By Ausna Harris, For The Capistrano Dispatch
As a 16-year-old girl, I’ve been raised with the idea to cover up: to feel flattered when receiving unwanted attention from boys, to constantly listen to not-so-subtle jokes normalizing misogyny and sexual assault (think “boys will be boys!”), etc.
I could, quite literally, go on for hours.
However, in the span of only a few months, I have noticed a shift in not only the way women demand to be treated with the same respect as their male counterparts, but also the mainstream attention garnered toward raising awareness for rape culture and sexual assault. Just last year, the #MeToo movement, founded by Tarana Burke, sparked a campaign to rally behind women, more specifically of “young women of color from low wealth communities” who have dealt with sexual assault in an effort to “de-stigmatize survivors by highlighting the breadth and impact sexual violence has on thousands,” according to the Me Too Movement’s website. In addition, the Times Up organization founded in 2018 was created by celebrities in wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal to protect women and prevent sexual assault in the workplace, according to www.timesupnow.com.
The fact that both of these organizations have recently made international headlines is a testament of a new age upon us; where sexual harassment is addressed with seriousness and understanding that is long overdue. And, where women are unafraid to speak up about the injustices and pressures they have faced in their lives, with encouragement and solidarity.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, coordinated by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, to raise awareness about sexual violence and educate people on preventing it.
Although there has been so much progress in the past few years, there is still so much to be done to prevent events like this from being commonplace. We need to focus on properly teaching consent and de-stigmatizing sexual harassment at younger ages because “females ages 16-19 are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault,” according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. Teenagers can easily stay quiet if assaulted because it can seem embarrassing, shameful, and often times they are also blamed for someone else’s actions. If we continue to treat sexual assault like the plague and refuse to talk about it in classroom settings—then young, vulnerable girls will lose their voice in this fight to end sexual violence.
We need to teach young girls that their voices are heard and they are valuable. It is their words and experiences that will shape the war against rape culture and harassment. What they have dealt with their whole lives will not be continued, in fact, it will be obliterated. They will not carry the guilt of something they had no control over. They will speak out in spite of being attacked and accused of lying.
Although sexual assault awareness and prevention is brought to the forefront in April specifically, we should continue fighting for this in May, in June and in other months or years to come; as long it takes to end sexual violence.
Ausna Harris is a student at San Juan Hills High School and a member of the Youth Advisory Board of San Juan Capistrano.