We’ve come this far so I should probably finish the story of POWER.
The next two days after I set the stage of what a healthy and unhealthy relationship look like and ways to have them, things to avoid, etc., etc., were specific about sexual violence. Since the majority of people who experience sexual violence, somewhere around 80%, are attacked by someone they know, it was important to spend two full hours (well, between 40 and 60 minutes, depending on the school) on relationship dynamics. Day three was all about sexual harassment.
We did our best to break this down as simply as possible. Sexual harassment is any unwanted sexual attention. If the unwanted attention is not sexual in nature, it is not sexual harassment. This always was the biggest sticking point with the students. Even prior to the “Me, too” flash in the pan moment, sexual harassment was a term thrown around in schools a lot in the 2000s. So, this is how we started our class on Wednesdays…any unwanted sexual attention can become sexual harassment and it is up to the person receiving the unwanted attention to make this determination.
I would hit them with the statistics, of course, that show that just about everyone is going to experience some form of sexual harassment in high school, if not before. I know we did our fair share of it in junior high school where it was perfectly acceptable and even joked about among the guys to walk up behind a young lady and squeeze her boobs by reaching around from behind. I’m guessing the girls who experienced this were not joking about it and for the two times I did this, I will be forever sorry as well as ashamed.
We usually had some good conversations, though, on day three and every so often someone would disclose to me that it was happening to them. Once I had a young lady call out a guy in class and it got very ugly, at first, but the young man ended up breaking down in tears and apologized. It was incredible. I would love to know how that experience changed his life or if it was sincere. He did show his face the next day, though, and participated in our discussion about sexual assault.
Day four was where I culminated the discussion by directly addressing what sexual abuse and sexual assault are including how they are defined by the law. I would remind the class that on Monday (or day one, depending on when we began) we were doing a program funded to prevent date and acquaintance rape, but we hadn’t really discussed sexual violence very much at all. Sure, we had a brief description on day two and then sexual harassment the previous day, but I wanted it to sink into them that the best way to protect themselves from sexual violence is to surround themselves with healthy relationships.
Just like with Kids Talk and getting the kids to see that their voice was the best way to protect themselves, the older kids needed to know they had the power to protect themselves by just making good choices in who they spent time with each day. The last days of the program were eye opening for a lot of students, I can imagine, and the exit surveys they filled out would often reflect these realizations. One of the most common comments was always about consent and how they did not realize how the laws were built to protect them and not tell them what they could and couldn’t do.
We would have some great discussions about how easy it is to take advantage of someone else. It was tough to see the light bulb go off in student’s eyes that they had been duped by someone they knew, even if it had nothing to do with rape. It’s funny how I can close my eyes and see some of those classrooms and faces that were part of my life for only a few days. I visited almost every high school in the Valley at some point or another except the two I attended. Weird.
After having worked at a car dealership for a few years, working at Casa was like a rebirth. I was allowed to be proud of the work I was doing and enjoyed the look of shock on people’s faces when I told them what I did. I was one of just a handful of men doing this type of work in the United States and for years I was the only one doing the program here in town. I’m pretty sure there were many teachers and students surprised to see a guy walk into their room to do this work.
It wasn’t always peaches and gravy, though. I spent a good portion of two school years working almost exclusively at schools in the Catholic Diocese. That was very interesting and sometimes turned me into the victim of sexual harassment. I was at Xavier High School for about three weeks in the early 2000s and the young ladies were very forward. I think there might have been some sort of challenge going around to see how red they could get me to turn with some of their questions and one even decided to flash me during class. That was super uncomfortable but kept my poker face and decided not to report it to the school.
Can you imagine what would happen if I would have told Sister Jean, the legendary head of the school, that a junior had pulled a Sharon Stone on me? I would have never been invited back and probably would have ended up getting blamed for instigating it. I was often speaking to the religious studies classes, so teachers in the Diocese were always trying to get me to embrace the church again.
Never tell a Catholic you were brought up Catholic. You might become their mission.
I did POWER for the better part of eight years from 2000-2008 and then again, occasionally, when I could help Casa out. When I was back at Casa full-time from 2017 to 2019, we didn’t have the funding to offer it for free so only a few schools chose to pay for me to come out and speak to their students. I even got to go out to Los Angeles once to do the program at a school out there for my friend, Sharon, who I met at Seton Catholic High School. That was a fun trip.
Wow. Seton. That’s another story in and of itself. I need to tell that one someday, but enough Casa for now unless anyone has questions.
See you tomorrow.
Sky did some promotional pics for Casa at one point a few years ago. She's the cutest.