By Esme Laster
On April 27th, 2018, a small group of Beacon students gathered in the Black Box theatre to tackle a subject many teens struggle to confront in real life yet are increasingly exposed to online: sexual assault. With the recent revelations of sexual assault scandals in Hollywood and beyond, conversation about sexual assault has come to dominate the public sphere, bringing to light diverging perspectives on the #metoo movement—often through social media. While conversation alone can be significant, talking about sexual assault online can also enable bystanding. This is not to say that bystanders aren’t absorbing new information about sexual assault; however, only speaking about or recognizing the issue when it’s on a screen is not truly contributing to the conversation, a problem Beacon’s latest sexual assault awareness event sought to remedy.
It took initiative for Beacon students to show up to the optional assembly last month, and even more initiative for them to participate—which most attendees did. While students should be credited for being or wanting to be active members of an urgent discussion, the space itself was largely responsible for igniting such vibrant back and forth. Alivia Curl, Beacon’s Relationship Abuse Prevention Program (RAPP) Coordinator, in-school therapist, and the organizer of Friday’s event, spoke to me about the importance of establishing a secure and intimate atmosphere when fostering dialogue on sexual assault. For Curl, this means “creating a space where everyone feels comfortable and confident speaking up.” She believes that establishing a supportive and safe environment is crucial when discussing uncomfortable or potentially “triggering” subjects.
It seems that Curl’s intentions of creating a comfortable atmosphere for Friday’s event were well-received by its attendees. Beacon Junior Nora de Rege noticed that “people seemed really engaged” and “were asking questions that seemed personal and genuine.” These questions, mostly hypothetical, largely dealt with the ambiguity of verbal and nonverbal consent. Can a sexual act be classified as assault if the person assaulted consented initially but afterwards felt uncomfortable about it? What if two people who had sex were both below the age of consent? What if a sexual partner was under the influence?
These questions were answered by guest speaker Doreen Lesane, author of Thriver: My Story to Tell. Lesane advocated for survivors–or as she would call them, “thrivers”–of domestic violence. When asked how she felt about students’ response to the assembly, Lesane remarked that she “was glad that the male students were very vocal and asked a lot of questions.” She strongly believes that young boys should be participating in the discussion around sexual assault and actively fighting against the toxic culture of patriarchy. In fact, Lesane was impressed by how many male Beacon students participated, straying from the norm: “they weren’t embarrassed, they were eager.”
Together, Curl and Lesane succeeded in opening up an honest conversation about sex, sexual assault, and consent between Beacon students, many of whom may struggle to find the space for such conversation in their daily lives. As Lesane said, in this ever-evolving discussion about sexual assault, young people must remember that “their voice matters, and their choice matters too.”