Time to talk

A documentary film exploring teen sexual assault, the role of social media and the impact of bullying from the perspective of the assailants and bullies was screened at Peninsula High School Nov. 2. “Audrie and Daisy” tells the story of two young girls who were raped by boys they considered to be their friends. The girls were later harassed online and taunted at school in the wake of their assaults. One of the girls attempted suicide. The other girl succeeded.

Carly Irvine from the Sexual Assault Center for Pierce County was at the screening to facilitate a student discussion afterward.

“It is just one of those things that nobody wants to talk about, therefore discussion tends to be strained,” she said. “Most victims never report to law enforcement and many victims never tell anybody, so we have to assume that a movie like ‘Audrie and Daisy’ hits pretty close to home for more people than we could anticipate.”

The film asks viewers to question truth, power, memory and trauma. It addresses a legal system that struggles to prosecute these crimes in a society that struggles with victims’ rights in communities that don’t want to believe it can happen in their own towns.

Suicide rates are climbing in the United States, especially among young girls. The rate for girls between the ages of 10 and 14 tripled over the last 15 years from 0.5 to 1.7 per 100,000. Pair this with the lack of restraint that popular culture encourages in boys and we have an alarming and emotionally charged situation.

How do we prepare our young men and women for the future?

We must raise our girls to embrace who they are and aspire to be their very best. But we must do this in a society that glorifies perfection as defined by the media. How do we empower our girls to successfully navigate the teen years with their self-esteem intact? Girls are inundated by fantasy images of women who are sexualized, airbrushed, manicured celebrities who undermine the self-esteem and self-acceptance parents work so hard to instill. How can parents combat this?

We can talk about gossip and rumor and exclusion. We can limit exposure to the media and popular culture when our girls are very young. We can make time to listen. We can help her process the messages in social media. We can talk with her about the differences between sex in the movies and loving relationships in real life. If we have a daughter who is experiencing pain, we can acknowledge it. But we also need to help her keep things in perspective. Stay calm and listen to what she is experiencing without projecting your own experiences onto hers. Your daughter’s experience is not yours.

Boys become what they see. The bad guy who is sexually successful is a dominant image in our society. Upsetting stories about boys’ sexual aggression continue to make the news. Sadly, these boys become the symbol of all males. We hear less about the quieter boys, although they make up the majority. The “anything goes” of teen sexuality creates pressure to perform as well as pressure not to violate.

How do we handle this? It requires open dialog. First, one must validate the confusing nature of emerging sexuality. Add alcohol, social pressure and the images promoted by a culture dominated by social media, and the resulting anxiety and pressure to act can result.

But anxiety can be empowering. It can slow people down. Learning to manage anxiety helps a boy develop confidence. He learns how to listen to what he feels and that enables him to listen to others. He can develop his judgment and manage the delicate balance between sexual impulse and sexual actions.

Drugs and alcohol seductively defuse the anxiety that can become a building block of character. They make it difficult to define, interpret and understand what personal intimacy means, and they make it impossible to discover the unwritten rules that exist between two people.

Intimacy can be learned in environments that are supportive and open and where the effects of drugs and alcohol on human behavior have been discussed. This happens far more often than the sexual aggression that makes the news. However, it is the close relationship you have with your children and their confidence in you that make the difference.

For more information, go to www.sexualassaultcenter.com, or call the 24/7 crisis/information line at 253-474-7273, or Yes! To Hope Hotline at 253-444-5351.

“Audrie and Daisy” is available to watch on Netflix.

Anne Nesbit is a volunteer battalion chief for the Key Peninsula Fire Department. She lives in Lakebay.

Siren’s Song
Siren's Song