By Lucas Spiegel
Almost two years ago I saw a flyer up at LCC saying that Sexual Assault Support Services (SASS) needed male volunteers for their sexual abuse awareness and prevention presentation program. I've always thought it would be a positive thing to do, but didn't get around to pursuing it until last fall. I took the volunteer basic training over a weekend, then I took the advanced trainings over the course of the next couple of Sundays. It took me well into the Winter before I'd completed all of the trainings, done my "observation days," and was ready to start.
I would be presenting, with a co-presenter, to sixth grade kids. This scared me quite a bit. I never considered myself a kid kind of person. I found it hard to relate to them, and I was always nervous that something I said would turn into one of those random interactions that came out the wrong way and ended up scarring them for life.
Despite my hesitations, the program has proved to be an incredible experience for me, and I've signed up to do as many presentations as I could. The curriculum could use a little tuning up (and I'm lucky enough to be able to help revise it this Summer), but overall, it's amazing. We talk about a variety of related issues including: how to recognize what your boundaries are and when they're being crossed, what to do when they're being crossed, how to be assertive, how to trust your intuition, how to recognize abuse, what to do if you're being abused, what to do if you're in an unsafe situation, how to support a friend who is being or has been abused, peer pressure, consent, permission, gender roles and social expectations and how they contribute to unhealthy relationships and power dynamics, and much, much more. I'm constantly amazed that they actually allow us to go into the public schools and talk about these things. It never would have happened in my sixth grade.
One aspect of doing the presentations is that it feels like I'm, in a sense, avenging my own middle school experience. My own time in the sixth grade (or K through 8th for the most part) was filled with struggling to fit into my role as a male. I was called a "cry baby" on almost a daily basis until sometime in middle school when they progressed to the word "faggot," just because I didn't live up to their standards of how boys are supposed to behave. Not to mention the constant Rape Culture training that we've all been trough--being taught that wimmin exist for my (male's) sexual pleasure and that my role is to get it out of them. These are all things from which I'm still recovering in my attempt to become a functional, whole person. So to be able to go into middle schools and give these kids some positive affirmation--that they don't need to repress their true selves to be worthwhile people--to be able to tell them, and really layout in detail, why it's so detrimental to make fun of their peers for existing out side of "the box," and to give them tools with which to protect themselves from sexual predators is an experience for which I'm immensely grateful. It really feels like I'm walking my talk--like I'm taking action on behalf of my convictions instead of just honing my analyses and separating myself from the world by intellectualizing my community's problems away.
Of course it's not all a walk in the park. The statistics are enough to take the breath away from you: one third of girls and one fifth of boys are sexually abused before they turn 18. And that's just what gets reported. At first I thought they'd be surprised the numbers were so high. But their guesses are probably closer to accurate, as they're based on their own experiences, not government data. They rarely guess less than our numbers indicate, and there are always a few 99% or 100% "guesses" in the class. The fact is that I'm always presenting to a group that includes survivors. The hardest part is knowing that I have to leave after the last day--regardless of what's happening to the kids in the class or what the "grownups" are doing about it. I'm not there, whether I like it or not, to save anyone. I have to trust that if someone in the class is being abused, they'll have someone they can tell, and that person will get them out of the situation--and I know that's not always true.
While it has it's challenges, to say the least, it's also one of the most rewarding things I've been a part of. When I started, I practically regressed back to sixth grade--wondering if some jock was going to jump me--but by the time I left, they were giving my high-fives in the hallway. Even the "bad" kids seem to realize how serious the issues are and I'm generally amazed at how positively and actively the kids respond. When I leave the building at the end of the day, I know that because of what I've done, someone will get out of an abusive situation, or will avoid a rape at some point in their life, or at the least, will realize that what happened to them wasn't their fault. The feeling that gives me is something to which I cannot put words.
SASS is always looking for more presenters--the more there are, the more schools we can go to--and it's something I highly recommend to anyone. The SASS trainings are free and open to the public, and are extremely valuable in and of themselves. Contact SASS at 484-9791 for more information ( sass.willamette.net ).