Not a Punch Line, Not Something Everyone Should Go Through: Sexual Assault and What We Can Do In the Library to Help Our Teens
If you are a teen librarian, a teen specialist, a youth librarian, or someone who works with teens, you need to be aware of sexual assault and what is going on in the schools and communities we work in, and not just when particularly harsh cases make headlines. Steubenville was atrocious, and things like this go on everywhere- and don’t get reported. We have a culture where we blame the victim: their clothes turned me on, if you got with the right person you could be straight, I can *&^% the gay out of you, girls with their skirts up can run faster than guys with their pants down, they liked it then said no.
Sexual Assault (up to and including rape) is about POWER, not sensuality or sex, although it gets extremely easy to confuse the two when the popular media continues to stream sexual images into the culture 24/7 while expecting everyone to think pure and act pure. When a popular movie uses rape whistles as a punch line, things are wrong. If it doesn’t feel right for any individual participating in it, it’s wrong. That’s what needs to get out to the teens we work with, and like it or not, we may be their only source of information. If you don’t feel comfortable talking about teens you work with about situations like this one on one, then bring in professionals who can- arrange seminars, workshops, etc. Not everyone feels comfortable talking to their teens, or has a personal relationship with their teens.
And not everyone knows the definitions, either. Sexual assault is not just rape. Inappropriate touching, groping, forced kissing, any type of unwanted contact that can be considered sexual is sexual assault. Male, female, trans, bi, not sure of what gender, not claiming a binary gender, gay straight, anyone on the Rainbow or not claiming anything: it can happen to anyone, by anyone. You can be assaulted by those older than you, those younger, those in positions of power, those you are married to, those you are engaged to, related to, or complete strangers to.
The stats (from RAINN):
- 1 out of every 6 American women and 1 out of 33 men have been the victim of a rape or attempted rape.
- 44% of all sexual assault victims are 18 and under.
- 7% of girls in grades 5-8 and 12% in grades 9-12 say they have been sexually abused (those who will admit to it).
- 3% of boys in grades 5-8 and 5% in grades 9-12 say they have been sexually abused (those who will admit to it).
So teens in your library are being sexually assaulted. 10% of your middle grades and 17% of your high schoolers. They just either may not be aware of the actual term of it, may just think it’s bullying/harassment, or think there is nothing they can do about it. Or it may be something more.
So what can you do?
- Start Discussions: create programs and workshops to start a dialog that might actually give a teen a chance to speak out or get the help that they need
- Create Displays: create book displays that are inclusive of not only rape but all types of sexual assault, and highlight the different types. include helplines and shelters where teens (and adults) can go to get help.
- Train your Staff: let your staff know about what things they can do if you ever do have a teen come up and say they need help, including knowing if you are a mandatory reporter for abuse in your state. You might find you need to do this through meetings or by just talking- lots of times libraries do not have regular staff meetings or they’re not scheduled often enough to address timely issues.
- Open the Door: get to know your teens and how they think, and know when things are troubling them. I know that when I don’t see one of my “regulars” that something may be wrong, or if they’re not acting like they normally do that things may be dicey, and I’ve built up enough trust and a good relationship with them that if I go to them they know that I’m not being nosy it’s out of concern. We care about our kids, so if you see something is wrong, SAY something. You may be the only one who does, and that may be the one thing that changes a bad situation for the better.
Take 5: 5 Titles that grapple with this topic
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Inexcusable by Chris Lynch
The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney
Just Listen by Sarah Dessen
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick
Have other ways to help out your teens and your community? Share in the comments.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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