As the national #MeToo movement continues, two local groups are finding new ways to connect with school districts and teach teenagers about the importance of personal boundaries and consent in relationships.
Most recently, the Family Abuse Center and the Advocacy Center for Crime Victims and Children joined Monday night to host a screening of “Audrie & Daisy,” a documentary about two teenage girls who find out their sexual assaults were caught on camera. A panel discussion followed afterward with Waco police, Waco Independent School District officials and other outreach coordinators about how to move the conversation about consent forward.
The event was held at Waco High School, wrapping up teen dating violence awareness month, and it may be a sign of other projects to come as sexual assault awareness month approaches in April, said Berkeley Anderson, the Teen Dating Violence Project Manager with the Family Abuse Center.
“The Family Abuse Center has already been having those types of conversations because sexual assault is often part of domestic violence and teen dating violence. It often does happen in those abusive relationships because it’s a part of power and control,” Anderson said. “I think the interest level in the community has increased as people become more aware of this issue on a wider scale.”
The center is also running a service learning program at Indian Spring Middle School, called #Relationshipgoals. Students went through curriculum about how to handle emotions, what healthy relationships look like and how to talk about teen dating violence. This is the second semester for the effort, Anderson said.
The center also hosts regular outreach events and presentations at schools to teach students how to have healthy conversations about intimate contact without making people feel awkward, she said.
“Off the top of my head, we’ve gone to La Vega. We’ve reached Waco High. We’ve also given presentations to athletes,” said Anderson, who has been in her position for about a year. “Our focus is Waco, but we serve eight counties, and if one of those schools in one of those areas needs help, someone will go. We’ve reached at least 1,000 students or more since I’ve been here.”
The Family Abuse Center is also starting conversations with Waco ISD officials to help the district better implement state guidelines and protocols for responding to sexual assault reports by students, Anderson said.
“They already have a lot of things in place, so it’s going to be more about talking about what they need from us,” Anderson said.
But reports of sexual assaults are a rarity in Waco ISD, district spokesman Kyle DeBeer said.
“With the (centers), and with many of our external partners, the best description is as things arise, their expertise is helpful,” said Robin McDurham, assistant superintendent of student services and family engagement. “We just welcome their input and their voice.”
Waco ISD regularly updates its sex education curriculum for seventh- and ninth-grade students with the help of the district’s School Health Advisory Council, which has a parent representative from each campus. Students get lessons on consent, and each summer, freshmen go through an institute that reiterates the curriculum, McDurham said.
The district also revisits the topic in science classes, and social workers handle the issues on a case management level, she said.
Earlier this month, the district held its first empowerment summit for young women, addressing everything from managing stress, social media and college access to leadership development and sexual violence. The district is also planning a leadership summit for Waco ISD’s young men, and DeBeer said he expects the summit to have similar discussions.
“I don’t think we have incorporated the #MeToo movement as much as just the sense of empowerment of our kids. In the summer, when (Superintendent A. Marcus) Nelson asked me to start putting ideas around a women’s empowerment movement, it was a natural fit,” McDurham said. “We were heading in that direction, and it maybe made kids more aware.”
For the Advocacy Center, getting into schools to have conversations about consent has been a weekly event, said Aliegh Ascherl, the primary prevention coordinator at the center.
The center is working with the Family Abuse Center on another project for schools in April, but there has not been much of an increase in schools or organizations reaching out to help tackle the #MeToo discussion, Ascherl said.
She has, however, had more students ask questions about the movement when she visits campuses, she said. The center tries to keep classroom and group discussions relevant to what students might be observing culturally, and many students pay attention to celebrity news, she said.
It is also important to embrace conversations about consent when they come up outside school, Ascheri said.
“With our students, with our own kids or with teenagers we have relationships with, we need to not shy away from those uncomfortable conversations and have a clear understanding ourselves of what consent is and what is not and pass it onto students,” Ascherl said. “Having those conversations in our homes is going to be a big part of that. …Starting that conversation as early as possible sets us up for students who are valuing consent later as it becomes an integral part of their own relationships and they navigate romantic relationships and things like that.”