the more likely we are to prevent sexual assault.

 

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