Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault, Trauma

 Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) has been recognized officially for 23 years. This year’s theme, Building Connected Communities, is all about reducing the likelihood of assault and harassment on campuses, in workplace environments, and even online. As we will explore principles and movements that have pushed the culture forward, as well as facets of sex-ed within the nation’s school system, and more impactful resources for those in search of growth and healing, we hope to inspire others to engage in a larger, necessary conversation.

Sex-Ed in America Today

Since the 1960s, sex-ed curriculum has been a part of the American school system that has guided children and teens to make the most responsible decisions possible about their health and relationships with others. Because the basis of what is taught in the classroom is contingent upon state and local legislation; however, the standard that many educators follow varies from state to state.

For instance, sexual education is not mandated in Alabama although Texas lawmakers insisted that some concepts be taught through an optional health education course throughout their systems. While these classes do not have to discuss consent or provide medically accurate information, State Health Services did employ educators to emphasize that homosexuality is not an acceptable lifestyle, but that it is a criminal offense under the Texas Penal Code. This mandate persists despite the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, which in 2003, overturned state statutes that criminalized homosexual acts as unconstitutional (SIECUS.org).

Alabama’s House Bill 385 required the states’ information to be accurate, while it discarded any stigmatizing information about members of the LGBTQAI+ community. Instead, advocates still insist that many educators lack the proper information about the state’s sex-ed policy. This causes them to opt out of teaching the subject at all, leaving many at-risk youth groups even more severely despaired than before the bill was passed.

Through further reform, multiple initiatives like Comprehensive Sex Ed, the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, and abstinence-only education have influenced the ways students view consent, intimacy, and trauma. By understanding concepts like this, harmful societal norms are continuously dismantled as their sense of empathy and awareness grows.

Results of Sex Ed: Initiatives Throughout the Nation  

In 2010, the Office of Population Affairs established the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPPP) to service diverse organizations that work with millions of young individuals daily. In efforts to promote positive experiences for commonly at-risk youth, the TPPP educates parents and professionals alike who can help their young ones thrive in the face of adversity. With national systems in states like Louisiana and South Carolina, the prevention program spotlights support efforts for any child dealing with circumstances from declining physical health to intervention help.

The Mary Black Foundation assists children and young adults who are impacted by poor nutritional choices. They may experience cardiovascular disease, and are at higher risk for pregnancies. Through a multi-generational approach, the organization seeks to close the gap between affordability and one’s overall well-being within the Spartanburg community.

Likewise, Practice Self-Regulation™ in Louisiana helps teenagers understand the impact of trauma on their sexual decision-making. Through outpatient counseling services, methods like one-on-one sessions and sensory activities help participants understand a need for self-protection and the importance of upholding their values as they mature.

Comprehensive sex education (CSE) is tailored to cover a wide range of topics from gender identity to reproductive coercion, diversity, and pleasure. Unlike other programs, CSE is also inclusive enough to relate to young adults with disabilities. This type of curriculum seeks to broaden a student’s mind to consider the interchanging societal roles of men and women within family units. As they begin to differentiate the concept between love and lust, they come to understand the importance of choice, empowerment, and respect for the body.

Contrarily, abstinence-only programs were designed with an “end-all, be all” type of mentality that determines whether a young adult is moral or not. While these programs mainly emphasize the failures and ineffectiveness of contraceptives, the curriculum does not temper the desire of the students who are made privy to this type of information. While it seems that this particular method does not adequately prepare students for the societal pressures that are associated with intimacy and relationships, how long do you believe that it will continue to be a standard within the American educational system?

Principles and Movements that Shape the Culture

As we consider how we should learn about and discuss sexual trauma and laws, some social events have made the possibility of addressing these topics a little easier. By supporting movements like the Women’s March and embracing the efforts of campaigns like Start by Believing, as a community, we can uplift survivors to encourage their healing journeys.

Over the last ten years, Start by Believing has served as a haven of radical change and support for millions of survivors. Though fear, guilt, and shame commonly weigh heavily on the hearts and minds of those who have been impacted by sexual assault, those emotions seem less daunting the moment someone believes their story. Through 763 national campaigns, survivors have regained a sense of themselves as they seek the clarity and wholeness that they deserve.

SAAM Sex-Ed

The National Plan to End Gender-Based Violence

“As long as there are women in this country and around the world who live in fear of violence, there’s more we have to do to fulfill this sacred commitment. No one — no one, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, should experience abuse. Period.” – President Joe Biden

Gender-based violence is described as any form of physical, sexual, psychological, or emotional abuse through coercion, deprivation, or harassment that is due to one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. To combat this form of hate, the inaugural National Plan to End Gender-Based Violence was enacted on May 25th, 2023 to ensure the overall well-being and health of those in black, brown, and Indigenous communities. As we all should recognize the dignity and agency of survivors, we foster the healing process by leveraging the value of traditional cultural connections in our communities and everyday lives.

 Conclusion

As we continue to have conversations about sexual assault awareness and the ways we can show collective support, the stigmas of shame and fear are replaced with courage and ever-growing hope. If you are perplexed by the vast amount of terminology this article does an excellent of dispelling the misinformation.

If you or anyone you know has been impacted by sexual violence, resources like the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, End Violence Against Women International, and ME TOO. are readily available to provide the help you need.

We invite Kiss & Tell readers to be a part of this conversation and share your insight in the comments below. When it comes to building an empathetic community based on understanding, respect, and love, your voice matters. Together, we can shift environments that future generations will be proud to be a part of.