The narrative is become all too familiar: accusations of sexual assault, followed by bullying of the victims on social media.
The case in Steubenville, Ohio, last year drew national attention. Two high school football stars were of raping a 16-year-old girl. The assault was filmed and photographed; the images and circulated online.
More recently, the focus has turned to .
Two football players were arrested for the statutory rape of two
13-year-old girls. Social media comments from students swarmed to
protect the players, and the girls were called names like "whore" and
Activists have been to stamp out assault on campus
through campaigns for awareness and stronger accountability. But
classroom education isn't the end of the story.
for example, half of the high school's students had participated in
classes provided by the Susan B. Anthony Project, a nonprofit that
educates young people about healthy relationships and preventing sexual
Project Director Barbara Spiegel tells Neena Satija of member station they taught students at the school boundaries and consent, healthy relationships and cyberbullying in media.
in particular, plays a key role in these recent assault cases; social
media provides the potential to amplify the reach of hurtful comments.
Cyberbullying is a public act that now has infinite witnesses, but bullying itself is not exactly a new phenomenon.
Amanda Hess, who writes about the relationship between teen sexuality and technology for Slate's , is not convinced technology can be blamed. Before Twitter, she says, kids used paper "to shame each other sexually."
been going on for a very, very long time. Social media's just the new
way that we talk about everything, whether it's positive or negative,"
she tells NPR's Jacki Lyden on weekends on All Things Considered.
It's not just how
people communicate — what they say can be revealing, too. Deborah
Roffman, a longtime human sexuality teacher, says she has noticed a
shift in the way her students think about sex and relationships. She
began teaching grades four through 12 in Baltimore in the mid-1970s.
I first started teaching, kids understood, almost by osmosis, that sex
and relationships were really flip sides of one another," she says.
About 20 years later, Roffman says, they seemed to become separate things.
whole concept of sex as a meaningful form of human intimacy is really
vanishing — at least in the things they are exposed to," she says. "And
kids are not going to be making real choices; they are just going to be
modeling what they see around them."
Roffman points to the
ubiquity of pornography. She overheard two male 10th-graders commenting
on how lucky they were to have easy access to porn.
"How did previous generations learn about real sex?" one asked.
told the students that once a camera is involved, the act becomes a
performance. The conversation expanded to more students, and eventually
others shared new perspectives.
"That's where the power is in
working with groups of kids, is for them to feel safe enough to
articulate differing points of view, and that's when they really pay
attention," she says.
A new conversation is also taking place
in Torrington, says Spiegel of the Susan B. Anthony Project. While
students are taking different sides, she says, at least they are openly
talking about the issue.
But in tackling sexual assault and searching for answers, Hess of the XX Factor says zeroing in on teens is misguided.
think it's interesting that we focus on teenagers," she says. "Rape is
not a teenage problem. Cowardice in bystanders is not a teenage problem.
That's a societal problem, and that's a human problem."