With breast cancer, many of us focus on prevention. A woman will hear from a doctor about a lump on her breast, learn of a diagnosis, be given appropriate treatment, and in most cases, live a normal life. There are those cases where a woman who isn’t healthy enough to have this medical discussion or treatment decision made for her never will.
Today, we do have tools that can stop a person from getting an invasive and unwanted breast exam from a breast exam technician. We do have screening tools for other serious conditions that people of all ages can benefit from in their lives. There are counseling, legal, and medical providers available to help prevent these abuses.
But, we don’t have that same protection in place to prevent rape, violence and harassment against girls and women. In 2019, if you’re a girl and you feel that you are being verbally, physically or emotionally abused, it can hurt your self-esteem, your sense of agency, and ultimately your ability to live a healthy and productive life. The harassment can make it hard for you to find a successful, loving and safe partner.
In addition to the physical and mental abuse, schools are becoming the place where a disproportionate amount of gender-based violence is happening.
When survivors of sexual violence make it to school, many are confronted by other students who are harassing them or taking advantage of their vulnerabilities. We need to examine school environments so these traumatizing experiences do not occur. Teachers and school staff need to understand the climate of their classrooms. They need to find safe ways to be in classrooms, to provide a nurturing, safe environment for kids of all genders. They need to know what kinds of behavior makes people feel safe, so it is completely unacceptable to have that kind of reaction to a student that is telling them they are uncomfortable. Even if the child is asking for support, there should be proper measures in place to allow that to happen.
Raising awareness about gender-based violence will not be enough. We need to fully understand how pervasive it is. We need to keep pushing for improvement and hold everyone accountable. We need to hold school officials accountable so they are well-prepared to handle incidents of bullying in an appropriate and effective way.
We can’t simply focus on awareness and awareness-raising. We need to address these problems. We need to offer prevention and anti-violence education for all grades. We need to offer assistance to help heal, because that is the only way to stop this widespread issue.
At the very least, if a child is being harmed, the teacher or other adult should know what is happening, help the child, and address the issue as soon as possible. If they aren’t sure what to do, they should go to the guidance counselor for information or speak to a teacher or administrator about what to do. This is not something you feel like you have to stay silent about. This is something you feel you have to find a way to deal with. If a child isn’t getting the care they need, that person needs to know that someone is aware, someone is willing to help, and they should come forward. You are not alone. There are individuals who will support you and you will be supported.
Rebecca Dorosin is an advocate and founder of Bridge Safe. To learn more about how to report incidents of gender-based violence at your school, please visit ggnd.org/gendevidence, read “The 5 Misperceptions That Lead to Gender-Based Violence” by Lisa K. Latreille, and contact Bridge Safe.